Top 50 JAzz Blog

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

1950's Trumpets, Pt. 2: Booker Little

Don Fagerquist was the first focus of our attention in this series about lesser-known brilliant trumpet players of the 1950's. If Fagerquist's playing was pretty much down-the-middle, Booker Little set up musical camp farther out on the edge. Fagerquist was anchored in jazz developments of the 40's and early 50's, while Booker looked ahead to the 60's.

Booker Little was born in 1938 in Memphis, a city where Phineas Newborn, Jr. was elder to a number of future jazz artists, such as Frank Stroziertrumpeter Louis Smith (Booker's cousin) and George Coleman, who got Booker moving seriously toward jazz. 

In 1954, after high school, Booker moved to Chicago and got a Bachelors degree in music at the Chicago Conservatory. For nine months of his stay, he roomed with Sonny Rollins, who was in Chicago preparing to join the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet. Sonny introduced Booker to Max Roach, with whom Booker made his first recording and eventually gigged. The musicians in Roach's circle and those he knew from early Memphis days became many of the people he ran with during the short span of his career. His first recording was in June, 1956 and he died on October 5, 1961 of uraemic poisoning/kidney failure at the age of 23.

Booker articulated his views on music in a valuable Metronome magazine article by Robert Levin, an article used as the basis of this piece by Dan Miller. One way to introduce Booker's music is to quote his own words from that interview:

"Most of the guys who are thinking completely conventionally--they'd say 'Well maybe you've got a wrong note in there.' But I can't think in terms of wrong notes--in fact, I don't hear any notes as being wrong. It's a matter of knowing how to integrate the notes and, if you must, how to resolve them. Because if you insist that this note or that note is wrong I think you're thinking conventionally-technically, and forgetting about emotion. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The 1950's: a Brilliant Decade for Trumpeters

Don Fagerquist
Blue Mitchell
I started off with the idea of looking at a few of the less well-known trumpet players who came of age in the 1950s. As I looked more closely at who reached maturity and was at or near the top of their game in that quiet Eisenhauer decade, I couldn't believe the wealth of players. There were the famous: Kenny Dorham, Clark Terry, Blue Mitchell, Joe Newman, Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, Art Farmer, Maynard Ferguson, Chet Baker, Donald Byrd, Doc Severinson(you could arguably put Miles here too). 
Idrees Sulieman
Jack Sheldon
Then, there were the somewhat less well-known: Nat Adderly, Idrees Sulieman, Bill Hardman, Thad Jones, Carmell Jones, Booker Little, Dizzy Reece, the Condoli Brothers and Johnny Coles. Then, there are those whose names are pretty much restricted to the cognoscenti: Richard Williams, Don Fagerquist, Shorty Rogers, Cy Touff, Ernie Royal, Dupree Bolton,  Tony Fruscella, Jon Eardley, Don Ellis, Jack Sheldon, Herb Pomeroy. I'm sure readers can, and probably will, name some I forgot. 
Dupree Bolton
Herb Pomeroy

The playing of many of these guys does not fall easily into one category. They had mastered the bop idiom, but most were not strictly boppers. Some were cool, some partially so; some hot; some came from the West Coast, but didn't play "West Coast," some came from somewhere else but did; some chose the cutting edge, others went down the middle.

I'll hoist a glass to some of the players from this stellar decade in upcoming posts. Today, I'll feature one from the cognoscenti pile: Don Fagerquist. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Peggy's Blue Skylight

Just want to point B.C. readers to this video I uploaded to You Tube. This is the well-known Charles Mingus song with my lyrics. (I have put lyrics to a lot more of the song and to the Booker Ervin solo, but they are not performed here).

For posting, I excerpted it from my *teleplay of the same name, which is why you will see some video of the main characters in that teleplay over the audio.

The song is beautifully sung by Dominique Eade, with support by John Leonard on Bass and Tom Beaver on keyboard.

Here are my lyrics to the song:

A building is greying, its edges are fraying, a sign;
Of bad luck beckoned and innocence destined, to die.
Leave it and you feel,
You've got nothing left but to conceal,
The loneliness living in the city
That you cannot bear.

A blind man is singing, his cup is set ringing, a dime;
A gambler shuffles, a sucker is hustled, for wine.
Windows open wide,
Admitting not light but dark inside;
A face will appear and glow soft in the moonlight,
And die.

But a thought has begun to renew you.
To bury the blue you;
The loneliness shattering to pieces;
Thinking of Peggy and drinking in Peggy,
It's clear where your solace and your peace is.

Wakening in love,
Enfolding her tight, you look above;
The skylight is blue,
A frame for your emotions, tonight.

[Booker Ervin solo]:
As the rhythm of this solo
Marks up time with its notes;
So are our days measured by events,
Quickly or slowly the quality will tell,
That time is measured not by minutes or days,
Its pace a relative question changing with our lives;
People passing through, events determine, times pace;
Are we the victims of fate or do choices we make make a difference?

The answer may lie between the two,
A constant compromise between shifting winds of fate
And taking hold,
Making hard decisions and forcing life's hand.

Trying to find the questions,
Unsure which questions we should ask,
Hoping the answers won't be denied,
To a person who is living honestly, trying to be open.

Learning daily,
That pleasure often hides in, simple, places;
Born on a breeze bearing the scent of a warm autumn day,
Seen on the face of a child at play,
Lost in a warm moon-lit ray;
Locked in the laughter of your lover as she lay,
By your side soft, warm and gentle;
Questions fading,
As you see life is time lived moment to moment.
[Return to chorus]

I have written vocalese lyrics to many jazz songs and solos. Vocalists are welcome to contact me about checking out my material.

*I have posted the complete teleplay (14 minutes long):

Friday, November 16, 2012

Son of Bad Jazz Art

The u-readers of B.C. seem to have an unquenchable thirst for bad jazz art. Heeding that siren song is not just my duty, it is my way out of the complicated posts I have started and stopped over the last week...

A LOT OF bad jazz art treats musicians as though they are escapees from the local leper colony. This is no way to treat your heroes.
Anthropomorphizing natural objects is a venerable bad jazz art choice.

This one is called "Blown Away;" alluding, I guess, to pieces of his body (Art Farmer?):

                                         I say it's the Wet Pavement Motif and I say the hell with it.

Neato. It's kinda like; abstract.

This is your Bad Jazz Art Professor signing off (a.k.a. crying in the wilderness). Pleasant dreams to you all and remember: the internet is forever.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Busted by the Feds

I had business in the Tip O'Neill Federal Office building here in Boston. In case you haven't been to a federal building in a while, this story will stand as a reminder you that you have to go through a "security system" to get in.

Alright, for reasons outside the bounds of this story, I was already in a bad mood and was pissed off to have to go through this process. My choler rose as I watched four dour, pokey security cops tell regular people to empty their pockets, take off their belts, their jackets, run the metal detector wands over them and all the same crap you have to go through at an airport. I began to grumble and the guy behind me joined in, albeit more quietly. 

Then it was the turn of the two people in front of me. They were a Muslim couple, pushing an infant in a baby carriage. They had to completely empty the carriage, then the guard ran his hands through every fold and cushion, as well as lifting up and examining the bottom of the carriage. All my thoughts about living in a police state rose to the surface. 

Now, my turn. I emptied my crap into a bin with an obvious attitude and the guy didn't like it. He told me to empty my pockets and I told him I already did, but not in the obsequious, compliant voice that you're supposed to use with the minions of power. He picked up the bin and told me to get out. I said I had a 10:30 appointment. He said "get out and come back in an hour, when you calm down."

I picked up my crap and stomped out. When I pushed open the outside door,  I heard it slam against something. Ten steps later, three cops surrounded me, as did one guy in civvies. I don't know who the guy in civvies was, but the cops were letting him talk to me. I think he was simply trying to determine if I was "dangerous." I guess he thought not. The eldest one-a regular Boston cop-had a cool head. Maybe he's seen people slam doors at the Tip O'Neill Federal Office building before. In any case, he told me to go back through the line and that we would deal with the problem after I was finished with my business.
As I passed through the security checkpoint, the guards stared at me with gimlet eyes, ready to pounce, but I got through Checkpoint Charlie successfully. While I waited in the social security office to be seen, one of the cops came in and asked me for my drivers license. 

When I finished my SS appointment, I was directed back to a cluster of cops, where my license was returned and I was given a "citation" awarding me $500 for being a model citizen and standing up to the depredations of the Man. Well, no. I was actually fined $150 plus $25 "handling charge" (they won't let scalpers do it, but they do) for "destruction of federal property."

Alright, not a tragic story, but one that leaves a few impressions. 

First, as my wife reminded me, I will now be on every "watch list" at airports and god knows where else. 

Second, this story is not evidence of a particular guard's racism toward Muslims-at least I hope he would exercice the same mindless thoroughness with a white couple. However, it does highlight the innate stupidity of the system. 

Third, it remains infuriating to me that you can't behave as a normal human in the presence of a cop. You can't say: "get to work, I'm paying your salary" to a cop on his cel phone, collecting serious money for not directing traffic at a construction site.  Lawfully following instructions is not enough, your "attitude" has to fall within the proper obsequious guidelines. 

Fourth, if I was African-American, I have a strong feeling I wouldn't be able to post this on my blog until I got out of the local lockup and a tentative court date had been set.

Monday, November 5, 2012

R.I.P. Ted Curson

Ted Curson died yesterday (June 3, 1935 – November 4, 2012).  If his contribution is recognized at all, it's for his time spent with Charles Mingus, but Curson had a long career and created a singular, instantly recognizable sound.

Born in Philly, Curson went to the Granoff Conservatory, also John Coltrane's alma mater [You can read my interview with Mr. Granoff in the book Coltrane on Coltrane, by Chris DeVito].

Ted moved to NYC in the mid-1950's and started playing with Cecil Taylor. In 1959, he recorded tracks on "Love For Sale" w. Taylor, including this tune, "Little Lees" [Interesting how much Monk there is in Cecil's playing here]:

Friday, November 2, 2012

Gioia's Jazz Standards

I have only dipped into The Jazz Standards, but this book is such a kick that I'll write this in blatant disregard for my policy of reading first and writing second.

You feel in good hands from the top, lightly guided by Gioia, a seasoned pro, with no odd axes to grind, no academic shtick to flog. The feeling is like spending a night among friends, talking about which tunes you think are important and which versions of the tunes stand out. Just as you might now reach for Brian Rust to settle arguments about who was on a certain Trumbauer date or Leonard Feather to look up where Ike Quebec was born, you'll be able to turn to "The Jazz Standards" to get a quick look at the history of a tune and a memory jog to help lead you back to a certain recording you couldn't quite remember.

New facts abound. Guy Wood, composer of "My One and Only Love" wrote music for Captain Kangaroo? Sigmund Romberg worked in a pencil factory? Prez had a top 10 juke box hit with "Just You, Just Me"?

Of course, there will be disagreements among invested jazz people-Jon Hendricks' "Airegin" lyrics rate a mention, but not King Pleasure's for "All of Me." Maybe Kenny Dorham's "Prince Albert," an alternative melody for "All the things You Are," should have gotten a citation. Will jazz fans really "have a hard time enjoying Bird's outing ["Bird with Strings" playing "Just Friends"] given the mood music ambience of the arrangement?" Maybe a case can be made that other tunes, like "Up Jumped Spring" or "Moanin'" should be here...

But you can accept and even relish these disagreements, because you can tell by what the author put in that he knew he had to leave a lot out. It's a big book-over 500 pages-and I bet the author and the publisher had some long conversations about how long it could or should be. You could, for example, do an entire tome on "I Got Rhythm."

OK, enough. I like it. I'm glad it's on my shelf.