Russ Garcia. I went out to hear music last Tuesday night, which I rarely do these days. As those of you know who email me and get an instant reply, I've been glued to my desk with work. But how often do you get to see legendary composer and arranger Russ Garcia? And after my interview with Russ last week, I just had to hear how his trombone charts for singer Shaynee Rainbolt sounded, not to mention watch him conduct his own compositions. It was a great evening at New York's Highline Ballroom. [Photo from left, Shaynee, Russ and his wife Gina]
First of all, you'd never know Russ is 92 years old. He had more energy than most people in the room, and if he hadn't run out of arrangements, the two-hour, no-intermission show that Shaynee and Russ put on would have continued until he was the last one standing. Shaynee's new album is Charmed Life: Shaynee Rainbolt Sings Russell Garcia (With Russell Garcia and his Four Trombone Band). The instrumentation was a reprise of Russ' highly successful trombone choir that he used to great swinging effect behind singers in the 1950s.
The beauty at the Highline was that Russ conducted his own music and arrangements up on stage. To watch him in action was to be transported back to another time, when studio arrangers and conductors had full command of orchestras and the respect of the very best musicians. What was most remarkable was watching Russ' hands. They fluttered gracefully like doves to signal the trombones or drums. He also had an interesting way of positioning himself so he could conduct while watching Shaynee and the drummer with his right shoulder pivoted toward the trombones. Conducting while watching the singer is a neat technique. All in all, it was like being back in time at a Hollywood recording session. The performances and polish were on the money. Everyone was perfectly rehearsed.
When I met Russ backstage afterward, he looked at me with a Santa Claus twinkle in his eye and said, "A lot of fun, right?" Big time.
Connie Haines. Lost in the shuffle of Wall Street's maybe meltdown last week and the pending presidential debate was Connie Haines' obituary. She was 87. The petite, "kid sister" singer with Tommy Dorsey was best known for her pairings with Frank Sinatra between 1940 and 1942. War-anxious audiences seemed to like her best when she was tussling with Sinatra on songs like Oh Look at Me Now, Let's Get Away from It All and Snootie Little Cutie. But Haines was more than a coy novelty singer, as evidenced by her pre-Dorsey work with Harry James and later with Bob Crosby. If you want to hear Haines pure and simple with Dorsey, sans Sinatra, download Will You Still Be Mine here for 99 cents. It's a peachy Axel Stordahl arrangement. Haines sure could bend a note and sell a song.
Mundell Lowe. I caught up with Mundell Lowe Friday afternoon. It was great to hear the legendary guitarist's voice, which is as warm and lilting as a spring breeze. Though Mundell moved to the West Coast in the mid-1960s, you can still hear willowy traces of Mississippi. The guitarist told me he had just won the San Diego Music Awards' Lifetime Achievement Award. And for those in Southern California on October 26, he mentioned he's performing with British guitarist Martin Taylor at Dizzy's in San Diego. I interviewed Mundell back in January. [Photo Jeff Wiant]
Kind of Blue. As you might imagine, I received quite a few emails from readers about my controversial post on Miles Davis' classic Kind of Blue. A surprising number of the emails voiced secret agreement while others insisted I was missing the point. And that's why the web is a beautiful thing. It's democratic and big enough for one and all.
Famed photographer, jazz producer and author Hank O'Neal (the forthcoming Ghosts of Harlem) sent along the following:
"I think Kind of Blue is really a fine recording, a classic. But as you point out, there are indeed a bunch of others from the same period that are equally exceptional. In fact, at the time, I preferred the two LP releases that Miles had recorded with Gil Evans before Kind of Blue [Miles Ahead and Porgy & Bess].
I think people who have written about Kind of Blue in the past and the arts in general tend to try and elevate or equate what they do to what the people they are writing about do. In other words, a critic will look at a classic Berenice Abbott photograph and try and read all sorts of things into it. I worked with Berenice for 19 years. There was no mystery. What she did wasn't a mystery. She saw something she thought would make a good photograph and that was it. It wasn't a mysterious process, it was just doing it well. Ansel Adams had a window of a few minutes to take Moonrise Over Hernandez, New Mexico. It is his iconic image. There is no mystery. He was driving down the road, saw the scene unfolding, rushed to set up his camera and managed to take it. That's all. No mystery.
The same is true with Kind of Blue, so perhaps there has been too much over-analysis of the album over time.
I also find it interesting that there were recording difficulties. I've been at many sessions at Columbia's 30th Street Studios, one of the best recording studios in the city at the time. But you're quite right. In listening back to the album, the bass is a bit muddy and the balance of the horns relative to the drums is none too good, although it is better in some places than others.
I also enjoyed the things you wrote in this month's Jazziz about Oscar Pettiford's Bohemia After Dark and its connection to So What. And some of the tracks on Kind of Blue could have just as easily have fit on other LPs in 1958 or 1959. But all in all, I think these five pieces worked well together."
Jazz critic and author Larry Kart (Jazz in Search of Itself) offered these pearls:
"About your intriguing Kind of Blue post, I'd say that as a listener at the time who was knocked out in particular by Milestones and who probably still prefers that album and other recordings by the sextet that were in that galvanic groove, I don't think one can discount the remarkable impact that Kind of Blue had at that time—musically and in terms of collective sensibility—on both players and listeners. One felt that a new door or new doors had opened, and even if the vistas revealed were going to be rather "same-y" and/or too dreamlike for their (and your) own good, there they unavoidably and seductively were. In fact, "seductively" may be the gist of it."
Comments and another album suggestion from reader Carl Woideck:
"Without weighing in on Kind of Blue v. the Miles Davis Sextet's May 1958 session (which for years I've thought was vastly underrated, more so when Love for Sale was finally added and released), I want to point out that on Kind of Blue, only So What and Flamenco Sketches are modally organized. (The album certainly did inspire musicians to explore modal concepts.) Also, I don't think that modality ("modal riffs") can explain the emotional ("icy," "gloomy") part of your totally valid reaction. As for 1959, don't forget Mingus Ah Um. Clearly, 1959 was a great year for jazz.
From reader Don Frese:
"I must disagree with you about Kind of Blue, not that your qualms with the album are incorrect. I think it is a very great recording because it captured some of the most imaginative and memorable melodic improvisation of all time. Fifty years after the recording, I find myself humming pieces of solos for no discernible reason except that they are part of my living tissue. And I can (although I fumble the 16th notes,) scat sing the entire record as it is playing. Yes, the mood is cool and restrained, but in this regard, it reminds me of the very best Debussy or Ravel song cycles or chamber pieces."
From reader Michael J. West:
"Marc, you ask, 'Let's be fair: Is Kind of Blue really more important or enduring than John Coltrane's Giant Steps or the Dave Brubeck Quartet's Time Out? Both were recorded in 1959.' I happen to love Kind of Blue very much, but what surprises me is the critical album from 1959 you didn't mention. I've argued and will continue to argue that the most all-around significant recording of 1959 is The Shape of Jazz to Come by Ornette Coleman. No doubt, 1959 was a banner year, with a glut of major albums. But none so thoroughly called into question the very foundation of jazz theory and practice—and certainly none inspired as much discussion or as many passionate opinions as Ornette's. Kind of Blue is both experimental and accessible, which gives it its reputation. But if you want to talk about a truly monumental record, and one that's an immediate contemporary of Kind of Blue at that, well, there's my suggestion."
James Moody. In response to my post on the hidden James Moody album at iTunes that features the tenor saxophonist's glorious output from Sweden in 1949 and 1951, reader Jeff Rzepiela sent the following along:
"Thank you for bringing these tracks to people's attention. They are some of Moody's best work from his early days. For musicians that read your blog, I have transcribed a number of Moody's solos from these recording dates. The transcriptions are available for study on my website."
Jazz sightings. I caught a bit of TV last week and saw an ad for Notorious, a Ralph Lauren women's fragrance. Along with the usual black-and-white female fantasy stuff was Miles Davis playing Maids of Cadiz, from the Miles Ahead album orchestrated by Gil Evans. The scent certainly seems much more appealing with Miles and Gil. You can see and hear the ad here ... High atop my it's-so-bad-it's-good list is Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959). I caught about a half-hour of it yesterday. What I love are the hack scenes of flying saucers roaring over Hollywood. As the metallic discs buzz overhead, Ed Wood seems to have used stock footage of several nightclub marquees. They fly by, but we get a glimpse of Frances Faye's name and of June Christy's at the Crescendo. Another featured Eartha Kitt's. Ya gotta love Ed Wood.
Henry Mancini. Reader Greg Lee sent along a link to a fabulous National Public Radio podcast of Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz. Her guest on this show was Henry Mancini. The session, as you can imagine, is lovely. Go here to listen to it for free.
Dinah and Brook. Greg also let me know that Rainy Night in Georgia, a Brook Benton hit in 1970, was first recorded by the song's composer, country singer Tony Joe White. While White's version lacks Brook's windshield-wiper sadness, it's quite good. You'll find it as a download at iTunes and Amazon.
Latin Jazz. Don Frese reports that Fania has begun reissuing all of Tito Puente's Tico 78-rpms from 1949 to 1955. Volume 1 is at iTunes and Amazon (the samples sound terrific) while Volume 2 thus far is only at Amazon.