Waxing & musings. Once upon a time, CBS loved jazz. The network featured The Sound of Jazz in 1957 hosted by John Crosby. Miles Davis and Gil Evans appeared on CBS' The Robert Herridge Theater show in 1959. In later years, the ever-curious Charles Osgood visited with pianist Billy Taylor and other jazz musicians to share with CBS viewers the magic of jazz improvisation. And when the late Ed Bradley was on 60 Minutes, he'd profile a jazz musician every so often. So why the recent cold shoulder by the Tiffany Network?
Admittedly, in earlier times, more senior artists in general had more appeal with the viewing public. Age and longevity were symbols of experience and accomplishment, to be honored and venerated. When TV back then turned to musicians, many were already up there in their years. Vladimir Horowitz was senior. Duke Ellington was a sage. Coleman Hawkins always seemed owlish. Louis Armstrong was Pops. Today, somebody someplace has decided that older artists make for dull, lifeless television and should be ignored. And that's a shame. [Photo of Coleman Hawkins by William Claxton/DemontPhoto]
Case in point: I love 60 Minutes, as do millions of Americans. But last Sunday, Lesley Stahl returned to an earlier subject for another feature on the blind British musical savant Derek Paravicini, whose "computer-like memory for music is matched by his creative abilities to play piano in any style." And Mr. Paravincini was indeed remarkable, with Stahl asking him at one point to play a song in the style of Oscar Peterson and then to switch to Dave Brubeck.
Last time I checked Dave Brubeck is still around and is certainly a segment-worthy subject. Want someone who can play in any jazz style? Try Dick Hyman. Looking for a piano legend who had a huge impact on the music? How about Hank Jones [pictured]? He's still playing, too. A sax legend? Give Sonny Rollins or Benny Golson a call. What? Want a legendary singer who exudes grace and charm? How about Nancy Wilson? Point being that 60 Minutes need not revisit musical subjects. There are plenty of timeless jazz musicians TV audiences would love to meet.
The truth is that our senior jazz artists fail to get the coverage they deserve because they have fewer and fewer powerful contacts in the media world. To attract TV coverage, much depends on whom you know on the inside and whether that champion sits at the decision-making table in story meetings. Charles Osgood and Ed Bradley loved jazz, so jazz had an in. There don't appear to be many like them left at CBS—or any of the other networks for that matter.
Flattered and humbled. I receive dozens of emails daily from grateful JazzWax fans praising individual posts or the site in general. As readers know, I tend to shy away from horn-blowing, preferring instead to focus on the music and musicians. But I couldn't resist sharing this lovely note from reader Thomas W. Nicholson:
"Thanks for the work you do. As I was reading Part 2 of the George Avakian interview, it struck me how hard you work on this subject (jazz in general), which is obviously a great passion for you. Avakian’s initial problems learning about early jazz (and music issued really only a few years before his time!) made me think about how much I have learned about jazz musicians from your site.
"It’s easy to take it for granted when so much information is now available basically for free on the Internet. You really seem to be adding depth to the knowledge pile, especially where you examine more behind-the-scenes people like arrangers and lesser-known musicians who were playing an integral part in the scene as a whole, but maybe never had a high profile. Anyway, thanks again!!"
Carol Ventura (1939-2010), a little-known jazz singer with a deceptively powerful, intimate voice who recorded only two albums for Prestige in 1964 and 1965, died on March 15th in Nutley, N.J. She was 70.
Billboard in 1965 called her "a singer to watch," but somehow Ventura wasn't able to parlay her recordings for Prestige into a contract with a bigger label. Maybe it was the rock era. Or perhaps she chose to leave the business for personal reasons.
Through Ventura, you come to realize that jazz has always been a rough business. For every Dizzy Gillespie, Carmen McRae and John Coltrane, there were hundreds of musicians and singers who almost made it, thought they could make it, or gave up for a range of reasons. Today, many of these "almosts" are virtually unknown, except for the recordings they left behind. Jazz's choppy waters are strewn with careers that barely moved out of port. Ventura was one of those artists—except she truly had a special gift. (Thanks Bill Kirchner for alerting.)
Judge for yourself. Here's Ventura singing Quiet Room...
Dexter Gordon. Maxine Gordon, Dexter Gordon's widow, informs me that on April 16th, the Library of Congress will officially acquire more than 1,000 items owned by the late tenor saxophonist, including recordings and interviews. Of course, there's going to be a ceremony. Time: 10 a.m. Place: The Mary Pickford Theater (third
floor) in the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Avenue, S.E., in
Washington, D.C. Maxine will speak at the event. More information: Contact Matthew Barton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emily Remler radio. If you dig this little-known guitarist who died way too soon, check out WFIU's David Brent Johnson, who hosted a recent show on Remler's career and recordings on his famed Night Lights program. Go here to listen to the hour-long podcast.
Howard Johnson radio. Tonight (Sunday), jazz musician and writer Bill Kirchner hosts a tribute to jazz tuba player, saxophonist and flutist Howard Johnson. The show, on New York's WBGO, will air from 11 p.m. to midnight (EDT). You can access the show from anywhere in the world here.
Sir John Dankworth radio. Today (Sunday), starting at 11:30 p.m. London time, Julian Joseph will host a show on the BBC-3 dedicated to the late saxophonist. Among Joseph's on-air guests will be Frank Griffith, director of performance at Brunel University in Middlesex, U.K. Go here worldwide to listen (click the "Jazz Line-Up" link). Or click on the Listen Again link anytime next week to hear a podcast of the show.
Dick Johnson. For fans of Boston jazz musicians, reader Dick Vacca sent along a link to a terrific article he wrote on the alto saxophonist. Go here.
Johnnie Ray. There's no sane reason why I'm sharing this clip with you, other than I dig Ray on the first and third songs (skip the dreadful second one by moving the bar to 6:27). I also dig 1950s TV announcers saying, "Live from New York, the music capital of the world!" And any show called The Big Record. Ray is plenty campy here, but check out who's playing piano as Ray and Patti Page swing Walkin' My Baby Back Home...
CD discoveries of the week. When producer Creed Taylor needed a bassist recently for a project, he called me looking for an email for Mark Egan. Egan is a Grammy-winning in-demand electric bassist who has recorded with Pat Metheny, Gil Evans, Pat Martino and Larry Coryell among others. Creed raved about Egan when we spoke, and for good reason.
On Truth Be Told, Egan's latest CD, his big punchy, Rubbermaid sound rumbles with industrial tension. The album features roundhouse grooves, intricate melody lines and addictive Steely Dan-flavored riffs. Egan is joined by saxophonist Bill Evans, pianist Mitch Forman (it's great to hear the Fender Rhodes played this way) and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta.
You'll find Truth Be Told at iTunes or here.
Jamie Cullum's The Pursuit has received mixed reviews, but many critics seem to have missed the point. Most have focused on Cullum's unorthodox interpretations of standards. And frankly, they're not quite my bag either, despite the use of Count Basie's orchestra on one Frank Foster-arranged track.
Where this young British pop singer excels, however, is when he's singing his own material. Songs like I'm All Over It, Wheels, Love Ain't Gonna Let You Down, Mixtape, Music Is Through and We Run Things have a fresh sound and reach back to the British pop invasion of the early 1980s. Cullum has a hip, knowing vocal style that sounds effortless. Sample the tracks I just mentioned and see what you think. He also plays a mean electric piano, as evidenced on We Run Things.
You'll find The Pursuit at iTunes and here.
Jeff Helgesen may not be a household name but you're going to be amazed when you sample Jazz Mayhem, an album he recorded with a hard-bop septet in 2005. The trumpeter and flugelhornist has Blue Note chops, and the track choices and arrangements are tops: Wayne Shorter's Black Nile, This Is for Albert, Lady Day and Pensativa are here. Sam Rivers' lilting Beatrice also is featured. So is Kenny Dorham's Short Story.
Helgesen has a searing Freddie Hubbard-inspired solo on Black Nile (which he arranged), and a soft, seductive approach on Kenny Werner's Compensation. This is a highly satisfying album. Sample This Is for Albert and hear Helgesen for yourself. He's joined by Thomas Wirtel on trumpet and flugelhorn, Chip McNeill on tenor sax and Morgan Powell on trombone, with Tom Paynter on keyboard, Paul Musser on bass and Gary Peyton on drums.
You'll find Jazz Mayhem here.
Oddball album cover of the week. As we can see, Eddie Costa, like fellow vibraphonist Red Norvo, was the victim here of an album designer who liked to tie the size of a group into baby boom themes. This album is from 1957 and featured Art Farmer (trumpet), Phil Woods (alto sax and piano), Eddie Costa (piano and vibes), Teddy Kotick (bass) and Paul Motian (drums). It's unclear where the tot from the leader's stroller escaped to.