Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Songs That Deeply Move

After my recent interview with Sheila Jordan, Jeff Turton made this comment: "She sang at my wedding and I always loved "You Are My Sunshine..."[see below]. I asked if she would sing it but she told me that she wouldn't sing it because to her it was a sad song. Growing up it was always a song that they sang when there were problems in the mines and lives were lost, which happened on a regular basis back then... Since that time I have never heard the song in the same way and I now hear that sadness in her voice."

There are often universal, or at least consensual emotional responses to music. Minor and major are more than just the mechanical act of flatting the third. But, we always bring our own backstory too, sometimes conscious, sometimes not and once in a while we are blindsided by our own reaction and deeply moved by music that other people find merely "pleasant," or "well-crafted."  
Abbey Lincoln
I'm not talking about the effect of music at the transcendental end of the spectrum-Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and others. That music summons up large vistas and profound cosmic spaces. The songs I allude to here move us to a very personal inner space and often, a deep melancholy. Sometimes we understand why this happens, as in Jeff's story above; sometimes not. The fact that we may not know why we are emotionally stirred seems to deepen the experience.

In "Dinji," from Wayne Shorter's "Super Nova" album, a very personal vocal by Maria Booker is bookended by music evoking a wider, more cosmic palette. This deepens the effect of the vocal, which enters at about 4:00.

In the LP "Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie," comes Ella with "Good Morning Heartache," a beautiful marriage of music, lyric and musician. No surprise at its effect.

Here's "You Are My Sunshine," off the album "The Outer View." The arrangement George Russell wrote showed that he grasped the many layers of subtext in the song and Sheila Jordan's relationship to it.

Rahsaan and "A Laugh for Rory." Why this song? I'm not sure, but the combination of the real child's voice, the bubbling lightness of the head contrasted with the dramatics of the solos tripped a wire in me.

Finally, the song with a mojo that struck me like thunder is "Throw It Away," by Abbey Lincoln from "A Turtle's Dream." Why? I'll let the mystery continue to breathe.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Talking With, Listening to Sheila Jordan


It was my pleasure to play music by Sheila Jordan and interview her on the Duplex Mystery Jazz Hour of 11.13.14.

You can get her biography "Jazz Child," written by Ellen Johnson here.

The first 15 minutes are music, the next 35 or so are the interview and the last 10 are more music. Enjoy.

Here's the Program.

PLAYLIST
"Hum Drum Blues" from "Portrait of Sheila"  1962 on Blue Note
"The Bird / Tribute (Quasimodo) / Embraceable You" from "I've Grown Accustomed to the Bass" 1997 on Highnote
"Fred Astaire Medley" from "The Very Thought Of Two" 1988  on MA
"Dat Dere" from "Portrait of Sheila" 1962  on Blue Note
"What Are You Doing For The Rest Of Your Life" from "Body and Soul" 1986 CBS Sony Records
"Anthropology" from "Lost And Found" 1989 on Muse

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Trumpeters: Breathe Deeply and Prosper


Throughout my long playing career (if you can call it that), I have been fed any number of what now seem like crackpot breathing directives, including "Ya gotta push hard out your butt, like you're tryin to fart." "Draw in that sphincter muscle and make it real tight." "Support has to come from the diaphragm, don't worry about your chest."

I've finally begun to understand a couple of fundamental things: 1) Both your chest (lungs) and diaphragm have to be fully engaged and (2) It's not the volume of air that opens up the upper register, it's the velocity. Plenty of air has to be available and you have to be able to generate great airflow speed. Your mouth cavity and tongue also effect the rate of speed. 

We get very obsessed about our chops, but in fact our chops don't kick in until all the above happens. It takes a lot of strength to resist a small, concentrated, fast-moving column of air. The job of your face muscles is to allow your lips to either tighten or relax, to produce faster or slower vibrations that are then amplified by the trumpet and emerge as notes of different pitch
                    
Whatever system of playing works for you is probably the one that allows this system to operate with the greatest efficiency for your particular physiological and psychological makeup.

All this being said, I think it's useful to go back to a fundamental understanding of the act of breathing. I came across this groovy video that explains how things work. They should show this to anyone who picks up a wind instrument.




Here's another video, just to give our friend the diaphragm its due. Ten points to whoever tells me where that extra "g" came from:




So my friends, breathe deeply and prosper.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

More New Yorker Jazz Nonsense

A recent short piece in the New Yorker (they call it a "casual") brings us back to the shift in how this magazine and other "thoughtful" mainstream periodicals now think of jazz.

The piece, under the heading "The Musical Life" is titled "Protege." It opens this way: 

"Jazz, once the national vernacular, lingers as a fading dialect at a musicians’ union in Hell’s Kitchen. Old men in black fedoras and roomy suits, men who toured Europe with Lionel Hampton and Chet Baker, now brush the hi-hat at Monday-night jam sessions before forty people in folding chairs. A few Mondays back at Local 802, “A Foggy Day” sounded downright murky until Quincy Jones strode in and a chorus of old friends cried, “Q! Q!”"
The piece focuses some of its attention on pianist Justin Kauflin, a protege of trumpeter Clark Terry. Kauflin's recording career was given a boost by the involvement of Quincy Jones, who also helped finance the documentary about Terry and Kauflin, called "Keep on Keepin' On." 

Apart from this, there's a noticeably prurient emphasis on Jones' love life. He flirts with two women, and says: "four Sudoku every day, to keep me young. Puzzles, and young women!” The closing of the piece is:

"As Kauflin turned away, Oxenhorn patted his knee and said, “It doesn’t matter how good-looking or talented you are—when Q calls a woman over, she’s going to leave you."

The final bit I want to quote is this:

“Until I met Clark,” Kauflin said, “I’d never been around anyone who could say ‘I love you’ so easily, who could spread joy just with his beautiful soul. That’s the same vibe I get from Q. We need to bring back that love because”—he gestured to the room—“we don’t exactly have a big audience anymore.”

So, to sum up: jazz is a fading dialect, the province of old men with fedoras and "roomy suits" (where the hell does that come from?) playing, essentially, for each other. Two elders of jazz are mentioned: Clark Terry, who is unfortunately, near the end of his life (offstage) and Quincy Jones (center stage), a swashbuckling womanizer with the bucks to keep the dim jazz flame alive.

Make of it what you will.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Jazz for the All-Saints Jim-Jams

Art Tatum, Lonesome Graveyard


ODJB, Skeleton Jangle


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


L,H&R, Halloween


Mickey Mouse, The Haunted House

See next page for Albert Ayler, Hot 8 BRass Band, Wynton Marsalis, Bessie Smith and Lee Morgan.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Jazz Musician: Entertainer or Artist?

Ask improvising musicians whether they would rather have an audience sitting and listening intently or up on their feet dancing and I'd bet the majority would choose the latter. Does this make the musicians in the first case "artists" and "entertainers" in the second? No. In each scenario, they are both, but current jazz dogma might have us think otherwise: For about half a century, most conversations about jazz (including "the death of jazz") have been informed by a tacit yet overwhelming identification with the ethos of personal expression over communication; i.e, artist over entertainer.

Common wisdom is that the shift from entertainment to art in jazz took hold with the boppers. Well, Dizzy Gillespie managed to wear both hats beautifully. And, both Diz and Bird said they loved playing in Detroit, because the people danced more there than in any other city.

 In fact, Jazz oral history-not critical history-shows that musicians identified themselves as entertainers, not artists. As to what words they use to describe each other, the question is moot: "Cat can really wail," or "He don't play shit."

Music has always been a tough racket and part of the deal was understanding what the audience wanted and delivering it: costumes, dancing, jokes, knockabout, occasional schmaltz and the right tempos for dancing. And there was little stigma attached to developing a successful solo and pretty much sticking with it. Certainly, a gentleman named Armstrong thought it was ok. 

                                                                     
I'm not saying that all the fancy talk is mere critical cant. It goes without saying that great jazz musicians are worthy of the same respect accorded the best in any musical genre. 

But listen up, jazz people-in an an economic climate where support for both classical and jazz is drying up, jazz can be freer to muster more creative responses than anything that is branded as "high art," and may be burdened by all the psychic trappings and expectations and affectations that go along with that.

But to do that, we need to be aware of the biases we bring to the table. Let's embrace the glorious history of jazz as entertainment, confident in the knowledge that the musical core is so strong that the art will always take care of itself (but that the audience may need some attention). 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"The Amazing Story of Strange Fruit" is posted


Friends,

I’m very pleased to tell you that my radio theatre piece “The Amazing Story of Strange Fruit” is being released. I won’t overly blurb it, but will say that I think the story is compelling and was well rendered by a cast of ten excellent actors.

The program is available for streaming on http://www.prx.org/pieces/132879-the-amazing-story-of-strange-fruitThis is the place that radio stations go to acquire the right to broadcast programs. So, I’m asking you to think about whether you can think of any stations or especially people with radio programs, who might be interested in airing it. Or, if you know teachers who can use it in their curriculum.

It’s about 14 minutes long and apart from being entertaining in itself, can act as an excellent launching pad for discussions about race and culture on America. If anything occurs to you, please either contact me or, if you have a personal connection, contact that person.

I truly believe this is a story worth being told and you can help to tell it.

All the best,

Steve Provizer

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Whither Jazz Mojo?

The online conversation around jazz, BAM, improvised music, whatever you want to call it, seems to have shifted. I see far fewer pieces that dig into the marrow of the music and many more conversations reacting to mainstream perceptions and/or acceptance of jazz. 

Declining CD sales and "I can't get a gig" anecdotes speak to an uncertain financial future, while the recent proliferation of mainstream "humor" pieces at the expense of jazz point to a deep attitude shift. The intense response to all this diss seems to reflect an erosion of the idea that our efforts will somehow-maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but someday-impact the wider culture. 

I get the un-ease. There's a lot more than just money riding on the weight jazz carries in the zeitgeist. There's a mythology at stake and the shift in jazz mojo is the canary in the cage.
Sonny reacting to the New Yorker Piece
Jazz Infra dig, the cachet of hip-ness, meant that the squares would, of course, not "get it." That was the point. But how did it really work? It worked because the insider could always sense from body language and voice tone that there was a sort of grudging respect on the part of the squares; at least a small sense of regret or guilt that they were not hip enough to dig it.  

That tension was recognized and seized on by Madison Ave. as part of its strategy of leveraging rebelliousness to increase sales; i.e. Chet Baker-Miles Davis archetypes cradling horns with smoke curling up over their tailored chinos. I don't see that strategy in operation anymore. Yes, I see Wynton in the NY Times modeling an expensive watch, but somehow, that's not the same.
That cultural push-pull is pretty much gone, replaced by squelched yawns and the kind of confidence on the part of former-might-once-have-been-squares that comes from knowing that jazz is the music of people who themselves don't get it.

Doesn't matter very much to me. Even though my bumper sticker reads "Self-delusion is my Chosen Religion," I'd rather accept the limits of my cache(accent over the e) and just enjoy communicating with people who speak my language. If I bring any buoyancy that helps keep the good ship Jazz PR afloat, it will come through my natural excitement discussing the relative merits of Lee and Freddie on my little radio show, or having a friend turn me on to a musician saying something new on the alto.

But, lest you be cast into a fit of gloom, my dear jazz people, bear in mind the potential spiritual side benefits that will arise for us in the wake of this cultural shift: we will have the chance to burnish the gleaming halos associated with those who have taken to monasteries and cloisters, uninterested in worldly success and the cultivation of the ego, dedicating ourselves to preserving the ancient illuminated texts.


Veni Creator Spiritus
Mentes tuorum visita
Imple superna gratia,
Quae tu creasti, pectora.


Friday, August 22, 2014

The Young Sassy

My personal predilection is for early to middle-period Sarah Vaughan. Her voice was golden from beginning to end, but I believe the amount of ornamentation she used later in her career sometimes overwhelmed the material itself. 

On this edition of the Duplex Mystery Jazz Hour (08/21/2014), I played only early recordings, starting with her first session in 1944 with the Eckstine band and ending in 1948, with her a cappella version of Nature Boy, which, at that time, challenged Nat Cole's version in popularity. 

Ballads dominate here. My take is that record producers wanted Sarah to crossover and thought this was the way to sell female talent (unless it was targeted to the "race" audience).

Go HERE to hear the show.

Billie Eckstine "I'll Wait and Pray" (1944) on Deluxe 
Dizzy Gillespie And His All Stars Quintet "Signing Off" (1945) on Continental 
Dizzy Gillespie And His All Stars Quintet "Interlude" (1945) on Continental 
Billy Eckstein Orchestra "No Smoke Blues" (1945) on Continental 
BIlly Eckstine and His Orch. "Don't Blame Me" (1945) on Spotlight 
Sarah Vaughan "Lover Man" (1945) on Guild 
Sarah Vaughan "What More Can A Woman Do"  (1945) on Continental 
Sarah Vaughan "I'd Rather Have A Memory Than A Dream" (1945) on Continental 
Tony Scott & his Down Beat Septet "All Too Soon" (945) on Gotham 
John Kirby and His Orchestra "Time and Again"  (1946) on Musicraft 
John Kirby and His Orchestra "I'm Scared" (1946) on Crown 
John Kirby and His Orchestra "You Go to My Head" (1945) on Crown 
John Kirby and His Orchestra "I Could Make You Love Me" (1945) on Crown 
Sarah Vaughan w. Dicky Wells' Big Seven "We're Through" (1946) on H.R.S. 
Georgie Auld and His Orchestra "A Hundred Years From Today" (1946) on Musicraft 
Sarah Vaughan w. Tadd Dameron "If You Could See Me Now" (1946) on Musicraft 
Sarah Vaughan w. Tadd Dameron "I Could Make You Love Me" (1946) on Musicraft 
Sarah Vaughan w. Tadd Dameron"My Kinda Love" (1946) on Musicraft 
Georgie Auld and His Orchestra "You're Blase"  (1946) on Musicraft 
Sarah Vaughan w. George Treadwell Orch. "I've Got a Crush on You" (1946) on Musicraft 
Sarah Vaughan w. George Treadwell Orch. "Everything I Have Is Yours" (1946) on Musicraft 
Sarah Vaughan w. George Treadwell Orch. "Body and Soul" (1946) on Musicraft 
Teddy Wilson Quintet "September Song"  (1946) on Musicraft 
Sarah Vaughan w. George Treadwell Orch. "I Cover The Waterfront" (1947) on Musicraft 
Sarah Vaughan w. George Treadwell Orch. "A Ghost of a Chance (I Don't Stand - With You)"  (1947) on Musicraft 
Sarah Vaughan w. George Treadwell Orch. "Tenderly"  (1947) on Musicraft 
Sarah Vaughan w. Ted Dale Orch. "I Can 't Get Started" (947) on MGM 
Sarah Vaughan w. Ted Dale Orch. "Love Me or Leave Me" (1947) on Musicraft 
Sarah Vaughan w. Ted Dale Orch. "I Get a Kick Out of You" (1947) on Musicraft [I didn't have much info on the Ted Dale Orchestra, so if anyone has anything interesting to say about them, please chime in].
Sarah Vaughan "What A Difference A Day Makes" (1947) on Musicraft 

Sarah Vaughan w. Earl Rodgers Choir "Nature Boy" from "Nature Boy" (Jazz, 1948) on Musicraft 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Codified Jazz Solo

Several improvised solos in the Basie band's "April In Paris" became codified.



Codification: when a solo is played almost exactly the same way on different recordings (or live), or when a recorded solo becomes well enough known to be orchestrated for either a section of the band or for the entire ensemble. You might call riffs 'mini-codifications.' 

Tommy Dorsey band's 1947 version of "Marie" features a well-known solo by Bunny Berigan (died in 1942) arranged for the entire trumpet section. (Starts at 1'36")


Orchestrated homages like "Marie" are well accepted as part of the arrangers art. However, while not quite a dirty little secret, soloists repeating worked out/famous solos is at least a bete noir; seen as not being in the spirit of continuously spontaneous creation that jazz people want to associate with this music. 


Is this the lingering aftershock of the Bop revolution, which moved jazz away from dance music and 'entertainment' into 'art' music?  In fact, the anti-commercialism aspect of jazz mythology predates the boppers by many years. In its 20's form it was a mythology much more driven by white jazz culture than black. i.e. "I have to play with this damned society band to make the bread but as soon as the gig is over I'm gonna go jam all night-hopefully, with some black musicians." (This dovetailed interestingly with the pressure record labels put on white bands to record "sweet" music and black bands to record "hot" even though, in practice, both colors played both kinds). 

That old devil commerciality, it was said, not only forced jazzers to play despised music, the money lust was such that bandleaders forced codified solos on reluctant musicians in order to mine every last gold shard from the vein opened up by a popular recording. 


Many possible areas of exploration open up: the 'hipness' factor in jazz and its place in the larger cultural context; the shifting/evolving relationship between that factor and the desire to please an audience (is a back-turning Miles a possible symbolic center of that shift?); the question of how much variation from melody-or from a previous solo-qualifies a performance as improvisatory. 

I invite readers to submit concrete examples of the process of codification as I have described it-or to cite other ways it has happened. Let's see how far back the process can be traced, examine contexts, compare examples and see what arises for further exploration. Tell me if you agree or disagree with the disreputability I say its reputation has acquired.
One of the Great Codifiers in jazz



You know, you can't write about Louis Armstrong, the man at the very top of the heap, without addressing codification. Give Thomas Brothers' recent book credit for doing that.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Chill Vocals, Pt. 2

My personal response to global warming; as heard on my show, the Duplex Mystery Jazz Hour, Thursday, July 3, 2014 on WZBC, 90.3, WZBC.ORG.

Listen Here.

Playlist:

Mark Murphy "On the Red Clay" (Jazz, 1975) on muse 
Count Basie "Whirlybird" from "At Birdland" (Jazz, 1960) on Emus  
June Christy "Something Cool"(Jazz, 1953) on Blue Note 
Duke Ellington & His Orchestra "Take the A Train" (Jazz, 1952) on Columbia 
Ella Fitzgerald "My Reverie" (Jazz, 1960) on Verve 
Chet Baker "Line for Lyons" (Jazz, 1956) on World Pacific 
Jack Teagarden "Don't Tell a Man About His Woman" from "Essential Jazz Vocals" (Jazz) on Verve 
Lee Wiley & Bobby Hackett "STREET of DREAMS" (Jazz, 1950) on Columbia 
Billy Eckstein "Caravan" (Jazz, 1949) on Verve 
Bob Dorough "Something for Sydney" (Jazz, 1997) on Blue Note 
Peggy Lee "That's the Way it Goes" (Jazz, 1941) on Columbia 
Louis Armstrong "Mack the Knife" (Jazz, 1955) on Columbia 
Billie Holliday "Fine And Mellow" (Jazz, 1939) on Commodore
King Pleasure "Golden Days" (Jazz, 1960) on Prestige 
Blossom Dearie "Surrey With The Fringe On The Top" (Jazz, 1958) on Verve 
Mel Torme and the MelTones "Hit the Road to Dreamland" (Jazz, 1959) on Verve 
Joe Williams "Hey Bartender" (Jazz, 1951) on Columbia 
Ella Fitzgerald "Blues in the Night" (Jazz, 1961) on Verve 
Lambert, Hendricks and Ross "Charleston Alley" (Jazz, 1959) on Columbia 
Mose Allison "Ever Since the World Ended" Jazz, 1997) on Blue Note 
Betty Carter "Some Other Time" (Jazz, 1993) on Capital Jazz 
Kurt Elling "Those Clouds Are Heavy, You Dig?" (Jazz, 2009) on Concord 
Vanessa Rubin "Black Coffee" (Jazz, 1995) on novus 
Mark Murphy "Canteloupe Island" (Jazz, 1960) on muse 
Chris Connor "Blue Silhouette" (Jazz, 1954) on Bethlehem 
Joe Williams "Who She Do" (Jazz, 1983) on Delos 


Friday, June 27, 2014

The Phoenix Jazz Record Label Story

My guest on the 6/26/14 edition of The Duplex was Tom Curry, co-founder with Bob Porter of the Phoenix Jazz record label and host of his own program on Zumix Radio. Over the course of the show, Tom took us through the history of the label. Good stuff.

Listen here.

Playlist:
All selections from the Phoenix Jazz record label

Cootie Williams Sextet-Tessa's Torch Song-1944 (Pearl Bailey's and Bud Powell's 1st recording)
Dodo Marmarosa-Smooth Sailing-1946
Eddie Cleanhead Vincent-Somebody Sure Has Got to Go-1944
Jack McVae-Young Man's Blues-1945
Charlie Parker/Dizzy Gillespie-Shaw Nuff, Groovin' High-1945
Sonny Stitt/Eddie Lockjaw Davis-Whoops!-1954
Jimmy Cleveland/Benny Golson-Blues-1959
Bill Harris/Charlie Ventura-The Great Lie-1947
Arnett Cobb/Dinah Washington-I Got It Bad-1952
Sabby Lewis-Embraceable You(w. Freddy Webster)
Charlie Parker-Now's The Time-1953
Red Allen-The Theme-1944
Charlie Parker-My Little Suede Shows-1953
Red Allen-Red Jump-1944

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Scene in L.A./ Central Ave.


Jazz, R&B and blues from 1940's-50's L.A, played on the Duplex Mystery Jazz Hour with Steve Provizer on 06/19/2014. Audio archived at WZBC.ORG 

 PLAYLIST
 Roy Porter´s 17 Beboppers "Sippin With Cisco" (earliest recording session of Eric Dolphy)
 Howard McGhee Sextet "Dial-Ated Pupils" 
 Roy Porter´s 17 Beboppers "Gassin the Wig" 
 Howard McGhee Sextet "Up In Dodo's Room" 
 Johnny Otis Quintet & The Robin & Esther "Double Crossing Blues" 
 Gerald Wilson "Cruisin' With Cab" 
 Gerald Wilson Orchestra "Dissonance In Blues (1947)
 Joe Liggin & Honey Drippers "Pink Champagne" 
 Dexter Gordon Quintet "Mischievous Lady"
 Wardell Grey "move" 
 Nellie Lutcher "I Thought About You" 
 Percy Mayfield "Please Send Me Someone to Love"
 Lionel Hampton "Red Top" 
 Big Jay McNeeley "Deacon's Hop"
 Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray "The Chase" 
 Charles Brown "Black Nite"
 Jimmy Witherspoon "Big Fine Girl"
 Camille Howard & Her Boyfriends "Money Blues"
 Nellie Lutcher "Fine Brown Frame"
 Roy Porter´s 17 Beboppers "Little Wig"
 Teddy Edwards Quartet "Blues in Teddy's Flat" 
 Wardell Grey "Farmer’s Market" 
 Annie Ross "Farmers Market" 
 Joe Swanson Orchestra "East of the Sun" 
 T-Bone Walker "Stormy Monday"
 Big Jay McNeeley "Nervous, Man, Nervous" 
 Jimmy Liggins and His Drops of Joy "Tear Drop Blues" 
 Frank Morgan "The Champ" 
 Roy Milton and His Solid Senders "Hop, Skip and Jump"
 Art Tatum "Too Marvelous for Words"
 Pee Wee Crayton "Blues After Hours"
 Charles Mingus "Mingus Fingers"
 Charles Mingus "These Foolish Things"


Friday, June 20, 2014

Where are the Vuvuzuelas?

Did FIFA ban vuvuzuelas because of noise pollution? I doubt that. The decibel-meter already pins out at international soccer matches; maybe because of their potential usefulness as bludgeons? Whatever the reason, I'm missing those gaudy plastic tubes and to honor them, I offer this revised piece

In my day, these horns (at that time, just red) stuck out the top of the carts dragged along by vendors working the crowds at parades and ballparks. They also had banners, mylar balloons and the industrious ones also sold popcorn. But the horns were the most expensive and highly-prized tchochkes. Browbeating a parent into buying one was an all-day effort. 


So, is it cheesy sentimentality that makes me care? Do I think that people who have explored the vuvuzuela and experienced its melodic limitations will flock to study the trumpet? Sure, just like I believe that sampling say, Miles, in hip hop tracks will bring the kids around to listening to jazz. NO. This infernal device is powerful for other reasons, like the power of limited means. Wha? 

Listen: I had a friend who played the piano. From a rich family, he refused to go to a gig where they wanted him to play any kind of piano but a grand. No electric, spinet or upright for him...I'll just sit here for a few minutes with steam coming out of my nose as I remember all the music I've heard made on crappy pianos by Tatum, Bud, Willie the Lion, any great jazz pianist. Of course you don't want to sit down to play a piano with no F# above middle C, with the top octave sounding like the broken works of a cheap music box, or with a sustain pedal that sounds like it's harboring a family of mice. But that's what you got. You take it as a challenge to figure out work-arounds. Maybe it forces you to use new patterns and you discover a riff you never knew existed. Maybe it pisses you off so much you start channeling Cecil Taylor.


People act amazed at the great music played by folks who made banjos out of cereal boxes, or drums out of spackle containers or oil drums. Not me. The investment almost pre-determines that if the music's in you, you'll work hard enough to get it out. Now, you ain't making great music with the infernal vuvuzela, but you are putting enough breath into a column to agitate the standing waves and engage the harmonic series. That puts you closer to the many musicians who made somethin' from nothin' than to the people who buy Martin Committee horns and hang them on their den walls. Breathing is always a good thing. And you gotta breathe to work the tube, so vive la viv!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Tribute: My Quiet Dad, Doing It Right


Dad and I at the beach, w. Mom's shadow overlaid as she snaps the photo

My father Max went to work early, as his family lost its financial footing when he was young. His father was a butcher and his first cousin, Bob, owned a deli, so it was natural for him to go into that business. After the war, he returned to another deli owned by Bob, where he stayed for 29 years. He worked five long days, one half day (Sunday) and had Wednesday off. He had 2 weeks of vacation a year.

Like many guys who came of age in the Depression and fought in World War II, Max was a heavy smoker (Camels). I think he had his first heart attack at age 44. Following the regimen of the day, he was given nitroglycerin pills to carry around, told to cut down on salt and take walks. He put down the cigarettes and picked up a pipe. Whether or not he inhaled it, I was too young or too distracted to notice. It was too little, too late and he died at age 47.

He was essentially a serious man, whose tastes ran to Norman Mailer, Henry Miller, Miles Davis, Nat Cole and Mahalia Jackson. I listened to his music and was snared early into the jazz labyrinth. 

One week of Max's vacation was spent in Portsmouth, NH, at my mother's parents' house which was on a gravel lane, next door to a lobsterman. Beyond that house was the water-Portsmouth's Great Bay. We fished off bridges or breakwaters near beaches, trying for flounder and mackerel, but usually catching pollack. One afternoon, we tied into a run of white hake and brought back bushel baskets full, most of which we gave away to neighbors. The rest my grandmother Annie cleaned and prepared for us. Fishing was a time when I sensed my father's pulse slowing down and we were able to flow into each other.
My 5th grade (?) rendition of Fenway Park
We lived about a 20-minute walk from Fenway Park and some Sundays and Wednesdays (there were mid-week day games then), we went to Red Sox games. We got there early for batting practice and either sat in the bleachers or the left-field grandstand. Normally, there were about 15,000 people in the park. It was the end of Ted Williams' career and before the beginning of Yaz's. Pinkie Higgins guided the team to a long succession of losing seasons. There was an occasional burst of organ music and announcements of pinch-hitters, but mostly a tranquil attentiveness prevailed.
"ballgame"
One day at work, someone gave him a shiny 1864 Indian Head penny (no "L" on the ribbon) and we became coin collectors. On Wednesdays, he went to the bank and exchanged cash for coins. We'd spread them out on the kitchen table and sift through them, consulting a copy of the "Red Book" to see if we'd stumbled on anything of value. We tried to fill the blue albums with pennies, dimes, nickels and quarters, but never found the rarest dates. We frequented coin shops downtown on Bromfield St. but looked and almost never bought. Our family had enough money, but I could see my dad thought, not really enough to spend on a hobby.

We lived right off Commonwealth Ave and in the fall, we would walk up and down the street, visiting the car dealerships to see the new models and collect brochures on the latest model Chevy or Rambler. We pressed our noses against the window of the Packard dealer at Packard's Corner, but never felt quite at home enough to go in. ($5000 for a car!!). Such trips were like exchanging molecules with my dad.

My father dressed neatly, if not extravagantly; wore glasses, which he called "cheaters" to watch TV, lost his patience at my mother's inability to read maps and was joyful when he came home and I leaped into his arms.

Being a father mostly draws attention when it's done badly. Let's not forget that many do it quietly and well, like my dad.
Dad's tie rack, with some of his ties; still in use

Friday, June 13, 2014

Listening to Commodore Records

Commodore Records, which grew out of the Commodore Record Shop in Manhattan, was the brainchild of Milt Gabler. Gabler was the first to re-issue old jazz records, the first to list all personnel on records and the first to do mail order for jazz records. As you can see by the playlist, Gabler used a stable of great players in the mainstream/traditional/swing vein. The label recorded Billie Holliday singing "Strange Fruit" when her producer at Columbia Records, John Hammond, would not. 

This edition of the Duplex Mystery Jazz Hour with Steve Provizer ran on WZBC.ORG on 06/12/2014. Audio is available at http://wzbc.org/#archive; Thursday, 5-7 PM.

Playlist:

Eddie Condon "Carnegie Jump" (Jazz, 1938) 
Eddie Condon "Jada" (Jazz, 1938) 
Chu Berry "Sittin' In" (Jazz, 1938) 
Chu Berry "Forty Six West Fifty Two"  (Jazz, 1938) 
Wild Bill Davison "That's a Plenty" (Jazz, 1943) 
George Brunis "Tin Roof Blues"  (Jazz, 1943)
Jelly-Roll Morton "Panama" (Jazz, 1940) 
Eddie Edwards & His Original Dixieland Jazz Band "Tiger Rag" (Jazz, 1946)
Billie Holliday "Strange Fuit"  (Jazz, 1939)  
Johnny Wiggs & His New Orleans "Zulu's Parade" (Jazz, 1950) 
Muggsy Spanier And His Ragtimers (Jazz, 1944)
Coleman Hawkins "Boff Boff (Mop Mop)" (Jazz, 1943) 
Wild Bill Davison "At the Jazz Band Ball"  (Jazz, 1943)
Sidney Bechet and His Feetwamers "Jelly Roll Blues" (Jazz, 1950) 
Max Kaminsky & His Jazz Band "Eccentric" (Jazz, 1944) 
Eddie Edwards & His Original Dixieland Jazz Band "Shake It And Break It" (Jazz, 1946)
Eddie Condon "Ballin the Jack" (Jazz, 1939) 
Eddie Condon "Basin Sreet Blues" (Jazz, 1943) 
Eddie Edwards & His Band "Skeleton Jangle" (jazz, 1944)
Bobby Hackett and His Orchestra "At Sundown" (Jazz, 1944) 
Eddie Edwards & His Original Dixieland Jazz Band "Lazy Daddy" (Jazz, 1946) 
Wild Bill Davidson "I'm Coming Virginia" (Jazz, 1946) 
DeParis Brothers Orchestra "I've Found a New Baby" (Jazz, 1944) 
Muggsy Spanier and His Ragtime Band "Rosetta" (Jazz, 1944) 
Eddie Condon and His Windy City Seven "Meet Me Tonight In Dreamland" (Jazz, 1938) 
Wild Bill Davison And His Commodores "Baby, Won't You Please come Home" (Jazz, 1943)
Eddie Condon And His Band "Georgia Grind" (Jazz, 1940)
Jack Teagarden and his Swingin Gates "Chinatown. My Chinatown" (Jazz, 1944) 
Wild Bill Davison And His Commodores "Riverboat Shuffle" (Jazz, 1943) 
George Wettling & His Rhythm Kings "How Come You Do Me Like You Do Me" (Jazz, 1944)


Friday, June 6, 2014

Extended Ellington



If you missed the Duplex Mystery Hour that played long-form works of Ellington-and Strayhorn-on Thursday June 5, 5-7 PM. check out the playlist below and listen to the audio, archived at http://wzbc.org/#archive

Playlist:

 Duke Ellington "Creole Rhapsody" from "Creole Rhapsody" (Jazz, 1931) on Brunswick 
 Duke Ellington "Reminiscing in Tempo" (Jazz, 1935) on Brunswick 
 Duke Ellington "Symphony in Black (A Rhapsody of Negro Life)"(Jazz, 1935) 
 Duke Ellington "Clarinet Lament" (1936) on Brunswick 
 Duke Ellington "Boy Meets Horn" From Fargo, 1940 (Jazz, 1940) on Jazz Classics 
 Duke Ellington "Harlem Air Shaft"(Jazz, 1940) on Victor 
 Duke Ellington "Jump for Joy (Jazz, 1941) on Victor 
 Duke Ellington "Black, Brown, and Beige" (1944) on RCA 
 Duke Ellington "The Harlem Suite" (Jazz, 1951) on Columbia 
 Duke Ellington "A Drum is a Woman" (Jazz, 1957) on Columbia 
 Duke Ellington "Such Sweet Thunder" from "The Queen Suite" (Jazz, 1957) on Columbia 
 Duke Ellington "Anatomy of a Murder theme" from "Anatomy of a Murder" (Jazz, 1959) on Columbia 
 Duke Ellington "Happy Anatomy" from "Happy Anatomy" (Jazz, 1959) on Columbia 
 Duke Ellington "Paris Blues" from "Paris Blues" (Jazz, 1961) on United Artists 
 Duke Ellington "First Sacred Concert" (Jazz, 1965) 
 Duke Ellington "Tourist Point of View" from "The Far East Suite" (Jazz, 1966) on RCA 
 Duke Ellington "Bluebird of Delhi" from "Far East Suite" (Jazz, 1966) on RCA 
 Duke Ellington "Isfahan" from "Far East Suite" (Jazz, 1966) on RCA 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Take the Test: Which Dead Dictator Are you?


The reflected glory that people are sponging up by associating themselves with famous dead painters, musicians, etc. and which is now sweeping the social media, has been duly noted by The Institute


We have put our own stamp on the whole fiasco, with a test by which you can discover which dead dictator you most closely resemble. Ready? Let's do it.

Your favorite activity on a day off is:
  1. De-barking a maple tree
  2. Trashing a hotel room
  3. Mugging a barista


What's your favorite gun magazine?

  1. Guns and Ammo
  2. American Handgunner
  3. Shooting Times
  4.  Guns of the Old West






Which is these is most important to you?

  1. A well-stocked bomb shelter
  2. A tidy armaments cabinet
  3. New wallpaper in the Safe Room


You're invited to a party. What do you bring?

  1. Stink bombs
  2. Flamethrower
  3. Nothing. Your capacity for verbal invective is gift enough



Where would you most like to live?
  1. Area 51
  2. Under the ruins of the Berlin Wall
  3. Cape Cod




Which of these statements best describes you?
  1. I tend to be a bit moody
  2. Ozzy-lover from the git go
  3. I live to loot




My political views are:
  1. Inscribed in gold tablets and hidden in Salt Lake City
  2. Known only to me and Gordon Liddy
  3. Tattooed on my butt
Nero
To get your scientifically generated, certified personalized results, send $50 in a plain brown envelope to The Institute, c/o this blog.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Jazz Underdogs and the Racial Tinge-Pt. 1







The history of jazz is complicated and resists a simple through-line narrative. It arose as a beautifully haphazard cross-pollination between musicians stable or itinerant, schooled or unschooled, making their work easier by creating songs and shouts, picking up tunes from brass and circus bands, listening in speakeasies and dance halls... All of this happening at dozens, probably hundreds of places across the U.S. 
Those would try to shape jazz into easy stories ("born in New Orleans and travelled up the river to Chicago" sound familiar?) need to keep in mind what Quantum Physics teaches us about measurement: nothing is static and the fact that you're measuring something changes its behavior. So, the observer can measure either its position or its movement, not both.


The commonest way to observe (i.e. freeze) the jazz story is through what I call the Jazz Hero approach; in other words, canonization. To make any canon viable takes historical buttressing, in the form of "experts" who produce books, collections of recordings, films, radio and television shows purporting to be historically "definitive."  The two most powerful recent examples were the Smithsonian Anthology of Jazz and the Ken Burns documentary

Jazz dissidents, who know that the Hero's shadow tends to suppress the work of other fine musicians and to over-simplify the process of creation, are always ready to undertake a critique of the canonization process. I've devoted a certain amount of space here and on my radio show The Duplex Mystery Hour to highlighting the work of musicians I think worthy of more attention: Miff MoleJabbo Smith, Charlie Shavers, Howard McGhee/Fats Navarro, The Roane Brothers, Joe Gordon and others. This a mixed race group, but much of the energy of the recent de-construction of the canon has gone into looking into the contribution of white musicians. I see it often on jazz Facebook groups and the leading example is Richard Sudhalter's book "Lost Chords, White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz 1915-1945." 
Is it a good idea to write jazz history by focusing on a particular race, gender, religion or other sub-group?  Does it accomplish the kind of democratization that "new" history goes after, trying to
uncover stories that are not restricted to important business and political figures or other historical "winners"? 

Yes and no.

I find Sudhalter's book rich and fascinating and it has led me to investigate a number of musicians in whose work I never invested much attention. It approaches the music with new, highly-trained ears and is a great repository of biographical details and new transcriptions. So, taken on its own terms, it exceeds expectations.

However, if the goal of re-examining this music is to try and more deeply probe its complicated fabric, then using race as the means of deciding who to focus on makes the book feel, well, oddly segregated. 

There are individuals both black and white not in the canon whose work should reasonably be set side by side for musical comparison. Also, the reason why a particular musician has been relegated to the back benches of jazz deserves a more sophisticated analytical lens than just race. 

An historian may, for example, assign people to "white" and "black" schools of clarinet playing in order to show first of all, that there were such schools and to show that the white school was undervalued historically. But, this 
arbitrarily truncates the analysis and seems more like ax-grinding about the maltreatment of a group than an interesting premise for musical re-examination. In fact, players were as subject to geographical influence as they were to racial influence. The individual trumps the group. If you can recognize the playing of Leon Rappolo, Johnny Dodds, Buster Bailey or Frank Teschemacher, it's because they sound different. 
Dodds
Rapollo
                     

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Tourism Prosthetics

We at the Institute blush at having to play catch-up in the competition to provide John and Jane Q. Public with new, stylish aids to tourism. In Jasper National Park, the recently opened Glacier Skywalk  now allows visitors to step out onto a glass-floored observation deck that juts out 100 feet over the Sunwapta Valley. 
Then, there's the Hualapal tribe's Grand Canyon Skywalk in Arizona.

Happily, our cadre of unpaid interns has conceived an idea that should bring home the bacon.

Question: What is the visitor's greatest impediment to touristic pleasure at museums? That we are forced to
 linger, legs weary, eyes bleary, in front of each "attraction" and to jostle for the best position to take photos. 
                                

Our solution? The world's first Museum-Camera@. No, not a Camera Museum
A camera museum, not the Museum-Camera@
(represented in this photo by our clueless graphics staff), but an actual art museum which is, itself, a camera.  

The walls of the museum will be essentially one enormous camera and the very act of your looking at an object will trip a shutter which takes a photo that is automatically downloaded to your phone. 

There will only be a small charge per photo and for an additional fee, we will send smarty-pants, art critic-worthy tweets and post your photos on Facebook, Tumbler or on the cyber-photo site that we plan to build ourselves: The Photographic Museum of the Museum-Camera@. 

At last, you will be able to move through a museum at lightning speed, knowing that you have effortlessly accomplished your primary goal: to document your visit. So, when you get home and are surrounded by friends and loved ones, you'll be able to say "I was there!" and enjoy the beautiful art work from the comfort of your home entertainment center.

Or, as we like to say at The Institute, "A picture is worth a thousand visits!"