Ben Webster’s Centenary

Since Rifftides began nearly four years ago, I have posted frequently about Ben Webster - but not frequently enough. That would be impossible. Few improvising artists have achieved Webster's level of supremacy at speaking their pieces with eloquence and brevity. I would not suggest that eloquence has fled; it is possible to be eloquent at length. But in the post-Coltrane age of solos as tests of endurance it may be unnecessary to point out that succinctness is not one of the guidelines in most … [Read more...]

Sue Raney’s “Dreamsville”

Okay, we've had enough fun with Sue Raney's Scopitone romp in the park. To see it and the comments about it, go here. But first, watch and listen to Ms. Raney sing a Henry Mancini song that has long been one of her signature pieces. This is the sort of thing I had in mind the other day when I used the adjective "divine" in referring to her. I don't know who the alto saxophone soloist is. He did a lovely job with the bridge. … [Read more...]

Gene Bertoncini: The Architecture Of Jazz

Old pal Tim Ryan called my attention to an interview Judith Schlesinger, our leading combination jazz writer/psychotherapist, did with guitarist Gene Bertoncini nearly a year ago. The interview ran on the All About Jazz web site, and I missed it last April. Maybe you missed it, too. It is fascinating for its insights into Bertoncini's musical thinking, his quick wit and his interchanges with Dr. Schlesinger. Verbatim transcribed interviews are far from my favorite form of journalism, but when … [Read more...]

Other Places: Speaking Of Bill Kirchner

Marc Myers, the proprietor of the blog called JazzWax, audited one of the polymath Mr. Kirchner's classes at the New School and filed a report that begins: Bill's two-hour class took his 40 students through Miles Davis' bio and recordings, complete with 13 prime audio examples. The sound system in the New School's fifth floor "performance space" is sensational. Each digital recording was vivid and exciting and rich with warm sonic detail. In between tracks, Bill filled in the blanks with … [Read more...]

Compatible Quotes: Miles Davis

I would go to the library and borrow scores
by all those great composers, like Stravinsky,
Alban Berg, Prokofiev. I wanted to see what
was going on in all of music. Knowledge is
freedom and ignorance is slavery, and I just
couldn't believe someone could be that close
to freedom and not take advantage of it. It was because of Bill [Evans]'s influence, I
think, that I always had classical music on
around the house. It was so soothing to think
and work by. I mean people would come by
and expect to … [Read more...]

Kirchner Responds To His Responders

Bill Kirchner started this big band discussion on March 20 with a list of recordings recommended to his advanced composing and arranging students in New York. He drew some praise and some scattered fire from Rifftides readers, most of which appears in the exhibit two below this one. Mr. Kirchner requested the right of reply. The Rifftides staff is happy to grant it. All interesting comments, some of which require nothing additional from me, though some do. First, a general comment: my list was … [Read more...]

Sue, Sue, What Were You Thinking?

When I was researching last month's entry about Paul Desmond and the Scopitone, I encountered a film that seemed so unlikely, I set it aside to share with you later and only now remembered it. The divine Sue Raney, it turns out, was a Scopitone artist. I doubt that this song survives in her repertoire, but it certainly fit Scopitone's '60s European mod ethos. … [Read more...]

About Those Big Band CDs…

Bill Kirchner's list of recommended big band albums, compiled for his students, brought reaction. As might have been predicted, knowledgeable and opinionated Rifftides readers sent in their comments. Here they are. If more come in, we will compile and post them. Thanks to everyone who responded. Very nice list. I am glad to see some names included (Don Ellis, Claire Fischer) that others might leave off. I hope your students dig into the music you are suggesting. Of course, I can't help … [Read more...]

Correspondence: On Satch

Bruno Leicht writes from Germany, embedding a weekend viewing and listening present. Browsing YouTube can be an adventure. Never seen this film before. Louis Armstrong and the All Stars at Newport, 1958. -- Please listen and look closely. Miles was wrong; Pops was no Uncle Tom. This man WAS serious, nothing else but a super-professional artist here. Just watch him play his trumpet, look at his face when he announces the last number: Absolutely no traces of "Uncle Tom", except the joy of … [Read more...]

The Jazz Bakery Cut Adrift

In Los Angeles, The Jazz Bakery is losing its lease. The nonprofit performance hall's guiding spirit, Ruth Price, says that it will live on...somewhere. Today's Los Angeles Times has the story. … [Read more...]

George Avakian Is 90

George Avakian has produced recordings by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Erroll Garner, Sonny Rollins, Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond, among others. With the 78 rpm albums of Armstrong's Hot Fives and Hot Sevens that he oversaw for Columbia Records in the 1940s, he invented the jazz reissue. George turned 90 this week, and there was a huge party for him at Birdland in New York City. A wide cross-section of the jazz community turned out for the celebration. A splendid ad hoc … [Read more...]

Weekend Extra: Tharaud Plays Satie

Among the French impressionist composers who intrigued jazz musicians as early as the 1920s was Erik Satie. His Gymnopédies for piano were particular favorites. In later years, some jazz players, including Bill Evans and Herbie Mann, adopted them into their own repertoires. Satie's Gnossiennes may not be as familiar as the Gymnopédies, but they have qualities of their own and are no less captivating. Here is Alexandre Tharaud playing the Gnossienne no. 1. The video production includes scenes of … [Read more...]

Other Matters: Cycling

Spring is here and my Italian friend Vigorelli Bianchi took me for our first ride of 2009. It was blustery and the sun was only occasionally peering between cloud banks, but we had a great time. Stamina was okay. The legs need conditioning. I stopped to speak with a fellow cyclist who was repairing a tube done in by a goathead thorn. I mentioned how good it felt to finally be out after weeks of unusual cold. "I've done 500 miles this year," he said. Oh. … [Read more...]

Kirchner’s List

For his advanced composing and arranging students, saxophonist, composer, arranger and educator Bill Kirchner recently compiled a list of recommended big band CDs recorded since 1955. Kirchner teaches at The New School and Manhattan School of Music in New York City and New Jersey City University. Bill agreed to let me share the list with Rifftides readers, who may find some of their favorites but not others. RECOMMENDED BIG BAND CDs, 1955-PRESENT--Bill Kirchner Muhal Richard Abrams: The … [Read more...]

OOPS Department

As several Rifftides readers pointed out, in the initial posting of the item below, I renamed Senator Richard Lugar "Fred." There was a reason for that, but no excuse. The error is corrected, with apologies to the senator. … [Read more...]

Other Matters: Cultural Diplomacy

I have written here from time to time about the harm the United States has done itself by failing in recent years to practice the cultural diplomacy that did it so much good for decades following World War II. After the Berlin Wall fell and European communist totalitarianism followed, the Clinton administration dismantled the United States Information Agency. The USIA's functions, we were told, would be taken on by the State Department, but State has done little with them during a period when … [Read more...]

Recent Listening In Brief: Tolliver, Blake, Byard

Charles Tolliver, Emperor March (Half Note). Tolliver received considerable attention for his part in the recent observance of the 50th anniversary of Thelonious Monk's Town Hall concert. Here, we have Tolliver's big band playing his own music. As in the 2007 With Love CD that announced the trumpeter and composer's resurgence, Tolliver melds new departures with traditional values that include dynamite writing for brass. His solos and those by veterans Stanley Cowell, piano, and Billy Harper, … [Read more...]

Other Places: Hajdu On Petrucciani

You may recall the Rifftides tip a year ago about a Michel Petrucciani documentary DVD. The film followed the pianist around the world and culminated in a memorable concert shortly before he died in 1999. If you didn't know about Petrucciani before you saw the film, it is unlikely that you forgot him afterward. In the current issue of The New Republic, David Hajdu does a fine job of placing Petrucciani in his time, assessing the importance of his music and tracing his refusal to let disability … [Read more...]

Other Places: Jazz Walk And Mule Talk

I am adding to Other Places in the right column a link to Mule Walk And Jazz Talk, a web log posted from Madrid by Agustín Pérez. The legend Sr. Pérez erects below the name of his blog leaves no doubt en el que viene de, as they say in downtown Madrid. Random thoughts, casual writings and specific research on early jazz styles. If you think there is no jazz before Coltrane, you may have come to the wrong place. Mule Walk And Jazz Talk is bilingual and nicely organized. It is packed with treats, … [Read more...]

SFJC 7 Are On The Way

The SF Jazz Collective rolls into town next week to play at the world class nonprofit performance hall we have here in an acoustically blessed former church. The local newspaper asked me to write an advancer. YAKIMA, Wash. -- For a few weeks each year, seven of the busiest musicians in jazz suspend their leadership roles and come together as the SFJazz Collective. Their 2009 tour will bring them to The Seasons on Wednesday. According to alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon, the band is having a great … [Read more...]

Recent Listening: Keezer, Fat Cat, Temperley, Henderson

The recession seems to be doing little to stem the flood of CDs. This posting and others to follow constitute one man's attempt to deal with the rising tide. The quick hits below are not full-fledged reviews, far from it. They are acknowledgements of a few releases worth investigating. Many of them, no doubt, deserve full analysis. The Rifftides staff regrets that we cannot provide deep consideration of all recordings of merit--or demerit. Listening and writing are linear activities, and the … [Read more...]

Zeitlin Trio At Dizzy’s

Rifftides reader Jim Eigo followed up on yesterday's Wall Street Journal piece about Denny Zeitlin by sending this photograph. He took it last night at Zeitlin's gig at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola in New York. From left to right, Buster Williams, Zeitlin, drummer Matt Wilson, fully involved. Photo © Jim Eigo … [Read more...]

Zeitlin In The Journal

In today's Wall Street Journal, I write about Denny Zeitlin. The piece is pegged to the simultaneous releases of his new trio CD on the Sunnyside label and a Mosaic box set with nearly all of Zeitlin's Columbia trio recordings. The article begins: In October 1963, a 25-year-old Johns Hopkins medical student sat at a concert grand piano in the East 30th Street studio of Columbia Records in New York and played a masterpiece of a jazz solo. Denny Zeitlin, from a Chicago family devoted to medicine … [Read more...]

Compatible Quotes: Music And Medicine

Music was probably born of the natural rhythms of life. So it shouldn't come as a surprise when people who dedicate themselves to life science release their creative energy in music. - Karen Schmidt in the journal Yale Medicine, 1998 ...music is my heritage, I cannot help it - Albert Schweitzer I gave up my position of professor in the University of Strausbourg, my literary work, and my organ playing, in order to go as a doctor to equatorial Africa -Albert Schweitzer, The Primeval Forest … [Read more...]

Correspondence: The Vanishing CD

Regarding Lou Levy's Lunarcy CD reviewed on March 5 (scroll down), a Rifftides reader who identifies himself as Fergus wrote: You might ask Universal why Lunarcy isn't available on iTunes in the US as it is elsewhere. The Rifftides staff passed that suggestion on to Universal publicist Regina Joskow. She said that she, in turn, would relay it to the appropriate folks at the record company. I added a suggestion that Universal, which encompasses Verve, also reissue the Levy CD. Ms. Joskow's reply … [Read more...]

Inside Stuff From The Monk Concert

Sam Stephenson of the Jazz Loft Project at Duke University shepherded the Thelonious Monk Town Hall 50th anniversary concerts at the end of February. See this post for a link to a review of the events. Mr. Stephenson sent a few post-concert anecdotes for our amusement. The Rifftides staff found them interesting and asked him to expand them for publication. We thank him for permission to bring them to you. At the 1959 Town Hall show the great writer Martin Williams went onstage and talked about … [Read more...]