Meredith d’Ambrosio: A Plug—And A Protest

d'Ambrosio By Myself

This is the official release date for By Myself, Meredith d’Ambrosio’s new CD of songs by Arthur Schwartz, which has been a long time coming. She accompanies herself at the piano and does so beautifully. Full disclosure: I wrote the notes for the album and will abstain from reviewing it except to say that the more I listened to it as I prepared to write, the more deeply it affected me. Here is a bit of the liner essay. Through her interpretive artistry, Meredith uses the songs to tell … [Read more...]

Paul Blair Service


A memorial service for broadcaster, editor and jazz historian Paul Blair will be held this evening, January 30 at St Peter's Church in Manhattan. Thanks to Jim Eigo, here is full information: Paul’s family and friends from elementary school, college, Peace Corps in Malawi, Voice of America, the New York Jazz community, are remembering Paul with words and songs. Speakers: Amandus J. Derr , Senior Pastor of St. Peter’s Church Yessy Blair and Nick Blair Ellen Miller from PS 16 and … [Read more...]

Radio Days & Jim Brown’s Web Page

The Rifftides post about radio has taken on a life of its own with a chain of reader comments. To catch up with them, go here, and feel free to add yours. One of those commenters, the veteran audio engineer (and discriminating listener) Jim Brown, has launched an internet page. He intially designed it as an aid for a jazz appreciation class he taught. Several sections serve as guides to listening, reading and viewing, complete with helpful internet links. You will find it here … [Read more...]

Remembering Clare Fischer

Clare Fischer

After Gary Foster informed me of Clare Fischer’s death at 83 on Friday, I went to the LP shelves, got out Dizzy Gillespie’s 1960 recording A Portrait of Duke Ellington and listened to all of it. For perhaps the hundredth time, I was moved by the originality that Fischer brought to the daunting task of recasting pieces by the acknowledged master of jazz composition. In an irony of Fischer’s career, the understated brilliance of his arrangements for that remarkable collection went uncredited. The … [Read more...]

Recent Listening: Jerry Gonzalez

Gonzalez Comando

Jerry Gonzalez Y El Comando de la Clave (Sunnyside) Since Jerry Gonzalez changed his base of operations from New York to Madrid a decade ago, the trumpeter and congero has worked with many musicians while seeking a satisfactory combination of players for his own band. In Los Comandos de la Clave, he seems to have found it. This is his most stimulating album since the Fort Apache Band’s Rumba Para Monk in 1989. In company with Cuban and Spanish players who feel rhythm as he does, Gonzalez … [Read more...]

Compatible Quotes: Radio


Radio has no interest in music. It is in the advertising business. The record industry has no interest in music. It is in the business of selling pieces of plastic. It is a gigantic machine, almost entirely owned now by international conglomerates, whose only purpose is to accrue profits. It is indifferent to what is on its plastic discs, except insofar as it induces the undiscriminating to buy them. It virtually ignores the discriminating audience because the undiscriminating are so much more … [Read more...]

Let It Snow

Let It Snow # 1

There have been several inquiries about whether we are affected by the winter storms in this part of the world. Yes. My shoveling muscles are affected. Driving can be interesting. But when you wake up to sights like these, who cares if there's a foot of snow. Way off in the distance in the upper right is Mount Adams. Such scenery inevitably leads to thoughts of this: Woody Herman’s First Herd, recorded in December, 1945. The trumpet solo was by Sonny Berman, the trombone … [Read more...]

John Levy, 1912-2012


Word came this morning from Devra Hall Levy that her husband John, a major advocate for and representative of jazz musicians, is gone. Levy died in his sleep on Friday at home in Altadena, California. He was 99. Ahmad Jamal recently described Levy as “one of the foremost supportive bassists” of the postwar period. In that role, beginning as a teenager, Levy worked with Ray Nance, Earl Hines, Stuff Smith, Ben Webster and Lennie Tristano, among dozens of other prominent jazz figures. On the … [Read more...]

Etta James And Johnny Otis, RIP

Etta James

The careers of Johnny Otis and Etta James emphasize Duke Ellington’s often-quoted truth: There are two kinds of music—good music and the other kind. In only slightly different language, Igor Stravinsky offered the same wisdom. Otis died early this week at the age of 90, James today at 73. For decades, they made good music. Ms. James invested everything she sang with the power and sensibility of the blues. Her huge hit, Mack Gordon’s and Harry Warren’s “At Last,” was a standard ballad made … [Read more...]

The Lundgren-Berghofer-LaBarbera Stealth CD

Lundgren Ystad

In today’s Wall Street Journal, I write about the surprise circumstance that led to the finest trio album of Jan Lundgren’s career. All but unknown—and unreviewed—in the United States, Together Again…At The Jazz Bakery features the Swedish pianist with bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Joe LaBarbera in a recording they didn’t know was being made. The CD was voted Record Of The Year in the British magazine Jazz Journal’s critics poll. I gave it first place in the new Rhapsody critics … [Read more...]

Other Places: Marsalis On King

Screen shot 2012-01-16 at 4.24.18 PM

In his debut commentary today on CBS This Morning, Wynton Marsalis recalled that he was in the second grade in 1968 when Martin Luther King was assassinated. He talked about being immersed in the black culture and life of New Orleans in the late 1960s, about having a poster of Malcolm X over his bed, about being angry well into his teens, about thinking that King was an Uncle Tom. My job in New Orleans when Marsalis was a little boy involved reporting on the events and movements of those … [Read more...]

Other Places: Armstrong’s Tone


Using as his point of departure a review of Ricky Riccardi’s recent book about Louis Armstrong’s final decades, Steve Provizer concentrates on Armstrong’s debt to grand opera. In his Brilliant Corners blog, Provizer writes about the great man’s trumpet tone as perhaps his defining characteristic. Hundreds of gifted and proficient trumpet players have come and gone through jazz history, but no one has ever had that tone. Not even close. Yes, others have had an identifiable sound, but their … [Read more...]

Gordon Beck


As I wrote the day Paul Motian died, Rifftides was not conceived as an obituary blog, but when an important musician leaves, I feel an obligation to observe the passing. I failed to do that when Gordon Beck died at 75, also in November. To many, Beck was best known as a pianist who frequently collaborated with singer Helen Merrill, and as a member of Phil Woods’ European Rhythm Machine in the 1970s, but his contributions to jazz were much more extensive. The Irish flutist Colm “Red” Sullivan, a … [Read more...]

Correspondence: Keeping Up

CD Accumulation 11212

Ken Dryden, estimable liner note author and reviewer, writes in response to yesterday’s post about the Rhapsody critics poll. Doug, please share your method of winnowing the huge list of new releases and reissues down to a manageable list from which to make your final picks, I think everyone would be interested. I know it is easier for me if I highlight possible picks monthly for possible inclusion on my new arrival log. One thing I always have to note is that not all of … [Read more...]

The Critics Speak

Rollins facing right

I keep swearing to swear off critics polls. I fail when Francis Davis persuades me to take part in his. For years, Francis ran the Village Voice jazz critics poll. This year he moved the operation to the Rhapsody website and recruited more than 120 jazz critics, writers and broadcasters. Who knew there were so many jazz critics? Well, the definition is stretched, but the results are interesting. The Winner Here is some of what Davis wrote in his essay about the Beacon Theater (New York) … [Read more...]

Sinatra’s Ear


The wedding yesterday of our son and new daughter-in-law, under blue Florida skies, was beautiful and moving (see the January 3 post below). The bride and groom are up and away, and we are all happy beyond measure. By necessity, blogging has been in suspension the past few days, but I have been saving a video to show you during a slow period such as this. From a 1965 CBS-TV documentary, the clip demonstrates the artistry that put so many who worked with Frank Sinatra in awe of his … [Read more...]

Josef Skvorecky And Jazz


The influential Czech novelist Josef Skvorecky, an admirer and champion of jazz musicians and the freedom they represent, has died in Toronto. He was 87. Skvorecky and his wife moved to Canada after the reforms of the Prague Spring were trampled by the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. His novels portrayed the perverse absurdity of totalitarian regimes, the Nazis in The Bass Saxophone, Stalinist Soviets in The Engineer of Human Souls. In Toronto, Skvorecky established a firm that … [Read more...]

There Will Be A Pause


For the next several days, blogging will be a sometime thing, if it happens at all. Mrs. R. and I are plunging into activities surrounding and including our son’s wedding in Miami. The ceremony will be by the pool of a lovely old art deco hotel on South Beach. It is wrenching to forsake the January pleasures of the interior Pacific Northwest, but for those we love no inconvenience is too great, even sand in our shoes, stone crabs and mojitos in our diets—and that moon. We'll be … [Read more...]

Cerra On Desmond

Steve Cerra

Steve Cerra, pictured on the left, is the proprietor of the endlessly informative and entertaining Jazz Profiles blog. His latest profile is of Paul Desmond, concentrating on Desmond’s RCA Victor recordings with Jim Hall. Desperate for material, Steve fills out the feature with liner notes I have written over the years to accompany Desmond albums. At the end is a montage of portraits of the artist with a soundtrack from the Desmond Blue album. Cerra excels at those video constructions. To see … [Read more...]

Sam Rivers And Barbara Lea, RIP

Sam Rivers

As 2011 wound down, American music lost two octogenarians who were dramatically different except for what they had in common, insistence on getting to the heart of the matter without compromise. Sam Rivers died in Orlando, Florida on December 26 at the age of 88, Barbara Lea the same day in Raleigh, North Carolina, at 82. Rivers was a formidable saxophonist, flutist and composer. He had a university education in harmony, theory and composition, played blues with T-Bone Walker, worked with … [Read more...]

New Recommendations for 2012

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Happy New Year to all Rifftides readers around the world. For your listening, viewing and reading pleasure, the Rifftides staff offers recommendations of three CDs that differ dramatically from one another, an intimate Chet Baker DVD, and the autobiography of an irrepressible jazz institution. Please see the right column under Doug's Picks. … [Read more...]

CD: Corea, Gomez, Motian

Further Explorations

Chick Corea, Eddie Gomez, Paul Motian, Further Explorations (Concord) The two-CD album is described in the notes as a “template,” a “tabula rasa,” rather than a tribute to Bill Evans. Nonetheless, Corea’s encounter with two great Evans sidemen underlines Evans’s profound influence on the development of the jazz piano trio and on Corea’s own playing. Released less than a month following Motian’s death at 80, the live recording from New York’s Blue Note beautifully captures the drummer’s … [Read more...]

CD: Pinky Winters

Winters in Summer

Pinky Winters, Winters In Summer (SSJ) To borrow from Paul Williams’s words to Ivan Lins’ “Love Dance,” Winters knows how to turn up the quiet. Using subtleties in phrasing, pitch, intensity and tone shading, she takes ownership of a song without violating its writer’s intentions. Here, her bossa nova repertoire includes Jobim, Lees and Moraes, plus Brazilianized songs by Cole Porter, Dave Frishberg, Bob Florence and Jack Jones. A highlight: her caressing of Jobim’s and Lees’ “Dreamer,” which … [Read more...]

CD: Ronnie Cuber

Ronnie Cuber

Ronnie Cuber, Ronnie (Steeplechase) Cuber has been playing uncompromising jazz on the baritone saxophone for more than half a century. With pianist Helen Sung, bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Jonathan Blake, he is in top form in this 2009 album that escaped my attention until recently. Following his hard-bop gruffness in Freddie Hubbard’s “Thermo,” Cuber floats with tenderness through Scott LaFaro’s “Gloria’s Step” and Michel LeGrand’s “Love Theme From Summer of ’42.” At the speed of … [Read more...]

DVD: Chet Baker

Chet Baker Candy

Chet Baker, Candy (MVD) In a private library in Sweden in 1985, Baker plays and sings with his working trio of the period, pianist Michael Graillier and bassist Jean Louis Rassinfosse. Red Mitchell is a guest, not on bass but at the piano showing Baker his preferred changes to “My Romance,” which the two perform together. Baker is relaxed and impressively fleet in the 1944 title tune and in “Tempus Fugue-it,” “Nardis,” “Sad Walk,” Mitchell’s “Red’s Blues” and “Love for Sale.” His “Bye Bye … [Read more...]