Waxing & musings. A jazz friend was in town last week, and at dinner we got to talking about aging jazz legends. Included in our chat was the late Hank Jones and his small rented room, as described by The New York Times here. That led to the perils these senior artists face who lack supervision and care, and what if anything can or should be done about it.
After running through a range of scenarios, we agreed that nothing realistically can be done. Oh sure,you can urge and insist, but that won't do much good since all seniors go their own way ultimately. We also agreed that most of these musicians prefer to live in surroundings they find comfortable, familiar and routine—no matter what personal quality-of-life issues we project onto theirs. So Hank Jones playing the piano in a small room wearing headphones was completely in character with musicians who reach that age and wasn't nearly as sad, lonely or unseemly as the Times' blog comments from readers indicated.
At age 91, many of Hank's closest musician-friends had died and his wife was in an assisted-living facility. Hence, Hank's last true intimate friend was the keyboard, and his incessant practicing on the instrument wasn't about some crazed What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? scene. It was merely Hank having conversations with himself.
Personally, I found The Times article touching and a fascinating study of how all jazz legends prefer to go out—not drooling or lying on a beach but arguing and laughing with themselves on their instruments. The size of the room and the fact that Hank rented rather than owned was irrelevant. I never heard Hank complain about his life—or anything else for that matter. I don't think anyone else did, either.
Musicians and copyrights. Too often I hear from composer-musicians who aren't sure of the copyright laws or what's possible. Last week I came across this article from LegalZoom, a terrific service I've used with great success in the past. Pass the article along to the composer-musicians you know.
More Hank Jones. JazzWax reader and saxophonist Allen Lowe sent along an interesting story last week following my post on Hank Jones:
"Hank told me the following, maybe in 1976: One day pianist Al Haig came to hear Hank at a New York club where I was sitting. I think it was Beefsteak Charlies on 7th Ave. Hank was was doing a duo with bassist Richard Davis.
"After the set, we all sat down together, and Hank mentioned that in the famous clip of Marilyn Monroe singing Happy Birthday to John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden, Hank said he was the pianist accompanying her. He also said that afterward, he rode up up in the elevator with her and her ex-husband, Arthur Miller. She was quite drunk, and Miller was furious and a bit jealous. According to Hank, Miller slapped her."
Jazzfest. What are you doing June 5th? If you're in the New York metropolitan area, dig Jazzfest, which since 1976 has been presented by the New Jersey Jazz Society. There will be performances in New Jersey by Bucky and John Pizzarelli, Frank Vignola’s Hot Club, Cecil Brooks III, Harry Allen’s Four Others band, the George Gee Swing Orchestra, the Aaron Weinstein/Joe Cohn Duo, the Madame Pat Tandy Band, and a special solo piano appearance by the legendary Marty Napoleon. For more information, go here. [Photo of Marty Napoleon by Geri Reichgut]
Marlene VerPlanck. I ran into the lovely singer Marlene VerPlanck last week at the DIVA Jazz Orchestra gig at Dizzy's. Marlene mentioned that next Wednesday, June 2d, she'll be appearing at New York's Kitano Hotel (66 Park Avenue at 38th St.). Marlene will be accompanied by pianist Tomoko Ohno, bassist Steve LaSpina and drummer Rich DeRosa. Sets are at 8 and 10 p.m. For more information, go here.
Radio. Nancy Barell will be playing Hank Jones and Johnny Mandel along with a steady serving of Frank Sinatra on her online radio show, Jazz Spotlight on Sinatra. The show can be accessed anytime on your computer worldwide here (just click the yellow "play" button).
CD discoveries of the week. There are traces of Don Pullen in pianist Roberto Magris' approach, an artistic kinship I didn't identify until Roberto sent along his new CD, Mating Call. Pullen, of course, recorded with Charles Mingus in the early 1970s, most notably on Changes One and Changes Two.
Roberto bears a similar intensity and all-chips in attack as Pullen—without going overboard. I must say that Roberto's new album is fabulous on every level. The originals here (Optional Man, Hill of Illusions and Europlane Blues) hit you instantly with their lyrical, wave-like sensitivity. The standards are all great choices—Lament, Theme for Ernie, Mating Call and Lonely Town.
Sample the waltz-time Optional Man, Hill of Illusions and Lament and see what I mean. Roberto plays acoustic and electric piano, and is joined by Paul Carr on soprano and tenor saxes, Michael O'Neill on tenor sax, Elisa Pruett on bass and the great Idris Muhammad on drums. (See my interview with Roberto here.)
You'll find Roberto Magris' Mating Call (J-Mood) here.
Back in the 1970s, I was never a big fan of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Too much jazz-rock mysticism and too many migraine solos. But I must confess, there's something fascinating about Billy Cobham's new CD, Meeting of the Spirits: A Celebration of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Cobham, of course, was Mahavishnu's founding drummer, and this album covers the band's expansive and experimental material backed by Germany's HR Big Band, which comes off more as a fusion orchestra than a traditional brass ensemble. Which makes this CD all the more interesting. Listening to this album presented me with the oddest sensation: nostalgia for music I never really cared for. Yet it works.
You can sample and buy Billy Cobham's Meeting of the Spirits (In + Out) here.
When I first set eyes on Jeremy Cohen's new CD The Music of Eddie South, I hesitated. South was a highly regarded jazz violinist of the 1930s who performed with Django Reinhardt and led bands that included pianist Billy Taylor and bassist Milt Hinton. My concern was that the CD was going to be a cornball execution by a fiddle-happy moldy fig. Instead, Cohen's playing is as graceful and as strong as can be, and he and his group, Violin Jazz, tease out the essence, heart and swing of South's works. Once I hit "play," I found myself listening all the way through. South's music still has that kind of grip on the ears and soul. Try sampling Rose Room. You'll be hooked, too.
You'll find Violin Jazz's The Music of Eddie South (Dorian) at iTunes or here.
Oddball album cover of the week. This CD compilation of Hank Jones' 1956 recordings with guitarists Barry Galbraith and Kenny Burrell was issued in 2005 on Spain's Gambit label. As you can see, it may well be the single worst cover I've featured in this space. One can only assume that the designer who chose the photo had never been to New York let along the U.S. and simply assumed this "urban" scene would be fitting. Or could the photo have been staged in Spain in a garage to simulate New York's streets? Either way, this one lacks an iota of imagination or perspective, and belongs in the cover's cans.