Other Matters: Language

This is a plea for abandonment of an irritant that infests the English language. The phrase is "if you will." Just now on a news program, an economic spokesman for one of the US presidential candidates (which one doesn't matter; this is not a political comment) said, "if you will" nine times in the course of a ten-minute interview. In not one of those instances did "if you will" clarify, explain or inform. It only muddied understanding and interrupted thought. I think that I'll adopt the … [Read more...]

Other Places: Friedwald On The VJO

Not long ago in a Recent Listening in Brief posting, I brushed by the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra's new CD. Brevity by no means indicated a lack of enthusiasm for the latest recorded work of that remarkable institution. Will Friedwald, the jazz critic of The New York Sun, is another VJO enthusiast. He attended the band's recent performance at New York's 92nd Street Y in the summer concert series overseen by pianist Bill Charlap. Here is some of what he wrote about Thad Jones and Jim McNeely: Fifty … [Read more...]

Compatible Quotes: Patience

Our patience will achieve more than our force. -- Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France.   Turn thy complexion there, Patience, thou young and rose-lipp'd cherubin; Ay, there, look grim as hell! -- Shakespeare, Othello   Patience and fortitude, Patience and fortitude, Patience and fortitude, And things will come your way. -- Patience and Fortitude, lyrics by Johnny Mercer … [Read more...]

Johnny Griffin RIP

Johnny Griffin, a tenor saxophonist whose technical command set standards for his instrument and who refused to compromise his art, died today at his home in the village of Mauprevoir in France. From Ben Ratliff's obituary of Griffin in today's New York Times: His height -- around five feet five -- earned him the nickname "The Little Giant"; his speed in bebop improvising marked him as "The Fastest Gun in the West"; a group he led with Eddie Lockjaw Davis was informally called the "tough … [Read more...]

Retake: Tom Talbert

Lately, I've been missing Tom Talbert. I went into the archive to see what Rifftides had to say about him following his death a little more than three years ago. Here is one paragraph of the remembrance: Tom died on Saturday, a month short of his eighty-first birthday. An elegant, soft-spoken man, he was an early and drastically overlooked composer, arranger and band leader on the west coast before West Coast Jazz was a category. His mid-to-late-1940s Los Angeles bands included Lucky … [Read more...]

Compatible Quotes: Composing

You compose because you want to somehow summarize in some permanent form your most basic feelings about being alive, to set down... some sort of permanent statement about the way it feels to live now, today--Aaron Copland Well, American composers are the best composers. At this time in the world, we are where the energy is. We are the most diverse, the most iconoclastic, the most maverick, and the most skillful--David Del Tredici I don't hate work, composing is not work for me, it's my … [Read more...]

Sylvia Syms

In a 1995 Jazz Times review of a Sylvia Syms CD, I wrote: Sylvia Syms had a vibrato like a telephone wire in a breeze. She sometimes slid around both sides of a note before she settled on it. She often added the syllable "uh" to the end of a word ("ridin' on the moon-uh"). She could pounce on a consonant and ignore the vowel next door. Some of her power notes were pure brass and there were moments when she sounded alarmingly like Carol Channing. Hey, nobody's perfect, but to many discerning … [Read more...]

Other Places

McFarland In the course of writing about Gloria Cheng's new CD (in the next exhibit), I mentioned Gary McFarland's collaboration with Bill Evans, a basic repertoire item in every serious CD collection of twentieth century music. Bill Kirchner includes it in his survey of a dozen essential tracks from a variety of McFarland's and others' recordings. Kirchner's preamble places in perspective this brilliant musician, called by Gene Lees an adult prodigy, who was taken from us in a senseless bar … [Read more...]

Recent Listening, In Brief…Continued

Warne Marsh & Kenny Drew In Copenhagen (Storyville). Recorded in 1980, Marsh--a tenor sax master of subtlety and liquid imagination--plays in a quartet with Drew, one of the brightest graduates of Bud Powell's college of bebop piano knowledge. Marsh has a few "oops" moments in note choices, but hearing him think his way out of them is part of the fun. This CD has one of Marsh's most stimulating explorations of "Star Eyes," a song that inspired him for decades. The … [Read more...]

Recent Listening: Miguel Zenón

Miguel Zenón, Awake (Marsalis Music). In the DownBeat critics poll results announced in the magazine's August issue, Zenón swept the "Rising Star Alto Saxophone" category and placed sixth among established alto players. That puts him in company with Ornette Coleman, Phil Woods, Lee Konitz, Kenny Garrett and Greg Osby and ahead of the pack of alto players closer to his age. He is thirty. The timing of the release of this remarkable suite just before the voting deadline may have had something to … [Read more...]

Jo Stafford

Jo Stafford, a perfect singer, died on Wednesday. She was ninety years old. There will be obituaries this morning in newspapers all over the world. Web sites have them already. Many people who read them will be hearing of her for the first time because in the 1960s, at the top of her game, she walked away from the music business. Tributes to Jo and memories of her showed up today across the internet. My artsjournal colleague Terry Teachout has a fine one, as does Bill Reed. I know of … [Read more...]

Recent Listening, But First…

...An Explanation: As recently as the early 1980s, relatively few major labels made jazz records. Columbia, RCA Victor, Decca, Capitol, United Artists, Warner Bros, Atlantic and Mercury were the big names. Independent companies that specialized in regular jazz releases included Prestige, Savoy, Blue Note, Riverside, Contemporary, Fantasy, Bethlehem, Verve and Commodore. Mode, Dooto, Roost, Dig, Tampa, Debut and dozens of other small labels occasionally produced and released jazz recordings on … [Read more...]

On Hold

          Busy old fool, unruly Sun,                     Why dost thou thus, Through windows, and through curtains call on us? Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run? -- John Donne, The Sun Rising Bloggers' seasons, too. Summer temptations and summer duties call. Blogging is on hold for a day or two. Or three. … [Read more...]

Goodbye, Gerald Wiggins

DevraDoWrite reports that Gerald Wiggins died this morning in Los Angeles at the age of eighty-six. Encouraged when he was a youngster by Art Tatum, for decades Wiggins was revered by listeners and musicians--particularly by other pianists. Anyone familiar with his playing could recognize him immediately by his harmonic acuity, touch, use of space and wry turns of phrase. Jimmy Rowles, one of his greatest admirers among fellow pianists, did Wiggins the rare honor of writing the liner notes for … [Read more...]

Correspondence: On Slim Gaillard

Rifftides reader Ries Niemi reflects on the Slim Gaillard performance in the clip from Hellzapoppin'. It's interesting to contrast this with one of the very last Slim Gaillard clips I have seen, in the movie Absolute Beginners, from 1986. Gaillard was in real life what he plays in that movie- one of the midwives of the birth of postmodernism in music. The novel Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes, on which the movie is based, is part of a trilogy about the invention of the teenager in … [Read more...]

CD: Art Pepper

Art Pepper, Unreleased Art, Vol. III, The Croydon Concert (Widow's Taste). This 1981 concert in the London borough of Croydon captures some of the remarkable music the alto saxophonist made during the last year of his life. Pepper had absorbed some of the Coltrane influence that dominated him for a few years, shaken off the rest and emerged a more powerful individualist than ever. Driven by pianist Milcho Leviev, bassist Bob Magnusson and drummer Carl Burnett, Pepper bares emotions from … [Read more...]

CD: Cassandra Wilson

Cassandra Wilson, Loverly (Blue Note). After Blue Skies, Wilson seemed to walk away from the standard repertoire. Twenty years later, we get her second collection of standard songs. It was worth the wait. Her relaxation, phrasing and idiosyncratic interpretations make this one of the vocal CDs of the year. Highlights: irony and boogaloo energy in "St. James Infirmary," "The Very Thought of You" in duet with bassist Reginald Veal, the gentle swing and longing in "Wouldn't it Be Loverly?" Pianist … [Read more...]

CD: Martin Wind

Martin Wind, (Challenge). The versatile bassist brings together multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson, pianist Bill Cunliffe and drummer Greg Hutchinson to play compositions by Wind, Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington. Wind's complex "Mr. Friesen," a tribute to cellist Eugene Friesen, could give this talented composer an entry in the jazz standards book. Of his arsenal of instruments, Robinson confines himself to tenor sax, bass clarinet and echo cornet. His tenor work suggests that he … [Read more...]

DVD: Hank Jones

Hank Jones, Jazz Master Class (Artists House). The pianist will be ninety at the end of this month. He was only eighty-six when he taught this class. Jones plays a solo concert, coaches and evaluates student pianists, charms his audience, chats with critic Gary Giddins and, in general, defies time. Together, the two DVDs in this package run more than five hours. They comprise one of a series of Artists House DVDs that capture producer John Snyder's master classes at New York University and … [Read more...]

The Latest Picks

Three CDs, a DVD and a book: your new Doug's Picks are in the center column. To see previous recommendations, click "more picks" at the bottom of that section. … [Read more...]

Book: Roger Scruton

 Roger Scruton, Culture Counts (Brief Encounters). If you're concerned that the bad in culture is driving out the good, this little book by the British philosopher and polymath may make you feel better. Scruton writes not only about music, but about architecture, painting, literature and the high-water marks of Western culture. He offers hope that lowlife pop culture will not overwhelm a society seemingly bent on dumbing itself down. He proposes that music can play a positive role in moral … [Read more...]


Looking for the earliest Slim Gaillard clip I could find, I came across a sequence from Olsen and Johnson's manic 1941 hit movie Hellzapoppin'. Gaillard plays piano and guitar, with his constant companion of the period, the great Slam Stewart, on bass. Among the several dozen uncredited musicians and dancers is the Duke Ellington cornetist Rex Stewart, done up in a cook's outfit. If anyone can identify the clarinetist, trombonist and drummer, please send a comment. You'll see some of the most … [Read more...]

Compatible Quotes

Summertime, and the living is easy.             --Ira Gershwin, "Summertime"   I hear laughter by the swimming hole. Kids out fishing, with the willow pole. Boats come drifting 'round the bend. Why must summer ever end?             --Iola Brubeck, "Summer Song" (With apologies to Rifftides readers in the Southern Hemisphere) … [Read more...]

Where We Are

It has been some time since we ran a check on the whereabouts of Rifftides readers. Here is a partial location list of recent visitors, starting at the point farthest from home base. Wellington, New Zealand Wollongong, Australia Sydney, Australia Tokyo, Japan Beijing, China Tarnow, Poland Kronobergs Lan, Sweden Dalmine, Lombardia, Italy Heidelberg, Germany Terneuzen, Zeeland, Netherlands Kettering, Nottinghamshire, England Glasgow, Scotland Casablanca, Morocco Rio de Janeiro, … [Read more...]

Hiatus…And A Taste Of Miguel Zenon

The Rifftides staff is going to take a couple of days off and trek across the mountains to watch the Mariners play the Tigers. The links are for the benefit of those in, say, Casablanca or Tarnow who may not be familiar with the quaint US sporting culture. In the meantime, enjoy this video of Miguel Zenon and two of his homeboys at work in their native San Juan, Puerto Rico, last December. The bassist is Ricky Rodriguez, the drummer Henry Cole.   More on Zenon soon. Have a pleasant … [Read more...]