Artie Shaw. My post on Artie Shaw's Gramercy Five of 1945 triggered the following anecdote from Don Brown of Toronto on how Johnny Guarnieri came to play the harpsichord on the sextet's 1940 recordings [Pictured: Artie Shaw and Ava Gardner]:
Also in my Gramercy Five post, I mistakenly used the generic word "tonal" to describe the cool, modern bridge of Hop, Skip and Jump. Writer and musician Bill Kirchner sent along an email shedding light on exactly what was going on there, musically:
"Harmonically, Hop, Skip and Jump is a 32-bar AABA tune that comprises I Got Rhythm chord changes (in the key of F) in the A sections. The bridge, or B section, has a series of what jazz musicians call 'II V7 I's' (or 'two five ones'). To illustrate:Bb minor 7, Eb7, Ab; Ab minor 7, Db7, Gb; G minor 7, C7 F, D7; G minor 7, and C7. Then back to final A section.
"Jazz musicians such as Art Tatum, John Kirby (his sextet's recording From Ab to C), and Benny Carter (the bridge to When Lights Are Low) began to use 'two five ones' in the mid-1930s. The practice later became one of the hallmarks of bebop. The intellectually and musically curious Artie Shaw (with his pioneering beboppers, pianist Dodo Marmarosa and guitarist Barney Kessel) was reflecting what was in the air at the time."
Reader Ian Bradley informed me this morning that he has posted at Midriff on the new Artie Shaw: The Complete Spotlight Band 1945 Recordings that includes a live recording of Hop, Skip and Jump.
Roland Hanna. Following my post on Helen Merrill Presents: Sir Roland Hanna, I received several comments from readers, many of whom offered up favorite Hanna albums:
From critic and author Larry Kart:
"You may want to alert your readers to a solo Roland Hanna album from 1987 called Round Midnight. It's a gem and beautifully recorded. Eight out of the eleven tracks are Hanna originals."
From Russ Neff:
From Raul Bernardo in Lisbon:
"Nice to read your post remembering Roland Hanna. I wonder if JazzWax readers are aware of a delicious Hanna CD recorded in 1979 in Japan called, When You Wish Upon a Star, on the TDK label. With Hanna was bassist George Mraz. It's worth looking for. Congratulations on your site and the magnificent interviews."
From Agustin Perez in Madrid:
Reader Ian Bradley tells me that Sir Roland Hanna Plays the Music of Alec Wilder can be purchased from the U.K.'s Amazon site here.
Terry Teachout. Wall Street Journal critic Terry Teachout had a terrific post last week at his blog, About Last Night, detailing the research that went into his recently completed Pops: The Life of Louis Armstrong. The biography, expected this fall from Harcourt, is definitive, to say the least.
From Terry's post:
"Sooner or later, everyone who interviews me about Pops will ask some variation on this question: Why do we need another book about Satchmo? The short answer is that I am the first biographer to have had access to six hundred and fifty reels of tape recordings privately made by Armstrong during the last quarter-century of his life, many of which contain revealing after-hours conversations in which he speaks with breathtaking frankness about his life and work.
"More generally, I've been able to draw on a wide variety of other material that was unavailable or unknown to Laurence Bergreen when he wrote Louis Armstrong: An Extravagant Life, the last primary-source Armstrong biography, which was published twelve years ago.
"All well and good—but what did I do with my new ingredients? To put it as simply as possible, I've sought to write a narrative biography of Armstrong that is comparable in seriousness and scope to such 'definitive' high-culture biographies as W. Jackson Bate's Samuel Johnson, George Painter's Marcel Proust, or David Cairns' Berlioz."
I, for one, can't wait. If you're unfamiliar with Terry's unmatched ability to take complex matters and spin them into easy-reading gold, pick up A Terry Teachout Reader. The collection contains one remarkable essay after the next on a wide range of artists, writers, dancers, musicians and singers.
Billy Taylor Meets Art Tatum. Bret Primack ("Jazz Video Guy") offers a marvelously directed and packaged v-post in HD featuring pianist Billy Taylor on mentor Art Tatum. Billy talks on-camera about meeting Tatum and how Tatum's impossible technique became a motivating force rather than a discouraging hurdle...
Metronome All-Stars. In my post on the Metronome All-Stars of 1948-49 and interview with legendary clarinetist Buddy DeFranco, I wrote that short and long versions of Overtime and Victory Ball were recorded. I wrote that the shorter one was for commercial release (10-inch 78 rpm) and the longer one (12-inch platter) was likely for radio airplay. Reader John Cooper offered a different theory:
"So, the same thing must have occurred with the Metronome All-Stars. But this time RCA simply did it with a separate recording. I just cant recall for sure if they actually did issue the 12-inch versions at the time. I think they did, but I didn't look hard enough for discographical proof, which should be available. But I could be mistaken. Someone should check."
Which prompted me to do a bit more research. Roland Gelatt's The Fabulous Phonograph: 1877-1977 offers a clue. In mid-1948, during the height of the second musicians' union recording ban, Columbia introduced the 12-inch 33 1/3-rpm record and a turntable converter for $29.95. Columbia was using what was known as "microgroove" technology, which meant the result was largely noise-free. Instead of patching together shorter recordings to make longer ones, Columbia engineers simply recorded a duplicate set of masters on acetate transcription blanks. In 1948, Columbia offered to share its new technology with RCA. But RCA balked at Columbia's offer.
Nevertheless, in January 1949, when the Metronome All-Stars date was held, RCA hedged its bets and recorded longer versions of Overtime and Victory Ball. But by early 1949, Columbia's new longer format still hadn't caught on with the record-buying public. So RCA introduced a new, more compact format: the 45-rpm. The thinking here was that a faster changer [pictured] would allow multiple 45s to keep music going with just a brief break. The new format immediately ignited a "battle of the speeds" between the major labels.
Naturally, the 45-rpm could not overcome the biggest consumer drawback: longer-playing music without any interruption. Confused, buyers stopped buying records altogether, and disc sales slipped dramatically in 1949. Finally, on January 4, 1950, RCA threw in the towel and announced the introduction of the long-play 33 1/3 record.
Now, whether RCA issued the longer versions of Overtime and Victory Ball commercially in early 1949 remains unclear. It's doubtful given the heated format-war brewing in the spring of that year, on the eve of the 45-rpm's launch by RCA.