Desmond Redux In Berlin

We may as well keep the Desmond string running through the weekend. After the Dave Brubeck Quartet disbanded at the end of 1967, Desmond did not play for more than a year. It wasn't a matter of simply not performing in public or not recording. He did not take his saxophone out of the case, allegedly concentrating on writing How Many Of You Are There In The Quartet? the book that never happened. He also lolled around in the Caribbean. Toward the end of 1968, he relented to the extent of recording … [Read more...]

Paul Desmond On The Nature Of Fame

Ted O'Reilly, the Toronto broadcaster, sent a recording of an interview he did with Paul Desmond in 1975. O'Reilly asked if there was a moment when Desmond realized the astounding degree of popularity the Dave Brubeck Quartet had achieved. Not really, Paul said, but that reminded him of a favorite question. We were on a State Department tour in '59, and we landed in Ismir, Turkey, and there was this huge hoop-de-do at the airport. They had a band playing one of our tunes, and a whole bunch of … [Read more...]

Paul Desmond’s 84th

Des head

Yesterday was Paul Desmond's eighty-fourth birthday. Years after Paul's death, his guitar companion Jim Hall said, "He would have been a great old man,"  The last birthday Desmond celebrated, his fifty-second, fell on Thanksgiving, 1976. He spent it with Jim and his wife Jane at their daughter's tiny apartment in New York City. He had taken a hiatus from his lung cancer therapy to play the Monterey Jazz Festival and an engagement at Barnaby Conrad's El Matador in San Francisco. From Take Five: … [Read more...]

Jack Nimitz

Jack Nimitz, Yesterday And Today (Fresh Sound). "Yesterday" was 1957, when the distinctive baritone saxophonist recorded a long-playing album for ABC-Paramount. The LP sat unissued for half a century. "Today" was early last year, when Nimitz went into the studio to record new music to add to the 1957 material and round out a compact disc. Nimitz's tone has more heft and his soloing more aggressiveness than fifty years ago. In both instances, his playing is superb. In New York in '57, his … [Read more...]

Bill Evans, Relaxed And Articulate

Bill Evans had precise intellectual understanding of everything he did in his playing. However, like most superior improvisers, he developed his skill and knowledge to the point where he could set aside concentration on keyboard technique and the elements of musical language in order to achieve an unfettered flow of creativity in the spontaneous act of playing jazz. On occasions when he talked about the nature of improvisation, Evans spoke with exactitude and coherence to match his … [Read more...]

Recent Listening: Jordan, Longo, Garrett

The Rifftides staff is still catching up with recent CDs, some more recent than others. Sheila Jordan, Winter Sunshine (Justin Time). The first word in the CD's title may refer toJordan's age, the second to the quality of her singing. She is seventy-nine and sounds thirty. Part of her schtick in this live recording at Montreal's Upstairs club is to tell the audience how tired she is, but she doesn't sound tired. She sounds like a young bebop and ballad singer with sunshine in her voice.  If … [Read more...]

Other Matters: Obama And The VOA

Murray Fromson has issued the first plea I've seen from a heavyweight journalist to president-elect Obama for a rescue of the Voice of America. Rifftides has often written about that broadcast agency's central role in cultural diplomacy during the Cold War, particularly about the vital part Willis Conover played. I have deplored the Bush administration's attempts to dismantle the VOA at a time when the United States needs friends around the world. Here are two excerpts from Fromson's column … [Read more...]

Three Little Bops Mystery Solved?

When Marc Myers at decides to solve a mystery, he goes into full Sherlock Holmes mode. He has done that in an attempt to track down the complete personnel of the Shorty Rogers combo in the Looney Tunes cartoon Three Little Bops, which ran last week on Rifftides. I agree with critic Larry Kart's conclusion that the baritone saxophonist is Jimmy Giuffre. Follow this link to see the cartoon again and read Kart's message. Giuffre worked often with Rogers in the 1950s, and the baritone in … [Read more...]

Recent Listening: Sherr, Catherine, Mondlak

David Sherr, OtherWorld Music (Bel Air Jazz). Sherr is a composer and player of reed instruments and flutes. His background includes work with Sonny Criss, the San Francisco Ballet, Nelson Riddle, Lalo Schifrin, Don Ellis, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Frank Zappa, Oliver Nelson, Robert Craft, Ray Charles and Quincy Jones, among several dozen others from assorted fields of music. In this CD, he brings together extensive portions of his music with that of J.S. Bach and Olivier Messiaen. Sherr enlists … [Read more...]

Other Places: Frank Wess

In today's Washington Post, Matt Schudel writes about Frank Wess. The 86-year-old tenor saxophonist and flutist is still active and about to play in Washington, D.C., where he spent much of his early career. Schudel quotes pianist Billy Taylor, Wess's contemporary, about the saxophonist's influence on him when they were in high school together. "He's the reason I don't play the tenor saxophone," Taylor says. "I was going to try to be the new Ben Webster," the tenor saxophonist who worked with … [Read more...]

Weekend Extra: Toots And Quincy

The You Tube heading for this video clip of Toots Thielemans at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1992 says that it has been viewed 40,422 times. Do yourself a favor and make it 40,423. Quincy Jones was the conductor of the WDR Big Band. He was enamored of Toots's musicality, wit and warmth. Who isn't? Have a good weekend. … [Read more...]

Compatible Quotes: Toots Thielemans

And if I have a strong point, it's that I like to believe it's not cheap or schmaltzy sentimentality. You can be in Tokyo or Alberta at four in the morning in your hotel and you can still practice if you feel like it. A trombone cannot do that at four in the morning. … [Read more...]

Recent Listening: Rollins, Melvoin-Park, Harper, Gonzalez

The Rifftides staff is attempting to keep ahead of the CD tsunami described in this recent post. It's an impossible assignment, but they're a game bunch. Herewith, brief reviews of approximately 0.06% of the accumulated mass of discs. Sonny Rollins, Road Shows, Vol. 1 (Doxy/Emarcy). In some of these previously unreleased concert performances, the tenor saxophonist reaches peaks of the intensity, drive, inventiveness and whimsy that have kept him inimitable for nearly six decades. His "Tenor … [Read more...]

Links Fixed

Some readers have reported a problem with the links to CD sources in the recent Rifftides piece about Kenny Wheeler and Don Thompson. The links have been remade and should be working fine. … [Read more...]

One More Time: Three Little Bops

Sometimes comments about Rifftides pieces show up considerably after publication. We just got one from reader Dave Mackey about an animated cartoon we linked to on April 30, 2007. Bless the readers. We wouldn't have known about the cartoon if a reader hadn't sent an alert in the first place. The paragraph immediately below is the original item. It is followed by the Looney Tunes itself, now embedded in the blog. And THAT is followed by Mr. Mackey's comment. It's a great reason to rerun a minor … [Read more...]

That Long Line

Jazz isn't dead or dying. It's just waiting to be heard. The photograph shows an eleven-foot line of CDs on the floor of my music room. There are 352 of them. They are some of the review copies that have arrived in the past couple of months. Boxes and shelves in my office hold at least three times that many more.  A stack of DVDs on the credenza behind where I am writing reaches to within a few inches of the ceiling. None of these recordings is yet in the permanent collection. They are … [Read more...]

Recent Listening: Kenny Wheeler, Don Thompson

Kenny Wheeler, Other People (Cam Jazz). Perenially adventurous, always on the leading edge of music, Wheeler was seventy-five when this was recorded in 2005. Hisplaying on trumpet and flugelhorn is brilliant, with little of the lassitude that has sometimes crept in as he aged. The even more striking aspect of this CD is Wheeler's writing. He applies his distinctive style to strings, a medium new to him as a composer. Lacing his horn lines through and around the Hugo Wolf String Quartet, Wheeler … [Read more...]

Correspondence: Philadelphia

As usual, things are happening in jazz in Philadelphia, the town that produced John Coltrane, Ray Bryant, Red Rodney, the Heath brothers, Richie Kamuca, Christian McBride, Joe Venuti, Shirley Scott, Jaleel Shaw, Luckey Roberts, Mary Ann McCall, Kenny Barron, Benny Golson, Philly Joe Jones and several Eubankses, to name perhaps ten-percent of the important players from that city. Rifftides reader Oliver Wunsch reports on a new development. I wanted to share a new site we JUST launched here at … [Read more...]

Compatible Quotes: Philadelphia

In Boston they ask, How much does he know? In New York, How much is he worth? In Philadelphia, Who were his parents? -- Mark Twain The streets are safe in Philadelphia, it's only the people that make them unsafe.--Frank Rizzo Yes, I'd like to see Paris before I die. Philadelphia will do.-- W.C. Fields in My Little Chickadee  Here lies W. C. Fields. I would rather be living in Philadelphia. -- Epitaph Fields proposed for himself … [Read more...]

The ProJo on Dave McKenna

On election day, the Providence Journal ran two editorials concerning matters important to Rhode Islanders. One was about the governor's suggestion that it's time to end the  state income tax (a questionable idea, the paper said). The other was on the death of pianist Dave McKenna, one of the state's cultural heroes. To read the Mckenna editorial, go here. Thanks to Rifftides reader Steve Caminis for calling it to our attention. For the October 18 announcement of McKenna's death, … [Read more...]

Correspondence: Speaking Of Joe Sullivan…

Rifftides reader Ken Dryden writes: It's funny, but I discovered Joe Sullivan the same way I found out about Meade Lux Lewis, when rocker Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake & Palmer) recorded one of his pieces, "Little Rock Getaway." Though there was very little in print of Sullivan's work under his own name in the early 1970s, I managed to find a couple of LPs. He was also one of the pianists featured in Ralph Gleason's Jazz Casual series, issued on a Koch CD with the Earl Hines performance … [Read more...]

Joe Sullivan

This is Joe Sullivan's birthday. Although Rifftides posted an item about Sullivan and others only three months ago, it is never too soon to call him to the attention of listeners who may not have made the acquaintance of a man who inspired countless other pianists. Here is a Rifftides golden oldie. It is not good enough simply to recycle an archive piece. As a double bonus, here are two versions of Sullivan's most famous composition, "Little Rock Getaway." The first is his 1933 Parlophone … [Read more...]


In the scratch-scratch tradition of cross-referencing that is an important aspect of the blogosphere, Don Heckman has responded to the November 4 Rifftides piece about him, The Los Angeles Times and the general decline of writing about jazz in newspapers. That posting is two exhibits down the page. Heckman asks: Do the complaints, the angry emails, the letters to the editor make a difference? Well, as Jake Barnes said to Lady Brett in The Sun Also Rises, "Isn't it pretty to think so." To read … [Read more...]

After The Election

When I was in college and involved in the jazz community in Seattle, I helped to arrange a concert in my home town. Some of the musicians who traveled to the interior of the state to perform in that conservative agricultural community were black. One of my closest childhood friends came to the concert. Afterward, I took him to a party for the musicians. In the course of the socializing, I danced with a newer friend, the pianist Patti Bown. When I returned to the table, my old buddy told me, with … [Read more...]

The Heckman Phenomenon

Newspapers everywhere were retrenching even before the world financial crisis tetered on the edge of recession and finally fell into it. Declining readership and shriveling advertising revenue demanded cost-cutting. To no one's surprise, staff and space reductions claimed arts coverage early. When newsroom budgets start to shrink, cultural journalism is among the first targets because editors know that there will be relatively few complaints. In a world of minuscule and increasingly fragmented … [Read more...]

Herb Geller At 80

Herb Geller is eighty years old today. The alto saxophonist was the performing guest of honor tonight in a tribute concert by the NDR (North German Radio) Big Band. From 1965 to 1993, Geller was a star soloist of the NDR, one of the best large jazz aggregations in the world. The concert was in the NDR's venerable Rolf Liebermann studio. Since his mandatory retirement at sixty-five, Geller has been at least as busy as he was during the previous forty-seven years of his career. One of the major … [Read more...]