Ron Carter. Starting tomorrow, Ron Carter joins me at JazzWax for a weeklong interview series. The legendary jazz bassist talks about his early years in Detroit, his love of classical music, the dynamics of the Miles Davis Quintet, his years at CTI Records, and why the musicians who played on Astrud Gilberto's 1967 Beach Samba album were skittish.
Lupe O'Farrill. On Friday night I found myself at a marvelous party hosted by Lupe O'Farrill. Lovely Lupe is wife of the late Chico O'Farrill, one of the greatest jazz and Latin-jazz arrangers, composers and big-band leaders who died in 2001. About 30 of Lupe's friends were there—film directors, painters, writers, producers and neighbors. Lupe prepared four fabulous dishes along with a home-made mole sauce that brought tears to everyone's eyes.
Lupe lives in one of those grand pre-war buildings on New York's Upper West Side, and her apartment has an endless number of rooms. Each wall is covered with a lifetime of oil paintings, illustrations, framed articles about Chico, letters and photographs signed by jazz legends ranging from Stan Kenton and Dizzy Gillespie to Art Farmer and Count Basie. All of them knew Chico and at one point and another turned to him for his arranging skills.
Chico not only arranged and composed under his own name but also was a ghostwriter—meaning he scored for other jazz arrangers and bandleaders who were credited with the work. This was a common practice back in the 1950s and 1960s. When high-profile arrangers found themselves long on work but short on time, they often subcontracted the arrangements to writers who could emulate their style and sound. Chico picked up the slack for Basie, Kenton, Quincy Jones, Ernie Wilkins and so many others. For Count Basie alone, Chico is credited as the arranger of eight of the bandleader's albums in the 1960s, including Evergreens, which to my ear is one of Basie's best from the decade.
Lupe told me that Benny Goodman was the one who named O'Farrill "Chico," and that Chico never liked the name but preferred Arturo or simply Art. But like everything, Lupe said, once you're stuck with a nickname in the music business, you embrace it.
At one point during the party I wandered into Lupe's living room, which is decorated with classic late-1950s and early-1960s furnishings. A dynamite CD of Chico's was playing—powered by a vintage McIntosh receiver from the late 1960s. The music coming out of the large speakers hanging from the walls featured Chico's band and crisp arrangements, probably recorded in Mexico in the mid-1950s.
So I sat down on a sofa in the empty room (everyone else was talking in the other rooms). For the next half hour I listened uninterrupted to the great pen of Chico O'Farrill. I had to pinch myself. Here I was, sitting in the same room where Chico and Lupe had entertained so many jazz legends, listening to a CD of Chico's finest period on Chico's own stereo. Man, what an honor!
The CD I was listening to? Chico O'Farrill: Y Su Orquestra, an import featuring spectacular cha-cha-chas. When I say spectacular, I mean the scores are unbelievably complex with impeccable precision and musicianship that's out of this world. It's infectious stuff, those cha-cha-chas. Buy the CD immediately if you can find it.
Before I left, Lupe pressed into my hands two CDs of Chico's classical compositions. I had no idea Chico had written classical pieces, but I shouldn't be surprised given his range. I can't wait to listen to the albums this week. Thank you again, Lupe.
In memoriam. Afro-Cuban jazz legend Israel "Cachao" Lopez died at a Miami hospital early Saturday morning. The bassist, composer and arranger was 89. Cachao (pronounced "Cah-chow") is probably best known for blending nuevo ritmo—or new sound—with the traditional Cuban danzon during the 1930s. This new, hybrid rhythm eventually led to the mambo, which Cachao helped popularize in the U.S. in the early 1950s. Cachao also is credited in 1957 with holding the first descargas, or jam sessions featuring Cuban musicians. These improvisational get-togethers eventually changed the direction and sound of Afro-Cuban music. [Pictured from left: Ivan Acosta of Latin Jazz USA, the late Cachao, and legendary percussionist Candido Camero in 2007.]
Blog bonanza. If you haven't visited Jazz.com lately, go dig "The Coolest Jazz Web Links." You'll find the link boxed on the home page. CJWL is updated daily and features Ted's favorite blog posts. To access Ted's picks, you just click on the images. Way cool—and a major time-saver for busy jazz fans.
Clips of the week: Jan Stevens of the BillEvansWebpages sent along a link to a fascinating audio interview conducted with John Coltrane in 1959. Go here. Hearing Coltrane's speaking voice and his views on his emerging sound and art is fascinating, to say the least.
Master video-documentarian Bret Primack sent along a link to his latest podcast featuring producer Orrin Keepnews reflecting on Bill Evans. The podcast supports the Concord Records' Keepnews Collection release of Bill Evans' Portrait in Jazz, which sounds unbelievable. A world of difference over the miserable 1987 effort that had been the only disc choice for years. Go here to see the clip.
Last week Doug Ramsey of Rifftides posted a terrific roundup of arrangers and their recordings from the 1930s. To read Doug's post, go here. Doug writes that bebop is next.