Tag Archives: string bass

THE VERY ELOQUENT MR. LEWIS (KERRY LEWIS, MARTY GROSZ, DAN BLOCK, ANDY SCHUMM: September 20, 2012)

kerry-lewis-3-web

Call it the string bass, the bass viol, the double bass, the doghouse: it’s essential to jazz ensembles.  Milt Hinton reminded us that “bass” meant “base,” or “foundation,” and which of us would say the Judge was incorrect?  Experienced listeners know that no matter how glossy the front line is, how expert the drummer, if the bassist doesn’t feel right, the band might as well go home.  And sometimes should.  But the man or woman behind the beautifully polished near-human figure doesn’t always get the attention so richly deserved, and, yes, people talk through bass solos.  What a pity.

New York is full of splendid string bassists, but the fellow I’d like to salute here makes his living, often, in New Orleans.  I’ve seen him in Chautauqua, New York, and San Diego, and hope for more such intersections.

His name is Kerry Lewis — and the first paragraph of his website biography, which you can read by clicking on the link,  is worth the trip.

I could describe Kerry’s strong yet subtle, deeply intuitive playing, but it is more fun for you to discover his mastery for yourselves.  To this end, here is a video from Jazz at Chautauqua, when it was situated there — this performance took place at one of the fabled Thursday-night sessions, September 20, 2012.

The quartet here is full of engagingly distracting musicians.  It would be easy to concentrate wholly on Marty Grosz, guitar, vocal, vaudeville; Dan Block, clarinet; Andy Schumm, cornet.  But I would ask the attentive people in the JAZZ LIVES audience (and they are there, bless them!) to study Mr. Lewis — in ensemble, in solo . . . playful, absolutely right without being rigid, holding the whole ensemble on his shoulders.  Although he might deny it, I think of him as the Swing Atlas, hoisting everyone up a little higher, although not demanding attention in any narcissistic way.

So now you know.  And when the talk turns to admired musicians, “Talent Deserving Wider Recognition,” you can say with the half-smile of the wisely initiated, “Yes, ________ is fine.  But have you heard Kerry Lewis play the string bass?”  Amaze your friends; delight your neighbors; be a hero(ine) to the children and not only yours.  And it pleases me to say that Kerry will be playing at the 2016 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, which begins on September 15.  Soon!

May your happiness increase!

Advertisements

MICHAEL KANAN and NEAL MINER at MEZZROW (Part One): SEPTEMBER 16, 2014

Wonderful music is being made at the new jazz club at 163 West Tenth Street in New York City, Mezzrow,  and I was there to witness some of the beauty on September 16, 2014.  The creators were pianist Michael Kanan and bassist / composer Neal Miner, and the result was glorious sounds in an inviting place. Here is the first half of their sweetly inspiring recital. The videos are dark but the music gleams.

IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

GONE WITH THE WIND:

LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

AUTUMN IN NEW YORK:

I will share the second half with JAZZ LIVES soon, but I’d like this one to sink in. Michael and Neal know that there is deep emotional life in “these old songs,” which have not grown old and will not as long as they are handled with intelligent tenderness.  As they are here.

May your happiness increase!

“THE GENTLE ART OF LOVE”: OSCAR PETTIFORD / ATTILA ZOLLER (June 15, 1959)

This would be pleasing and revelatory enough — a duet for string bass virtuoso / composer Oscar Pettiford and guitarist Attila Zoller on Oscar’s gently inquisitive THE GENTLE ART OF LOVE — but it’s not simply an audio track.

No, it’s a beautifully filmed concerto for strings — filmed (!) in Austria at “Fatty’s Saloon” in Vienna — in mid-1959, a little more than a year before Pettiford’s death.  Listen, admire, immerse, and re-listen.  Thanks to bass master Neal Miner for calling our attention to this marvel:

For me, it stands with any piece of film footage of one of the great improvisers.

May your happiness increase!

“COME ON, MISTER TATE, AND JAZZ ME!” (FRANK TATE, MARTY GROSZ, SCOTT ROBINSON, DUKE HEITGER: September 20, 2013)

I know that even the most attentive jazz audiences sometimes begin to chat during a string bass solo.  But you will notice in this video performance the delighted quiet in the room when our man Frank Tate leads this little quartet (nominally under the leadership of Marty Grosz) into JAZZ ME BLUES.

To be specific, that’s Frank, string bass; Marty, guitar; Scott Robinson, reeds; Duke Heitger, trumpet.  And this was recorded on September 20, 2013, at Jazz at Chautauqua (now the Allegheny Jazz Party):

I’d love to hear our Mr. Tate show just how well he can Jazz us on a wide variety of songs: his bass playing is so rich and melodic: so very rewarding!  (Who’ll underwrite a CD for the FRANK TATE BIG FOUR?  Do I hear any voices out there?)

May your happiness increase!

OSCAR PETTIFORD, FOUND

OP front

Bassist, cellist, and composer Oscar Pettiford is in the odd position of being both legendary and forgotten (as Whitney Balliett wrote of Pee Wee Russell). If you ask any aficionado of jazz string bass playing to name a dozen favorites — living and dead — it’s likely that the names will come easily.  But Pettiford’s is often not among them.

Yes, he died young, but not before performing and recording every famous musician (with some notable exceptions) in a short career.  An incomplete list would include Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Tatum, Django Reinhardt, Les Paul, Charlie Christian, Gil Evans, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Woody Herman, Coleman Hawkins, Ray Charles, Stan Getz, Lucky Thompson, Charles Mingus, Zoot Sims, John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, Julius Watkins, Ben Webster, Sammy Price, Ruby Braff, Mel Powell, Ellis Larkins, Max Roach, Shelly Manne, Billie Holiday, Red Norvo, Clifford Brown, Buddy De Franco, Phineas Newborn, Kai Winding, Roy Eldridge, Ray Brown, Lionel Hampton, Don  Byas, Clyde Hart, Earl Hines, Budd Johnson, Joe Thomas, Pee Wee Russell, Jimmy Giuffre, Martial Solal, Attlia Zoller, Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Billy Eckstine, Cozy Cole, Shadow Wilson, Charlie Shavers, Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, Cootie Williams, Ed Hall, Lawrence Brown, Sonny Greer, Maxine Sullivan, Dick Hyman, Eddie Bert, Joe Derise, Ike Quebec, Jonah Jones, Buck Clayton, Helen Humes, Benny Harris, Boyd Raeburn, Serge Chaloff, Howard McGhee, Sir Charles Thompson, Wynonie Harris, Vic Dickenson, Red Rodney, Tal Farlow, Denzil Best, Jo Jones, Leo Parker, Al Haig, Al Hibbler, Nat Pierce, Bill Harris, Howard McGhee, J.J. Johnson, Art Taylor, Wynton Kelly, Lockjaw Davis, Jackie McLean, Kenny Clarke, Dave McKenna, Milt Jackson, John Lewis, Chris Connor, Hank Jones, Earl Coleman, Thad Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Donald Byrd, Billy Taylor, Chuck Wayne, Roy Haynes, Art Farmer, Gigi Gryce, Al Cohn, Frank Wess, Jimmy Cleveland, Barry Galbraith, Joe Morello, Joe Wilder, Harry Lookofsky, Jimmy Jones, Urbie Green, Ernie Royal, Herbie Mann, George Barnes, Clark Terry, Dave Schildkraut, Helen Merrill, Jimmy Raney, Horace Silver, Doug Mettome, Quincy Jones, Duke Jordan, Hank Mobley, Kenny Dorham, Cecil Payne, Toots Thielmans, Red Garland.

This suggests that Oscar’s peers respected him and called him for gigs and recordings.  It’s not as if he was obscure: his career was longer than, say, Blanton’s or Steve Brown’s.  But, oddly for jazz, which loves to mythologize the musicians who die young and abruptly (and Pettiford died as the result of a 1960 automobile accident) he hasn’t received the benefit of the weird reverence fans and writers have for the young dead.

Of course, it could be that bass players don’t get the respect they and their instruments deserve, but it is and was hard to ignore Pettiford on a session. He offered a rhythmic foundation that was powerful rather than obtrusive, but when he soloed, his lines have the solid eloquence that any horn player would aspire to — while seeming light rather than ponderous.  And as the list of players above suggests, his musical range was exceedingly broad: he wasn’t captured on record in free jazz or ragtime, but he elevated every other variety of jazz and jazz vocal performance he was part of.  Had he lived longer, he might have enjoyed the visibility of a Milt Hinton or a Ray Brown, but we have only brief moments of him on film (the 1945 THE CRIMSON CANARY) and a few seconds of his speaking voice.

Surely he should be better known.

Enough words and keystrokes for the moment: listen to his 1960 feature on WILLOW WEEP FOR ME:

and here he is, playing his own BLUES IN THE CLOSET — from a little-known 1953 television broadcast — on cello (which he took to for a time after breaking an arm in a baseball game):

And his stirring solo on STARDUST:

Now, two pieces of good news that might go some distance in making Oscar’s name and music known to a larger audience.  One is that there is a YouTube channel, PettifordJazz, with sixty videos of Pettiford solos, ensembles, and compositions.  That means that no one has to start collecting Oscar’s music — it is being made available to all for free.

Oscar (or “O.P.”, as his colleagues called him) also spent the last two years of his life in Europe (mostly in Scandinavia and Germany), and recorded often there.  Sessions with guitarist Attila Zoller have been issued and reissued on a variety of labels (in the vinyl era, they appeared on Black Lion) and a famous 1960 concert in Essen with Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke, and Coleman Hawkins was available forty years ago.  Recordings made in 1958-59 for the German radio network have now been issued for the first time on compact disc, in beautiful sound, as OSCAR PETTIFORD: LOST TAPES — GERMANY 1958 / 1959, on SWR Music.

American expatriates Lucky Thompson (on soprano sax for a gorgeous, melancholy SOPHISTICATED LADY) and Kenny Clarke (drums on the final five performances of the disc) are the “stars,” but Zoller stands out as a beautifully measured guitarist.

OP cover rear

And although some US critics of the time might have been condescending to European players, this disc shows their equal mastery. Trumpeter Dusko Goykovich duets with Oscar on the opening BUT NOT FOR ME.  Other notable players here are clarinetist Rolf Kuhn; light-toned tenorist Hans Koller; baritone saxophonists Helmut Brandt, Helmut Reinhardt, Johnny Feigl; altoist Rudi Feigl; guitarist Hans Hammerschmid; drummers Jimmy Pratt and Hartwig Bartz.  The songs are a mix of standards and originals: BUT NOT FOR ME / SOPHISTICATED LADY / A SMOOTH ONE / O.P. (Hans Koller) / MINOR PLUS A MAJOR (Kuhn) / POOR BUTTERFLY / ANUSIA (Hans Koller) / MY LITTLE CELLO (Pettiford) / THE NEARNESS OF YOU / YESTERDAYS / ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE / BLUES IN THE CLOSET (Pettiford) / BIG HASSLE (Hammerschmidt) / ATLANTIC (Helmut Brandt) / ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE / BLUES IN THE CLOSET — the last two are live performances.

And just because it’s accessible and stirring, here is that film clip — from an otherwise undistinguished 1945 murder mystery, THE CRIMSON CANARY, which features Hawk, Pettiford, Howard McGhee, trumpet; Sir Charles Thompson, piano; Denzil Best, on a fast SWEET GEORGIA BROWN line by Hawkins called HOLLYWOOD STAMPEDE:

Ultimately, I think if you’d asked Coleman Hawkins, Duke Ellington, or any number of jazz luminaries, “What about this O.P. fellow?  Should I listen to him?” the answer would have been a very strong affirmative.  So let us do just that. These tapes were lost, but have been found: spread the word about Oscar.  Remind those who have forgotten; introduce those who never knew.  “Learn it to the younguns!” as the youthful protagonist of Ellison’s INVISIBLE MAN hears at the start of that novel.

May your happiness increase!

THE BRAVE JOURNEYS OF JENNIFER LEITHAM: “I STAND CORRECTED”

Jennifer Jane Leitham by Garth Woods

Jennifer Jane Leitham by Garth Woods

I first encountered the virtuoso jazz string bassist Jennifer Jane Leitham at the Sacramento Music Festival a few years ago — and was impressed by her eloquent improvisations.  Not only did she have technique, but she was a powerfully focused musician. Although I had never encountered the jazz string bassist John Leitham in person, I had heard him on recordings with Mel Torme, George Shearing, and other jazz notables. I STAND CORRECTED is a marvelous film documentary that traces the transition from John to Jennifer.  It is a deeply felt collaboration between Jennifer and filmmaker Andrea Meyerson. You don’t have to be a jazz fan to admire the film or its subject. It chronicles  the life-long journeys of Jennifer Leitham, who courageously exists in two simultaneous realms.  One story — more familiar — is how a young person born in Pennsylvania (not New Orleans, New York, or Kansas City) becomes a jazz musician in a time and place not all that hospitable to jazz.  Or perhaps not to larger kinds of improvisation. But I STAND CORRECTED is about much more than “becoming a musician”: early inspirations, good teachers, learning one’s craft, breaking in, getting a nationwide reputation, working alongside famous players and singers — with heartbreaks that keep the story genuine, not an unbroken climb to the top. I STAND CORRECTED is about a young woman born into a boy’s body who, early on, knew she was in the wrong place, in a society that would not admit such things might be possible.  It is a record of how John became Jennifer while not letting her essence be destroyed in the process.  For  John Leitham was a wondrous musician before Jennifer emerged in the public eye, and one of the sweetest aspects of this saga is Jennifer’s awareness and acceptance of both selves: this isn’t a film about an enraged, wounded adult trying to obliterate her younger self, but an adult who wants to emerge as the person she knows herself to be. I STAND CORRECTED offers that human story and more in a most moving film. For one thing, Jennifer is an exceedingly likable guide, honest but not pompous nor didactic or narcissistic.  I STAND CORRECTED is not a sermon telling us that we should all be tolerant.  There are no scientific or academic talking heads, no instant revelations. The film is a casual but strongly felt journal of one woman’s struggle to be the person she was meant to be.  Jennifer is both candid and light-hearted without ever undercutting the seriousness of her quest.  The film touches on emotional crises (a divorce, family members unable to accept Jennifer when they knew only John) and medical catastrophes, without becoming bleak. Of course, it helps that an audience has seen Jennifer onstage, ebullient and serious at the same time, playing at the highest level of her art, testing herself while having the time of her life.  And the film is generously leavened with musical performances where Jennifer shows off her prodigious talents as improviser, composer, singer. But the real story is more than a music video. Along the way, John-in-the-process-of-becoming-Jennifer is forced to be a spy in enemy country.  But she finds allies, friends, and supporters.  Some of them are genuinely unaffected noble people: Doc Severinsen is someone you would always want in your corner — gentle yet unwavering, both parent and friend to someone who strongly needs both.  “I hired a bass player, not a man or a woman,” he tells her.  Bless him.  Ed Shaughnessy is not far behind.  (Jennifer’s younger brother is a prize, too.) I was reminded that Doc and Ed were born n an era of drinking fountains labeled COLORED and WHITE outside train stations in many states.  But they and other jazz musicians learned quickly that it didn’t matter what you looked like on the outside.  It didn’t matter who your life-partner was.  Black, white, gay, straight?  Could you play?  What was your heart like?  How well did you love? Meeting these gracious, generous people is one of the film’s pleasures.  But they are only reflecting back something shining out of the film’s heroine.  Jennifer Leitham is gently making her way, as we all must.  Her courage is admirable, for she made the transition at the height of her career, when “coming out as a woman” could have ended her life as a performing musician. I STAND CORRECTED introduces us to a person for whom making music was a way to save herself, to define herself . . . and her music is a great loving gift to all of us.  The salvation young John found while playing the electric bass left-handed (a conscious choice, perhaps an early sly way of saying “I am different”) radiates through this film — a gift Jennifer gives to us.  And as she trusts herself, we trust her. We are all trying to become the person we feel we are meant to be, and some get close to that goal.  Jennifer Leitham’s quest didn’t end when she came out of the hospital after surgery.  It continues every time she performs or tells her story — a story that will give some other young person courage to be him or herself. I STAND CORRECTED is beautifully yet unobtrusively presented: the film shifts back and forth from the early life of John Leitham to the music of Jennifer Leitham to her voyage of self-discovery, the situations she must face and the oppositions that result — as well as the emotional rewards. At the end of I STAND CORRECTED, we feel privileged to have met a happy, realized, creative human being: a woman with four birthdays. And as we are slowly — too slowly — leaving behind the world where skin color or sexual preference determines identity and worth, I STAND CORRECTED will be understood as a small milestone on the way to a world where the idea of MAN or WOMAN is put aside as irrelevant in favor of PERSON, of BEING. It is a rewarding film both musically and spiritually.  Make every effort to see it.  Its heroine’s courage and perseverance are inspiring.  In a world where many people make judgments based on someone’s external presence, we need to be reminded that the truths lie within. Here is the film’s website — where you can see trailers and find out where it is being shown. May your happiness increase.

TATE, MODERN: FRANK TATE and ROSSANO SPORTIELLO at JAZZ at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 22, 2012)

Bassist Frank Tate is a modest sort — at one point in this set, he says that when he and pianist Rossano Sportiello do a concert together, it’s Rossano’s band . . . but we shouldn’t underestimate Mr. Tate, whose lyrical melodies sustain any group — in addition to his beautiful tone, fine choice of notes, harmonic sensitivity, and deep rhythm.

Here are Frank and Rossano onstage at Jazz at Chautauqua — bringing serene swing to that glorious weekend:

THANKS FOR THE MEMORY:

RHYTHM CHANGES:

YOUNG AND FOOLISH:

JUST AS THOUGH YOU WERE THERE:

IDAHO:

What a band!

May your happiness increase.