Tag Archives: recording studio

DUKE ELLINGTON AT THE COTTON CLUB

I’m delighted to report a new 2-CD set of Ellington broadcast material from the Cotton Club — with some new things never otherwise issued, and a good deal of material that only serious Ellington collectors had at their fingertips.  (I know that the music world might seem to some to be awash in Ellington CDs, but I think this set essential.)

The set is called, logically, DUKE ELLINGTON AT THE COTTON CLUB (Storyville 1038415).  It begins with two selections — piano solos — taken from a “Saturday Night Swing Club” broadcast on May 8, 1937, and ends with the Ellington band broadcasting from Sweden on April 20, 1939, as part of an exultant tour.

In between there are forty-two selections broadcast live from the Cotton Club, from April 17 to May 29, 1938. 

“Why is this essential?” you might ask.  Most improvising ensembles, then and now, might find themselves somewhat confined by the limitations of the recording studio.  It wasn’t always a matter of the time constraints imposed by the 78 rpm disc — two-thirds of the selections in this set would have fit on commercial releases. 

But a recording session brought with it the pressure to make a mistake-free performance, which sometimes stifled the spontaneity so needed for improvisational brilliance.  There is also the indefinable but audible give-and-take between a happy nightclub audience and the musicians on these discs, something that the dead air and clock of the recording studio could not reproduce. 

These broadcasts give us tangible swinging evidence of what the Ellington band sounded when playing for real audiences — and of the variety of its approaches to identical material (three versions of IF DREAMS COME TRUE, for instance). 

The accepted Ellington history is that the band reached a peak in 1940-1 when Ben Webster joined the band and Jimmy Blanton became the bassist, and the Victor recordings in this period are extraordinary.  And the Fargo, North Dakota, dance date of November 1940 (seventy years ago next month!) has a swaying unbuttoned splendor. 

But any history that deals in peaks and apexes is suspect, and if Ellington had disbanded in spring 1938 I think we would be mourning this orchestra as a great accomplishment, a merging of vividly disparate personalities all going in the same direction on the bandstand. 

What we hear in these airshots is the band taking on pop tunes, originals, jamming in small-group contexts, melting Ivie Anderson vocals — a wonderful banquet with extraordinary solo and ensemble work from the Masters: Bigard, Carney, Hodges, Cootie, Rex, Greer, Lawrence Brown, Tricky Sam, and so on. 

The set begins with two Ellington piano solos — SWING SESSION (SODA FOUNTAIN RAG in new attire) and a ruminative medley of two ballads, and it ends with a priceless long airshot from Sweden, where ROCKIN’ IN RHYTHM is framed by a mournful, pensive SERENADE TO SWEDEN and a Swedish pop tune, IN A LITTLE RED COTTAGE (BY THE SEA) which Ivie sings most tenderly.  And there’s even a one-minute video clip of the Cotton Club itself. 

Ellington collectors will have known this material (discs were cut for composer / arranger / theorist Joseph Schillinger) when it was issued in part on two Jazz Archives records perhaps thirty-five years ago.  And some of the tracks were issued elsewhere on even more elusive issues.  But the Duke Ellington Society bulletin informs me that several tracks here were never issued anywhere, and it is delightful to have it all collected — in clear transfers with erudite notes by Andrew Homzy. 

As the announcer says, “The Duke is on the air!”   

Track listing:

CD 1
1 Swing Session 2:00
2 Medley: Solitude/In A Sentimental Mood 3:00
3 Harmony In Harlem 3:20
4 If You Were In My Place 3:20
5 Mood Indigo 2:44
6 Theme: East St. Louis Toodle-Oo 1:14
7 Theme: East St. Louis Toodle-Oo 0:25
8 Oh Babe, Maybe Someday 2:58
9 Dinah’s In A Jam 2:12
10 If Dreams Come True 1:45
11 Scrontch 1:49
12 You Went To My head 1:42
13 Three Blind Mice 3:11
14 Solitude 3:28
15 Downtown Uproar 3:12
16 Dinah’s In A Jam 3:26
17 On The Sunny Side Of The Street 4:09
18 Ev’ry Day 2:45
19 Azure 2:46
20 Carnival In Caroline 2:50
21 Harmony In Harlem 3:35
22 At Your Back And Call 2:22
23 Solitude 3:18
24 The Gal From Joe’s 3:06
25 Riding On A Blue Note 2:38
26 If Dreams Come True 2:54

Total time:70:23

CD 2
1 Oh Babe, Maybe Someday 2:51
2 I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart 1:31
3 Birmingham Breakdown 2:38
4 Rose Room 2:10
5 If Dreams Come True 2:34
6 It’s The Dreamer In Me 4:37
7 Lost In Meditation 3:53
8 Ev’ry Day 2:40
9 Echoes Of Harlem 4:40
10 Theme: East St. Louis Toodle-Oo 0:58
11 Jig Walk 2:02
12 In A Sentimental Mood 1:13
13 I’m Slapping 7th Avenue2:50
14 Lost In Meditation 2:45
15 Alabamy Home 3:32
16 If You Were In My Place 2:15
17 Prelude in C Sharp Minor 2:56
18 Rockin’ In Rhythm 3:58
19 Serenade To Sweden 5:38
20 Rockin’ In Rhythm 4:24
21 In A Red Little Cottage 5:13
22 Video Clip from the Cotton Club 1:00

Total time: 66:28

For more details, visit http://www.storyvillerecords.com/default.aspx?tabID=2633&productId=27279&state_2838=2

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WHERE THE DARK AND THE LIGHT FOLKS MEET

Unfortunately, the history that seems to stick in the mind is oversimplified beyond belief.  Although jazz is a reasonably young phenomenon, it has attracted too many watery half-truths.  When enthusiasts began to write about the music and its performers in the Thirties, they were so in love with what they heard that they created and embellished myths appropriate to its magical, transporting nature.  Perhaps we have come some distance from Buddy Bolden’s cornet being heard miles away and Bix Beiderbecke carrying his horn in a paper sack, but the myths have been maintained tenderly for decades.  Closely examined, these cherished bits of apocrypha turn out to be dangerous rather than dreamlike. 

In his new book, musician, harmonic theorist, and writer Randall Sandke (we know him as Randy) has done a magnificent job of spring cleaning jazz’s mythic house, writing truths others wouldn’t.  It might be the only book of its kind; it needed to be written.  More to the point, it needs to be read.

Sandke’s WHERE THE DARK AND THE LIGHT FOLKS MEET: RACE AND THE MYTHOLOGY, POLITICS, AND BUSINESS OF JAZZ (Scarecrow Press: 2010, 275 pages) takes its title from the verse to “Basin Street Blues,” but it is neither an exercise in jazz nostalgicizing (“Oh, the glories of the past . . . all gone now . . . how those boys could play . . . who remembers them?”) nor is it a spattering of irascibility (“Those damned hip-hop musicians . . . those promoters . . . Oprah . . . those record labels . . . the end of beauty as we know it.” 

Sandke is angry, but his is a righteous indignation.  The book isn’t his story of how badly he’s been treated, but a wide-ranging evidence-based study of the distortions that pass for received wisdom.  His goal is to point out the fallacies, inconsistencies, and contradictions that have become jazz history (and by extension, the curricular truths on which jazz education has been built).  He can be sharp-tongued, especially about biased statements made by people who don’t play instruments — but the book is not a vindictive jamboree.

What Sandke is particularly unhappy about are attempts to portray jazz as a racially divided music, where African-Americans took their inspiration directly from Africa (where else?) and brought it to America only to have it stolen by greedy, ignorant Caucasians who copied their innovations, ran record labels and jazz clubs. 

Jazz, to Sandke, isn’t Black music popularized by White men: it is a musical continuum where Ornette Coleman can speak sadly about young “Scotty” LaFaro, his favorite bassist, where Louis Armstrong and Doc Cheatham can speak reverently of Bix Beiderbecke.  The musicians know that the notes are not connected to skin pigment. 

The critics, Black and White, have not gotten that point. 

And the writers who have, intentionally or through ignorance, nurtured alsehoods are famous — Rudi Blesh, John Hammond, Hugues Panassie, Albert Murray, Stanley Crouch, Marshall Stearns, Amiri Baraka, Martin Williams, Gary Giddins. 

If this ideological slant had only been condescension to Benny Goodman and Bix because as, Rob Gibson (the director of Jazz at Lincoln Center) told someone, Benny and Bix didn’t write any jazz compositions of significance, it would be foolish and sad.  If this racial perspective had only ignored the creative White improvisers, Sandke’s work could have been seen as a continuation of Richard Sudhalter’s LOST CHORDS — but Sandke has larger aims in mind than simply saying, “You know, when Louis and Bunk were playing jazz in New Orleans, the Prima brothers, the Brunies brothers, Tony Parenti, Johnny Wiggs, and fifty more people whose names aren’t caled, were also playing.”

What Sandke wants is fairness, not music being distorted to serve anyone’s ideology.  He wants readers to know the reality of the music business — something he’s learned from experience on the bandstand and off — and to examine how race applies to jazz, which it certainly does.  He wants us to know what musicians were paid in different contexts from New Orleans gigs to current festivals.  He would like us to think deeply about the problems of “authorship” — when a composition was re-copyrighted under a different title, when such august figures as Clarence Williams made money off more credulous younger players, one being Louis Armstrong. 

And he poses philosophical questions without being didactic, merely by positioning first-hand narratives side-by-side, so that we are asked to think about Duke Ellington’s taking the ideas his musicians brought to him and making hit songs out of them, adding his name . . . and the same process done to those compositions by Ellington’s White manager Irving Mills. 

Many readers will be drawn to Sandke’s careful yet impassioned examination of what he calls “the Wynton Marsalis phenomenon,” giving Marsalis credit as a player and influential figure but taking issue with the social and poitical implications of his elevation to a primary role as jazz’s sole figurehead.  But Sandke is not out to win notoriety by attacking Marsalis, as will become obvious even to the most Marsalistic of readers.

Sandke also works hard to remove the mythic accretions of decades in favor of first-hand narratives: the racial balance in the recording studios; the complex and sometimes painful relations between musicians and record companies, managers, and promoters, and the role of White listeners as essential to the survival and continuation of jazz.  For jazz, he sees a hopeful future — that is, I think, if much could be left in the hands of the musicians rather than the ideologues.

This book will be greeted with some dispeasure.  Sandke is Caucasian; he will be seen by some who do not read his book closely as writing as a jealous, disgruntled outsider.  He does portray some musicians and writers, living and dead, as unfair, hardly objective.  But five pages of his book will easily dispel any sense that he is acting out of acrimony.  Those tempted to call him racist will have to ignore the evenhandedness on every page. 

And — to back away from disputation for a moment — Sandke is a fine literate plain-spoken writer.  The book is heroically researched without being dull or stodgy.  And it comes to seem a series of brief interconnected essays on the larger theme, essays that can successfully stand on their own.  I dream of an upper-level jazz course for musicians as well as educators that would take each essay as a seminar text: perhaps some perceptive university will offer Professor Sandke a steady Tuesday-afternoon gig. 

Ultimately, it all comes back to the book’s title.  Jam sessions and jazz clubs have long been places where dark and light folks met in joyous exploration, creative harmony.  Eddie Condon was arranging “mixed” record sessions long before this country could accustom itself to the possibility of Barack Obama.  Jazz, rather than having been the reactionary, nearly moribund phenomenon some of its critics see it as, could still be the vision of a loving collective world.  Now, that’s hopeful!

EXTRA! THE CANGELOSI CARDS CD

newsboy2Thanks to Eve Polich, I learned that the Cangelosi Cards debut CD was not only finished but on sale.  I’d been thinking about this disc since Tamar Korn had said that the Cards were making their first-ever formal recording.   

But at the same time, bringing this extraordinary group into a recording studio made me anxious.  The Cards create an ecstatic spectacle whenever they perform.  Even if there isn’t a whole line of dancers in front of the band, the music makes everyone bond joyously, and the band climbs higher and higher. 

I’ve been at recording sessions, observing the most experienced professionals, and I know the effect that even the most congenial studio can have on creative improvisers.  Everyone plays splendidly, but there is the chilling effect of being watched too closely, of having your every breath recorded — literally — for posterity.  It’s a rare band that’s totally relaxed in the studio, and most musicians seem exhausted at the end of the session, relieved that it’s over, vaguely dissatisfied with the results.  I wondered if the artificial environment of the recording studio would cause the Cards to lose some of their exquisite energies?   

I need not have worried.  Yes, there’s no crowd audible on the CD, and the absence of enthusiastic noise took a few minutes to get used to.  But the music comes through more clearly than it ever does in live performance.  I hear nuances of timbre in solo and ensemble that I would only have sensed in a club.  And the Cards seem not at all intimidated by the microphones, the weight of being captured for immortality.  From the first notes of MY BLUE HEAVEN, the Cards rock — without strain or tension, but with a graceful intensity.  The rhythm section is splendidly easy; the front-line players show off their distinctive voices and timbres.  Subtle, convincing little arrangements, too.  As we’ve seen, the Cards are full of surprises: no performance is predictable, although there is none of that irritating seeking-after-novelty that distinguishes lesser groups.  You’ll hear a persuasive, irresistible swing that gives way to tender ballad playing, in their characteristically varied repertoire — hinting at Billie Holiday and Jimmie Rodgers, to mention only two names. 

Tamar’s voice is, as always, a delight — and in this form, I can hear textures that a club audience might have over-ridden.  She sings sweetly, growls the blues, becomes her own trumpet / hi-hat cymbal, and yodels — her focused but expansive vocal instrument responding to every nuance of the music.  And I truly admire the witty trombone playing of Musselman, Lichtman’s fluent clarinet and eloquent mandolin work, Milius’s forceful harmonica solos, Meyer’s perfectly poised violin playing, Sanders’ solid rhythm playing and eloquent lines, Holden’s deep-down bass support, and Webster’s nimble, searching piano.  The Cards would have been welcome on Fifty-Second Street in its glory days: hear the rocking momentum they create on IDA, as well as the Victorian delicacy of TREASURES UNTOLD.       

And, although it seems paradoxical, the disc isn’t too long.  Many CDs are filled to the brim with twenty similar performances, making listening to them somewhat exhausting.  The eight selections here are a wonderfully satisfying banquet.     

The details?  The CD is available for $10 from La Compania de Musicos Viajeros (www.losmusicosviajeros.net) 718-744-7391; email is correspondence@losmusicosviajeros.net.  Obviously, the ideal way to buy it is to pick up several copies at a Cards appearance.  Why “several copies”?  They make ideal gifts;  they will be collectors’ items; they help fund this irreplaceable band.  But you already have figured that out.  I heard rumblings that it would be possible to download the music from the site, but you’d have to check there.

The disc is called THE CANGELOSI CARDS: CLINTON STREET RECORDINGS.  My Blue Heaven / It’s Like Reaching For The Moon / Blue Yodel No. 2 / Ida, Sweet As Apple Cider / September Song / Puttin’ On The Ritz / Treasures Untold / The Anniversary Song.  It features the full octet: Jake Sanders, guitar; Tamar Korn, vocals; Cassidy Holden, bass; Matt Musselman, trombone; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet and mandolin; Marcus Millius, harmonica; Karl Meyer, violin; Gordon Webster, piano.

It delights me — and I can’t wait until the next one!

BARBARA LEA AND JOHNNY WINDHURST, THEN AND NOW

One of the great pleasures of this not-for-profit enterprise is the connections that it creates and makes possible.  Sam Parkins writes about hearing Louis in 1945, then Ricky Riccardi does some detective work to track down the song Sam might have heard Louis play.

When I posted about Johnny Windhurst on January 8, it provoked some felicitous comments from musicians.  Today, I heard — indirectly — from Barbara Lea.  I say “indirectly,” because Barbara’s been ill of late, so her dear friend Jeanie Wilson wrote to me . . . which was a pleasure in itself — and sent these two photographs.  Barbara spoke of Johnny in the most glowing terms, much as she spoke of the late Dick Sudhalter, who joined her on a number of more recent sessions.

For those of you who don’t know all about Barbara Lea, I would direct you to her website (www.barbaralea.com) and then to Amazon to purchase the three CDs that contain the music she recorded with Johnny Windhurst, Dick Cary, Garvin Bushell, Ernie Caceres, Dick Hyman (as “Richard Lowman”) and others: BARBARA LEA, A WOMAN IN LOVE, and LEA IN LOVE.  (Details of these sessions can be found in the discography, nicely done, on Barbara’s website.)  The intuitive teamwork between Barbara and Johnny — intense yet delicate — summons up the celestial music that Lee Wiley and Bobby Hackett made on a precious few records.

The first photograph, as atmospheric as you could want, was taken during a 1956 Riverside recording session at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio — which was actually his living room, if you didn’t know.

When was the last time you saw a trumpeter or cornetist sweetly change the timbre of his sound with a felt hat?  (I saw Vic Dickenson put a beret over the bell of his horn, and the resulting sound was lovely, clear but far-away, as if heard in the forest.)

lea-windhurst-1

Here’s another snapshot of Johnny, from Barbara’s scrapbook:

lea-windhurst-2

And a beautiful portrait of Barbara herself in full flower:

lea-portrait

And just so you know that virtue is, in fact, sometimes rewarded:  Barbara is an alumna of Wellesley College, and they are honoring her with their Alumnae Achievement Award.

Who deserves it more?