Top 50 JAzz Blog

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Review: The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums

Will Friedwald has written a nice fat, fact-laden book, closely analyzing each song on the 51 albums he's chosen. Comparing his responses to one's own is interesting, but what really makes this book valuable is the extensive context he provides for each album.

Friedwald has been operating in the world of jazz and pop vocals for a long time and gives the reader insider history. He looks at where the album fits in the career path of the artist, how the arrangers-and often the musicians-ended up working on the project, background on the composers of the tunes, the dope on the record label people who decided to back the project and comparisons with other recordings of the song; an extensive historical framework for the albums.

There's a lot of dish-you'll learn how Peggy Lee's alcoholic husband figured into the making of "Black Coffee." But more interestingly, some of the broad conclusions he draws are absolutely new and spot on-Sinatra did show that songs taken in swinging tempos could also be sexy and romantic; tragic divas are given more serious consideration; the use of verses were probably eschewed in the swing era because they tended to be rubato (not in tempo) and therefore not danceable.

If you already know the music, it's interesting to compare his responses to your own, but if you're not, his prose reads well enough that it can be enjoyed on its own. In any case, all this analysis is an excellent goad to check out the music you don't know-for personal discovery purposes and to reality check Friedwald's take. For example:

I was not familiar with Carmen McRae's album Live at the Dug and checking it out was a pleasure. On the other hand...Here's what he says about her version of "I Could Have told You": "When she sings 'making promises he'll never keep,' instead of stretching the last word the way you might expect, she cuts it off shortly, and follows it with a few minor notes for emphasis-as if to literally illustrate the sound of a promise unkept." I then listened to the tune. She repeats that line a couple of times in the song and I don't know what Friedwald means by "cutting it off," but in fact, both times she holds out the note for several beats. It seems as though he thought he had a nice metaphorical point and stretched the musical facts to fit. Although I disagreed with this and some of his other evaluations and choice of artists (Tiny Tim the most obvious example), I found the process pretty fascinating. 

And yes, I do have a laundry list of bones to pick:
p.14 Was Astaire a "high baritone"? Can it be said that the Armstrong and Astaire Verve records "couldn't have been made without him[Oscar Peterson]?" Was Peterson always up to the task? For sure, but... 
p.25 What does a "coarse groove" 78 mean?
p.78 Harry Edison's "beeping trumpet"? A phrase used several times.
p.82 In the 30's and 40's, there was really no generation gap and everyone listened to Bing?
p.85 Was it really "every man for himself" in the 1920's, without any arrangements?
p.122 I think you DO need big chops to put over "Midnight Sun."
p.134 Scatting at its best is a minor annoyance?
p.194 Loesser's "cryptic, almost indecipherable line"? Well, Sheep's Eye is a gin produced by the Lickerish Tooth company. 
p.197 L, H&R were NOT the only ones doing what they did. There was the Blue Stars of Paris and the Double Six of Paris. And, you don't talk about the great "Every Tub" in your Sing a Song of Basie coverage.
p. 201 A trumpet mute "attaches to the bell"?
p.234 Carmen McRae DOES sound like herself.
p.268 Miles never played "Bye Bye Blackbird" at a "slow crawl."
p.314  Venuti was "by far the greatest soloist" on violin? Only if you restrict it to the 20's.
p.385 Ruby Braff was a cornetist, not a trumpettist.

But really, these are minor quibbles. If you're into vocals, check this book out.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Autumn Jazz Songs

These songs are suffused with an introspective, melancholy and somewhat rueful quality that distinguishes them from the music of other seasons. This made for one of the most chill DuPlex Mystery Jazz hours.


Chet Baker and Paul Desmond "Autumn Leaves" from "She Was Too Good to Me" (1974) on CTI

Dinah Washington "September in the Rain" from "September in the Rain"  (1960) on Mercury

Woody Herman & His Orchestra "Early Autumn" from "Early Autumn" (1948) on Capital

Double Six of Paris "Early Autumn" from "Swingin' Singin'" (1962) on Philips

Bob Dorough "Tis Autumn" from "Just About Everything" (1966) on Inner city

Art Farmer "Autumn Nocturne" from "Art Farmer Plays" (1955) on Prestige

Charlie Mariano "Autumn in New York" from "New Sounds from Boston" (1951) on Prestige

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman "Autumn Serenade" from "John Coltrane And Johnny Hartman" (1963) on Impulse

Django Reinhart & Hunert Rostaing "September Song" (1947) on Classics

Paul Bley "Autumn Breeze" from "Paul Bley" (1954) on Emarcy

Kenny Drew Trio "Autumn in Rome" from "Kenny Drew Trio" (2013) on Afterbeat

Yves Montand "Les Feuilles Mortes " from "Récital au Théâtre de L'Etoile" (1954) on Odeon

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong "Autumn in New York" from "Ella and Louis" (1957) on Verve

Friday, November 3, 2017

An Hour With Bunny Berigan

The DuPlex Mystery Jazz Hour of 11.2.17 featured the stellar trumpet and vocals of Bunny Berigan. He had great range, power, flexibility and ideas.



Roy Bargy "Raisin' the Rent" 1933 on Victor
The Boswell Sister "Everybody Loves My Baby" 1932 on Brunswick
Frankie Trumbauer and his Orchestra "Troubled" 1934 on Victor
Bunny Berigan · Gene Gifford and His Orchestra "Nuthin' But the Blues" 1935 on Victor
Benny Goodman & His Orchestra "Sometimes I'm happy" 1935 on Victor
Benny Goodman & His Orchestra "King Porter Stomp" 1935 on Victor
Glenn Miller Orch w. Berigan "Solo Hop" 1935 on Columbia
Bunny Berigan and his Blue Boys "Chicken and Waffles" 1935 on Decca
Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra "On Your Toes" 1935 on Victor
Bunny Berigan and his Blue Boys "Swing Mr Charlie" 1936 on Brunswick
Bunny Berigan "i Can't Get Started" 1936 on Vocalion
Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra "A Melody From the Sky" 1936 on Vocalion
Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra "Black Bottom" 1937 on Victor
Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra "Prisoner's Song" 1937 on Victor
Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra "Song of India" 1937 on Victor
Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra "Jazz Me Blues" 1939 on Victor
Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra "Ain't She Sweet" 1939 on Victor
Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra "Me and My Melinda" 1942 on Victor

Friday, October 27, 2017

Room-With-Jazz or Jazz Room?

There's a very big difference between a room with jazz and a jazz room. 
In a room with jazz, everyone is intent on their conversation and their food. If someone claps at the end of a tune, scattered people will join in as a guilty afterthought. 

In a jazz room, people are there to listen. Even if people are talking, most are using enough radar to ebb and flow with the music. Occasional bursts of "yea!" and "alright!" break through and individual solos are rewarded with applause. Rather than having to "work the crowd," the musicians can work WITH them.

Last night I was in a room-with-jazz. It kinda sucked.
The focus is on food and food has become a stable means of income for many places that before only sold drinks. I don't like it, but I get it.
As many tables as possible get squeezed into every possible space. Of course, that's always been the way. But now, rather than a few cocktail servers occasionally drifting by with drinks, you have a large waitstaff with menus, lots of plates, complicated cleanups and bill paying. Last night I was nearly run into or nearly ran into waiters four times. And, since the orientation of the tables is about maximizing the space, there are many seats that have no eye-line to the stage. If you go through the necessary gyrations to face the stage, I hope you have your chiropractor on speed dial. Alright, this is all very curmudgeonly. Full credit to the management of the place for having an actual bandstand and for hiring excellent musicians. The musicians are playing and are getting paid-that's good. I listened, as a few other people may listen, carefully. But, it remains intractably irritating to me that musicians who have devoted their lives to mastering this music are not being given the attention and respect they deserve. I don't think that performers as skilled in any other musical genre are treated this way.
"I eschew it."

Monday, October 23, 2017

A Big Sid Catlett Show

The Duplex of 10.19.17 featured the work of the great drummer Sid Catlett. As the playlist shows, he could play in any jazz style and make it work. He was also a master showman with the sticks. To see him in action, go here: Enjoy the show.



Benny Carter - "Swing It" Benny Carter, vocal, as, ‪Buster Bailey (cl as) Omer Simeon (as) Elmer Williams Chu Berry (ts cl) Horace Henderson (p) Bob Lessey (g) Israel Crosby(b) Sidney Catlett (d)‬, Columbia 1933

Fletcher Henderson - "Jangled Nerves" Dick Vance Joe Thomas Roy Eldridge (tp) Fernando Arbello Ed Cuffee (tb) Buster Bailey (cl as) OmerSimeon (as) Elmer Williams Chu Berry (ts cl) Horace Henderson (p) Bob Lessey (g) Israel Crosby(b) Sidney Catlett (d) Victor 1936

New Orleans Feetwarmers and Sidney Bechet "Shake it and Break It" S. Bechet (ss), S. de Paris (tp), S. Williams (tb), C. Jackson (p), B. Addis (g), W. Braud (b), S. Catlett (d) 1940 on VIctor

John Kirby Sextet "Jumping in the Pump Room" Charlie Shavers,cl:Buster Baily,as:Russel Procope,p:Billy Kyle, b:John Kirby,big sid catlett-d 1940 on Okeh, 1940

Benny Goodman "Pound Ridge"-Benny Goodman, cl, dir: Billy Butterfield, Jimmy Maxwell, Cootie Williams, Al Davis, t / Lou McGarity, Cutty Cutshall, tb / Skippy Martin, as, a / Clint Neagley, as / Vido Musso, George Berg, ts / Charles "Chuck" Gentry, bar / Mel Powell, p, a / Tom Morgan, g / John Simmons, sb / Sid Catlett, Chicago, 1941.

Eddie Condon w. Lee Wiley "Down With Love" from The Town Hall Concerts Forty-Four and Forty-Five-Eugene Schroeder-p· Sid Weiss-b· Sid Catlett-d· Lee Wileyv· Billy Butterfield-tp Eddie Condon -guitar, Monmouth Evergreen1944

Teddy WIlson Sextet "Don't be that way" The Onyx Club Original Live Recordings 1944, Teddy Wilson (piano), Edmond Hall (clarinet), Emmett Berry (trumpet), Benny Morton (trombone), Slam Stewart (bass), Sidney Catlett (drums) 1944 on Columbia

Esquire All Stars jazz concert "Rose Room," Art Tatum - piano, Big Sid Catlett-drums, Oscar Pettiford - bass, Barney Bigard - clarinet,  Christy Records 1945

Big Sid Catlett's Band, "Love For Scale" -Joe Guy (tp), Bull Moose Jackson (as), Bumps Myers and Illinois Jacquet (ts), Horace Henderson (p), Al Casey (g) and John Simmons (b). Capital 1945 

Big Sid Catlett and His AllStars "Humoresque Boogie"- Catlett, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis (ts), Bill Gooden (org,celeste,vcl), Pete Johnson (p), Jimmy Shirley (g) and Gene Ramey (b). Manor 1946 

Dizzy Gillespie with Charlie Parker, "Salt Peanuts," Sidney 'Big Sid' Catlett, Al Haig, and Curly Russell. 1945 Guild

John Kirby Sextet Musicomania-Charlie Shavers - trumpet, Buster Bailey - clarinet, Charlie Holmes - alto saxophone Billy Kyle - piano, John Kirby - bass, film-Sepia Cinderella, 1947

JATP "Sid Flips His Lid," Sid Catlett, d., Charlie Shavers, tpt, Hank jones, P, Verve 1947

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

New Ears and the New Jazz of the 1950's

One of the fascinating aspects of the "new" jazz music of the mid-late 1950's. was the background of its creators. Three spent formative years in rhythm and Blues bands: Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry and Billy Higgins. Charlie Haden came from a folk-country background. Cecil Taylor was immersed in contemporary classical music. Steve Lacy and Roswell Rudd were "Dixieland" players. Henry Grimes studied classical and played R&B gigs. Dennis Charles came from traditional Caribbean music.
The Bebop language had so taken hold that subsequent 1950's jazz styles were deeply in its debt[all these names could have quotation marks around them]: Cool, West Coast, the Tristano school, Hard Bop, Chamber jazz, Soul Jazz. 
Questions present themselves: Was it easier for these players to make the dramatic musical leap they did because they were less in thrall to bop? If so, why? One thing strikes me-the language of bop is so rich and deep that it can simply be addictive. Once you're inside it, it's easy to become obsessed with exploring it.

Monday, October 16, 2017

An Hour with Smiling Billy Higgins

On the Duplex Mystery Jazz Hour of 10.12.17, I played music of drummer Billy Higgins. He was a joy to watch, as he really seemed to love every minute of it. He was not a bombastic drummer, simply an inspirational one.


Ornette Coleman "Ramblin'" from "Change of the Century" 1960 on Atlantic

Cal Tjader & Stan Getz Sextet "Crow's Nest" from "Cal Tjader & Stan Getz Sextet"1958 on Fantasy

Billy Higgins with the Teddy Edwards Quartet "Me and My Lover" from "Sunset Eyes" 1960 on Pacific Jazz

John Coltrane "Simple Like"[later called Like Sonny] from "Simple Like" 1962 on Roulette

Thelonious Monk "Let's Call This" from "Thelonious Monk at the Blackhawk" 1960 on Riverside

Steve Lacy with Don Cherry "Evidence" from "Evidence" 1962 on New Jazz

Lee Morgan "You Go To My Head" from "The Gigolo" 1965 on Blue Note

Bobby Hutcherson "Blues Mind Matter" from "Stick-Up!" 1966 on Blue Note

Andrew Hill "Black Sabbath" from "Dance With Death" 1968 on Blue Note

Friday, October 6, 2017

1970's Boston Jazz

On the 10.5.17 edition of the Duplex Mystery Jazz Hour, WZBC, we sample an eclectic mix of 70's Boston Jazz, courtesy of my guest Dick Vacca, author of the Boston Jazz Chronicles. 


Baird Hersey’s Year of the Ear "Lookin’ for That Groove" from "Lookin’ for That Groove" 1977 on Arista Novus

The Fringe "The Message" from "The Fringe" 1978 on Ap-Go-Ga

Gary Burton Quartet "Coral" from "Times Square" 1978 on ECM 

Buddy Rich Big Band "Nutville" from "The Roar of '74" 1973 on Groove Merchant

Joe Maneri "Zeibekiko" from "Art-I-Facts" 1973 on NEC

Mae Arnette w/ Phil Wilson Sextet "All in Love is Fair" from "Getting It All Together" 1976 on Outrageous Records

Getting It All Together "Space-A-Nova II" from "Brighter Days" 1977 on Outrageous Records

Arnie Cheatham "Road Through the Wall, Part 4" from "Thing" 1972 on Porter Records

Dave McKenna "If Dreams Come True" from "Giant Strides" 1979 on Concord

Monday, October 2, 2017

What's the Right Tempo For That Tune?

There aren't that many categories for song tempos in jazz: up/fast, medium-up, medium, medium-slow and ballad/slow, but the permutations are endless. Is there a "right" tempo for a tune? 
Some songs seem to invite a wide latitude of tempo without losing their internal musical-emotional logic. I'd suggest as examples Autumn Leaves, But Not For Me, Come Rain or Come Shine, Our Love is Here to Stay...On the other hand, there are a lot of tunes that really call out for a narrow range of tempos-Good Morning Heartache, St. Thomas, After You've Gone, Donna Lee, Liza...

I find there are certain musicians who seem to always call tunes at the tempo I would choose, like Bobby Hackett, Roy Eldridge and Benny Golson. There are some who stretch tempi a little bit and make them work-Miles Davis (usually slower) and Art Pepper (usually faster) come to mind.

There are musicians like Charles Mingus and Steven Bernstein who sometimes re-work tunes so that they become almost indistinguishable from the standard versions. In this new aesthetic territory, the tempo becomes highly frangible

Then, there are tempo choices that just seem wrong-headed; where either the sentiment of the song or the contour of the melody clashes with the speed at which it's played. It's easier to see this in sung versions where you can hear the words, but in instrumental versions, it can also be irksome.

Let's start by comparing an original conception with a jazz re-working and listen to Kurt Weill play his composition "Speak Low," at 116 beats per minute, followed by Sonny Clark's version of the tune at 170 beats per minute:

In the Clark version, there is a shift between "Latin" and swing in the rhythm section, harmonized background horn parts, virtuosic bop playing. This version does not "Speak Low," but it does build on what the tune offers and essentially creates a convincing new tune on the bones of the old.

In this version of  "Dancing in the Dark," the tempo is a little bit faster than when first introduced in the film "The Bandwagon." The quality of Astaire's delivery does give the sense of this tempo, or something close to it,  being the "right" one.

The very slow tempo Cannonball Adderley chose for the same tune, his melodic ornamentations, interpolations and alterations were extreme enough that for several spins, I wasn't sure if I was hearing the standard or an original ballad by Adderly. See if you can buy into this approach.

Here are two versions of "Young and Foolish." The first is typical of the tempo usually chosen for the tune; perhaps even a bit slower. 

In the above, Mark Murphy takes the same tune way up. He uses "stop-times," key changes and horn obligatti for variety and creates a completely different approach. He renders an viable alternate vision, but to me, the lyrics don't really work at this tempo. There's a ruefulness to them that gets steamrolled. 

Here's a Clark Terry revamp of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." 

The melody actually fits well in this tempo and the performance is terrific. The original emotional impact of the song is swept away here, but its intent is so far away from the original that this version can be taken on its own virtuosic, up tempo terms.

Many jazz people take "My Shining Hour" at an up tempo. I happen to think that the song deserves to be heard at a slower tempo, which is how I do it when I play it. Here are two contrasting versions. 

Degustibus non disputatum est, of course, but I think it's fair to say that when choosing how fast to play an instrumental, there can be a lot of latitude-melodies can often sustain themselves in a wide range of tempos. But, in choosing to alter the usual tempo of a tune with known lyrics, musicians need to reckon with the emotional weight and meaning of the lyrics. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Intonation: Good Enough For Jazz?

There's an ancient trope musicians share while they're tuning up. After a few minutes of slides and mouthpieces being manipulated to try and agree on a Bflat, someone says "Ok-good enough for jazz."

How much a listener is distracted by intonation in jazz is personal, but it's clear that in the hierarchy of jazz values, personal expression trumps intonation. In fact, a lot of great players have existed in a kind of a tuning nether-region. 
I don't mean "bending" notes, which is an obvious device. But, is the musician purposely playing out of tune, doesn't notice it, or is he or she hearing the music in another way; possibly more as in a non-tempered, just-intonation framework?

This varies from instrument to instrument.

Bass players will be pissed off, but I find their intonation often dubious. Walking-ok, but once the solos start and they're freed from the shackles of playing important chord tones, it's a different story. Can't really talk about pianists, of course, as they do what they can with what they're given. As far as trumpet players- look at pictures of classical trumpet players and you see they have
fingers in both the first and third valve slides, in order to make adjustments. Not so, jazz players, who are often out of tune, especially when they use mutes. I hear trombonists adjusting well, especially in the upper register, when the slide is least extended. Mutes are an issue for them, too.

Really, it's about sax players-and mostly about alto players.

There's a school of alto players to which applying the usual standards of playing sharp or flat just doesn't make sense.

Here's where some of them fall to me:

Cannonball Adderly: bright tone, pleasantly sharp.

Gary Bartz: pretty much in the center
Benny Carter: liked to push it up and down, but settled at home
Johnny Hodges: all over the place, but he knew where he was
Ornette Coleman: an intonation enigma; where will he be?
Lou Donaldson: moderately bright tone, but, surprisingly, sometimes a shade under pitch(!)
Eric Dolphy: often far away from "in tune" on the sharp end.
Charlie Parker: His tone changed (almost) everyone's tone to the edgier bright sound that has dominated since that time. I think that people must have heard him as playing sharp, which a lot of the time he was, but less sharp than his tone would lead you to think.
Jackie McLean: He's the guy that inspired this post; pushes sharp to the extreme.

Where do you stand on this question?

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Music Takes Root in Racist Soil

We jazz folk like to emphasize the fact that the music has provided a fertile playing field, if you will, for inter-racial camaraderie. However, at this particular moment in American history, it feels right to show how foul the cultural context was that begat the music and to give a sense of how extraordinary it was that people were able to transcend that context and lay the foundations for jazz, ragtime and other popular musics.

Wilbur Sweatman's career exemplifies the path a black musician had to take in order to make a career in the pervasive racism of late 19th c. and early 20th c. America. It's a fascinating and sobering story and Mark Berresford's well researched biography Wilbur Sweatman, That's Got 'Em tells the story well. This post also adds observations culled from a recent reading of Dennis Owsley's City of Gabriels, The History of Jazz in St. Louis, 1895-1973, where the story of racism is told once again.

Berresford makes a strong case for Sweatman as an under-appreciated bridge figure between ragtime and jazz. Sweatman grew up in a town not far from ragtime hotbed Sedalia, MO and the Mississippi river, with its flow of itinerant musicians. He started, in the 1890's, in the trenches of showbiz as a member oa "pick" (pickaninnyband and transitioned into minstrelsy, brass bands, circus bands and vaudeville, where he spent most of his career. His musical skills put him in leadership positions early on and he associated with important figures in African-American music, many of whom are little known today: Nathaniel Clark Smith, P.G. Lowery, Harry T. Burleigh, Ford T. Dabney and others, whose names are slightly more familiar: Will Vodery, Perry Bradford, Shelton Brooks, Bob Cole, Will Marion Cook, James Reese Europe, Ernest Hogan, James Weldon Johnson among others.

It may be all too easy to think-especially given the hardscrabble quality of the itinerant musical life-that these musicians were uneducated, "natural" musicians. However, the story of Sweatman's success, along with that of 
Will Marion Cook
figures like Lowery, Smith, Cook, Europe and others, puts the lie to the mythology about the "natural" black musician. Many musicians were self-taught, often because formal training was unavailable to them, but the implication that disciplined intellectual training was beyond the scope of black musicians, was one of the most pernicious manifestations of racism. Natural they may have been, but what this biography makes clear is that in order to make a living in music, a musician had to have a solid musical background, be able to read music and if not write, then contribute to arrangements and play in any style of music. 
Eddie Randall's St. Louis Devils, 1938

City of Gabriels describes a similar scenario. Unlike the mythology of the riverboat bands, which we think of as hotbeds of improvisation for many famous jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong, Baby Dodds and Pee Wee Russell, there was little improvisation. The riverboats' bands, largely run by Fate Marable for the Streckfus family steamship line, were highly disciplined and structured musical environments, where one had to learn how to read well and be adaptable in many musical situations. And, as such, this gig was highly valued by musicians.
Fate Marable Riverboat Band
The racist attitude about "natural" versus "educable" forced black musicians to hide their education. For example, black musicians playing in James Reese Europe bands for white audiences had to quickly memorize the latest songs, as they could not be seen to use sheet music on the bandstand, lest they be seen as putting themselves on the same level as their audience. And, of course, black musicians had to give up any idea of becoming involved in the world of classical music. 
James Reese Europe's Hellfighters
City of Gabriels covers an aspect of the story not covered in the Sweatman book, that of musician's unions.

In St. Louis, white bands played only for whites, while black bands could play for both black and white audiences. However, jobs in legitimate theatre and classical music were restricted to the white union. Both unions managed to uphold decent per-job wage levels, but when times grew tough in the late 1920's, enmity between the two unions grew, as the bread and butter jobs in the new entertainment industries of radio and film were also not made available to black union members. Separate but unequal unions were not officially desegregated by the American Federation of Musicians in all American cities until 1971. 

Of course, the history of racism in music encompasses much more than I've talked about here, just as it is only one aspect of the pattern of discrimination that pervaded every trade, profession and employment track in America. As a lifelong aspiring practitioner of jazz, I can only take a knee in honor of the indomitable men and women who laid the foundation of this profound expression of the human spirit.

Monday, September 25, 2017

In Praise of Young Jazz Musicians

I hear a lot about this entitled generation of kids. The lazy buggers don't woodshed for 12 hours a day learning Charlie Parker solos like we did. They don't give a hoot about blowing Cherokee in 12 keys.

And yet, those lazy buggers seem to be filling the halls of Berklee, North Texas State and a hundred other jazz programs. Are they walking down the halls of NEC listening to Kanye West and Beyonce? Probably, but Bird and Trane are also on their playlists. All you have to do is listen to the music being made by high school and college ensembles to see that the musicianship is off the charts.

So, what's gonna happen to this large cohort of trained jazz musicians?

The top 1-5% of players are likely to be recognized and able to make a living as performing musicians.

Other, very promising young musicians who have musical parents or who can plug into an extended musical family, may be fortunate enough to be nurtured by an informal mentoring system. This can lead to sitting in with already established players and/or introductions to important music industry contacts.

For the rest, gigs are unlikely to provide a steady income. Jobs paying a living wage in the field of music are limited: teaching, piano tuning, studio engineering. Or, you might try your luck overseas. The most likely scenario is taking a "day job" and doing music whenever you can.

Apart from offering poor employment options, jazz, for the most part, has lost its cache of cool, meaning this youthful cohort is drifting away from its hip hop/pop/techno-centric peer group like ice floes breaking off the polar cap. Add to all that how hard this difficult music is to master.

And yet, the music continues to draw in enthusiastic musicians.  I see it as a testament to the enduring power of the music and not to the short-sightedness of youth.  Despite the diminished status or popularity of jazz in the culture, these young people feel the music's power to move and uplift us. There's something very heartening in the idea that they recognize this and continue to aspire to fulfill the infinite potential of the music.

Friday, September 22, 2017

An Hour with Eddie Jefferson

On this edition of the DuPlex Mystery Jazz Hour of 9.21.17, we hear some of the music of Eddie Jefferson. Eddie was one of the prime innovators in vocalese-the art of putting lyrics to jazz tunes and solos.  



‪Eddie Jefferson and James Moody‬ "I Cover the Waterfront" and
"Moody's mood for love"  (1956) on Argo

Eddie Jefferson "New York Afternoon (feat. Richie Cole)" from "Keeper of the Flame" (1979) on Muse

Eddie Jefferson "So What" from "The Jazz Singer" (1976) on Inner city

Eddie Jefferson "Harold's House of Jazz" from "Keeper of the Flame" 1979 on Muse

Eddie Jefferson "Sister Sadie" from "The Jazz Singer" 1976 on Inner city

Eddie Jefferson "Lady Be Good" from "The Live-Liest" 1976 on Muse

Eddie Jefferson "Body and Soul" from "The Jazz Singer" 1976)on Inner city

Eddie Jefferson "Benny's From Heaven" from "The Main Man" 1977 on Inner city

Eddie Jefferson "Groovin' High" from "The Live-Liest" 1976 on Muse

Dexter Gordon feat. Eddie Jefferson "Diggin' In" from "Great Encounters" 1978 on Columbia

Eddie Jefferson "Parker's Mood" from "The Live-Liest" 1976 on Muse

Eddie Jefferson "Now's The Time" from "The Jazz Singer" 1976 on Inner City

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Jazz Seduce-O-Meter (updated)

Friends, I have seen the error of my ways and apologize for the sarcastic tone of my recent post on the scientific link between sex and jazz. Looking back at my own experience dispassionately, I see there is in fact a clear link between people's sex lives and their musical taste. "Getz-Gilberto" is guaranteed to get anyone into your bed faster and more efficiently than, say, Black Flag. That is statistically indisputable. 

So, in the spirit of stretching this scientific inquiry to the breaking point, I have created "The Jazz Seduce-O-Meter"-JSOM-designed to help you maximize your musical dollar in order to fully leverage the sexiness of the jazz mystique. Your goal is to reach 10 points. Ten points guarantees results. Understand that each Jazz Seduce-O-Meter must be tailored to your specific demographic**. 

Here is the Boomer version (abridged): 
Bossa Nova: +4 
Miles Davis Birth of the Cool: +3 
Miles Davis Kind of Blue: +4 
Miles Davis muted, playing ballads: +3 
Any other Miles: -4 
Sinatra w. Dorsey: +3 
Sinatra w. Stordahl: +3  
Sinatra w. Paul Anka: -10 
Coltrane w. Johnny Hartman: +4  
Coltrane Ballads: +3 
Any other Coltrane: -5 
Organ Trios: -2 
ECM Records: +2 
Bill Evans: +3 
Anything "With Strings:" -1 
Third Stream Music: +-0 
Avant-garde jazz of any kind: -10 

**Keep your eye on your demographic. A knowledgeable source sends this warning: GIlberto doesn't work with punker chicks.

Mix and match as much as you like, just stay away from the negative numbers and please! Avoid those screeching saxophones at all cost. Let us know whether the Jazz Seduce-O-Meter has worked for you! All we ask here at Seduction Central is that you not name your first born "Cannonball."

Friday, September 15, 2017

Recent Jazz Reading

Jazz In the Movies reflects a staggering amount of viewing and reviewing by author-film archivist David Meeker. It was published in 1981, but an updated version called Jazz on The Screen was published in 2017. It's an oversize paperback, well-formatted, with short blurbs about the films and lots of photos. For the jazz/film/television obsessed, a definitive resource.

That Devlin' Tune is one small part of the enormous output of author-archivist-musician Allen Lowe. What to say about this guy and his work? He's a genre polymath, who explores all kinds of indigenous American music and burrows deeply into what connects and separates the various strains. The combination of related materials that Lowe puts together-musical recordings on CD, print descriptions and discographies-is something one doesn't find anywhere else. Satisfying whether you're a newbie or as a grizzled veteran of the music.
Rat Race Blues: The Musical Life of Gigi Gryce is a stellar biography, written by Noal Cohen and Michael Fitzgerald. Gryce occupies an interesting place in the jazz world. He's not generally put in the highest tier as an alto sax player, but his playing is widely respected, as are his compositions and arrangements. He is also known as something of a mystery man; perfect subject for a biography. Cohen and Fitzgerald have done a thorough job, spoken to many of his peers, listened carefully to his music and put the threads together nicely. There are unknown factors in Gryce's life and some reasoned speculation is offered, but nothing that seems far-fetched. An excellent read.
Art of Jazz: Form/Performance/Notes is a large format, high-end, attractive paperback; catalogue of a three part exhibition at Harvard University museums. This is the blurb: 

The installation ranges from art historical presentations on jazz figures and the "jazz" strategies of fine artists to "jazz" ephemera: posters, album and photography and concludes with 21st century contemporary artists engaging with jazz in multiple ways. The exhibition is filled with several sound installations.

The writing style comes from the "art academy," which may not be that familiar to many jazz people. There is a straightforward introduction by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and short essays of various degrees of accessibility by a number of people on artists influenced by jazz-Romare Bearden, Stuart Davis, Matisse and others. The book contains a number of high quality reproductions of art and photographs and these are, to me, the strong point of the book.
Saved the most difficult for last. Epistrophies, written by Brent Hayes Edwards is an ambitious book that demands an ambitious reader. 

Some of the chapter headings of the book are: "Louis Armstrong and the Syntax of Scat," "The Race for Space: Sun Ra's Poetry," "Zoning Mary Lou Williams Zoning." The issue is not that many of these areas might not be familiar, at least in part, to readers of books about jazz. It's that a general audience might wrestle, as I did, with how Edwards, coming from the Academy, addresses them. 

One part of this is the language. Terms like "alterity," "semiotic," "historiography," "aleatory," "etrange voisonage" tend to slow down the general reader. Reading also becomes more difficult when Edwards references other authors unlikely to be known to a non-academic, general audience. 

The book is most accessible when the author is providing historical data, and his extensive research indeed provides much that is new. 

I found the writing to fall largely between accessible and extremely challenging. There is no part of the book that does not require concentration and, often, re-reading. Take this excerpt, from the chapter on Louis Armstrong: "In vocal expression in music, scat falls where language rustles with alterity, where the foreign runs in jive and the inside jargon goes in the garb of the outsider. But as the examples above demonstrate, the performance of difference in scat is by no means innocent; it is the very point at which the music polices the edges of its territory." (p 36)

The edges of this book's territory are clear enough, but venturing into the interior takes time and concentration. The rewards are there for the intrepid.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Real Zydeco Stuff

In 1987, I went on assignment from the Christian Science Monitor to the New Orleans Jazz Fest. The idea was not so much to cover the festival itself, but to try and find some local music in its natural setting. I wrote about that trip on this blog in 2011.

As noted in that entry, I was fortunate to hear about Walter Polite, living out in New Iberia. My photographer Donna Paul and I found our way to his house, where Walter lived with his family.  He greeted us warmly and we sat happily on his front porch as he played and sang for us, including Hey Lucile, My Baby Don't Wear no Shoes, Don't You Mess With My Tutu and more.

I recently got a message from Keyona Hippolite, Walter's great-grandson, saying he'd seen the article and asking if I still had the audio, as his grandmother wanted to use it for a tribute to Walter they are holding.soon.  So, I dug into the archives and found it.

Bear in mind that this is a 30-year old cassette recording. The audio starts out rough, but after a few minutes, it evens out. This is some beautiful, down-home, yet sophisticated music, from the hands and voice of a master.


Monday, July 24, 2017

As we so often find with jazz performers, vocalist Helen Merrill started young-age 14 and from the beginning, she managed to be both mellow and edgy. On this 7.20.17 edition of the DuPlex Mystery Jazz Hour on WZBC, apart from her jazz work, you will hear a few recordings made to try to boost her profile outside jazz.


Earl Hines w. Helen Merrill "A Cigarette For Company" 1942 on D'Oro

"Don't explain" "What's New" You'd Be so Nice to Come Home to" "Falling in Love With Love" from "Helen Merrill Featuring Clifford Brown" (Jazz, 1954) on EmArcy 

"Dream of You" "Summertime" "Let Me Love You"  "I'm Just a Lucky so-And-So" Helen Merrill  arr. by Gil Evans, from Collaboration 1956 on Emarcy

"I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry"  Helen Merrill from "American Country Songs" 1959 on Atco

"These foolish things" Helen Merrill from "Helen Merrill Sings Italian Songs" 1960 on RCA Italiana

"Smog" from "Helen Merrill Sings Italian Songs" 1960 on RCA Italiana

"Cannatella" Helen Merrill from "The Artistry of Helen Merrill"  1965) on Mainstream

"Baltimore Oriole" Helen Merrill from "The Feeling Is Mutual" 1965 on Milestone

"What is this Thing Called Love" Helen Merrill from "The Feeling Is Mutual" 1965 on Milestone

"A Man and A Woman" Helen Merrill  from "Bossa Nova in Tokyo"  1967 on Victor

"Norwegian Wood" Helen Merrill  from "Helen Merrill Sings the Beatles" 1970 on EMI

"Vera Cruz" Helen Merrill  from "Casa Forte"1980 on Mercury

"Natural Sounds"Helen Merrill  from "Casa Forte" 1980 on Mercury

 "When Lights Are Low" "And Still She Is With Me" "Music Makers" from "Music Makers" 1986 on owl

"Just Friends" Helen Merrill w. Stan Getz  from "Helen Merrill w. Stan Getz"1989 on Emarcy

"Out of This World"  Helen Merrill from "Clear Out Of This World" 1992 on Emarcy

"I'll Remember April"  "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" Helen Merrill  from "Brownie: Homage to Clifford Brown"  1994 on Verve

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

In Walked Fud

"His final decade was a difficult one, and a pernicious addiction to alcohol ultimately took him out ahead of schedule. Until shortly before his death on March 25, 1957, Fud Livingston could periodically be seen playing piano at the back of various bars in certain sections of New York City." Notes for the Jazz Oracle Collection.

You're looking a little peaked today, Fud.

You too, Bobby... Set one up for me, ok? And, ah, put it on the cuff, would ya?

Hey, just cause you ain't been in here in a while don't mean you don't owe me for the last 3 times.

I know...

Excuse me, gents. That's alright, I'll take care of it.

I appreciate it, buddy.

That's alright. Still a couple people around here who know who you are.

I'll get the shakes out and then we'll see what happens...One more oughta do it. Bobby?

[Positive nod]

[four stools down] Hey, buddy, you telling me this rum dum is somebody.

When the world was young.

That's good. When the world was young-and gay. I'll say.

I'm good to go now. Hey, mister. You wanna hear a tune? 


You know my song "Feelin' No Pain?"

You wrote that? 

[4 stools down] Yea, that's the rum dum's national anthem. Ironic, ain't it?

Hey, you wise-acre half-wit! I played with Bix Beiderbecke! You understand me? What that means? I played with everybody-Miller, Goodman, Miff, Nichols!

Ok, Fud, calm down. i gotta admit. He knows how to play the damn piano.

Better'n that shit they call music now.

Fud, you were a respected guy. In demand.

Damn right. They needed a nice arrangement, they called Fud.

So, I gotta ask-what the hell happened? 

I dunno, Bobby. Bix died, some of the guys changed their style. I got old. Jazz got old.

[Fud wrestles music from a beat-up piano. He drops a few notes, but a spark of genius survives, or so I like to think].