JazzWax Radio. Next Sunday (March 8th), JazzWax with Marc Myers will air on JAZZ.FM91 from 10 pm to midnight. The nonprofit jazz-only station is based in Toronto, Canada, but you can hear my show anywhere in the world. I will post a large button and link near the top of my right-hand column next week. All you'll have to do is return here Sunday night and click to listen live.
My second and third shows will air on successive Sundays—on March 15th and March 22nd—at the same time. JAZZ.FM91 generously gave me two hours per night to do exactly as I please. Each show is packed with rare tracks and anecdotes about the jazz legends I know and have interviewed.
Billy Joel. In the wake of my two-part surprise interview with Billy Joel last week, I received dozens of e-mails from readers commenting on his remarks and his music. Nearly all readers were favorably impressed with Billy's taste in jazz, his openness and his honesty about his own feelings and the dynamics between jazz and rock.
On reflection, I think what sticks out most in my mind are Billy's remarks about rock's magical ability to influence mass audiences. I'm forever mulling in my head the factors that caused jazz to lose its grip on large numbers of Americans' hearts in the 1950s and 1960s. Billy's comments were particularly insightful:
"Rockers are kind of magicians and wizards. We take sounds and play with them, you know, and then we put it out there and do magic to people with it, and it gets this big response. [pause] And chicks dig it. [laughs] It’s this great power."
The ability to excite large numbers of people, especially women, is an often-overlooked factor in jazz's declining popularity with the masses and its gradual shift to an intellectual art. It was interesting to get the perspective from a rock star's view.
Michel Legrand. The storied composer and jazz pianist will be appearing next week at New York's Birdland, from March 3d through March 8th. Joining the tender pianist will be Lewis Nash on drums, David Finck on bass, Catherine Michel on harp and a string quartet. Produced by Pat Philips and Ettore Stratta, the event will certainly feature Michel Legrand playing his own standards, which includes Windmills of Your Mind, The Summer Knows, What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life and You Must Believe in Spring. My review of Michel's performance last March at Birdland is here.
Billie Holiday. On Friday afternoon, I picked up a box of ginger-molasses cookies and headed over to the apartment of Janet and David Soyer.
For careful readers of liner notes, you may know Janet Soyer better as Janet Putnam. She played harp on many of the major jazz recording sessions of the 1950s that called for strings. These dates included Frank Sinatra's Songs for Swingin' Lovers, The Oscar Pettiford Orchestra in Hi-Fi (Vol. 1), Julius Watkins: Les Jazz Modes, Jackie Paris, Coleman Hawkins: The Hawk in Paris and countless others. David Soyer, Janet's husband, is a superior cellist who teaches at Juilliard and was a long-standing member of the famed Guarneri Quartet. He, too, recorded with Sinatra during the singer's golden Columbia period in the late 1940s, and David appeared on many jazz dates in the 1950s as well, including several with Dinah Washington.
When I arrived at the Soyers' apartment, we all sat down in their cozy living room and the three of us listened to the entire recording of Billie Holiday's classic Lady in Satin (1958). Janet and David played on the session, and listening to the album with them was a rare treat. The couple had not heard the recording in years, and certainly not on a remastered CD (that's David accompanying Billie on cello on I'm a Fool to Want You). Both David and Janet were deeply engrossed and moved during its play. Hearing Billie and the Ray Ellis arrangements also jogged memories. Said David:
"Urbie Green was amazing. Listen to him, there are no breaks between notes. And Mel Davis was spectacular on trumpet. I recall the date was done late at night, and Ray Ellis was easygoing as a leader. He wasn't overly expressive as a conductor, but he was fussy about the orchestra being in tune. So were all the musicians there. I remember we tuned up for some time. Listen to the recording and you can hear that the string section was remarkably in tune. The choir, as I recall, was positioned off to the side. I think Lil Oliver, Sy Oliver's wife, was one of the singers in that choir."
[Photo of Billie Holiday and Ray Ellis by Arnold Newman]
Bret Primack. This week, the Jazz Video Guy talks to members of the Blue Note 7, the newly formed band of superstars that pays tribute to Blue Note Records' lengthy history of great jazz recordings. Members speak briefly on-camera about their favorite Blue Note recordings, and then play Thelonious Monk's Criss Cross, with each member taking a solo. They also reflect on the meaning of jazz.
Johnny Mathis. A number of readers who responded to my post on singer Marcy Lutes pointed out that Gil Evans arranged a session for vocalist Johnny Mathis earlier in 1956. Yes, indeed he did. In March, in fact. One reader asked where the Mathis-Evans tracks could be found. [Photo: Don Hunstein]
I'll tell you—but first a little history: Johnny Mathis' first recordings were for Columbia and were jazz-based pop affairs with leading arrangers. The sessions were held on March 14, 15, 19, 21 and 23, and April 6, 1956. Gil Evans scored four tracks for the March 21st date, but only three were mastered. Spring is Everywhere was rejected, for some reason, and never issued.
Today, all of these recordings are hard to come by. In truth, they're more notable for the players than the high-polish, over-the-top jazz singing efforts by Mathis. Because readers and harpist Janet Putnam asked if I knew whether they were still available (she plays on Mathis' April 6th date), I did a little online sleuthing.
You'll be happy to know that all of the early Mathis dates mentioned above are available on a download from a South African music site here. The download was $10. Featured on the various dates were Phil Woods, Art Farmer, Bernie Glow, Hal McKusick, Buck Clayton, J.J. Johnson, Teo Macero, Gunther Schuller, Tony Scott, John Lewis, Ray Brown and many other studio headliners of the period.
Yesterday I asked Hal McKusick if he remembered the Mathis recording session:
"I don't have a clue about those dates. Just another day in the New York freelance studio scene at the time. I do remember playing a concert in Forest Hills with Johnny Mathis and a high-end group of musicians. Johnny, in the middle of a song, stepped into darkness at the front of the stage (probably around 5,000 in the audience), and landed in the orchestra pit on top of the other alto player and me. We hoisted him back up to the stage, and the show went on. No one was hurt."
Bobby Sanabria. Famed Latin percussionist, bandleader and educator Bobby Sanabria tells me that the CD version of Kenya Revisited Live!! will be available on May 12. Bobby teaches at the Manhattan School of Music and leads and arranges for the school's magnificent Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra. Last April, Bobby led the orchestra in several tributes to Machito's groundbreaking Kenya album. I posted about the 1957 recording here. My interview with Bobby in advance of the concert is here and my concert review is here. Bobby also sent along a clip from last year's concert...
West Side Story. If you dig jazz interpretations of the Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim musical from 1957, dig Ed Leimbacher's 12 favorite tracks at Jazz.com. All are spot-on, and Ed managed to find iconic versions for all of the show's major tunes. Bravo!
Paul Desmond. Doug Ramsey's Take Five is the definitive book on alto saxophonist Paul Desmond. If you dig Desmond and don't own it, grab the coffee-table-sized hardcover. This past week Doug had a series of superb posts on the alto saxophonist. Go here and scroll down to find them. But first be sure to dig the humorous list Doug assembled of car names operating under the influence of jazz.
CD discovery of the week. I was never a big Django Reinhardt fan. There's no disputing the guitarist's proficiency and nuance. But ultimately the sound for me is always a tad thick and drippy with nostalgia. Which can sound inauthentic and overly mannered. But recently I found an exception to my own rule: It's the Hot Club of San Francisco's Bohemian Maestro: Django Reinhardt and the Impressionists.
The Hot Club has been around for about 20 years, and Bohemian Maestro marks their 10th CD. What I like about the recording is that the group doesn't hew to Django recreations. They add a great deal of their own flavor, which is largely in the jazz tradition. They also avoid sticking here to the Gypsy guitarist's repertoire. At times, pieces sound almost Mancini-esque as they keep stepping up in key; at other times, French classical is mixed in with the jazz. The result is a fascinating and reflective mash.
Keep in mind, many of the great American jazz arrangers, from Bill Finegan to Quincy Jones, studied with Nadia Boulanger and other French classical composers and harmony specialists in Paris to gain an edge. So the music here isn't that foreign, especially with the swing intact. The Hot Club of San Francisco is comprised of Paul Mehling on solo guitar and banjo, Evan Price on violins and theremin, Clint Baker on bass, and Jason Vanderford and Jeff Magidson on rhythm guitars.
The main reason like this Django derivation is the touch that Paul's banjo adds to the mix. The Mississippi riverboat sound acts as an American instrumental chaperone on many of the pieces. And let's not forget the Aeros Quintet (Amy Tori on flute, Tessa Gross on oboe, Heather Thon on clarinet, Laura Vincent on bassoon, and Michelle Haim on horn). All a lovely jazz feel reminiscent of Gil Evans. Classical conductor and pianist Jeffrey Kahane joins on piano.
Bohemian Maestro: Django Reinhardt and the Impressionists is available as a download or as a CD here.