Waxing & musings. Was jazz an unassuming rock enabler? We often think of the two music forms as developing separately and then competing bitterly for consumer dollars in the 1960s, with rock winning out. During this period, jazz tends to be viewed as a victim of changing demographics and shifting popular tastes. But jazz also played an inadvertent role in rock's ascent.
It's no secret that young rock musicians in the U.S. and Britain listened to jazz albums by Miles Davis, John Coltrane and other high-profile jazz artists in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Many instrumentalists, like Ray Manzarek of the Doors, have said they found the recordings inspiring. But what exactly were they inspired by? Apparently, the take-away from those listening sessions wasn't taste or musicianship but permission to play extended guitar and drum solos. Rockers added volume and theatrics.
According a 2007 interview with the Desert Sun in Palm Springs, CA, James Gurley, the late guitarist for Big Brother and the Holding Company, pointed to the music of John Coltrane, as the inspiration for his extended solos. "I heard a lone saxophone raging like a madman," he said. "And that's what developed my style. Play it like crazy."
There's no harm in a long solo—crazy or otherwise. Jazz invented the extended solo in clubs and when artists began recording on 12-inch LPs in the mid-1950s. But it is interesting to hear how rock artists leveraged the form. And I suppose that jazz fans and writers shouldn't grouse too much when the subject of rock arises nor should we continue the myth that jazz somehow was sacked in the 1960s by long-haired barbarians. In truth, jazz in the 1960s left the door open.
Surfboard. It's winter in New York. Which means there's nothing better than a bossa nova clip to warm the spirits. Here's a beaut I found featuring Antonio Carlos Jobim at the piano with a vocal choir...
Teddy Pendergrass (1950-2010), a Philadelphia soul singer whose earthy baritone in the early 1970s could be tremendously uplifting when backed by a hustle beat and cozily seductive when supported by strings, died on January 13th in Bryn Mawr, PA. He was 59.
Pendergrass is probably best known as the lead singer for the soul group Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. His projecting gospel-influenced delivery helped make songs like Bad Luck, The Love I Lost and Wake Up Everybody huge hits for the Philadelphia group at the dawn of the disco era.
Pendergrass left the Blue Notes in 1975 to start a solo career. He issued several albums before and after his paralyzing auto accident in 1982. Perhaps his finest solo album was his first, Teddy Pendergrass (1977), which featured I Don't Love You Anymore and The Whole Town's Laughing at Me. Then again, Close the Door from Life Is a Song Worth Singing (1978) was equally superb. Here's a clip of Pendergrass in 1979 picking up where Marvin Gaye left off...
"[Sammy Nestico's] Basie Straight Ahead is the first big-band chart I ever played. I was a freshman in college. I'd just come up from Missouri to Kansas City, and I'd never played jazz with anyone else—only with records. I was shaking when I walked into the rehearsal. But then I saw that the entire bass chart was written out note for note. (So was the piano chart, including all of Basie's comping.)
"I relaxed, read it straight down, and in the process learned a lot about how to walk on the bass behind a big band. So thanks, Sammy Nestico, for opening the door for a scared kid bass player."
Ed Beach. I received an enormous number of emails following my tribute to the late New York disc jockey Ed Beach. This one came in from Carl Woideck, a music history professor at the University of Oregon:
"When Ed lived in and around Portland, he gigged on piano for quite a while. I never heard him there, but in Eugene he often played locally on an electric keyboard and sang popular songs that he liked. His chord changes were always great. I remember him crooning Dream Dancing, a song that was new to me.
When I went to his apartment, he usually had a listening session planned for me, things that he thought I didn't know, including Western classical music. He liked powerful music, and I remember him pumping his arm during a Coleman Hawkins performance or when a classical piece reached a crescendo.
What many fans may not know is that Ed made extensive notes in his own hand on record jackets [pictured] so he would remember what he wanted to say of note. Having seen these notes, they were fascinating."
Count Basie and John Coltrane. During my interview with Bob Brookmeyer, the valve trombonist spoke about a Town Hall concert in which Count Basie and John Coltrane played on the same bill. Reader J.S. Grogan sent along a link to photos of Basie and Coltrane together posted at the Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies, courtesy of Getty Images.
Billie Holiday. Reader Peter Sokolowski sent along this clip of Lady Day, with Jimmy Rowles on piano. It looks like a TV broadcast from around 1956...
Charlie Parker interviews. For those who want to hear Charlie Parker's voice in interviews, reader Peter Sokolowski sent along a link to this treasure trove.
CD Discoveries of the Week. Big Jay McNeely, 82, is one of rock 'n' roll's founding fathers. Though he's still not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (shame on you, Hall decision-makers!), Big Jay has just released another album, Party Time, and it's a smoker with a poker. Each track chugs along with a different boogie-woogie beat and lots of barking tenor sax. The heel of my right foot was going up and down on each track.
In 1950, Big Jay invented lying on stage while playing his tenor sax in Clarksville, Tenn., in attempt to enliven a subdued audience. All of that energy from 60 years ago is still alive and kicking on this CD, which was recorded in Amsterdam, Holland. The band is made up of Dutch blues players, including pianist Martijn Schok and reedman Rinus Groeneveld. Their love of American r&b is evident, and everything Big Jay plays has the authenticity of a Memphis barbeque pit.
You'll find Party Time at Big Jay's site here.
Gail Pettis' new CD, Here in the Moment, is a throwback to the 1950s, when singers crawled inside a song and moved it around a bit while delivering a straight-up rendition. To do this requires enormous knowledge and courage. If what you try on the fly doesn't cut it, you have to be skilled enough to craft an instant solution. Sarah Vaughan was famous for hop-scotching out of painted corners.
On this CD, Pettis, who spent nearly 20 years as an orthodontist, takes on standards, including The Very Thought of You, Night and Day, I Thought About You and Who Can I Turn to. In each case Pettis brings a warmth to the familiar, stroking songs in a way that makes them sound like fresh arrivals. Hats off to arrangers Randy Halbertadt, Darin Clendenin and Clipper Anderson.
Gail Pettis' Here in the Moment is at iTunes or at Amazon here.
Oddball Album Cover of the Week. Canadian tenor saxophonist Moe Koffman worked extensively in the studios in the 1960s and beyond. On this 1957 leadership date, the art director chose to feature a model on the cover. If you don't think models mattered, turn away now and tell me the name of Koffman's album. Right. See what I mean? Except unlike most covers that featured a blurry blonde, this one was pictured listening to Moe blow.