Tag Archives: jazz ballad

TWO EARLY JAZZ BALLADS

Jazz history as presented by people who should know better is compressed into telephone poles glimpsed through the window of a speeding train: “All aboard!  MAPLE LEAF RAG . . . .WEST END BLUES . . . . LADY BE GOOD . . . . COTTON TAIL . . . . KO KO . . . . KIND OF BLUE . . . . A LOVE SUPREME.  Last stop, ladies and gentlemen!”

At best, an inexplicable series of distortions, omissions.

One small example of this odd perspective on the music I’ve spent my life immersed in is the discussion of the “jazz ballad.” I take it to be players or singers improvising over a composition in slower tempo, its mood romantic or melancholy or both.  Of course people wanted slower tempos to dance to: THE STAMPEDE was a marvel, but you couldn’t hold your darling close to you on the dance floor at that tempo.  One of the “authorities” states that the first jazz ballad performance is the Trumbauer-Beiderbecke I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA, followed by the Mound City Blue Blowers’ ONE HOUR, 1927 and 1929, respectively.  But that leaves out, for one example, Jimmie Noone’s SWEET LORRAINE and many other recordings.  And, of course, recordings are only a tiny sliver of what was being performed and appreciated.

But as far as jazz ballads are concerned, I think performances of songs titled I NEED YOU and NOW THAT I’VE FOUND YOU are certainly relevant.  And they have not been considered worthy of notice by those who reduce an art form to easy-to-swallow historical capsules, useful for those who need to pass final examinations.

Also what runs parallel to this “ballad hypothesis,” a statement I’ve heard recently, is the contention that Caucasian audiences liked sweet music; Afro-Americans liked hot music.  We’re told that recording supervisors embraced this hypothesis as well.  The exceptions proliferate: tell that to Charles Linton, Pha Terrell, Harlan Lattimore, Eva Taylor, and more.  But that’s another posting.

Enough grumbling about those who theorize from a very narrow awareness.  Here are two very seductive examples of category-exploding that also fall sweetly on the ear.  Neither performance has lyrics, but they would be easy to invent: to me they are very satisfying unacknowledged jazz ballads.

The first is Clarence Williams’ I NEED YOU, composers credited on the label as Jackson and Williams, from May 29, 1928, performed by Clarence Williams’ Jazz Kings : Ed Allen, King Oliver, cornet’ probably Ed Cuffee, trombone; probably Albert Socarras, clarinet, alto saxophone; Clarence Williams, piano; Cyrus St. Clair, tuba:

Then, a beautiful song by Tiny Parham from the last recording session he made for Victor, November 11, 1930, NOW THAT I’VE FOUND YOU:

That lovely record contains what is, to me, a delectable unsolved mystery.  The listed personnel of Tiny Parham And His Musicians is: Roy Hobson, cornet; Ike Covington, trombone; Dalbert Bright, clarinet, alto and tenor saxophone; Charlie Johnson, clarinet, alto; Tiny Parham, piano, leader; Big Mike McKendrick, banjo, guitar; Milt Hinton, brass bass; Jimmy McEndre, drums.  The Victor label clearly indicates “Whistling chorus by Maurice Hendricks.”  And a gorgeous twenty-four bars it is, in high style: the Red McKenzie of whistlers.  A small sidelight: “Hendricks” whistles the first sixteen bars elegantly, and I find myself missing him through the bridge and elated when he returns for the final eight bars.  

But who is or was Maurice Hendricks?  If he is a real musician, why doesn’t his name appear in any discography?  The theory that it might be young Milt Hinton (the initials are the only hint) is implausible because Milt is audibly playing brass bass — tuba, or sousaphone, what you will — throughout the record, not putting the horn down while the Whistler is so prettily doing his thing.  Brian Rust and “Atticus Jazz” say that “Maurice Hendricks” is Big Mike McKendrick, and I would grant a certain aural similarity between the name and the pseudonym, but a) why would a pseudonym be needed on the label, and b) why are there apparently no other recorded examples of Big Mike whistling? Was “Maurice” a friend of the Parham band, welcomed into the studio to amaze us now, ninety years later?

My best answers for the moment are of course whimsical: “Maurice Hendricks” is really Lew Le Mar, who made the hyena and billy goat sounds for the 1927 Red Hot Peppers session, or, if you don’t think that Lew hung around Chicago for three years just to get back in the Victor studios, I propose that the Whistler is Cassino Simpson, who was capable of more than we can imagine, but that’s only because Jack Purvis was busy making many recordings in New York in November 1930.

Theorize as you will, though, the music rises above whatever we can say about it.  Listen again.  Thanks to Mike Karoub for his ears, to Matthew Rivera of the Hot Club of New York and especially to Charles Iselin for bringing the second recording to my attention.

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTIFUL DANCE MUSIC: HENDERSONIA at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY

Here is one of the high points of a wonderful tribute to Fletcher Henderson’s “Connie’s Inn Orchestra,” led by Claus Jacobi, saxophone, with Rico Tomasso, Duke Heitger, Menno Daams, trumpet / cornet; Kristoffer Kompen, Graham Hughes, trombone; Matthias Seuffert, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Claus Jacobi, reeds; Keith Nichols, piano; Jacob Ullberger, banjo / guitar; Malcolm Sked, bass; Richard Pite, drums. Recorded on November 8, 2014, at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party:

The song?  STARDUST.  What could be more beautiful? And this performance speaks to a time when rhythmic ballads could be both hot and tender, when improvisation could also be romantic dance music, when African-American bands could venture into Caucasian pop music . . . and play it beautifully. And the quietly eloquent shadow of Bix is evident throughout. (Would this performance also be possible without the genial angelic guidance of Louis?  I think not.) A profound gentle lyricism in dance tempo — a great achievement then and now (with heroic subtle playing from Mister Daams and the band as a whole).

Oh, memory.  Oh, memory.

May your happiness increase!

BALLADS BY HARRY ALLEN, DAN BLOCK, BOB HAVENS, DUKE HEITGER, JON-ERIK KELLSO, RANDY REINHART, ANDY SCHUMM, REBECCA KILGORE, DAN BARRETT, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, MARTY GROSZ, FRANK TATE, JOHN VON OHLEN (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 22, 2013)

Norman Granz took credit for inventing what came to be called “the ballad medley” for his concert performances.  Rather than have everyone stand onstage and take solo choruses on what might be a fourteen-minute BODY AND SOUL, Granz proposed — for variety’s sake — that each of the musicians would emerge from the wings, hastily tell the rhythm section what (s)he had chosen, both song and key, and play or sing a chorus of it, then exit.

For the audience, it is a parade of small memorable delights. First, it reminds us what great players and singers can create within the space of one chorus of a song — note that, at their most leisurely, these performances are two minutes apiece. They offer us subtle embellishments on enduring melodies.  And the tempos!  Once upon a time, there was a precious little thing called the RHYTHM BALLAD, which meant that even if the lyrics said, “I am throwing myself out of the window because you don’t love me,” the rhythm ticked quietly underneath in medium tempo.  The ballad medley requires a perfectly attentive and wise rhythm section, especially a pianist who can respond in a second to something muttered, “WHEN DAY IS DONE, three flats,” modulate in to the proper key and be ready.

The late Joe Boughton, who delighted in jazz ballads, made sure that his jazz parties always included such interludes.

On September 22, 2013, at the closing set of Jazz at Chautauqua, a series of small miraculous evocations came and went in front of our eyes.  I am honored to have been there and privileged to capture much of the ballad medley for you.

The participants are Rossano Sportiello, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar / vocal; Frank Tate, string bass; John Von Ohlen, drums; Jon-Erik Kellso, Andy Schumm, Randy Reinhart, Duke Heitger, trumpets; Dan Barrett, Bob Havens, trombones; Andy Stein, violin; Harry Allen, Dan Block, reeds; Rebecca Kilgore, vocal.

EASY LIVING (Harry Allen), DAY DREAM (Dan Block), CAN’T HELP LOVIN’ THAT MAN (Bob Havens), I KNOW WHY (Duke Heitger):

I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME (Jon-Erik Kellso):

MY FUNNY VALENTINE (Randy Reinhart); PLEASE (Andy Schumm); LAURA (Andy Stein); IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN (Marty Grosz); SOPHISTICATED LADY (Rossano Sportiello):

And a wonderful closing serenade, OHIO by Rebecca Kilgore and Dan Barrett:

OHIO offers a perfect transition.  Jazz at Chautauqua has changed its name and moved west — to Cleveland, Ohio — but I know its essential musical nature will not diminish or change.  It’s now the Allegheny Jazz Party, beginning on Thursday, September 18, and concluding (with a ballad medley) on Sunday, September 21.  I hope your life-path and travel plans allow you to be there!

May your happiness increase!

“BUT IS IT JAZZ?” “DOES IT MATTER?” or THE JUDGE PASSES SENTENCE

I had an email conversation a day ago with a musician — expert on his instrument and with a deep immersion in a wide range of music — about a performance I had recorded of his . . . a powerful exposition of a piece of late Sixties “popular music,” which he played splendidly.  He wrote me with some concern, wondering if his performance was, in fact “jazz.”

I wrote back to assure him that it was both beautiful and memorable, and that was what mattered.

Definitions and categories can be useful: if you have a celiac disorder, it is necessary to learn the ingredients on the package so you know no wheat is hiding to attack your body . . . but in art?

I know many listeners who set up boundaries.  This “style” is “too modern,” so they avoid it; this is “old-fashioned,” so others close a door on it.  Others see the racial profile of the musicians or the audience and make up their minds that way.  Too many old folks in the crowd?  Can’t do that.  And so on.  Not enough players of the approved color?  Oh, no.

Perhaps the questions should be, “Does this musical performance make me feel glad to be alive?  Does it stir something in me?  Does it have its own logic and beauty?  Am I happier as a result of it?”  “Will I remember it in ten minutes?”

Here are two examples of beautiful music.  According to some classifiers and dividers, one is jazz, the other isn’t.  Do such rules really matter?

and

Now, this comparison isn’t to say one musician is “as good as” the other; it isn’t to exalt Bing at the expense of Hawkins.  It is simply to say that there are a million varieties of beauty in the world . . . too bad for people who deprive themselves of any of them.

And the Judge.  He was born Milton John Hinton, and later in his life he acquired the nickname of “The Judge,” part a comic homage to Pigmeat Markham’s routine, part a tribute to his being there early at record dates and gigs . . . but he had note paper that I saw for myself, with the heading . . .

THE JUDGE (and a a drawing of a string bass)

You are hereby sentenced to thirty days of listening to good music!

I’m prepared to serve my sentence, Your Honor.  And thank you for the reminder!

May your happiness increase!

BIG JAZZ: JON-ERIK KELLSO, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, ALEX HOFFMAN, KERRY LEWIS at JAZZ at CHAUTAUQUA (September 22, 2012)

I follow Jon-Erik Kellso, who is superbly consistent . . . someone who reaches into his musical bag of treats and invariably comes out with something new — in his depth of feeling, his variety of pure (and impure) sounds, his intensity, his swaying ascents and descents.  And when Jon-Erik has intuitive friends around him (as he does many Sundays at The Ear Inn and here) — jazz masters Alex Hoffman, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Kerry Lewis, string bass — great things happen.  Sweet melodies, hot rhythms.

The proof is right here (recorded Saturday, September 22, 2012, at Jazz at Chautauqua) — where Fifty-Second Street meets Lake Chautauqua, where 1946 and 2013 wander amiably down the same paths.

Because Jon-Erik loves Roy Eldridge (the act of a wise musician), he began the set with the rarely-heard LITTLE JAZZ:

Time for a Basie groove?  Always a good idea.  Plunge ahead! TOPSY:

Alex displayed his own particular soft, compelling brilliance on THREE LITTLE WORDS:

In honor of the season and also because he doesn’t often get to play it, Jon called for SEPTEMBER SONG, where his sound is so eloquent (and the exchanges with Kerry are a treat):

And a little TEA FOR TWO, inspired by one of Coleman Hawkins’ many riff inventions on its chords:

If you’re not moving around in your chair, something might be wrong with your computer.  I have wonderful repair people . . . everything that’s technologically-flawed can be fixed.  But this music needs no alterations.  Thank you, Jon, Alex, Kerry, Rossano!

May your happiness increase.

FOUR LETTERS FOR BIX AND LESTER: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, ANDY SCHUMM, RANDY SANDKE, DAN LEVINSON, JOHN VON OHLEN (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 17, 2011)

Not every successful jazz group has to have an orthodox shape or instrumentation: in fact, the absence of a crucial or expected instrument often galvanizes the other players into something rich and rare, as was the case on September 17, 2011, at Jazz at Chautauqua.

I don’t know if anyone started out playing with Bix or Lester in mind, but the results summon up those two quiet geniuses most beautifully.  And when we remember that Lester learned so much about lyricism — in addition to his own singular impulses — from listening to Bix and Tram records with Eddie Barefield — the connection isn’t far-fetched.

Here we have Rossano Sportiello on piano and quiet aesthetic leadership; Randy Sandke on soaring trumpet; Andy Schumm on hot introspective cornet; Dan Levinson on sweet clarinet and tenor sax; John Von Ohlen on subtly propulsive drums.

I associate MARGIE with Bix Beiderbecke in 1928, with Duke in 1935, and with a wonderful rarity — a collector’s tape of Jack Teagarden soloing over that very same Bix recording.  It’s an old-fashioned song that doesn’t get old, and this performance has some of the rattling good humor of the Ruby Braff – Mel Powell – Paul Quinichette – Bobby Donaldson trio recordings for Vanguard:

THESE FOOLISH THINGS, to me, always summons up Lester Young — and Rossano’s piano playing evokes Ellis Larkins and Nat Cole without copying them.  Dan’s tenor solo shows that he might be thinking about the President as well:

SUNDAY hadn’t come yet, but this cheerful Jule Styne 1927 hit always evokes memories of the happy past — and the Jean Goldkette Victor.  (“Wanna see you next Sunday!  Ah-ha!  Ah-ha!” or words to that effect).  Some stride and a swinging wire brush solo do no one any harm:

Most jazz sets close with something quick, dramatic, loud.  If the audience isn’t standing and cheering, what went wrong?  But not this evocative group of brave explorers.  Rossano started off at a lovely slow tempo — seeming to creep sideways into a slow, slow blues — so reminiscent of the Lester / Nat Cole BACK TO THE LAND.  But we’ll just call it a BLUES:

Remarkable and unhackneyed.

THE (POSSIBLY REVERSIBLE) DECLINE OF THE WEST (Nov. 18, 2011)

Last night, on my way to Smalls to hear Joel Press and Spike Wilner, I walked past a Greenwich Village bar / restaurant that was advertising JAZZ on its sandwich board outside.  This was exciting news, and I was hopeful and curious.  I ventured in and listened for ten minutes.  It seemed to be a good-natured jam session — trumpet, saxophone, guitar, drums, with one of the horns occasionally sitting at the piano and chording when not taking a solo.  It was pleasing to see that the players were a diversified little group.  They finished their improvisation on some mildly familiar changes and launched into the very pretty ballad POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS.

The guitarist was more than competent, but his volume was high, and it seemed as if he couldn’t wait to begin playing double-time.  The drummer had a pair of wire brushes (a great thing) but was out of synch with the rest of the group — so busily accenting phrases that the time was often lost; the saxophonist had a pleasant tone but was offering a mix of famous Bird licks; the trumpeter didn’t seem to realize that he was playing a love song.

I sighed, and thought (not for the first time) that I want a second business card — in addition to the JAZZ LIVES ones now fluttering through the universe.  It wouldn’t advertise anything, but would make two moral statements:

BRING BACK MEDIUM TEMPO

REMEMBER BEN WEBSTER

Does this sound like a good idea?  I could leave them on music stands . . . .

P.S.  Then I went to hear Spike and Joel — fellows who know these things deep in their souls, so all was well.

SWEET RHYTHMS in PARIS: NICOLAS DARY / LUIGI GRASSO / EHUD ASHERIE 2011

That’s Luigi Grasso (alto saxophone), Nicolas Dary (tenor), Ehud Asherie (piano), Mathias Allamane (bass), and Philippe Soirat (drums), playing BEWITCHED (Luigi) and SERENADE IN BLUE (Nicolas) — recorded at the Sunside in Paris, February 2, 2011.  Lovely!

SWEETNESS DESERVES SWEETNESS: CLICK HERE!  ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THE MUSICIANS.

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

“YEAH! TAKE ANOTHER!” MARTY GROSZ and the ORPHAN NEWSBOYS, 1997

Videographer and radio broadcaster Don Wolff is my idea of a jazz philanthropist. 

After I posted one performance that Don had published (as “MrDonwolff”) on YouTube — by Marty Grosz, Peter Ecklund (cornet), Bobby Gordon (clarinet), and Greg Cohen (bass) —       https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/characteristically-marty-grosz-the-orphan-newsboys-1997/ — I asked Don if there were any more at home like that.  There were and there are. 

This set came from the 1997 Mid-America Jazz Festival, and it finds the quartet in wonderful form.  The rhythm pulse is something to marvel at, thanks to the fine teamwork of Marty and Greg; the horns are splendidly lyrical and hot.  And Marty’s inimitable commentaries are here preserved for future cultural historians. 

Bobby Gordon wears his emotions proudly — no more openly than in a ballad performance such as IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN, that Thirties narrative of heartbreak and hoped-for reconcilliation.  Who needs more than two choruses?:

DON’T BE THAT WAY is such a pretty song when removed from big-band performance ritual (there’s a touching version from 1938 — one of John Hammond’s many fine ideas — featuring Lester Young and Buck Clayton, approaching this song as a sweet rhythm ballad).  Here, Peter’s pastoral whistling sets the mood instantly, leading to a gentle vocal.  The often acidic Mr. Grosz is — to my ears — a peerless singer of love songs at this tempo and even out-and-out ballads, and he outdoes himself here.  Peter suggests 1928 Bix at points, and Bobby, in his inimitable tender wanderings, evokes and outdoes his mentor Joe Marsala before the eloquent Greg Cohen has his say before Marty (imploring his favorite “fat mama” to be gentle) leads into a fade-out with a surprise:

And to close — a paean to romance of a different kind, EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, where Peter growls the message to us through that archaic but useful jazz fashion accessory, the metal derby, before Bobby takes a more tender approach to his amorous declarations, before Marty and Greg show us why rhythm was born. 

This performance, by the way, is the source of my title — a Grosz exhortation from the old days:

As I write this, Don is getting ready to record more of Marty and his esteemed friends at the 2011 Arbors International Jazz Party in Florida — I can’t wait!

MARTY GROSZ’S BASS MOTIVES at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 18, 2010)

My flippant title is not completely irrelevant.

For starters, at jazz clubs and parties and festivals, there are performances ranging from humdrum to spectacular.  And — not very often — there are performances that viewers and listeners know they won’t ever forget. 

I take great pride in presenting one such episode: around four minutes long, quietly rocking rather than explosive, and performed before noon — an unseemly time of day for most jazz musicians.

The band was officially titled Marty Grosz and “The Mouldy Figs,” referring to those rather artificial wars between musical ideologies stirred up by jazz critics and fans in the Forties and Fifties.  A “Mouldy Fig” read Rudi Blesh rather than Barry Ulanov or Leonard Feather, revered Bunk Johnson rather than Fats Navarro.  Figs deplored “be-bop,” horn-rimmed glasses, and berets.

Since Marty Grosz has displayed a serious leaning towards band-names no one has thought of before (his Hot Puppies, his Orphan Newsboys, and so on) I have taken the liberty of renaming the band — for this performance only “Bass Motives.”  Why?  Well, there’s Arnie Kinsella on drums — someone who knows how to make a particular point with a ferocious hit to his bass drum; Andy Stein, usually playing violin but here picking up his baritone sax; Vince Giordano, bass saxophonist supreme; Scott Robinson, the Doc Savage of the instrument room, also playing bass saxophone. 

The tune they launch into is the pretty old Eddie Cantor tribute to his wife, Ida — IDA (SWEET AS APPLE CIDER).  But behind Eddie and Ida and their family is the far more serious presence of Red Nichols and his Five Pennies in the Brunswick studios in 1927 — the Pennies including Pee Wee Russell and Adrian Rollini, perhaps the finest bass saxophonist ever, ever.  And one of the songs they took on was a moving ballad-tempo version of IDA. 

Marty and his Bass Motives not only evoke that lovely recording but sing out in their own style.  When I wrote that some rare performances are unforgettable, I wasn’t over-praising this one:

Incidentally, for the chroniclers in the audience: Frank Trumbauer and Bix Beiderbecke have received a good deal of well-earned praise for their imperishable recordings in early 1927 of two “jazz ballads,” that is, improvisation carried out at a medium-slow tempo: SINGIN’ THE BLUES and I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA (with a sweet reading of ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS not far behind).  The original Nichols recording — in August of that same year — seems deeply emotionally influenced by the pretty playing of Bix and Tram.

SERENITY AND PASSION, 1971

A moving lesson about feeling and technique, and how to sing through your instrument.  Without sounding reproachful or didactic, I would like every singer and instrumentalist and critic and listener to watch and absorb this performance many times: it is instructive as well as uplifting.

The details scroll across the screen at the start, but the facts are: Ben Webster / Duke Ellington / 1971 / I Got It Bad:

Thanks to “mugge62” for posting this beauty on YouTube.

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