Jazz listeners are like archeologists. No matter how many albums or artists we dig up, we are as excited as kids when we unearth yet another one. We see an unfamiliar album cover and wonder, "Is this album as good as it looks? Will I find it exciting? Will it be one of the best albums in my collection? Will I have a new understanding of this artist? Will I be amazed?" The anticipation is half the thrill.
I'm constantly amazed at how much jazz was recorded between 1925 and 1965, the art form's golden era. Thousands upon thousands of recordings. How much of everything do we have available digitally today? A quarter? Less? Probably. After all, what we have on CD and as downloads now still excludes quite a few albums we bought as teens and certainly misses countless 78-rpms that were never transferred to LP in the 1950s.
Coming to jazz can only be equated with going to Italy. No matter how many times you travel there, you can't believe how much impossibly great art and architecture was created during the Renaissance—and how much of it jams museums around the world today. Imagine how much of the total output was lost over the years and will never be known. Or how much you'll never get to see simply because there's not enough time in life to consume it all.There's seemingly no end to the jazz recordings one can listen to, no matter how much listening you do each day. Some jazz fans prefer to specialize in a few artists and dig deep for everything and anything those musicians recorded. Others favor specific periods of time. Still others just like to find things they love and absorb the messages without worrying too much about who was doing what with whom when.
I, for one, do not look forward to the day when I've heard it all, know the sound of every artist, can click off all recordings and artists, and find little that's new. Part of the joy of this music is the endless adventure—that you can always uncover a new artist or album and be wowed by what you experience. There's something mildly depressing about coming to the end of that road.
Time may not be on our side, but living in an era when so much is available and convenient to consume is a blessing. I can't wait to discover the next old thing.
Pauly Cohen. Filmmaker Bret Primack recently spent time in Florida interviewing trumpeter Pauly Cohen, who began his recording career with Bob Chester in 1941. Cohen played in dozens of top bands, including orchestras led by Roy Eldridge, Benny Carter, Artie Shaw, Barney Bigard, Claude Thornhill, Boyd Raeburn and Buddy DeFranco. Here, Cohen talks about his days with Count Basie in the 1970s...
TV Action Jazz. Reader Joe Lang sent along an email noting that the albums I wrote about on Thursday—Mundell Lowe's TV Action Jazz! and TV Action Jazz Vol. 2—are now available on one CD (LoneHill) for $15.99. Go here.
Stax Records. Back in May, Chris Cowles and Tom Shaker hosted a 6 1/2-hour radio show on the history of Stax Records, complete with on-air interviews. Formed in 1957 as Satellite Records, the Memphis label changed its name to Stax in 1961 and recorded the emerging wave of gospel-soul talent of the South. With the rise of Motown in the early 1960s, Stax created its own competing sound that was earthier and funkier, thanks largely to its house band, Booker T. and the MGs.
Why am I telling you all of this since it's August now? Chris and Tom's superb marathon show—complete with interviews with William Bell, Memphis horns co-founder Wayne Jackson, Stax Museum executives Sherman Willmott and Tim Sampson, and others—has just become available as free podcasts. Hats off to Chris and Tom and their team at WRTC-FM in Hartford, CT.
Here are links to the six parts (the segments start automatically when you arrive at the page):, Greasy Tracks, airs every Saturday on Trinity College's WRTC in Hartford, CT, from 3:30 to 5:30. Go here to listen live.
CD discoveries of the week: I remember Bettye LaVette's 1978 disco hit Doin' the Best That I Can. But many of her other releases from the 1960s onward are less memorable—mainly because her work wasn't well distributed or smartly plugged. LaVette also had a series of bad career breaks just as other artists with a similar sound (Janis Joplin in the 1960s and Tina Turner in the 1970s) were on their way up. So it's a joy to hear her deliver the goods on Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook.
On this ingenious and intelligent album, LaVette treats songs by British Invasion artists as though they were American Songbook classics. Best of all, she doesn't try to flatter the material but instead delivers snarling soul-rock interpretations. Included here are the Beatles The Word, Steve Winwood's No Time to Live, the Animals' Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here, Paul McCartney's Maybe I'm Amazed, Elton John's Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me and other unpredictable choices.
But what makes this album particularly special is how LaVette handles each song. Rather than caving in to the original versions, LaVette gives the proverbial leash a hard snap and the songs come to heel. Each interpretation has a thick, soul-rock feel, with LaVette vocally prowling the material like a teeth-bearing cheetah. With any luck, this album will put her in her rightful place as one of the great soul-rock singers. As far as I'm concerned, this has female r&b Grammy winner written all over it.
Bettye LaVette's Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook (Anti) can be found at iTunes and here.
A jazz-rock album that makes refreshing sense is Suresh Singaratnam's Lost in New York. Everything about this new CD from trumpeter Singaratnam is exciting, from the tight jazz lines to the restless fusion arrangements. None of the songs overstay their welcome and all delight with energy and innovation. What's notable about this album is what happens when you start to play any of the tracks. You find you want the track to remain on. Sample Temporal Incursions and Chrysanthemum to see what I mean. What's more, all compositions and arrangements are by Singaratnam. This is hot stuff.
Suresh Singaratnam's Lost in New York (SureSong) can be found at iTunes and here.
Oddball album cover of the week: Recorded in 1965, this
album on BGP featured Red Holloway (ts), Brother Jack McDuff (org), George Benson (g) and Joe Dukes (d). I guess just having McDuff sitting at a nice table with a sandwich eating like a normal human being was out of the question.