Last year, pianist Kenny Barron [above right] and bassist Dave Holland were in Paris performing at the Jazz à la Villette festival. Here's how the collaboration looked and sounded. A special thanks to my man Jimi Mentis in Athens...
In today's Wall Street Journal (go here or please buy the paper), I interview Ahmad Jamal on the 55th anniversary of But Not for Me entering Billboard's best-selling albums chart in September 1958. The album would go on to appear on the chart for 107 weeks and revolutionize the sound of the jazz trio and how the piano, bass and drums interact.
Yet many jazz critics at the time were hard on the album and Ahmad. It couldn't have been the jazz-pop nature of But Not for Me, since the same critics were raving about Ella Fitzgerald's evolving Songbook series and all of Norman Granz's jazz-pop albums. In the "Masterpiece" column in the Review section, I offer an explanation and talk with Ahmad about how the album came to be. By the way, we have a drunk with a glass of wine to thank for But Not for Me. It's all in WSJ Weekend.
Here's Ahmad Jamal in April 1959. While you may have seen parts of this clip before, here it is all in one place. Catch the heavyweight cats standing around the piano digging Ahmad swing the upper-most keys. A big thanks to my man Jimi Mentis in Athens...
Wait, there's more. Also in today's Wall Street Journal (go here—or look below my Ahmad Jamal "Masterpiece" on the same page), I interview former MTV VJ Martha Quinn on her favorite Beatles song. It's this one...
Stax and Muscle Shoals in 1969. Reader Tom Fine sent along a terrific video clip from a French documentary on the two big soul recording studios of the South in the 1960s...
Paul Winter radio. On Sunday, saxophonist Bill Kirchner will devote his one-hour radio show to alto and soprano saxophonist Paul Winter. The focus will be the sextet that
Winter led in the early '60s. The group featured Winter, Dick Whitsell on trumpet, Les Rout or Jay Cameron on baritone saxophone, Warren Bernhardt on piano, Richard Evans, Chuck Israels, or Cecil McBee on bass, and Harold Jones, Ben Riley or Freddie Waits on drums. Arrangements were written by Jimmy Heath, Tom Mcintosh, Bernhardt, Evans, McBee and Winter. You can listen to the WBGO-NY show on your computer from anywhere in the world from 11 p.m. to midnight (EDT) by going here.
Attention musicians singers and educators. Looking for lead sheets to hundreds of jazz songs? By digging deep into the jazz catalogs of Second Floor Music (BMI),
Twenty-Eighth Street Music (ASCAP) and Minor Second Music (SESAC), trumpeter Don
Sickler has been able to gather and offer lead sheets by musicians as diverse as Elmo Hope,
Gene Ammons, Roland Kirk, Philly Joe Jones, Dexter Gordon, Bobby Watson
and Hank Mobley. For more information, go here. Or you can email by clicking the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Martin Amis. After I posted last weekend on new-ish banal catch-phrases that have entered common parlance, director Raymond De Felitta (Rob the Mob) sent along the following clip of Martin Amis being interviewed by Charlie Rose...
Jazz thought of the week. Bill Kirchner recently said the following in an email and it makes
perfect sense to me...
"Jazz will reach a new level of maturity when two things
happen: when women musicians are no longer considered a novelty (that's
coming close) and when there are no more jazz media polls. I realize
that the value of the latter is solely as a marketing tool, but surely
there are better and more imaginative and constructive ways of doing
CD discoveries of the week. One of the finest tenor saxophonists around today is Michael Pedicin. Michael has been recording since the 1970s. Back then, he was a member of the horn section at Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound
Studios, where he worked for producers Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, and Thom Bell, playing on sessions by such artists as the Spinners, the O’Jays and Lou Rawls. He also went on the road with Maynard Ferguson, Stevie Wonder, and David Bowie. His new album, Why Stop Now/Ubuntu (Ground Blue) has an African feel throughout and features two songs by John Coltrane—Tunji and Song of the Underground Railroad. Michael's originals, such as 27 Up and an unaccompanied Ubuntu, shimmer with a meditative spiritualism.
Geri Allen chose mostly Motown songs for her new Grand River Crossings (Motema). But instead of playing them, the pianist took the songs apart, using their themes for inspired explorations. There are glimmers of the originals, but
expecting jazz reworkings would miss the point. Here, Geri is leveraging the singles to show a direct connection between the jazz mind and the early '60s dance scene. You won't believe what she does to Tears of a Clown and Inner City Blues. Geri is from Pontiac, Mich., and her tribute to the music she heard growing up near Detroit is deeply personal. Largely a solo album, Geri is joined on three tracks by trumpeter Marcus Belgrave and on one by alto saxophonist David McMurray.
Sarah Vaughan is timeless. Concord just reissued Vaughan's Sophisticated Lady: The Duke Ellington Songbook Collection, originally on Pablo. The two-CD set features six previously unreleased recordings with Benny
Carter arrangements. Recorded in 1979 and 1980, each track is precious. Vaughan's range seemed to deepen as she aged, which took nothing away from her ability to soar up to the highest notes. What's special about this set is how she grabs the Ellington works and runs away with them. You'll be hard-pressed to find anyone who sang these songs better, particularly with Carter's lush, breezy charts framing her. It's all mink and diamonds.
When Pakistani musicians take on jazz and pop, the results are strong and hypnotic. The Sachal Studios Orchestra on Jazz and All That: In Memory of Dave Brubeck
(Sachal) swept me away. Don't be fooled—only
one track here was by
Dave. The rest are fascinating adventures on songs you know—Stevie
Wonder's You've Got It Bad Girl, Henry Mancini's The Pink Panther, Antonio Carlos Jobim's Wave, the Beatles' Eleanor Rigby
and others. The result is an exotic, throbbing and densely textured
valentine to Western and Eastern music. If only the world could just
eat, laugh and listen to music and forfeit the anger.
The Five Play Jazz Quintet from San Francisco has a sound that will appeal to jazz novices and sophisticates alike. On Five Play's Five & More (Auraline), the core group co-led by pianist Laura Klein and guitarist Tony Corman is joined
by a clutch of guest artists. But instead of having these guests just take solos, the arrangements integrate them seamlessly in the group, altering the musical coloration from track to track. The addition of Ted Wolff's vibes on Glow in the Dark, for example, is bright and light while Frank Phipps marching trombone on Rosa Rugosa and Dave Tidball's clarinet gives the song a punchy warmth. Every track offers a different coloration.
Imer Santiago's first album Hidden Journey (Jazz Music City) is impressive. The Nashville trumpeter brings heat, but the emphasis here is on lyrical playing that shows off
Santiago's many gifts—including hare-tear bebop lines on Flat 2176 (For Miles). His style turns salsa on Flat 2176 (Para Puente), hard bop on Lonely Nights and songbook supportive on The Very Thought of You, with Stephanie Adlington on vocal.
Fans of guitarist Joe Pass will be overjoyed to hear For Joe (Capri), a tribute album by guitarists Frank Potenza and John Pisano. They're joined by Jim Hughart on bass
and Colin Bailey on drums. Both guitarists knew Pass, played with him and clearly miss him. Pass' For Django is here and so is his Catch Me. But the bulk of the album is devoted to songs Pass loved, such as Voce and Rosetta. Gentle music that recalls the lyricism and phrasing of the guitar great who died in 1994.
Kneebody's The Line (Concord) is a fascinating fusion of horns, snare beats and electronics. The result is a jazz album, first and foremost, with textured program-y overlays that give jazz a contemporary feel. The Lineisn't a traditional jazz album but it's definitely exciting to hear saxes, muted trumpets, fusion guitars, electric piano and other traditional jazz instruments baked with computerized sizzle. This is an experimental album that works largely because producer Chris Dunn knows what he's doing and can articulate what he hears to produce a coherent adventure.
The digital age fortunately lets you pick and choose tracks from an album rather than forcing you to download the whole thing. In the case of Wilford Brimley with the Jeff Hamilton Trio
(Capri), several tracks work better than others. Sample That Sunday, That Summer; Walkin' My Baby Back Home; and Bidin' My Time. Tamir Hendelman is a gorgeous pianist, and Brimley's voice is rough-edged and engaging on these tracks. And yes, that's Wilford Brimley, the Postmaster General from Seinfeld.
Oddball album cover of the week.
Wow, that's some art department interpretation of the album's title. "Yeah, you know, do something to show that love is walking in. Get a dame in there wearing something skimpy. But not too skimpy. And get a guy in there, too. But not really in there. Just there. Know what I mean? Now get going." So our female model appears to be auditioning for a gaudy stage role while our guy in the shadows looks like he wandered into a burlesque show or he's getting a shine.
Singer-songwriter Allen Toussaint has written dozens of hit songs. Many have what I call the Allen Toussaint bounce—a jumping New Orleans feel that's part blues and part zydeco. His hits include Mother in Law, Southern Nights, Whipped Cream, Get Out of My Life Woman, Working in the Colemine, What Do You Want the Girl to Do?, Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley and many more. [Photo above of Allen Toussaint in his old New Orleans neighborhood by Rush Jagoe for The Wall Street Journal]
In today's Wall Street Journal (go here or please buy the paper), I interview Allen on his childhood home in the Gert Town section of New Orleans and how he came to play piano with such a distinctive sound.
JazzWax clips: Here are five of Allen's songs. Dig the bounce...
Jazz has a long history of pianists with punch. Earl "Fatha" Hines, Art Tatum, Erroll Garner, Bud Powell, Oscar Peterson, Horace Silver and Bobby Timmons are just a handful. All had a tiger-like attack on the keyboard coupled with an acrobatic technique. About a month ago a CD by pianist Mike Jones arrived that sizzled with excitement and I thought to myself—the punch, it lives! Weeks later, critic, pal and Duke Ellington biographer Terry Teachout sent along an email raving about Mike.
The album is Plays Well With Others (Capri), featuring Mike on piano, Mike Gurrola on bass and Jeff Hamilton on drums. Mike's night job is performing during the long-running Penn & Teller Show in Las Vegas. Penn Jillette joins Mike on bass during the introductory musical segment of the evening.
Mike attended Boston's Berklee College of Music and remained there after graduation, playing with Herb Pomeroy and Gray Sargent. After performing on the Floating Jazz Festival on the S.S. Norway and the Queen Elizabeth ll and recording several pre-bop albums, Mike moved to Vegas. Since 2002, Mike has worked with Penn and Teller at Rio All Suites Hotel and Casino.
Mike's first release was Oh! Look at Me Now! on Chiarascuro, followed by Runnin' Wild (1996). Three more CDs followed in the 2000s. I reviewed his Live at Steinway Hall (1999) back in 2010 and was thunderstruck by his gift.
On Plays Well Together, Mike takes on 10 gorgeous standards like Detour Ahead, Harry Warren's I Know Why and So Do You, Corcorvado and I'm Old Fashioned. The two originals on the album are rollicking blues and both are foot-beaters. Mike is old school. His playing is first and foremost artful entertainment. Like those punch pianists of yore, Mike means to grab you and delight your senses. The strength of his playing and his choice of chords and improvised lines are show-stopping. But what makes this album special is how his playing curls around the part of your brain that responds favorably to warm, larger-than-life sound.
This is piano jazz the way it used to be played—before the electronic and digital ages, when music was labor and musicians broke their necks to make seduction sound easy. You won't be disappointed.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find the Mike Jones Trio's Plays
Well With Others (Capri) here.
JazzWax clips: Here's I Thought About You and Mike's Box Viewing Blues...
As readers know, I love obscure big band albums from the 1950s. For example, back in February 2012 I posted about Marion Evans' Ted McNabb & Co., a hard swinger with beautifully stitched arrangements from 1959. Today, I want to tell you about Bill Hitz's Music for This Swingin' Age, from 1956.
Bill who? Hitz was a clarinetist and alto saxophonist who recorded with Gene Krupa in 1945, Herbie Fields in 1946, Sarah Vaughan in 1950 and Ralph Flanagan in 1951 after moving to the West Coast. His only known leadership date was Music for This Swingin' Age, featuring an all-star West Coast band: Mickey Mangano, Conrad Gozzo, Ray Linn (tp); Milt Bernhart, Dick Nash (tb); Bill Hitz (cl,as); Russ Cheever (as,sop); Buddy Collette (fl,as,ts); Bill Elliott (ts); Chuck Gentry (bar); Gerald Wiggins (p); Curtis Counce (b) and Larry Bunker (d).
Most of the songs on the album were arranged by Lyle "Spud" Murphy [pictured above] using his 12-tone system that also was known as the "Equal Interval System." It was outlined in The System of Horizontal Composition, a hefty arranger's book. Hitz at the time was one of Murphy's pupils, and I suspect Hitz arranged the album's first two tracks: Strike Up the Band and In a Sentimental Mood. What's fascinating about the Murphy charts is that they offer the ear a fresh approach without clouding-up the songs or the swing.
If you're unfamiliar with Murphy, two albums to consider are New Orbits in Sound and Gone with the Woodwinds. You'll find both on New Orbits in Sound (Fresh Sound) here.
I was unable to find out what happened to Hitz after 1956. If a reader shares information about his post '56 career, I'll post it over the weekend.
JazzWax tracks: Unfortunately, Bill Hitz's Music for This
Swingin' Age has not been released on CD, and the LP is super rare. Hopefully Fresh Sound will re-issue the Decca recording soon.
JazzWax tracks: Here are three tracks from the album. Apologies for the LP's crackles and pops...
What is soul music, when did it start and how did it differ from R&B and rock and roll? Even if you think you know the answers to these questions, this BBC documentaryis hands down one of the finest chronologies of the music's rise and the critical role Ray Charles played in making it popular. A special thanks to Billy O'Hanluain in Dublin...
In the following rare video of the Ulf Wakenius Project in 2000 at the annual Jazz Baltica Festival in Salzau, Germany, the Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius was joined by Michael Brecker (tenor sax), Ray Brown (bass), Niels Lan Doky (piano) and Terri Lyne Carrington (drums). If the name Ulf Wakenius doesn't ring a bell, he was a
member of the Oscar Peterson Quartet and Ray Brown Trio in the late
'90s. A special thanks to my man Jimi Mentis in Athens for sharing this video...
File in the folder marked "petty grousing": Remember, "Well, excu-u-use me" from Saturday Night Live—and all the other banal catch-phrases that came off the show and became part of everyday chatter? A bevy of new ones seems to have crept into the language recently from who knows where—allowing anyone to be instantly funny without even having to worry about being clever or original. I, for one, am tired of hearing the following..
I mean, seriously?
Not so much.
I don't think so.
[Pictured above: Eraser, 1967, by Vija Celmins, acrylic on balsa wood]
Stan Getz in London. Jim Eigo of Jazz Promo Services, sent this one along of Getz blowing on Dum! Dum!, with Eddy Louiss (org), Rene Thomas (g) and Bernard Lubat (d) at Ronnie Scott's in March 1971. Wow!
Dinah Washington radio. "Symphony" Sid Gribetz will feature the recordings of vocalist Dinah Washington for five hours on Sunday (September 22) from 2 to 7 p.m. (EDT) on WKCR-NY. You can tune in on your computer from anywhere in the world by going here.
John Coltrane radio. WKCR will present its annual John Coltrane birthday broadcast on Monday (September 23), playing 'Trane's music around the clock for 24 hours starting at midnight (EDT) on Sunday. You can tune in on your computer from anywhere in the world by going here. Ronnell Bright in Japan. Last week I posted about an album that Ronnell Bright recorded live in Japan in 1990. JazzWax reader and colleague Makoto Gotoh sent along a note and the original artwork (above and below)...
"While Ronnell was staying in Tokyo, we heard Sarah Vaughan had passed away on April 3,1990. So the promoter Takao Ishizuka asked if he would record a tribute album to the great singer at the Good Day Club. On this album, Ronnell's original song entitled Chaser for Sarah is the same tune as R & R Groove, from The Ronnell Bright Trio (1958)."
Boston jazz. Last week I provided you with a link to a Boston jazz database. This week, I'm providing you with author Richard Vacca's On Troy Street blog. Go here.
CD discoveries of the week. Adam Rudolph's Go: Organic Orchestra remains one of the most exciting and eclectic large ensembles on the scene today. His new album Sonic Mandala (Meta) is stunning—hypnotic without being far
out, dense without being oppressive. There are 34 musicians on the album playing a wide range of instruments. Adam's revolutionary scores allow all types of musicians to play together. How so? There are 10 different grids of notes represented by letters—all arranged in specific musical intervals. Adam delivers hand signals to indicate which grid is to be played, and when he points to individual musicians or orchestra sections, they solo. This music is alive. Sample Part One and Part Seven.
On And, They Call Us Cowboys (GRR8), singer Kellye Gray has a closing-time sound that makes you want to put your boots up and pitch back your stetson. What I love about her voice is that even on silky songs, she's still
Texas through and through. This is a country-jazz album, if there is such a genre, meaning there are mostly deep ballads here but they all have a Southern heartache feel. Whether Gray is singing Kris Kristofferson's Help Me Make It Through the Night, Mac Davis' In the Ghetto, Shake Russell's Deep in the West or Roy Orbison's Only the Lonely, her phrasing is sophisticated and her timbre personal. If you love singers and dig an independent streak, you have to give this one a shot. I couldn't take the CD off once I put it on.
If Carla Bley's name is familiar but you don't own any of her albums—perhaps because in the past her recordings have been too difficult to grasp—Trios (ECM) is a perfect entry to the pianist's work. The trio here is Bley, Andy
Sheppard on tenor and soprano saxophones and Steve Swallow on bass, and all five compositions are by Bley. A free-jazz artist dating back to the early 1960s, Bley on the album develops each work with a gentle touch, allowing those skittish about free jazz to access and appreciate her art. It's tough to sample any one of these separate from the others, since I hear the album as a concept, but dig Bley's The Girl Who Cried Champagne. Walking a cheetah on the French Riviera.
Oddball album cover of the week.
This may take the cake for most banal mood music album. I guess when the owner slipped this one on and put the cover down on the coffee table, the evening's possibilities were pretty much shot. I also suspect that the album's first song—The Eleventh Hour—was simply wishful thinking. By the way, does an album qualify as a solo piano effort if there's "rhythm accompaniment?"
I think we all can agree that it's been a long week and that the news in the States hasn't been especially uplifting. What better way to raise your spirits than to watch a lighthearted English comedy from the '50s. This one—Trouble in Store (1953)—is particularly good, and I guarantee you'll be feeling as fit as a fiddle at the end, with a big smile on your face. The film was directed by John Paddy Carstairs, who specialized in just this sort of light comedy, with Norman Wisdom and Lana Morris—a dead ringer here for a young Bette Davis. A big thanks to eagle-eye John Cooper...
And here's a clip from a U.K. airing of This Is Your Life with Wisdom...
Wall Street Journal alert. In today's Arena section of the paper, I write about the new Muscle Shoals documentary on how a bunch of white musicians in a sleepy Alabama town turned the two recording studios into a center of R&B and rock recording in the 1960s and beyond. Go here.
What makes Clark Terry's trumpet and flugelhorn sound so special? As I wrote in 2010, it's his signature ability to swing hard and punctuate with confidence—without ever broiling his notes. Clark always leaves the ear with warm, pretty tones, mostly by bending notes slightly for flavor. Here's Clark and bassist Red Mitchell performing as a duet in 1987 on the national German TV network ZDF. A big thanks again to Jimi Mentis in Greece...
Marc Myers writes on music and the arts for The Wall Street Journal. He is author of "Why Jazz Happened" (Univ. of Calif. Press). Founded in 2007, JazzWax was named the 2015 "Blog of the Year" by the Jazz Journalists Association.