Tag Archives: Neal Hefti

“TAL FARLOW: A LIFE IN JAZZ GUITAR / AN ILLUSTRATED BIOGRAPHY,” JEAN-LUC KATCHOURA and MICHELE HYK-FARLOW

Tal Farlow, photograph by Francis Wolff, 1953

Once again, I am in the odd position of writing a review of a book I have not finished.  I am a very quick reader of fiction, but books full of new information are imposing.  The good news is that I feel compelled to write about this book now because it is expansive and delightful: a gorgeous large-format 340-plus page book about Tal Farlow, in English and French, illustrated with many rare photographs and at the end, “Gifts from Tal,” a CD of rare music.  Unlike many substantial research volumes, it is splendidly designed and visually appealing, with so many color photographs, magazine covers, and priceless ephemera that one could spend several days, entranced, without ever looking at the text.

Here is the link to purchase this delightful volume.

Recently, I finally decided to take the more timid way into the book, and started by playing the CD — rare performances with Red Mitchell, Jimmy Raney, Gene Bertoncini, and Jack Wilkins, some recorded at Tal’s home in Sea Bright.  Interspersed with those performances, quietly amazing in their fleet ease, are excerpts from interviews with Tal done by Phil Schaap, edited so that we hear only Tal, talking about Bird, about technique, about his childhood.  I think the CD itself would be worth the price of the book, which is not to ignore the book at all.  (It is playing as I write this blogpost.)

And a digression that might not be digressive: here is the author speaking (in French) about his book and about working with Tal and Tal’s wife to create it:

and a small musical sample (Neal Hefti’s classic, here titled very formally) for those who might be unfamiliar with Tal’s particular magic: he was entirely self-taught and could not read music:

The book brims with first-hand anecdotes about Tal in the company of (or being influenced by) Charlie Christian, Art Tatum, Charlie Parker, Billy Kretchmer, Dardanelle, Red Norvo (whose extended recollections are a  highlight), Charles Mingus, Mary Osborne, Eddie Costa, Norman Granz, Oscar Pettiford, and Tal’s brothers of the guitar, including Herb Ellis, Jimmy Raney, Barney Kessel.

It’s a dangerously seductive book: I began revisiting it for this blog and two hours went by, as I visited text and photographs from Tal’s childhood to his death.  For guitar fanciers, there are pages devoted to his Gibsons as well.

This book deserves a more comprehensive review, but I know JAZZ LIVES readers will happily write their own.  And I have my entrancing jazz reading for the winter to come.

May your happiness increase!

MORE SWING BELOW STAIRS: TAL RONEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JAY RATTMAN, KEVIN DORN, and TAMAR KORN at FAT CAT (Sept. 30, 2015)

FAT CAT interior

Here‘s the first part of this posting — four delicious songs from a quartet gig held in the basement funhouse that we know as Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, New York) on September 30, 2015: the music-makers are Tal Ronen, string bass; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jay Rattman, saxophone and clarinet; Kevin Dorn, drums — and guest magician Tamar Korn offering two Irving Berlin classics at the end of this post.

Fat-Cat

The rarely played (but haunting) DEEP NIGHT:

LIZA:

And Miss Korn paid us a visit, in 3/4 time, with ALWAYS:

BLUE SKIES:

What a band.

May your happiness increase!

SWING BELOW STAIRS: TAL RONEN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JAY RATTMAN, KEVIN DORN at FAT CAT (Sept. 30, 2015)

Fat-Cat

Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street, New York City) is a cavernous basement space notable for a bar, pool tables, chess sets, ping pong, other kinds of games, and an enthusiastic — often cheerfully vocal — young crowd.  Since it costs three dollars to enter and have your hand stamped with a feline silhouette (I always respectfully decline), it is happily frolicsome down there.  That is a gentle way of saying — for the members of the JAZZ LIVES audience who insist that music be played in reverent silence — that there is an audible background of human conversation and occasionally shouts and yelps of what I hope is pleasure.  Once the music begins, it is easy to concentrate on the jazz, so don’t quail and panic. Unless, of course, you’d rather.  Imagine yourself invited to a large party full of happy people where you can listen to a wonderful New York City jazz quartet for free.

FAT CAT interior

Generously, the kind and wise management also offers jazz of all kinds, from Terry Waldo’s happily loose Gotham City Jazz Band to much more modern experiments.

One of the happiest times I’ve had at Fat Cat was very recent — September 30, 2015 — and a delightful long set by the Tal Ronen Quartet.  Tal is a great string bassist but he’s also a fine catalyst: he puts together excellent groups of people who like and listen to one another.  This Quartet (with a special surprise guest at the end) was special: Jay Rattman, saxophone and clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Kevin Dorn, drums.  And here’s the first half of what they played.  And sung:

Frank Foster’s SHINY STOCKINGS:

A seasonal AUTUMN IN NEW YORK:

YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY:

JUST IN TIME:

More to come.  And the Fat Cat music schedule is available here, with appearances by a wide variety of fine jazz players, from George Braith to Ehud Asherie to Billy Kaye and Harold Mabern . . .

May your happiness increase!

TRAVELS WITH MOLLY: “LET’S FLY AWAY”

Molly Ryan by Don Spiro

Molly Ryan by Don Spiro

I’ve been admiring Molly Ryan’s singing — and her instrumental bandmates — for almost a decade now.  Her latest CD, her third, LET’S FLY AWAY, is a beautifully elaborate production, consistently aloft.

Molly Ryan CD cover

Here are the details.  The CD features a theme (hooray!) — the delights of travel, with some ingenious choices of repertoire:  WANDERER / BEYOND THE BLUE HORIZON / FAR AWAY PLACES / LET’S FLY AWAY / FLYING DOWN TO RIO / A RAINY NIGHT IN RIO / SOUTH SEA ISLAND MAGIC / THE GYPSY IN MY SOUL / THE ROAD TO MOROCCO / UNDER PARIS SKIES / TRAV’LIN’ ALL ALONE / IT’S NICE TO GO TRAV’LIN’ / ANYWHERE I WANDER . . .

and alongside Molly (vocal and guitar) some of the finest jazz players on the planet:  Bria Skonberg, Randy Reinhart, Dan Barrett, Dan Levinson, Adrien Chevalier, John Reynolds, Joel Forbes, Mike Weatherly, Mark Shane, Dick Hyman, Kevin Dorn, Scott Kettner, Raphael McGregor, with arrangements by the two Dans, Levinson and Barrett.

When I first heard Molly — we were all much younger — I was immediately charmed by her voice, which in its youthful warmth and tenderness summoned up the beautiful Helen Ward.  But Molly, then and now, does more than imitate. She has a gorgeous sound but she also knows a good deal about unaffected swing, and in the years she’s been singing, her lyrical deftness has increased, and without dramatizing, she has become a fine singing actress, giving each song its proper emotional context.  She can be a blazing trumpet (evidence below) or a wistful yearner, on the edge of tears, or someone tart and wry.

The band, as you’d expect, is full of great soloists — everyone gets a taste, as they deserve, and I won’t spoil the surprises.  But what’s most notable is the care given to the arrangements.  Many CDs sound as if the fellows and gals are on a live club date — “Whaddaya want to play next, Marty?” “I don’t know.  How about X?” and those informal sessions often produce unbuttoned memorable sounds.  But a production like LET’S FLY AWAY is a happy throwback to the glory days of long-playing records of the Fifties and Sixties, where a singer — Teddi King, Lena Horne, Doris Day, Carmen McRae — was taken very good care of by Neal Hefti or Frank DeVol or Ralph Burns, creating a musical tapestry of rich sensations.

Now, below on this very same page, you can visit the page where LET’S FLY AWAY is for sale, and hear samples.  But Molly and friends have cooked up something far more hilariously gratifying — a short film with an oddly off-center plot, dancers, visual effects, hard to describe but a pleasure to experience:

Yes, it does make me think of Mildred Bailey’s WEEK-END OF A PRIVATE SECRETARY, but perhaps that association is my own personal problem.

And tomorrow — yes, tomorrow, Thursday, September 3, at 9:30 PM — Molly and friends are having a CD release show at Joe’s Pub, with Dan Levinson, Mike Davis, Vincent Gardner, Dalton Ridenhour, Brandi Disterheft, Kevin Dorn.  You may purchase tickets (they’re quite inexpensive) here.  Details about the show here, and Molly’s Facebook page.

Purchase a digital download of the CD (with two hidden tracks) OR the physical disc itself (with twenty pages of liner notes and wonderful art / photographs) OR hear sound samples here.

Airborne, delightful swing.  Why not FLY AWAY?  Let’s.

May your happiness increase!

THE SONG IS . . . KAREN SHARP (August 22, 2010)

I hadn’t heard much about Karen Sharp, who doubles tenor and baritone (her name is most famously attached to the late Humphrey Lyttelton, in whose band she played for four years) until my UK friend Daniel Matlin suggested we might go hear her.  What a good idea that was!

Karen was playing a Sunday afternoon gig at the Princess of Wales pub in London (not far from the Chalk Farm tube stop) — with her was the Pete Champman trio: Pete on bass, Ted Beament on piano, and Steve Vintner on drums.  In the ninety minutes we heard them, this quartet performed a nice mixture of standards and surprises — from Neal Hefti to Roland Kirk, from Dexter Gordon to ballads that Karen made sound fresh. 

She’s a full-blown tenor saxophonist with total command of the horn, especially the lower register, which some players shy away from.  She has an admirable technique, but doesn’t let it dominate her playing; rather, her solos have a conversational flavor, moving lightly from phrase to phrase, with space to breathe and reflect in between. 

Here are a few performances from that August 22, 2010 afternoon.  The pub was full of attentive listeners, even if their attention might have occasionally focused on the substantial plates of food that went flying by:

Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s celebratory BRIGHT MOMENTS in a most danceable performance:

A surging but melodic THE SONG IS YOU:

And that greatest act of courage for a jazz tenor player, I think — Karen’s lovely, serious reading of BODY AND SOUL:

My thanks to Karen and her colleagues for being so welcoming to an American bloke with a video camera, and my reiterated apologies to Steve Vintner, nearly invisible (but happily audible) behind a pile of upended chairs. 

Parenthetically, conditions for jazz players may be less salubrious in London than in New York City: the UK musicians don’t employ a tip jar, and there was no dinner as part of the gig . . . between sets, a bag of crisps got passed around.  Woe!

On a happier note (at least the Princess of Wales is a local pub that offers jazz twice a week), if you’d like to learn more about Karen, her CDs and performing schedule, how Dexter Gordon changed her life, and more, visit her website: http//www.karensharp.net.  She’s got it!

THEY FOLLOWED ME HOME

My title might make some readers think of the little boy or girl clutching a reluctant kitten or puppy: “Can we keep it, Ma?  It followed me home!”  But this posting isn’t about pet adoption, although that’s something I applaud — it’s about record collecting. 

These days, the phenomenon known as “junking,” where a collector years ago might find treasured rarities in people’s attics, antique stores, or junkshops, seems dead.  Record collectors go to shows; they bid on eBay.  But I found three exciting jazz records in the past week. 

The first occurrence was purely serendipitous.  While my car was being repaired (meet me at the intersection of Tedium and Economic Ruin), I walked a few blocks to the St. Vincent de Paul store.  The objects for sale there are often curious, sometimes sad: I LOVE GRANDPA coffee mugs, ornate furniture, homemade ceramics.  I hadn’t remembered a bookshelf full of records, and although I was not optimistic, I began to find jazz discs I had never seen before, a Neal Hefti long-play SALUTE TO THE INSTRUMENTS (Coral), fairly tame (I haven’t found out anything about the personnel) and a 10″ Brunswick lp, MUSIC AFTER MIDNIGHT, with Tony Scott, Dick Katz, Milt Hinton, and Philly Joe Jones. 

I was ready to take my treasures to the cashier, but I noticed a worn paper album of 78s — Forties pop.  Except for this one.  Yes, it has a crack, which makes for an audible, regular tick; two names were misspelled, but I didn’t care:

The other side, incidentally, featured Sarah Vaughan singing LOVER MAN.

When I brought my trove up to the counter, the cashier held court: everyone was “Sweetheart.”  She looked at the Guild 78.  “Dizzy Gillespie,” she said.  “I kinda know that name.  My mother used to listen to the radio.”  I said, “You know, you could have seen him on television yourself: he lived on until fairly recently.”  She agreed, so I ventured on, “If someone remembers you, you don’t die,” I said.  “You’re so right, Sweetheart!” she said.   

Last Saturday, the Beloved aimed us towards Columbia County (a good omen for a record collector?) where we had spent the past summer.  I was happy: she could enjoy beautiful gardens, and I could go to my favorite store on Warren Street in Hudson, New York — Carousel Antique Center, supervised by the very gracious Dan. 

I went into the back of the shop and spotted a box of 78s on the floor.  I had bought Clara Smith and Buck Clayton records here last year.  Initially, it offered only calypso records.  Then I reached for the lone 12″ 78 — in a decaying paper sleeve, its sides taped together:

I’m not so vain as to think that the cosmos works to make me happy, but this record might have provoked that feeling, for this side and the reverse, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, were the soundtrack to my childhood Louis-reveries (after the Gordon Jenkins sessions). 

But there was something else, a 10″ Harmony.  Most of the late-Twenties Harmony discs (excepting a Dixie Stompers surprise) I’ve found are dance bands and singers.  This one’s special:

I knew very well what I was holding — even though it looked as if someone had played it over and over.  And then I turned it over:

“Best Bix.” it says at top.  Someone not only loved this record, but knew who was on it, even if a devoted listener thought Frank Trumbauer was playing an alto saxophone instead of his C-melody.  Here’s a close-up of that annotation:

I paid much less than “25.00” for this one, but I found a treasure.  The music still sounds splendid but the worn grooves speak of love; the label does also.  Do any Bix-scholars care to comment on the handwriting and on the pricing?  

I once tried to be a spirited collector of jazz records; I’ve given that up.  And I have more music within reach than I could possibly listen to if I lived a long time.  But I am going to keep looking through piles and shelves of records if treasures like this are going to want to follow me home.  Wouldn’t you?