Tag Archives: Duke Ellington

BECOMING ENLIGHTENED: CECILE McLORIN SALVANT and DARYL SHERMAN SING ELLINGTON at WHITLEY BAY (Nov. 3, 2013)

Here’s an energized romantic song, a Forties Ellington hit, performed by two “hip chicks” and a swinging band (unfortunately off-camera) at the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party.

They are Daryl Sherman (in mauve) next to Cecile McLorin Salvant, and the band is Richard Pite, drums; Malcolm Sked, string bass; Jacob Ullberger, guitar; Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Matthias Seuffert, reeds.

I’m posting this not only because of its delightful savor, but because I can count the days (about fourteen) until the next Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party. It begins on the evening of Thursday, November 6, and runs until late Sunday night, November 9 . . . possibly into Monday morning.  Tickets may still be available: you can check here. It might be costly for those not close to Newcastle, UK, to attend, but it is eminently worth the trip. There’s no festival like it, nor (in my decade of serious study of the matter) has there ever been.  In the ancient dialect of the area, “Get thee hence, if thou canst.”

May your happiness increase!

PERFECTLY CRAFTED: “PLAYGROUND” by the UNACCOUNTED FOUR

I am delighted to share with you the debut CD of an inspired quartet — the Unaccounted Four — a disc called (appropriately) PLAYGROUND, where the arranged passages are as brilliant as the improvisations, and the two kinds of expression dance beautifully through the disc.

playground_front

Menno plays cornet, wrote the arrangements, and composed three originals; David plays clarinet and tenor saxophone; Martien plays guitar; Joep is on string bass; Harrie ven de Woort plays the pianola on the closing track, a brief EXACTLY LIKE YOU.  The disc was recorded at the PIanola Museum in Amsterdam on four days in May 2014 — recorded superbly by bassist Joep.

The repertoire is a well-stirred offering of “classic” traditional jazz repertoire: STUMBLING, CHARLESTON, LIMEHOUSE BLUES, ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, JUBILEE, EXACTLY LIKE YOU; beautiful pop songs: AUTUMN IN NEW YORK, JEANNINE (I DREAM OF LILAC TIME), ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT RHYTHM, LULLABY OF THE LEAVES; originals: WHAT THE FUGUE, UNGUJA, PLAYGROUND; unusual works by famous composers: Ellington’s REFLECTIONS IN D; Bechet’s LE VIEUX BATEAU; and Ravel’s SLEEPING BEAUTY.  Obviously this is a quartet with an imaginative reach.

A musical sample — the Four performing JUBILEE and LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

Here is Menno’s own note to the CD:

A few years ago, I wanted to have my own jazz quartet to play what is known as “classic jazz.” Besides being nice to listen to, I intended the quartet to be versatile, convenient and different. That is why I bypassed the usual format of horn + piano trio. Our instrumentation of two horns, guitar and bass allows for varied tone colors. The venues where we play don’t need to rent a piano, and we don’t have to help the drummer carry his equipment from the car. As for versatility, David Lukacs, Merien Oster and Joep Lumeij are excellent readers and improvisers. They are also great company to hang out with (convenience again).

Our repertoire dates from the 1920s and 30s. The earliest piece is the adaptation of Ravel’s Pavane de la belle au bois dormant (1912); the latest is Ellington’s Reflections in D (1953), not counting my own tunes. While writing the charts, I chose to frame the familiar (and not-so-familiar) tunes in a new setting, rather than following the original recordings. So, for better or worse, the Unaccounted Four sounds like no other band. I promise you will still recognize the melodies, though!

The recording was made at the Pianola Museum in Amsterdam by Joep Lumeij with only two microphones. Minimal editing and postprocessing was done (or indeed possible).

On the last track, Harrie van de Voort operated a pianola which belted out Exactly Like You while we joined in. It is the only completely improvised performance on this disc. Autumn in New York is at the other end of the spectrum with every note written out.

I hope you will enjoy the Unaccounted Four’s particular brand of chamber jazz.

Menno’s statement that the Unaccounted Four “sounds like no other band” is quite true.  If I heard them on the radio or on a Blindfold Test, I might not immediately recognize the players, but I wouldn’t mistake the band for anyone else. I think my response would be, “My goodness, that’s marvelous.  What or whom IS that?”

Some listeners may wonder, “If it doesn’t sound like any other band, will I like it?”  Fear not.  One could put the Four in the same league as the Braff-Barnes quartet at their most introspective, or the Brookmeyer-Jim Hall TRADITIONALISM REVISITED.  I think of the recordings Frankie Newton made with Mary Lou Williams, or I envision a more contemplative version of the 1938 Kansas City Six or the Kansas City Four.

But here the CD’s title, PLAYGROUND, is particularly apt. Imagine the entire history of melodic, swinging jazz as a large grassy field.  Over there, Bobby Hackett and Shorty Baker are talking about mouthpieces; in another corner, Lester Young, Gil Evans, and Miles Davis are lying on their backs staring at the sky.  Billy Strayhorn and Claude Thornhill are admiring blades of grass; Frank Trumbauer is introducing Bix Beiderbecke and Eddie Lang to Lennie Tristano and Oscar Pettiford; Tony Fruscella and Brew Moore are laughing at something witty Count Basie has said. Someone is humming ROYAL GARDEN BLUES at a medium tempo; another is whistling a solo from the Birth of the Cool sides.

You can continue this game at your leisure (it is good for insomniacs and people on long auto trips) but its whimsical nature explains PLAYGROUND’s particular sweet thoughtful appeal.

It is music to be savored: translucent yet dense tone-paintings, each three or four-minute musical interlude complete in itself, subtle, multi-layered, full of shadings and shifts.  The playing throughout is precise without being mannered, exuberant when needed but never loud — and happily quiet at other times. Impressionism rather than pugilism, although the result is warmly emotional.

Some CDs I immediately embrace, absorb, and apparently digest: I know their depths in a few hearings.  With PLAYGROUND, I’ve listened to it more than a half-dozen times, and each time I hear new aspects; it has the quiet resonance of a book of short stories, which one can keep rereading without ever being bored.

For me, it offers some of the most satisfying listening experiences I have had of late.

The CD can be downloaded or purchased from CDBaby, downloaded from iTunes or Amazon; or one can visit Menno’s own site here, listen to sound samples, and purchase the music from him.

Enjoy the PLAYGROUND.  You have spacious time to explore it.

May your happiness increase!

FROM THE STUDIOS OF STATION KLZ: THE DUKE VISITS COLORADO (1942)

More on eBay from the seller “anystuffyouwant” — some remarkable photographs, all new to me.

The first — not an Ellingtonian — is the short-lived tenor saxophonist Dick Wilson, who died in late 1941, less than two weeks after his thirtieth birthday. He played and recorded with Andy Kirk, a Mary Lou Williams small group, and he can also be heard on one of Jerry Newman’s uptown recordings with Harry Edison and Count Basie.  I’ve never seen a portrait of him in action, and I recall that Billie Holiday thought he was one of the most appealing men she’d ever known.

DICK WILSON second tryThe next group of photographs shows the Ellington band — broadcasting over KLZ and in a ballroom. (I presume that they were on their way to California, but do not know if this tour pre-or-post dates JUMP FOR JOY.  However, the string bassist is Junior Raglin, not Jimmie Blanton.)

“Everybody look handsome!”


ELLINGTONIANS Colorado and an autographed portrait of the Rabbit, Mister Johnny Hodges:

HODGES Colorado

Anyone for trombones? From left, Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton, Juan Tizol, Lawrence Brown, and in front, Mister Ben Webster:

BEN and TBNS Colorado

What would the Ellington band have been without stylish Sonny Greer?SONNY GREER ColoradoFinally, two people who didn’t get photographed as often as I would like. One, the utterly irreplaceable Ivie Anderson:

IVIE Colorado

The other, a master of sounds — Tricky Sam Nanton:

TRICKY SAM ColoradoI’ve heard the Ellington band of that period on recordings and live airshots for many decades now, but these photographs bring the sound even closer to me. The other photographs I’ve posted from the same seller were all autographed to “Rollie”: did (s)he take these?  All mysterious, but the evidence that remains — even when slightly damaged by dampness — is wonderfully evocative. (My post on Rollie’s photographs can be seen here.)

The seller also has been displaying pictures of the Lunceford and Hampton bands . . . wonderful finds!

May your happiness increase!

LOVE, WISDOM, AND GREASE: “KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON”

I was reluctant to watch the new documentary, KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON, about the relationship between aging jazz master Clark Terry (now 94) and his young protege Justin Kauflin (now 26). Years ago, Cee Tee told audiences — frequently and loudly — “The Golden Years SUCK!” and what I knew of his medical woes, diabetes culminating in loss of sight, and the amputation of both legs, had left me unwilling to watch a film chronicling the physical decline of a great artist.

CT poster

I now know that this moving documentary is so much more than a chronicle of the physical breakdown of a once-vibrant man.  I came away from the film uplifted by Clark’s indomitable love and spiritual energy, a bubbling life-force that cannot be stifled.

CT

But this is not only a film about Clark Terry. And although there is a good deal of rewarding archival footage (younger Clark with Ellington, Basie, and Quincy Jones) it is not a memorial to him.

Rather, it is about a mutual exchange between Terry and the young, inventive jazz pianist Kauflin who becomes Terry’s student — but at the same time sustains the older man, energizes him, and since Terry was losing his sight, develops into a valuable guide into that other world. (Kauflin lost his sight completely at 11.)

Cee Tee is able to teach the younger man valuable life-lessons about more than music, but Justin returns the favor generously, becoming a son both Terry and his wife can nurture.  The film deftly and tenderly chronicles their relationship, not neglecting the sorrows along the way: Terry has immense medical setbacks; Kauflin is a semi-finalist in the Thelonious Monk competition but other pianists make it to the finals.

At the end of this beautifully photographed and edited film, there have been triumphs.  In Kauflin’s case, he has impressed Dianne Reeves and Quincy Jones, so much so in the latter’s case that Jones has featured the young musician at the Montreux Jazz Festival and has asked him to be part of his next CD.  For Terry, the triumphs are enacted on a smaller scale but are no less important.  He keeps on, and it is not simply a matter of not dying.  In the last minutes of the film, we see him instructing a young saxophonist in how best to phrase a flurry of notes. We leave the film with faith in Terry as a beacon of love and music — and we know that the young men and women he has taught and inspired will go on to inspire generations not yet born.

The film is full of delights: Terry’s instructing Kauflin in “old songs” such as BREEZE, talking with him about Ellington, and helping Kauflin become not only a better pianist but a more courageous young man.  We see Terry’s generous spirit and the loving relationship he and wife Gwen have and sustain, and we understand more about Clark because of brief interviews with Herbie Hancock, Jones, and even an archival clip from Miles Davis.  The film also lets young Kauflin have his say, and he comes across as self-aware, charming, and gracious, very much aware of his debt to his mentor.

Because the film’s director, Alan Hicks, was also a student of Terry’s, the film is lit from within by a rare sensitivity.  It does not view the world of jazz superficially and erroneously from the outside.  The film never seems maudlin or overdone, and critical audiences searching for errors won’t find them.  And the musicians who praise Clark seem so fresh, their voices so authentic.

What any audience will find in this compact film (84 minutes) is love: passing generously between Cee Tee and his fellow musicians, to and from Justin, Gwen, and the characters who are fortunate to be in this aura.  There’s also Justin’s frisky but loving guide dog, Candy (whose name provokes an impromptu Terry vocal on that Forties ballad).

The film offers a model for a sustaining spiritual exchange, where an Elder of the Tribe, honored and respected, has wisdom to pass on to the Youngbloods.  And we can all learn from Terry.  That Kauflin has done so with such easy openness is a testament to his heartfelt nature — Elders need Youngbloods to inspire.  Hicks has returned his love to Terry through this film, which took five years to complete.

I urge you to seek out and watch KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON.  As a document of affectionate mutual generosity and swinging music, it will inspire you. Here is the film’s Facebook page, and here is a brief trailer.

Because for all its sad events, the film is light of heart, I have to conclude with something in that spirit.  I now have a new catchphrase (although I might be reluctant to use it). Terry taught a very young Quincy Jones, who has never forgotten his mentor’s the kindness.  They greet each other with a trumpeters’ in-joke: “Are your lips greasy?” meaning “Are you still playing?  Are you still making the effort?”  I’d like to see that cheerful phrase (puzzling to those not in the know) become part of any conversation.

May your happiness increase!

ROLLIE and A CAMERA

Courtesy of eBay, of course, and courtesy of the seller “anystuffyouwant,” who says these items are from his personal collection of fifty years.

Rollie was a photographer presumably based in Colorado (where KLZ was a famous radio station) in the early Forties.  His photographs are impressive and he also made friends with his subjects. Here are a few of his photographs that turned up for sale. (Incidentally, I am assuming that Rollie was male — but impulsive online research turned up no leads to his / her identity except much on the younger woman photographer Rollie McKenna, who captured Dylan Thomas, so . . . )

Ella:

ELLA 1941

Tommy Reynolds:

TOMMY REYNOLDS 1940

Duke and bassist Junior Raglin (thanks to Jimmie Blanton scholar Matthias Heyman for confirming this) :

DUKE 1941

A close-up of George Wettling:

GEO W single

George as part of a larger band:

GEO W band

Mel Torme with three singing colleagues who presumably pre-date the Mel-Tones:

MEL TORME KLZ

Mel at his own drum set:


MEL AT THE DRUMSA few small mysteries.  Some readers may be able to identify the singers with Mel.  Drum fanciers will have something to say about Geo W’s set and Mel’s.  I can’t identify anyone in the band that Wettling is playing in, and find it odd that he should have a bass drum with a radio station logo and his own Geo W.  If someone could decipher the KLZ logo (is that a mountain peak?) and explain why there’s a clipper ship on the back wall, I wouldn’t mind, either.

Even if those mysteries remain unsolved, it is cheering to know such artifacts of a vanished time exist so that we can see them.

May your happiness increase!

JAMES DAPOGNY’S CHICAGO JAZZ BAND at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (Part Two)

James Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band is one of my favorite groups — whether they are expertly navigating through their leader’s compact, evocative arrangements or going for themselves. The noble fellows on the stand at the 2014 Evergreen Jazz Festival were Dapogny, piano / arrangements; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Chris Smith, trombone, vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet, alto saxophone, vocal; Russ Whitman, clarinet, tenor, baritone saxophone; Rod McDonald, guitar; Dean Ross (a Denver native), string bass; Pete Siers, drums.
The CJB was one of the absolute high points of Evergreen (which I documented here) and I offer five more tasty main dishes:
DON’T BE THAT WAY was one of Edgar Sampson’s great compositions, most often known through Benny Goodman’s rather brisk performances (it worked even better at  slow glide, as Lester Young proved) but one of the most memorable recordings of this song was done by a Teddy Wilson small group in 1938 — featuring those Commodoreans Bobby Hackett and Pee Wee Russell.  The CJB pays tribute to both the song and the performance here (although I point out that the CJB is not copying the solos from the record).  Tell the children not to be afraid: Mr. Kellso growls but he doesn’t bite:
 
IS YOU IS OR IS YOU AIN’T MY BABY? is a deep question, whether or not Louis Jordan was asking it.  Here Professor Dapogny and the Chicago Jazz Chorus make the same inquiry with renewed curiosity:
She just got here yesterday, and already she made an impression (I hear Ethel Waters pointing out these facts) — that’s SWEET GEORGIA BROWN:
I know that pianist / composer Alex Hill, who died far too young, is one of Dapogny’s heroes — mine too — someone responsible for memorable melodies and arrangements as well as fine piano.  DELTA BOUND is (for those who know the lyrics) one of those “I can’t wait to get home down South” songs both created and thrust upon African-Americans in the Twenties and Thirties, but its simple melody is deeply haunting — especially in this evocative performance, as arranged by Dapogny:
Valve trombonist Juan Tizol’s CARAVAN has been made in to material for percussion explosions for some time (perhaps beginning with Jo Jones in the Fifties) but here it is a beautifully-realized bit of faux-exotica (camels not required) harking back to the late-Thirties Ellington small groups:
Splendid playing and arrangements. And more to come.
May your happiness increase!

HONORING JOE WILDER, THREE WAYS

JOE WILDER

When I learned that the magnificent musician and lovely man Joe Wilder had left us, I wrote this:

I’ve learned this morning (May 9, 2014) from his friend and co-author Ed Berger that trumpeter and jazz pioneer Joe Wilder has died.  He leaves a huge hole in the world.

There was a flurry of false information back in February, and I spread what was erroneous bad news, but now it is sadly true.

Joe was not only a shining example to other musicians; he shone for us all. He was a gentleman in the way the word is no longer used: someone whose concern for his fellow human beings was strong.  He expected men and women to treat each other kindly — he did this as a matter of course — and he was shocked when it didn’t happen.

He was the very model of grace — and I mean a quality that goes beyond simple politeness.

We met first at an outdoor concert in 1981 where I took some photographs of the band.  Later, through a fan of Joe’s, I obtained his address (this was perhaps ten years later) and we entered into correspondence about the photos and some tapes of him he had not heard.

Those letters were precious documents — evidence of how that gentle man faced even the most mundane things.  Later, when I had the privilege of meeting him in person, his kindness and good humor was immense: the Beloved and I cherish a chance meeting with him on the street outside Birdland, where our collective delight was memorable. We weren’t simply thrilled to meet Joe Wilder — let me make this clear — he made us feel as if we were his dearest friends, and the memory of that chance encounter warms me now.

I will let others tell Joe’s stories — a particular friend, Ed Berger, has done and will continue to do that, superbly here. And happily Joe lived long enough to celebrate his ninety-second birthday among friends and to see that book published.

Instead, I will present some of his music that I was fortunate enough to capture.  Joe lives on in our memory, not only for his brilliant warm sound, his elegant capers on trumpet and fluegelhorn, but as a model of how to live: with kindness, compassion, awareness, and amusement.  These videos are from 2010, late in his playing career.

and here is an early masterpiece:

Thank you, Mr. Wilder, for being.  You came to us on February 22, 1922, and gave generously of your self every day.  I write these words with sorrow and send love to your family.  But I think of you with joy.

And Joe was far too modest a man to present himself as a model of how others should behave, but I think if we had him in our thoughts as an embodiment of loving action, he wouldn’t mind.

JOE WILDER cover

Some time after this sad posting, I had the good fortune to read Ed Berger’s book about Joe, JOE WILDER AND THE BREAKING OF BARRIERS IN AMERICAN MUSIC: SOFTYLY, WITH FEELING (Temple, 2014) which I commend to you with enthusiasm:

Trumpeter Joe Wilder was admired and loved as musician and man. The new biography by Edward Berger, aptly titled, embodies Wilder’s deep gentle spirit, unlike many new biographies that document and magnify their subject’s flaws. Berger and Wilder met in 1981 and they worked on this book for nearly a decade. Wilder’s gentle presence is evident on every page, and the book is not a showcase for his ego (unlike some other biographies); rather, this book is a loving embodiment of teamwork between two mature individuals with a great respect for accuracy. Not all the stories are gentle — the book has a number of studies of focused unkindness and unfairness — but the book itself is not a settling of old scores.

The biography has three intertwining stories. One is Wilder’s growth as a musician, from his childhood in Pennsylvania to being one of the most respected trumpet players in the world, with associations with everyone from Lionel Hampton to Gunther Schuller, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Alec Wilder, Rudy Van Gelder, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Alec Wilder, Benny Carter, Ernie Kovacs and a hundred more. In his recollections of six decades as a professional musician, we observe jazz changing from a popular dance music played everywhere to a rarefied phenomenon in clubs, parties, and festivals. However, it is more than a listing of gigs and concerts, more than a series of anecdotal protraits. Joe was a rare individual, and the book properly lingers on his early life and development as a person, joyous, playful, but ultimately serious about his own place in the world and about the professionalism of his art..

The second strand is Wilder’s unheralded part in the long struggle to have racial equality in the United States. His stories (and Berger’s careful research) of discrimination and legalized abuse – personal and institutional – are painful. When we reach 1980 in the book and it is evident that the struggle is coming to a close, it is a relief.  In my encounters with Joe — he would not have wanted to be called “Mr. Wilder” more than once — he was down-to-earth, friendly, enthusiastic, welcoming, someone who did not draw lines between Musician and Listener, someone who made friends. But he had a deep and serious need to be treated fairly. Being taken advantage of — on the stand or off — infuriated him, and he told stories of being treated badly by musicians and non-musicians with a mixture of polite rage and astonishment.  A fair man, Joe simply could not understand why others would be anything but.

And the third is a sweet chronicle of Wilder himself, a delightful man: genuine, humble, witty, compassionate, “Mr. Social,” as one of his daughters calls him. He emerges as a remarkable man, who would have been so if he had never played a note: sensitive to injustice and ready to act against it, but a gracious, kind person.

Berger’s writing is worthy of his subject. The biography might make one feel as if Wilder is close at hand, fully realized. Berger’s research is superb but never obtrusive; his prose is understated yet effective. The book offers rare photographs (Wilder was also a fine photographer, seen in later decades with at least two cameras when not playing), and a discography full of surprises. Joe Wilder has been wonderfully captured in these pages, this loving, accurate portrait. All through these pages, I wanted to telephone Joe and congratulate him, even to say, “Have you read this wonderful book about you?  It is just like you; it sounds just like you!”  Reading it was a bittersweet affair: Joe is there for the ages, for people who never got to hear him in person or to share a word with him, but the book was so evocative that it made — and makes — me miss him all the more.

The third part of this tribute is yet to come.  Joe’s family, friends, among them Ed Berger and Warren Vache, have planned a memorial service for Joe — to be held on September 8, 2014, at St. Peter’s Church in midtown Manhattan, begining at 6:30 PM.

I hope to be there, without video camera, and I expect there will be a line of people waiting to get in. When I asked Ed who would be playing there, he sent this very sweet pointed answer — very much in the spirit of the man who is being honored:

We all agreed not to announce the musicians in advance.  We want people to come because they want to remember Joe Wilder, not because their favorite musicians are appearing for free.  But, as you can imagine, those participating will be quite a stellar assemblage!

The one person we yearn to see there won’t be there, but we will certainly feel his presence in the stories and music that his friends and family share with us.

May your happiness increase!