Tag Archives: Phil Woods

THE TREASURE CHEST REOPENS, or HOLY RELICS, CONTINUED

Less than a week ago, I published a post here, marveling at the riches made available in an eBay auction by “jgautographs” which have been all bought up now, including this glorious relic. 

and this:

I don’t know how much Lester’s signature fetched at the end of the bidding, but Mr. Page’s (with the telltale apostrophe, another mark of authenticity) sold for $147.50, which says there is an enlightened and eager audience out there.  That auction offered more than 200 items, and I would have thought the coffers were empty.

Now, the gracious folks as “jgautographs” have offered another seventy items for bid.  I can say “gracious with certainty,” because I’ve had a conversation with the head benefactor.

This is the eBay link, for those who want to get in line early.  The new listing has only one item held over from the past sale, and it is full of riches (including blues luminaries).  I’ll mention only a portion: Ellington, Brubeck, Armstrong, Cootie Williams, Paul Gonsalves, Johnny Hodges, Horace Silver, Stan Getz, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Desmond, Don Byas, Dizzy Gillespie, Cat Anderson, Alberta Hunter, Little Brother Montgomery, Coleman Hawkins, Sippie Wallace, Rex Stewart, Ruby Braff, Lee Konitz, Zoot Sims, Jay McShann, Flip Phillips, Billy Butterfield, Phil Woods, Buck Clayton, Buddy Tate, Benny Carter, Bud Freeman, Thad Jones, Charlie Ventura, Teddy Wilson, Eubie Blake, Roy Eldridge, Sweets Edison, Erroll Garner, Tommy Flanagan, Kenny Dorham, Sonny Rollins — you can explore these delights for yourself, and if you have disposable income and wall space, some treasure might be yours.  Those whose aesthetic scope is larger than mine will also see signatures of Chick Corea, Archie Shepp, and Keith Jarrett among others . . .

For now, I will offer only five Ellingtonians.  And as David Weiner pointed out to me years ago, a sloppy signature is more likely to be authentic, since musicians don’t have desks to sit at after gigs.

Cootie:

Rex:

Cat:

Paul:

Johnny:

Incidentally, “jgautographs” has an astounding website — not just jazz and not just their eBay store: spend a few hours at www.jgautographs.com.

May your happiness increase!

“PARTNERS”: NANCY HARROW’S GIFT

The singer, composer, artist Nancy Harrow is not only a rewarding musician but, from what I can see, someone doing a fine job of navigating this complicated human-being business with art, energy, grace.  She has opened her hand again to reveal a gift for us: a new CD, PARTNERS.

Here you can read details of the CD (the song list, the personnel) and admire the spunky cover photograph.  Go to the top of the page and hear Nancy’s recording of IT’S A WONDERFUL WORLD — previously unissued and unheard, from 1964, Nancy with Kenny Burrell, Major Holley, and Denzil Best.

Incidentally, you can skip what follows and go directly here to hear samples, purchase the disc, download the music.

It is the privilege of the mature artist who has created a body of work to look back and assemble a selection from that art into a new mosaic, the familiar creations making new patterns.  Yeats, for one example, after he had written poems that would fill a new volume, spent as much time arranging them — new, old, revised — into partnerships and neighborhoods that said as much as the poems themselves did.

PARTNERS has some of the same essence, very different from “Greatest Hits,” “Golden Favorites,” or “Million Sellers,” because Nancy (rather than Decca or Columbia) has been in charge, and her sensibility — not, I state, her ego — is evident when one regards the CD as an artistic whole.  The cover lists a jazz nobility.  PARTNERS is a series of small-group performances: mostly duets, trios, and quartets — an octet in only one instance — that Nancy and friends, no, partners, recorded between 1962 and 2016.  The performances aren’t arranged chronologically, but they offer a limber, mobile, portrait of the artist, for us to marvel at.

Even the most dedicated collector of Nancy’s recorded music will be wide-eyed at six previously unheard (and unknown performances).  Five — IN A MELLOTONE, BUT BEAUTIFUL, YOU’RE MY THRILL, I GOT IT BAD, and IT’S A WONDERFUL WORLD — are demonstration performances (“demos”) recorded in 1964, pairing Nancy with Kenny Burrell, Major Holley, and Denzil Best.  These brief recordings are sweet intense surprises.  When I first received a copy of PARTNERS, I found myself replaying these performances over and over, thinking, “Ah!  That’s what Nancy was up to!”

The sixth gift is a 1991 duet on NOT WHILE I’M AROUND, sung by Nancy and her son Anton, also a wondrous expressive vocalist.  I find tears in my eyes on each rehearing.  In other moods, Vernel Bagneris, Grady Tate, and an irrepressible Clark Terry share the spotlight.

I “knew” the seventeen other songs on this disc: in my alphabetical arrangement of CDs, Nancy is (I hope comfortably) between Mary Cleere Haran and Coleman Hawkins . . . and I have her issued CDs, a generous offering.  But I hadn’t truly heard the performances, I think, until I’d heard them in the shapes that PARTNERS makes possible.

Nancy has remarkable emotional energy and a focused directness, so that her singing — even though I know it’s not the case — seems a completely personal statement aimed at the single listener, like a conversation one has when there are only two or three people in the room.  And the emotions!  Tenderness, joviality, teasing, astonishment, protective love, joyous exuberance . . . and even irritation as well as rue and hopefulness.  Nancy doesn’t shout or carry on, but her range is broad, every expression genuine.  Her quiet honesty is so rare and so embracing.

I shared PARTNERS with the fine singer Petra van Nuis, who wrote,”There is that central element which makes Nancy so special and unique. That element is feeling.”

I’d written this and this about Nancy’s art for JAZZ LIVES — but still I was thrilled that she asked me to contribute a few lines to the new CD:

For those who feel, a universe vibrating with love speaks through melody, harmony, and rhythm. Singing lets a very few, the rarest creators, send deep messages about what it is like to be alive, whether we are perplexed by circumstances, downcast, or rejoicing. In calmer times, everyone would have recognized Nancy Harrow as a priestess of heart-tales, helping us hear, helping us feel. She still seems a magical practitioner of rare arts, although she is a modern divinity who sends emails. I can testify to her tangible self, teacup in hand, grinning broadly, ready to break into laughter. I have seen her eat a cookie. Very reassuring.

I had originally thought to write a few lines about the performances that touched me at my very center. But they all do. What I hear and feel in this recording is a deep, complete, and varied personality shining her light at me, one track after the other. I hear energy, warmth, passions. Distinct and the same all at once. Her voice makes lovely shapes, now tough, now tender, now impish.

It would be impudent of me to squeeze her art into text any more than I have already. Listeners will write their own admiring, perhaps astonished, essays as they move from song to song.

Bless Nancy Harrow. Some of us lived long stretches of time without clearly knowing she was there, but she enriches our lives now and will continue to do so.

PARTNERS is yet another great gift, from and by a great artist.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN CELEBRATES CECIL SCOTT, DICK KATZ, AND NANCY HARROW (Sept. 29, 2017)

I won’t go on at length about my good fortune — having Dan Morgenstern patiently sit and tell wonderful stories to my camera so that you can all delight in his warmth, his first-hand experience, and his beautifully articulated love for the music and the musicians . . . but here are two interview segments from my most recent visit, September 29, 2017.

The first, a belated celebration of reedman and splendid figure CECIL SCOTT:

Here’s Cecil in a 1935 Oscar Micheaux film, MURDER IN HARLEM:

and one of my favorite recordings ever, Red Allen’s ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON (with Cecil and J.C. Higginbotham):

Here are Dan’s affectionate memories of someone who was much loved and is not, I fear, well-known today, pianist / composer DICK KATZ and the very much with-us NANCY HARROW:

On a personal note or two: I am more involved in this video than I usually am, and I hope our conversation bothers no one.  On the subject of conversation . . . as soon as I’d shut the camera off, I said to Dan, awe-struck, “YOU KNOW Nancy Harrow?” and through the kindness of Daryl Sherman and Dan, Nancy and I have met and exchanged compliments and gratitudes — a great blessing.

But back to DICK KATZ.  Here is Dick playing THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU:

and THREE LITTLE WORDS:

and with Nancy Harrow on a very touching rendition of IF YOU WERE MINE (I need no excuse to recommend Nancy to you):

Dan Morgenstern says, “Dick was a dear man.”  Dan Morgenstern is a dear man.

May your happiness increase!

“HAVE YOU TRIED THE ELEPHANT BEER?”: INSPIRED STORIES: “JAZZ TALES FROM JAZZ LEGENDS,” by MONK ROWE with ROMY BRITELL

Marian McPartland and Monk Rowe, photo by Val DeVisser

Marian McPartland and Monk Rowe, photo by Val DeVisser

Monk Rowe is a jazz musician — saxophonist, pianist, composer, arranger — and he has a day gig at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, as the  Joe Williams Director of the Filius Jazz Archive there.  The Archive will be twenty-one in 2016, and it is indeed remarkably adult.

So far, Monk has conducted video interviews with more than 325 musicians, ranging from the great forbears (Doc Cheatham, Eddie Bert, Kenny Davern, Jerry Jerome, Ray Conniff, Joe Williams, Milt Hinton) to the living legends of the present and future (Nicki Parrott, Kidd Jordan, Sherrie Maricle, Bill Charlap, Holly Hofmann, Maria Schneider).  And excerpts from those interviews, thematically and intelligently arranged, now form a compact yet impressive book (with a brief foreword by jazz eminence Dan Morgenstern) whose title is above.

JazzTalesCover

A friend at Hamilton sent me a copy of the book some weeks back, and I have been slow to write about it — for two reasons.  One, the semester got in the way, unforgivably, and two, I was often making notes and laughing so hard that I couldn’t read much at a sitting.  But my instant recommendation is BUY IT.  So those of you who want to skip the evidence can zoom to the bottom of this post. Others can linger.

A brief prelude.  I am immensely in favor of oral history although it cannot replace the best analysis or aesthetic criticism.  I wouldn’t give up Whitney Balliett, Martin Williams, Gary Giddins, Anthony Barnett, Frank Buchmann-Moller, Manfred Selchow, or John Chilton . . . the list goes on and I know I am leaving two dozen worthy writers out.  But what wouldn’t we give for a ten-minute interview with Tony Fruscella, Frank Teschemacher, Jimmy Harrison, Herschel Evans, Eddie Lang, Jimmy Blanton, or Buster Bailey?  True, some musicians were and are shy or not always able to articulate much about the music, but others — as we know — are born raconteurs, sharp observers, comedians, anthropologists.  Their stories, no matter how brief, are precious.  Two pages by Clark Terry where he speaks of being beaten by Caucasians because he was a “Nigerian” while in Mississippi — and then being rescued by another group of Caucasians — say more about race relations in the United States than twenty hours of PBS footage could ever do.

The material is organized thematically, enabling the reader to hear, for instance, stories of life on the road from Kenny Davern, Lanny Morgan, and Phil Woods. Then there are sharp observations — one can almost hear the rimshot that follows.  Dave Pell calls Stan Getz “the greatest dressing room player that ever lived.”  Stan Kenton stops his band from swinging too much and says, “This is not Basie.  This is Stan Kenton.”  Bobby Rosengarden talks about Toscanini, Joe Wilder about punctuality, Dick Hyman and Bucky Pizzarelli about life in the recording studio.  Keter Betts, as a high-school student, is bought lunch by Milt Hinton; Jean Bach explains the Ellington habit of “seagulling”; Sherrie Maricle recalls her metal clarinet.  Dan Barrett gives advice to young musicians.  Randy Sandke talks about the perils of thinking.  Karl Berger talks about his conducting; Kidd Jordan deconstructs a song’s title.  And there’s a historical perspective covering nearly a century: we hear Doc Cheatham talk about Ma Rainey, then Jerry Jerome describe the first Glenn Miller band — all the way up to the present.

It’s an enthralling book.  And since Monk Rowe is a professional musician, his interludes and commentary are more than useful; his questions are on the mark. Other writers put themselves into the dialogue merely to say, “Well, Dizzy always used to say to me,” but Monk is a gracious interpreter rather than a narcissist.

To find out the story of the elephant beer and the priceless answer, visit Monk’s JAZZ BACKSTORY blog here  and scroll down to the bottom of the page.  Then you can read the rest of Phil Woods’ words and — by the way — find out exactly what Dizzy Gillespie said when presented with the key to the city of Syracuse, New York.

JAZZ TALES FROM JAZZ LEGENDS is available here through Amazon.  And the proceeds from the book support the Archives.

NEWS FLASH: Monk is going to be teaching a free online course on jazz, starting February 2, 2016: details here.

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!

LITTLE WONDERS at AMOEBA MUSIC (The Next Chapter)

August 14, 2012.  Amoeba Music.  1855 Haight Street, San Francisco.

Flash!  Money can’t buy happiness, but money can buy the music that creates it.

Six vinyl records = $15.14.

JOE SULLIVAN: NEW SOLOS BY AN OLD MASTER (Riverside, 1953)

RAY SKJELBRED / HAL SMITH: STOMPIN’ EM DOWN (Stomp Off, 1985)

HARRY JAMES: DOUBLE DIXIE (MGM, 1962)

BUTCH THOMPSON / MIKE DUFFY / HAL SMITH: LITTLE WONDER (Triangle Jazz, 1987)

AL “JAZZBO” COLLINS: SWINGING AT THE OPERA (Everest, 1960)

THE SAINTS AND SINNERS “CATCH FIRE” (Seeco, 1960)

Explication du texte herewith.

The Sullivan is a famous record — I believe I had the music in poorer sound on a Classics CD, but the sentimental value of this disc in its crinkly wax-paper inner sleeve was something I chose not to resist.  And Sullivan’s sweet violence at the keyboard — filling A ROOM WITH A VIEW with ferocious right-hand splashes and mad Waller right-hand tinkling ornamentations — continues to astonish.  And if that weren’t enough, the disc is NON BREAKABLE, LONG PLAYING MICROGROOVE, HI FI.  What more could I ask for?

Ray Skjelbred deserves to be mentioned in the same breath, and Hal Smith’s intuitive empathy is splendid.  All I will say about STOMPIN’ ‘EM DOWN is that the duo’s performance of LOVE ME TONIGHT is another delightful version of sweet violence, honoring Bing Crosby and Earl Hines simultaneously.

I haven’t heard a note of DOUBLE DIXIE yet, but it is an intriguing experiment: the whole James band of the time, with Willie Smith and Buddy Rich, surrounding the “Dixie Five” of James, Dick Cathcart, Eddie Miller, Matty Matlock, Ray Sims.  How could I pass up a record that had TWO DEUCES on it, and all the arrangements by Matlock?

On my most recent trip to Amoeba Berkeley, I bought a Prairie Home Companion lp featuring the Butch Thompson Trio with Red Maddock on drums — and it has been giving a great deal of pleasure, both now in the present moment and reminding me of my 1981 self, listening to PHC live and waiting for those trio sessions.  This trio recording with Butch, Mike, and Hal is going to be a treat . . . a special little pleasure was in looking at the back-cover photograph of the trio, smiling . . . and reading that the photographer was none other than our friend and wondrous singer Becky Kilgore.

For me, a little “hipsterness” goes a long way, but Al “Jazzbo” Collins always had good taste.  What could be wrong with a big band recording of melodies from famous operas — when the band includes as soloists Harry Edison, Phil Woods, and Bob Brookmeyer . . . when the rhythm section is Hank Jones, Barry Galbraith, Joe Benjamin (Milt must have had a conflict that day), and Jo Jones?  Plus Harvey Phillips and Eddie Costa, arrangements by Fred Karlin, the whole thing supervised by Raymond Scott.  Can’t beat that!

Any record by the SAINTS AND SINNERS is rare these days — a compact group co-led by Red Richards and Vic Dickenson, it featured Norm Murphy or Herman Autrey, trumpet; Joe Barifaldi or Rudy Powell, reeds, and a solid rhythm section (this issue has Barrett Deems, drums).  I remember hearing Vic play TEACH ME TONIGHT from a program Ed Beach did on the S&S and so this was a superb find.  “My heart stood still,” to quote Larry Hart.

Now, there is no hidden ideology here about the goodness of vinyl over any other medium of sound reproduction; I amnot urging anyone to buy a turntable or to begin collecting more stuff, to quote George Carlin.  But there are Wonders out there for those who seek them!

P.S.  And as an added bonus, the cheerful young woman behind the counter had family that had grown up on Long Island and had gone to the high school I had graduated from when buying records was what you did.  The young woman had made it to San Francisco by way of Brooklyn, and she had wonderful instincts: when I said, in closing, “May your happiness increase,” she answered immediately, “Thank you very much!  You, too!”

May your happiness increase.

“WHAT IT IS: THE LIFE OF A JAZZ ARTIST”: DAVE LIEBMAN in conversation with LEWIS PORTER

I expected to dislike this new Scarecrow Press because it chronicles a jazz player whose musical vision begins where mine ends.  Liebman worked and recorded with Elvin Jones and Miles Davis in the Seventies and has gone on into a variety of free jazz / electric jazz projects.

I began reading as an obligation but found myself fascinated by the development of an improvising artist — a bright Jewish Brooklyn boy stricken with polio before he had entered school, receiving piano lessons because they were a mark of upper-class cultured life, becoming a saxophonist gigging in Catskills resorts at fourteen, discovering John Coltrane live at Birdland in 1962 . . . .

Unlike some musicians whose energy seems primarily musical, Liebman has sharp recall (or novelistic skills), a sense of humor, and the ability to articulate his perceptions.  Thus there are strongly-realized portraits of Elvin Jones and “the Prince of Darkness,” Miles — who, at one point, had a large 1970 photographic portrait of himself and Louis hung over his couch.  (Liebman’s insights into Miles are intriguing: he portrays Miles as bored and even shy . . . which will give the Davis-idolators something to ponder.)

Liebman has a good deal to say about his colleagues — occasionally unsparing, although he is candid about his own shortcomings.  He is perceptive about the Masters — Lee Konitz, Phil Woods, and Cannonball Adderley are summed up in several thoughtful, witty pages, once again proving that musicians are often the best critics of their own art.

I came to admire the book as I read, and I am paying it the best tribute I can by giving it away — to a new young friend, a saxophonist from Santa Cruz, who will also — as I did — learn from Liebman.  I applaud Scarecrow for publishing such an in-depth portrait, and only wish (wistfully) that someone had been able to sit down with, say, Brew Moore or Benny Morton or a hundred others.  But this book is a model of what can be done to illuminate jazz from the inside as well as chronicling one artist’s passage through it.

Here you can find out more about WHAT IT IS, which I am sure is available in the usual online places.

DMITRY BAEVSKY’S STORIES: “DOWN WITH IT”

I’m proud to say that I knew the brilliant young altoist Dmitry Baevsky even before his new CD, DOWN WITH IT (Sharp Nine) appeared.

I’d heard about him in the best possible way — a musician who had played alongside Dmitry and admired him told me I had to come hear him.  The musician, incidentally, was pianist Ehud Asherie, whose taste I trust. 

I heard them in duet at Smalls and was delighted by Dmitry’s sensibility, where all schools of melodic jazz improvisation co-exist.  In his cosmos, Hilton Jefferson shares the sidewalk with Sonny Rollins.  Clearly he hasn’t been narrowed down to the thickness of a reed; he’s learned through playing rather than seeing himself as a product to be marketed. 

I was delighted by being able to capture him live on video, and caught him recently at The Ear Inn, marveling at his sweet-tart inventiveness.

Here’s a sample — Dmitry and Joe Cohn musing on I WONDER WHERE OUR LOVE HAS GONE:

DOWN WITH IT is beautifully recorded and presented by Sharp Nine Records.  On the surface, it looks like many other sessions created by young musicians with an eye to the past: Dmitry plus a empathic rhythm section of Jeb Patton, David Wong, and Jason Brown, with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt joining in for a few songs, a repertoire that draws on Monk, Gryce, Powell, Brown. Ellington, Harry Warren and others. 

But this disc is no collection of Official hard Bop gestures, nor a formulaic homage to the past.  Dmitry is neither an imitator nor someone self-consciously, perhaps stridently, “innovative.” 

Rather, his spinning lines are songs — new expressions, complete in themselves — more than lunges through the chord changes.  He is open to the broadest jazz traditions, so his alto playing is conceived as more than an evocation of Bird.  In his tone, I hear lovely sweetness, which can be traced back to Carter and Cannonball, Hodges and Woods. 

In the notes to the CD, Dmitry speaks of improvising as a language, a solo as a nicely-shaped, colorful story or anecdote.  His performances thus seem engaging narratives: he has songs to sing, stories to tell us. 

And he’s not afraid of beautiful sounds, although the overall effect is anything but soothing syrup for the ears.  In his style, everything is in balance, although he will surprise listeners as he creates.     

Find out more at http://www.dmitrybaevsky.com/home.htm; you can buy the CD at http://www.sharpnine.com/ — or check Dmitry’s schedule and buy one from him at the gig.  Welcome and congratulations! 

BLANK PAGES AND SILENCES

Serious jazz scholarship (as opposed to reviews) began more than seventy years ago: early books by Robert Goffin, Hughes Panassie, Charles Delanay, Wilder Hobson, Charles Edward Smith and Frederic Ramsey come to mind, as well as essays by Ernst Ansermet, Otis Ferguson, and Roger Pryor Dodge. 

In 2010, there is no scarcity of books on jazz, from musicology to polemical ideology.  Biographies and autobiographies — from Armstrong to Zwerin with perhaps one hundred subjects between — the autobiographies of Buck Clayton, Sammy Price, Bob Wilber, biographies of Monk, Mingus, Holiday, Fitzgerald, Parker, Paul Desmond, Ellington.  Books have been published about musicians who are still relatively obscure: Mark Miller on Herbie Nichols, Anthony Barnett on Henry Crowder.  

John Chilton’s studies of Bechet, Hawkins, Eldridge, and Red Allen are models of the form.  Ed Berger and his father did right by Benny Carter; Ed devoted a book to George Duvivier and is working on one about Joe Wilder.  My shelves are full, and I’m not listing criticism and discography. 

Most of what I have noted above (with admiration) is jazz scholarship from the outside — by enthusiastic listeners who have immersed themselves in jazz.  I would be the last to disparage that as an art form, as writers who do it include Martin Williams, Dan Morgenstern, Gene Lees, Chris Albertson, Frank Driggs, Nat Hentoff and two dozen others.  A few musicians — rare souls — who were also fine writers: Dick Wellstood, Richard M. Sudhalter, Rex Stewart, Dick Katz.    

But even given all of this, how often have jazz musicians been asked to tell their stories? 

I know that there is a history of popular journalism — early on in urban Black newspapers — of getting quotations from musicians, but I wonder how many utterances that were attributed were actually spoken by the musicians themselves.  Later on, one had DOWN BEAT and METRONOME, and smaller magazines — Art Hodes’ THE JAZZ RECORD, here and abroad.  Some of this “journalism” perpetuated the stereotype of the musician as an eccentric character who spoke an unintelligible hipster gibberish.     

There are, of course, the pioneering recorded interviews of Jelly Roll Morton done in 1938 — mythic in many ways — that might be the first oral history of a jazz musician.  Whether you take them as an extended piece of performance art or as first-hand narrative / reportage, they remain invaluable.

Others have attempted to let the players speak — the Oral History Project had musicians interviewing their peers and friends, Stanley Dance’s series of books, the Shapiro / Hentoff HEAR ME TALKIN’ TO YA, Gitler’s SWING TO BOP, the diligent work of Bill Spilka, Hank O’Neal’s book THE GHOSTS OF HARLEM, collections of interviews and profiles by Whitney Balliett, Peter Vacher, Max Jones.  Phil Schaap has done extensive, rewarding radio interviews for forty years now.  Lester Young spoke to Chris Albertson and Francois Postif.  And irreplaceable video-documentaries focus on Ben Webster, Lester, Goodman, Phil Woods.  Fifty years ago, Riverside Records recorded Coleman Hawkins and Lil Hardin Armstrong telling their stories.             

But all of this is outweighed by the invisibility, the unheard voices of musicians. 

Who thought to ask Kaiser Marshall or Walter Johnson anything after they had finished a set with the Fletcher Henderson band?  Who interviewed Ivie Anderson?  Allen Reuss?  Jimmy Rowles?  Dave McKenna?  Al Cohn?  Shad Collins?  Barry Galbraith?  Shorty Baker?  Did anyone ask Denzil Best or Nick Fenton about what it was like to play at Minton’s?  Who spoke with Joe Smith or Joe Nanton about their experiences?  George Stafford, Tiny Kahn, Nick Fatool, Dave Tough?  (I know some of these figures were interviewed or analyzed by my hero Whitney Balliett, but the burden of jazz history of this sort shouldn’t have to rest on one writer’s shoulders.)

Granted, many stellar musicians were once anonymous sidemen and women, and the leaders of bands got all the attention.  So there are more interviews of Ellington than of Johnny Hodges, more of Goodman than of Vido Musso, more of Basie than of Jack Washington.  But Swing Era fans knew every member of the reed section in their favorite orchestras.

Thus claims of “obscurity” have to be taken less seriously: there was a time when Cootie Williams was nearly as well known as Jackie Robinson would be — you may substitute names you prefer in this equation of “famous jazz musician” and “famous sports figure.” 

I can imagine a number of reasons for musicians being ignored.

Some musicians would rather play than talk about their playing; some are even taciturn, although articulate.  And sometimes even the most garrulous players are not the best interview subjects.  “What was it like to play with Big Boy Smith?” one asks.  “Oh, it was a ball!  We had a great time!” the musician answers.  The interviewer waits for more.  “Do you remember any specific incidents?”  “Oh, no.  It was a lot of fun.  We couldn’t wait to get on the bandstand.”  And so on.  I’ve had this happen to me with the most sophisticated players here and in Europe.  They wereen’t reluctant to talk, but they weren’t intuitive novelists themselves.

Although cordial to outsiders, many musicians also don’t see the point of discussing serious matters — like music — with them.  Too much explaining.  Life is short; the next set is coming soon.   This does say something about the unseen wall between themselves and fans — people who don’t know what it is to play, to improvise professionally, come from a different planet.  Nice folks, but aliens.  Even sweet-natured Bobby Hackett referred to the audience as “the enemy.”  “Fans” and “academics” are friendly, “critics” and “writers” might be useful, but none of them really know

And oftentimes, musicians are ambushed by people who want to talk wishing to talk at inopportune times.  A musician asked to comment on the music she’s just played after a forty-five minute set may well be drained by the effort.  When they’re not playing, musicians talk of other subjects, including the cost of things, their most recent car repair, health care proposals.  Anything is more interesting than responding to “What inspires you when you take a solo?”  Some may want to be left in peace, to eat their scrambled eggs while they’re somewhat hot.  And who could blame them?       

When some venerable musicains are finallyinterviewed when they have become venerable, they have forgotten the details.  What they did forty years ago wasn’t musical history, but a way of making a living.  And even those who have sharp memories may not want to tell all: candor might mean losing friends or gigs.  And some aren’t interested in reliving their pasts: autobiographies and interviews are career-ending landmarks: what musicians do when they can no longer play.  Doing beats talking and theorizing.      

Others are “saving it for their book” — books that might get poublished posthumously if ever.  And when musicians die, sometimes their spouse discards “all that old clutter,” including letters and memorabilia.  Sometimes a divorce means that possessions get thrown out, or a son or daughter believes that Papa’s papers are worth millions and refuses to let anyone make money from themsee them.    

Having said all that, I want to put it aside. 

There were all the reasons that musicians might not want to be asked. 

But so many, I have to believe, would have been delighted to tell their stories.  Why weren’t they?

Much comes from the earliest perception of jazz as entertainment, hardly serious.  It was played at night in places where people talked loudly, smoked, drank, and danced.  Real art could be found in museums and in concert halls.  Jazz players weren’t ordinary people; they existed outside polite society; some thought them licentious madmen working themselves into ecstasies on the bandstand.  Who would be so bold as to ask one of them a question?  And what savage reply would result? 

The subject of race can’t be pushed aside.  If both White and Black listeners thought that jazz was primarily dance music, why study it?  Why take its players seriously?  And the early preponderance of White jazz scholars and critics — some Europeans and White Americans — can be traced to the idea that jazz was no more than “good-time music,” denying Afro-Americans proper dignity.  Would you want your daughter to marry a jazz musician?  Would you want your African-American child to concentrate his or her academic efforts on Cab Calloway, on Louis Armstrong?  But the initial racial imbalance did shift, and I suspect that Joe Nanton would have been happy to speak with a White college student if the student was both sincere and aware.  As would Rod Cless have been.       

I think of Emerson in “The American Scholar,” delivered in 1846, urging his audience to study their own culture — only in this way could a nation exist.  Many years after Emerson’s death, an American college student couldn’t expect to do advanced study about the authors of his time and place: a college education required German, Chaucer, rather than James T. Farrell and Charlie Chaplin.  To say nothing of Sidney Catlett.  And so it was for jazz.  By the time that academia caught up with it, so many of the progenitors were dead, their stories untold. 

The losses are irreparable.  To urge readers to interview a jazz musician today won’t replace what has been lost. 

What might Frank Teschmacher or Freddie Webster have told us, have someone thought it sufficiently important to ask them?

Those pages remain irrevocably blank.

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2010
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COME OUT FROM BEHIND THOSE WORDS!

I’m troubled by the code words that jazz listeners use to describe the varieties of music they prefer. 

Some who believe that jazz only reached fruition when Charlie Parker (or John Coltrane or Ornette Coleman) burst forth, say in print that they prefer jazz that is “forward-looking,” “adventurous,” “innovative.”  Others who think jazz reached the perfection of form sometime before 1945 or 1960 or 2000 and has been in decline ever since, then your music of choice is “authentic,” “the real thing,” “pure,” “uncorrupted.”  Of course, “modern,” “contemporary,” “timeless” get a workout as well.   “Adventurous,” too. 

Veiled in code words, these ideological positions seek to validate a false premise: that Art progresses or declines.  Did Louis “improve” on King Oliver?  Did Clifford Brown “improve” on Roy Eldridge?  Was “Swing” more innovative than “New Orleans” or “Chicago”; did “Bebop” sweep all that come before it away, only to be rumped by “Hard Bop” and “Free Jazz”? 

Seriously, it makes jazz seem like a parade of the years: if you thought 1944 was great, wait till you hear 1945 — or one box of detergent replacing the last one because the NEW box is IMPROVED (and orange with blue stripes, too).

We all have very particular — sometimes idiosyncratic — preferences in our music as well as in everything else. 

But when those preferences are expressed as statements of critical truth, they may do the music a disservice.  I prefer Ellington’s analogy of the diner in a restaurant who likes his fish cooked the way Pierre does it.  So if your definition of the ideal way to play the alto saxophone is Hilton Jefferson or Benny Carter or Phil Woods, say so.  Those who see jazz as a progress year by year, with each new stylistic change an inevitable improvement on the old-fashioned music of the dusty past are missing out on many hot choruses, now and on record.  And the listeners who are so committed to banjo-and-tuba rhythm sections and find anything else oppressively “modern” may deprive themselves of the joy of Andy Brown, Neil Miner, and Jeff Hamilton. 

So let us abandon the ideological structures for an hour or a day.  Say, rather, “I like the way _________ sings, the way ________ plays trumpet,” rather than suggesting that either of these players has somehow made all others superfluous.  “Better” and “greater” might well be dispensable.  Let us be open about our admittedly subjective likes and dislikes (I have boxes of them to share) — to be cherished as personal expressions, but not made into statements of value. 

And perhaps it’s time for listeners and critics, too, to go back to the Blindfold Test — or what CADENCE calls “Flying Blind.”  Let us not be swayed by the famous name (or the absolutely unknown name) on the CD: what does the music sound like? 

A few unsolicited ruminations to begin 2010 . . . .

THREE WISE MEN (OF JAZZ)

three-wise-men-jpeg

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.

RAY BRYANT IS THRIVING

I can’t recall the first time I heard a recording of pianist Ray Bryant — perhaps because he was captured so often and so well during the Fifties and onward.  Was it with Miles or Sonny Rollins?  No, more probably it was as a member (along with brother Tommy) of the Jo Jones Trio.  Or as a sideman on any number of Prestige swing-to-bop sessions.  I even recall finding a used copy of his Columbia record THE MADISON TIME, which featured Buddy Tate and Benny Morton, among others.  Then he made some records for Norman Granz (a solo album, one with Zoot Sims, among others) but he didn’t have as high a profile as other pianists.  That struck me as odd, because Bryant’s approach to the piano was expertly orchestral, without any narrow definitions.  He struck me as a musician, a pianist rather than someone limited to a single approach. 

ray-bryant1Thus it is a great pleasure to report that there is a new solo piano CD by Bryant and that it is even better than I thought it would be.  It’s called IN THE BACK ROOM and appears on the Evening Star label — a label known for its beautifully done CDs featuring Benny Carter, Joe Wilder, Phil Woods, Randy Sandke, among others.  Prodcer Ed Berger has a long association with the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University– he is one of the finest jazz scholars we have — and all of the twelve performances on this CD were recorded at the university in 2004 and 2008, some during a Fats Waller Centennial celebration.  Five tracks are Waller compositions, and one is IF I COULD BE WITH YOU, by his teacher James P. Johnson.  The other tracks include EASY TO LOVE and ST. LOUIS BLUES — and, most importantly, four Bryant compositions.   

Most pianists have the same difficulty considering Fats Waller’s music that trumpet players asked to pay tribute to Louis do, I assume: the musical personalities are so strong, their effect so definite, that the musician paying homage might be tempted to imitate the model.  This isn’t terrible in itself: if I knew someone who could play POTATO HEAD BLUES or AFRICAN RIPPLES at will, I would have them come to my apartment often.  But the wiser course might be to honor the durable melodies as improvisatory material and go from there.  With Waller, however, the risks are immense: what can a player bring to HONEYSUCKLE ROSE that is reasonably authentic and still new? 

No one need worry.  Bryant is a mature artist, wholly comfortable with his own identity so that he relaxes into his own style — which, one notes immediately, is not built on well-worn figures and pianistic cliches.  Rather, he seems to love the way the piano can be made to sound, full and rich, without straining for effect.  He is happy to play the melody, to ornament its harmony subtly.  His solos sing; his rhythm is relaxed yet consistent.  And he is a master of the small variations possible within medium tempo. 

Although Bryant is known for his deep immersion in the blues and his originals such as “Little Susie,” the most moving music on this CD comes when he plays his own compositions.  One of them, “The Impossible Rag,” is a tour-de-force that pianists might find it hard to reproduce, but Bryant’s virtuosity is more a matter of deep feeling.  It comes out most strongly in “Lullaby and” “Little Girl” (the latter dedicated to his wife Claude).  “Little Girl,” an almost grieving meditation, sounds cantorial in its minor harmonies: in it, we hear someone considering the possibilities of simple melodic motifs — eloquently and sorrowfully.  I didn’t think of jazz when I heard it; rather, of Dvorak.  “Lullaby” also takes an apparently simple idea and explores it, gently and sweetly — with contrasting brief sections balancing against each other.  Both pieces stayed in my memory for a long time, which says a good deal about Bryant’s powers to evoke emotions.  Even if you think you know Bryant’s work, this CD is worth searching out.  And if the Evening Star label is new to you, delights await.  Visit http://www.bennycarter.com/common/eveningstar/

“INTEGRITY OF BEING”: SONNY ROLLINS ON COLEMAN HAWKINS

hawkins1First, November 21 is Coleman Hawkins’s birthday — not a national holiday, yet.  But WKCR-FM, the jazz station of Columbia University, will play his music for twenty-four hours in his honor.  And if you’re not within reach of an FM radio, you can hear it online at http://www.wkcr.org.

The letter printed below originally came from the esteemed player and thinker Phil Woods, making its way to Jon-Erik Kellso, who sent me a copy of it.  I hope that no one minds my offering it here: I think it is an important document for reasons both musical and spiritual.


10/13/62 P.M.

My Dear Mr. Hawkins,

Your recent performance at the ‘Village Gate’ was magnificent!!  Quite aside from the fact that you have maintained a position of dominance and leadership in the highly competitive field of ‘Jazz’ for the time that you have there remains the more significant fact that such tested and tried musical achievement denoted and is subsidiary to personal character and integrity of being.

There have been many young men of high potential and demonstrated ability who have unfortunately not been ‘MEN’ in their personal and offstage practices and who soon found themselves devoid of the ability to create music.  Perhaps these chaps were unable to understand why their musical powers left them so suddenly.  Or perhaps they knew what actions were constructive as opposed to destructive but were too weak and not men enough to command the course of their lives.  But certain it is that character, knowledge and virtue are superior to ‘Music’ as such.  And that ‘success’ is relative to the evolution of those qualities within us all.  That it has been positive and lasting for you Coleman is to the honor and credit of us, your colleagues, as well as to your credit.  For you have ‘lit the flame’ of aspiration within so many of us and you have epitomized the superiority of ‘excellence of endeavor’ and you stand today as a clear living picture and example for us to learn from.

It has always been a task to explain in words those things which in nature are the most profound and meaningful.  Now you have shown me why I thought so much of you for so long.  Godspeed in your travels and may I be fortunate enough to hear you play the tenor saxophone again in person.

sonny_rollinsYours truly,

Sonny Rollins

The letter is deeply moving, its individuality emphasized by Sonny’s sincerity, his eighteenth-century prose flourishes.  Of course, it is a heartfelt expression of gratitude and admiration.  But what moves me is that Rollins isn’t praising Hawk’s musical inventiveness.  No, he pays tribute is to the maturity of character Hawkins showed; a moral tenacity displayed in his devotion to his art.

When Sonny praises Hawk for resisting the temptations that other, weaker players fell prey to, I suspect that he has Charlie Parker in mind and those players who fell under the spell of Bird’s music and his self-destructive persona.   “Character, knowledge and virtue” — rare qualities in themselves or in such a combination.

We praise Hawkins for making the tenor saxophone into a true jazz instrument, for helping to continue and expand the jazz ballad tradition.  He kept his own identity but he played alongside Mamie Smith in 1920 and with Monk, Coltrane, and Rollins forty years later, still immediately identifiable.  But I think we should also praise Rollins for his humility and his willingness to honor his ancestors.  Many of us might think some of the same thoughts about a person who has inspired us, but how many of us will write the letter?

Hawkins died in 1969, so he cannot hear our praise.  But we can still honor him by reminding others of the celebration on Friday, by listeining to it ourselves, and by keeping his music in our ears whenever we can.