"On February 26, 1917, a group of musicians calling themselves the Original Dixieland Jass Band assembled in the studio of the Victor Talking Machine Company,
played two songs into a long metal horn that served as a microphone, and a few weeks later made history by releasing the first 78-rpm recording of jazz. In this energetic and captivating tale, Wall Street Journal music contributor Myers enthusiastically chronicles the many social, political, legal, and monetary forces outside of music that shaped the evolution of jazz. With impeccable timing, Myers provides a steady backbeat of stories of the development of music from
bebop, jazz-classical, and West Coast jazz, to spiritual jazz, jazz-pop, and jazz-rock fusion. While jazz could
never have developed without the brilliant musicians whose stories he narrates—from Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie [pictured] to Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock—the rise of electronic instruments, the civil rights movement, the advent of musicians’ unions, and new recording technologies catapulted the musical form and its players squarely into the evolving history of American music. In the 1950s, as they discovered that more music was needed to fill the longer format of albums, hard bop musicians began licensing their compositions through BMI, making available a greater percentage of original work on these albums. Myers’s first-rate social history, like a great jazz recording, pulls us into its complex rhythms and harmonies, casting its mesmerizing spell. (Dec.)"
To purchase Why Jazz Happened, go here.
[Photo at top of page: Zoot Sims by W. Eugene Smith]
Don Byas radio. WKCR in New York will be airing a 48-hour special broadcast on Sunday and Monday (EDT) to celebrate Don Byas' Centennial. You can listen on your computer from anywhere in the world by going here.
Ayako Shirasaki. If you're in Los Angeles on Monday, pianist Ayako Shirasaki [pictured above] will be performing at Brookfield Office Properties as part of the Downtown Los Angeles Piano Festival. For more information, go here.
Jazz blogs of interest. Willard Jenkins [pictured above] (co-author of African Rhythms: The Autobiography of Randy Weston here) writes The Independent Ear, a terrific blog on jazz and the arts. Catch his series of interviews with female artists and the specific challenges they face. And if you're in Minneapolis, dig Pamela Espeland's Bebopified.
The jazz flute is hard to come by today. Too few flutists bother to learn the jazz craft, leaving the market a bit dry. Which is why Lady of the Island (Zoho) by flutist Andrea Brachfeld is a delightful surprise. You listen to her play, and you can't believe what you're hearing. Brachfeld is an incredibly skilled jazz player, her tone resonates and her lines pour out and hang in mid-air, evaporating ever slowly. Brachfeld is joined by Bob Quaranta on piano, Andy Eulau on bass and Kim Plainfield on drums. Sample the title track and see how long it takes before you download this gem.
The Duke Ellington Legacy's Single Petal of a Rose (Renma) opens with pianist Norman Simmons playing the title track with beautifully long, stroking lines. Then the nine-piece band, which includes guitarist Edward Kennedy Ellington II, jumps in and runs through track after track of tributes that give the Ellington-Strayhorn songbook a soulful makeover. The album features special guest Houston Person, who anchors the nonet with smokey authority.
Tango may have its roots in Argentina, but Uruguay also is a hot center for the smoldering, dark romantic music. Gustavo Casenave, originally from Uruguay, is now director of the jazz department at New York's Harbor Conservatory for the Performing Arts. The pianist's new album, Tango Casenave (Watchcraft), is perfect for autumn—with its introspective thunderclaps and surging twists and turns. All compositions are by Casenave, and Eddie Gomez is the album's special guest. Music for changing skies and moods.
I love smart roots albums. Darrell Scott and Tim O'Brien joined forces for We're Usually a Lot Better Than This (Full Lights), a bluegrass honey that was recorded live during two concerts at the Grey Eagle in Asheville, N.C., in 2005 and 2006. There are originals and covers of songs by Lefty Frizzell, Hank Williams, Gordon Lightfoot and others. The vocal performances by these two artists are truly extraordinary. So fine and earthy that you can smell the hay and dust.
On Time Passes On (Jazzed Media), the DePaul University Jazz Ensemble with drummer-composer Jeff Hamilton reminds us what can be done when arrangements matter and big bands rehearse with care before recording. Under the direction of Bob Lark, the college band is captured live here at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago. As good as this band is, the real stars are the arrangers. Songs soar with tender aggression, and zig-zag among the sections in the most exhilarating way. Standards such as The Days of Wine and Roses and Miles Davis' The Serpent's Tooth as well as originals are given this touch. Superior student musicians-arrangers backed by a seasoned drummer, all motivated by a knowing band director. Lucky students, lucky us.
Seasoned pianist Harold Mabern is reflective on Mr. Lucky: A Tribute to Sammy Davis Jr. (High Note). It's an interesting challenge taking on Davis. Too glossy, and it's cocktail hour. Too involved, and you miss the point. Mabern along with saxophonist Eric Alexander (on two tracks), bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth work through Mr. Lucky, What Kind of Fool Am I?, As Long As She Needs Me among others. My favorite? Hey There, a solo piece that features one of the most unusual and sensuous renditions of this signature song by Davis during his Decca years.
Oddball album cover of the week.
You can just hear the spousal argument that took place hours before this cover was photographed: "You take the kids." "No, you take them, it's your turn." "I have a record date!" "So? I have to be downtown." "Fine, I'll take them to the session. But they better not make a sound."