Nick Travis

Nick Travis

Nick Travis (1925-1964) played trumpet in a variety of big bands including those of Woody Herman, Ray McKinley, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Ina Ray Hutton and Jerry Wald; all of those in the 1940s. The list got longer in the ‘50s, when he worked with Herman again, and with Jerry Gray, Bob Chester, Elliott Lawrence, Jimmy Dorsey, the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra and Maynard Ferguson’s Birdland Dream Band. Travis was active in New York studios in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s and was a prominent member … [Read more...]

Recent Listening: Kenton Alums, Coltrane, Mraz, Among Others

Kenton Alumni

Stan Kenton Alumni Band, Road Scholars (Summit) Before he died, Stan Kenton ruled that there would never be a Kenton ghost band. Nor has there been. Still, 35 years after his death there is considerable demand for the expansive Kenton approach. The 18-piece road band led by former Kenton trumpeter Mike Vax goes a long way toward satisfying that demand. Half of the band’s members worked for Kenton. The others are from the rich pool of southern California musicians with extensive big band … [Read more...]

Ward Swingle, 1927-2015


Ward Swingle, who founded a vocal group that melded J.S. Bach with bebop rhythm and scat singing, died on Monday in Eastbourne, England. He was 87. The announcement came from the Swingles, successor to the Swingle Singers, many of whose albums were best sellers in the US and Europe in the 1960s. Born in Alabama, Mr. Swingle was an American pianist with classical training who went to Paris for study with pianist Walter Gieseking and became involved in the city’s classical and jazz communities. He … [Read more...]

Martin Luther King


In remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the national holiday dedicated to his leadership of the civil rights movement, here is the John Coltrane Quartet playing Coltrane’s “Alabama.” The performance is from Ralph J. Gleason’s Jazz Casual television series John Coltrane, tenor saxophone; McCoy Tyner, piano; Jimmy Garrison, bass; Elvin Jones, drums. Coltrane made the initial recording of “Alabama” on November 19, 1963, two months following the white supremacist bombing of … [Read more...]

Weekend Extra: McCoy Tyner And Friends In San Francisco


Courtesy of National Public Radio Jazz, we travel back two years to join pianist McCoy Tyner with two all-star groups at the opening of the splendid SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco. NPR’s Patrick Jarenwattanon provides background. Few pianists have been as influential to modern jazz practice as McCoy Tyner. His harmonic and rhythmic conceptions, notably displayed as a member of John Coltrane's "classic" quartet, are instantly recognizable. And at age 74, you can still hear his driving left … [Read more...]

New Red Garland, After All These Years

Garland Keystone

Red Garland, Swingin’ on the Korner: Live At Keystone Korner (Elemental) A new Red Garland album: a nice surprise from a time just after the pianist released himself from self-imposed isolation. Garland made his name as a member of the seminal 1950s Miles Davis Quintet that also included tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones. His exposure with Davis, followed by years of success with his own trio, made Garland one of the most recorded, best known … [Read more...]

Joe Pass’s Birthday


Joe Pass was born on this day in 1929. Nearly 21 years after his death in 1994, he is remembered as one of the great guitar virtuosos not only in jazz but in all of music. For background, here is a section of the notes I wrote for the 2010 reissue of Virtuoso, the album that made it clear Pass had conquered his problems and was making the transition from respected journeyman to cherished star. Joe Pass was 44 when he recorded Virtuoso in 1973. After 30 years as a professional musician, … [Read more...]

Remembering Ana

Ana Grace

A Rifftides item posted two days following the 2012 Newtown massacre mentioned in this week's Monday recommendation (above) includes a photograph of Ana Greene with her parents and brother. It also has a video of "Ana Grace," her father's instrumental composition retitled "Ana's Way" and given a lyric for Beautiful Life, the new album in memory of his daughter. To go there, click here. … [Read more...]

Charlie Haden Memorial On Tuesday

Haden Memorial

A memorial service for Charlie Haden, who died last July, is set for this week in New York City. Here is the poster. For a reminder of what keeps Haden in the memories of all those distinguished musicians, here is “First Song” performed with his Quartet West: Haden, bass; Alan Broadbent, piano; Gary Foster, tenor saxophone; Larance Marable, drums. Complete details about the memorial service are at the Town Hall website. For the Rifftides announcement of his death, see this post … [Read more...]

Recent Listening: Lena Seikaly

Seikaly Looking Back

Lena Seikaly, Looking Back (Seikaly) In her third album, the Washington DC singer applies her mezzo-soprano, swing, taste and pure intonation to 10 songs written between 1918 and 1939, with a futuristic side trip to 1950 and Duke Ellington’s “Love You Madly.” She scats her way into the Ellington anthem, which, until Ms. Seikaly got hold of it, was pretty much under the sole ownership of Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Williams. The performance is a duet with bassist Zack Pride. He walks her briskly … [Read more...]

Other Places: The Latest On Young Louis Armstrong


It is an essential part of jazz history: Louis Armstrong’s life as a New Orleans street kid and his consignment in 1913 to the Colored Waifs Home where he learned to play the cornet. He wrote about it himself, memorably, in his autobiography. Armstrong historians and biographers may have thought that they had learned everything there was to know about Armstrong’s early years. Now, they are finding that there is more to the story. Newly surfaced documents from the Waifs Home have led in turn to … [Read more...]

Zeitlin On Shorter, On The Radio

Zeitlin at piano

Listening Tip The Denny Zeitlin concert mentioned here recently will be broadcast this week. It was recorded December 5 at the Piedmont Piano Company in Oakland. Zeitlin’s solo piano explorations of Wayne Shorter compositions will be on Jim Bennett’s program on KCSM-FM in the San Francisco Bay Area from 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. PST Thursday, January 8. Local listeners may find it at 91.1 FM. On the web, the program will be streamed live at … [Read more...]

Weekend This & That: DeFranco, Gibbs, Peck, Ziskind

Gould and DeFranco

Perhaps best know for his work with Vince Guaraldi, Cal Tjader and Earl Hines, Dean Reilly plays bass in the San Francisco Band Swing Fever. For a time, the band included Buddy DeFranco. In observance of DeFranco’s passing last week, Mr. Reilly sent a remembrance written by Bryan Gould, Swing Fever’s trombonist and leader (pictured with DeFranco). Here’s an excerpt: “Here’s a little something to think about,” Buddy said to me one time, “contrary to what everyone thinks, Charlie Parker did … [Read more...]

New Years Eve With Ellington

2015 Happy New Year

When Duke Ellington's band worked on New Years Eve—and it usually did—at midnight Ellington nodded casually to his musicians and they performed the newest variation on their head arrangement of “Auld Lang Syne.” As you listen to the 1962 studio version, please know that the Rifftides staff does love you madly and wishes you a perfect 2015. … [Read more...]

Compatible Quotes: Buddy DeFranco

DeFranco head shot

I learned the feeling of playing a melody and playing long phrases from Tommy Dorsey. (On Charlie Parker)I decided to play the clarinet like Bird articulated on the sax. It wasn’t so easy to imitate Artie Shaw, and even more difficult to copy Bird... I learned more about the idea of rhythm and swing with Art Blakey than any other drummer in my career. Tatum made me feel at ease, even though it was very difficult to work with him because he had a chord progression every two beats. Keys … [Read more...]

Passings: DeFranco, Bedford, Belletto


The past seven days have seen the deaths of three musicians who came to prominence as young men and had long careers in the swing, bebop and post-bop eras. Buddy DeFranco, who in the 1940s was the first to successfully adapt the clarinet to the complexities of bebop, died the day before Christmas at age 91. In recent years he and his wife Joyce lived in Panama City, Florida. DeFranco was the principal influence onvirtually every major clarinetist who played the instrument in modern jazz. Born … [Read more...]

Weekend Extra: Sultanof On The Blu-ray Nat King Cole

Cole Extraordinary

Nat Cole (1919-1965) was one of the most admired young jazz pianists of the late 1930s and early ‘40s. In nightclubs, he occasionally included vocals in numbers with his trio, and patrons began requesting more of them. The King Cole Trio’s 1943 recording of his composition “Straight Up and Fly Right” became a significant hit because of his vocal. It wasn’t long before Cole’s singing dominated his career. His 1946 records of “The Christmas Song” and “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” made him one of … [Read more...]

Christmas Extra: Bley, Swallow & Partyka In Concert

Bley Christmas

Doing a bit of holiday morning web surfing, I discovered a live version of one of the pieces from Carla Bley’s delightful 2008 album Carla’s Christmas Carols. Ms. Bley and Steve Swallow performed it in Montenegro in 2010 with Ed Partyka’s Brass Quintet. Partyka has the plunger trombone solo. The other members of the quintet are Adrian Mears, trombone; Tobias Weidinger, trumpet; Axel Schlosser, trumpet; Christine Chapman, French horn. Merry Christmas … [Read more...]

Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noel, Frohe Weihnachten, Feliz Navidad, Christmas Alegre, Lystig Jul, メリークリスマス, Natale Allegro, 圣诞快乐, Καλά Χριστούγεννα, 즐거운 성탄, C Pождеством Xристовым


The Rifftides staff’s present to you is a masterpiece from John Lewis’s rare 1958 album European Windows. Thank you for being with us in 2014 and for the reader comments that are essential to what makes blogging for you so rewarding. … [Read more...]

Recent Listening In Brief…

CD Stacks

Frank Zappa (1940-1993), a gifted musician who dipped his toe into jazz, never demonstrated more than a smidgeon of what he knew about the genre. But he left us with the memorable observation, “Jazz isn’t dead. It just smells funny.” A web search shows that lesser wits have adapted Zappa’s line to all kinds of topics from politics to marketing management and, of all things, science journalism. None of those endeavors seems to be dying, either. For years, people have been predicting the end of … [Read more...]

Les Paul Over The Rainbow

Paul & McCartney

Thanks to Rifftides reader Greg Curtis for flagging a performance by Les Paul of Harold Arlen’s best known song. This was at Fat Tuesday’s in New York, most likely in the 1990s. Paul’s accompanists were rhythm guitarist Lou Pollo and bassist Gary Mazzaroppi. … [Read more...]

Recent Listening, Vinyly: Broadbent, Lowe, Horvitz, Chemical Clock, Kanda

Turntable and Vinyl

Once during a listening session, I apologized to Paul Desmond for the pops and scratches on a worn LP. “I don’t care if it’s on a cellophane strip,” he said, “ as long as I can hear what everybody is doing.” When it comes to sound quality, high-end audio perfectionists tend to be more demanding than Desmond was that evening, and there are getting to be more of them. In an artist’s note on the inside jacket of his new album, Just One Of Those Things, pianist Alan Broadbent writes, “With so … [Read more...]

Weekend Listening Tip: Holiday Jazz

Wilke Christmas

If your listening mood has shifted to Christmas, veteran jazz broadcaster Jim Wilke is ready to accommodate you. He has prepared a wide-ranging program by artists from his neck of the woods, the Pacific Northwest. Here’s Jim’s announcement about tomorrow’s program. Jazz musicians are often an unconventional lot, and when it comes to holiday music you can expect re-harmonizations, different tempos, unexpected rhythms and other surprises as they find new ways to play old music and old … [Read more...]

Other Matters: Risk And Playing From The Heart


How do you get to Carnegie Hall? "Practice," the violinist Fritz Kreisler famously told a tourist who asked him that question on a New York street. But can a performer practice too much—practice the life out of a piece of music? No and yes, said one of Kreisler's great contemporaries, pianist Artur Rubinstein (1887-1982). Here is Rubinstein in a clip from a PBS documentary hosted by Robert MacNeil, discussing a proposition that serious musicians of all genres will always confront. … [Read more...]

Recent Viewing: Films About Hersch, Brown And McFarland

My Coma Dreams

The new video recording of an acclaimed theatre piece recounts the surreal workings of pianist Fred Hersch’s mind during a long medically induced coma. Documentaries about trumpeter Clifford Brown and the composer, arranger and vibraharpist Gary McFarland recall major artists who died as their brilliant careers were flowering. Fred Hersch, My Coma Dreams In 2008 Hersch had been feeling unwell and one day found himself unable to get out of his bathtub. His partner Scott Morgan rushed him to … [Read more...]

Brubeck A La Russe, Part 2: A Story From Moscow

Russian Story illustration

Alexander Eydelman, who founded the Moscow Jazz Art Club in 1993 and has been its only president, writes stories under the name Aleksander Antoshin. Through the help of Rifftides Moscow correspondent Svetlana Ilicheva, Mr. Eydelman has agreed to our publishing one of his stories.  The tale set in the 1960s helps put in perspective some of the ways in which Russian jazz fans bucked the Soviet system's suppression of their efforts to hear American music. GETTING TO KNOW BRUBECK By Aleksander … [Read more...]