Tag Archives: Ravel

“DUETS”: BOB BARNARD and JULIAN LEE (1989)

Music first, then a story. Several stories.

The composition is Maurice Ravel’s PAVANE FOR A DEAD PRINCESS, transformed into popular song under the title THE LAMP IS LOW, performed by Bob Barnard, cornet; Julian Lee, electric piano here.

(A note to pedants: I may be wrong about both identifications: Bob may be playing trumpet; Julian, synthesizer. I will correct them if so.)

Years ago, perhaps 1969, John S. Wilson, the New York Times‘ jazz critic had a weekly radio program, and he told this story. Steve Smith, who created the Hot Record Society series of recordings, felt that only Louis Armstrong had the majesty to properly interpret Bach’s second Brandenburg Concerto, and he took this novel idea to the major record companies, who turned him down without a thought.

Now, in our lifetimes, we can hear Bob Barnard honor and embellish classical themes.

Bob Barnard was a true hero to everyone who heard him. In his playing, there was an unassuming casualness — he went against Louis’ advice to Erskine Hawkins, “Make it look hard!” — as he scaled mountains with the greatest of ease, his tone always golden, his harmonic sense always dazzling. A solo of his was like a series of small jewels, amazing to hear as they happened, even more so when considered at leisure. He never fell back on cliche, his own or anyone else’s, and he trusted the melody so deeply that he stood back from it and reverently allowed it to gleam. In this, he was a true successor to Louis, Bobby, Bix, Buck — with his own wondrous swing and dash.

I encountered him a half-dozen times on his visits to New York, Denver, and Chautauqua, alongside Kenny Davern, Bobby Gordon, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, Scott Robinson, and others, and in person he was just as rewarding: witty, friendly, and warm. I was first “a fan,” then someone with a video camera, but Bob never viewed me from a height or at a distance.

As a player, he was utterly courageous — play thirty-two bars of his work for any brass player if you think I overstate — with a certain gentle audacity when it came to his colleagues on the stand. I am thrilled that the CD includes BOULEVARD OF BROKEN DREAMS, because it is one of my favorite Barnard moments. He appeared a few times at Jazz at Chautauqua over a decade or so of my being there. The creator of that jazz weekend, Joe Boughton, deplored what he saw as musicians’ lazy reliance on over-familiar repertoire, and encouraged people to bring and perform lesser-known gems. Bob was on stage once with a band of true professionals, and called BOULEVARD as the next tune, told everyone the key, set a tempo, turned to the pianist for a four-bar introduction, and led the way. It was not an easy tune nor a familiar one, but Bob led the way, clearly establishing the melody and harmonies for the players who might have only remembered it dimly. By the end of his second chorus the musicians were playing it as if it had been SWEET GEORGIA BROWN: he was that compelling and assured a leader as well as everything else.

Now, if someone can find a recording of Bob performing (perhaps singing also?) A BROWN SLOUCH HAT, my life will be even more complete. (He performed it at Chautauqua also.)

I had known nothing of Julian Lee, but here you can find out about this amazing man, who died in 2020 at 97. Bob had always wanted to record with him, and his inventive intuitive playing, in solo and accompaniment, says it all.

The CD that is the subject of this post, DUETS, captured Bob and Julian in 1989 in Sydney, Australia, and is now issued for the first time on Bandcamp by Bob’s son Tony, himself a stellar guitarist. The fourteen tracks are divided equally between “classical” and “popular,” although as Bob’s Louis-inflected improvisations on the Ravel theme show, those boundaries are completely artificial and tissue-thin.

They are PAVANE FOR A DEAD PRINCESS / GYMNOPEDIES / THE GIRL WITH THE FLAXEN HAIR / Adagio from CONCERTO DE ARANJUEZ / PATHETIQUE Sonata / PAVANE FOR A SLEEPING WOOD NYMPH / MY MAN / NUAGES / BORSALINO / BOULEVARD OF BROKEN DREAMS / THE WINDMILLS OF YOUR MIND / GIGI / AUTUMN LEAVES.

I think this is thrilling music, and I am so glad that it was recorded for all of us.

Listen and purchase here.

PERFECTLY CRAFTED: “PLAYGROUND” by the UNACCOUNTED FOUR

I am delighted to share with you the debut CD of an inspired quartet — the Unaccounted Four — a disc called (appropriately) PLAYGROUND, where the arranged passages are as brilliant as the improvisations, and the two kinds of expression dance beautifully through the disc.

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Menno plays cornet, wrote the arrangements, and composed three originals; David plays clarinet and tenor saxophone; Martien plays guitar; Joep is on string bass; Harrie ven de Woort plays the pianola on the closing track, a brief EXACTLY LIKE YOU.  The disc was recorded at the PIanola Museum in Amsterdam on four days in May 2014 — recorded superbly by bassist Joep.

The repertoire is a well-stirred offering of “classic” traditional jazz repertoire: STUMBLING, CHARLESTON, LIMEHOUSE BLUES, ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, JUBILEE, EXACTLY LIKE YOU; beautiful pop songs: AUTUMN IN NEW YORK, JEANNINE (I DREAM OF LILAC TIME), ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT RHYTHM, LULLABY OF THE LEAVES; originals: WHAT THE FUGUE, UNGUJA, PLAYGROUND; unusual works by famous composers: Ellington’s REFLECTIONS IN D; Bechet’s LE VIEUX BATEAU; and Ravel’s SLEEPING BEAUTY.  Obviously this is a quartet with an imaginative reach.

A musical sample — the Four performing JUBILEE and LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

Here is Menno’s own note to the CD:

A few years ago, I wanted to have my own jazz quartet to play what is known as “classic jazz.” Besides being nice to listen to, I intended the quartet to be versatile, convenient and different. That is why I bypassed the usual format of horn + piano trio. Our instrumentation of two horns, guitar and bass allows for varied tone colors. The venues where we play don’t need to rent a piano, and we don’t have to help the drummer carry his equipment from the car. As for versatility, David Lukacs, Merien Oster and Joep Lumeij are excellent readers and improvisers. They are also great company to hang out with (convenience again).

Our repertoire dates from the 1920s and 30s. The earliest piece is the adaptation of Ravel’s Pavane de la belle au bois dormant (1912); the latest is Ellington’s Reflections in D (1953), not counting my own tunes. While writing the charts, I chose to frame the familiar (and not-so-familiar) tunes in a new setting, rather than following the original recordings. So, for better or worse, the Unaccounted Four sounds like no other band. I promise you will still recognize the melodies, though!

The recording was made at the Pianola Museum in Amsterdam by Joep Lumeij with only two microphones. Minimal editing and postprocessing was done (or indeed possible).

On the last track, Harrie van de Voort operated a pianola which belted out Exactly Like You while we joined in. It is the only completely improvised performance on this disc. Autumn in New York is at the other end of the spectrum with every note written out.

I hope you will enjoy the Unaccounted Four’s particular brand of chamber jazz.

Menno’s statement that the Unaccounted Four “sounds like no other band” is quite true.  If I heard them on the radio or on a Blindfold Test, I might not immediately recognize the players, but I wouldn’t mistake the band for anyone else. I think my response would be, “My goodness, that’s marvelous.  What or whom IS that?”

Some listeners may wonder, “If it doesn’t sound like any other band, will I like it?”  Fear not.  One could put the Four in the same league as the Braff-Barnes quartet at their most introspective, or the Brookmeyer-Jim Hall TRADITIONALISM REVISITED.  I think of the recordings Frankie Newton made with Mary Lou Williams, or I envision a more contemplative version of the 1938 Kansas City Six or the Kansas City Four.

But here the CD’s title, PLAYGROUND, is particularly apt. Imagine the entire history of melodic, swinging jazz as a large grassy field.  Over there, Bobby Hackett and Shorty Baker are talking about mouthpieces; in another corner, Lester Young, Gil Evans, and Miles Davis are lying on their backs staring at the sky.  Billy Strayhorn and Claude Thornhill are admiring blades of grass; Frank Trumbauer is introducing Bix Beiderbecke and Eddie Lang to Lennie Tristano and Oscar Pettiford; Tony Fruscella and Brew Moore are laughing at something witty Count Basie has said. Someone is humming ROYAL GARDEN BLUES at a medium tempo; another is whistling a solo from the Birth of the Cool sides.

You can continue this game at your leisure (it is good for insomniacs and people on long auto trips) but its whimsical nature explains PLAYGROUND’s particular sweet thoughtful appeal.

It is music to be savored: translucent yet dense tone-paintings, each three or four-minute musical interlude complete in itself, subtle, multi-layered, full of shadings and shifts.  The playing throughout is precise without being mannered, exuberant when needed but never loud — and happily quiet at other times. Impressionism rather than pugilism, although the result is warmly emotional.

Some CDs I immediately embrace, absorb, and apparently digest: I know their depths in a few hearings.  With PLAYGROUND, I’ve listened to it more than a half-dozen times, and each time I hear new aspects; it has the quiet resonance of a book of short stories, which one can keep rereading without ever being bored.

For me, it offers some of the most satisfying listening experiences I have had of late.

The CD can be downloaded or purchased from CDBaby, downloaded from iTunes or Amazon; or one can visit Menno’s own site here, listen to sound samples, and purchase the music from him.

Enjoy the PLAYGROUND.  You have spacious time to explore it.

May your happiness increase!

INSPIRATION’S SOURCES

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People who live for jazz recordings and performances are often surprised to find that jazz musicians need a more balanced diet — what Ruby Braff called “aesthetic vitamins.”  Coleman Hawkins listened to the “modern classical music” of his day, as did Bix, and Louis drew energy and solace from John McCormack records.  The anecdotes below are testimony from most illustrious sources.  And, since the universe seems occasionally to operate harmoniously, they came to me — independently — in the last two days.

First, from Dan Morgenstern about his hero and mine, Vic Dickenson:

When I interviewed Vic Dickenson years ago and asked him what trombone playing he had listened to in his formative years (making the point, as you will see, wrongly, that trombone playing back then (Vic b. 1906) was of the tailgate variety) he didn’t say anything but went to his small collection of records, pulled out an old 12-inch 78, and put it on. It was a beautiful version of Celeste Aida by Arthur Pryor, Sousa’s trombone soloist and assistant conductor before going out on his own, and most certainly known to Tommy Dorsey. These are the kind of things you won’t learn from most jazz history sources.

And here is a generous website featuring “recordings from the nineteenth century,” where you can hear THERE’LL COME A TIME, made in 1897, featuring Pryor, whose playing is astonishingly mobile.  Although the link probably does not work within this post, visit http://home.clara.net/rfwilmut/19thcent/19th.html.

Then, taking it one step beyond (from appreciation and immersion to actual performance), Sam Parkins testifies:

No one thinks about jazz people’s interest in classical music. Bird listening to Bartok, that awesome tale of Dave McKenna playing the Ravel Piano Concerto chilling out after a record date. “But Dave – you can’t read music -” “Yeah I know. I learned it off a record”. And a friend staying in a hotel in Chicago where Earl Hines was playing. He comes down for breakfast late; after he goes to the lobby and the door to the nightclub is ajar. Hears piano. By the bare single ‘off duty’ light Hines is working on Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 111 — the really hard one. Oh – & AL Haig only practiced Chopin.

More to come on this subject.

I took the photograph above about ten months ago.  It is my version of “where inspiration comes from.”  Anyone care to guess the country and region?