CD: Irene Kral

Irene Kral, Second Chance (Jazzed Media). Kral's stock in trade was perfection—of intonation, time, feeling, diction and lyric interpretation. She sang with little movement, no show biz mannerisms, nothing resembling schtick. She was so good at 25 that in 1957 Maynard Ferguson hired her on the spot after hearing one song. Alan Broadbent became Kral's piano accompanist in 1974. Until her death four years later, they performed together on a plane of empathy rarely achieved in any genre of … [Read more...]

CD: Martin Wind

Martin Wind, Get It? (Laika). The quartet's feeling of controlled abandon, symbolized in the cover shot, is notable in the title tune inspired by James Brown. There's a sense of slight danger even in the stately treatment of Billy Strayhorn's "Isfahan" and Wind's atmospheric, blues-inflected "Rainy River." The chance-taking is at a high point in Thad Jones' "Three and One," with a Scott Robinson tenor sax solo that slithers, growls and wails. Wind, Robinson, pianist Bill Cunliffe and drummer Tim … [Read more...]

DVD: Johnny Mercer

Johnny Mercer, This Time The Dream's On Me (Warner Bros). Producer-director Bruce Ricker does a masterly job of integrating new and old material into a thorough biography of the great lyricist. The story of Mercer's life and artistry melds film clips and recordings of Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Mercer singing his songs. Colleagues including Johnny Mandel and Tony Bennett offer assessments of his gifts, and Mercer himself reflects on his … [Read more...]

Book: Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff, At The Jazz Band Ball: Sixty Years On The Jazz Scene (U of California Press). Hentoff is our leading avatar of the proposition that jazz is a living expression of the principles embedded in the US constitution, of which he is also a scholar. He does not deal in technical analysis of music. He gives strong, informed opinions and tells stories about those he knew or knows intimately, among them Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane and Clark Terry. But he also writes about … [Read more...]

Correspondence: Butler Did It

Rifftides reader Garret Gannuch practices pediatric radiology in Denver. When he moved to Colorado, his Louisiana soul went with him. A week ago, Dr. Gannuch traveled into the country south of Denver to hear a fellow New Orleanian. He knew that, like nearly anyone who's ever lived there, I'll never get over my love affair with New Orleans and he wrote me about the experience. I asked him if I could let you in on it. He said yes. Here is his report. I attended a solo piano concert by Henry Butler … [Read more...]

Diversion: Johnny Wittwer

During my early development as a listener, I was immersed in the works of Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and Miles Davis when along came Johnny Wittwer. Wittwer was a Seattle pianist who had been been important in the traditional jazz revival on the west coast in the 1940s. Early in that decade he had a trio with clarinetist Joe Darensbourg and drummer Keith Purvis. Later, he was active in San Francisco and worked with Kid Ory and Wingy Manone, among others. In the dialectic of the absurd but deadly … [Read more...]