Tag Archives: Mel Lewis

“OF THINGS PAST”: JIMMY KNEPPER, DICK KATZ, GEORGE MRAZ, MEL LEWIS (1986)

This doesn’t require much commentary: it is a gorgeously tender themeless improvisation on THESE FOOLISH THINGS by Jimmy Knepper, trombone; Dick Katz, piano; George Mraz, string bass; Mel Lewis, drums.

Knepper began his recording career with big bands, so playing ballads was part of the training, since one played for dancers.  And if you’ve never heard of him, I invite you to be uplifted by calm, searching music that is at once melancholy and uplifting.

I hope you are as moved by this as I am.

May your happiness increase!

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“ONE OF THE GREAT WAYS TO LEARN IS TO DO SOMETHING WRONG”: JERRY DODGION SPEAKS

This interview of the splendid and splendidly durable reed master Jerry Dodgion (born in 1932) created by Ed Joffe, is quite wonderful — not only in his stories of Gerald Wilson, Charlie Mariano, Shorty Rogers, Red Norvo, Frank Sinatra, Erroll Garner, Bill Evans, Jerome Richardson, Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Joe Newman, Frank Wess, Cannonball Adderley, Coleman Hawkins, Godwin Louis, the importance of the acoustic string bass, playing in a section, and more — but the insight Jerry offers us into the music.

What comes through here is a gentle portrait of a man thoroughly imbued with gratitude, humility, kindness.  That Jerry Dodgion is a saxophone master is beyond dispute: that he exudes the calm sweet intelligence of a fully-realized human being is also evident throughout.  “Life is a learning experience.”  “Get your pen out!”

Even if Jerry Dodgion is not familiar to you, you’ve heard his beautiful sound on many recordings, and the interview is wonderfully rewarding.  Don’t miss the final minutes of this video — his unaccompanied chorus of THAT’S ALL, which is memorable and more.

Here is the source — Joffe Woodwinds — to which we owe a debt of gratitude.

May your happiness increase!

PEPPER ADAMS’ JOY ROAD: AN ANNOTATED DISCOGRAPHY by GARY CARNER

I had not known much about baritone saxophonist / composer Pepper Adams before a friend lent me a copy of Gary Carner’s book on him (now in paperback from Scarecrow Press) but I commend both Pepper and the book to you.

JOY ROAD 2

First, some music — an excerpt from an uptempo STRAIGHT, NO CHASER with Clark Terry, recorded in 1978:

The book is well-researched, rather than opinion.  Not only did its author speak with Pepper and JOY ROAD is introduced by the eminent Dan Morgenstern, but no other book I know has enthusiastic blurbs from both Phil Woods (alto) and Philip Levine (poetry).

JOY ROAD is an annotated discography.  To those not deeply involved in the music, such a work may seem a collection of marginally-useful pieces of arcane information, suitable only to those strange creatures, “record collectors,” concerned with whether that Charlie Parker solo recorded on a cardboard disc was issued on a Bolivian compact disc. I am exaggerating, but not that much.

But as an annotated bibliography would tell us a great deal about the artistic life of a writer and her relations with the marketplace, an annotated listing of a musician’s recordings would map an artistic journey. The book does not purport to be a biography — Carner is working on one now and hopes it will be finished by Adams’ centennial — but it is full of information about Adams’ life and music from 1947 to his death in 1986.  And that information is more than listings of songs, original compositions, recording data, issued or unissued performances. What makes Carner’s book more than a useful reference work is the interviews he conducted with Pepper and the people who knew and worked with him.

When I received a copy of JOY ROAD, I opened it at random, out of curiosity. I had not been terribly involved in Adams’ work — coming from a long immersion in Harry Carney and Ernie Caceres, among others.  But I stood in the middle of the living room, reading eagerly for a half hour, before remembering that a) I could sit down, and b) other tasks had to be taken care of.  If a book can “stop me in my tracks,” it is one I will read, keep, and value.

Many jazz musicians, so eloquent as creators, grow reticent when asked to speak about their art and their colleagues.  Much of what is published as treasured narrative is frankly insubstantial: “Oh, she liked her drink after the set was through!” “Did I ever tell you the story of X at the diner and what he said to the waiter?” “Y couldn’t stand Z, and always called Z names, but when they got on the stand, they blew!” If we didn’t feel that our heroes were so precious that any scrap of anecdotage, no matter how thin, brought us a step closer, no one would retell such stories. But JOY ROAD is not a collection of shards and detritus important only because they connect with someone we value. Carner’s musicians have been unsually articulate, and their stories have shape and heft.

We read about a bizarre and satisfying gig (even televised) where Pepper, David Amram, and Elvin Jones played at a Horn and Hardart automat in midtown Manhattan; Hank Jones tells Carner, “I never felt I was up to his standards, to tell you the truth.  I was reaching to play along with him”; we learn of Adams’ early work with Stan Kenton, Benny Goodman, Maynard Ferguson, Lionel Hampton, Woody Herman; encounters with Alfred Lion, Joihn Hammond, and Rudy Van Gelder; concert performances with Mingus and Monk; encounters with younger European musicians and elders of the tribe including Fess Williams, Cozy Cole, Joe Wilder, Benny Carter, Milt Hinton; the birth and development of the Thad Jones – Mel Lewis Orchestra; an informal session in Eugene H. Smith’s loft with Adams playing piano to Zoot Sims’ tenor; recordings with Donald Byrd, Oliver Nelson, Duke Pearson, Blue Mitchell, Jimmy Rowles, Joshua Breakstone, and a hundred other notables.

Equally intriguing are glimpses into the life of a valued New York session player, for Adams was understandably in-demand for pop recordings, often as an uncredited member of the ensemble, with Aretha Franklin, Dakota Staton, Sonny and Cher, The Cowsills, The Nice, The Rascals, Brook Benton, Jon Lucien, Esther Phillips, film soundtracks, industrial films, and more.

Ultimately, JOY ROAD did a number of things for me, even though my first reading of this 550-plus page book was of necessity quick rather than deep. I found recordings I’d known nothing about — Carner has had access to Adams’ personal appointment book, and has spoken with more than a hundred musicians. But more than that, I have a sense of Adams as an individual — reading Dostoevsky, listening to Berg, encouraging younger musicians, fierce when he felt unjustly treated — and I look forward to the biography, which Carner is tentatively calling In Love with Night.

I will close with my single Pepper Adams sighting. In 1972, several friends and I followed Ruby Braff to gigs.  Although Ruby was unpredictable and unreasonably given to rage, he was always pleasant to us and allowed us to tape-record him. On July 19 of that year, my friend Stu and I came to the Half Note to record Ruby with the Welsh pianist Dill Jones, bassist George Mraz (then working with Pepper in the Thad Jones – Mel Lewis ensemble, and Dottie Dodgion on drums.  About two -thirds through the evening, where the music had been very sweet, with Ruby’s characteristic leaps through the repertoire of Louis, Duke, and Billie, a tall man ascended the stand with a baritone saxophone, was greeted warmly by the players, and the quintet launched into an extended blues in Ab.  I remember Dottie Dodgion being particularly enthusiastic about the unnamed musician’s playing, who packed his horn and went off into the warm Greenwich Village night.  Who was that unmasked man?  The subject of Carner’s book, and yes, the tape exists, although not in my possession.

To learn more about Adams, JOY ROAD, and Carner, visit his Pepper Adams website and his Pepper Adams blog, THE MASTER.

May your happiness increase!

BEN WEBSTER – JOHNNY HODGES SEXTET 1960 PLUS

A caveat to begin with.  This is a video of a “bootleg” recording. And I know that no one’s estate is getting paid for this.  I apologize to everyone who might be offended by such illicitness.  But the music is beyond your wildest dreams of lyrical swing.  And since both of the horn soloists were sometimes surrounded by musicians who didn’t understand their essential selves as well, this session is priceless. (Even Norman Granz, who loved and encouraged both Ben and Hodges, sometimes paired them with musicians who didn’t give them perfect rhythmic support . . . in my opinion.)

Johnny Hodges and Ben Webster officially played together for the first time in the 1935 Ellington band, and their mutual love and admiration went on for nearly four decades after that.  In 1960, they recorded a dozen tracks at a remarkable session — two horns, four rhythm — that wasn’t issued until much later.  It benefits greatly from a swinging rhythm section of Lou Levy, piano; Herb Ellis, guitar; Wilfred Middlebrooks, string bass; Gus Johnson, drums.  (I believe that this was the quartet supporting Ella Fitzgerald in concert at the time.) The remaining four tracks feature a different band: Hodges, Ben, Ray Nance, cornet; Lawrence Brown, trombone; Emil Richards, vibes; Russ Freeman, piano; Joe Mondragon, string bass; Mel Lewis, drums; Jimmy Hamilton, arrangements: Los Angeles, January 31, 1961.

The material was first issued on a now out-of-print Mosaic box set, and surfaced on this European CD . . . and this YouTube video.  The songs are BEN’S WEB / SIDE DOOR (DON’T KID YOURSELF) / BLUES’LL BLOW YOUR FUSE / I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME / DUAL HIGHWAY / BIG EARS / SHORTY GULL / IFIDA / BIG SMACK / I’D BE THERE / JUST ANOTHER DAY / LOLLAGAGIN NOW / EXACTLY LIKE YOU / I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT / VAL’S LAMENT / TIPSY JOE / WAITING ON THE CHAMPAGNE.

Posted by Thelasttavern — we send thanks for the rarely heard music. And I’d like everyone who thinks they know what swing is to pay close attention to the two rhythm sections, especially to the floating work of the under-celebrated Gus Johnson.

(A linguistic aside: the title IFIDA was mysterious to me for a long time until I realized that it was pronounced as several words, as in “If I’d – a” done this or that . . . )

May your happiness increase!

WHEN THE COMMON LANGUAGE IS SOPHISTICATED SWING: TED BROWN / BRAD LINDE: “TWO OF A KIND”

One of the nicest aspects of the jazz brother-and-sisterhood is that music eradicates many barriers less enlightened people mistakenly construct.  When Louis Armstrong arrived in a foreign country whose language he couldn’t speak, the band playing STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE at the airport told him that everyone knew what to say and how to say it.

Jazz critics construct Schools and Sects, so that people under thirty are supposed to play one way, people over seventy another.  But the musicians don’t care about this, and jazz has always had a lovely cross-generational mentoring going on, where the Old Dudes (or the Elders of the Tribe or the Sages) took on the Youngbloods (or the Future Elders or the Kids) to make sure the music would go on in the right loving way.  In theory, the Jazz Parents look after the Young’uns, but the affectionate connection works both ways: sometimes younger players bring back the Elders (Eva Taylor, Sippie Wallace, Jabbo Smith) from their possibly comfortable retirement, find them gigs, make sure that the audience knows that the Elders aren’t dead and can still swing out.  When the partnership works — and it usually does — everyone feels good, especially the listeners.

One of the most rewarding examples of this has been the side-by-side swing partnership of tenor saxophonists Ted Brown (now 85) and Brad Linde (now 33), which I have followed and documented in a variety of live appearances in New York City, the most recent being a wonderful evening organized by Brad at The Drawing Room in Brooklyn in December 2012, to celebrate Ted’s birthday.

TED AND BRAD coverAnother celebration is the new CD by Ted and Brad — TWO OF A KIND (Bleebop Records # 1202).  It reminds me of the Satchel Paige line about age: it was all about mind over matter, and if you didn’t mind it didn’t matter.  Or words to that effect.  If you closed your eyes while listening to this delightful CD, you wouldn’t hear Elder and Younger, you wouldn’t hear Master and Student.  You would hear two jazz friends, colleagues, taking their own ways on sweetly swinging parallel paths to a common goal — beautiful arching melodies, interesting harmonic twists, and subtle rhythmic play.  And the material is both familiar and fresh — Ted’s original lines that twist and turn over known and time-tested chord structures: SMOG EYES, SLIPPIN’ AND SLIDIN, and his new tribute to Lester, PRESERVATION, and Lester’s blues line POUND CAKE.  Warne Marsh, Lennie Tristano, and Lee Konitz are happily in evidence here as well, with Warne’s BACKGROUND MUSIC, the theme from Tschaikovsky’s Opus 142 that Ted and Warne recorded together on a classic session, Konitz’s LENNIE’S, and the indestructible MY MELANCHOLY BABY and BODY AND SOUL.

It’s a delightful CD — on philosophical grounds of music transcending artificial definitions and barriers — beautifully recorded, full of feeling and sweet energy.  No abrupt shocks to the nervous system, no straining after novelty — just evocations of a world where melody, harmony, and swing rhythms have so much to offer us.  Thank you Brad, Ted, Tom, Michael, Don, and Tony.

Visit Ted’s website here; Brad’s here.

I was originally considering titling this post BEAUTIFULLY OLD-SCHOOL, but realized that not all of my readers would take that as a compliment.  I don’t mean that TWO OF A KIND consciously tries to make it sound as if life had come to a graceful halt in 1956, but if one heard this CD playing from another room, one might think it was a newly discovered classic Verve, Vanguard, or Contemporary Records issue — because of the great ease and fluency with which the players approach the material and intuitively understand their roles in an ensemble.  The young players — although not known to me — are just splendid, as individualists and as a cohesive rhythm section.  Michael Kramer, guitar; Dan Roberts, piano; Tom Baldwin, string bass; Tony Martucci, drums, work together as if to the late-swing / timeless-Mainstream manner born, and if I heard sweet subtle evocations of Mel Lewis, Ray Brown, Tal Farlow, and Jimmie Rowles, no one would blame me.

If you have never heard Ted and Brad together, here they are at The Drawing Room — playing BROADWAY with Michael Kanan, piano; Murray Wall, string bass; Taro Okamoto, drums.  Sweet swing, gentle urgencies, messages to send throughout the universe.

May your happiness increase.

THE WORD FOR THAT IS “STYLE”: JO JONES and HIS MAGIC HI-HAT, July 7, 1973

It’s not how much equipment you have, it’s what you do with it.  Ida Cox knew this, so did the great Sages, and Jo Jones exemplified it.  Thanks to George Wein, the “Gretsch Greats” performed outdoors at the Newport Jazz Festival in New York on July 7, 1973.  Jo Jones was at that time the Elder Statesman and the Famously Unpredictable Eccentric of the art form.

Legend has it that the young (Tony Williams) and the middle-aged (Max Roach) came out and did their best to show all the ways in which they could make sounds by using every part of their drum kits.  (On the recording we have here, the drummers are Elvin Jones, Mel Lewis, and Freddie Waits.)

Sly and subversive, Papa Jo came out with only his hi-hat cymbals and a pair of sticks and “washed them all away.”

It may be difficult at this remove to imagine the whole spectacle: Jo was entirely theatrical, and it is a pity we don’t have a video recording of his grimaces, his eye-poppings, his grin turning on and off like a massive searchlight, his mutterings (those meant to be heard and the rest) but JAZZ LIVES readers do not lack imagination and will be able to improvise from what they hear.

http://www.wolfgangsvault.com/gretsch-greats/concerts/central-park-july-07-1973.html

This recording comes to us through “Wolfgang’s Vault,” which has already offered such treasures as the Benny Carter Swing Masters concert (1972), the Braff-Barnes Quartet, and a number of Newport rarities only imagined before this.  Thanks also to the great friend of JAZZ LIVES and of living jazz everywhere, Ricky Riccardi, for pointing this out.

And, as he should, George Wein — who worked with Jo perhaps twenty years before — has the last word, admiringly.

MEL LEWIS on JAZZ DRUMMING

Here’s a link to a website that offers a series of 1989 interviews that master drummer Mel Lewis (1929-1990) did with Loren Schoenberg on WKCR-FM — exploring the history of jazz drumming from Baby Dodds to Elvin Jones:

http://www.pas.org/experience/oralhistory/mellewis.aspx

A master musician commenting on his ancestors (including Stan King, Paul Barbarin, and Tiny Kahn) and colleagues — invaluable!