Top 50 JAzz Blog

Friday, December 29, 2017

Martin Torgoff on the DuPlex

I was joined on the DuPlex Mystery Jazz Hour of 12.28.17 by Martin Torgoff, author of Bop Apocalypse; Jazz, Race, The Beats and Drugs. It was an interesting, wide-ranging conversation that used music as a guideline, as per the playlist below.


Louis Armstrong, Muggles. Fred Robinson, trombone; Jimmy Strong, clarinet; Earl Hines, piano; Mancy Carr banjo, and Zutty Singleton on drums.

Mezz Mezzrow, Revolutionary Blues. Tommy Ladnier, Sidney de Paris, t / Mezz Mezzrow, cl / James P. Johnson, p / Teddy Bunn, g / Elmer James, b / Zutty Singleton, d.

Rosetta Howard, If You’re A Viper. With The Harlem Hamfats 

Count Basie Orchestra, Every Tub

Billie Holiday, I Must Have That Man. Buck Clayton, t / Edmond Hall, cl / Lester Young, ts / James Sherman, p / Freddy Green, g / Walter Page, sb / Joe Jones, d

Charlie Parker, Ko Ko. Curly Russell on bass and Max Roach on drums. Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie played piano, but trumpet here instead of Miles Davis

Charlie Parker, Moose the Mooch. Miles Davis-tp, Lucky Thompson-tenor and Dodo Marmarosa-piano, Vic Macmillan-bass, Arvin Garrison-drums

Charlie Parker, Lover Man. Charlie Parker (alto sax), Howard McGhee (trumpet), Jimmy Bunn (piano), Bob Kesterson (bass), Roy Porter (drums)

Wardell Gray, The ChaseBass-Don Bagley Drums –Chico Hamilton, piano-Bobby Tucker B
  • Tenor Saxophone –Dexter Gordon, Wardell Grey 

Miles Davis, Round Midnight. Miles Davis – trumpet, Paul Chambers-bass, John Coltrane – tenor-Red Garland – piano, Philly Joe Jones – drums

John Coltrane, My Favorite Things. McCoy Tyner piano, Steve Davis bass, Elvin Jones drums 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Chet Baker Vocals: A New Emotional Space

There were a lot of transitions and innovations in pop and jazz singing during the 1950's. Some of these were triggered by technology-tape recording/editing, hi fi, stereo, new microphones and the long playing record (LP). Other transitions reflected innovations in arranging and instrumentation and the movement of "race music" into the mainstream via rock and roll. Leaving aside innovators in blues, R&B and rock and roll, there were two musicians who effected changes in vocal jazz and pop: Frank Sinatra and yes, Chet Baker.

Frank Sinatra and his arrangers Billy May and Nelson Riddle in "In the Wee Small Hours" (1955) and "Songs for Swingin' Lovers!" (1956) bridged a popular music gap and showed that songs could swing and still deliver an intimate romantic message. 

Chet Baker's style of singing on "Chet Baker Sings" (1954) finished off what Bing Crosby started. Crosby had initiated the movement from "hot" to "cool," as he taught singers how to use the microphone. But, even though Bing's style was relatively laid back, he still used "hot" techniques like vibrato, slurs and small ornamentations to "sell" the tune. This continued to be the standard, but Baker took it a step further, either eliminating or dramatically taking down the heat of these techniques. Also, in the range and timbre of his voice, he did not sound as a man singing was supposed to. Given the negative response by fellow musicians, friends and critics, it took some guts for Baker to continue to sing.
Louis Prima
Baker was one in a long line of trumpet players who sang. Louis Armstrong, Jabbo Smith, Roy Eldridge, Bunny Berigan, Louis Prima, Hot Lips Page and Dizzy Gillespie all sang well. They thought of themselves as entertainers, liked to sing and were happy to give their chops a break. Berigan's style was lighter, but even after he had a hit with "I Can't Get Started," he almost always deferred to a band singer and just played. The rest of those guys sang with a ballsier approach, sometimes ironic or sly, often bluesy. Armstrong always sang romantic tunes, but I hear an artfulness that separates the singer from the object of his affection and the song itself becomes the object. He did sing with great tenderness in the last phase of his career. Baker's singing was the first in this lineage that said out loud: "This is what it means to be vulnerable." 

Baker's trumpet playing was not unique. It was distinguishable from but similar to the playing of others active at that time, like Jack Sheldon, Don Fagerquist, Don Joseph, Tony Fruscella and John Eardley. Of these, only Jack Sheldon also sang. His voice was better than Baker's, but his singing style ranged from cooing drollness to belting. To Sheldon, romantic meant sexy, while Chet was never so indiscreet, or overt. His sexiness was hidden below layers of romanticism and self-protection. 
Jimmy Scott

Rhythmically and in note choice, Baker's singing paralleled his playing. But the fragility, tremulousness and high tenor range of his voice amplified the vulnerable quality of the music. The only voice like it belonged to (Little) Jimmy Scott, who had a hit in 1950 with Lionel Hampton's "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" and who showed up in the same year with Charlie Parker, singing "Embraceable You," but Scott sang with all of the heat that Baker eschewed.

Reading about Baker's foray into singing is like wading into a critical abattoir. Almost no one liked it-musicians, friends or critics. 

There are conflicting stories about how Baker's vocals got recorded. Some say he demanded it and that owner of the Pacific jazz label Dick Bock balked. Others say that Bock wanted it and Baker resisted. Either way, it seems to be true that Baker's inexperience(or ineptitude) made for innumerable retakes, marathon sessions and a lot of audio cutting and pasting. 

Two things were not subject to criticism. One was his phrasing, which rhythmically paralleled his playing. The second was his scatting note choice, which reflected the melodic gift he shows in his trumpet solos.

There was a lot of criticism about his singing out of tune. I'm pretty sensitive to people staying in tune and I don't hear the problem very much, except on some held notes-the hardest to sing in tune and beyond his vocal support system.

Critics blasted his lack of affect, saying his singing lacked emotional weight. Much was made about the girlish, non-masculine quality of his voice. Often this critique was accompanied by an analysis of Baker's life choices-drug use and callousness toward women. People want the artist's life to reflect directly the qualities they find in the art and positive and negative projections about Baker were off the charts. He was worshipped and reviled. Some thought he sang (and looked) like an angel. Others saw him nod out or act like a cad and heard that in the music. 

What I think made critics most uncomfortable is that Baker didn't sing like a man. I've heard people ask, when they heard Baker sing, whether that was a man or a woman. One can only imagine how many such comments were passed in the day. For most of its history, jazz has been a macho culture. Sexual ambiguity or gay-ness were subjects of derision. Chet was heterosexual, but for him to sing the way he did was almost to "come out." Of course, Baker wasn't consciously making a political-sexual point. When he responded to interviewers who challenged his masculinity, he made certain to reaffirm that he liked girls, not "fellers."

Moving from being just a trumpet player to becoming a jazz vocalist/leading man, seeing the response it got from critics and especially from fellow musicians, cannot have been easy. Baker may or may not have been using heavy drugs before "Chet Baker Sings," but there's no doubt that he became more deeply enmeshed in heroin and speed during this period. It's not a big stretch to think that drugs and the incredibly strong response by women to his singing helped Baker weather the brickbats and continue to sing. 

It's appropriate that his most famous vocal tune is "My Funny Valentine." In this Rodgers and Hart tune, we have a psychic match between performer and song. This is a song that spells out the imperfections of the lover ("is your figure less than greek, is your mouth a little weak, when you open it to speak are you smart"). Look at the title itself-my "funny" valentine; not that the lover is funny/humorous, but funny as in-how did this happen-how did I end up with someone like you. This is love as mystery, song as mystery, sung by a musician whose life was lived publicly, but who was a mystery. Yes, we know the biographical facts of Baker's life, but the inner life was shrouded in layers of romanticism and self-protection.

It's difficult to show the influence Baker had, as he didn't overtly inspire a generation of male singers. Most tenor-range jazz vocalists remained more beholden to older approaches. Jimmy Scott, Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis, Mose Allison, Oscar Brown, Jr., Mark Murphy, Jackie Paris and Sammy Davis, Jr. were all much "hotter" singers. 

But I contend that Chet Baker changed the "field" and in so doing influenced these singers. He brought the ethos of cool to a kind of climax by moving into territory that had once belonged only to female vocalists and opened up the emotional space to show vulnerability; a space that male singers had previously shied away from and which they were now more likely to inhabit. 

Ironic that Chet Baker, who created such distance between himself from others was able to transmute this distance into a kind of intimacy that had rarely, if ever, been expressed in the pop-jazz male voice.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Alabama Musical Tribute

I dedicated this edition of the DuPlex Mystery jazz hour to the good people of Alabama who, in the election of 12.12.17 pulled us back from the brink of a moral and political catastrophe (Roy Moore). An unusually eclectic show.



The Black Birds Of Paradise-"Bugahoma Blues"-1927. Gennett

Lotte Lenya und "The three Admirals", Theo Mackeben & Jazz-Orchester-Alabama-Song. 1930-Ultraphon

Johnny Smith-"Stars Fell on Alabama"-1956. Roost

Etta James - "I'd Rather Go Blind" Muscle shoals-1967. Cadet

Alabama Jug Band - "Jazz it Blues" Its a studio band lead by Willie the Lion Smith designed to cash in on the "jug bang" craze. 1934. Decca

Blind Boys of Alabama-"People Get Ready"-2002. Real World Records

Alabama Shakes "Don't Wanna Fight" Live on KCRW 2015

W.C. Handy's Memphis Blues Band-"St Louis Blues" -1922. Victor

Sun Ra-"Days of Happiness". Sun Ra-p Richard Williams-b Luqman Ali-d Recorded 1979. El Saturn records

Ella and Louis "Stars Fell on Alabama"- 1956. Verve

John Coltrane-"Alabama"-Live at Birdland 1963. Impulse

Duke Ellington - "Concerto For Cootie"-Cootie Williams, Mobile Alabama-1940. Victor

Nat Cole -"Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me"- 1944. Capital

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Review: The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums

Will Friedwald has written a nice fat, fact-laden book, closely analyzing each song on the 51 albums he's chosen. Comparing his responses to one's own is interesting, but what really makes this book valuable is the extensive context he provides for each album.

Friedwald has been operating in the world of jazz and pop vocals for a long time and gives the reader insider history. He looks at where the album fits in the career path of the artist, how the arrangers-and often the musicians-ended up working on the project, background on the composers of the tunes, the dope on the record label people who decided to back the project and comparisons with other recordings of the song; an extensive historical framework for the albums.

There's a lot of dish-you'll learn how Peggy Lee's alcoholic husband figured into the making of "Black Coffee." But more interestingly, some of the broad conclusions he draws are absolutely new and spot on-Sinatra did show that songs taken in swinging tempos could also be sexy and romantic; tragic divas are given more serious consideration; the use of verses were probably eschewed in the swing era because they tended to be rubato (not in tempo) and therefore not danceable.

If you already know the music, it's interesting to compare his responses to your own, but if you're not, his prose reads well enough that it can be enjoyed on its own. In any case, all this analysis is an excellent goad to check out the music you don't know-for personal discovery purposes and to reality check Friedwald's take. For example:

I was not familiar with Carmen McRae's album Live at the Dug and checking it out was a pleasure. On the other hand...Here's what he says about her version of "I Could Have told You": "When she sings 'making promises he'll never keep,' instead of stretching the last word the way you might expect, she cuts it off shortly, and follows it with a few minor notes for emphasis-as if to literally illustrate the sound of a promise unkept." I then listened to the tune. She repeats that line a couple of times in the song and I don't know what Friedwald means by "cutting it off," but in fact, both times she holds out the note for several beats. It seems as though he thought he had a nice metaphorical point and stretched the musical facts to fit. Although I disagreed with this and some of his other evaluations and choice of artists (Tiny Tim the most obvious example), I found the process pretty fascinating. 

And yes, I do have a laundry list of bones to pick:
p.14 Was Astaire a "high baritone"? Can it be said that the Armstrong and Astaire Verve records "couldn't have been made without him[Oscar Peterson]?" Was Peterson always up to the task? For sure, but... 
p.25 What does a "coarse groove" 78 mean?
p.78 Harry Edison's "beeping trumpet"? A phrase used several times.
p.82 In the 30's and 40's, there was really no generation gap and everyone listened to Bing?
p.85 Was it really "every man for himself" in the 1920's, without any arrangements?
p.122 I think you DO need big chops to put over "Midnight Sun."
p.134 Scatting at its best is a minor annoyance?
p.194 Loesser's "cryptic, almost indecipherable line"? Well, Sheep's Eye is a gin produced by the Lickerish Tooth company. 
p.197 L, H&R were NOT the only ones doing what they did. There was the Blue Stars of Paris and the Double Six of Paris. And, you don't talk about the great "Every Tub" in your Sing a Song of Basie coverage.
p. 201 A trumpet mute "attaches to the bell"?
p.234 Carmen McRae DOES sound like herself.
p.268 Miles never played "Bye Bye Blackbird" at a "slow crawl."
p.314  Venuti was "by far the greatest soloist" on violin? Only if you restrict it to the 20's.
p.385 Ruby Braff was a cornetist, not a trumpettist.

But really, these are minor quibbles. If you're into vocals, check this book out.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Autumn Jazz Songs

These songs are suffused with an introspective, melancholy and somewhat rueful quality that distinguishes them from the music of other seasons. This made for one of the most chill DuPlex Mystery Jazz hours.


Chet Baker and Paul Desmond "Autumn Leaves" from "She Was Too Good to Me" (1974) on CTI

Dinah Washington "September in the Rain" from "September in the Rain"  (1960) on Mercury

Woody Herman & His Orchestra "Early Autumn" from "Early Autumn" (1948) on Capital

Double Six of Paris "Early Autumn" from "Swingin' Singin'" (1962) on Philips

Bob Dorough "Tis Autumn" from "Just About Everything" (1966) on Inner city

Art Farmer "Autumn Nocturne" from "Art Farmer Plays" (1955) on Prestige

Charlie Mariano "Autumn in New York" from "New Sounds from Boston" (1951) on Prestige

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman "Autumn Serenade" from "John Coltrane And Johnny Hartman" (1963) on Impulse

Django Reinhart & Hunert Rostaing "September Song" (1947) on Classics

Paul Bley "Autumn Breeze" from "Paul Bley" (1954) on Emarcy

Kenny Drew Trio "Autumn in Rome" from "Kenny Drew Trio" (2013) on Afterbeat

Yves Montand "Les Feuilles Mortes " from "Récital au Théâtre de L'Etoile" (1954) on Odeon

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong "Autumn in New York" from "Ella and Louis" (1957) on Verve

Friday, November 3, 2017

An Hour With Bunny Berigan

The DuPlex Mystery Jazz Hour of 11.2.17 featured the stellar trumpet and vocals of Bunny Berigan. He had great range, power, flexibility and ideas.



Roy Bargy "Raisin' the Rent" 1933 on Victor
The Boswell Sister "Everybody Loves My Baby" 1932 on Brunswick
Frankie Trumbauer and his Orchestra "Troubled" 1934 on Victor
Bunny Berigan · Gene Gifford and His Orchestra "Nuthin' But the Blues" 1935 on Victor
Benny Goodman & His Orchestra "Sometimes I'm happy" 1935 on Victor
Benny Goodman & His Orchestra "King Porter Stomp" 1935 on Victor
Glenn Miller Orch w. Berigan "Solo Hop" 1935 on Columbia
Bunny Berigan and his Blue Boys "Chicken and Waffles" 1935 on Decca
Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra "On Your Toes" 1935 on Victor
Bunny Berigan and his Blue Boys "Swing Mr Charlie" 1936 on Brunswick
Bunny Berigan "i Can't Get Started" 1936 on Vocalion
Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra "A Melody From the Sky" 1936 on Vocalion
Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra "Black Bottom" 1937 on Victor
Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra "Prisoner's Song" 1937 on Victor
Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra "Song of India" 1937 on Victor
Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra "Jazz Me Blues" 1939 on Victor
Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra "Ain't She Sweet" 1939 on Victor
Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra "Me and My Melinda" 1942 on Victor

Friday, October 27, 2017

Room-With-Jazz or Jazz Room?

There's a very big difference between a room with jazz and a jazz room. 
In a room with jazz, everyone is intent on their conversation and their food. If someone claps at the end of a tune, scattered people will join in as a guilty afterthought. 

In a jazz room, people are there to listen. Even if people are talking, most are using enough radar to ebb and flow with the music. Occasional bursts of "yea!" and "alright!" break through and individual solos are rewarded with applause. Rather than having to "work the crowd," the musicians can work WITH them.

Last night I was in a room-with-jazz. It kinda sucked.
The focus is on food and food has become a stable means of income for many places that before only sold drinks. I don't like it, but I get it.
As many tables as possible get squeezed into every possible space. Of course, that's always been the way. But now, rather than a few cocktail servers occasionally drifting by with drinks, you have a large waitstaff with menus, lots of plates, complicated cleanups and bill paying. Last night I was nearly run into or nearly ran into waiters four times. And, since the orientation of the tables is about maximizing the space, there are many seats that have no eye-line to the stage. If you go through the necessary gyrations to face the stage, I hope you have your chiropractor on speed dial. Alright, this is all very curmudgeonly. Full credit to the management of the place for having an actual bandstand and for hiring excellent musicians. The musicians are playing and are getting paid-that's good. I listened, as a few other people may listen, carefully. But, it remains intractably irritating to me that musicians who have devoted their lives to mastering this music are not being given the attention and respect they deserve. I don't think that performers as skilled in any other musical genre are treated this way.
"I eschew it."

Monday, October 23, 2017

A Big Sid Catlett Show

The Duplex of 10.19.17 featured the work of the great drummer Sid Catlett. As the playlist shows, he could play in any jazz style and make it work. He was also a master showman with the sticks. To see him in action, go here: Enjoy the show.



Benny Carter - "Swing It" Benny Carter, vocal, as, ‪Buster Bailey (cl as) Omer Simeon (as) Elmer Williams Chu Berry (ts cl) Horace Henderson (p) Bob Lessey (g) Israel Crosby(b) Sidney Catlett (d)‬, Columbia 1933

Fletcher Henderson - "Jangled Nerves" Dick Vance Joe Thomas Roy Eldridge (tp) Fernando Arbello Ed Cuffee (tb) Buster Bailey (cl as) OmerSimeon (as) Elmer Williams Chu Berry (ts cl) Horace Henderson (p) Bob Lessey (g) Israel Crosby(b) Sidney Catlett (d) Victor 1936

New Orleans Feetwarmers and Sidney Bechet "Shake it and Break It" S. Bechet (ss), S. de Paris (tp), S. Williams (tb), C. Jackson (p), B. Addis (g), W. Braud (b), S. Catlett (d) 1940 on VIctor

John Kirby Sextet "Jumping in the Pump Room" Charlie Shavers,cl:Buster Baily,as:Russel Procope,p:Billy Kyle, b:John Kirby,big sid catlett-d 1940 on Okeh, 1940

Benny Goodman "Pound Ridge"-Benny Goodman, cl, dir: Billy Butterfield, Jimmy Maxwell, Cootie Williams, Al Davis, t / Lou McGarity, Cutty Cutshall, tb / Skippy Martin, as, a / Clint Neagley, as / Vido Musso, George Berg, ts / Charles "Chuck" Gentry, bar / Mel Powell, p, a / Tom Morgan, g / John Simmons, sb / Sid Catlett, Chicago, 1941.

Eddie Condon w. Lee Wiley "Down With Love" from The Town Hall Concerts Forty-Four and Forty-Five-Eugene Schroeder-p· Sid Weiss-b· Sid Catlett-d· Lee Wileyv· Billy Butterfield-tp Eddie Condon -guitar, Monmouth Evergreen1944

Teddy WIlson Sextet "Don't be that way" The Onyx Club Original Live Recordings 1944, Teddy Wilson (piano), Edmond Hall (clarinet), Emmett Berry (trumpet), Benny Morton (trombone), Slam Stewart (bass), Sidney Catlett (drums) 1944 on Columbia

Esquire All Stars jazz concert "Rose Room," Art Tatum - piano, Big Sid Catlett-drums, Oscar Pettiford - bass, Barney Bigard - clarinet,  Christy Records 1945

Big Sid Catlett's Band, "Love For Scale" -Joe Guy (tp), Bull Moose Jackson (as), Bumps Myers and Illinois Jacquet (ts), Horace Henderson (p), Al Casey (g) and John Simmons (b). Capital 1945 

Big Sid Catlett and His AllStars "Humoresque Boogie"- Catlett, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis (ts), Bill Gooden (org,celeste,vcl), Pete Johnson (p), Jimmy Shirley (g) and Gene Ramey (b). Manor 1946 

Dizzy Gillespie with Charlie Parker, "Salt Peanuts," Sidney 'Big Sid' Catlett, Al Haig, and Curly Russell. 1945 Guild

John Kirby Sextet Musicomania-Charlie Shavers - trumpet, Buster Bailey - clarinet, Charlie Holmes - alto saxophone Billy Kyle - piano, John Kirby - bass, film-Sepia Cinderella, 1947

JATP "Sid Flips His Lid," Sid Catlett, d., Charlie Shavers, tpt, Hank jones, P, Verve 1947

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. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Intonation: Good Enough For Jazz?

There's an ancient trope musicians share while they're tuning up. After a few minutes of slides and mouthpieces being manipulated to try and agree on a Bflat, someone says "Ok-good enough for jazz."

How much a listener is distracted by intonation in jazz is personal, but it's clear that in the hierarchy of jazz values, personal expression trumps intonation. In fact, a lot of great players have existed in a kind of a tuning nether-region. 
I don't mean "bending" notes, which is an obvious device. But, is the musician purposely playing out of tune, doesn't notice it, or is he or she hearing the music in another way; possibly more as in a non-tempered, just-intonation framework?

This varies from instrument to instrument.

Bass players will be pissed off, but I find their intonation often dubious. Walking-ok, but once the solos start and they're freed from the shackles of playing important chord tones, it's a different story. Can't really talk about pianists, of course, as they do what they can with what they're given. As far as trumpet players- look at pictures of classical trumpet players and you see they have
fingers in both the first and third valve slides, in order to make adjustments. Not so, jazz players, who are often out of tune, especially when they use mutes. I hear trombonists adjusting well, especially in the upper register, when the slide is least extended. Mutes are an issue for them, too.

Really, it's about sax players-and mostly about alto players.

There's a school of alto players to which applying the usual standards of playing sharp or flat just doesn't make sense.

Here's where some of them fall to me:

Cannonball Adderly: bright tone, pleasantly sharp.

Gary Bartz: pretty much in the center
Benny Carter: liked to push it up and down, but settled at home
Johnny Hodges: all over the place, but he knew where he was
Ornette Coleman: an intonation enigma; where will he be?
Lou Donaldson: moderately bright tone, but, surprisingly, sometimes a shade under pitch(!)
Eric Dolphy: often far away from "in tune" on the sharp end.
Charlie Parker: His tone changed (almost) everyone's tone to the edgier bright sound that has dominated since that time. I think that people must have heard him as playing sharp, which a lot of the time he was, but less sharp than his tone would lead you to think.
Jackie McLean: He's the guy that inspired this post; pushes sharp to the extreme.

Where do you stand on this question?

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Music Takes Root in Racist Soil

We jazz folk like to emphasize the fact that the music has provided a fertile playing field, if you will, for inter-racial camaraderie. However, at this particular moment in American history, it feels right to show how foul the cultural context was that begat the music and to give a sense of how extraordinary it was that people were able to transcend that context and lay the foundations for jazz, ragtime and other popular musics.

Wilbur Sweatman's career exemplifies the path a black musician had to take in order to make a career in the pervasive racism of late 19th c. and early 20th c. America. It's a fascinating and sobering story and Mark Berresford's well researched biography Wilbur Sweatman, That's Got 'Em tells the story well. This post also adds observations culled from a recent reading of Dennis Owsley's City of Gabriels, The History of Jazz in St. Louis, 1895-1973, where the story of racism is told once again.

Berresford makes a strong case for Sweatman as an under-appreciated bridge figure between ragtime and jazz. Sweatman grew up in a town not far from ragtime hotbed Sedalia, MO and the Mississippi river, with its flow of itinerant musicians. He started, in the 1890's, in the trenches of showbiz as a member oa "pick" (pickaninnyband and transitioned into minstrelsy, brass bands, circus bands and vaudeville, where he spent most of his career. His musical skills put him in leadership positions early on and he associated with important figures in African-American music, many of whom are little known today: Nathaniel Clark Smith, P.G. Lowery, Harry T. Burleigh, Ford T. Dabney and others, whose names are slightly more familiar: Will Vodery, Perry Bradford, Shelton Brooks, Bob Cole, Will Marion Cook, James Reese Europe, Ernest Hogan, James Weldon Johnson among others.

It may be all too easy to think-especially given the hardscrabble quality of the itinerant musical life-that these musicians were uneducated, "natural" musicians. However, the story of Sweatman's success, along with that of 
Will Marion Cook
figures like Lowery, Smith, Cook, Europe and others, puts the lie to the mythology about the "natural" black musician. Many musicians were self-taught, often because formal training was unavailable to them, but the implication that disciplined intellectual training was beyond the scope of black musicians, was one of the most pernicious manifestations of racism. Natural they may have been, but what this biography makes clear is that in order to make a living in music, a musician had to have a solid musical background, be able to read music and if not write, then contribute to arrangements and play in any style of music. 
Eddie Randall's St. Louis Devils, 1938

City of Gabriels describes a similar scenario. Unlike the mythology of the riverboat bands, which we think of as hotbeds of improvisation for many famous jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong, Baby Dodds and Pee Wee Russell, there was little improvisation. The riverboats' bands, largely run by Fate Marable for the Streckfus family steamship line, were highly disciplined and structured musical environments, where one had to learn how to read well and be adaptable in many musical situations. And, as such, this gig was highly valued by musicians.
Fate Marable Riverboat Band
The racist attitude about "natural" versus "educable" forced black musicians to hide their education. For example, black musicians playing in James Reese Europe bands for white audiences had to quickly memorize the latest songs, as they could not be seen to use sheet music on the bandstand, lest they be seen as putting themselves on the same level as their audience. And, of course, black musicians had to give up any idea of becoming involved in the world of classical music. 
James Reese Europe's Hellfighters
City of Gabriels covers an aspect of the story not covered in the Sweatman book, that of musician's unions.

In St. Louis, white bands played only for whites, while black bands could play for both black and white audiences. However, jobs in legitimate theatre and classical music were restricted to the white union. Both unions managed to uphold decent per-job wage levels, but when times grew tough in the late 1920's, enmity between the two unions grew, as the bread and butter jobs in the new entertainment industries of radio and film were also not made available to black union members. Separate but unequal unions were not officially desegregated by the American Federation of Musicians in all American cities until 1971. 

Of course, the history of racism in music encompasses much more than I've talked about here, just as it is only one aspect of the pattern of discrimination that pervaded every trade, profession and employment track in America. As a lifelong aspiring practitioner of jazz, I can only take a knee in honor of the indomitable men and women who laid the foundation of this profound expression of the human spirit.

Monday, September 25, 2017

In Praise of Young Jazz Musicians

I hear a lot about this entitled generation of kids. The lazy buggers don't woodshed for 12 hours a day learning Charlie Parker solos like we did. They don't give a hoot about blowing Cherokee in 12 keys.

And yet, those lazy buggers seem to be filling the halls of Berklee, North Texas State and a hundred other jazz programs. Are they walking down the halls of NEC listening to Kanye West and Beyonce? Probably, but Bird and Trane are also on their playlists. All you have to do is listen to the music being made by high school and college ensembles to see that the musicianship is off the charts.

So, what's gonna happen to this large cohort of trained jazz musicians?

The top 1-5% of players are likely to be recognized and able to make a living as performing musicians.

Other, very promising young musicians who have musical parents or who can plug into an extended musical family, may be fortunate enough to be nurtured by an informal mentoring system. This can lead to sitting in with already established players and/or introductions to important music industry contacts.

For the rest, gigs are unlikely to provide a steady income. Jobs paying a living wage in the field of music are limited: teaching, piano tuning, studio engineering. Or, you might try your luck overseas. The most likely scenario is taking a "day job" and doing music whenever you can.

Apart from offering poor employment options, jazz, for the most part, has lost its cache of cool, meaning this youthful cohort is drifting away from its hip hop/pop/techno-centric peer group like ice floes breaking off the polar cap. Add to all that how hard this difficult music is to master.

And yet, the music continues to draw in enthusiastic musicians.  I see it as a testament to the enduring power of the music and not to the short-sightedness of youth.  Despite the diminished status or popularity of jazz in the culture, these young people feel the music's power to move and uplift us. There's something very heartening in the idea that they recognize this and continue to aspire to fulfill the infinite potential of the music.

Friday, September 22, 2017

An Hour with Eddie Jefferson

On this edition of the DuPlex Mystery Jazz Hour of 9.21.17, we hear some of the music of Eddie Jefferson. Eddie was one of the prime innovators in vocalese-the art of putting lyrics to jazz tunes and solos.  



‪Eddie Jefferson and James Moody‬ "I Cover the Waterfront" and
"Moody's mood for love"  (1956) on Argo

Eddie Jefferson "New York Afternoon (feat. Richie Cole)" from "Keeper of the Flame" (1979) on Muse

Eddie Jefferson "So What" from "The Jazz Singer" (1976) on Inner city

Eddie Jefferson "Harold's House of Jazz" from "Keeper of the Flame" 1979 on Muse

Eddie Jefferson "Sister Sadie" from "The Jazz Singer" 1976 on Inner city

Eddie Jefferson "Lady Be Good" from "The Live-Liest" 1976 on Muse

Eddie Jefferson "Body and Soul" from "The Jazz Singer" 1976)on Inner city

Eddie Jefferson "Benny's From Heaven" from "The Main Man" 1977 on Inner city

Eddie Jefferson "Groovin' High" from "The Live-Liest" 1976 on Muse

Dexter Gordon feat. Eddie Jefferson "Diggin' In" from "Great Encounters" 1978 on Columbia

Eddie Jefferson "Parker's Mood" from "The Live-Liest" 1976 on Muse

Eddie Jefferson "Now's The Time" from "The Jazz Singer" 1976 on Inner City

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Jazz Seduce-O-Meter (updated)

Friends, I have seen the error of my ways and apologize for the sarcastic tone of my recent post on the scientific link between sex and jazz. Looking back at my own experience dispassionately, I see there is in fact a clear link between people's sex lives and their musical taste. "Getz-Gilberto" is guaranteed to get anyone into your bed faster and more efficiently than, say, Black Flag. That is statistically indisputable. 

So, in the spirit of stretching this scientific inquiry to the breaking point, I have created "The Jazz Seduce-O-Meter"-JSOM-designed to help you maximize your musical dollar in order to fully leverage the sexiness of the jazz mystique. Your goal is to reach 10 points. Ten points guarantees results. Understand that each Jazz Seduce-O-Meter must be tailored to your specific demographic**. 

Here is the Boomer version (abridged): 
Bossa Nova: +4 
Miles Davis Birth of the Cool: +3 
Miles Davis Kind of Blue: +4 
Miles Davis muted, playing ballads: +3 
Any other Miles: -4 
Sinatra w. Dorsey: +3 
Sinatra w. Stordahl: +3  
Sinatra w. Paul Anka: -10 
Coltrane w. Johnny Hartman: +4  
Coltrane Ballads: +3 
Any other Coltrane: -5 
Organ Trios: -2 
ECM Records: +2 
Bill Evans: +3 
Anything "With Strings:" -1 
Third Stream Music: +-0 
Avant-garde jazz of any kind: -10 

**Keep your eye on your demographic. A knowledgeable source sends this warning: GIlberto doesn't work with punker chicks.

Mix and match as much as you like, just stay away from the negative numbers and please! Avoid those screeching saxophones at all cost. Let us know whether the Jazz Seduce-O-Meter has worked for you! All we ask here at Seduction Central is that you not name your first born "Cannonball."