Tag Archives: arrangements

“WAS THAT THE LONE ARRANGER?” or ALLEGHENY JOYS (2014 and 2015)

arranger

In the hot music I and many people gravitate to, there is a certain disdain for music written — tabulated as little signs — on lined pieces of paper.  Real (wo)men don’t read charts.  “Can you read?” goes the joke, “Yeah, but not enough to mess up my playing.”  In the memories of some fans, Pure Jazz is a group of people somewhere jamming on a familiar tune — anything more complicated than that seems an impudent intrusion.

Today’s homework — I am a college professor by profession, and the semester has begun, so put those smartphones away immediately, please — is to watch this glorious video twice, each time concentrating on a different aspect of its splendor.  Once, as I think is usual, bask in the solos.  Then, note how beautifully those solos are framed, encouraged, and sent off into improvisatory paradise by the arrangement.  The arrangement, by the way, is by JAZZ LIVES’ hero, Jim Dapogny, who also doth bestride the mighty piano like a colossus.

The tune is CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME (a relic of those days when the Westward migration made people think not only of gold but of oranges) and the band is Jim, piano [spectacularly], arrangements; Dan Block, Scott Robinson, Andy Schumm, Dan Barrett, Marty Grosz, Frank Tate, John Von Ohlen.  I recorded this on September 17, 2014, at the first Allegheny Jazz Party in Cleveland, Ohio (more about that below):

I know that these gifted people could have created something delightful on this tune without straining a muscle.  But when you listen closely, the balance (or the necessary alternation) of written passage and arranged passage is what makes this performance even better, more memorable.  So those who groan silently when they see a band spread out manuscript paper on their stands might want to re-evaluate this ancient prejudice.  We all need road maps, and framing the picture sensitively only enhances it.  (And we need to mix metaphors in a sentence: it’s good for the muscles.)

On to a related subject.  I have just returned from the 2015 Allegheny Jazz Party, both tired and elated.  All I will say is that my face now has new lines in it, but they are from smiling.  With all respects to every other jazz-party organizer, I think  it is the best-run and the kindest party of them all.  And the music soars. I will have more to say and to show about this in future.  Right now I am simply grateful that the AJP exists, and exists so beautifully.

May your happiness increase! 

 

RYAN TRUESDELL PRESENTS “CENTENNIAL: NEWLY DISCOVERED WORKS BY GIL EVANS”

Most tribute recordings or projects labor under several burdens.  The musicians who made the original recordings are, in most cases, no longer alive and playing . . . .although one could make the case that Louis playing POTATO HEAD BLUES thirty years after its issue, Ellington revisiting IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE, Billie singing WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO in 1952 . . . are all paying tributes to their earlier selves.

But, in general, artists who choose to “play old records live” in the studio or in concert have the towering presence of those accessible sounds to deal with.

Some tribute projects attempt to impose a modernist sensibility on established repertoire and style . . . with results that require equal parts love, understanding, and daring to pull off — STRANGE FRUIT remixed over techno rhythms wins points for novelty, but to me it feels blasphemous.

Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project has none of these self-created burdens to carry up the mountain.  For one thing, Truesdell, a composer and scholar, did not — as others have chosen to do — assemble an orchestra to reproduce recordings everyone knows well.  Rather, he took as his starting point ten compositions — only three of them Evans’ originals — that Evans had arranged but (in most cases) had not recorded.  The details of Truesdell’s discoveries and research are contained in the intriguing and immensely readable booklet for the CENTENNIAL CD. (In my life as a literary researcher, I spent many hours filling in the gaps and appreciating the warmth of otherwise unread first-hand materials — unpublished manuscripts of Frank O’Connor’s short stories and Yeats’ poetry, letters between O’Connor and William Maxwell, between Maxwell and Sylvia Townsend Warner . . . and I immediately saw that Truesdell was honest and searching in his investigations.)

For a number of sessions, he assembled a series of dream orchestras, featuring saxophonists Steve Wilson, Donny McCaslin, Scott Robinson; brass players Greg Gisbert, Laurie Frink, Ryan Keberle, Marshall Gilkes, rhythm section players James Chirillo, Joe Locke, Frank Kimbrough, Jay Anderson, Lewis Nash; singers Kate McGarry, Wendy Gilles, Luciana Souza, and many other brilliant musicians.

Initially I was intrigued by the project because I so admired the Evans arrangements for Claude Thornhill and the work he did for Miles Davis, most memorably MILES AHEAD and PORGY AND BESS.  The Evans sound I cherish suggests floating clouds, many-hued, that are ever-changing,never static, leaving impressionistic traces as they move across our consciousness.  About the Evans who organized lengthy electric-flavored orations devoted to Jimi Hendrix compositions, I know little.

But once the disc arrived, I was initially delighted by the perceptive diligence Truesdell showed in the research that got him and his orchestras to perform these otherwise “unheard” works.  Some might say that his efforts are no different from a conductor faced with a score of a “new” work, but Truesdell has managed to balance the pull of individualism — assembling an orchestra of mature soloists and section players who can create appropriately within an idiom without offering pastiches of others’ solos — and staying faithful to what is written in the score.

I knew I had to write this post when there were certain tracks on the CD –THE MAIDS OF CADIZ, HOW ABOUT YOU, DANCING ON A GREAT BIG RAINBOW, BARBARA SONG, and — most memorably, WHO’LL BUY MY VIOLETS? — that I wanted to play over and over.  I had been hesitant at first — did I know Evans well enough to appreciate this music?  Would I find it too outre for my well-nourished narrowness?  I need not have worried: the music’s beauty broke through any imagined walls.

This CD honors Evans’ essential spiritual brilliance without getting confined within an idea of “repertory” that is ultimately imprisoning.  I found much to love in this music . . . and I will keep and replay this disc into the future.

For more information about the project, the CD, and future appearances by Truesdell and his master musicians, click here.  Many pleasures await!

May your happiness increase.

MARTY GROSZ’S FIGPICKERS at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 18, 2011)

Martin Oliver Grosz, or Marty to his intimates, is a scholar of many arcane subjects — not just music.  He buttonholed me once at Chautauqua to speak about Ben Jonson’s play THE ALCHEMIST.  Since my areas of concentration in graduate school were more recent, I told Marty I hadn’t read the play.  He was undeterred, and told me happily that a memorable line in Jonson had one character angrily offering “a Spanish fig” as his response to an idea he disliked deeply.  A “Spanish fig,” Marty then went on to explain, was a hand gesture — the thumb thrust through the fingers of a closed fist: some non-verbal Esperanto for “Up yours.”

I introduce this to suggest that Marty’s newest band title has less to do with fruit or the men and women who harvest it for us than with his own private comedy, although I could be wrong.  Surely MARTY GROSZ AND HIS “UP YOURS!” BOYS would have looked poorly on the marquee, although Jazz at Chautauqua has no marquee.

But to the music, recorded on September 18, 2011, at Jazz at Chautauqua, music that has no hidden imputations: it’s just lovely inventive jazz.  Surrounding Marty, the Players were Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Block and Scott Robinson, reeds (Marty’s “Hot Winds”); Bob Havens, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; John Von Ohlen, drums.

In this brief set, Marty chose not to sing but showed off his talents as a shape-changing arranger / recomposer / bandleader.  One thing he particularly likes is to offer material in new stylistic guises — moving songs slightly out of their expected stylistic niches (as he’d done in his BIXIANA set, which I’ve also posted).  And aside from ROSE OF THE RIO GRANDE, I think these songs and arrangements are new for Marty — at least I don’t recall hearing them frequently.  Marty is such a splendid arranger: his charts offer soloists space amidst nifty ensemble passages that show off varied voicings, the lead being passed around.  It’s the very opposite of one chorus in — solos — a jammed ensemble out, the formula for many bands.  And against these shifting backgrounds, the soloists shine so brightly!

Harold Arlen’s musical insistence on cheering up, GET HAPPY:

A familiar mournful Twenties blues (with a vengeful cast) kicked forward two decades — ALL THE WRONGS YOU’VE DONE TO ME — given a sweetly pastoral cast:

SHOUT ‘EM AUNT TILLIE (does that have a comma) coming from Ellington at the end of the Twenties.  May I say that they don’t write tune titles like that anymore?  I understand why Aunt Till was shouting, I do:

And the closer, Harry Warren’s ROSE OF THE RIO GRANDE:

It’s fitting that Marty should reference THE ALCHEMIST.  He is one.

PROFESSOR DAPOGNY TRIUMPHS AGAIN

For me, one of the many rare pleasures of Jazz at Chautauqua has been the opportunity to savor the playing of Professor James Dapogny*, known as Jim to his intimates. 

He is an unforced orchestral pianist — which means he hasn’t learned the Official Wallerisms from a book.  Rather, his romping style summons up Joe Sullivan and Frank Melrose, Earl Hines, Jelly Roll Morton, and James P. Johnson.  And a close listener will notice that his chords are voiced imaginatively, his often advanced harmonies show that his listening doesn’t stop at 1935, and his left hand is a romping marvel.  Often he is part of wondrous rhythm section with Marty Grosz, Arnie Kinsella, and Vince Giordano — able to move mountains in the most engaging way — but Dapogny can rock the place all on his own.  And he has.  But I take particular pleasure in watching and listening to him as a band pianist — giving soloists and the ensemble just the right push with ringing chords and tremolos, rocking bass lines, without ever demanding that we pay attention to him instead of them.  He’s done this on records for some time now as leader of his own Chicago Jazz Band.  In addition, if that was not enough, he’s also responsible for the standard published edition of Jelly Roll Morton’s piano music and scholarly work that resulted in performances of the one-act opera created by Johnson and Langston Hughes (now there’s a collaboration!) called DE ORGANIZER. 

Dapogny is also a wonderful arranger; his versions of classic and obscure jazz songs have their own ebullient rock, no matter what the material or the tempo.  Two years ago at Jazz at Chautauqua, he and Marty Grosz co-led a set, alternating arrangements and songs.  The piece de resistance, as far as I was concerned, was their joint version of an otherwise unknown Fats Waller song, CAUGHT — Marty’s arrangement envisioned the composition as a bump-and-grind growl; Jim’s lifted the tempo into a jaunty rock.  The performance stretched out to ten minutes, and it was a marvel. 

At this year’s Chatauqua, Dapogny and Grosz again shared the stage: Marty began with a heartfelt tribute to singer Red McKenzie, featuring his HOT WINDS — a noble, nimble, and perhaps nubile quartet of Scott Robinson, Dan Block, Vince Giordano, and himself.  Then Dapogny took over, adding Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Barrett, Andy Stein, and Arnie Kinsella, creating electrifying and life-affirming music.  It was, he said with a grin, fine material to begin with — every song written by a pianist!  All praise should go to the masterful professionals you will see below: each one of them reading charts he’d never seen before. 

They began with James P. Johnson’s version — in his own way — of Schubert’s An die Musik — a paean to the joyous powers that notes and tones have, AIN’T CHA GOT MUSIC?.  The churchy verse gives way to serious swinging (there’s a wonderful Thirties record of this by Henry “Red” Allen) with Marty preaching the sermon. 

Then, a mournful but rocking composition by Alex Hill, one of jazz’s nearly-forgotten heroes, dead before he had reached his middle thirties, DELTA BOUND.  I had never heard the verse — and could listen to that trio of Kellso (muted), Barrett (muted), and Block (commenting sweetly) all day.  In his brilliant solo, Dan Barrett summons up a whole Harlem trombone tradition, with a series of comments that reminded me so much of the Master, Vic Dickenson.  Andy Stein’s melody statement, front and back (on baritone) reminded me that Ellington had recorded this — with space for Harry Carney, of course.

I didn’t know that the next selection had been written by pianist J. Russell Robinson, who had links to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band; I associated it with Edythe Wright and Tommy Dorsey’s Clambake Seven: SWING, MR. CHARLIE!  For this performance, Scott Robinson steps in — and instead of a vocal chorus, the band returns to the verse, in true Thirties style.  Although Scott stands in front of Marty during the latter’s chorus, you can see the action, reflected in the shiny side of the grand piano — an accidental bonus.  Then, there are glorious horn solos and a celestially rocking ensemble that suggests a Sunday afternoon jam session at Jimmy Ryan’s, circa 1942.  Charles Peterson would have loved this band!  I find myself watching these videos over and over, each time finding something new to appreciate.

*”Professor,” in Dapogny’s case, refers to his genuinely illustrious academic career in the Department of Music at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.  But, by a twist of linguistic fate, that was the title given to the New Orleans pianists who played rags and blues in the bordellos: Dapogny’s music would have impressed these low-down pioneers as well: he’s surely got music, as the lyrics say.