Daily Archives: August 16, 2021

TALES AND JOURNEYS: DMITRY BAEVSKY, “SOUNDTRACK”

Dmitry Baevsky is more than an expert swinging saxophonist and composer. He’s also a compelling musical storyteller, completely adept in all the languages of jazz. His new CD, SOUNDTRACK, is pleasing on several levels.

For years now, I’ve thought the terms, “Modern,” “Classic,” “Traditional” were spectacularly useless when describing the music I and others cherish: they were words to suggest primacy, superiority; words beloved of journalists and promoters. So I won’t diminish this restorative new CD by tagging one of those obsolete labels to it. I will simply say that it pleases the ear on multiple playings, and each time I hear it I come away with a feeling that Dmitry, Jeb, David, and Pete have important yet light-hearted things to tell me and other listeners. That’s precious.

Here’s a series of small tastes, full of brightly-colored energy:

On one level, this is musical autobiography — Dmitry is no newcomer and this is his ninth CD — that takes us along with him, from Saint Petersburg to New York to Paris. But fear not: this is not a series of musical snapshots, their meanings only fully evident to the photographer. Dmitry has chosen works by Rollins, John Lewis, Ornette, Ahmad Jamal, Vernon Duke, Dexter Gordon, Horace Silver, and the composers of KISMET. So it isn’t inscrutable postmodernism: “This composition of mine is what I play when I think about my first club date in Greenwich Village,” and each of the songs has a particular flavor, and each is given a tender yet rhythmically alert treatment. The liner notes by Dmitry, which are fascinating on their own, detail the connections between the peregrinations of a traveler and the growth of an artist.

Here’s something pretty, lyrical, and swinging — STRANGER IN PARADISE:

And AUTUMN IN NEW YORK:

Lest you think this is simply a CD of standards taken at moderate tempo, here’s Dmitry’s own OVER AND OUT:

If you want to play the game of WHO DOES HE SOUND LIKE, I leave such capers to you. All I know is that Dmitry has clearly studied both the music in back of him and those melodies yet to be created: he embodies a tradition with its nose to the window, looking to see what’s next. A nimble player with beautiful articulation, he is deeply in love with sound, song, and rhythm. Thus he can be sweetly lyrical on a ballad or ride the rhythm expertly, both following it and propelling it. And each performance has its own quiet drama: Dmitry, encouraged by his brilliantly cohesive bandmates: Jeb Patton, piano; David Wong, string bass; Pete Van Nostrand, drums.

When I first received this CD, I put it in the player without reading the liner notes, and I was entranced by the variety of colors and suggestions. Later, I read the notes and understood it as (in some ways) program music, but I kept going back to the sounds themselves. I think you will, too. You might know the story of Sonny Stitt, on the Jazz at the Philharmonic bus, going up and down the center aisle, playing everything he knew — and that was a great deal — until Lester Young said to him, “That’s very nice, Lady Stitt. But can you sing us a song?”

Lester would have smiled at the songs Dmitry and friends create.

May your happiness increase!

“A CLASSICALLY BIG-TONED TENOR PLAYER”: THE MANY KINGDOMS OF PERCY FRANCE, thanks to DANIEL GOULD

If you already know Percy France, don’t spend another moment reading what I’ve written. Go immediately to www.percyfrance.info — where you can hear him play, read about him (tributes by people who loved him), and learn more.

But if he’s only a name to you . . .

Perhaps because it is often mistaken for simple entertainment, jazz is oddly distinguished from other art forms by a powerful Star System. There is too much of “the greatest of all time,” which negates the broader accomplishments of many beautiful artists. But those who listen deeply know that alongside — not behind — Louis, there are Ray Nance and Bill Coleman; alongside Art Tatum there are Ellis Larkins and Jimmie Rowles, and so on, creative men and women ignored in the speeding-train chronicles of Important Artists.

With that in mind, and the joy of discovering someone “new,” here is tenor saxophonist Percy France. He may be little-known or even unknown to many. I did hear him on the radio (broadcasts by WKCR-FM, Columbia University’s station, from the West End Cafe in New York, presided over by Phil Schaap), but I never saw him in person.

But before you assume that Percy’s semi-obscurity is the result of a diluted talent, let me point out that this summer when Sonny Rollins was asked about him, his response was as enthusiastic as it could be. The excerpt that caught my eye is simple: I never could beat him. We were good friends, and I think of him as my brother.

Let that sink in.

And since you might be saying, “All right . . . praised by Sonny. What did he sound like?” here are three samples, thanks to Daniel Gould, about whom I will have more to say.

Here’s Percy, fluid, melodic, cheerfully making the over-familiar come alive:

and a different kind of groove, quietly lyrical:

France plays Fats, light-hearted and witty:

I admire honest deep research unashamedly, since often what’s passed off as information is made of cardboard. So I present to you Daniel Gould’s wonderful Percy France site — solid and ever-growing — his energetic tribute to a musician who should be cherished as more than a name in a discography: www.percyfrance.info will take you there.

Daniel has done and continues to do the great hard work of the reverent researcher: he proceeds without ideological distortion, for his sole purpose is to ensure that Percy and his music (as if one could separate the two) are not going to be forgotten. And, also quietly and without fanfare, he wants us to honor Percy as an individualist, someone “with his own voice,” not simply another “tough tenor” following well-worn paths.

To the site. What will you find there? First a biography (audio as well as print) documenting his too-brief life (1928-1992) his musical development, his associations with Sonny Rollins, Bill Doggett, Jimmy Smith, Freddie Roach, Sir Charles Thompson. Charlie Parker and Count Basie make cameo appearances as well. Then, even more beautiful, remembrances by Doggett, Bill Easley, Allen Lowe, Mike LeDonne, Sascha Feinstein, Michael Hashim, Sammy Price, Randy Sandke, Chris Flory, Scott Hamilton and others — all testifying to Percy’s qualities as musician and gentleman.

Then the treasure-box opens, revealing hours of unknown enlightenment and pleasure: a session by session listing, complete with newspaper clippings, photographs, record labels — first, Percy’s King and Blue Note record dates of 1949-1962.

The sessions continue — 1977-81, live dates featuring Percy alongside Doc Cheatham, Sammy Price, Chris Flory, Loren Schoenberg, Randy Sandke, Allen Lowe, Dick Katz, and others . . . and here Daniel has provided selections from these wonderful and wonderfully rare performances.

Finally, and most expansively, the period 1982-1990, is documented through the Leonard Gaskin Papers held at the Smithsonian — and it contains seventy-five percent of Percy’s recorded work . . . with Gaskin, Cliff Smalls, Oliver Jackson, Budd Johnson, Buddy Tate, Lance Hayward, Bill Pemberton, Major Holley, Bob Neloms, Bill Berry, Wild Bill Davis, Big John Patton, Doug Lawrence, and others. And there’s MUSIC . . . my goodness, how much music there is. I abandoned my chores for the better part of the day to listen, and I still have more to hear.

A few more words about Daniel Gould and his site. He is a clear fluent writer; his site is a pleasure to visit, and the treasures overflow. And he has a purpose: that Percy France, one of the lovely creators now no longer on the planet, shall be remembered with the attention and affection he deserves. I delight in Percy and in Daniel’s efforts.

May your happiness increase!