A Striking “Golden Striker”

Golden Strikers

Rifftides readers who responded enthusiastically to the video we posted on February 22 in connection with a piece about the Modern Jazz Quartet may be absolutely delirious when they see—and hear—this one. Again, the music is John Lewis’s “The Golden Striker.” The video is from the same 1982 MJQ tour that produced the version recorded in Holland. This time, they were at the Alexandra Palace in London. Now, there is more than the mere suggestion of a smile from Milt Jackson. Everybody is … [Read more...]

We Made The List

We have been notified that Rifftides is on the Accredited Online Colleges’ list of 30 best blogs for jazz students. This is the entry: Rifftides bursts at the seams with award-winning jazz critic and journalist Doug Ramsey’s observations on the scene past and present. He updates almost constantly with all the latest news and opinions from around the jazz world. We’re 30th on the list, but the staff felt better when we found a disclaimer in the preamble: This is by no means a … [Read more...]

Recent Listening: A Bill Dixon Rarity

Bill Dixon

Bill Dixon, Intents and Purposes (International Phonograph). Dixon, who died last year at 84, is typically described as a force in the free jazz that emerged in the1960s. He was that, but Intents and Purposes defied labeling when Dixon recorded it more than four decades ago. This long overdue reissue confirms that the album withstands categorization. Its daring and forthright iconoclasm has substance that outlives much music that was conceived in protest or defiance in the roiling atmosphere of … [Read more...]

Correspondence: On Tour In Earthquake Country

Bill Mays head

Bill Mays writes from Japan, where—despite earthquake, tsunami and radiation—the Phil Woods Quintet is on tour: Mays, piano; Woods, alto saxophone; Brian Lynch, trumpet; Steve Gilmore, bass; Bill Goodwin, drums. Food and bottled water have not been a problem here in Tokyo. Transportation has posed no problem. Radiation levels are "safe." We are avoiding milk, tap water, other questionable items. I was a little paranoid the first two days here and ate nothing but bananas and … [Read more...]

“Just Friends,” Twice

As an addendum to his note from Tokyo in the preceding item, Bill Mays sent a link to a video and wrote: After Bird's version of this tune, this one's my second favorite. I can see why. The Rifftides staff rounded up both versions of “Just Friends.” Here they are, in Mays’ order of preference. … [Read more...]

Other Places: Frank Foster

Frank Foster

Frank Foster wrote “Shiny Stockings” when he was in Count Basie’s “New Testament” band of the mid-1950s. He gained fame as half of Basie’s “Two Franks” tenor saxophone tandem with Frank Wess. The piece became a staple of not only the Basie band but of big jazz bands around the world. There is hardly a high school or college stage band that doesn’t have “Shiny Stockings” in its book. An experienced musician before he joined Basie, Foster went on to earn widespread admiration as a player, … [Read more...]

Spring, Part 1: The Bad Plus & Stravinsky

The Bad Plus

It is the first day of spring and, naturally, Igor Stravinsky is on everyone’s mind. Well, perhaps not everyone’s, but he is powerfully on the minds of The Bad Plus. That trio of restless and sometimes disturbing seekers are adapting Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, a piece that nearly a century ago sent even more shock waves through the music world than The Bad Plus sends today. National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday launched into spring with a feature on a marriage that seems less … [Read more...]

Spring, Part 2: Spring Songs

Here are two great spring songs, performed at European festivals. First, Ellis Marsalis at Spain’s Jazz Vitoria Gasteiz in 1992 with Tommy Wolf’s and Fran Landesman’s “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most.>” Randy Brecker played at Plovdid Jazz Nights 2009 in Bulgaria’s second largest city. With him were Ventzislav Blagoev, flugelhorn; Shibil Benev; guitar; Plamen Karadonev, piano; Trifon Dimitrov, bass; and Dimitar Dimitrov, drums, playing Freddie Hubbard’s “Up Jumped Spring.” … [Read more...]

Recent Listening: Jeffrey Snedeker’s French Horn

Minor Returns, Snedeker

Jeffrey Snedeker, Minor Returns (JS). Snedeker is a rarity, a first-chair symphony French horn artist who understands jazz time, phrasing and feeling. In settings from quartet through big band to 41-piece string orchestra, he pays homage to the horn’s role in jazz. Snedeker solos on pieces associated with the music’s handful of French horn heroes, including Julius Watkins, David Amram, Willie Ruff and John Graas. Among his colleagues is the perennial French horn poll winner Tom Varner, one of … [Read more...]

Nat Cole’s Birthday

It’s a bit late in the day, but I didn’t want to ignore Nat Cole’s birthday. If he were still among us, he would be 92. He died in 1965 a month short of his 46th birthday. The world remembers him as one of the great popular singers. Pianists revere him. Don’t ignore his singing here—that would be hard to do—but listen to his playing following the vocal and see if you detect some of what helped form Ahmad Jamal, one of countless pianists inspired by Cole. … [Read more...]

Compatible Quotes: Duke Ellington

Ellington gazing down

It is becoming increasingly difficult to decide where jazz starts or where it stops, where Tin Pan Alley begins and jazz ends, or even where the borderline lies between between classical music and jazz. I feel there is no boundary line. The most important thing I look for in a musician is whether he knows how to listen. Fate is being kind to me. Fate doesn't want me to be too famous too young. (On the Pulitzer board denying him the prize the Pulitzer jury voted him in 1965.) … [Read more...]

Correspondence Illustrated: Ellington Transcendent

Bruno Leicht writes from Germany: Here's one of my favorite tunes. It's a forgotten one. I know it since I was 17, and I still love it. What tricky writing for the clarinets, huh? Yes, and what singing by Herb Jeffries. The other soloist is Harry Carney, baritone saxophone. This was July 9, 1941. Duke Ellington And His Famous Orchestra at their peak. “Brown Skin Gal” is from this collection. Thanks for the reminder, Bruno. … [Read more...]

Why Kenny Dorham?

Dorham, Kenny

Because it has been too long since you’ve heard him, and because these two videos are—by all accounts—the only ones in existence that show him playing. His rhythm section at the Golden Circle in Stockholm in 1963 was Goran Lindberg, piano; Goran Peterson, bass; and Leif Wennerstron, drums. Please disregard the lead-in advertisement and the dreadful picture quality. Let us simply be grateful that these films exist. Dorham’s solo in this brief second clip is some of his most … [Read more...]

Joe Morello, 1928-2011

Joe Morello

Joe Morello, the drummer best known for his long tenure with the Dave Brubeck Quartet, died this morning at his home in New Jersey. Morello joined Brubeck in 1956, remained with the group until it disbanded in 1967 and later played with it in reunions. He joined Brubeck after three years in Marian McPartland’s trio.  Earlier in the 1950s he worked with Gil Melle, Johnny Smith and, briefly, with Stan Kenton. His eyesight, always troublesome, began to fail in the later Brubeck years and by 1976 … [Read more...]

Recent Listening: Ernie Krivda


Ernie Krivda, Live At The Dirty Dog (CIMPoL).  Except for three years in New York in the 1970s and occasional tours out of town, Krivda has remained in Cleveland during his five decades as a hard-driving soloist, bandleader, composer, arranger and educator. If he had stayed in New York, he might be famous, or as famous as a journeyman jazz musician can become these days. He recorded this, his 36th album, at The Dirty Dog in Grosse Point, Michigan, with a Detroit Rhythm section headed by the … [Read more...]

Other Places: Hentoff On Ellington

Young Ellington

In The Wall Street Journal, Nat Hentoff reminisces about his relationship with Duke Ellington. The occasion is the release of a massive Mosaic CD box set of early Ellington recordings remastered by Steven Lasker. The column is packed with anecdotes, including this one from the early 1940s, when Hentoff was a young broadcaster in Boston: Off the air, he once told me: "I don't want listeners to analyze my music. I want them open to it as a whole." And I was there when he played dances, just to … [Read more...]

Rib Music


Recorded music has never been as omnipresent as it is in 2011. If, heaven forbid, there should be a supermarket, gas station, dentist’s office or public street not blessed with speakers providing perpetual Muzak, that’s why Jobs made iPods. As technology moves from CDs to digital downloads to—perhaps—receptors implanted in the brain, it is instructive to look back to a time when finding music on record was less easy and much more dangerous. The time was the 1940s and ‘50s in the Soviet … [Read more...]

CD: Tamir Hendelman

Hendelman Destinations

Tamir Hendelman, Destinations (Resonance). The pianist’s second album as a leader is a gem. With drummer Lewis Nash and the Italian-born bassist Marco Panascia, he fashions exquisite versions of a dozen pieces. He is exhilarating in his lightning exploration of Makoto Ozone’s “BQE,” tender in his own “Babushka,” full of wit in his fleet exchanges with Nash and Panascia in Charlie Parker’s and Dizzy Gillespie’s “Anthropology.” In the contrast between his intricate introduction to “Wrap Your … [Read more...]

A New Look


Don’t go away. You’ve come to the right place. This is Rifftides, but with a new design. The publishing platform called WordPress is a significant advance over the old Moveable Type platform. Artsjournal.com founder and editor Doug McLennan has been beta testing WordPress on his own blog. Now he’s helping us switch to the new system. It makes management of the blog easier for the Rifftides staff and—more important—makes the site more enjoyable and efficient for you to navigate. We’re still … [Read more...]

CD: Jeremy Pelt


Jeremy Pelt, The Talented Mr. Pelt (High Note). There is more here than meets the ear accustomed to quintets that knock off Blue Note bands of the 1960s. From his record debut in 2002—and notably since he established this group in 2007—the trumpeter has manifested originality as soloist and composer. Five of the eight tunes are his, with writing as free of clichés as is his playing. Pelt’s sidemen are seasoned pros: saxophonist J.D. Allen, bassist Dwayne Burno pianist Danny Grissett … [Read more...]

CD: Rick Trolsen

Neslort Mystical Scam

Neslort, Mystical Scam (Lort/Threadhead). Most reviews and articles about the leader of Neslort (spell it backward) begin, “Eccentric New Orleans trombonist Rick Trolsen…” The reasons for that are apparent in this CD. Equally evident is Trolsen’s and the sextet’s musicianship, which merges street funk, bebop, electronica, rhythm and blues, New Orleans parade pzazz and—as in all good gumbos—a mystery ingredient or two. Tim Robertson’s pliant guitar licks, Kyle Cripps’ saxophones, Matt Perrine’s … [Read more...]

DVD: Stan Kenton


Stan Kenton, Artistry in Rhythm (Jazzed Media). This is the story of Kenton’s development of a big band unlike any of its contemporaries. Photographs, film, video tape, audio recordings and interviews trace the band from its early days through its many incarnations—Artistry in Rhythm, Innovations, Progressive, Contemporary Concepts, Neophonic. Rather than a script and narration, the production depends for continuity on an extended interview with L.A. Jazz Institute head Ken Poston. Poston tends … [Read more...]

New Recommendations

Laurel Thumbs Up

Under Doug's Picks in the right column you will find recommendations of a DVD about a trailblazing band leader, CDs by a trumpeter and a pianist leading the way in their generation of young jazz artists, and the autobiography of a leading light in an older generation. … [Read more...]

Book: Jimmy Heath

Jimmy Heath

Jimmy Heath and Joseph McLaren, I Walked With Giants (Temple). Younger brother of bassist Percy, older brother of drummer Albert (Tootie), saxophonist, composer and arranger Jimmy Heath tells his life story with forthrightness, humor and no trace of self-delusion. A brilliant youngster who succumbed to the heroin disease that plagued beboppers, Heath paid his debt, cleaned up his act and became one of the most productive and respected musicians of his generation. Co-author McLaren intersperses … [Read more...]

Frishberg, Wellstood And Sullivan, Restored

The Rifftides staff discovered, by chance, that an essential element in a two-and-a-half-year-old entry about Dick Wellstood and two other pianists had suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous YouTube fortune. The video of Wellstood playing was removed by whoever posted it. We managed to find an even better one, so here is the reconstituted piece, including video. Call it a Rifftides encore or golden oldie. This first ran on August 8, … [Read more...]

Webb City

I'm still tucking in the frayed ends of daily life after extended duty in the trenches of extracurricular writing. Soon, there will be a new batch of Doug's Picks as the blogging routine returns to normal, whatever that is. I am told that the first rule of survival in the weblog game is to keep the blog fresh. So—to give you useful information and avoid turning this into a mere video disc jockey operation—here is a cross-generational performance of Bud Powell's "Webb City." The older … [Read more...]