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.
Art Hodes. Todd Selbert, editor of The Art Pepper Companion: Writings on a Jazz Original (Cooper Square), sent along the following clip of pianist Art Hodes...
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 that."
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 Line isn'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.