Tag Archives: bebop

PERFECTION OF THE ART: “CLASSIC BRUNSWICK AND COLUMBIA TEDDY WILSON SESSIONS 1934-1942” (Mosaic Records)

Teddy Wilson was soft-spoken and reticent, so this is a rare interlude, a 1950 radio interview (from WNYC) by Ralph Berton, a good prelude to the recent banquet of Teddy’s recordings on Mosaic Records:

I’ve been waiting for this set every since I heard rumors of it, and it has not disappointed me in the slightest.

But I must start with a small odd anecdote.  Like many, I have a mildly unhealthy attachment to Facebook, and when this set entered the emotionally-charged world of FB dialogue, one jazz fan said that he was waiting to read the reviews before purchasing it.  It was as if he had said, “I hear about this writer Toni Morrison.  I want to read some reviews before buying one of her books.”  Substitute “Brahms” or “Modigliani” or “Connee Boswell” and you get the idea.  Cue rueful laughter.

Readers of this blog know how fervently I support Mosaic Records (and I don’t get copies for free) so I offer correctives to misperceptions of Wilson and, by  extension, the recordings in this box set.

Wilson gets less praise than he deserves, because of unavoidable events in his life and the lives of his contemporaries.  One is the looming dramatic presence of Billie Holiday, without debate one of the finest artists in the music but also someone (like Charlie Parker) wrapped in a mythology that blots out those associated with her.  The recordings in this set do not have Miss Holiday, so some listeners might perceive them as second-string.  True, so far there has been no coffee-table book chronicling a week in the life of, say, Boots Castle.  But the singers here are never inept, and some of them — Helen Ward and Nan Wynn, with brief appearances by Ella and Lena (!) — are memorable.  Removing Lady Day from the equation makes it possible to actually savor the instrumental performances, and they are consistently remarkable.

His greatest public exposure was as a sideman with Benny Goodman, and the Trio and Quartet records are splendid.  But being typecast as the hero’s friend in the movies is not the same as being the hero.  I am sure that Wilson could claim a better salary from 1935 on, but it took some time for him to be understood for his own virtues.  And there was always Fats Waller and Art Tatum — talk about looming presences.

Wilson’s consistency has, perversely, made him a quiet figure in jazz hagiography.  From his introduction to Louis’ 1933 WORLD ON A STRING to his last recordings in 1985, he was recorded so often that there is a feeling of abundance and perhaps over-abundance.  There is no single monumental recording — no WEST END BLUES, no BODY AND SOUL, no SHOE SHINE BOY — to bow down to. (Something of the same fate — almost a punishment for excellence — has befallen Benny Carter, for one.)  Some have reduced Wilson to caricature: a medium-to-uptempo sliding right-hand piano arpeggio; true, that some of his late performances were beautifully-done but cast in bronze, with few surprises.  I wish his detractors might spend an afternoon with a transcribed solo and see how easy it is to reproduce even four bars of it.

He was always himself — balancing elegance and passion — and the recordings in this set are so consistently rewarding that they tend to overwhelm the listener who sits down to ingest them in large gulps.  Not for the first time in reviewing a Mosaic box, I have wanted to compel listeners to take the contents as they were offered in 1936: two sides at a time, no more than once a week.  In this way, even an “average” side — say, SING, BABY, SING — emerges as marvelously multi-layered.  I will point out that these sessions were intended to be “popular” and thus ephemeral: records to be listened to on jukeboxes at a nickel a side: current tunes, music to dance to.  I suspect the musicians were paid scale and went home with the idea that they had made some extra money, not that they had made Great Art.  They’ve been proven wrong, but in the nicest ways.

The music impresses and moves me on several levels.  One is that it is operating at a high level of excellence, hugely professional and still charmingly individualistic.  Everyone’s voice is heard: Buster Bailey, Mouse Randolph, Cozy Cole.  There are no dull solos; the swing is wondrous, never mechanical.  The ensemble playing is the easy mastery of people who play in sections night after night and thus know all there is about ensemble dynamics and blending — but who are also feeling the pleasure of loose improvising amidst respected colleagues.  The three-minute concertos are dense with musical information but are easy to listen to, apparently simple until one tries to mimic any part.  The soloists are a cross-section of worthies, a list of them too long to type.  Check the Mosaic discography.

In addition, the singers — who range from merely excellent on up — are charming reminders of a time when “jazz” and “pop music” were comfortable with one another.  Imagine a time when young and old could hear a new recording of a song from a new Bing Crosby movie (let’s say LAUGH AND CALL IT LOVE) and appreciate it, appreciate a Jonah Jones solo — all on the same aesthetic plane.  The most creative improvising was accepted as wonderful dance music, an exalted period where highbrow and lowbrow met, where snobberies were not so deeply ingrained, and certainly the audience was not fragmented and sectarian.

The result is an amiable perfection: I never want to edit a passage on a Wilson record.  Perhaps paradoxically, I also understand why Bird, Dizzy, and Monk — who admired Wilson and his colleagues deeply — felt the need to go in different directions.  What more could one create within this form?  How could one’s swing and improvisation of this type be more perfect?

Eight decades later, these records still sound so buoyant, so hopeful. The news from Europe was grim, and became more so.  But in the face of apocalypse, these musicians swung, sang tenderly, and gave us reason to go on.

I first heard Wilson early in my jazz apprenticeship; he was one of the first musicians, after Louis, to catch my ear.  Blessedly, I saw him in person several times in 1971-4, and I bought the records I could find — the French “Aimez-vous le jazz?” of his 1935-7 solos, the later Columbia two-lp sets of the small groups issued here and in Japan, Jerry Valburn’s Meritt Record Society discs.  When compact discs took over, I bought the Classics and Neatwork, the Masters of Jazz compilations.  However, I can write what I have written before: this Mosaic box offers music that I’ve never heard before, in splendid sound.

I’ve written elsewhere on JAZZ LIVES of my strong feeling that Mosaic Records is a noble enterprise.  Supporting their efforts is that rare double reward: a moral act that offers deep rewards.  So I won’t belabor that point here.  If you insist that everything should be for free online, that view that troubles me, especially if you expect a salary for the work you do.  But I will leave that to others to argue.

I confess that I am writing this review early, rather than waiting until I’ve arrived at the last track of the seventh disc — I have been savoring the earliest sides over and over.  And I have been appreciating Loren Schoenberg’s especially fine liner notes — over and above his unusually high standard! — for their subtleties and research.  And the photographs.  And the splendid transfers.  I haven’t even gotten to the unissued sides at the end of the package: 2018 is still young.

For more information, go here — either to purchase this limited edition while it is still available.  Or, so the people who say, “Well, how many unissued sides are there in this box?  Is it a good value?  I already have a lot of this material already,” can make up their own minds.  Those unaware of the beauty of this music can be amazed.

And those who, like me, look at this music as a series of aesthetic embraces, can prepare themselves for seven compact discs of joy and surprise, music both polished and warm.

May your happiness increase!

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MS. YOO TO YOU! “I AM CURIOUS”: JINJOO YOO, NEAL MINER, JIMMY WORMWORTH (Gut String Records)

We know “curious” as being eager to learn or know something, but the less well-known definition is unusual, rare, unexpected.

Photograph by Jennie Karpadai

The inventive jazz pianist and composer Jinjoo Yoo is both of these things, qualities sweetly embodied in her debut CD, I AM CURIOUS, a trio session with Neal Miner and Jimmy Wormworth on Gut String Records.  And if you think you’ve heard and seen her before, you are correct: I wrote admiringly of her at the end of February 2018 here.

The disc offers six of Jinjoo’s originals, and although I ordinarily view “originals” with some trepidation, I welcomed hers and wish that a full-scale CD is coming soon.

Her music is unhackneyed, melodic, welcoming.  She spins out long graceful lines that aren’t four-bar modules copied from other pianists.  She has her own voice, or I should say, “voices.”  The performances often begin with a simple melodic motif set over a clear, swinging rhythmic foundation . . . and they transparently show off her curiosity.

I can hear her asking of the music, “Notes, chords, where will you take me?” And the results are gently playful, as if she were turning over brightly-colored bits of melody and harmony in the sunlight to see what reflections they cast on the while wall.  She can be tender, ruminative, but she can also create vivid joyous dances: songs that call out for lyrics.

Her playing is spare but I never felt it to be sparse, the sonic equivalent of a large room with one canvas chair against the wall.  No, her single notes seem just right — percussive commentary when needed, lyrical otherwise, and her harmonies are lovely, neither formulaic nor jarring.  Her voicings are subtle but right: the listener isn’t overpowered by force or volume, but welcomed in.  And she works wonderfully with the stellar members of this trio.  It’s music that will deeply reward those steeped in the modern piano tradition, but music one could play for someone outside the circle who would find it refreshing.  It’s clear that she has steeped herself in the jazz tradition — reaching far and wide to include bebop, Jimmy Rowles, Ellington, Monk, and American popular song at its best — but she is herself.  And she has an essential sense of humor: even her most pensive moments have an airy quality.

The titles are: BLULLABY, DIZZY BLOSSOM, I’M CURIOUS, AND I CALL IT HOME, TO BARRY WITH LOVE, BLULLABY (alternate take).

Jinjoo writes, “I owe my inspiration to the blue morning light sneaking in through my window (Track 1, 6), A bird singing, and flower petals floating in the air during springtime (Track 2), Fantasies created by desire and curiosity (Track 3), Teymur Hajiyev’s film about the reality of life in the slums of Azerbaijan <Shanghai, Baku> (Track 4), My hero, my teacher, the one and only Barry Harris (Track 5).”

I predict a bright future for this sensitive, intuitive artist — both as pianist and composer.  You can learn more about I’M CURIOUS and other Gut String Records releases here.  I encourage you to do so: these CDs don’t always get the press barrage their contents deserve, but they are rewarding in music and sound.

Here’s Neal’s video of BLULLABY, from the recording session:

and TO BARRY, WITH LOVE:

Welcome, Ms. Yoo!  Consider yourself invited to stay.  And thank you.

May your happiness increase!

 

 

MASTERS OF MODERN MUSIC: DAN MORGENSTERN RECALLS DIZZY GILLESPIE, JAMES MOODY, TADD DAMERON (December 15, 2017)

Our man in jazz Dan Morgenstern has always distinguished himself by his happy ability to hear good things wherever he goes; his range is not limited by styles and schools.  So it’s not surprising that he should be so fond of the “new music” that greeted him on his arrival in the United States in the second half of the Forties.

His recollections of Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, and Tadd Dameron are not only tributes to their music, but to their warm personalities.

First, a brief soundtrack: Dizzy’s 1945 recording of Tadd’s GOOD BAIT (with Don Byas, Trummy Young, Clyde Hart, Oscar Pettiford, and Shelly Manne):

and, from 1971, the same GOOD BAIT as performed by Moody and Al Cohn, Barry Harris, Sam Jones, Roy Brooks:

Then, Dan’s very affectionate portrait of Dizzy, which ends up in Corona, Queens, with a famished John Birks foraging for snacks at a friend’s house:

Intimately connected with Dizzy, James Moody, another joy-spreader:

And finally, the vastly influential Tadd Dameron:

This post is in honor of my dear friend Doug Pomeroy, who — like Dan — continues to spread joy.

May your happiness increase!

IN THE MAIN STREAM: HOWARD ALDEN, EHUD ASHERIE, FRANK TATE, PETE SIERS, RANDY REINHART, DAN BLOCK, BILL ALLRED at CLEVELAND (September 10, 2015)

Long-playing high fidelity turned into song by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler:

as-long-as-i-live-cotton-club-parade-24th-ed-1

and performed here at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party (formerly known as the Allegheny Jazz Party) on September 10, 2015, by Howard Alden, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass; Ehud Asherie, piano; Pete Siers, drums; Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Bill Allred, trombone; Randy Reinhart, cornet.

“Mainstream” was the term invented by jazz critic Stanley Dance to describe this easy, uncluttered, floating kind of improvisation — a music that had carefully dismantled all the boundaries created by sectarian listeners and journalists to take a wide-ranging approach to jazz without ruling anything out if it drank deeply of melody, swing, and harmony.  Hank Mobley and Buster Bailey could talk about reeds; Tommy Benford and Art Blakey could discuss calfskin versus plastic.  You get the idea: a sweet world that no longer saw “Dixieland” and “bebop” as hostile antitheses.

Music of this free-breathing variety happens all the time in the places I frequent, but one of the most comfortable places for it is the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, which will happen again this September 15-18, 2016.  Get in the Main Stream.

May your happiness increase!

POETIC SWING, THE SECOND SET: HOD O’BRIEN / RAY DRUMMOND at MEZZROW, JULY 17, 2015

Hod O'Brien and wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian

Hod O’Brien and wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian

The wonderful pianist Hod O’Brien has fans worldwide, so at intervals I get polite emails from people far from me, asking, “Michael, any chance of our getting to see the second set with Hod and Ray Drummond from Mezzrow?” By popular demand, then . . .

And here is the first set, complete with admiring and well-deserved prose.

Now, for the second.  Notice Hod’s precise yet warm lyricism, and don’t ignore the beautiful spirit of Ray Drummond — what a gentle wise person and player.

RIDIN’ HIGH:

STROLLIN’:

IF I WERE A BELL:

THEME FOR ERNIE:

LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

BLUES BY FIVE:

HOD BOOK

Hod has a new book out — a wonderful unaffected chronicle of his musical adventures — “Have Piano … Will Swing! Stories about the Jazz Life.” Here is an engaging article by David A. Maurer about Hod and the book.  I’ll write more soon about the book, which I’m enjoying, but you can find a copy at Hod’s website.

May your happiness increase!

THE OCEANIC MOTION OF SWING: JANUARY 22, 1954

Yes, “the Swing Era” was over by January 1954.  But swing — as a concept easily and authentically realized — was not.  (It is lively and possible today.)

SCT4

I offer as evidence one of my favorite recordings, another gem — issued by who-knows-what “authority” on YouTube, SWINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES by the Sir Charles Thompson Quartet — from one of the sessions supervised by John Hammond for Vanguard Records.  Sir Charles, who is still with us in his nineties (born March 21, 1918) was joined by three angelic presences of rhythm — three-quarters of the original Count Basie rhythm section, Jo Jones, drums; Walter Page, string bass; Freddie Green, guitar, for this exploration of Jimmy Mundy’s swing classic, more usually encountered as a big-band performance.

Jake Hanna, who not only knew everything that could be known about swing but embodied it, said (often), “Start swinging from the beginning!” and Charles does just that with his solo passage to begin the performance: a simple figure that is already the most effective dance music possible.  Then the “rhythm men” join in, with more than fifteen years of experience from playing together night after night.  One hears the shimmer of Jo’s brushes on the hi-hat, with the dry slap and slide of those brushes on the snare drum, the resonant strings of Walter and Freddie, all complementing the bright percussive sound of Charles at the piano:

It all seems simple — and it goes by so quickly — but lifetimes of expert work in the field of swing are quietly on display here.  Note, for instance, how the overall sound changes at the bridge of the first chorus when Jo moves from his cymbal to the snare head, padding and patting away.  When they turn the corner into the second chorus (which, for Charles, has been a straightforward chordal exposition of the simple melodic line) we hear what set Charles apart from the great forebears, Waller, Basie, Wilson, Tatum, Cole, Kyle — his intriguing single-note lines which have a greater harmonic freedom than one might initially expect.  (Look at Charles’ discography and you see early work alongside Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Illinois Jacquet, Leo Parker.)  Hear the bridge of the second chorus, and delight in Charles’ wonderful mixture of stride, Kansas City swing, and bebop: James P. Johnson meets Al Haig, perhaps.  The Basie influence —  paring everything down to its most flowing essence — comes out more at the start of the third chorus, with the theme simplified for the greatest rhythmic effect, as if a trumpet section was playing these chords.

At this point I find it impossible to continue annotating because I am simply floating along on the music.  But two things stand out.  One is that all that I’ve described has taken around two minutes to be, to happen.  That’s a rich concision, a conservation of energy.  The other is Charles’ intentional use of space, to let us hear the three other players, who are — as they all know, not just subordinates but in some ways the Masters.  Charles could certainly swing as a soloist but this is so much more fun.

There’s a brief nod to CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS at 3:04, but it’s just a nod: the pattern of joyous riffing on the opening and closing sections, alternating with single-line explorations on the bridge has been set.  And I think — this is all surmise — that the four musicians did not spend more than a few minutes preparing.  SWINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES is, except for the bridge, harmonically dense, so I can imagine Charles saying, “I’ll do four bars to start; you join in at two, and let’s do this as an ending — I’ll let you know how many choruses we want, and let’s do a take.”  And I love the way the last chorus is an ornamented version of the first, with Jo returning to the hi-hat.

I think I first heard this record thanks to Ed Beach on his Sir Charles program: this might have been forty years ago.  SWINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES remains at the very apex of glowing inexhaustible swing.  It is so reassuring to know that it was created and we can hear it again — to soothe and uplift and remind us of what is indeed possible.

In one way, I think of having a book on the shelf with the most beautiful ode or short story, known and loved for decades, that we can always revisit simply by moving a few feet across the room.  But I think the pleasure of SWINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES goes deeper, at least for me: it’s like waking up, seeing the sun, breathing the air, going to the kitchen faucet for a glass of cold water, feeling one’s needs filled.

Listen.  Charles, Freddie, Walter, and Jo create a small universe of motion and joy that reminds us of the dancing universe around us.

May your happiness increase!

MAGICALLY EVOCATIVE: GLENN CRYTZER’S SAVOY SEVEN: “UPTOWN JUMP”

Crytzer 5 15

Guitarist / singer / composer / arranger Glenn Crytzer has done something remarkable on his latest CD, UPTOWN JUMP.  Rather than simply offer effective copies of known jazz recordings, he has created eighteen convincing evocations of a vanished time and place.  So convincing are they, I believe, that if I were to play a track from another room to erudite hearers, they would believe they were hearing an unissued recording from 1943-46.

GC UPTOWN JUMP

New York’s finest: Glenn, guitar, arranger, composer, vocals; Mike Davis, trumpet; Dan Levinson, soprano, alto, tenor saxophone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Jesse Gelber, piano; Andrew Hall, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.  Recorded this year at Peter Karl Studios (thanks, Peter, for the lively sound!)

Here’s one of Glenn’s originals on the CD, MISSOURI LOVES COMPANY, in performance — video by Voon Chew:

Of course there is explosively fine soloing on the CD — given this cast of characters, I’d expect nothing less.  But what particularly impressed me is Glenn’s ability to evoke the subtleties of the period.  I hear evocations of a particular time and place: let’s call it a Savoy Records session from 1944, with Emmett Berry, two or three saxophones (Ike Quebec, Eddie Barefield, Foots Thomas); a rocking rhythm section with allegiances to Basie, Pete Johnson, Tiny Grimes, Bass Robinson, Eddie Dougherty, Specs Powell.  Then there’s his evocation of the incendiary blues playing that closes JAMMIN’ THE BLUES. And a whimsical post-1943 Fats Waller love song (WHAT DID I DO?) complete with the leader’s wry vocal.

A few more random and delighted listening notes.

UPTOWN JUMP begins with a wild clarinet – drum duet that I would have expected to hear on a V-Disc; NOT FAR TO FARGO has the grit of an Ike Quebec Blue Note side; IT’S ABOUT TIME (which begins with Kevin Dorn ticking off the eroding seconds) would be a perfect dance number for a Soundie, with a hilariously hip vocal by the composer.  Mike Davis has been studying his Cootie (he gets an A+) on THE ROAD TO TALLAHASSEE, which has a delightful easy glide.  SMOKIN’ THAT WEED is the reefer song — with falsetto vocal chorus effects — that every idiomatic CD or party needs.  And Mike’s solo is full of those “modern” chords that were beginning to be part of the vocabulary in wartime.  MRAH! shows Glenn’s affection for the possibilities of the John Kirby sound, which I celebrate.  THAT ZOMBIE MUSIC depicts the illicit union of Kirby and Spike Jones.  COULD THIS BE LOVE? is a winning hybrid — a rhythm ballad with winsome lyrics, voiced as if for a Johnny Guarneri session, with some of that Gillespie “Chinese music” stealing in.  THE LENOX would get the dancers rocking at The Track.  GOOD NIGHT, GOOD LUCK is that antique cameo: the song to send the audience home with sweet memories.

If it sounds as if I had a wonderful time listening to this CD, you have been reading closely and wisely.

More reliable than time-travel; more trustworthy than visits to an alternate universe.

The nicest way to buy an artist’s CD is to put money in his / her hand at the gig, so here is the link to Glenn’s calendar . . . to catch up with him.  But if you’re far away, this makes purchasing or downloading the music easy.

May your happiness increase!