Weekend Extra: Billie Travelin’ Light

Billie H

Trummy Young and Johnny Mercer wrote “Travelin’ Light.” Billie Holiday owned it. This version with an unidentified pianist was made in Paris in 1959, the year she died. It is one of her most affecting treatments of a song that became one of her signature pieces. For more about Billie and “Travelin’ Light,” including her original recording of the song and an unusual version by Chet Baker, visit Bruno Leicht’s new blog entry. … [Read more...]

Lucky Thompson In Person

Lucky Thompson 2

The logical followup to the piece below about Chris Byars' hero Lucky Thompson is a piece by Thompson. Here's a film from Paris in 1959 at the Blue Note. The rhythm section is Bud Powell, piano; Pierre Michelot, bass; Jimmy Gourley, guitar; Kenny Clarke, drums. The compostion is Dizzy Gillespie's and Charlie Parker's "Anthropology." The video clip ends before the tune does, but this is a rare opportunity to see the great tenor saxophonist in action with a band of his peers. Make that two … [Read more...]

Recent Listening: Lucky Strikes Again

Byars, Lucky

Chris Byars, Lucky Strikes Again (Steeplechase). This album by a gifted saxophonist, composer and arranger has several things to recommend it. It presents 10 pieces written and arranged by Lucky Thompson (1924-2005), a saxophonist whose brilliance and originality as a player and writer failed to make him as well known as equally gifted contemporaries like Miles Davis, Stan Getz and Milt Jackson. Byars painstakingly transcribed most of the arrangements from recordings of a 1961 Thompson … [Read more...]

Other Places: Prague Jazz Redivivus

Tony Emmerson

Tony Emmerson's blog Prague Jazz has come out of hibernation after several months of dormancy. It was, and presumably again will be, a prime source of information about music in one of eastern Europe's great centers of culture. The main re-entry item is an interview with saxophonist Julian Nicholas, like Emmerson a native of the UK who has developed strong ties to the Czech Republic. The interview is capped with video of Nicholas in performance with the Emil Viklický Trio. The quirky … [Read more...]

Weekend Extra: Joe Henderson

Joe Henderson

A friend just pointed out that this is the birthday of Joe Henderson (1937-2001). The Rifftides time clock says that I’m punched out for the holiday, but to post a remembrance of Joe I’m sneaking past the security guards and putting up this remarkable performance of a piece associated nearly as closely with Henderson as with the man who wrote it, Kenny Dorham. The initial recording of “Blue Bossa” was in 1963 with Dorham on Page One, Henderson’s debut as a leader. It was one of a remarkable … [Read more...]

Weekend Extra: Easter Parade

Here’s a cheery version of Irving Berlin’s classic holiday song. It’s by Jimmie Lunceford’s band, recorded in 1939. The vocal and exuberant trombone solo are by Trummy Young. Have patience, please. It takes the Garrard disc jockey a while to get it cued up, giving you nearly 15 seconds to read the record label. Happy Easter. … [Read more...]

New Recommendations

Thumbs Up

For reasons involving the configuration of the new publishing platform, Rifftides had to put off posting a new batch of Doug’s Picks. The crack artsjournal.com technical team has eliminated the barrier and in the right-hand column you will find the staff’s recommendations of new CDs by a pianist leading a big band, a pianist leading a trio and the welcome reissue of classic Stan Getz quintet recordings. We are also alerting you to a delightful Erroll Garner DVD and a book that takes a seriously … [Read more...]

CD: Orrin Evans

Captain Black

Orrin Evans, Captain Black Big Band (Positone). On last year’s Tarbaby: The End of Fear, Evans was the intrepid pianist in an adventurous trio. Here, he is at the helm of a 16-piece band staffed by New Yorkers and Philadelphians, some of them up-and-comers, a few semi-grizzled veterans, all full of fire. Busy conducting, Evans solos on only one piece, but there is no shortage of impressive soloists in this live recording. Among them are saxophonists Jaleel Shaw and Ralph Bowen, trumpeter Tatum … [Read more...]

CD: Jessica Williams

Williams, Trane

Jessica Williams, Freedom Trane (Origin). The pianist has concentrated on solo performance lately but returns to the trio format by way of this paean to John Coltrane. Accompanied by bassist Dave Captein and drummer Mel Brown, Williams explores four pieces by Coltrane and four of her own that pay tribute to the man she has long acknowledged as a major musical and spiritual inspiration. In her notes, she calls him “my light through the darkness.” There is no darkness in the title tune, indeed … [Read more...]

CD: Stan Getz

Getz Quintets

Stan Getz Quintets: The Clef & Norgran Studio Albums (Verve). This beautifully packaged and remastered box set has the nonpareil Getz 1953-1955 quintet sides with valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer and pianist John Williams. It also contains the two rarities with trumpeter Tony Fruscella subbing for Brookmeyer; the 1952 tracks with Jimmy Raney, Duke Jordan, Bill Crow and Frank Isola; and the 1954 quartet date with Jimmy Rowles, Bob Whitlock and Max Roach. These are benchmark recordings by the tenor … [Read more...]

DVD: Erroll Garner

Garner Icons

Erroll Garner Live in ’63 & ’64 (Jazz Icons). Garner’s lingering image is of an imp, an elf who smiled and bounced his way into the public’s hearts at the end of an era when “jazz” and “popular” still appeared in the same sentences in Billboard and Variety. Lest we forget: he was a pianist with formidable, if unconventional, technique and a sly master of harmonic and rhythmic surprise. These concerts from Belgium and Sweden capture Garner and his faithful rhythm companions Eddie Calhoun and … [Read more...]

Book: Telegraph Style Guide

Telegraph Guide

Simon Heffer, Philip Reynolds, The Telegraph Style Guide (Aurum). Whenever Rifftides has posted an Other Matters entry about language, our readers, a literate lot, have responded. This book, designed to keep the staff of the UK’s Telegraph newspapers on their toes, will appeal to those interested in correct usage—and in having a good chuckle. “Slammed is acceptable for a door,” it says, “but not as a metaphor for criticism.” “Very, Usually redundant.” Among the Telegraph’s banned words and … [Read more...]

La Vie En Satchmo

Sam McGredy

Speaking of roses… Oh, we weren’t? Well, we are now. The resident rose expert around here informed me the other day that two famous roses are named in honor of Louis Armstrong. The same breeder developed both of them. His name is Sam McGredy (pictured), an Irishman who moved to New Zealand more than 40 years ago. Among rose aficionados around the world he became famous for his hybrids. McGredy’s “Satchmo” rose came first, in 1970. According to Stirling Macoboy’s The Ultimate Rose Book, … [Read more...]

Aaron Diehl

Aaron Diehl

In a section of a Hank Jones master class DVD that was a 2008 Doug’s Pick, Jones critiqued budding jazz pianists. One of them was a 21-year-old Julliard graduate named Aaron Diehl. For Jones, Diehl played “I Cover The Waterfront” and Art Tatum’s arrangement of Massenet’s “Elegy.” Apart from a slight reservation about Diehl’s use of dynamics in the first piece, Jones had nothing but praise, especially for the way the young man scaled the heights of “Elegy.” “If you should decide to stay in the … [Read more...]

Other Places: Have You Met Mr. P.C.?

Mr. P.C.

It seems unlikely that anyone who follows jazz closely has not encountered Mr. P.C., counselor to musicians who wish to do the right thing but are confused about what that is. However, it's tough to keep up with much of even the most valuable information in the bounty—not to say glut— of digital outpourings. If you have missed Mr. P.C., Rifftides is happy to call him to your attention. The credo prefacing his column on the All About Jazz website begins: Inspired by the cutting … [Read more...]

Albam From The Archives


One Monday night in the ‘70s, I found myself seated at a table in the Village Vanguard with Manny Albam, listening to the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. During a break, I said to him, “I wonder why you haven’t written something for this band.” “So do I,” he said. To my knowledge, Albam never did write for the Jones-Lewis band. I wish that he had. He created wonderful music for lots of other people, though. It has always puzzled me that he wasn’t better known outside of the tight jazz … [Read more...]

Guest Shot: Those Grammy Changes


Outrage continues to grow in the Latin jazz community over the decision of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) to drop the Best Latin Jazz category from the annual Grammy awards. The NARAS Board of Governors this week decided to eliminate nearly a third of the award categories, but the loudest protest has come from Latin jazz artists, their fans and record labels that specialize in Latin music. NARAS president Neil Portnow defended cutting the number of categories from … [Read more...]

(1) Desmond On “Take Five.” (2) A Financial Report

Desmond looking left

I had the middle part kind of vaguely in mind. I thought, "We could do this, but then we'd have to modulate again and we're already playing in 5/4 and six flats, and that's enough for one day's work." Fortunately, we tried it, and that's where you get the main part of the song.—Paul Desmond At the time, I thought it was kind of a throwaway. I was ready to trade in the entire rights of "Take Five" for a used Ronson electric razor.—Paul Desmond A Gift That Keeps On … [Read more...]

“Take Five” a la Pakistan

Brubeck India 1

When Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond took time out for tips from Indian musicians during their 1958 State Department tour, the exchange worked both ways. The Brubeck Quartet’s tour was an important component of the cultural diplomacy the United States practiced during the Cold War. Among other inspirations Brubeck picked up on the international road more than half a century ago was the 9/8 Turkish rhythm that became the basis for his “Blue Rondo a la Turk.” Desmond had long been working into his … [Read more...]

Correspondence: The Stamp Of Jazz

Jazz Stamp

Jazz historian, composer, arranger, bandleader, educator and short sleeper Bill Kirchner writes: You've probably seen—or will see—the new "Jazz" U.S. postage stamp just issued. A year ago, I was a paid consultant on the design of it. The graphic artist's original design included a trumpeter, saxophonist, pianist, and bassist—no women, no singer. I successfully lobbied for a female singer--my foremost contribution to American culture (smile). This was the stamp … [Read more...]

Billy Bang, 1947-2011

Billy Bang

The violinist Billy Bang, who created himself as a jazz musician out of the trauma of the Vietnam war, died yesterday at 63. Inhabited by his combat experiences, his emotions wounded, Bang found relief and rehabilitation by returning to the violin he had studied as a child. He pursued an intensity of expression that helped him evade his demons. He became one of the most centered players in the free movement, inspired by John Coltrane and by the violin playing of Ornette Coleman and Leroy … [Read more...]

Toots And Grace

The first section following the introduction of my 1989 book Jazz Matters is titled “A Common Language.” It ends with this: Like every art form, jazz has a fund of devices unique to it and universally employed by those who practice it. Among the resources of the jazz tradition available to the player creating an improvised performance are rhythmic patterns, harmonic structures, material quoted from a variety of sources and “head arrangements” evolved over time without being written. … [Read more...]

Meet Olaf Polziehn


Researching key signatures in performances of “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams,” I made a discovery. Everyone else out there may have known about Olaf Polziehn, but he was new to me. After I heard him play the piece (in E-flat), further research turned up these facts: Polziehn is 40 years old. He was born in Ludwigsburg, Germany. He is professor of jazz piano at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Graz, Austria. That is where the expatriate American composer, arranger and trombonist Ed … [Read more...]

Weekend Extra: A Little Song, A Little Dance

T Monk

Here is Thelonious Monk in Japan with Charlie Rouse, Butch Warren and Frankie Dunlop. Monk is in a dancing mood. That’s the bonus in this splendid performance of “Evidence.” The staff recommends full-screen viewing. Now, how can you not have a good weekend? … [Read more...]

Odds And Ends

Odds And Ends

Miscellany accumulates, each unrelated matter of some importance but too small for an item of its own. The solution—hardly an innovation—is to put them all in the same container, call it Odds And Ends and get the jumble out of my mind and into yours. More Help For Japan Following last Monday’s fundraiser at the New York’s Village Vanguard for northern Japan’s earthquake and Tsunami victims and today’s at Vitello’s in Los Angeles, Seattle’s Jazz Alley announces a similar … [Read more...]


Although there is a link to his website in our blogroll (at the extreme south end of the right column), it has been too long since we’ve caught up with Darcy James Argue and his Secret Society. That big band of brash young New Yorkers is less of a secret these days than when we first encountered it a couple of years ago. Now, they win polls and sell records. They also occasionally travel out of town. If you’re interested in knowing something of the thinking of one element of the young … [Read more...]