One of my favorite Chet Baker videos resurfaced at YouTube (go here). It features Baker in Belgium in 1964 on vocal and flugelhorn with Jacques Pelzer (as,fl), Rene Urtreger (p), Luigi Trussardi (b) and Franco Manzecchi (d)...
Buddy De Franco, a highly accomplished and exquisite jazz clarinetist who began his career in several leading swing bands of the 1940s before pivoting to bebop in the late 1940s and early '50s and teaming with leading jazz artists throughout the LP era, died on Dec. 24. He was 91.
Buddy's first recording in 1943 was as a member of the Gene Krupa Orchestra. He soon joined Charlie Barnet after Krupa's pot bust and then Tommy Dorsey in the mid-1940s, with his most famous solo of the era coming on Dorsey's 1944 recording of Sy Oliver's Opus No. 1. Despite the song becoming a hit, Buddy came to detest it after Dorsey insisted he repeat his recorded solo note for note each time the band played the song.
Departing Dorsey in late '47, Buddy began playing bebop—music he found more innovative and liberating as a soloist. In '48, he also played a little-known role in helping George Shearing shape a unison sound that Shearing would soon use to great effect in his quintet. Originally, the De Franco-Shearing group was supposed to consist of Shearing and Buddy backed by bass and drums. But when Buddy signed with Capitol in '49 and Shearing signed with MGM, Shearing needed vibes and guitar to replace Buddy's high, warm tone.
In 1950, Buddy recorded as the leader of a small group and a big band before joining a Count Basie octet date that was captured in a short film. In 1952, Buddy formed a bebop quartet with pianist Kenny Drew. When Drew left in '54, he was replaced by Sonny Clark, and the quartet would make several significant recordings. By then, Artie Shaw had retired, and with the LP era was in full swing, Buddy dominated on clarinet, recording frequently with pianist Oscar Peterson and other jazz stars for Norman Granz's Verve label.
Buddy's sound was warm and woody, and his bop often carried with it traces of swing. In 1956, he recorded a monumentally poetic album for Verve with Art Tatum, a session on which Buddy told me he was ill with a cold. By the late '50s, Buddy recorded a breezy, illustrative concept album called Cross Country Suite (Dot) that Riddle had composed and arranged.
Perhaps Buddy's most experimental works were the five albums he recorded with accordionist Tommy Gumina starting in 1960. As was often the case with Buddy, he tended to gravitate to consummate musicians who were comfortable with experimentation. This was certainly true of Gumina, and their polytonal takes on standards featuring the clarinet's soulful voice and the accordion's broad, reedy personality was a brash experiment. Though not commercially successful, the pairing left behind sophisticated music in the pop realm.
As rock and soul dominated the '60s, Buddy recorded in big band revival settings and as the leader of small carefully chosen jazz groups. He also appeared on the Sharky's Machine film soundtrack. In the 1980s, Buddy began recording with vibist Terry Gibbs, a swinging collaboration that produced a series of tasteful albums, including Terry Gibbs and Buddy De Franco Play Steve Allen (Contemporary). Buddy's last known studio recording was Charlie Cat 2 in 2006 for the Arbors Jazz label.
On a personal note, Buddy was a great guy. He was always eager to chat by phone and shed light on the music he made and the events he witnessed. My heart goes out to Buddy's wife, Joyce, and the entire De Franco family. Buddy was a tremendously gifted artist and a generous soul who understood the value of preserving his music and memories for future generations.
JazzWax notes: Here are links to my interviews with Buddy over the years...
Buddy on drummer Gene Krupa's pot bust and pianist Dodo Marmarosa's beating in 1943 (go here).
Buddy on his clarinet solo on Tommy Dorsey's Opus No. 1 in 1944 (go here).
Buddy on the Metronome All-Stars of 1948-49 (go here).
Buddy on the George Shearing sound in the late 1940s (go here).
Buddy on his transition to bebop and bandleader, from 1949 to '52 (go here).
Here's Buddy with Terry Gibbs in 1991 playing Memories of You...
And here's Buddy's clarinet featured on a 1961 episode of TV's Route 66, with Nelson Riddle's score and Ethel Waters as guest actress. Many thanks to saxophonist and jazz educator Bill Kirchner for the link...
Soprano saxophonist Kenny G is the king of smooth jazz, but back in the 1970s he was the saxophonist in Cold, Bold & Together—one of Seattle's hottest integrated soul-funk bands. I first discovered this side of Kenny when watching Wheedle's Groove, a terrific documentary on the Seattle music scene in the 1960s and early 1970s (the soundtrack is here). In today's Wall Street Journal (go here), I interview Kenny on his childhood home in Seattle, how he got his start in music and why his dad's occupation had everything to do with his choice of instrument. [Photo above of Kenny G at his home in Malibu by Amanda Friedman for The Wall Street Journal]
Here's Cold, Bold & Together's (Stop) Losing Your Chances, with Kenny on soprano sax...
Also in today's WSJ, my interview with novelist Wilbur Smith on his favorite song—Me and Bobby McGee (go here).
On Dec. 20, 1957, in support of Capitol's release of the 12-inch LP A Jolly Christmas From Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby joined Frank Sinatra on Sinatra's TV show for a half hour of holiday banter and Christmas songs. The show was filmed in color, though broadcast in black and white. Here's the show on ABC in its entirety...
Jazz musicians and singers always provide a little something extra to holiday songs. Perhaps it's a bit of blues. Or maybe just a keen sense of how to give a commercial melody a soulful spin. Here are eight you may not know:
Here's Bill Evans singing and playing Santa Claus Is Coming to Town...
Louis Prima goes back further than you think. Born in New Orleans, his first surge of popularity came in the 1930s, when he was a trumpeter-bandleader with a swinging singing voice. He wrote Sing, Sing Sing, which sounds just like him once you know it came from his pen. In the 1940s, Prima leveraged his heritage to create a string of Italian-themed hits, becoming Metronome's "Showman of the Year" in 1946. Then in 1953, he divorced his third wife and married singer Keely Smith, who had been his singing partner since 1948.
As the big band era became economically unsustainable in the early '50s, Prima and Smith began working their stage act with a small group, eventually featuring Sam Butera on tenor sax. Prima and Smith started performing in Las Vegas in 1954 and from there became a huge hit just as the 12-inch album was taking off and Americans discovered Nevada vacations.
After Prima and Smith divorced in 1961, Prima married his next singer, Gia Maione, continued to perform in Vegas and landed a role in Disney's Jungle Book in 1967. But in 1973, Prima suffered a heart attack. Then in 1975 he had surgery to remove a brain tumor and slipped into a coma. He died in 1978 at age 67.
It's hard to know what to make of Prima today. So much of his 1950s act seems an extension of personae already established by several major black artists, most notably Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway and Louis Jordan. What Prima added was the conversational timing, joy, sound and flavor of first-generation Italian-American family life.
Prima's essence wasn't that he gave audiences what they wanted. Rather, in his heyday, he gave them what they already knew, served up in a more high-strung, hip and comic routine. Keely Smith was the straight-faced foil—in on the gag but playfully perturbed about being sidelined or marginalized.
I guess what remains special about Prima was his loose, infectious, high-octane optimism and his ability to slur-scat lyric lines, creating charicatures of songs audiences knew well. Interestingly, when I watch Prima's '50s videos on YouTube, my eyes tend to settle on Smith's face, waiting for her glares and glances as Prima hops around like a cocktail shaker, turning American Songbook standards into a Tarantella. Smith may have lacked Prima's zest and musical command, but those saucer eyes and expressions are still priceless.
Here'sThe Wildest, a documentary on Prima. See what you think...
British Invasion pop-rocker Dusty Springfield is best known for hits like I Only Want to Be With You, You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, The Look of Love and Son of a Preacher Man. But Springfield also had jazz chops, which Blossom Dearie recognized when she wrote and recorded Dusty Springfield in 1970. For harder evidence, here's Springfield with Mel Torme...
Holiday wishes. Director Raymond De Felitta ('Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris, Rob the Mob) sent along a link to an online holiday album he waxed as a lark with pal Jon O'Hara, son of the late jazz singer and horn player Betty O'Hara. Jon is singing lead vocal with Raymond on background vocals and keyboards. Go here.
Last call for Warne Marsh doc. Just a handful of days remain as the late tenor saxophonist's son, K.C. Marsh, tries to raise sufficient funds to complete a documentary on his father. Watch his pitch video by going here.
Bill Evans. Pianist Dave Thompson, who often performs and records the music of Bill Evans, alerted me that Italian pianist Davide Santorsola, who also was a Bill Evans fan, died on Dec. 12. He was 53.
The Civilized Cinema (Double Feature). With the passing last week of Italian actress Virna Lisi [above], here's How to Murder Your Wife (1965), directed by Richard Quine and staring Jack Lemmon and Lisi, with Neal Hefti's magnificent score. Forget the cake scene. Dig the dance sequence to Hefti's theme at 1:19. I'm going to miss Lisi...
And for this pre-holiday weekend, a rarely seen fast-paced comedy—Her Favorite Patient(1945), also known as Bedside Manner, directed by Andrew L. Stone...
Oddball album cover of the week.
A surrealist sculpture? A set of false teeth made for an aging porpoise? Not quite. It's a quijada, or jawbone of a donkey that's used as a percussion instrument throughout Latin America. At least we know where Dali got his inspiration. Here's a track from this early cha-cha-cha album from 1956...
Stuck for party music? Several weeks ago, Wall Street Journal/Europe asked me to put together an ulitimate mix for a holiday issue that not only would get revelers up out of their seats but also allow those engaged in couch conversation to carry on without being drowned out. The mix also had to be perfect for a party at your house or at a friend's house if you were asked to bring the music and it has to cut across all demographics.
True confessions. Back in the 1970s and early '80s, I was out four nights a week and frequently made mixes for friends. The 20-track mix I created for WSJ/E features 1 hour and 40 minutes of soul, disco, jazz, reggae and new wave that steadily raises a room's energy level, leaving it there before easing things off slightly. You'll find my party mix here. Happy Holidays!
Also in the Wall Street Journal, I interview comedian Cedric the Entertainer for the Mansion section's "House Call" column. Cedric is a funny guy, and he muses about his childhood homes in Missouri and the influence his cousin Eric had on his humor. Go here.
For the "Playlist " column in this weekend's Review section, I interviewed Cary Elwes, star of The Princess Bride, on his favorite song—the Who's I Can't Explain. Go here.
Earlier this week I featured my favorite new CD discoveries. Today, I turn to my favorite boxed sets from 2014 in a range of genres—from country and jazz to rock and folk—for those still looking for a gift idea...
Ronnie Milsap: The RCA Albums Collection (Sony). I prefer my Nashville country straight up. Because I'm a romantic, I veer toward the classic. A big deep masculine voice or powerful female voice singing about passing through, moving on, dirty little secrets, feverish love, cheating hearts and misery. On the male side, one of my favorite country artists is Ronnie Milsap, probably the most popular country singers of the 1970s and '80s. Blind since childhood, Milsap sounds like small towns, long roads and diner cash registers. The winner of six Grammy Awards, he has had 40 #1 country singles, and this 21-CD boxed set features Milsap's RCA albums between 1973 and 2006. If you have a long drive, just set it on the seat next to you and roll. It's all great.
Bob Dylan and The Band: The Basement Tapes Complete (Sony). This set marks Vol. 11 of Sony's Bob Dylan "Bootleg Series" and features Dylan's at-home recordings with the Band. Newly electrified in 1967, Dylan retreated to a house near Woodstock, N.Y., and with the four-member Band he transformed folk into bluesy alternative country. At first, the quintet recorded in the house's Red Room upstairs but soon moved to the home's garage downstairs. The wistful, barefoot music blooms like a rose here, and Dylan's voice sounds fresh, vibrant and relaxed. A remarkable six-CD set that forces you to kick back and think. Which is what the this music was all about. In addition to the deluxe edition, there's an abreivated two-CD version here.
The Complete Dial Modern Jazz Sessions (Mosaic). This new nine-CD box unites all of Ross Russell's jazz sessions for his Dial label in Los Angeles between June 1945 and November 1948. The 185 tracks include critical studio dates with Charlie Parker, Howard McGhee, Miles Davis, Sonny Berman, Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Erroll Garner, Earl Coleman, Fats Navarro and Dodo Marmarosa. While you may have some or many of these recordings on other collections, the material here has been brilliantly remastered and features a 32-page booklet of liner notes with a lengthy essay by Russell himself from 1995, before he died in 2000. Best of all, the set tells a fascianting story when heard chronologically. The music changes before your ears. Sample tracks at the Mosaic site linked above.
Tears for Fears: Songs From the Big Chair, Super Deluxe Edition(Island). This new-wave album was a Brit-pop game-changer when it came out in 1985. The album's big beats, rock guitar licks and synth layering introdcued a new cool, sophisticated energy that set Tears for Fears apart from many of the other U.K. groups. The MTV era had already begun four years earlier, and this song's video featured planes, cars, dune buggies, motorcylces and Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith singing in the studio. The album produced four big hits—Shout, Everybody Wants to Rule the World, Mothers Talk and Head Over Heels. On the new release are alternate takes and extra tracks. Still sounds great.
Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons: The Classic Albumsand Frankie Valli: Selected Solo Works (Rhino). The Asphalt Beach Boys, in all their glory. The pre-Beatles band's 18 albums in the first box depict a post doo-wop era, when soul and pop-rock became big business. As a sidenote, one of the best concerts I saw this year was Frankie Valli singing for two hours in crisp falsetto, covering all of this hits with three male backup singers and a sizable band. If you're from New York, few bands can transport you back to a time when small speakers, cheap turntables and sharkskin suits ruled. As for the second box wtih eight solo albums by Valli, it includes Frankie Valli Solo (with Can't Take My Eyes Off You), CloseUp (with Swearin' to God), Our Day Will Come and Frankie Valli Is the Word. Forever summer!
Marc Myers writes on music and the arts for The Wall Street Journal. He is author of "Why Jazz Happened" (Univ. of California Press). Founded in 2007, JazzWax is a Jazz Journalists Association's "Blog of the Year" winner.