And Finally (For Now)…

Ending our survey of a few of the CDs that piled up while Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond was occupying the author, here are brief observations on three more. Mulgrew Miller, Live At Yoshi’s, volumes one and two. One of the most consistently interesting pianists in jazz, Miller has in his trio Derrick Hodge, a new bassist to keep your ears on, and the rapidly developing drummer Karriem Riggins. Horace Silver’s "Peace," Victor Feldman's "Joshua" and Donald Brown’s "Waltz … [Read more...]

Broadcast And Print

I have just been informed that WNYC radio in New York archived my June 23 appearance on The Leonard Lopate Show. It was a zippy thirteen-minute discussion of Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond. You can listen to it here. It’s the second item from the bottom of the page. Joe Maita’s long interview with the author is transcribed on the Jerry Jazz Musician website. It is integrated with samples of Desmond’s playing and a few photographs from the book, in a skillfully assembled … [Read more...]

Other Matters

My ArtsJournal colleague Terry Teachout points to a development in German publishing that he says should be of concern to all writers. I agree. It should also disturb readers dependent upon authors free of interference with their work. The situation involves a new biography of Carl Jung, the seminal (I hope that's not too Freudian) psychoanalyst. Given the concern of jazz musicians and listeners with freedom of expression, I think that friends of Rifftides will find it important. To read the … [Read more...]

Benny and Phil

Benny Carter died on July 12, 2003. His absence is made a little easier to bear with EMI’s reissue of a rare 1960 album originally on United Artists. The CD is Sax a la Carter, with Jimmy Rowles, Leroy Vinnegar and Mel Lewis. The programs begins with “And The Angels Sing” in shuffle rhythm, possibly to honor or tweak Jonah Jones, a trumpet sideman from Carter’s 1941 band who had a series of easy-listening shuffle hits in the late fifties. Lewis provides a shuffle beat that is essence of … [Read more...]

Harmony and Theory Department

Yesterday I declared at an end the discussion of alternative approaches to improvisation, with a proviso: "Unless someone out there has a new take on this matter." If you're just joining us, the focus of the dialogue (or diablog) was the late tenor saxophonist Bill Perkins. The inquiry was into how much he knew about chords and whether he elected to play outside of them in spite of his knowledge, or because he lacked knowledge. Vibraharpist and teacher Charlie Shoemake responded to my original … [Read more...]

End Note on Perkins

It's time to put a wrap on the discussion about whether Bill Perkins knew the chord structures of pieces on which he improvised. You may recall that vibraharpist Charlie Shoemake, who played with Perkins, wasn't convinced either way. Critic Larry Kart thought that Perk probably did know the chords but felt free to depart from harmonic guidelines that he thoroughy understood. Unless someone out there has a new take on this matter, Shoemake gets the last word. Larry Kart could be right if he's … [Read more...]

Briefly, More CD Reviews

We're still catching up with CDs that appeared while I was writing Paul Desmond's biography. If you don't have your copy of the book yet, hurry. ORBITAL DUKE Columbia/Legacy is systematically reissuing (again) everything it has by Duke Ellington. In the case of Blues In Orbit, it has done so with class and thoroughness, from the inclusion of previously unissued pieces and alternate takes, to digital remastering that brings out nuances, to Patricia Willard’s informative new notes. The back-cover … [Read more...]

CD Reviews, DVDs & Snyder In Academia

Reissuing important music in impeccably produced editions, Mosaic Records continues to thrive. Its most recent box set is The Complete Clef/Verve Count Basie Fifties Studio Recordings. I just finished a long review of the album for Jazz Times. Watch for it in the September 35th anniversary issue. Another recent Mosaic gem is The Complete Argo/Mercury Art Farmer, Benny Golson Jazztet Sessions. Farmer and Golson were in the thick of the hard bop movement of the 1950s and early sixties. Together, … [Read more...]

The Beiderbecke Connection

When I stay with my friend Jack Brownlow(page 267 in The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond), he often comes up with special entertainment. Yesterday, it was a couple of episodes of The Beiderbecke Connection, a 1988 series from Granada, the British TV network. Jack's daughter checked it out from the public library on VHS, but it is also available here on DVD. Trevor Chaplin and the adorable Barbara Flynn play the lead characters, unmarried school teachers with a child they call "the … [Read more...]

I Like New York In June

You may knock New York if you like. I won't. I lived there in the seventies, when it was truly knockable. Let me tell you three things about the couple of days I spent in Manhattan last week. 1. On the glorious day that was last Thursday, I sat blogging on my laptop in City Hall Park, a free wireless internet zone, a sure sign of a civilized city. I was surrounded by people eating their lunches in the sun, tours of grade school children gleefully and loudly exulting at the sight of baby … [Read more...]

The New Orleans-Rio Connection

I first heard Rick Trolsen in New Orleans (Never The Big Easy, please, unless you want to be considered a tourist cornball unduly infuenced by bad movies; calling it The Crescent City is okay). He was in Al Belletto’s big band. I loved his unreservedly tromboney solos. Trolsen is not a young hot dog trombonist harboring an inner trumpeter yearning to be free, but a mature one who loves the instrument for itself. Since I have long been hooked on Brazilian music, it came as a double surprise and … [Read more...]

Kart on Perkins

The latest on tenor saxophonist Bill Perkins's solo methodology: critic and historian Larry Kart responds to musician Charlie Shoemake's pondering the other day on the nature and origin of Perkins's harmonic choices. I understand what Charlie Shoemake says up a point, but then I don't understand it all, at least not as it applies to latter-day Perkins, who seems to me to have become one of the more harmonically oriented players on the planet -- a man whose melodies were in effect being generated … [Read more...]

Get Real

The trombonist and singer Eric Felten chimed in the other day on the proposition that listeners deserve the break of being given something familiar to hang their ears on before the improvisation starts. I enjoyed your post on the question of writing new tunes, versus playing something recognizable. Jimmy Knepper once told me that the main reason he wrote new tunes for his albums was so that he would get the royalty taste rather than the Gershwins or Victor Young getting it. Thus his boppish … [Read more...]

On The Radio

Today, I'll have the pleasure of being a guest on The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC, New York, 93.9 FM. I'm scheduled sometime around 12:30 or 1:00 pm. WNYC streams on the net here. Later (much later) at 1:00 am Friday, I'll talk about Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond with Joey Reynolds on his WOR (710 AM) show. The Joey Reynolds Show streams on the net and also rides a satellite across much of the world, from Hawaii to Puerto Rico. … [Read more...]


Here is a possibly prejudiced assertion: Jazz albums should have program notes. Listeners want and deserve information about the music. It seems that years ago someone in record company accounting decided that since rock albums sold in the millions without notes, why not treat jazz albums the same way and save a buck? Case in point: Don Byron’s Ivey-Divey titled after a saying of Lester Young’s and inspired by Young’s trio recordings with Nat Cole and Buddy Rich. CD buyers would have no way of … [Read more...]

Two From AAJ

Ken Dryden’s long review for All About Jazz of Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond notes an aspect of the book with which I took some pains. Ramsey avoids the use of psychobabble to explain Desmond’s relationship with his mentally disturbed mother, his reluctance to make long term commitments to any of the women in his life, or his experimentation with drugs. Instead one comes to accept them as part of his extremely complex character. Read the entire review here. Also in … [Read more...]

Sonny Rollins In The Storm

Yesterday afternoon, hydroplaning across the Cascade mountains toward Seattle in the first thunderstorm of the summer, I listened to an advance of Sonny Rollins's next CD. The album is called Without A Song (The 9/11 Concert). It was recorded in Boston four days following the terrorist attacks on the twin towers in Lower Manhattan. Milestone will release it in August. Rollins is amazing on the title track and "Where or When." Stephen Scott's piano solos, dazzling and capricious, run Sonny a … [Read more...]

Origin (Continued)

We're examining some of the CDs that I couldn't get around to during the gestation of Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond. Today, more from the Origin label and one each from Jay Thomas, Mike Longo and Dizzy Gillespie. New Stories: Hope Is In The Air: The Music of Elmo Hope. Marc Seales, bassist Doug Miller and Origin’s drummer proprietor, John Bishop, are the New Stories trio. The less famous peer of Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, Hope was a splendid pianist who left an … [Read more...]

On Perk

The June 17 item about Bill Perkins elicited this response from Gordon Sapsed in the UK. Thank you - and to Steve Voce for the original interview. The piece today about Bill Perkins has got me starting my day revisiting Perk Plays Prez - and the CD will follow into the car with me when I go out later. I had forgotten that it is Jan Lundgren on piano - and that Jack Sheldon vocal! Rifftides is already influencing my life .... Tell your friends. We want all the visitors we can round up. The superb … [Read more...]


For the next few days, I'll continue playing catch-up with CDs that accumulated, and may have reproduced, while I was working on Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond (See Doug's Books on the right). John Bishop’s Origin and OA2 labels concentrate on jazz in the Pacific Northwest. That gives Origin a large pool of talented musicians from which to draw. The label issues so many CDs that it’s hard to keep up with them. The music ranges from mainstream to the near edge of the … [Read more...]

Comments: Crystal Ball Criticism

I think it's about time to put to rest the matter of New York Times critic Ben Ratliff's predicting the quality of a concert that hadn't happened (Rifftides, June 15.) But not quite. The Portland, Oregon, writer Jack Berry offered us this thought: The Ratliff flap is sad. But it's not so much the need to be "edgy," which some observers suggest is the Times' new obsession. Pop culture is all about the next thing. If it's been done, it's done. Jazz is classical music (for better and worse). … [Read more...]

Catching Up

During the more than two years I was mostly closeted writing Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond, CDs kept materializing in my mailbox. There wasn't much I could do about them but write an occasional review. When I emerged from isolation, I sampled many and paid close attention to a few. In the next few days, I'll share with you my imprssions of some of them. Now that any eighteen-year-old tenor player is likely to be a record company, the CDs come pouring in. Some weeks, … [Read more...]

Someone To Crow About

Don't miss DevraDoWrite's update on Bill Crow, bassist, anecdotist, musicians' champion and good guy. Excerpt: Bill Crow was a musical chameleon in his youth, playing trumpet, baritone horn, alto sax drums, and valve trombone. He didn’t take up the bass until he was in his early 20s. Within a few years he was playing bass with Stan Getz, Marian McPartland, and Gerry Mulligan, to name just three, and he never looked back. Read the whole thing, and see a great recent picture of Bill, here. … [Read more...]

Czeching In

The Czech Frantisek Uhliř is one of the greatest bassists in the world. He works frequently in the trio of his countryman pianist Emil Viklicky, another great European player about whom most Americans know little. I just ran across a brief note I made when I was in Prague twelve years ago, helping American economists teach market economics to Czech journalists newly released from communism. June 10, 1993: Went to Agartha last night to hear Frantisek Uhlir, the wonderful bassist. Earlier in the … [Read more...]

Other Matters

This may be a subject better suited to Nancy Levinson’s Pixel Points than to Rifftides, but here goes: what has happened to house design? I don’t mean high-end design by top-rung architects working with wealthy clients, but design of houses for ordinary folks. Not far from where I live, a small orchard has disappeared—almost overnight, it seems—and been replaced by a half-dozen houses that will probably sell for a couple of hundred thousand dollars each. They are builder houses, not so much … [Read more...]

Weekend Extra

It is clear from responses I am getting that some of you are working journalists and that others have an interest in the news process. So, I am adding Tim Porter's First Draft blog to the list of Other Places in the right-hand column. Porter has a solid background as an editor and, later, as an independent thinker about journalism problems. He has valuable insights into the big issues. He is unforgiving of bad writing and clichés. And he must be a good guy; he lives in Mill Valley, California, … [Read more...]