Message from Boston. My wife and I spent the better part of the past week in Boston, a city we adore. Whenever we need a break from New York, we make the 4 1/2-hour drive north with the enthusiasm of a pair of puppies. Anyone who has visited Boston knows that the town is quaint, quiet, perfectly preserved, charming and a throwback to another era.
I love walking miles in this city because the architecture makes me feel the same way jazz does. Stroll around Back Bay, and you come
across scores of brownstones from the 1800s in all shapes and designs. Hike up Beacon Hill amid the rail-thin brick sidewalks and candle-warm street lamps, and you're in Federalist townhouse heaven. Eat in the Italian section in the North End, and you're back in Paul Revere's time. And if the
architecture isn't enough, parks run
throughout the city like a green ribbon. The
emerald against chocolate browns of the stone buildings truly soothes the soul. It's a city that thankfully remains ferociously zoned to ensure that vast stretches remain historic and retain a human scale. [Photo of Beacon Hill: Michael W. Dunn]
Boston also is home to my favorite skyscraper: The John Hancock Tower, a plaza-less green-blue glass tower that rises straight up from the sidewalk in Copley Square, cutting a razor-sharp silhouette. The Henry Cobb-I.M. Pei masterpiece was set on an angle so that it looks different from every angle. At one precise location on Boylston Street, the Hancock's front face disappears altogether, creating an optical illusion. The building is pure Bill Evans on the eyes, gracefully simple with a poetic lyricism that makes you wonder why something so plain is so beautiful.
Best of all, Boston is home to one of the great used bookshops, Commonwealth Books at 134 Boylston Street. I spent an hour among the dusty shelves and unearthed the 1,358-page New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (1994), edited by Barry Kernfeld; Just Before Jazz (1989) by Thomas Riis on African-American theater music from 1890-1915; and Jazz Panorama (1962), a collection of fabulous essays from The Jazz Review edited by Martin Williams.
I also had a chance to stop by and see the historic Copley Square Hotel, where George Wein's Storyville used to occupy space on the ground floor. The hotel is under a top-to-bottom, $14-million renovation, so I had to peer through the dusty window on the Huntington Avenue side. There, where Lester Young, Charlie Parker and so many others played, stood a lone cement mixer. The hotel is expected to re-open sometime next year.
Without a doubt, Boston is the new Europe.
Danilo Perez. Panamanian jazz pianist Danilo Perez has teamed with legendary arranger Claus Ogerman for a fascinating new album called Across the Crystal Sea. The pairing of the two musicians makes for steamy contrasts. Perez's smoldering intensity and Ogerman's humid writing results in a passionate, moody album that grows on you each time you hear it. Perez's Latin-tinged jazz technique takes on different colors when backed by Ogerman's dramatic, scorched-wind writing for strings. Most of the album's compositions are Ogerman originals based on themes by Hugo Distler, Jean Sibelius and other classical composers.
Perez and Ogerman combined are the equivalent of a hot coal sitting on a block of dry ice. Compositions build with bolero intensity and are eased back down by Ogerman's caressing string, brass and woodwind figures. Cassandra Wilson sings two tracks, Lazy Afternoon and (All of a Sudden) My Heart Sings, in a confidential, lingering style reminiscent of the late Shirley Horn. Perez is joined by Christian McBride (bass), Lewis Nash (drums) and Luis Quintero (percussion).
Bix v. Pops. Last week there was an interesting intellectual fencing match going on over the merits and shortcomings of Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong at Rifftides, Doug Ramsey's blog. As always, Doug provided the voice of reason. I will toss in my two cents in a separate post, probably this week. For now, have a look at the back and forth here.
Warne Marsh. Want to see tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh 's unusual embouchure (use of facial muscles and lips on the mouthpiece when playing the saxophone)? Below, Marsh plays with Lee Konitz on a clip from the 1958 TV show, The Subject Is Jazz, that videographer Bret Primack posted:
Bill Evans. In support of Concord Records' re-issue of The Bill Evans Trio: Sunday at the Village Vanguard, Bret Primack has posted at YouTube his video interview with producer Orrin Keepnews on that historic session:
Anita O'Day. No sooner had I bought my friend Helene a copy of the DVD Anita O'Day: Live in Tokyo than she sent it to me to have a look. I have the CD from Anita's 1963 TV performance, but after seeing clips recently from the Japanese show in the documentary, Anita O'Day: Life of a Jazz Singer, I was dying to have a look.
The DVD is absolutely fabulous and features Anita at her peak. The camera is right where you want it to be—in Anita's face. You see every move—her mouth shaping lyrics, exposing upper and lower teeth while smiling, bending the notes, eyes lost in the song, hips ahead of the beat, and her white-gloved arms and hands punctuating points like a Vogue model. Grab this DVD; you won't be sorry. It's available at Amazon here. For now, here's a clip:
In the Mood. Last week I received an email from jazz writer and disk jockey Sid Gribetz commenting on my Guess That Jazz Tune post. Sid, who hosts radio shows on WKCR-FM in New York, added a few insights on the origins of In the Mood:
Composer Joe Garland picked up the riff and made it a "new song" [called In the Mood] for bandleader Edgar Hayes. As your other correspondent noted, Artie Shaw then picked it up, had the song in his book for a while, although he never commercially recorded it.
The key thing to be noted: What made the Miller record such a popular seller then, and an enduring hit to this day, is the brilliant arrangement by Eddie Durham [pictured], who is the quiet unassuming genius and unsung hero of so many aspects of popular music (from Moten Swing and Basie, to the amplification of the electric guitar, to his arrangements for Jimmie Lunceford, Glenn Miller, et al) who must be given some notice and due."
You can hear Wingy Manone's Tar Paper Stomp here.