Top 50 JAzz Blog

Monday, January 30, 2012

Homage a Eldridge

Can't be effusive enough about the great Roy Eldridge and thought I'd mark his birthday with a few comments and a small sampling of his playing.

Roy was sneaky influential. That is, musicians-especially other trumpet players-knew what he meant to jazz, but the public knew him more as showman and less as musical genius (I suppose complicated parallels might be drawn with Louis Armstrong's career).

Roy accessed all the power implicit in the trumpet, but articulated with extraordinary dexterity. He played right in the pocket, even when shape shifting the rhythm of a phrase. He was a more than able vocalist, although he scatted less often than Louis or Dizzy. He tested himself over and over in the crucible of the cutting contest and sent many JATP sessions over the top. Any session he made was pushed into a higher level of commitment. I saw him a few times near the end of his playing career and he blew with intense ferocity. There was nothing little about this man except his nickname. Happy Birthday, Roy.

Listen To more...

Friday, January 27, 2012

More Jazz Necessities

Previously, the introduction of the Chet Baker watch inspired me to release these new products, essential for any jazz fan:

Charlie Parker Day Planner
Trumbauer Guide To Linux
G.I. Lennie Action Figure
Joe Newman Sump Pump
Bill Evans Chest Expander
Keith Jarrett Beard Trimmer
The iTrane

We did so well with these that we are moving into publishing:

Sun Ra: Five Tips for a Groovy Luau
Benny Goodman: Guide to Jazz Etiquette 
Eddie Condon: Why Proust Still Matters
Django & Klugh: 10-Days to Perfect Nails
Charles Mingus: Why Mitt? Why Now?
Ornette Coleman: Conquering the II-V-I
Bix Beiderbecke: Monetize Your Blog!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Small Victories; Jazz & Otherwise

My wife can recognize Miles and Dizzy solos. Next stop: Fats Navarro.

I found a bag of stuff in my house with some books and a 78 of Dinah Shore accompanied by Spade Cooley's Orchestra.

I have 3 half-FULL bottles of valve oil within reach.

The new electric shaver I bought-unlike the last 3-is not a piece of crap.

My daughter knows most of the words to "You Come From Rhode Island." She won't admit that now, but she will in 5 years.

Hamburgers in challah rolls tonight.

Birdbath in backyard not frozen.

A life insurance company turned me down for a policy. That means I don't have to die.

Name the Blog; Arbitrary New Rule Imposed

The Rules Committee, having been released en masse from Wormwood Scrubs, has finally met and tweaked the rules of the contest as follows:

An example
Any contestant who wants to make it to the next round of judging is now required to submit a photo of him or herself in a bathing suit; the more revealing, the better.

Candid shots welcome
Submit to:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

On With the Nonsense!

As one of the dozen scam mailings my mother gets everyday would say:

"Dear Entrant: You are one of a very small pool of residents in your area to be chosen to proceed to the next level of competition! Please send in $25 so we may confirm your certified platinum level registration number."

Well, in this here Name the Blog contest, everyone's a winner-at least in this round-and we will absolutely not be swayed by kickbacks (unless you actually send one).

 Only first names are given, to protect the innocent.

Enjoy some Salieri while you contemplate these worthy entries:

Felonius Junk -Di
You got a problem with 'Brilliant Corners,' bub?" -Larry
Brilliant Jazz and Other Joys (from BOSTON) -Brew
Third Balcony Jump -Harvey
Jazz speaks for life   -Dave
Jazz Hands!!!   Bleeding Gums Murphy Speaks  -Aaron
Dizzy Atmosphere, Six Flats Unfurnished   -Rob
Snap Diddley Squirt: A Jazz Blog -Kiddo
Jazz Pants, Learn a New Word Everyday, Life Improv, Carried Away with Steve, Jazz Scratch Fever, Jazz Happy, Sharps and Flats, The Flying Jazz Project, Captain Jazz, Jazz Serious, Jazz Kidding  -Amy and Ken
Not Just Another Jazz Blog -Dick
ImProvizing or ImProvizer 
or ProVizions,

 See Sharp,

 Sounding, Brass


 Mouth Pieces

Horning In,

 MOTS (acronym for: Music Of The. Sphere's)(French for "words" too, ErSatch, UrSatch, Dauntless, Iterations -Ed
The Jazz Id-Me

It's not a popularity contest, but groundswells of support will no doubt influence my highly disorganized adjudication methodology.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Exchanges on Pops' Tone

Doug Ramsay was kind enough to feature my Louis Armstrong: Operatic at the Core post on his blog Rifftides. Author of the Armstrong book Ricky Riccardi responded, as did Brew and all concerned have said I could put the conversation on this blog. So, here it is, with an extension:

  1. Brew says:
    There is also a great similarity in attitude, and stage appearance of Pops and many stars of the opera: Love for good food, the company of nice folks (Armstrong’s backstage room was always crowded), and …
    … the inevitable white handkerchief which for example Pavarotti used, too (he had his own of course!).
    Pops’ phrasing, and his tone, and authority in the 1950′s are indeed not to top, except by Maria Callas, Kathleen Ferrier & Mario Lanza who possessed the most unique operatic voices in the 1950′s.
    Come on, folks, the time machine problem has not been solved yet!
  2. Agree with every word, Doug and Steve. No one–and there’s been some that have come close–has ever equalled Louis’s tone. Even in his last years, when the chops were hurting and his range was decreasing, the tone was still there; you could still tell it was him, even on the recordings that survive from 1971 (which I’ll be sharing in my next blog). I now work as Archivist at the Louis Armstrong House Museum and that’s where all of Louis’s private tapes and records are kept. I cannot tell you how many opera records he owned and listened to on his tapes. Naturally, a big chunk of Louis’s concept was rooted in opera but I also love the quotes he sometimes played from specific operas. He always played a lick on “Muskrat Ramble” in the 1950s that sounded so familiar, but I couldn’t place it. One of my readers finally nailed it as being from Sigmund Romberg’s “The Student Prince.” I went to check Louis’s collection and sure enough, he had “The Student Prince” on vinyl and on his tapes! Here’s a blog I did about that, where you can hear the lick:
    Anyway, thanks to you both and thanks for reminding your readers that Louis was great–and had that tone–from the beginning to the end.
    Yours in Pops,
    Steve responded:
    What do you think about my idea of Pops’ vulnerability via a vis the love of the audience? (I ask knowing that it’s seldom that anyone whose book I review agrees with anything I say).
      • Fine with me, too, Steve. And please, fire away with any other questions and comments you have. Regarding the vulnerability aspect, yes, I think Armstrong’s connection with audiences and the obvious effort he put into his performances could make him seem somewhat vulnerable. But I don’t think I would connect vulnerability with that tone. That tone is one of the most identifiable sounds in jazz and it’s what set Louis apart from other trumpet players. He himself claimed to be a “freak about tonation” and even when discussing King Oliver, he wasn’t afraid to knock Oliver’s tone. In fact, in a 1956 Voice of America interview, Louis complained that the 1923 Oliver recordings were hard to listen to because Oliver’s tone wasn’t strong and Oliver should have let Louis play more lead and more solos. Armstrong astutely brought up Erskine Hawkins’s hit records that featured solos by Dud Bascomb, but had Hawkins’s name on the record and brought Erskine the fame and money.
        So Louis knew what he had. He worked tirelessly on that tone and was very proud of it. He used to like to talk about a time he sat in with the Count Basie Orchestra in Miami in 1958. Basie called “Royal Garden Blues” and in addition to soloing, Louis played in the trumpet section. According to Louis, Basie couldn’t get over it, saying he had never heard a tone like that in a trumpet section before. Louis would tell the story proudly and then would say that all of the trumpet players in Basie’s band were fine musicians but they were too lazy to work on their playing to get a tone and sound like Louis had.
        I share these two stories because they illustrate something that not everyone associates with gentle, smiling Louis: the man had an ego. And that is not a bad thing. I’ve listened to thousands of hours of Armstrong’s interview and I can tell you that he knew 100% how special his sound was and he worked very hard to get it and wasn’t bashful to let anyone know about it. He was confident in his music, he was confident that audiences would love it and he was confident in his ability to put on the best show in jazz.
        So when you weigh in those feelings of ego and confidence, that’s where I think the vulnerability aspect loses a little steam. Audiences might view Louis as vulnerable (and surely, his playing could be completely vulnerable at times, in addition to the soaring operatic statements; look up an unissued “Lonesome Road” on my blog from 1956 to hear both sides in one performance), but that tone was shaped by hard work and determination and was carried out by a genius with absolute, supreme confidence in what he was doing.
        That’s just my feeling about the vulnerability angle but every other word your wrote about Louis’s tone and operatic tendencies is spot on. Thanks for writing it and thanks for mentioning the book (though man, a “work-man like effort”? I devoted every day of half my life to that thing! haha, just kidding, any publicity is good publicity….).
        Yours in Pops,

        Steve responds:
        I realize it's counter-intuitive to call the strongest sound in jazz trumpet history "vulnerable." I'm not talking about an ego-based process. In fact, the opposite. There's always some artifice in a performance and Pops' careful planning is testament to that. But the tone, ore that he assiduously burnished throughout his life, was a kind of "cri de coeur;" a direct look into the (vulnerable) heart of another person. It's not about weakness or lack of confidence. In fact, how strong must a person be to expose so much? 
        That's the sense in which I use the word vulnerable.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Name That Blog!

It's been about a year since I became the sole proprietor of Brilliant Corners. Time for a new name. Since I don't have the interest, money or spare precious bodily fluid to do market research, I am soliciting suggestions from YOU. 

So, go through the site. Read a few older posts. Try to distill the nature of the Brilliant Corners balderdash down to its essence. Submit as many names as you want, be they barbaric, cuddly, esoteric, moldy fig-friendly, demographically astute or legally actionable. Let not your ideas be bounded by the strictures of so-called "common sense."

Each submission will be carefully scorned, er, scanned by our crack squad of lackeys. If your submission is chosen, your name will become synonymous with squandered energy throughout the jazz blog-o-lalia. As a special bonus, you will be given keys to the city of Boston by Mayor Menino, or by someone else who is a registered mesomorph.

Now, go muzzle the dog, lock the kids in the basement, give the maid and butler the day off, crack the Armagnac, spin some wax and put on your thinking cap. Good luck, one and all. You may already be a winner.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Louis Armstrong: Operatic at the Core.

The jazz world started to get down on Louis Armstrong starting around 1950-the beginning of his ascension from jazz star to Star. And since the 1980's, at least, jazz people have been trying to make up for calling Pops an Uncle Tom, a sellout and a cultural irrelevancy. 

"What a Wonderful World," Ricky Riccardi's biography covering the last part of Armstrong's career, might be one of the last chapters in the jazz community's process of expiating its sins.

This book is what's known as a "workman-like effort" and a "good read." The writing is fine, if not compelling. The level of detail about his concerts, recordings and band personnel seems sufficient. The book does little to place Armstrong in the broader American musical context, but it deals with one issue pretty thoroughly and pretty well-Armstrong's complicated attitude toward race, including how it plays out with his long-time manager, Joe Glaser.

The book covers many bases, but it does not fully address what is, for me, the essential question about Armstrong: What really made him the ablest communicator in jazz history? 

Yes, he had fabulous musical skills, incredible gifts as a showman and the willingness to work like a horse. But I think there was something else at work. 

Armstrong said many times that he loved each note, whether he was playing it or singing it-and his singing voice was emotional twin to his trumpet tone. What I think he was talking about was not the pitch or the combination of the notes, it was the tone and the weight of each note. 

Hundreds of gifted and proficient trumpet players have come and gone through jazz history, but no one has ever had that tone. Not even close. Yes, others have had an identifiable sound, but their tone basically falls within the parameters of a given historical era. Give me the name of an early jazz player, a swing era player, a bop player, a free player, a neo-mainstream player and I can name you other trumpeters from that era who had a sound that was very similar. 

Even though he always talked about his debt to his mentor Joe Oliver, Armstrong seems not to have been subject to that need for identification. His tone rides over jazz history as freely as his solos rode over orchestras and rhythm sections. I believe that Armstrong's singular tone sent a unique message to the listener: "I am making myself completely vulnerable to you. While part of me is acting (and Armstrong's acting talent was unassailable, if underutilized), part of me will die if you don't love what I am giving to you." 

Emotionally, his performances were not pitched at a jazz performance level. They were operatic in intention. And, as Armstrong aged and took on lesser pop material, this became easier to see. He was able to impart a depth to those tunes beyond that ever imagined by the songwriters and arrangers. Because, really, it wasn't about the notes. It was about The Note.

Nearing the end of his life, who did Pops draw on as reference points when voicing his distaste at the pessimistic media coverage of his declining health? Not jazz people. As quoted in Riccardi's book, he says: "Everyone wants to know how I am going to die...I never was interested in the life of Caruso or the death of Mario Lanza..." He loved his fellow jazz musicians, but in some way, he knew his peers were opera stars.