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.
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.
Thisis 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.
Incidentally, “jgautographs” has an astounding website — not just jazz and not just their eBay store: spend a few hours at www.jgautographs.com.
When I’d asked Félix about the group’s name, he told me, “RAISE FOUR is a Thelonious Monk composition, and it has to do with the augmented fourth of a chord (a typical sound of bebop music, also known as its enharmonic equivalent, the flatted fifth). As our repertoire focuses on original music and the compositions of bebop and hard bop composers from the 40s and 50s, it seemed like an appropriate title.”
Dan Y von Weisselberg, photograph by John Herr.
To my ears, many groups exploring harmonically sophisticated music affect a self-conscious angularity, tacitly declaring, “Hey, we’re modern!” — which sometimes feels like trying to hug someone with sharp elbows. RAISE FOUR is not an aural candy bar, but its innovations welcome us in, inviting us to follow melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic twists and turns. Underneath it all is a sustaining lyricism: hear the long lines Felix and Dan create, for one thing. Whatever jazz-category-name you might append to their improvisations is not important: the result is far from the formulaic “hard bop.” RAISE FOUR balances elegant cool modernism and warm emotion.
Here are some highlights from that evening:
Harold Arlen’s THIS TIME THE DREAM’S ON ME:
Félix’s DAHLKA (its subject portrayed in characteristic splendor below):
and now that you are no longer dazzled by ears and tail, here’s the music. What happened at 6:40 I no longer remember, but it was clearly my fault:
Thad Jones’ LADY LUCK:
Elmo Hope’s MOE’S BLUFF:
Félix’s PACHA CHERI, named (with a twist) for someone much admired:
Duke Pearson’s MINOR LEAGUE, with Will Anderson, alto saxophone, and Tamir Hochman, tenor saxophone, added:
RAISE FOUR is a pleasure: follow them here. I will — and not just on Facebook.
This interview of the splendid and splendidly durable reed master Jerry Dodgion (born in 1932) created by Ed Joffe, is quite wonderful — not only in his stories of Gerald Wilson, Charlie Mariano, Shorty Rogers, Red Norvo, Frank Sinatra, Erroll Garner, Bill Evans, Jerome Richardson, Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Joe Newman, Frank Wess, Cannonball Adderley, Coleman Hawkins, Godwin Louis, the importance of the acoustic string bass, playing in a section, and more — but the insight Jerry offers us into the music.
What comes through here is a gentle portrait of a man thoroughly imbued with gratitude, humility, kindness. That Jerry Dodgion is a saxophone master is beyond dispute: that he exudes the calm sweet intelligence of a fully-realized human being is also evident throughout. “Life is a learning experience.” “Get your pen out!”
Even if Jerry Dodgion is not familiar to you, you’ve heard his beautiful sound on many recordings, and the interview is wonderfully rewarding. Don’t miss the final minutes of this video — his unaccompanied chorus of THAT’S ALL, which is memorable and more.
Hereis the source — Joffe Woodwinds — to which we owe a debt of gratitude.
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.
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.
Between 2005 and 2008, the Dutch photographer and jazz scholar Jaap van de Klomp began a series of soulful pilgrimages in honor of the men and women who had created the music he so loves.
The result is the lovely and often sad book of photographs, JAZZ LIVES, which takes its subtitle, TILL WE SHALL MEET AND NEVER PART, from the words chiseled into Lester Young’s gravestone.
Every jazz lover knows the familiar photographs of our heroes and heroines: Billie Holiday with her dog; Louis Armstrong snappily dressed in London; Charlie Parker on the bandstand. But where are our idols now?
The two hundred and more pages of JAZZ LIVES document where their mortal remains lie: with elaborate gravestones, unmarked plots of overgrown land, monuments proud and forlorn. Jaap took his camera across the United States and Europe to capture these landscapes, resulting in a heartfelt pilgrimage to shrines of the dead. Each photograph is accompanied by a concise biography by Scott Yanow, and the book is organized by instruments once played.
The gravestones sometimes speak of posthumous reputation and fame: huge blocks of costly stone or unmarked areas of grass. A monument for Ellington and empty space for Bud Powell. An essay by Dan Morgenstern opens the book; one by the jazz musician and writer Bill Crow closes it. A simply written but evocative essay by the photographer himself explains something about his travels.
But the graves say so much — by presence and absence, reality and implication — about Scott Joplin, King Oliver, Serge Chaloff, Vic Dickenson, Andrew Hill, Sarah Vaughan, Illinois Jacquet, Django Reinhardt, Jack Teagarden, Britt Woodman, Al Grey, Johnny Dodds, Sidney Bechet, John Carter, Russell Procope, Pee Wee Russell, Jimmy Dorsey, Eric Dolphy, Willie the Lion Smith, Gigi Gryce, Roland Kirk, Coleman Hawkins, Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane, Wardell Gray, Stuff Smith, Red Norvo, Milt Jackson, Lionel Hampton, Hank Mobley, Jelly Roll Morton, Art Tatum, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Teddy Wilson, Herbie Nichols, Eddie Lang, Charlie Christian, Grant Green, Charles Mingus, Scott LaFaro, Milt Hinton, Jimmie Blanton, George Duvivier, Jo Jones, Zutty Singleton, Denzil Best, Billy Higgins, Sidney Catlett, Gene Krupa, Chick Webb, Ivie Anderson, Bessie Smith, Jimmy Rushing, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Johnny Hartman, Mary Lou Williams, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Billy Strayhorn, Sun Ra, Bennie Moten, W. C. Handy, Tadd Dameron, Benny Carter, Thad Jones, Oliver Nelson, and others.
To give some sense of the breadth of his searching, the gravestones of trumpet players included in this book are: Buddy Bolden, Bunk Johnson, Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Bix Beiderbecke, Hot Lips Page, Henry Red Allen, Cootie Williams, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Kenny Dorham, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Clifford Brown, Booker Little, Lee Morgan, Lester Bowie.
Jaap, born in 1940, has been involved with the music and the musicians for more than half a century, including Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Donald Byrd, Kenny Drew, and Kenny Clarke among others.
But he is not only a person of great feeling and a fine photographer. Jaap is one of those rare souls who wants to share what he has done. He wrote this to me, “The book which is sold out in the Netherlands by now will not be reprinted and has been proven to be physically too heavy for worldwide distribution. In this form I still hope to reach more jazz enthusiasts with a book which was a great pleasure to make.and which is still a very dear project to me.”
He has offered to make his book available as a digital download — for free — to anyone who emails him at email@example.com with JazzLives in the subject line. The whole book is about 150 MB and it might take a few minutes to download.
This is generosity without hidden motive, and it is a beautiful work of art and devotion.
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.
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.
I’d like to think I am responsible for this CD (just out on Delmark 5008 and through the usual download sources) . True, I didn’t play any instruments, nor did I hire the studio or produce the disc itself. But when JAZZ LIVES speaks, someone listens. (I promise to use my superpowers only for good.)
In January 2012, I wrote this post about a video of Andy, Howard, Joe, and Bob in a beautiful extended performance, and ended with a wish that some CD producer might record this group. Delmark Records heard my plea, or perhaps they already knew it was a good idea. Et voila! Then Andy asked if I would be interested in writing the liner notes, which pleased me no end. Here’s the verbal result: the music is within your grasp.
Howard Alden and Andy Brown are remarkable improvising artists – who became two of the finest jazz guitarists today. But their particular artistic intelligence – an impassioned classicism – would have made them stand out no matter how they expressed themselves, in skateboarding or water colors. In their hands, the emotions contained in the notes – joy, sorrow, musing, ebullience – come to us enriched and intensified. But they understand that music is more than simply a riotous series of notes flung at the listener. Each phrase, each chorus has its own lovely compositional shape, a breathing existence, and each performance is a satisfying three-dimensional dance.
Although Howard and Andy are separated by nearly two decades, this session isn’t a showy contest between Alpha Dog and Ambitious Puppy. Rather, it is a friendly conversation scored for four – a living swing community at play.
Howard says, “Andy has a rock-solid yet relaxed sense of time and harmony, which makes it a joy to play with him. When he was living in New York a few years ago, I would always recommend him wholeheartedly, as he’s such a supportive, sympathetic accompanist. All that musicality and intelligence comes out equally in his solo playing, which makes it a delight to have him as a front line partner. He loves and respects the jazz guitar tradition, and likes to discover/re-investigate interesting things from that tradition while always keeping it fresh and in the moment. It’s been a great journey playing with him regularly for the last few years, and I look forward to much more for a long time to come!”
Andy seconds this, “I’ve dug Howard’s playing since I first heard him live at the Blue Wisp in Cincinnati. Local guitar legend Cal Collins was at the bar listening, at one point leaning over to me and grinning slyly, as if to say “Howard’s somethin’ else, ain’t he?” His intricate harmonies and his uncanny creativity make him very inspiring to play with and listen to. He shows us what is possible on the instrument. For at least fifteen years, he has been a mentor, very encouraging — generous with his time and knowledge.”
This session grew out of mutual admiration and respect. Andy says, “When I moved to Chicago I really missed playing with and hearing Howard. I made an effort to bring him to town, so everyone could hear him, and so I could play with him! Dave Jemillo, the owner of the Green Mill, set up a weekend for us in 2010, and the group on this recording was formed. I knew Joe Policastro and Bob Rummage would be ideal. I’ve played with both of them so much, and Howard felt the same way. We’ve been lucky to bring the group back to the Mill several times, and on Howard’s last trip to Chicago we booked a short tour as well as a day in the studio, the results of which can be heard here.
We picked some standards (Louisiana, If Dreams Come True, I Had The Craziest Dream), as well as some Brazilian tunes we both enjoy (Vocé E Eu, Brigas Nunca Mais). It’s always fun for two guitarists to play unison and counterpoint lines together, and we worked up Thad Jones’ Three And One, as well as a 1928 Louis Armstrong tune Howard used to play with Ruby Braff, No One Else But You. We also paid tribute to some of our favorite guitarists with Django Reinhardt’s Heavy Artillery, and two tunes recorded by Tal Farlow, the Clark Terry blues Chuckles and a tune Tal co-wrote with Red Norvo with the caffeine-inspired title I Brung You Finjans For Your Zarf. Bob and Joe lay out on I Had The Craziest Dream and If Dreams Come True.
I always wanted to make a record like this. Playing jazz in a relaxed studio setting with three of my favorite musicians, in the middle of a week-long tour…and with Howard Alden no less? Sweet!”
The results are both translucent – swing that is easy to listen to – and complex – ask a professional guitarist to anatomize what Andy and Howard are doing in any four beats, and stand back. But ultimately music like this doesn’t need annotation. Howard takes the first solo on Louisiana and Chuckles. After that, you’re on your own – to analyze and enjoy this joyous beauty through many hearings to come. And don’t forget the selfless, energized yet subtle playing of Bob and Joe – who add so much without insisting on taking over.
My only worry is that the title HEAVY ARTILLERY might warn of an acoustic assault. But this disc is much more like Cupid’s quiver – a series of loving arrows aimed at our hearts.
I mean it, and so do they. Howard, Andy, Joe, and Bob make deep yet light-hearted music. Hear more on this CD.
I’m embarrassed to write that I had never heard of guitarist Tom Dempsey or string bassist Tim Ferguson before opening the latest mailer that held their new CD — a quartet with saxophonist Joel Frahm and percussionist Eliot Zigmund.
I should have taken notice of Tom and Tim by this time — they are active New York performers, with credits including Jim Hall, Mel Torme, Don Friedman, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra . . . and many more. But now I want to make up for my omission.
BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP is a splendidly fine disc, and I might have put it on the pile because I didn’t know two of the four players. What a mistake that would have been! I receive many CDs — and many, well-intentioned endeavors (often self-produced and paid for by the artist) do not sustain themselves. Some are formulaic: “Let’s play just like ______” or consciously anti-formulaic (which becomes its own cage): “Here are my six lengthy free-form original compositions.”
Not this one!
BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP is devoted to lyrical, easeful exploration of melody, harmony, and rhythm. It’s not Easy Listening for elderly recluses, nor is it self-conscious Innovation.
These four players understand something basic about music: the truth that we need Beauty, and Beauty never gets old. Yes, Tal Farlow (for instance) played AUTUMN IN NEW YORK memorably in 1957, but that doesn’t mean that Duke’s melody is now forever used up. One might as well say, “Oh, the sunrise bores me,” or “I’m so tired of this (wo)man I love embracing me.” Do that, and you’re beyond recovery.
BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP is not just about reverential playing of standards — by Randy Weston, Monk, Thad Jones — because the quartet stretches out and has fun on several originals. IT’S TRUE is an engaging group conversation that ebbs and flows over six minutes; CAKEWALK begins as a funky Second Line outing and expands before returning to its roots as delicious dance music. TED’S GROOVE is both groovy and uncliched, hummable swinging jazz. Although I knew Joel from his work with Spike Wilner’s Planet Jazz and many other ensembles; Eliot Zigmund from sessions with Michael Kanan at Sofia’s — they play magnificently, but so do Tim and Tom.
It’s beautifully recorded, with plain-spoken but deep liner notes written by the two fellows.
You can visit Tom’s website and hear excerpts from this CD here or Tim’s here to learn more about their backgrounds, their associations with other players. But most importantly, if you are in New York, you will want to search them out. I think that hearing them in tandem or in other contexts would be delightful — and you could say, “JAZZ LIVES sent me,” and buy copies of BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP directly from the artists. What could be nicer? As for me, I’m keeping this one!
P.S. Why MUSIC FOR ADULTS in my title? There’s no barely-clad beautiful young thing on the cover; this isn’t advertised as Music To Make Out By. To me, “adults” have outgrown barrages of virtuosity (“shredding”) for its own sake, yet they want something more than another bouncy rendition of a classic from Django’s book. BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP will please everyone with grown-up ears . . . people who have removed the earbuds long enough to listen.
Meet the versatile and creative Cardiff, Wales-born trumpeter Chris Hodgkins.
His music answers questions: how to make art new without abandoning the tradition; how to have one’s own voice while honoring your ancestors and colleagues.
I first heard about Chris through the magic of Google Alerts — because someone had compared him to Ruby Braff, which is my idea of an accolade. Then I found out that he and his musical friends had created three compact discs, PRESENT CONTINUNOUS, FUTURE CONTINUOUS, and BOSWELL’S LONDON JOURNAL:
Just so know what the musicians look like should you encounter them on the street: to the left is bassist Alison Rayner; to the right of Chris is guitarist Max Brittain. Click here to hear Alison Rayner’s QUEER BIRD, from PRESENT CONTINUOUS:
You’ll hear that his music is, on one hand, rooted in a Mainstream tradition: I hear Braff, Lyttelton, Buck Clayton, echoes of Horace Silver and Blue Note recordings of the Sixties, of Henry Mancini and occasionally Strayhorn . . . in a streamlined instrumentation (a trio of trumpet, guitar, and bass on two CDs, enlarged into a quartet on the third by the addition of tenor sax). Chris himself is a singular player; his tone ranging from the silken to the edgy, his lines winding and floating over the ringing lines of Brittain’s guitar, the deep pulse of Rayner’s string bass, and on BOSWELL’S LONDON JOURNAL they all get along nicely with the lemony alto saxophone of McLoughlin. By the way, Chris loves the assortment of sounds and timbres that mutes give to his horn (as well as playing open) so the three discs never sounded like more of the same.
I get a bit nervous when confronted with CDs that are all “original” compositions — whisper this: many musicians, stalwart and true, do their best composing on the bandstand, not on manuscript paper (but don’t say it too loudly) so that I was delighted to see some Kern and McHugh, Lyttelton, an Ellington blues, YOU’RE A LUCKY GUY and IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN. Moving a little beyond the “songbook” tradition, I noted that Chris delights in a wide variety of composers and songs: Neil Sedaka’s BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO, lines by Conte Candoli, Sahib Shihab, Thad Jones, Harry Edison. And then there are the originals — varied and lively, in many different moods and tempos. (How could you do anything but admire a man who titles a song SWINGING AT THE COPPER BEECH? And if you don’t get the in-joke, I’ll explain.)
BOSWELL’S LONDON JOURNAL is a real pleasure — and I am not speaking as a still-active professor of English, but as a jazz listener. I admire Chris’s awareness of his emotional and spiritual roots in the literary / cultural past, and his joyful audacity. The first track on the CD, THE MACHINE, describes a stagecoach ride taken by Boswell. Chris’s original lines fall somewhere in between the twelve-bar blues and OLE MISS, and the sound of the band perplexed me — light, airy, yet serious — until I recalled its analogue: Buck Clayton’s Big Four for HRS in 1946: trumpet, clarinet, electric guitar, and bass (Scoville Brown, Tiny Grimes, and Sid Weiss, if I recall correctly). What follows is not exactly program music: had I lost the liner notes explaining what each composition referred to, I would have still enjoyed the music — but knowing the artistic structure underneath made this a much-more-than-usually pleasing musical travelogue, veering here and there from updated Thirties rhythm ballads to hints of Horace Silver and Hank Mobley as well as very hip film soundtracks and Sixties pop of the highest order (AUCHINLECK). I don’t know if I would have guessed the subtext of the winding, pensive REPENT IN LEISURE (referring to Boswell’s having caught gonorrhea), but the historical / musical connection works for me. It is great fun to listen to the music on this disc — full of feeling, subtlety, and charm — whether reading the notes at the same time or as an after-commentary.
Chris Hodgkins is a fine trumpet player, small-group leader, and composer; he has good taste in his musical friends and in the music he chooses to play. As a professor of mine used to say over thirty years ago, “I commend him to you.”
It’s unrealistic, but I thought that Hank Jones would be around forever: so I was unreasonably shocked to hear of his death at age 91. The obituaries speak of the musicians he played with so gloriously — from brothers Elvin and Thad to Charlie Rouse and Joe Lovano . . . to Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Hot Lips Page, Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Joe Wilder, and Ruby Braff. He had fine taste: the “New York Rhythm Section” that flourished in the Fifties included Hank, Milt Hinton, Barry Galbraith, and Osie Johnson.
Modestly, he didn’t want the spotlight for himself (although he recorded prolifically as a leader for forty years and more); nor did he say that his sound on the piano, his touch, was exceptional. But anyone hearing even four bars of his playing could identify Hank — he had a singular way of hitting notes on the piano, of phrasing a line of notes, of voicing a chord . . . so that it could be no one else. I don’t know enough about piano technique to say whether it was a matter of touch, of pedaling — but he could make the simplest (even the most cliched) phrase sound pearly. Next to him, many other pianists (with monumental reputations) sound over-elaborate or uncouth. (The player closest to Hank in this was Ellis Larkins.) Hank’s phrases seem to float above the piano, transcending the mechanics of hands pressing down wood, the wood hitting strings, and so on. And he had a particularly steady rhythmic sense: his beat was also unmistakable, apparently decorous. But the elegant surface veneer of his playing, its sheen and gloss, could not mask his swinging force beneath. Like Bobby Hackett, he was never loud. He didn’t have to be.
And he’s gone. But we had sixty-five years to hear him: what a generous life!
“The Official Hank Jones Website” can be found here: http://www.officialhankjones.com/. It’s rather outdated, but it will do to remind us of the glorious playing of Hank Jones.
This is a wonderful piece by the Scottish journalist and friend of jazz, in celebration of one of the music’s most free spirits, the trumpeter Jabbo Smith. I would add only that the 1961 sessions she refers to have priceless playing not only by Jabbo, Marty Grosz, and Mike McKendrick — but astounding solos and ensemble alchemy from clarinetist Frank Chace.
In Jazz Profiles on June 24, 2009 at 1:07 am
Amongst the many notable jazz anniversaries of recent months, one important one has been pretty much universally overlooked. December 2008 was the centenary of a trumpet legend with whom jazz history has been particularly careless. He was lost, found and lost and found again – so it’s almost fitting that his centenary went by unnoticed. Even in death, he’s an elusive character.
His name was Jabbo Smith, and, at the peak of his powers and the height of his celebrity, he was regarded by many as the only serious challenge to Louis Armstrong’s position as the greatest trumpet player of them all. But just over a decade later, he had slid out of the limelight and was all but forgotten.
Born in Georgia in December 1908, Jabbo Smith was christened Cladys to complement the name of a cousin, Gladys, who was just a few days older. His mother, who played the church organ, struggled to raise him by herself. Eventually, when Jabbo was six, she was forced to hand him over to the care of the Jenkins Orphanage in Charleston, South Carolina. This institution supported itself by teaching the children to play music and then sending its student bands all over the country, to all the major cities. Jabbo quickly mastered trumpet and trombone and was duly sent out on tour from an early age. He invariably used these excursions as a launchpad for an escape bid..
When he was 14 years old, he ran away and remained free for three months, during which time he worked with a professional band in Florida. Two years later, he left the orphanage for good and headed for his half-sister’s home in Philadelphia. There, he immediately found work.
In 1925, at the age of just 17, he was playing in one of the most popular bands of the day, the Charlie Johnson band in New York – having already made his recording debut with no less a bandleader than Clarence Williams.
Jabbo – whose nickname came from an Indian character in a William S Hartman western – was already beginning to be regarded as something of a sensation when he replaced Bubber Miley for the Duke Ellington band’s November 1927 recordings of Black and Tan Fantasy. So impressed was Ellington with Jabbo’s playing that he offered him a job. Happy with the Charlie Johnson band and unimpressed by the money being offered, Jabbo turned him down – a move which he may not have regretted, but subsequent generations of his admirers undoubtedly have.
He went on, in 1928, to join Fats Waller, James P Johnson and Garvin Bushell in the band playing for the Broadway show Keep Shufflin’ – the results can be heard on the four numbers this band, known as the Louisiana Sugar Babies, recorded together.
Keep Shufflin’ closed suddenly in Chicago in 1929 when its backer, Arnold Rothstein, notorious as the mobster who had fixed the 1919 baseball World Series, was the victim of a gangland murder. Jabbo may have found himself stranded in the Windy City, but the show’s impromptu closing had fortunate results for jazz recording history: the Chicago-based Brunswick Record Company offered him the chance to record 19 sides designed to compete with Louis Armstrong’s hugely successful Hot Five and Hot Seven records, which were making money by the bucket-load for the rival Okeh label.
For what became the definitive Jabbo Smith sides, Jabbo not only led the band, which was assembled by the banjo player Ikey Robinson and christened the Rhythm Aces, but he also wrote all the numbers and sang on many of them – in his distinctive scat style. He was still only 20, and his youthful energy simply explodes out of tracks such as Sau-Sha Stomp, Take Your Time and Boston Skuffle.
Not only that, but his style of playing is dazzling. He was technically brilliant, completely at ease playing in the upper register and able to deliver one fantastic break after another. In 1955, the bass player Milt Hinton was quoted as saying: “Jabbo was as good as Louis then. He was the Dizzy Gillespie of that era. He played rapid-fire passages while Louis was melodic and beautiful.” Another trumpet great who was around at the same time as both Jabbo and Louis was Doc Cheatham who said that in the late 1920s, Jabbo was as good as Armstrong but that they were “very different players and that Jabbo shouldn’t be judged by comparisons”.
Despite his astonishing and highly individual style of playing on the Brunswick sides, Jabbo couldn’t shake off hims image as an Armstrong imitator – much to his chagrin. The record company pulled the plug on the Rhythm Aces recordings because the records weren’t the commercial success that they’d hoped for. A year after their release, Jabbo went to Milwaukee and spent several years playing with different bands there and in Chicago. He seems to have drifted between the two cities. Late in his life, he told the trumpeter Michel Bastide: “You get into a little trouble in Chicago – you run to Milwaukee… You get into a little trouble in Milwaukee – you run to Chicago.”
In 1936, the bandleader Claude Hopkins heard Jabbo as he passed through Milwaukee and signed him up for two years. Then, in 1938, Jabbo made what would turn out to be his last recordings for over 20 years, when he recorded four more of his own compositions for Decca – including the gorgeous ballad Absolutely and the jaw-droppingly complex Rhythm in Spain.
Jabbo slid into obscurity but seems to have been content to do so. Although he was wild and unruly as a young man, he has been described by many who knew him later in his life as a quiet, introverted character – something of a loner – who seems to have been quite happy to take whatever came his way. He certainly never sought fame – which is just as well, because he never again reached the heights he scaled when he was just 20.
Jabbo was more or less forgotten about by the mid-1950s when Milt Hinton’s comments for the Hear Me Talkin’ To Ya oral history prompted renewed interest in him. However, it wasn’t until 1961 that he was tracked down to Milwaukee and brought to Chicago for a recording session with a local rhythm section which included the guitarist Marty Grosz.
Grosz has described Jabbo as a free spirit, someone who followed his own path. It’s an assessment which ties in with Milt Hinton’s statement that if Jabbo made enough money for drinks and women in any small town, he would stay put. Michel Bastide, whose Hot Antic Jazz Band toured and recorded with Jabbo in the trumpeter’s seventies, believes that Jabbo was easily distracted by women and might have fared better in his musical career if he had had someone to look after him and advise him in the way that Lil Hardin did for Louis Armstrong.
When Jabbo was tracked down in 1961, he hadn’t touched his trumpet for nearly two decades and had been working for Avis car hire for many years. He said that he had married and settled down in Milwaukee, playing trumpet in a nightclub at first. When the club closed down, he simply put his horn under his bed and found himself another job. But he did continue composing.
After his rediscovery in the early 1960s, Jabbo seems to have retreated from the limelight once more. He next popped up in the mid-1970s when the impresario George Wein invited him to New York to receive an award as one of the greatest living musicians in jazz history. This time, he was back to stay: he began practising the trumpet again thanks to the encouragement of the clarinettist Orange Kellin who invited him to New Orleans, to play in his band. This led to his being hired for the show One More Time which earned him euphoric reviews.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Jabbo enjoyed a last blast of glory. He played the New York jazz clubs and worked with such diverse names as Thad Jones and Don Cherry. He also toured in Europe, in the company of a French jazz band which had been born out of a shared love of his recordings. The members of the Hot Antic Jazz Band – led by trumpeter Michel Bastide – spent three years mastering Jabbo’s 1929 repertoire and were thrilled when he agreed to come on tour and record with them.
Their affection for him and enthusiasm for his music clearly paid off: the resulting LPs (Zoo and We Love You Jabbo) are delightful and provide a happy ending for what could have been yet another sad jazz tale. Jabbo Smith died in January 1991, leaving his trumpet to the Antics’ Michel Bastide.
* Jabbo Smith: The Complete Jabbo Smith Hidden Treasure Sessions (Lonehill Jazz LHJ10352) is newly out
* Jabbo Smith’s Rhythm Aces 1929-1938 (Classics Records 669)