Paul Desmond, 33 Years Later

Desmond has been in my thoughts today, back to the weeks before his death of lung cancer in 1977 at the age of 52. We talked frequently during that time. Here are two excerpts from Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond, then a song that Paul cherished. He and Dave Brubeck played it together nearly from the beginning of their partnership. A few days before Memorial Day, I got a call in San Antonio. "Hi, it's me, Desmond," he began, cheery as ever. After a few minutes we faded … [Read more...]

Rifftides Revisited: Jessica Williams

Occasionally, the Rifftides staff trolls the archives with an eye for older posts that hold up. Here is one from three years ago this Memorial Day weekend. Time out of the writing crunch to hear successive Jessica Williams concerts was time well spent. Williams has taken a liking to The Seasons and returned there with her new trio for two evenings. On Saturday,Williams, bassist Doug Miller and drummer John Bishop played a Duke Ellington program. The repertoire, except for the infrequently heard … [Read more...]

Recent Listening: Jarrett And Haden

Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden, Jasmine (ECM). Keith Jarrett has had partnerships with powerful and distinctively different bassists; Gary Peacock since 1983 in the pianist's Standards Trio; Palle Danielsson in the late 1970s in Jarrett's European Quartet; Charlie Haden in his mid-70s quartet. For all of Peacock's dazzling virtuosity and Danielsson's rock-solid strength, Haden brought to Jarrett's music something unique—deceptive simplicity rooted in his beginnings as a folk musician. Rather … [Read more...]

Scott Robinson

On a collection of horns that amounts to an instrument museum, Scott Robinson plays every style of jazz from traditional to free. One night he might be with the cornetist Jon-Erik Kelso playing music inspired by Bix Beiderbecke, the next anchoring the floating impressionism of Maria Schneider's orchestra. His arsenal, dozens of instruments, ranges from the slide soprano sax to the contrabass saxophone. It includes the theremin, the normaphone and the bass marimba. He plays all of those and … [Read more...]

Other Matters: Amelia

Back off the road and facing deadlines, I'm still in a blogging-lite mode. We were in Seattle to see the world premiere of Daron Hagen's opera Amelia. The final performance was Saturday night, but this grand fugue of an opera is too good not to have further productions. Following the Seattle Opera's sensational unveiling, other companies are bidding for it. If it shows up within walking, driving or flying distance, I strongly urge you to put it on your calendar. The superb Seattle cast was … [Read more...]

A Hank Jones Listening Opportunity

Broadcast tributes to Hank Jones continue. Jim Wilke of Public Radio International's Jazz After Hours alerts Rifftides that he is preparing two for this weekend. From the Jazz After Hours alert: Jim remembers the rich legacy of pianist Hank Jones, who died last week at the age of 91. Hank Jones' career spanned over sixty years, from Jazz at the Phil with Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, and others to the present decade; he was to play with Joe Lovano at Birdland next week. There will be two … [Read more...]

Brubeck, Desmond, Mulligan: All The Things

The counterpoint that Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond generated in the early-to-mid 1950s leads many serious listeners to consider the period the creative height of their partnership. For all the success of their later work, including "Take Five," after the late fifties counterpoint was a less frequent, less concentrated part of their work. There were exceptions, even after the Brubeck quartet disbanded in 1969. One came during a brief stage when the temporarily reconstituted quartet featured … [Read more...]

Hank Alone

In The New York Times "City Room" blog, Corey Kilgannon and Andy Newman have a strange, poignant followup to the news of Hank Jones's death. No one who knew Hank will be surprised at the selflessness it portrays or be unmoved by its tale of loneliness. He stayed active till the very end, collecting a Grammy last year and touring the world. But when he wasn't on the road, he lived in near isolation in a 12-by-12-foot room at 108th Street and Broadway, ordering in three meals a day from the … [Read more...]

Not Quite A Hiatus…

Deadlines and other obligations at Rifftides World Headquarters and elsewhere will keep me occupied for the next few days. Blogging will be as possible. In the meantime, the staff encourages you to browse five years worth of archive postings. Go here and scroll down. Be prepared to do a lot of scrolling. Who knows, you might find buried treasure. Here's a staff favorite. … [Read more...]

Hank Jones, 1918-2010

The parade outward continues. Hank Jones died last night in a New York hospital following a brief illness. He was 91. For a thorough obituary, see this piece by Peter Keepnews in The New York Times. The last times I heard Mr. Jones, at the 2008 Lionel Hampton festival, his elegance, celebrated evenness of touch and full command of the piano were undiminished: The ranking master of the evening was pianist Hank Jones, playing beautifully in his 90th year. His two-piano duet partners, sixty-odd … [Read more...]

Remembering Zoot

A year-and-a-half ago, I wrote a piece about Al Cohn for The Note, the newsletter of The Al Cohn Memorial Jazz Collection at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania. The school is a part of the state system of higher education and of a jazz community that thrives in the Delaware Water Gap area of the Poconos Mountains 70 miles from New York City. The region's premier jazz club, The Deer Head Inn (pictured), has become known around the world because of recordings made there by Phil Woods, … [Read more...]

Other Matters: Rosa Rio

Television was a long time coming to the little eastern Washington town where I grew up. As a boy, I listened to a lot of radio. It made pictures in my head. One of the pictures was of something called a Mighty Wurlitzer and the woman who played it. It seemed that the theme music or background of half the shows on the air were by Rosa Rio, whose name was all but synonymous with that gargantuan instrument. Ms. Rio died on Thursday, less than a month short of her 108th birthday. She was born in … [Read more...]

Other Places: Paich And Pierce

Devotees of medium-sized bands, some of which are discussed here and here* in the Rifftides archives, will enjoy Ed Leimbacher's new posting on his I Witness blog. His piece begins with a series of puns so bad that they're bad, but goes on to provide entertaining and useful information about groups led by Marty Paich and Nat Pierce. A brief sample: I fully expected to find the Paich album superficial and the Pierce one to be more substantial... which should teach me to eschew preconceptions. … [Read more...]

Other Places: Widows

Marc Myers, the proprietor of Jazzwax, wrote an interesting Wall Street Journal article about widows of prominent jazz musicians. He focuses first on Laurie Pepper (pictured with her husband), who makes a business of maintaining Art Pepper's legacy. She has issued on her Widow's Choice label several previously unissued CDs of Pepper's music. Marc also covers Mrs. Dexter Gordon's, Mrs. Louis Bellson's and Mrs. Charles Mingus's activities in the years since their husbands' deaths. From the … [Read more...]

Recent Listening: Trios. Part 3, Cole, Viklický, Erskine, Cary

Nat King Cole & Friends, Riffin': The Decca, JATP, Keynote and Mercury Recordings (Hip-O Select). This three-CD box begins with 17 tracks of a trio that served as the model for groups led by Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Page Cavanaugh and too many others to list. Nat Cole became one of the most famous singers in the world, but his enduring impact on jazz was as a pianist whose example inspired Bud Powell, Peterson, Bill Evans and virtually every other modern pianist who developed in the 1940s and … [Read more...]

Lena Horne, 1917-2010

Lena Horne is being remembered with the respect and admiration that her talent and tenacity won her in decades of struggle and refusal to compromise. Her travails and triumphs are recounted in dozens of obituaries on the air, on web sites and in publications around the world. This one from The New York Times has the essential details of her remarkable life. The stories emphasize the prejudices she battled, the barriers she shattered and the major stardom as an actress that bigotry denied her. … [Read more...]

Recent Listening: Trios. Part 2, Carrothers, Smith, Sills, Peterson

Bill Carrothers, Joy Spring (Pirouet). Carrothers, a pianist, lives in a remote area of Michigan, has a quixotic web site and records copiously for European labels. A prodigious technician, he is a master of the reassembled melody and the customized harmonic scheme. Here, he renovates pieces from the repertoire of the great trumpeter Clifford Brown. "Joy Spring," recognizable by a few of its phrases, is a slow meditation. "Jordu," becomes, improbably, a march. When he observes tempos and … [Read more...]

Recent Listening: Trios. Part 1, Hal Galper

Hal Galper, E Pluribus Unum (Origin). You won't be hearing Galper on your favorite easy listening station. The past few years, the pianist has used sonic density, astringent harmonies, massive technique and powerful swing to build intricate edifices. Galper's music is demanding beyond even the muscular bebop he played when he was the pianist in Phil Woods' quintet. The experienced listener who brings an open mind will be drawn in by a story teller creating layers of meaning with expressed and … [Read more...]

On Rob McConnell

Occasionally, a Rifftides reader sends a message compelling enough that it demands posting not as a comment but as a full-fledged item. In the blog's five years, there have been few. Jeff Sultanof's recent recollection of Gene Lees was one. A few days later, we have Peter Kountz's tribute to Rob McConnell. Dr. Kountz is head of Philadelphia's Charter High School For Architecture + Design, an independent tuition-free public school that is the first of its kind in the United States. His background … [Read more...]

“Every Tub,” Because…

...because everyone should listen to it now and then. The first tenor saxophone solo is by Lester Young. The trumpet is Harry Edison. The second tenor solo is by Herchel Evans. Prez has the tag. … [Read more...]

Rob McConnell 1935-2010

Another significant Canadian contributor to jazz is gone. Barely more than a week after Gene Lees died comes news that Rob McConnell lost his long struggle with cancer Saturday in a Toronto hospital. A valve trombonist, arranger, composer and leader, McConnell made his Boss Brass one of the significant big bands of the latter part of the twentieth century and into the first decade of this one. Here he is with the Boss Brass on a visit to the US west coast in 1981. Rob introduces the piece and … [Read more...]

Diana Krall, Sellout?

A few years ago, Gene Lees and I fell into serious agreement. It happened in one of our long talks over a glass of wine, or two, at the big table just off the kitchen in his and Janet's house in Ojai. We were kicking around the peculiar effect that popular acceptance of an artist often has on the perception of critics and fellow musicians. We discussed the Modern Jazz Quartet, Cannonball Adderley, the Dave Brubeck Quartet and Diana Krall, all of whom during their struggle upward were lauded by … [Read more...]

Sonnenberg Sings Lees

A man named Paul Sonnenberg has posted a medley of songs with Gene Lees' lyrics. If you go here, you'll learn as much about Mr. Sonnenberg as I know. If you watch the video below, you'll see and hear him sing the songs, largely in tune, with a feel for the Brazilian samba idiom and with, for the most part, the correct English lyrics. In "Quiet Night of Quiet Stars," it should be, "...how lovely," not "...so lovely," but that's quibbling. Here's Paul Sonnenberg doing nice work. Rifftides is … [Read more...]

Teachout On Lees

Tributes to Gene Lees continue, for good reason. A line from Longfellow applies: "Dead he is not, but departed - for the artist never dies." Terry Teachout remembers Gene in today's Wall Street Journal: Had Gene been born sooner, he would surely have been as famous and successful as the top songwriters of the '30s and '40s. But he came along after the cultural tide of jazz had started to ebb, and by the time his songs were making their mark, rock 'n' roll was in the process of replacing jazz as … [Read more...]

Correspondence: A Book Deal

Following Gene Lees' passing, the Canadian tenor saxophonist, pianist, composer, arranger and educator Phil Dwyer sent a story about how he acquired one of Gene's books. In the spring of 1990, I was playing in New York, at a club call Visione's (in the Village) with David Friesen and Alan Jones. It was the middle of a long (seven weeks) tour. It would ultimately be the last tour for the group, which had formed in 1987. For me, the New York stop was a highlight not only because it was New York, … [Read more...]