JazzWax with Marc Myers. Tonight at 10 pm (EDT), join me for the radio version of this blog. I will be playing my favorite tracks on radio station Jazz.FM91 out of Toronto. There will be lots of rare jazz from the 1950s and beyond. I'll also be sharing personal stories that jazz legends have shared with me over the past two years. Best of all, you can listen live on your computer. All you have to do is return here to JazzWax and click on the big square button to the right. Dig you tonight!
Michel Legrand. On Friday night, I jumped on the subway and headed down to Birdland to catch Michel Legrand's first set. The show, produced by Pat Philips and Ettore Stratta, was sensational—even better than his appearance at the club last March.
For one, the legendary composer, arranger and pianist performed just the right number and mix of compositions. No one in the audience checked their watches, and we were all left wanting more. For another, in addition to featuring the sensitive Lewis Nash on drums and powerful David Finck on bass, Legrand was joined by a string quartet and harpist. The strings gave his timeless melodies an even richer veneer, creating a movie recording-session mood.
Legrand is a treasure. There's really no one around today at the level of this 77-year-old jazz-pop composer-pianist, except perhaps for Burt Bacharach. In addition to working with nearly every major jazz artist from the late 1950s and beyond, Legrand has written some of the most enduring melodies of the past 50 years. The charming three-time Oscar winner knows how to tug at your heart and seduce in the most sophisticated way. His songs are timeless and have become as closely identified with specific jazz performances as they have with the movies for which they were originally written.
Legrand opened the first set singing and playing Watch What Happens from the 1964 film, Umbrellas of Cherbourg, slyly adding a reference to Miles Davis' Solar. Once Upon a Summertime, a song written with Johnny Mercer, followed. Then Legrand launched into his rollicking Ray's Blues, which he dedicated to Ray Charles.
Legrand sang again on What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life, from the 1969 film The Happy Ending. A jazz-classical piece called Family Fugue was next, and unlike many such fusion efforts by other artists, this contrapuntal piece never lost its jazz feel. On The Summer Knows, from The Summer of '42, Legrand exhibited superb control and confidence as he sang and played, conducting the strings from the piano bench while reading a full score.
But the evening's high point was the Yentl medley, featuring harpist Catherine Michel [pictured] on lead with Legrand as accompanist. The 10-minute harp-driven piece left jaws slack throughout, bringing the audience to its feet at the close for the longest and loudest applause of the set. Afterward, at the bar, Catherine Michel told me that she and Legrand had just recorded a duet album, which includes a beautiful West Side Story medley arranged by Legrand. Can't wait. [Photo: Dan Porges]
Ron Carter. In Ron Carter: Finding the Right Notes, the newly published biography of the famed bassist by Dan Ouellette, Ron talks about many of his 1,000-plus jazz recording sessions. The narrative by Ouellette is a marvelous blending of new conversations with Ron and existing interviews (including Ron's chats with JazzWax). Best of all, the book is easy to read, letting you jump from place to place depending on the session or artist you want to read about. Here's an example:
"Some of Ron's favorite dates [on the CTI label] were with tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine. He did five dates with Stanley, including 1970's Sugar.
" 'Anytime I could play with Stanley, I was there,' said Ron. 'Stanley came up at the same time as Sonny Rollins, Hank Mobley, Trane and Wayne and was just as major a saxophonist as them. That's a heck of feat. Stanley had his own sound, his own approach to playing chords. I wanted to hear how that worked but I never figured it out. I'd say, Stanley, how do you do that? And he'd say, I don't know Ron, I just do it. So that stopped me asking that question again.'
"Ron recalls the song Sugar, a minor blues that Stanley wrote that wasn't coming to a satisfactory resolution in the studio. Ron said to Stanley, 'Can we do something other than a C-minor at the end, like an A-flat or something? When we get back to the top, I keep feeling like that C-minor is banging on my head.'
"Stanley paused, then blurted out with a big smile, 'I've got an idea. How about if we end this on an A-flat.'
" 'You scallywag,' said Ron jokingly.
"Stanley laughed and said, 'Ron Carter owns the last two bars of this song.' "
Ron Carter: Finding the Right Notes by Dan Ouellette is available here.
Chicago and All That Jazz. Bret Primack, the Jazz Video Guy, tipped me off to a fabulous YouTube clip. It's The Dupont Show of the Week from 1961, with Garry Moore hosting a look at Chicago and All that Jazz. I don't want to spoil this for you by saying anything more. Just click and catch the musicians featured! And do your best to remain in your seat...
David Brent Johnson. The WFIU-FM host of Night Lights has completed a terrific radio show on Cafe Society, the first integrated nightclub in New York where Billie Holiday first sang Strange Fruit. Go here to listen to the podcast free.
CD discovery of the week. By now it's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Grant Stewart's. The tenor saxophonist has a big, granite sound that features shades of his own reed heroes, including Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Stitt and Stan Getz. So it was a pleasant surprise to hear Grant featured prominently on Dan Adler's new CD, All Things Familiar.
Adler [pictured] is an Israeli guitarist who has played on the New York scene for the past 20 years, including dates with saxophonist Bob Berg and Steve Grossman and pianist Tardo Hammer. On All Things Familiar, Adler's first CD that he also produced, the song choices are both smart and familiar. In addition to six engaging originals, Adler and Stewart have fine workouts on four standards.
The album's standouts for me include Adler's Sivan's Samba and Bird's Idea as well as a warm Star Eyes and an extra-tender version of Johnny Mandel's Emily. The interactions between Adler's guitar and Grant's tenor sax throughout are close and well defined. The pair weave in and out of each other's lines perfectly while teasing out the melodies that make these songs evergreen vehicles for jazz expression. The two musicians sound great together.
Also notable here are Richard Samuels on piano, Dmitri Kolesnik on bass and Grant's brother Philip Stewart on drums. [Photo of Grant Stewart by Esther Cidoncha]
What I like most about All Things Familiar is the sensitivity of the playing and respect for the standards chosen. Adler has an old-school ear and touch that harkens back to Chuck Wayne and Mundell Lowe. He's more concerned with note choices and lyrical lines than exhibiting speed or riffs, which is a rare and welcome relief these days. You simply must hear Adler and Grant's version of Emily. Johnny Mandel would love it.
All Things Familiar is available at iTunes or here as a CD and download.
Ornette Coleman and Bix Beiderbecke. This coming week, New York's WKCR presents two annual birthday broadcasts. On Monday (March 9), Ornette Coleman's discography will be featured for 24 hours, followed by Bix Beiderbecke's on Tuesday (March 10). You can listen anywhere in the world by going here and clicking "live broadcast."
Loopy album cover of the week. During my extensive Internet travels and research, I come across many album covers from the 1940s and 1950s. Some are artistic standouts. Others are, well, hoots. This week I'm beginning a new Sunday feature showcasing an album cover that either will raise your eyebrows or stir you to laughter (preferably one followed by the other). This one by the renowned crooning clown was issued on Capitol in the late 1940s.