You gotta have heart. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, jazz artists frequently turned to Disney movies and Broadway shows for material. From Miles Davis (Someday My Price Will Come) and Bill Evans (Alice in Wonderland) to J.J. Johnson (Put on a Happy Face) and John Coltrane (My Favorite Things), songs from film and stage were considered hip springboards for heart-felt improvisation. In fact, entire jazz albums back then were devoted to such fare—often with exciting results.
I'm not sure when exactly this tradition started. My guess is that jazz record producers came up with the idea as a way for jazz artists to reach mainstream listeners. Or jazz musicians who played Broadway shows on the side fooled around with the tunes and suggested them. Whatever the reasons, the results remain exciting today.
Sadly, this tradition now is all but dead. Which is a shame, since it's hard to pick up a new jazz CD without seeing several weary standards on the back. How many more Body and Souls and Take the A Trains do we need? Are Disney films too square? Are Broadway shows too corny? Or maybe the licensing fees are simply too steep.
For example, wouldn't many of the songs from Disney's Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid or Broadway's Hairspray and Avenue Q provide sensational springboards for improvisation? Surely Part of Your World from The Little Mermaid would make a great Bill Evans-esque solo piano piece. Or It Sucks to Be Me from Avenue Q would be ideal for a horn ensemble.
Jazz producers hungry for new material should consider recent Disney films and Broadway shows. Certainly today's jazz artists—and vocalists—must as tired of recording Tin Pan Alley and bop standards as we are weary of listening to them.
Nica update. Yesterday I heard from Hannah Rothschild, the documentary filmmaker and great niece of Pannonica "Nica" de Koenigswarter, the fabulous patron of jazz and jazz artists of the 1940s and 1950s:
"Dear Marc—Thanks for your kind words about the documentary I made on Nica de Koenigswarter, my great aunt, for BBC Radio 4. This is stage one of a documentary I am making for television."
I think everyone who heard Hannah's terrific BBC radio podcast last week will be gratified to learn that a film version is on its way. I will keep you posted on Hannah's progress.
"I happened to pick up The Marty Sheller Ensemble's Why Deny a couple of months ago and flipped as well. I wasn't that familiar with him but I am a huge Bobby Porcelli fan—he's the alto saxophonist on the date.
Here are links to my favorites albums featuring Bobby Porcelli:
- The Bronx Horns' Silver in the Bronx here and Catch the Feeling here.
- Don Sickler's Reflections here and Night Watch here.
- Sabu Martinez's Sabu's Jazz Espagnole here.
- T. S. Monk's Changing of the Guard here.
- Arturo O'Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra's Una Noche Inolvidable (An Unforgettable Night) here.
Lament for Lim. In my post on Machito's Kenya this past week, I mentioned that I had worked a summer job in the early 1970s at a Sam Goody record store in New York with Harry Lim, the retired producer of Keynote Records.
My mention of Lim (pictured behind Coleman Hawkins at the piano for a Keynote session) brought back memories for reader Don Frese, who sent along the following email:
"Sometime in the late 1950s, my friend Billy Anderson and I went to the old Madison Square Garden to see a New York Rangers matinee game. After the game, we went to the flagship Sam Goody's on 48th Street just around the corner—my first trip there. Not every record title was in the browsing bins, so if you wanted a particular LP, you looked up the label and number in a Schwann catalog and gave it to a salesman, who found it in the cabinets that lined the walls.
I wanted Shelly Manne and His Men, Vol. 1. The man I gave my request to was, I was later to learn after seeing his picture in a Down Beat article on the Keynote label—Harry Lim. He moved a ladder, climbed up, moved his fingers along the Contemporary row, and pulled the LP for me.
Another man I remember from Sam Goody's was an Englishman with an encyclopedic knowledge, especially of Ellington. I always enjoyed talking with him. There are no record stores like that any more with people who know something about what they are selling.
I, too, worked briefly in a record store in New York as well—Happy Tunes on 8th Street in Greenwich Village. Among my duties was to escort [the blind saxophonist] Roland Kirk through the new releases, reading the titles, musicians and tunes to him."