Tag Archives: Modern Jazz Quartet

THAT REVOLUTIONARY QUARTET: ANTTI SARPILA, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JOHN COCUZZI, ED METZ at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ PARTY (Feb. 22, 2014)

In 1936, these four men were the Modern Jazz Quartet.  No, not John Lewis, Milt Jackson, Percy Heath, Connie Kay — but Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa.  Forget for a moment all the ideological disdain to which Goodman has been subjected — as a successful Caucasian musician who made jazz a popular art form, as an idiosyncratic individual whose foibles have baffled and entertained many for years.

Rather, think of the enthralling effect of these records and performances had in 1936 (following logically on the Goodman Trio).  How many houses were introduced to free-spirited small-group improvisation because of those Victor records? How many people, young and old, took up musical instruments or re-applied them to ones already known, because of the Quartet?

And — since we are always in danger of forgetting this — what prejudices and hatreds were gradually weakened by the knowledge that two of the admired musicians in the Quartet were “colored.”  Could the race that produced Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton really be inferior?

For those who view jazz through the telescope of modernity, thus making the Quartet dusty and “harmonically and rhythmically limited,” Charlie Parker didn’t think so, and the home acetates of Bird improvising over the Goodman Trio and Quartet records of CHINA BOY and AVALON are evidence enough. It doesn’t require a great imaginative leap to hear echoes of the Goodman small groups in the “bebop revolution” less than a decade later: unison playing on variations on the theme, with fleet work by a reed soloist and a good deal of attention given to percussive counterpoint.

Consider all this as a prelude to a wonderful set of music performed at the 2014 San Diego Jazz Party by four players — international stars — honoring the Quartet.  They are Antti Sarpila, clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; John Cocuzzi, vibraphone; Ed Metz, drums.  The repertoire was “standard” when the Quartet improvised on it, but it still has energy and freshness in 2014.

STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY:

AVALON:

THE MAN I LOVE:

TIME ON MY HANDS:

THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE:

All the virtues of the original Quartet are on display: its melodic inventiveness, its delightful witty interplay, its swinging rhythms, its indefatigable drive — but these four players honor rather than imitate, which is what the original Quartet did whenever they performed.

May your happiness increase!

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MODERNISM WITH ROOTS: KEITH INGHAM PLAYS JOHN LEWIS (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 18. 2011)

Everyone knows John Lewis at the pianist and musical director of the Modern Jazz Quartet, and a serious composer.  The aura of seriousness followed Lewis in other ways: I don’t recall any photographs of him in a t-shirt, although there are some portraits in which he is broadly smiling.  But the imagined picture of that handsome man in the tuxedo is so strong that some might forget that Lewis had deep roots in Basie and Ellington and the blues, that he accompanied Lester Young and Jo Jones on some splendid small-group recordings, and that he swung.  (Check out DELAUNAY’S DILEMMA on an Atlantic session — IMPROVISED MEDITATIONS AND EXCURSIONS — if you don’t believe this.)

What better pianist to honor Lewis than our own Keith Ingham, someone who is also occasionally perceived through the wrong end of the telescope as a uniquely fine accompanist to singers, someone able to swing any band or to write arrangements that make everyone sound better.  But Keith is not caught in the Thirties; his new Arbors CD has (by his choice) songs he loves by Wayne Shorter as well.

So we have a meeting of two modernists with roots — Lewis creating lovely melodies on his score sheet; Keith creating his at the piano, with the inspired playing of Frank Tate, string bass, and John Von Ohlen, drums, to guide and propel — all recorded at Jazz at Chautauqua on Sept. 18, 2011.

AFTERNOON IN PARIS:

SKATING IN CENTRAL PARK:

DJANGO:

ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW:

Cerebral music with a deep soul.

And while we’re on the subject of Mr. Ingham and his subtly deep ways at the keyboard, I would like to follow up on an earlier posting — featuring Keith playing Dave Brubeck (also Arthur Schwartz and Billy Strayhorn).  My friend Hank O’Neal (a member of the down-home nobility) sent the Brubeck recital to Dave himself!  Dave loved it and said so in an email: “From listening to the Chautauqua concert on UTube I would say that Keith Ingham has a wonderful concept, an appreciation of jazz from the past and a look into the future.  Really enjoyed it.”

I know that Keith spends far more time at the piano keyboard than the computer keyboard, but I know that Dave’s praise will get to him.  Love will find a way, as Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle told us.  And I hope some smart jazz booking agents will find ways to send Keith in person throughout the world of clubs and concerts.

The Brubeck post, in case you missed it, can be found here

GIFTS FROM FRANCE

Like the British, the French embraced American jazz before the Americans did, and jazz players found France welcoming as well as nearly colorblind.  I haven’t visited France, but INA — the French National Audiovisual Institute — sent me some holiday presents that I have been enjoying greatly.  

INA has created a national archives of what has been broadcast over French radio and television, over 1.5 million hours, of which 28,000 hours are available on the site.  You can see what treasures they hold at http://www.ina.fr.  And each day new content is added.  Eighty percent of these video and audio programs are available online for free, and the remaining ones can be purchased for downloading or burning to DVD at boutique.ina.fr.

When I first  heard about the jazz videos available for viewing, I lost myself for a few hours on the site, watching, among other things, a 46-minute video filmed at the 1958 Jazz de Cannes festival, featuring Vic Dickenson, Sidney Bechet, pianist Joe Turner, Ella Fitzgerald, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Bill Coleman, and others.   

Two new CD sets show how deeply the French love this music. 

http://boutique.ina.fr/cd/musique/jazz/PDTINA001734/jazz-aux-champs-elysees.fr.html

This disc (76 minutes) draws on the radio program JAZZ AU CHAMPS-ELYSSES, which had a twenty-year run.  Its creative director was pianist Jack Dieval, and some idea of its spirit can be heard at the very start of the disc where — after an introductory theme written by Dieval, you hear JUMPIN’ WITH SYMPHONY SID. 

The programs featured a fine French house band, full of local jazz talent, as well as appearances by American and European jazz luminaries, and occasionally a jam session where the participants would be playing from different European radio studios. 

This disc — I hope the first of a long series — concentrates on the luminaries and the JACE house band.  Those who know their French jazz will recognize the names of Geo Daly, Gerard Badini, Daniel Humair, Michel de Villers, Rene Thomas, Guy Lafitte among others.  But the special delights (for me) of this disc come from Blossom Dearie, Stephane Grappelli, the Delta Rhythm Boys, Donald Byrd, Bobby Jaspar, Chet Baker . . . and a trio of exalted tenor saxophonists. 

First, there are two performances by Stan Getz and a large orchestra with arrangements by Michel Legrand — a melting I REMEMBER CLIFFORD and an energized PERDIDO. 

Then (we are climbing the mountain, in my estimation) Lucky Thompson — with rhythm — explores LOVER MAN (briefly) and DON’T BLAME ME.

Finally (at the apex), two joyous performances by Lester Young in 1956: LESTER LEAPS IN with the SDR big band (Horst Jankowski, piano) and JUMPIN’ WITH SYMPHONY SID (backed by a trio including pianist Rene Urtreger).  Joyous music. 

And the other gift is a two-disc set of live performances from the Cannes Jazz Festival, all recorded between July 8-13, 1958:

What could be better than this picture of Dizzy, testing the waters?

The Cannes set is divided between jazz “classique” and “moderne,” distinctions which have blurred in the past fifty years, although the music has not. 

The “classique” performances include Bechet ferociously bullying his Fernch compatriots on three selections, tenderly playing ONCE IN A WHILE with Vic Dickenson and Teddy Buckner; pianists Sammy Price and Joe Turner, Albert Nicholas playing the blues. 

Then we move into even more exalted realms: a Coleman Hawkins solo on INDIAN SUMMER, four songs by Ella Fitzgerald, and two jam sessions — one featuring Vic, Hawkins, and Roy with French hornmen de Villers and Hubert Rostaing, and a final trumpet joust on JUST YOU, JUST ME — Bill Coleman, Dizzy, Roy, and Buckner.  Hot stuff!  And the rhythm sections are varied and fine: Martial Solal, Lou Levy, Arvell Shaw, J. C. Heard among others. 

The “moderne” disc offers bassist Doug Watkins — always rewarding — as well as Art Taylor, Solal, and lots of Kenny Clarke and the reliable Pierre Michelot.  There are substantial explorations by Donald Byrd and Bobby Jaspar, Zoot Sims, Tete Montoliu, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Barney Wilen, Michel Hausser, Berney Wilen, Sacha Distel, Stan Getz, and Dizzy — I assume having changed his clothes for his appearance onstage.

http://boutique.ina.fr/cd/musique/jazz/PDTINA001684/jazz-sur-la-croisette.fr.html

These sets (and the videos one can watch or buy from INA) are marvelous glimpses of Olympians who won’t come again.

BILLIE, BARBARA LEA, MINGUS, AND FRIENDS

Jeanie Wilson (dear friend of Barbara Lea and a thoughtful reader of this blog) just sent this along — what a treasure!

billie-poster

When it stops snowing, Jeanie, can we go?  I’ll spring for the tickets.  At $2.50, everyone we know can join us!

(Before my attentive readers write in to add information, I’ll venture that this took place in 1957 — a few minutes with an online perpetual calendar suggested that as the only plausible year.)

GIVING THANKS TO WHITNEY BALLIETT

Giving thanks shouldn’t be restricted to grace before meals.  When I think of the people who formed my musical taste, Whitney Balliett, who died last year, is at the top of the list (joined by Ed Beach and Stu Zimny).  As I was truly learning to listen, I would read his work, immersing myself in an essay on the trumpeter Joe Thomas while listening to the relevant records: an enlightening experience, not just for the clarity and empathy of Balliett’s insights, but for the beauty of his understated, accurate prose.  Balliett made readers hear — as they would have been unable to do on their own. 

Balliett was generous in person and on the page, and I will have more to say about him in future postings, but here is a piece I wrote about his work several years ago.  He was particularly pleased by my last sentence, which became a blurb for this book, something of which I am very proud.

 

AMERICAN MUSICIANS II: Seventy-One Portraits in Jazz.  By Whitney Balliett.  Oxford University Press, 1996.  $39.95   520 pp.

             “Aesthetic Vitamins,” Whitney Balliett’s portrait of Ruby Braff, concludes with Braff’s self-assessment: “I know I’m good and I know I’m unique.  If I had to go out and hire someone just like me, it would be impossible, because he doesn’t exist.”  Such narcissism would not occur to Balliett, a modest man, but Braff’s words fit him well.  Others have written capably of jazz musicians and their anthropology, but for forty years Balliett has been a peerless writer of jazz profiles, a form he has perfected.  In American Musicians II, Joe Oliver, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Greer, Art Farmer, and many others glow under his admiring scrutiny.

            Balliett’s earliest work, for The New Yorker of the mid-1950’s, reveals that he comfortably provided the reportage and criticism expected of reviewers: Hawkins played “Rosetta” well last night; the MJQ’s new long-playing record is worth buying.  But he attempted more: to reproduce the phenomena he had observed in words that made it nearly audible, to transform musical experience into language.  Although his intent was not aggressive, his early essays often unmasked mediocrity simply by bringing it to the light.  Here is Ahmad Jamal in concert: “He will play some ordinary chords, drop his hands in his lap for ten measures, reel off a simple, rhythmic single-note figure (often in the high registers), drop his hands for five or six more measures, slip in an arpeggio, drop his hands again, plump off some new chords, and so forth–all of which eventually gives the impression achieved by spasmodically stopping and unstopping the ears in a noisy room.  Accompanied by bass and drums, which sustained a heavy, warlike thrumming that seemed to frown on his efforts, Jamal played five numbers in this fashion, and after a time everything was blotted out in the attempt to guess when he would next lift his hands to hit the piano.  It was trying work.” Although he has been termed conservative, Balliett did not overlook his elders’ lapses; Zutty Singleton “has refined the use of the cowbell, wood block, and tom-tom into a set pattern that he never tires of, [and] played, in his solo number, as if he were shifting a log pile.”

            Deadly satire, however, was not his usual mode, for he preferred to praise the poets of jazz — lyrical improvisors of any school.  In reviews published in a three-month period, he celebrated George Lewis’s band for the “sturdy and lively dignity” of its “absorbing ensemble passages,” noted Cecil Taylor’s “power and emotion,” acclaimed Roy Eldridge’s solos for “a majesty that one expects not in jazz but in opera.”  His sustained affection for the music is evident throughout American Musicians II, an expanded edition of his 1986 American Musicians, with new portraits, whose roll call reveals him unhampered by ideologies: Goodman, Mel Powell, Dorothy Donegan, Bellson, Bird, Dizzy, Buddy DeFranco, Rowles, Shearing, Braff, Knepper, Desmond, Walter Norris, Thornhill.  

            Balliett does not present what he hears in musicological terms — Gunther Schuller would have notated what Jamal and Singleton played — but captures sound, motion, and rhythm in impressionistic images equally enlightening to neophyte and aficionado.  Like the best improvisations, his writing is both surprising and inevitable; he listens with great subtlety and makes shadings and nuances accessible to readers.  He is a master of similes and metaphors, in deceptively simple prose.  Skeptics who think that what he does is easy should sit down with a favorite CD, listen to sixteen bars of Bix, Ben, or Bird, and write down what they hear in unhackneyed words that accurately convey aural sensations.  Balliett avoids the vocabulary that conveys only a reviewer’s approval or disapproval: A “is at the top of his form”; B’s solo is “a masterpiece”; C’s record is “happy music played well,” etc.  Quietly and unpretentiously, finding new, apt phrases, he teaches readers how to listen and what to listen for. 

            Balliett’s Profiles (no doubt encouraged by his New Yorker editor William Shawn, an engaging amateur stride pianist) enabled him to create expansive portraits.  Were his subject deceased, a fate all too common to jazz musicians, Balliett could do first-hand research among surviving contemporaries; his Lester Young Profile is illuminated by the recollections of Jimmy Rowles, Buddy Tate, John Lewis, Gene Ramey, Sylvia Syms, Gil Evans, and Zoot Sims.  Since they are not the same people retelling the same stories, the result is fresh, insightful, and we see and hear Lester as if for the first time.  If the musician were alive, Balliett could observe, hang out, always with extraordinary results.  He has visited the famous, but American Musicians II is not a self-glorifying book of big names (“I Call on Duke Ellington”).  He has brought worthy supporting players (Mel Powell, Tommy Benford, Jimmy Knepper, Claude Thornhill) into the spotlight, yet he is no archeologist, interviewing the anonymous because no one else has and because they are still alive. 

            One of this book’s pleasures is the eavesdropping he makes possible.  Musicians, shy or seemingly inarticulate, sometimes self-imprisoned by decades of stage witticisms, open their hearts to him, describing their peers and themselves with wit and unaffected charm.  Unselfishly, Balliett makes the musicians who talk with him into first-rate writers.  Here is Clyde Bernhardt on Joe Oliver: “He was really comical about color.  If he spotted someone as dark as he was, he’d say, ‘That son is uglier than me. I’m going to make him give me a quarter.’  Or he’d light a match and lean forward and whisper, ‘Is that something walking out there?’  He wouldn’t hire very black musicians.  I suggested several who were very good players, but he told me, ‘I can stand me, but I don’t want a whole lot of very dark people in my band. People see ’em and get scared and run out of the place.'”  Vic Dickenson, musing on roads not taken: “I know I wouldn’t have been a good doctor, and I wouldn’t have been a good cook.  I know I wouldn’t have been a good janitor, and I don’t have the patience to be a good teacher.  I’d slap them on the finger all the time, and the last thing I ever want to do is mess up my cool.”  Balliett’s Profile of his hero Sidney Catlett closes with Tommy Benford’s memory: “I have a pair of Sid’s drumsticks, and this is why.  I was at Ryan’s with Jimmy Archey’s band, and one Monday, after Sid had sat in, he left his sticks behind on the stand.  I called to him after he was leaving, ‘Sid, you left your sticks,’ and he said, ‘That’s all right, man, I’ll be back next week.’  But he never did come back.”  When his subjects were alive, these Profiles might have seemed only beautiful prose.  Now, when we can no longer see most of their subjects in person, the historical value of Balliett’s evocations is inestimable.

            Through his writing, readers have been invited, vicariously, to join in gatherings and occasions otherwise closed to us.  The Profiles enabled him to eat peanut-butter-and-bacon sandwiches with Bobby Hackett, share a car trip with Mary Lou Williams, watch Jim Hall rehearse, go shopping with Stéphane Grappelly, walk New York streets with Mingus and Ellington.  These encounters are buoyed with the irreplaceable details we are accustomed to finding only in great novels:  Balliett sits down to eat with Red Allen and his wife at their home.  Junetta, the Allens’ six-year old granddaughter, eyes the fried chicken hungrily, mutely.  Mrs. Allen, a model grandmother, stern yet indulgent, capitulates, “All right, a small piece.  Otherwise, you’ll ruin your supper.  And don’t chew all over the carpet.”  I regret I was not invited to that dinner, but I am thankful Balliett was.    

            Even readers who have nearly memorized the Profiles as first published in The New Yorker will find surprises and delights here (the prose equivalent of newly discovered alternate takes) for Balliett is an elegant editor in addition to everything else.  He has done more than adding the inevitable paragraphs lamenting someone’s death; he has removed scenes no longer relevant (an Ellis Larkins recording session where the music, frustratingly, was never issued) and substituted new encounters.  Most jazz fans are well-supplied with anecdotes where the teller is the true subject, requiring listeners with divine patience (“I rode the subway with Benny Morton; I saw Jo Jones livid when the bassist was late”).  These tales, and their published counterparts, “and then I told Dizzy,” “Woody once said to me,” are not Balliett’s style.  In American Musicians II, he has subtly removed himself from the interviews as much as possible, making himself nearly invisible, silent.  The light shines on Warne Marsh, not on Balliett first, Marsh second.   

            The only regret possible after reading the book is that Balliett did not begin writing for The New Yorker when it began in 1925.  It is hardly fair to reproach him for not being older, but I imagine wondrous Profiles that might have been.  What would he have seen and heard at Connie’s Inn in 1929?  The Reno Club in 1936?  Minton’s in 1941?  Jimmy Ryan’s in 1944?  What stories might Eddie Lang, Frank Teschmacher, Jimmy Noone, Tricky Sam Nanton, Fats Navarro, or Tony Fruscella have told him?  Since these meetings must remain unwritten, we should celebrate what we have. American Musicians II is revealing and moving, because Balliett is a great musician whose instrument is prose, whose generosity of perception has never failed us.