New York experienced 70-degree weather over the weekend. Not bad, considering that the soaring temperatures came a week after a blizzard dumped 10 inches of snow on the region. So yesterday, with the warm breeze coming in over the Hudson River and the clocks pushed forward an hour, thoughts naturally turned to spring.
And songs of spring. But when I began listing my favorite jazz tributes to the coming season, I encountered a small problem: I had too many choices for a single blog post. So I'm dividing my spring fever over two days. Here's my first set of 10 spring gems, in order of preference...
1. So It's Spring—Jackie Cain. This lovely, whimsical Tommy Wolf-Wayne Arnold tune was recorded by Jackie Cain and Roy Kral in 1957, on their Free and Easy album for ABC Paramount. Instead of approaching spring with youthful wonderment, the lyrics brush off the season, deeming it overrated. The band arrangement is by Bill Holman and features a terrific solo by trombonist Frank Rosolino. For those who know the song but can never quite make out the lyric halfway through (it sounds like Jackie sings "me chuckle"), Jackie told me yesterday it's "nichevo," which is Russian for "don't worry" or "who cares." Perfect! The track is available on an imported CD that combines Free and Easy with Bits and Pieces here.
2. Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most—Irene Kral. More than 250 versions of this Tommy Wolf-Fran Landesman song have been recorded by jazz vocalists and instrumentalists. The first singer to record the tune was Jackie Cain in 1955. While I adore Jackie's rendition, I particularly love her sister-in-law's take recorded with pianist Alan Broadbent in 1974, just a few years before her untimely death. You'll find the song on Where Is Love? at iTunes and at Amazon here (CD) and here.
3. Joy Spring—Clifford Brown. It's impossible to tire of Brownie's
hard bop ode to spring. What you may not be aware of, though, is that this song was first recorded in July 1954 on the West Coast with Brown on trumpet, Stu Williamson (valve trombone), Zoot Sims (tenor sax), Bob Gordon (baritone sax), Russ Freeman (piano), Joe Mondragon (bass) and Shelly Manne (drums), with Jack
Montrose handling the arrangements for Pacific Jazz Records. A month later, Brown teamed with Max Roach to record Joy Spring for EmArcy, featuring a mighty tenor solo by Harold Land. This is the classic and my favorite. You'll find the July version on Jazz Immortal here and the August recording on Clifford Brown and Max Roach here. Both also are available at iTunes.
4. Spring Is Here—Bill Evans. Though Evans had recorded this Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart song on Portrait in Jazz (1959), and the song turns up on Live in London (1965), the version that resonates most with me is his recording at Town Hall in 1966. Evans' dramatic lock-chords introduction sets the tone, and his touch throughout is flower-delicate, with Chuck Israels on bass and Arnie Wise on drums. The entire performance sounds like tulips opening. You'll find At Town Hall Vol. 1 here or at iTunes.
5. Some Other Spring—Frank Wess. Almost a year after
joining Count Basie in 1953, tenor saxophonist Frank Wess recorded for Commodore Records as the leader of a quintet. The group featured Wess, Henry Coker (trombone), Jimmy Jones (piano), Oscar Pettiford (bass) and Osie Johnson (drums). Wess' solo is magnificent, as is Coker's. Some Other Spring can be found on Frank Wess: Wess Point here.
6. Springsville—Miles Davis. Gil Evans arranged this Johnny
Carisi composition for his first orchestral session in 1957 with Miles Davis. Carisi's original for an Urbie Green record date in 1956 was taken at a relatively slow pace. Evans brilliantly upped the tempo, and Miles' sophisticated innocence here along with Evans' wind-blown orchestration have all but made their version spring's theme song. This track is on Miles Davis: Miles Ahead (+19) here or on various Miles Davis collections at iTunes.
7. Spring Sequence—Ralph Burns. This lush piano treatment by Burns was recorded in 1955 with Jimmy Raney (guitar), Clyde Lombardi (bass) and Osie Johnson (drums). The composition was part of Burns' series of seasonal tributes that included Early Autumn, Summer Sequence and Winter Sequence. What we have here is a magnificent display of lock-chord technique similar to George Shearing's attack. And Raney's guitar is a perfect foil for Burns' blocking piano technique. Oddly, this was the only time the song was recorded by Burns or any other artist for that matter. Spring Sequence can be found on Bijou here.
8. Spring Is Here—Carol Sloane. Carol recorded Spring Is Here for a live album in 1962. But her definitive vocal version was captured in 1977 with Sir Roland Hanna on piano and George Mraz on bass. She opens the song's introduction a cappella, working effortlessly through a highly difficult series of chord changes. Both the master and alternate take are priceless, and Hanna and Mraz spin pure gold behind Carol. You listen to this song and realize that Carol is easily one of the greatest singers around today. The album Spring Is Here has been reissued as Carol Sloane: Midnight Sun and can be found here.
9. Up Jumped Spring—Freddie Hubbard. The late trumpeter recorded his composition several times over the course of his career. His first was with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers on Three Blind Mice in 1962. My favorite version appears on On the Real Side, Hubbard's last album recorded in 2007. Hubbard here was backed by the New Jazz Composers Octet, featuring David Weiss (trumpet and arranger), Steve Davis (trombone), Myron Walden (alto sax) Craig Handy (flute), Jimmy Greene (soprano sax), Norbert Stachel (baritone sax), Xavier Davis (piano), Dwayne Burno (bass) and E.J. Strickland (drums). There's something about Weiss' orchestration that gives the song extra color and a spring-like lightness. You'll find On the Real Side here or at iTunes.
10. A Spring Morning—Herbie Mann. I love early Herbie Mann's happy-hip flute, especially on his 1950s Bethlehem sessions. A Spring Morning originally was featured on Chicken Little, a 1954 10-inch LP and Mann's first date as a leader. The track features Benny Weeks (guitar), Keith Hodgson (bass) and Lee Rockey (drums). Says Mann in the album's original liner notes: "It was written in December, but I remembered how I felt in April." You'll find this on Herbie Mann Plays at iTunes or here.
Tomorrow, 10 more jazz tributes to spring (despite cooler temperatures here today).
JazzWax clip: You don't often get to hear Ella Fitzgerald in a pensive, sentimental mood. In most cases, those types of songs weren't her bag. But dig her here on Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most from 1974...