Friday, October 2, 2015

Playboy Jazz Radio Show

Hef and Armstrong
This program, broadcast on 10.1.15, features music associated with Playboy, either recorded for their record label, or played at Playboy Jazz festivals. Founder Hugh Hefner made jazz an important part of the "playboy lifestyle" when he founded the magazine in 1954. Playboy started a Jazz Poll in 1957 and held their first Jazz festival in Chicago in 1959.


Oscar Peterson "The Golden Striker" from "Playboy Jazz Allstars," 1959) on PB

Maynard Ferguson "Portuguese Love" from "Playboy Jazz Festival" 1982

Curtis Stigers "My Foolish Heart" from "Playboy Jazz After Dark Vol II" 2005) on PB

Dizzy Gilespie "Wheatleigh Hall" from "Playboy Jazz Allstars," 1959) on PB

The Great Quartet ‬ "‪Inner Glimpse‬" from "‪Playboy Jazz Festival, 1982‬"

Weather Report‬ "‪Volcano For Hire" from "Playboy Jazz Festival‬," 1982)

Milt Jackson "Bag's New Groove" from "Playboy Jazz Allstars," 1959) on PB

Joe Pass & Ella Fitzgerald "I Didn't Know About You" from "Playboy Jazz After Dark vol 2" 2005) on PB

Gerry Mulligan "Gee Baby - Ain't I Good to You" from "Playboy Jazz Allstars," 1959 on PB

Cy Coleman "Playboy's Theme" from "Playboy Jazz Allstars," 1959 on PB

Lambert, Hendricks and Ross and Joe WIlliams, "Everyday I Have the Blues," 1960 on Playboy After Dark

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Playboy Swings

I just read an advanced copy of Playboy Swings by Patty Farmer. There's a quality of flackdom about the book-lots of exclamation marks and boosting going on here by Ms. Farmer, but while it reads almost like an in-house publication, there is enough solid information in the book to make a person seriously evaluate the relationship between the Playboy empire and jazz between 1955-1975.

Hefner was a jazz fan, as were the other hipster-swinger-ad-men who shaped Playboy. This meant that they would use jazz-and not rock and roll or pop music-as sound track for the lifestyle mythology they were creating first in the magazine and later, on television, in the clubs and resorts. The first interviewer for the magazine was Alex Haley and his first subject was Miles Davis. The Playboy Jazz Poll started in 1957 and their first Jazz Festival was in 1959. They would soon team up with George Wein for future festivals. For many years, these festivals and venues provided nice gigs for the upper echelon of jazz musicians.
The book places a lot of emphasis on the matrix of clubs as a training ground for future stars, which it was-singers and comedians, primarily. What was interesting to me, though, was that the clubs and resorts were a tremendous source of employment for thousands of non-star musicians and comics who did not become household names, but were able to earn a good living; first doing the Playboy circuit, then playing larger rooms as a result of their experience on that circuit. Many of these guys (yes, the musicians and comedians were almost all guys) were playing in strip clubs and other assorted dives when they got the call from Playboy. That's where they would probably have remained had they not been hired for the clubs, where they enjoyed a significant upgrade in quality of venue and in pay. At its height, Playboy was the largest employer of talent in the country.

Hefner seemed to have a passion for details and the ability to surround himself with competent people, and his clubs, festivals, etc, were run with precision. Artists, at least those interviewed for this book, said that Playboy events ran smoothly and that they were well treated. 

Hefner's commitment to civil rights came as something of a surprise to me. He made sure his events and clubs were always integrated. When he made the mistake of treating some clubs in the South as franchises, thereby ceding control, some local owners began instituting segregated policies. Hefner bought back the franchises, taking steep financial losses in the process. He and Norman Grantz deserve much credit for making sure that black musicians were treated as first class citizens.
Hef with The Elf

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Passing the Late Night Jazz TV Torch (?)

Jazz on TV is, of course, a non-starter. Programs like "The Sound of Jazz," "Frankly Jazz,""The Subject is Jazz" and events like Clifford Brown on the Soupy Sales show are to Millennials as Medicine Shows are to seniors.
The last redoubts for jazz were the "hip" talk shows and jazz hasn't had a good track record even there since Johnny Carson retired. The passing of trumpeter Clark Terry, a stalwart of the Tonight Show Orchestra was a symbolic marker of the end of a 60-year relationship between big band jazz and television.               
         Clark Terry
Jon Batiste
Jon Batiste will be the bandleader as Stephen Colbert takes over for David Letterman on the Late Show. This represents a return, of sorts, to late night bandleaders with a jazz background. What are his chances? Let's look at the history and the landscape:

Post-Carson, Jay Leno tried to keep one foot in the Tonight Show's jazz past, while bridging to the present with Branford Marsalis, leading to an often uneasy three years. Marsalis was followed by Kevin Eubanks, a better fit who had a fifteen-year tenure. Although Eubanks had jazz chops, he weighed in as a more natural rock guy and his personality jibed better with the format than Marsalis'.

Conan O'Brien's band-Max Weinberg and company-was a hybrid, with a fair amount of swing. Was too much jazz one of the elements that pushed Conan off network TV and onto cable?
David Letterman was a pop/rock/country guy and never cared much for jazz (Knowing Carson was a pretty staunch jazz fan, if Dave really wanted that gig, he shoulda feigned interest). Letterman's band, led by Paul Shaffer, went the funk-jazz route that began to dominate late night TV. Actually it was the Saturday Night Live band that led the way-Howard Shore, with Lenny Pickett's Tower of Power sound on tenor sax. Shaffer was a member of that SNL band, as was Seth Meyers current bandleader Fred Armisen. Cleto Escobeto, Kimmel's bandleader is also out of that tradition. 
Jimmy Fallon's band The Roots, is much more in the contemporary black music vein. While it's true that Jon Batiste and The Roots both bring a black sensibility, it's pretty different. The Roots are Philadelphia and Batiste is New Orleans. The Roots busked on the street, but with bucket drums and rapping. Jon Batiste has an advanced music degree and his family has a long N.O. jazz pedigree. 

Batiste is solid for the Second Line and loves to move into the crowd and stir things up. As far as late night talk show audience participation goes, social media is now where that is supposed to happen (R.I.P. 'Stump The Band'). It's hard to think that the Second Line idea will mix easily in this high-price, high-stakes, timed-to-the-second context. Going into the audience knowing you have exactly 4'33" to get people dancing in the aisle, back onstage and back in their seats might tend to undermine spontaneity. After all, this is valuable time we're talking about.

Well, as we jazz types find ourselves saying more and more often: "maybe a little exposure will help." Can't hurt, right?

[ADDENDUM: I didn't see the whole show, but I did see this clip of "Everyday People," which they performed with a number of guest musicians. Very, very nice job. A few musicians went briefly into the audience, while most stayed onstage; a compromise, but the energy was great and the whole thing didn't drag on, as these multi-star performances usually do.]

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Donna Lee Sing-Along

In honor of Charlie Parker's birthday, here's the tune Donna Lee, with my lyrics below. You're all invited to think of me as the bebop Mitch MIller and sing along.

Donna Lee has a melody that teaches us that
Learning the trade of music takes a lifetime,
But the joy that comes from knowing that this
Rocky road you choose can let you
Open up your soul,
To the mysteries around you,
Means the path has found you.
Sing a tune by Charlie Parker or a ballad by Sinatra,
Anything that can train your ears to listen
To the subtlest things.
Honeysuckle Rose can sing but
She gets bored with singing in just one key.
Learning the trade of music you must
Set a goal like learning to sing Miss
Donna Lee in twelve keys,
Only time can make it happen,
You had no idea time could possibly go so slow…
When you have heard the half steps and the
Minot thirds you think you’re almost home only
Now you see that you’ve got four bars left to sing without a breath
But now you’re flying you know Donna Lee won’t get the best of you.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Tunes From Swing Street

Playing pre-war music from some of the denizens of 52nd St. on the Duplex Mystery Jazz Hour WZBC with Steve Provizer 08/27/2015.

 Eddie Condon and His Orchestra "The Eel" 1933 on Brunswick 
 Eddie Condon and His Orchestra "Home Cooking"  1933) on Brunswick 
 Eddie Condon and His Orchestra "Tennessee Twilight" 1933 on Columbia 
 Eddie Condon and His Orchestra "Madame Dynamite" 1933) on Columbia 
 Frank Froeba & His Swing Band "The music goes round and round" 1935 on Columbia 
 Louis Prima & His New Orleans Gang "Let's Have a Jubilee" 1934)on Brunswick 
 Louis Prima & His New Orleans Gang "House Rent Party Day" 1934 on Brunswick 
 Stuff Smith And His Onyx Club Boys "Old joe's hittin' the jug" 1936 on Vocalion 
 Stuff Smith And His Onyx Club Boys "Your'e a Viper"  1936 on Vocalion 
 Red McKenzie and his Rhythm Kings "What's the reason I'm Not Pleasin You" 1935 on Vocalion 
 Red McKenzie and his Rhythm Kings "You've Been Taking Lessons in Love" 1935 on Vocalion 
 Wingy Manone & His Orchestra "Isle of Capri" 1935 on Vocalion 
 Wingy Manone & His Orchestra "Nickel in the Slot" 1935 on Okeh 
 Henry Allen And His Orchestra "Every Minute of the Hour" 1936 on Vocalion 
 Henry Allen And His Orchestra "Lost" 1936 on Vocalion 
 Frank Newton & His Uptown Serenaders "You showed me the way 1937 on Variety 
 Frank Newton & His Uptown Serenaders "The Onyx Hop" 1937 on Variety 
 The Three Peppers "Swing Out, Uncle Wilson" 1937 on Variety 
 The Three Peppers "The Duck's Yas Yas Yas" 1937 on Variety 
 Joe Marsala & His Chicagoans "Jazz Me Blues" 1937)on Variety 
 Fats Waller and his Hot Piano "I'm Crazy About My Baby"1931 on Columbia 
 Art Tatum "Tea for Two" 1933 on Brunswick 
 Art Tatum "Sophisticated Lady" 933 on Brunswick 
 Teddy Wilson "Rosetta" 1935 on Brunswick 
 Teddy Wilson Between the devil and the deep blue sea" 1937 on Brunswick 
 Clarence Profit Trio "Don't Leave Me" 1939) on Previously Unissued 
 Maxine Sullivan and Her Orchestra "loch lomond" 1937 on Vocalion 
 Bunny Berigan and His Boys "A Little Bit Later On" 1936 on Vocalion 
 John Kirby and His Orchestra "Can't We Be Friends ?" 1940 on Columbia 
 John Kirby and His Orchestra "Coquette"1940)on Columbia 
 Billie Holiday and Her Orchestra "I Hear Music" 1940 on Okeh 
 Charlie Barnet & His Orchestra "Overheard in a Cocktail Lounge" 1937 on Variety 
 Billie Holiday and Her Orchestra "Practice Makes Perfect" 1940 on Okeh 

 Mildred Bailey and Her Orchestra "More Than You Know" 1936 on Vocalion 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Fletcher Henderson, Part II

The second of two Duplex Mystery Jazz Hours devoted to Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra, broadcast 8.21.15 on WZBC.ORG.



Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Come on Baby" (Jazz, 1928) on Columbia

Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Freeze N Melt"  1929) on Columbia

Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Raisin the Roof"  1929) on Romeo

Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Blazin'" (Jazz, 1929) on Columbia  

Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Wang Wang Blues"  1929) on Columbia 

Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Chinatown" (Jazz, 1930) on Columbia 

Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Somebody Loves Me" 1930) on Columbia 

Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Keep a Song in Your Soul" 1930 Columbia 

 Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Sweet and Hot" (Jazz, 1931) Columbia  

Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "My Gal Sal" (Jazz, 1931) on Columbia 

 Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Sugarfoot Stomp" 1931) on Columbia  

 Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Clarinet Marmalade" 1931) on Columbia 

 Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Hot and Anxious"  1931) on Columbia  

 Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Comin' and Goin'"  1931) on Columbia 

 Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Singin' the Blues" 1931) on Columbia 

 Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Sugar" from "" 1931) on Columbia  

 Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Blue Moments"  1932) on Unissued Master

 Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "New King Porter Stomp" 1932) Okeh

Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Underneath the Harlem Moon" 1932 Columbia 

 Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Honeysuckle Rose" 1932) on Columbia 

 Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Yeah Man" (Jazz, 1933) on Vocalion 

 Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Queer Notions" (Jazz, 1933) Vocalion 

 Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Can You Take It?" 1933) on Vocalion 

 Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "King Porter’ Stomp" 1933) on Vocalion 

 Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Christopher Columbus" 1936) Vocalion 

 Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Stealin' Apples"  1936) on Vocalion 

 Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Blue Lou" 1936) on Vocalion 

Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Rhythm Of the Tambourine" 1937) Vocalion 

Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Back in Your Own Backyard" 1937 Vocalion 

 Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Chris and His Gang" 1937) on Vocalion 

 Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Sing You Sinners" 1937) on Vocalion 

 Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra "Moten Swing" (Jazz, 1938) on Vocalion 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

10 Ballads to Slow Down Summer

I'm still cold from last winter, so the idea of rounding the corner into autumn is not thrilling. I invite you to luxuriate in these beautiful ballads. Let them keep the thought of neck-high snow at bay while they temper the burn of August heat.

Clifford Brown-I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance

Lawrence Brown, Ben Webster-All Too Soon

Stan Getz w. Woody Herman-Early Autumn

Gerry Mulligan Concert Band-Ballad

Betty Carter-Don't Weep for the Lady

Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden-Rockin' Chair

Blossom Dearie-Surrey With the Fringe On Top

Billie Holiday, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Dickie Wells, Gerry Mulligan, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge-Fine and Mellow

Charlie Parker and Miles Davis-Embraceable You

Ella Fitzgerald-Signing Off

Friday, August 14, 2015

Fletcher Henderson, Pt. 1

The first of two Duplex Mystery Jazz Hour programs on the large ensembles of Fletcher Henderson who, along with arranger Don Redman, is largely responsible for what became "swing" music. Broadcast 8.14.15 on WZBC.

Listen HERE.


 Fletcher Henderson "The Dicty Blues" (1926) on Columbia 
 Fletcher Henderson "Teapot Dome Blues" (1926) on Columbia 
 Fletcher Henderson "Go Long Mule"  (1926) on Columbia 
 Fletcher Henderson "Shanghai Shuffle"  (1926) on Columbia 
 Fletcher Henderson "Copenhagen"  (1926) on Columbia 
 Fletcher Henderson "How Come You Do Like Me Like You Do?"  (1926) on Columbia 
 Fletcher Henderson "Everybody Loves My Baby" (1926) on Columbia 
 Fletcher Henderson "Sugarfoot Stomp" (1926) on Columbia 
 Fletcher Henderson "What-cha-call-em Blues" f(1926) on Columbia 
 Fletcher Henderson "T.N.T."  (1926) on Columbia 
 Fletcher Henderson "The Stampede" (1926) on Columbia 
 Fletcher Henderson "Jackass Blues"  (1926) on Columbia 
 Fletcher Henderson "Henderson Stomp"  (1926) on Columbia 

NOTE: The second CD I recorded from the show was corrupted, so the following part of the playlist is not on this recording.

 Fletcher Henderson "The Chant"  (1926) on Columbia 
 Fletcher Henderson "Snag It" (1926) on Columbia 
 Fletcher Henderson "Rocky Mountain Blues"  (1926) on Columbia 
 Fletcher Henderson "Tozo" f (1926) on Columbia 
 Fletcher Henderson "St Louis Shuffle"  (1926) on Columbia 
 Fletcher Henderson "Whiteman Stomp"  ( 1926) on Columbia 
 Fletcher Henderson "I'm Coming Viginia" (1926) on Columbia 
 Fletcher Henderson "Variety Stomp"  (1926) on Columbia 
 Fletcher Henderson "St. Louis Blues"  (1926) on Columbia 
 Fletcher Henderson "Goose Pimples" (1926) on Columbia 
 Fletcher Henderson "Hop Off" (1927) on Columbia 
 Fletcher Henderson "King Porter Stomp"(1928) on Columbia 
 Fletcher Henderson "D Natural Blues" (1928) on Columbia 
 Fletcher Henderson "Oh Baby" (1928) on Harmony 
 Fletcher Henderson "Feeling Good"  (1928) on Harmony 
 Fletcher Henderson "I'm Feeling Devilish"  (1928) on Harmony 
 Fletcher Henderson "Old Black Joe Blues" (1928) on Romeo 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Holographic Necrophilia

Very glad to see that the holographic techs and entrepreneurs have expanded the resurrection of dead musicians into more than just an audio experience. Now it's time to take it a step further and bring back those who've been paired in recordings to an audience hungry for the 3 (and soon to be 4)-D concert experience. 

These pairings, already put together for stage and records, are a no-brainer for on-stage holograms: Natalie with Nat.Celine Dion and Sinatra, Ol Blue Eyes and Hayley ReinhartLauren Hill and Bob MarleyLisa-Marie and Elvis and, of course, Rod Stewart and Ella Fitzgerald

The real test for these holographic pioneers will be whether, instead of the usual bathetic, analog, two-dimensional pictures, they are ready to trot out Bob Marley, Lisa Marie and the rest not only as adults, but as cutie pie multi-dimensional three-year-olds and mischievous, precocious teens.

Yes, pairing Rod and Ella is like sinking a leaf blower engine into a Ferrari; like putting Twinkie creme filling into a Godiva chocolate; like putting Donald Trump's hair on Sophia Loren's head. It shouldn't even be conceived of.  It shouldn't be done. But it has been, and it will. 
And remember, you holographic entrepreneurs: it was our idea to do this. Pay up, or the Institute will sic its phalanx of attorneys on you.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Rahsaan Program

An hour and a half of music celebrating the great spirit Rahsaan Roland Kirk on the Duplex Mystery Jazz Hour, WZBC, 8/6/15.

Listen HERE. If clocking that doesn't work, try this:


Triple Threat, Triple Threat-King, 1956  
Our Love Is Here To Stay, Introducing Roland Kirk, Argo, 1960
Kirk's Work Roland Kirk & Jack McDuff, Prestige, 1961 
We Free Kings, Mercury, 1961
I Talk With The Spirits, Limelight, 1964
Peggy's Blue Skylight, Tonight at Noon, Atlantic 1965 
Inflated Tear The Black and Crazy Blues, A Laugh for Rory, Many Blessings, Atlantic ,1967
Volunteered Slavery, Atlantic, 1969
Runnin' From the Trash, Natural Black Inventions: Root Strata-Atlantic, 1971
Bright Moments- Atlantic, recorded at Keystone Korner, San Francisco, June 1973 
Ain't No Sunshine From Blacknuss, Atlantic,1972
Pedal Up, Down Beat 1975 poll-winners' show
Anysha, Other Folks' Music, Atlantic, 1976
Watergate blues, Boogie-Woogie String Along For Real,Warner Bros, 1977
Theme for the Eulipions, The Return of the 5000 Lb. Man, Warner Bros., 1976
I Eye eye Montreux Jazz Festival video, 1972

Thursday, August 6, 2015

New Orleans Trumpets and the Lowly Hankie

I know what you're saying: finally, a post that combines jazz and handkerchiefs...

Truth is, the lowly handkerchief has a venerable presence in New Orleans jazz trumpet. Maybe it's the humidity. One of the first great New Orleans trumpeters, Freddie Keppard, played with a handkerchief covering his valves-at least when he thought other trumpet players were close enough to cop his fingerings, although Sidney Bechet disputes that. Freddie seems to have been paranoid enough about other players copping his licks that he apparently ceded the chance to make the first "jazz" recording to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.
Tommy Ladnier, another user of the handkerchief. 

Oliver-mute specialist
King Oliver was also known to have sometimes covered his valves, although it doesn't easily jibe with his reputation as teacher and mentor, especially of Louis Armstrong.

Louis Armstrong was the most famous handkerchief user; not to cover his valves, but held in his left hand, which holds the valve casing. And, as a copious sweater, to wipe his brow.
Louis in 1932

Another New Orleans trumpeter, Henry Red Allen, picked up the habit.

Finally, Joseph "Wingy" Manone. Called Wingy because as a kid he lost one arm in a streetcar accident, Wingy held the horn with a prosthetic and ran the valves with his left hand.

Now, someone explain to me why Louis Prima was not a hankie user.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Benny Golson Show

The Duplex Mystery Jazz Hour of 7.23.15 on WZBC.ORG, 90.3 featured Benny Golson, one of the most singular talents in jazz: tenor sax master, arranger and composer of some of the great jazz tunes: Stablemates, Whisper Not, I Remember Clifford...

Listen HERE.


Benny Golson Nonet "Whisper Not" from "Benny Golson's New York Scene" (Jazz, 1957) on Contemporary Records 

Benny Golson Quintet  "Something In B Flat" from "Benny Golson's New York Scene" (Jazz, 1957) on Contemporary Records 

Benny Golson Sextet "Step Lightly" from "The Modern Touch" (Jazz, 1957) on Riverside 

Benny Golson Sextet "Hymn To the Orient" from "The Modern Touch" (Jazz, 1957) on Riverside 

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers "Blues For Marcel" from "Des_Femmes_Disparaissent_(Soundtrack)" (Jazz, 1958) 

Benny Golson And The Philadelphians "Stablemates" from "Benny Golson And The Philadelphians" (Jazz, 1958) on United Artists 

Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers "Along Came Betty" from "Moanin'" (Jazz, 1958) on Blue Note 

Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet "Along came Betty" from "Another Git Together" (Jazz, 1962) on Mercury 

Benny Golson Quintet "A Bit of Heaven" from "Gone With Golson" (Jazz, 1959) on Prestige 

Benny Golson (solo) "You're My Thrill" from "Take A Number From 1 To 10" (Jazz, 1960) on ARGO 

Benny Golson (duo) "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" from "Take A Number From 1 To 10" (Jazz, 1960) on ARGO 

Benny Golson Quintet "Little Karin" from "Take A Number From 1 To 10" (Jazz, 1960) on ARGO 

The Jazztet "Farmer's Market" from "Jazztet at Birdhouse" (Jazz, 1961) on ARGO 

Annie Ross "Farmer's Market" from "Farmer" (1952) on Prestige 

The Jazztet and John Lewis "Milano" from "The Jazztet and John Lewis" (Jazz, 1961) on ARGO 

Benny Golson's Orchestra "You're Driving Me Crazy / Moten Swing" from "Pop+Jazz=Swing" (Jazz, 1962) on Audio Fidelity 

Benny Golson's Orchestra "Ornithology / How High The Moon" from "Pop+Jazz=Swing" (Jazz, 1962) on Audio Fidelity 

Art Farmer - Benny Golson Sextet "Killer Joe" from "Meet the Jazztet" (Jazz, 1960) on ARGO 

Manhattan Transfer "Killer Joe" from "Vocalese" (Jazz, 1985) on Atlantic 

Benny Golson Quartet "Mad About the Boy" from "Free" (Jazz, 1963) on ARGO 

Benny Golson And The International Jazz Orchestra "Stockholm Sojourn" from "Stockholm Sojourn" (Jazz, 1964) on Prestige 

Benny Golson Sextet "If I should Lose You" from "Just Jazz" (Jazz, 1962) on Audio Fidelity 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Louis Armstrong and The Big River

A Marable band with Armstrong, onboard a Steckfus steamship
A lot of New Orleans musicians gigged with bandleader Fate Marable, who ran the bands for the Streckfus excursion boats that plied the Mississippi: Red Allen, Tommy Ladnier, Baby and Johnny Dodds, Pops Foster and many others. Not the least of them was Louis Armstrong, who played with Marable on-and-off for three years.

William Howland Kenney's excellent Jazz on the River and Dennis Owsley's City of Gabriels, The History of jazz in St. Louis, 1895-1983 both make it clear that music played on the riverboats during their heyday(c. 1910's-1930's) was arranged dance music of a medium tempo, with apparently little chance for a musician to "get off." So, for New Orleans jazz musicians, playing in a Marable band on a Streckfus steamboat was not a chance to hone his hot chops, but it was nonetheless a desirable gig. Especially after the closure of Storyville in 1917, even those in the upper end of the New Orleans jazz hierarchy were struggling. The boats provided a steady paycheck–$35 per week with room and board, $45 without. They also provided a heavy dose of discipline; some of it arbitrary and racist and some of it seen as useful. I.e., the discipline of reading music.

Louis Armstrong first played on a Streckfus steamer in 1918. He worked his way from town to town and in St. Louis, jammed with the local musicians. Louis was ambivalent about reading music. He knew it was a skill he needed to have, but said he thought it separated the musician from the listener. As a result, he progressed in reading, but didn't become really proficient. (c.f. the "pound plenty" story with Fletcher Henderson).

Armstrong was allowed to play a cornet solo with just piano accompaniment on a song called "La Veda," which apparently went over well. He wanted to expand his role and be a featured player and singer with the band, but neither Marable nor Streckfus wanted that. One can speculate that Armstrong's representation would have threatened the very tightly controlled, segregated "Dixieland" mythology that ownership felt underlay the appeal of the excursion boats and which they tried to purvey through the music. Give the customers a whiff of the exotic, but no polyphony, really fast or slow tempos or sexual lyrics.
Armstrong and Oliver
So, in 1921, Armstrong left Marable. Then, in 1922, he got the call to join King Oliver in Chicago (Jazz mythology about the music traveling up the river aside, there was no Mississippi tributary deep enough to carry large boats all the way. Armstrong took a train to Chicago). In 1928, when gigs in Chicago had temporarily dried up, the Streckfus family sent a representative to Armstrong and him offered the chance to re-up. Despite an offer that escalated from $75 to $100 to $125 a week, Armstrong refused.

While Armstrong never played on the river again (at least for Marable), the Big River stayed a part of Armstrong's musical identity for the rest of his life, especially during the next twenty years.

Although he recorded Hoagy Carmichael's "Lazy River" in 1931 and several times after, his approach to that tune has a very different flavor than the ones I'm posting. Armstrong plays "Lazy River" more as a parody, while these tunes allow him to more sincerely limn a specifically black-centric experience of life and memory on the Big River. As author Kenney suggests, he is taking the tradition of songs and chanteys sung by roustas and expanding it. As an aside, Kenney says that there is good evidence that, in derivation, chanteys are West Indian as much or more so than British. With the slavery triangular trade in full swing, there's good reason to think there was a musical exchange between the Caribbean Islands and the British Islands.

Armstrong's earliest "river" recording was in 1930 for Okeh records, with pianist Buck Washington. This tune was an amalgam of "Deep River" and "Motherless Child."

In 1933, Armstrong recorded for the Victor label with a 12-piece band, which included several Marable Alums. They recorded "Mississippi Basin," "Dusky Stevedore" and "Mighty River."

In 1939 and 1940, he recorded "Shanty Boat on the Mississippi" and "Lazy 'Sippi Steamer" for Decca records.

In this repertoire, Armstrong shows once again his genius for transcending the boundaries between racial identification, personal integrity and the marketplace.

I post this with all respect to Ricky Riccardi, whose blog is the ultimate source of Armstrong info.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Jazz Bass Technique Evolution-Pt. 2

The question inspiring these bass posts is: Has the playing on this instrument progressed farther technically than on any other jazz instrument?

In Part One, we listened to foundational tuba and bass players from the 20's and 30's. We'll pick up now starting with Jimmy Blanton who, if not the first "modern" player, has as good a claim to that title as anyone.
Jimmy Blanton
Blanton's strong regional reputation led him to Duke Ellington's band in 1939, where he played until he died in 1942, at age 23, from TB.

Slam Stewart had the technique of the walking bass line down, but was also unique in his ability to bow solos and sing/hum along with them (see my previous post on arco-bowed-bass playing.

Oscar Pettiford was one of the first bass players to master the harmonic language of Bop. He broke his arm while playing baseball with the Woody Herman band, took up the cello and made it a viable solo and accompanying instrument in jazz. He was a fleet, nimble and creative soloist. The pianist on this 1955 Stardust is Don Abney.

This A Train has Pettiford on cello, Ellington on Piano and Strayhorn on celeste.

Charles Mingus was a master of the bass, although his greatest contributions weren't to bass technique, they were to arranging, composing and band-leading. Still, he was a convincing soloist and accompanist.

Paul Chambers was a VIP of later bop and hard bop. He updated Slam Stewart's bowing technique to work with post-swing harmony. 

Jimmy Garrison is most well-known for his part in the classic John Coltrane Quartet. In that context, he continued to walk, but he also was able to play solos alone and out of tempo, using multi-stops and strumming; in effect, moving the art of bass soloing into a freer space.

Next time:
Post-modern acoustic and electric bass players

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Jazz Bass Technique Evolution

Watching Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten led me to ask whether the technique used to play any instrument in jazz has evolved farther from its beginnings than the bass:
The role of the bass in early jazz was to keep time and harmony, a more limiting role than that taken by horn players, who were free to create and embellish melodies and counter-lines. So, you had Bechet, Armstrong, Morton, Hawkins, Dodds, etc., able to take all the technique they'd acquired and put it in service to the music. It's also relevant that until the early 1930's, in order to make a living, players had to learn to play both string bass and tuba, instruments requiring very different techniques.

Early bass and tuba players in jazz occasionally stepped out beyond their usual role, but going too far, too often, in a polyphonic and/or horn-dominated environment would have meant straying too far from the anchoring role the bass was expected to play. One does get a whiff of an untapped reservoir of technique from the occasional startling solo and the overall assurance of the playing.

Here's Bill Johnson, slapping and bowing. Interesting that it's in the "primitive" musical context of jug and comb-kazoo:

Here's Steve Brown, making sure he's audible by bowing his way through the tune and playing a tricky bowed-plucked solo:

Here's Pops Foster on tuba. He plays a nice Latin-tinge line halfway through the tune.

Wellman Braud, long associated with Ellington, plays mostly quarter notes and about 3/4's of the way in, plays some "parts."

Walter Page, Kansas City stalwart, plays several different kinds of bass lines here:

Milt Hinton takes the slap bass technique to its logical conclusion with Cab Calloway:

Next Time:

We'll pick it up from Jimmy Blanton and go from there.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Bob Dylan and the Jazz Avant-Garde

Bob Dylan performed at the 80th Sinatra birthday tribute in 1995. In 2004, he joined forces with Wynton Marsalis at a benefit concert for Jazz at Lincoln Center and his 2015 release, Shadows in the Night was, let's say, jazz-informed, but early on in his career, Dylan had truck with edgier jazz folk.

While not on the level of finding the lost Buddy Bolden cylinder, it would be interesting to hear a recording of Bob Dylan and Cecil Taylor when they jammed on The Water is Wide in the early 1960's. Dylan mentions this session in his Chronicles, Vol 1 and adds: "Cecil could play regular piano if he wanted to." Note that Tom Wilson, Dylan's producer at this time, produced Cecil Taylor's first LP, Jazz Advance

Cecil Taylor
Bob and Tom Wilson
Here's the tune in a 1975 incarnation, with Dylan and Joan Baez.

Dylan says he also jammed with Ornette Coleman associates drummer Billy Higgins and trumpeter Don Cherry. No specific tunes are mentioned.


Listen to the group and imagine what you will.

These musical intersections happened, says Dylan: " a creepy...little coffeehouse on Bleeker Street near Thompson run by a character called the Dutchman." I'm surmising it was the Cafe Rafio, at 165 Bleecker
Dylan also says that he crashed a Thelonius Monk rehearsal where he told Monk that he played folk music. Monk's reply: "We all play folk music."

Thanks to Elijah Wald for passing on much of the info in this post. Be on the lookout for Elijah's book on the 50th anniversary of Dylan going electric at Newport. It's due out in a couple of weeks. Go here for info.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Miles is to Picasso as Who is to Whom

In a well-known interview with Sonny Rollins and Gary Bartz, Miles Davis is likened to Picasso. Like Miles, Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane went through cycles of intense artistic change; less so, other of the musicians in this postBix, Red Allen, Hampton and Shepp. And, like Picasso, the artists here sometimes had a dominant style and sometimes went through significant changes (not to mention working in different media). But, since this is pure subjectivity, not scholarly research, I'm using a single well-known work by the musicians and artists to present a simple case for their aesthetic linkage. Look and listen.

Bix and Joan Miro.                            

Coleman Hawkins and John Marin

                                        John Coltrane and Isamu Noguchi
Henry "Red" Allen and Franz Kline

Lionel Hampton Big Bands and Romare Bearden

Archie Shepp and Jacob Lawrence
More to come.