Waxing & musings. When we bemoan the death of live jazz, do we mean jazz? Or do we really mean something else? I think when most people talk about jazz's fading popularity on stage, they're actually referring to the declining significance of bebop, the style that has been most closely associated with jazz since 1945. Bebop, of course, was invented in the early 1940s and has remained the predominant sound of live small-group jazz ever since. At its peak in the late 1940s, bebop was cutting-edge performance music that required hip ears to understand why the music and musicians were special. Today live music for large numbers of people no longer is solely an audio experience—or an acoustic one. Sadly, most music now demands visual excitement, shock and a techno dynamic. Musicians standing and playing together no longer is sufficient for a growing segment of the concert-going public. There's not enough theater or impact. Lady Gaga [pictured at top] is the new Lady Day.
After watching VH1's 100 Most Shocking Music Moments (hosted by a professional wrestler) and then the televised entertainment segments from Times Square on New Year's Eve, it's clear that live music now requires much more than flatted fifths and unorthodox harmonies to stand out. The common denominators appear to be a lead singer who does things that would get most people arrested or committed, a shapely female singer in hot pants stomping around on stage in platform boots screaming about death, and sprays of fire shooting up from the stage. Lots of fire. Can't have enough fire.
Bebop predates pyrotechnics, writhing, and dismembered sheep (that would be Mayhem). To be sure, bebop musicians got into plenty of trouble back when their music was in, but they rarely had the money for sharp lawyers to get them off the hook. Female vocalists who couldn't manage their drug habits lost their cabaret cards in New York or wound up doing hard time. Contemporary vocalists like Courtney Love [pictured] who have appeared on TV stoned out of their minds are considered a hoot and gain widespread publicity for their behavior. Work isn't quite what it used to be.
What does all of this mean? As much as we wish it weren't so, bebop's currency and the currency of most jazz styles that followed have run their course on stage. Jazz as we know it doesn't offer younger fans enough drama or stagecraft. It's too static. This isn't to say that Miles Davis' Sippin' at Bells, Dizzy Gillespie's A Night in Tunisia and Howard McGhee's High Wind in Hollywood aren't thrilling. They are. It's just that bop played live means less and less to audiences that increasingly demand a visual component. I don't view this as a shame or a tragedy. It's just part of the music and our culture's evolution. To connect with today's youth, tomorrow's jazz musician will have to find a way to be thrilling during performances in a way that exceeds mere melody and technique. Perhaps what's needed is fire. Can't have enough fire.
Diana Ross. In response to my post praising Diana Ross' voice on the newly re-issued Touch Me in the Morning, jazz musician and writer Bill Kirchner and discographer Mike Fitzgerald sent along a letter they unearthed from the June 16, 1969 edition of Down Beat:
"I think Diana Ross is the greatest jazz singer since Billie Holiday. Examples: Keep An Eye, How Long Has That Evening Train Been Gone, Does Your Mama Know About Me and Will This Be the Day."
The letter-writer? It was pianist Lennie Tristano.
Bob Brookmeyer. Darcy James Argue of The Secret Society recently featured a terrific post on valve trombonist and composer Bob Brookmeyer that included five tracks posted with the blessing of Bob. You'll find the post here.
Terry Pollard (1931-2009), a female pianist with a delicious touch who could swing hard and grow richly introspective on ballads, died on December 19th in New York after a long illness. [Pictured: Pollard with Frank DiVito (drums), Bill Crow (bass) and Terry Gibbs (vibes) at Birdland in the mid-1950s]
Born in Detroit, Pollard first recorded in 1948 and was discovered in 1953 by vibraphonist Terry Gibbs while playing at Detroit's Baker's Keyboard Lounge. She joined the Terry Gibbs Quartet, touring and recording with the group. In 1956 she won Down Beat's New Artist Award and recorded with Yusef Lateef in 1958. She returned to Detroit in the early 1960s to raise a family, but remained active on the Detroit jazz scene.
Two albums that show off Pollard's extraordinary talents are Terry Gibbs Quartet Featuring Terry Pollard (1955) for EmArcy and Terry Pollard (1955) for Bethlehem, which featured trumpeter Don Fagerquist on several tracks. The first album is available as a download at iTunes as Terry Gibbs. Sample Lonely Dreams to hear Pollard's ballad work and Dickie's Dream to dig her swing. You'll find her collaboration with Fagerquist on the first three tracks of Don Fagerquist: Portrait of a Great Jazz Artist here.
You'll also find Pollard hidden on an EmArcy album at iTunes called Clark Terry (1955). Pollard plays piano on the last track, Anything You Can Do, which features guitarists Mary Osborne and Tal Farlow squaring off and Norma Carson and Clark Terry doing the same. Pollard has a fine extended solo, and the track is a blast.
Streaming is now. In response to my editorial on the future of streaming, Don Emanuel from Britain sent along the following response based on his first-hand use of a new streaming service available at the moment only in the U.K. [Op-art images below by Bridget Riley]:
"Eventually I got around to it, and I am truly amazed, as it has changed my listening habits completely. Spotify has an extensive collection of jazz recordings, and I keep finding new delights. For instance, I searched Joe Newman and the results led to an Oliver Nelson big band album Fantabulous from 1964 that I'd never heard of.
"Admittedly, they don't have everything. But in the two months I've been using it, I'm still constantly finding new jazz recordings to listen to. You can also make up your own playlists and even share those playlists with fellow Spotify users. I'm so impressed I've signed up for the Premium service for the British sterling equivalent of about $15 per month (you lose the ads, and the bitrate of the music is higher).
"Spotify's ambition is to have every album ever recorded on their service. Even if they don't, there is enough jazz to keep me going for the rest of my life. The site is all perfectly legal, and the labels and musicians get paid. How much I don't know. You also have the option to buy most of the tracks through a partner program.
"I seriously think this could be the future of recorded music. I hear they hope to extend the service to the U.S. and Canada in the near future."
Jimmy Forrest. Roy Phillippe, who wrote about Jimmy Forrest and arranging for Count Basie here, sent along an email last week alerting me to a YouTube clip featuring his arrangement of Night Train for Basie. Here it is...
Stan Kenton. Reader Don Frese sent along this clip of Stan Kenton from 1950 on the Ed Sullivan Show...
CD Discoveries of the Week. Vocalist Marlene VerPlanck recorded Once There Was a Moon in 2008 backed by a trio with arrangements by her late husband Billy VerPlanck. The result is a smart, coy tribute to catchy melodies and whimsical lyrics by a vocalist whose command and polish is evident on every track.
Marlene started out as a jazz singer, recording with Joe Wilder, Hank Jones, Eddie Jones and Kenny Clarke in 1955. Her clear-as-a-bell intonation and warm pitch landed her in the commercial studios in the 1960s, where her voice was heard on dozens of commercials, including Campbell Soup's "Mmm, mmm good." Since then she has recorded and performed steadily, appearing on more than 60 recording sessions.
Most of the song choices on this CD are refreshingly off-beat, including Charles DeForrest's Where Do You Go From Love, Ray Hoffman and Billy VerPlanck's Around About Half Past Nine, Irving Berlin's Better Luck Next Time, and a rousing version of Bob Haymes and Marty Clarke's They Say It's Spring. Marlene is joined by Ted Firth (piano), Steve LaSpina (bass) and Rich De Rosa (drums),
The 1964 album Quincy Jones Explores the Music of Henry Mancini (Mercury) isn't perfect but there are a number of exquisite tracks that hold up well and are worth downloading. Mancini was and is an impossibly tough act to honor, mainly because his arrangements and recordings were, well, perfect. Jazzing up his compositions is like trying to add fizz to perfectly good champagne. But we're talking about Quincy Jones here and an all-star big band.
Among the highlights are Dreamsville with Bobby Scott on piano, Mr. Lucky with Phil Woods on alto sax, (I Love You) And Don't You Forget It with a flute solo by Roland Kirk, Soldier in the Rain with Toots Thielemans on harmonica, Odd Ball with Billy Byers on trombone and a guitar-playing and whistling Thielemans, and a fascinating arrangement of Moon River in 6/8 time.
Quincy Jones Explores the Music of Henry Mancini is available as a download at iTunes and Amazon—or here on CD.
Oddball Album Cover of the Week. The cover of this fetishist LP tribute to French film actress Brigitte Bardot seems simple enough, until you flip over the 1959 Warner Brothers LP cover and see where the title was heading. Actually, I'm not even sure which side was the cover. There's an all-star Los Angeles studio band on this date, with arrangements by Pete Rugolo. But with vocalist Gloria Wood listed in The Jazz Discography as the singer on the album, it's hard to fathom what the Bardot connection was, other than to hype the U.S. release of the French star's movies and derriere.