Tag Archives: Horace Silver

OSCAR PETTIFORD, FOUND

OP front

Bassist, cellist, and composer Oscar Pettiford is in the odd position of being both legendary and forgotten (as Whitney Balliett wrote of Pee Wee Russell). If you ask any aficionado of jazz string bass playing to name a dozen favorites — living and dead — it’s likely that the names will come easily.  But Pettiford’s is often not among them.

Yes, he died young, but not before performing and recording every famous musician (with some notable exceptions) in a short career.  An incomplete list would include Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Tatum, Django Reinhardt, Les Paul, Charlie Christian, Gil Evans, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Woody Herman, Coleman Hawkins, Ray Charles, Stan Getz, Lucky Thompson, Charles Mingus, Zoot Sims, John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, Julius Watkins, Ben Webster, Sammy Price, Ruby Braff, Mel Powell, Ellis Larkins, Max Roach, Shelly Manne, Billie Holiday, Red Norvo, Clifford Brown, Buddy De Franco, Phineas Newborn, Kai Winding, Roy Eldridge, Ray Brown, Lionel Hampton, Don  Byas, Clyde Hart, Earl Hines, Budd Johnson, Joe Thomas, Pee Wee Russell, Jimmy Giuffre, Martial Solal, Attlia Zoller, Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Billy Eckstine, Cozy Cole, Shadow Wilson, Charlie Shavers, Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, Cootie Williams, Ed Hall, Lawrence Brown, Sonny Greer, Maxine Sullivan, Dick Hyman, Eddie Bert, Joe Derise, Ike Quebec, Jonah Jones, Buck Clayton, Helen Humes, Benny Harris, Boyd Raeburn, Serge Chaloff, Howard McGhee, Sir Charles Thompson, Wynonie Harris, Vic Dickenson, Red Rodney, Tal Farlow, Denzil Best, Jo Jones, Leo Parker, Al Haig, Al Hibbler, Nat Pierce, Bill Harris, Howard McGhee, J.J. Johnson, Art Taylor, Wynton Kelly, Lockjaw Davis, Jackie McLean, Kenny Clarke, Dave McKenna, Milt Jackson, John Lewis, Chris Connor, Hank Jones, Earl Coleman, Thad Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Donald Byrd, Billy Taylor, Chuck Wayne, Roy Haynes, Art Farmer, Gigi Gryce, Al Cohn, Frank Wess, Jimmy Cleveland, Barry Galbraith, Joe Morello, Joe Wilder, Harry Lookofsky, Jimmy Jones, Urbie Green, Ernie Royal, Herbie Mann, George Barnes, Clark Terry, Dave Schildkraut, Helen Merrill, Jimmy Raney, Horace Silver, Doug Mettome, Quincy Jones, Duke Jordan, Hank Mobley, Kenny Dorham, Cecil Payne, Toots Thielmans, Red Garland.

This suggests that Oscar’s peers respected him and called him for gigs and recordings.  It’s not as if he was obscure: his career was longer than, say, Blanton’s or Steve Brown’s.  But, oddly for jazz, which loves to mythologize the musicians who die young and abruptly (and Pettiford died as the result of a 1960 automobile accident) he hasn’t received the benefit of the weird reverence fans and writers have for the young dead.

Of course, it could be that bass players don’t get the respect they and their instruments deserve, but it is and was hard to ignore Pettiford on a session. He offered a rhythmic foundation that was powerful rather than obtrusive, but when he soloed, his lines have the solid eloquence that any horn player would aspire to — while seeming light rather than ponderous.  And as the list of players above suggests, his musical range was exceedingly broad: he wasn’t captured on record in free jazz or ragtime, but he elevated every other variety of jazz and jazz vocal performance he was part of.  Had he lived longer, he might have enjoyed the visibility of a Milt Hinton or a Ray Brown, but we have only brief moments of him on film (the 1945 THE CRIMSON CANARY) and a few seconds of his speaking voice.

Surely he should be better known.

Enough words and keystrokes for the moment: listen to his 1960 feature on WILLOW WEEP FOR ME:

and here he is, playing his own BLUES IN THE CLOSET — from a little-known 1953 television broadcast — on cello (which he took to for a time after breaking an arm in a baseball game):

And his stirring solo on STARDUST:

Now, two pieces of good news that might go some distance in making Oscar’s name and music known to a larger audience.  One is that there is a YouTube channel, PettifordJazz, with sixty videos of Pettiford solos, ensembles, and compositions.  That means that no one has to start collecting Oscar’s music — it is being made available to all for free.

Oscar (or “O.P.”, as his colleagues called him) also spent the last two years of his life in Europe (mostly in Scandinavia and Germany), and recorded often there.  Sessions with guitarist Attila Zoller have been issued and reissued on a variety of labels (in the vinyl era, they appeared on Black Lion) and a famous 1960 concert in Essen with Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke, and Coleman Hawkins was available forty years ago.  Recordings made in 1958-59 for the German radio network have now been issued for the first time on compact disc, in beautiful sound, as OSCAR PETTIFORD: LOST TAPES — GERMANY 1958 / 1959, on SWR Music.

American expatriates Lucky Thompson (on soprano sax for a gorgeous, melancholy SOPHISTICATED LADY) and Kenny Clarke (drums on the final five performances of the disc) are the “stars,” but Zoller stands out as a beautifully measured guitarist.

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And although some US critics of the time might have been condescending to European players, this disc shows their equal mastery. Trumpeter Dusko Goykovich duets with Oscar on the opening BUT NOT FOR ME.  Other notable players here are clarinetist Rolf Kuhn; light-toned tenorist Hans Koller; baritone saxophonists Helmut Brandt, Helmut Reinhardt, Johnny Feigl; altoist Rudi Feigl; guitarist Hans Hammerschmid; drummers Jimmy Pratt and Hartwig Bartz.  The songs are a mix of standards and originals: BUT NOT FOR ME / SOPHISTICATED LADY / A SMOOTH ONE / O.P. (Hans Koller) / MINOR PLUS A MAJOR (Kuhn) / POOR BUTTERFLY / ANUSIA (Hans Koller) / MY LITTLE CELLO (Pettiford) / THE NEARNESS OF YOU / YESTERDAYS / ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE / BLUES IN THE CLOSET (Pettiford) / BIG HASSLE (Hammerschmidt) / ATLANTIC (Helmut Brandt) / ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE / BLUES IN THE CLOSET — the last two are live performances.

And just because it’s accessible and stirring, here is that film clip — from an otherwise undistinguished 1945 murder mystery, THE CRIMSON CANARY, which features Hawk, Pettiford, Howard McGhee, trumpet; Sir Charles Thompson, piano; Denzil Best, on a fast SWEET GEORGIA BROWN line by Hawkins called HOLLYWOOD STAMPEDE:

Ultimately, I think if you’d asked Coleman Hawkins, Duke Ellington, or any number of jazz luminaries, “What about this O.P. fellow?  Should I listen to him?” the answer would have been a very strong affirmative.  So let us do just that. These tapes were lost, but have been found: spread the word about Oscar.  Remind those who have forgotten; introduce those who never knew.  “Learn it to the younguns!” as the youthful protagonist of Ellison’s INVISIBLE MAN hears at the start of that novel.

May your happiness increase!

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THE INSPIRING CHRIS HODGKINS

Meet the versatile and creative Cardiff, Wales-born trumpeter Chris Hodgkins.  

His music answers questions: how to make art new without abandoning the tradition; how to have one’s own voice while honoring your ancestors and colleagues. 

I first heard about Chris through the magic of Google Alerts — because someone had compared him to Ruby Braff, which is my idea of an accolade.  Then I found out that he and his musical friends had created three compact discs, PRESENT CONTINUNOUS, FUTURE CONTINUOUS, and BOSWELL’S LONDON JOURNAL:

Just so know what the musicians look like should you encounter them on the street: to the left is bassist Alison Rayner; to the right of Chris is guitarist Max Brittain.  Click here to hear Alison Rayner’s QUEER BIRD, from PRESENT CONTINUOUS:

http://www.chrishodgkins.co.uk/album1.asp

And here’s Alison’s SWEET WILLIAM, from FUTURE CONTINUOUS:

http://www.chrishodgkins.co.uk/album2.asp

Click here to hear THE MACHINE, from BOSWELL’S LONDON JOURNAL (where alto saxophonist Diane McLoughlin joins Chris, Alison, and Max):

http://www.chrishodgkins.co.uk/album3.asp

You’ll hear that his music is, on one hand, rooted in a Mainstream tradition: I hear Braff, Lyttelton, Buck Clayton, echoes of Horace Silver and Blue Note recordings of the Sixties, of Henry Mancini and occasionally Strayhorn . . . in a streamlined instrumentation (a trio of trumpet, guitar, and bass on two CDs, enlarged into a quartet on the third by the addition of tenor sax).  Chris himself is a singular player; his tone ranging from the silken to the edgy, his lines winding and floating over the ringing lines of Brittain’s guitar, the deep pulse of Rayner’s string bass, and on BOSWELL’S LONDON JOURNAL they all get along nicely with the lemony alto saxophone of McLoughlin.  By the way, Chris loves the assortment of sounds and timbres that mutes give to his horn (as well as playing open) so the three discs never sounded like more of the same.   

I get a bit nervous when confronted with CDs that are all “original” compositions — whisper this: many musicians, stalwart and true, do their best composing on the bandstand, not on manuscript paper (but don’t say it too loudly) so that I was delighted to see some Kern and McHugh, Lyttelton, an Ellington blues, YOU’RE A LUCKY GUY and IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN.  Moving a little beyond the “songbook” tradition, I noted that Chris delights in a wide variety of composers and songs: Neil Sedaka’s BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO, lines by Conte Candoli, Sahib Shihab, Thad Jones, Harry Edison.  And then there are the originals — varied and lively, in many different moods and tempos.  (How could you do anything but admire a man who titles a song SWINGING AT THE COPPER BEECH?  And if you don’t get the in-joke, I’ll explain.)

BOSWELL’S LONDON JOURNAL is a real pleasure — and I am not speaking as a still-active professor of English, but as a jazz listener.  I admire Chris’s awareness of his emotional and spiritual roots in the literary / cultural past, and his joyful audacity.  The first track on the CD, THE MACHINE, describes a stagecoach ride taken by Boswell.  Chris’s original lines fall somewhere in between the twelve-bar blues and OLE MISS, and the sound of the band perplexed me — light, airy, yet serious — until I recalled its analogue: Buck Clayton’s Big Four for HRS in 1946: trumpet, clarinet, electric guitar, and bass (Scoville Brown, Tiny Grimes, and Sid Weiss, if I recall correctly).  What follows is not exactly program music: had I lost the liner notes explaining what each composition referred to, I would have still enjoyed the music — but knowing the artistic structure underneath made this a much-more-than-usually pleasing musical travelogue, veering here and there from updated Thirties rhythm ballads to hints of Horace Silver and Hank Mobley as well as very hip film soundtracks and Sixties pop of the highest order (AUCHINLECK).  I don’t know if I would have guessed the subtext of the winding, pensive REPENT IN LEISURE (referring to Boswell’s having caught gonorrhea), but the historical / musical connection works for me.  It is great fun to listen to the music on this disc — full of feeling, subtlety, and charm — whether reading the notes at the same time or as an after-commentary.

Chris Hodgkins is a fine trumpet player, small-group leader, and composer; he has good taste in his musical friends and in the music he chooses to play.  As a professor of mine used to say over thirty years ago, “I commend him to you.”

A LITTLE JAM! (Nov. 29, 2009)

I remember that once an interviewer, trying to find out whether Ruby Braff was playing a cornet or a trumpet, asked him, “What is that?” pointing at his horn.  Ruby, characteristically, responded at top speed, but in italics: “That?  That is a musical instrument.”  Ruby would have approved of the jazz played at the end of the night on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009, at The Ear Inn, where gifted improvisers seemed to come from everywhere.

After an easy-going opening set by the Earregulars: Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Block (on tenor sax and clarinet), Chris Flory, and Jon Burr, some sterling players came in: cornetist Dan Tobias, bassist Gary Cattley, clarinetist Attilio Troiano, and (new to me and quite impressive) trumpeter Gordon Au.  (To read and hear more about Gordon, visit http://www.gordonaumusic.com/html/slideshow.php.

Jon-Erik first offered his chair to Dan Tobias and said, happily, “It sounds too good.  I’m going to take notes,” and he watched happily as Dan chose one of his favorite songs, THIS CAN’T BE LOVE, for a genial run-through that reminded me of one of Ruby Braff’s late-period groups. 

Then someone suggested THE PREACHER (perhaps by Horace Silver, although the version I know is by a pair of fellows named Bing and Louis).  To my ears, it’s really not much of a composition, and Jon Burr pointed out that its chord structure resembles I’VE BEEN WORKIN’ ON THE RAILROAD, but everyone swung out.

Finally, Jon-Erik ended the evening on a triumphant note by calling for STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, complete with an upwards modulation at the end.  Trumpets all out!  (You knew, of course, that the title of that song — translated into current slang — would be WALKING AROUND WITH MY HOT GIRLFRIEND FOR EVERYONE TO SEE?  It has nothing to do with brisket or hot dogs.)

P.S.  Victor, the Ear’s guiding spirit and bartender, set the mood before any of the players had come in — by playing Bix and Norvo, Berigan and Condon . . . turning his head to the speakers, Jon-Erik said, “We know we’re in the right place!” and he was correct.

THREE WISE MEN (OF JAZZ)

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The wonderful reed player Frank Roberscheuten, pianist Rossano Sportiello, and drummer Martin Breinschmid mad a CD — they call their trio THREE WISE MEN.  And they are!  Here’s what I had to say in Cadence (January-March 2008) about the disc:

Often, the most traditional Jazz trio format – a reed player, pianist, and drummer – leads well-intentioned players into tributes to Goodman. That is hardly a bad thing, and I’ve heard many stirring evocations, but there is more to say from the instrumentation and the format. This CD goes its own way in featuring a balanced international small group whose scope reaches from James P. Johnson and Bud Freeman to Horace Silver, Monk, and Miles, never compromising the material or forcing it into stylistic boxes. Roberschuten can purl through a lovely rubato verse and then shift into tempo to deliver swinging improvisations, concise yet musically expansive. He has learned a great deal from his instrumental ancestors but his approach is a creative synthesis. On tenor, he has a Getz-Cohn fluidity, which doesn’t stop him from doing a splendid version of Bud Freeman’s bubbles and flourishes on “The Eel.” His clarinet playing is nuanced, caressing, and free from cliché, whether he is playing a Thirties pop song or a Jim Hall waltz. And his charming alto sound blends Phil Woods and Hilton Jefferson to great effect. He loves to linger over the melody, as on “You’re Mine, You,” a rewarding song that hasn’t been overdone. And his original, “From the East,” suggests late-period Ellington and Strayhorn. Throughout, I was reminded of the marvelous cohesiveness of sound, rhythm, and conception that distinguished the early Fifties Vanguard sessions – in particular the trios of Ruby Braff or Paul Quinichette with Mel Powell and Bobby Donaldson. Pianist Sportiello remains a champion: hear his beautiful touch on “Detour Ahead,” and “You’re A Sweetheart,” his astonishing whirlwind on “Dearest,” and marvel at his pushing accompaniment throughout. He suggests Jimmy Rowles or Tommy Flanagan when he is being serene; Ralph Sutton, Donald Lambert, and Dave McKenna when he chooses to stomp. A loud, uneven, or passive-aggressive drummer can sink a trio, but there’s no danger here. Breinschmid has listened closely to Krupa, but isn’t hemmed in by that style: his work on “Dark Eyes” is both homage to the originals and his own improvement on them; his brushwork on “You’re A Sweetheart” is reminiscent of Jo Jones in his prime. I never yearned for the absent bass player or guitarist, and there’s no monotony on this disc. I would begin with “How Deep Is the Ocean?” which combines deep feeling and forward motion at the same time. (The session is beautifully recorded, too.) If Roberscheuten is an unfamiliar name, he has also been an integral part of the debut CD by “Three’s A Crowd,” which matches him with the fine singer Shaunette Hildabrand and pianist Bernd Lhozsky. And the witty, ambling liner notes by trombonist Dan Barrett are assurance of Jazz quality.

The good news is twofold.  First, you can order the CD from frank.roberscheuten@planet.nl for $18, including shipping.  And I recommend that you do so!

Even better: the trio recorded another excellent session last month, which they are calling GETTING TOGETHER.  It should be available for purchase in a few weeks.  I will point out, immodestly, that I wrote the notes for the CD — music that’s easy to praise.

THE MANY FACES OF CHARLIE CARANICAS

I first heard the impressive trumpet player Charlie Caranicas one night in 2005 at the much-missed jazz club, The Cajun, when he was part of Kevin Dorn’s devil-may-care ensemble, the Traditional Jazz Collective. Tall and serious-looking, Charlie offered one shapely solo after another, playing throughout the range of his horn with a glossy brilliance, never straining for effect but making us sit up and take admiring notice. He had his own sound, his own easy swing. At the time, he had only one CD under his own name, GREEN CHIMNEYS.

But there’s cause for celebration: a new duet CD featuring Charlie and pianist Tom Roberts has come out, and he has recorded another as a sideman with pianist Jesse Gelber and singer Kate Manning. A veritable onslaught of Caranicas!

His most recent CD, MOVE OVER (Black Knight Records) is compelling, whether it’s romping or thoughtful. I leave the entire history of trumpet (cornet) piano duets to Phil Schaap’s learned notes. This CD captures Charlie’s lovely sound and amazing stylistic range. That last phrase might alarm some readers, but Charlie is real to the core. He’s not another one of those players who can “do” the whole history of jazz, making all local stops — but it’s all synthetic. (You can draw up your own list of such highly-praised players, slithering from one unconvincing pastiche after another: no need to abuse them here.)

Charlie gets under the skin of the song he’s playing: he can comfortably settle down in Twenties Louis (“Once In A While,” “Wild Man Blues,” a muted “Willie the Weeper,” and my favorite, “Yes, I’m In the Barrel”) without being hemmed in by stylistic conventions. And “Move Over,” the CD’s title track, evokes the whole Ellington band — in addition, it’s a fine, neglected song. Charlie’s “I’m Comin’ Virginia,” a heartfelt tribute, has a bounce, rather than being another semi-elegiac homage to Bix. And catch Charlie’s admirable technique in the closing arpeggio, ascending into the sky! His versions of two of the most beautiful melodies imaginable, “Lotus Blossom” and “Blame It On My Youth” are all heart. The repertoire is admittedly traditional, but Charlie’s traditionalism isn’t narrow: his solos have the energy of the great Swing Era trumpeters, but I also found myself thinking of Clifford Brown’s recordings with strings. And the comparison does Charlie every credit.

The other half of the duo, Tom Roberts, is a masterful accompanist, whose knowledge of the piano tradition is happily on display at every turn. Here’s a Morton flourish, a singing Stacy line, a Hines tremolo, some fervent stride. His solos dance and strut, but it’s his teamwork, generous and intuitive, that shines. This one’s a keeper! Check out www.charliejazz.com or call 800-543-9158 for more information, or if your local record store (remember record stores?) is all out, the Caranicas bin understandably depleted.

About GREEN CHIMNEYS. I had to ask Charlie to dig out a copy of his 1994 CD for me, and it may be a rarity, hard to find. But it’s worth searching for. On it, he plays fluegelhorn as well as trumpet, and is joined by reedman Bob Parsons, pianist Frank Kimbrough, Kiyoshi Kitagawa on bass, and Tim Horner on drums and percussion. On the surface, it is a post-bop excursion worlds away from MOVE OVER, but that’s only the surface. The opening track rocks Monk’s dissonant blues as it deserves, with Parsons’ tart alto perfectly paired to Charlie (over a propulsive rhythm section). Because much of the music is blues-based, I thought of the Horace Silver and Cannonball Adderley groups, but there’s a timeless swing to the CD — with Charlie summoning up Sweets Edison and a whole host of Ellington brass. I was particularly moved by his touching “Diane,” Strayhorn-inspired without being derivative. His “Prelude and Jam” begins as a growly soliloquy, then with Parsons’ lovely clarinet flourishes underneath, turns the corner into a soundtrack for a yet-unfilmed adventure movie. “Makin’ Whoopee” is a properly winking trumpet-bass duet. Even at the fastest tempos, Charlie doesn’t do what Louis Armstrong deplored: he doesn’t “run away from his notes,” and every one’s a pearl.

As fine a leader as Charlie is, he’s also a peerless sideman, getting in to the mood of whatever ensemble he’s in. A particularly happy example of this is GELBER AND MANNING GOES PUBLIC, subtitled “The Latest Musical Gaiety,” an accurate description for sure. Gelber is Jesse, an energetic pianist-singer (and underrated composer) who goes his own ways at the keyboard, concocting his own heady version of stride and parlor piano. His partner, Kate Manning, is blessed with a wondrous voice — as brassy as Judy Garland at her best, as tender as Mildred Bailey at her most blue. What distinguishes them from anyone else now performing is that they have An Act with the most novel repertoire: good songs, mostly frisky but a few yearning, from the Public Domain — before anyone reading this post was born, perhaps. Their CD and live appearances also feature a line of snappy boy-girl patter (wistful, romantic, or double-entendre) that would have made them the hit of the Keith-Orpheum circuit. On their CD, they are nobly supported by our men Charlie and Kevin Dorn. You can rely on Kevin to keep a steady, rocking four-bar pulse, ornamented with touches of Krupa, Wettling, or Leeman, and Charlie offers “hot” playing that made me think of a caffeinated Muggsy Spanier who had left all his cliches at home. You’ll have to hear the CD to savor its pleasures, and I urge you to do so (check out www.gelbermusic.com).

Charlie and his friends, whatever the context, are multi-talented, highly rewarding players.