Butch Morris, RIP

Butch Morris-thumb-98x109-18567

The ceaselessly innovative and searching composer and Butch Morris died yesterday in New York. He had been under treatment of cancer for several years. Morris was 65. He developed an approach to big band music that he called conduction. It made demands on musicians by insisting on intensive, intuitive listening, reaction and interaction. The effort involved adjustment to Morris’s highly personalized methods of conducting while simultaneously composing and arranging through a system of cues and … [Read more...]

John And Johann

John Lewis

It is not news that J.S. Bach influenced John Lewis. The Modern Jazz Quartet pianist and his wife Mirjana recorded two-keyboard albums of pieces by Bach, and many of Lewis’s compositions for the MJQ contain harmonic and fugal elements that are direct reflections of Bach. The Baroque master introduced into music so many structural, rhythmic and harmonic aspects beloved by jazz players that Dave Brubeck, among others, said if Bach had lived in the 20th century, he would have been a jazz … [Read more...]

From The Archive: Fín-uhs

Phineas Newborn, Jr.

Josh Rutner wrote to remind me of this Rifftides piece that ran nearly five years ago. When I exhumed it from the archive, I discovered that digital gremlins had stolen the subject's picture and destroyed some of the links. The staff has restored the post, and that's reason enough to remind us all of this wonderful pianist. March 3, 2008 For weeks, the CD reissue of Phineas Newborn, Jr.'s 1961 album A World of Piano! has been propped up near my computer as a reminder to post something about … [Read more...]

Jay Thomas At The Seasons

Jay Thomas flugel

At The Seasons last night, Jay Thomas arrayed his arsenal of reed and brass instruments across the front of the stage, some on stands, others lying at the ready. As in his new album, The Cats (Pony Boy Records), Thomas, pianist John Hansen, bassist Chuck Kistler and drummer Adam Kessler lived up to the CD’s subtitle, “Neo-Boogaloo.” Their tune list is replete with such ‘50s and ‘60s pieces as “The Jody Grind, “Soul Station,” “Nica’s Tempo,” and two fruitful boogaloo standards, Herbie Hancock’s … [Read more...]

It’s Django Reinhardt’s Birthday

Django Smiling

Born in 1910, the French Gypsy guitarist became the first European jazz celebrity and an influence on musicians around the world. in 1934, with violinist Stéphane Grappelli, he formed the Quintet of the Hot Club of France and during the thirties made celebrated recordings with visiting Americans including Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins and Rex Stewart. When World War Two broke out, Grappelli went to England. Reinhhardt reformed the quintet with clarinetist Hubert Rostaing. He recorded his … [Read more...]

“Jazz From The Archives” Is On Notice

Kirchner, soprano

Over the past several years, I have occasionally alerted Rifftides readers to Jazz From the Archives radio programs created and hosted by Bill Kirchner. Exploring the work of important jazz artists, Bill brings to the shows his skills as a writer and producer and his insights as a big-league saxophonist, arranger and composer with intimate knowledge of the music and its makers. Now, for what appear to be slight financial reasons, the Newark jazz station WBGO is making it impossible for Kirchner … [Read more...]

Other Places: Coltrane On “Jazz Profiles”

John Coltrane = Prestige Jazz Profiles -01

Readers of jazz web logs know that one of the most consistently informative and satisfying blogs is Steve Cerra’s Jazz Profiles. Steve specializes in pieces about important musicians from all eras and styles. He complements them with sidebar features and bolsters them with inventive videos combining music with graphics that tell a story. His current feature is about John Coltrane’s recordings for the Prestige label. He chose to make my essay in the massive Prestige Coltrane box set the primary … [Read more...]

When Harry James Met Nancy Ames

Harry James

Scouring the web in search of something unrelated, I came across a clip from a 1967 Ed Sullivan show that brought to mind—as if a reminder were needed—Harry James’s stunning musicianship. The trumpeter teamed up with Nancy Ames in a performance of one of Ethel Merman’s signature songs from Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. A couple of his licks in the piece emphasize James’s ability as a blues player, an attribute often ignored by critics who downgraded him for his sugary playing in hits like “Sleepy … [Read more...]

George Gruntz Remembered

Gruntz 2

The death of George Gruntz last Thursday brought responses from dozens of the musicians who played in his Concert Jazz Band over the past 40 years. The Swiss pianist, composer and arranger hired an international who’s-who of players for his annual tours in Europe, the United States and South America, among other places around the globe. To name a few, his sidemen or guest soloists included established stars like Elvin Jones, Jimmy Knepper, Dexter Gordon, Sheila Jordan and Herb Geller. … [Read more...]

George Gruntz, 1932-2013

George Gruntz

In the wake of the death of Claude Nobs (see yesterday’s post), we learn of the passing of George Gruntz, another major Swiss jazz figure. The family of the 80-year-old pianist and bandleader reports that he died on Thursday in Basel. Felix Gruntz said that his father had suffered a long illness. A prolific composer and arranger, Gruntz led the George Gruntz Concert Band, which toured extensively and often featured as sidemen star soloists from continental Europe, Britain and the United States. … [Read more...]

Montreux’s Claude Nobs, RIP

Claude Nobs

Claude Nobs, who made the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland one of the world’s premier performing arts events, died yesterday in Geneva. He was injured Christmas Eve while skiing in Caux-sur-Montreux near his home. Taken to a hospital, Nobs fell into a coma from which he never awoke. He was 76. Nobs was born in Montreux, apprenticed as a cook, then worked in the Montreux tourism office. As tourism director, in 1967 he organized his first jazz festival. It included the newly popular … [Read more...]

Viklický And Robinson Meet Again

Viklicky & Robinson

Here is a listening tip for Rifftides readers in or near New York City. On one of his periodic visits to the United States, the Czech pianist Emil Viklický will have a return engagement this week with the multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson. (In the photo, Robinson is on the right.) They will play on Wednesday evening at the Bohemian National Hall of the Czech Center in Manhattan. The occasion will be a program of music in memory of Josef Škvorecký (1924-2012), the writer known for Dvorák in … [Read more...]

At Last: New Picks


Following a long dry spell, we return with new recommendations of three CDs, a DVD and a book. They cover music for a sci-fi adventure champion, the release of a legendary Gerry Mulligan concert in its entirety, the further adventures of a saxophonist who combines power with economy, a film about the ultimate road father, and the life story of a pianist who balances her famous charm and musicianship with understated toughness that has made for a long career. For a while, you’ll see the … [Read more...]

CD: Gerry Mulligan

Mulligan Santa Monica

Gerry Mulligan and the Concert Jazz Band, Santa Monica 1960 (Fresh Sound) Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band had three fewer musicians than most big jazz outfits. Its size permitted precision, flexibility and subtlety, yet the band had the power of sprung steel. In this concert from a half century ago, the CJB is as fresh as yesterday. Arrangements by Mulligan, Bob Brookmeyer, Al Cohn and Johnny Mandel set standards to which big band writers still aspire. Bassist Buddy Clark and drummer Mel Lewis … [Read more...]

CD: JD Allen

Allen Matador

JD Allen Trio: The Matador And The Bull (Savant) The tenor saxophonist has changed record labels but not sidemen or his conciseness. While many of his contemporaries’ solos demand endurance by player and listener alike, Allen expresses himself in short bursts of creativity; the longest track here runs 4:45, including pauses that induce reflection. The CD and tune titles suggest the bullring. If such thematic dressing attracts an audience, so much the better, but the drama and passion of the … [Read more...]

CD: Scott Robinson

Robinson Savage

Scott Robinson: Bronze Nemesis (Doc-Tone) Robinson unleashes his imagination and a substantial cross section of his instrumental arsenal to pay homage to the 20th century pulp fiction adventure hero Doc Savage. He uses the colossal contrabass sax to great effect, but his otherworldly theremin wins the weird-atmosphere sweepstakes. Novelty aside, the music is entertaining and high in quality. Pianist Ted Rosenthal, drummer Dennis Mackrel, bassists Pat O’Leary and— on one track—the late Dennis … [Read more...]

DVD: Woody Herman

Herman Blue Flame

Woody Herman, Blue Flame: Portrait Of A Jazz Legend (Jazzed Media) Producer Graham Carter traces Herman’s career from a vaudeville childhood through leadership of a succession of big bands that made him a formative influence in jazz for more than 50 years. Photographs, film and early television trace development of the Herman herds. There are rare scenes of sidemen including Stan Getz, Serge Chaloff and Bill Harris in action, and complete sequences of performances by later editions of the … [Read more...]

Darius On Dave

Darius, Dave

Since his death on December 5, the tributes to Dave Brubeck keep appearing all over the world in print, on the air and through the internet. His oldest son Darius, who was with his father at the end, sent us a link to the article he wrote at the request of South Africa’s Mail and Guardian newspaper. This excerpt touches on the social consciousness that guided Brubeck from the earliest days of his career: I lived in South Africa from 1983 to 2005, teaching jazz at the University of … [Read more...]