As Marcos Valle played and sang his original compositions on Friday night at Birdland, I realized what makes Valle superb: Once you get beyond his addictive melodies, you realize that his chord voicings are captivating. As he accompanied himself on the electric piano and played behind legendary Brazilian singer Wanda Sa and his wife, singer Patricia Alvi, Valle's chord structures and notes were two-handed orchestrations. [Photo by Philip Ryalls]
Jazz piano accompanists do this all the time, of course. Ultimately, what an accompanist bring to the party is taste—the notes and chord choices behind the singer. In the wrong hands, an accompaniment can be a train wreck. But when someone like Valle is filling the spaces, you feel great twice. Valle not only hits the notes you want to hear, he embellishes them with notes you didn't realize you wanted to hear.
Valle and his band—Jesse Sadoc (trumpet) Sergio Brandau (bass) Renato "Massa" Calmon (drums)—played about five originals before Wanda Sa came out and sang a few duets. Then Sa performed and sang alone. The high point of the set (and there were many) was a duet by just Valle and Sa on his ballad If You Went Away. You could hear a pin drop in the room. But as soon as the last note was played, Birdland erupted in thunderous applause. The power of simplicity rules.
On a personal note, before the set began, it was an honor to be singled out by producer Pat Philips [pictured] for my Wall Street Journal article on Valle earlier in the week. To hear one's name over the Birdland sound system is quite a treat, especially in a full house. Catching up with Valle and Sa backstage after the set was rewarding as well. Both artists are class acts.
Here's Sarah Vaughan singing Marcos Valle's If I Went Away, recorded in Rio in 1977...
Snooky Young (1919-2011), the Jimmie Lunceford and Count Basie trumpeter died on May 11 at age 92. Rather than tell you what you already know, let me honor the gallant horn man with this video here (by the way, that's Ronnell Bright on piano)...
Bob Flanigan (1926-2011), founder of the Four Freshmen, died May 16 in Las Vegas at age 84. At the group's start in the late 1940s, all of the Freshmen doubled on instruments. They appeared in short films at the time singing and playing in tight harmony, often on sets that featured coeds relaxing in college-dorm main rooms. Discovered by Stan Kenton, all four were Kenton fans and visualized their sounds as though they were a trombone section.
Throughout the 1950s, the Freshmen's popularity soared with the rise of college admissions and campus concerts. By the early 1960s, the group's savvy sound was adapted and updated by the Beach Boys, who went so far as to record Graduation Day, a Freshmen hit.
Flanigan played trombone and recorded several albums on the instrument. Among the best was Togetherness (1959), with guitarist John Gray.
Here are the Four Freshmen in Japan in 1964, with a fine trombone solo by Flanigan on the first song, Easy Street...
Hi-Lo's. While we're on the subject of hip vocal groups, here's a gem featuring Frank Sinatra and the Hi-Lo's. Based on this clip, it's truly a shame Sinatra and the Hi-Lo's didn't record together...
Jazz lives! JazzWax reader Gerardo Albatros sent along a link to a wonderful clip. It features a grade school jazz band rehearsing in Spain for a Spanish jazz festival. The two trumpet players are sisters, with the youngest, Elsa "Garrapata" Armengou, being six years old. (Garrapata is Spanish for "The Tick.") Go here, and dig the teacher's enthusiasm and his strategy to have students scat part of the song to get the swing and feel just right...
Depression, in living color. We tend to think of the American Depression of the 1930s as a black-and-white event. Like much of history before 1960, what we see in photos is far removed because they are not in color.
Now it seems the Library of Congress is making its bank of color images from the 1930s available online. Suddenly, those hard times seem like yesterday. These images will send a chill up your spine. Hats off to Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine for sending this one along. Go here.
Buck Clayton radio. Today, Symphony Sid Gribetz is hosting a special five-hour show on trumpeter Buck Clayton. Sid will be on the air spinning Clayton platters from 2 to 7 p.m. (EDT) on New York's WKCR. You can listen on your computer from anywhere in the world by going here.
Bill Kirchner radio. Jazz musician Bill Kirchner will host Jazz From The Archives tonight—his 100th show. (Happy 100th, Bill!) Tonight, Bill focuses on his recordings—as player, composer-arranger and bandleader. The show airs tonight from 11 p.m. to midnight (EDT). You can listen on your computer from anywhere in the world by going here.
Latin Grammy protest. Today, at 1 p.m., artists, writers and musicians will gather at New York's Nuyorican Poets’ Café (236 East 3rd Street, 212 780-9386) to voice their protest about the recent announcement by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences to eliminate Latin Jazz from Grammy consideration. To listen to the press conference live on your computer from anywhere in the world (from 1 to 2 p.m.) go here.
CD discoveries over the week. Just before Bob Dylan left the established folk movement behind, giving up his Woody Guthrie sound and Pete Seeger short-sleeved shirts, he gave a concert at a college gymnasium near Boston in May 1963. The concert was professionally recorded and the tapes sat in critic Ralph J. Gleason's house for 48 years. A few weeks ago, Sony/Legacy released Bob Dylan In Concert: Brandeis University 1963, and the result is a fascinating trip back in time.
Dylan performed seven original songs at Brandeis and, somewhat amusingly, was part of a larger folk music show. Amusing because in a matter of weeks, he'd begin to change music history. Most of the originals Dylan chose to perform were rooted in social-justice and red-scare issues of years past. Despite having already written and recorded Blowin' in the Wind (his version would be released 17 days later), the song wasn't part of this bill. For whatever reason, Dylan chose quaint throwbacks rather than the rousing songs that would chart a new course.
Nevertheless, this CD remains a gentle document. For one, Dylan's singing is largely ego-less, focusing on his guitar- strumming skills, the power of his exaggerated hay-seed voice, and dagger-like lyrics. For another, the material is as tawny and pastoral as an unmowed field. There's a richness to this twilight moment, coming at the tail end of the '50s folk revival and just before he realized how to ignite the folk-rock decade. Without getting into too much analysis, Dylan forced rock to become more socially aware and and break from pop. To that end, this album serves as an entrance ramp to the '60s movement that would follow.
You'll find this one at iTunes and here.
A friend of mine alerted me to the piano of Morten Ravn Hansen, who lives in Denmark. Having spent several weeks hitchhiking through the countryside of Denmark in 1979, I completely understand and relate to Morten's creative approach. On the three originals available as downloads, Morten plays a distinct style of jazz that is both bouncy and brooding. His originals remind me of the country's quiet scenery, temperamental skies and homemade jams. I lived on those preserves each time I was picked up and taken home to a driver's home for a full family lunch. In Denmark, there's a special kindness by strangers that doesn't exist anywhere else. At any rate, all of Denmark's spirit rests in the music of Morten's North Sails. You can sample the tracks and download them here.
Oddball album cover of the week. Before she was an esteemed poet, author and autobiographer Maya Angelou was a Calypso dance performer in San Francisco. This album from 1957 was her first. Next, Angelou appeared in an off-Broadway review that inspired the film Calypso Heat Wave, in which she sang and performed her own compositions. Tiring of the Calypso craze and eager to develop her gifts as a writer, Angelou relocated to New York, and the rest, as they say, is literary history.