Top 50 JAzz Blog

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.

"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.