Catching Up With Bobby Shew

Bobby Shew, CWU 1

When trumpeter Bobby Shew left Los Angeles after years of work in big bands and the film and recording studios of L.A., he made a major commitment to education. From his home in New Mexico, he travels in the US, Asia and Europe for classes and workshops with college and high school music students. Among visits to schools in places as far-flung as Tokyo, Prague, Oulu in northern Finland and—recently—the US Pacific Northwest and southern British Columbia, he manages to also squeeze in … [Read more...]

All In Favor Of A Willis Conover Stamp, Say Aye

Willis Conover, White House

An international campaign is underway to win national recognition for Willis Conover, the Voice Of America broadcaster who sent American jazz to millions of listeners around the world. A petition drive is aimed at persuading the United States Postal Service to issue a stamp honoring Conover (1920-1996). Efforts to win him a posthumous Presidential Medal Of Freedom have yet to yield results. Admirers established a Conover Facebook page in 2010, but recognition by the US government has been … [Read more...]

Doubling; A History (Of Sorts)

Doubling # 1

A recent discussion among jazz researchers centered on the evolution of instrumentation as big bands changed through the decades. The conversation developed into exchanges about not only the makeup of band sections—rhythm, brass and reeds—but also the matter of doubling, in which individual musicians played more than one instrument and sometimes several. In the 1920s and 1930s doubling was a requirement in many bands, among them Sam Gooding’s, Jean Goldkette’s, Jimmy Lunceford’s, Paul … [Read more...]

Weekend Listening Tip: Maqueque & Others


Jim Wilke’s Jazz Northwest promises a potpourri of music so interesting that wherever you're planning to spend the weekend, you might want to have along a radio, cell phone, iPad or other listening device. Mr. Wilke's announcement serves as a reminder that Seattle has a busy jazz scene. The broadcast will include organist Barney McClure with the Central Washington University Big Band, a prize winning composition by David Friesen, an original song by Ana Velinova who will be at the Seattle … [Read more...]

Another Take On New Orleans

Larry Blumenfeld

Following yesterday's Rifftides commentary about the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, I heard from fellow jazz journalist Larry Blumenfeld (pictured). Larry is a New Yorker who in recent years has spent much of his time in New Orleans. He writes from there for The Wall Street Journal and other outlets about the city’s recovery following Hurricane Katrina, about its legacy of music and, frequently, about its mores and politics. In a report from this year’s festival, he observed, Beyond … [Read more...]

Thoughts On New Orleans And Jazz

Jazzfest '68 program

The 2015 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival wrapped up last Friday. Mark Hertsgaard’s Daily Beast review of the festival includes this lament. Yet for all of Jazz Fest’s celebration of the music, food and culture of New Orleans, some locals complain that a central element is missing: the people. The daily ticket price of $70 is just too high in a city where many folks struggle to get by. In recent years, Jazz Fest’s crowds have become increasingly affluent, old, and white as the … [Read more...]

Weekend Extra: Whitfield And Greensill


Like any good independent self-promoting professional, Mike Greensill sends occasional email messages about what he and his wife, Wesla Whitfield, are up to. He’s a pianist. She’s a singer. They live in California’s Napa Valley, near San Francisco. Now and then they fly to New York City to work at Joe’s Pub and Carnegie Hall, among other places. Mr. Greensill’s most recent communiqué contained a link to a song of the kind in which they specialize——established, familiar, … [Read more...]

Dan Brubeck Honors His Parents

Dan Brubeck CD cover

Dan Brubeck, Live From The Cellar: Celebrating The Music And Lyrics Of Dave & Iola Brubeck (Blue Forest Records) On the eve of his 60th birthday, Dave and Iola Brubeck’s drummer son releases his first album as a leader. A tribute to his parents, it is also a revelation of the quality of musicians in his adopted hometown, Vancouver, British Columbia. With his work in his father’s quartet, Two Generations of Brubecks, the Brubeck Brothers Quartet, Larry Coryell and the Dolphins, Dan … [Read more...]

The Frank Strazzeri Film

Frank Strazzeri (Ears)

Thanks to Rifftides reader Marla Kleman for sending an alert to the posting of a film about one of the late pianist Frank Strazzeri’s loveliest albums. Strazzeri died last year at about this time. He was 84. The album was his Woodwinds West with saxophonists Bill Perkins, Bob Cooper and Jack Nimitz, bassist Dave Stone and drummer Paul Kreibich. In the 1993 film Frank talks about his approach to writing for a woodwind chamber ensemble, what it means to play “outside,” and the inspiration of … [Read more...]

Rosolino And Mingus On Bethlehem

Bethlehem Logo

A trove of jazz recorded in the 1950s became available again when Naxos of America acquired the Bethlehem Records catalogue a couple of years ago and began an extensive reissue program. Gus Wildi, who was born and grew up in Switzerland, founded the label in New York in 1953. Through the 1950s he recorded Dexter Gordon, Booker Ervin, Zoot Sims, Mel Tormé, Oscar Pettiford, Nina Simone, Chris Connor and a couple of dozen other major artists on both coasts. He provided outlets for substantial but … [Read more...]

Correspondence: Compatible Quotes—Coleman And Geller

Ornette Coleman

Rifftides reader David Perrine writes: In the spirit of your occasional feature, I offer the following quotes. (As you know, a notated F# on alto sax would normally be a concert A— except in the quantum physics-like world of harmolodics.) ‘Poise’ has an F# for its tonic on the Eb alto and a D concert for the transposed key.—Ornette Coleman [Ornette] took his saxophone out, and I notated what he played. I asked him what chord he was using, and he blew the arpeggio of a G chord thinking it … [Read more...]

Weekend Extra: Compared To What


Pianist Les McCann and saxophonist Eddie Harris played the Gene McDaniels song “Compared to What” at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1969. Bret Primack, The Jazz Video Guy, recently put video of the performance on his Facebook page. It’s too good, too undated, not to share. Roberta Flack had minor success with the song on her first album, but McCann and Harris made it a hit when this version was a part of their Swiss Movement album. McDaniels conceived the song as a protest against inequality in … [Read more...]

Blossoms Are Early. Braff & Hyman Are On Time

Apple Blossoms 2015

From today’s cycling expedition through the hills of apple country, there is evidence that prospects seem good for a bountiful crop next fall. If a late snowstorm in the Cascade Mountains melts enough water into the high reservoirs that provide irrigation for the orchards in the valleys below, growers—and those of us who love Honey Crisps, Fujis, McIntoshes, Pink Ladies and Winesaps (to name a handful of hundreds of varieties)— should be happy come September. If you prefer … [Read more...]

Just Because: Dave Frishberg And Friends

In this 2012 video from the archives of veteran broadcaster Lynn Darroch's radio program Bright Moments!, pianist Dave Frishberg and two of the Pacific Northwest's fine tenor saxophonists play Al Cohn's "Mr. George." This harkens back to the days when Frishberg was a member of the Al Cohn-Zoot Sims quintet, a frequent attraction at New York's Half Note Cafe. Camera mobility was limited in the KMHD-FM studio, but the Al Cohn spirit was not. Dave Frishberg, piano; Lee Wuthenow and David Evans, … [Read more...]

When McRae Met Clarke-Boland

McRae-Clarke-Boland BB

Following the April 8 Rifftides post about Carol Sloane and Carmen McRae, Bill Kirchner sent us a link to a German television program featuring McRae in 1968 with the formidable Clarke-Boland Big Band. Co-led by drummer Kenny Clarke and pianist-arranger-composer Francy Boland, the band was a collection of prominent European and American musicians. It thrived for more than a decade in the 1960s and 1970s. It was notable for, among other things, having two drummers. The members: Benny Bailey, … [Read more...]

Compatible Quotes: Ray Charles

Ray Charles singing

To me, music is entertainment - what else can it be? In fact, it's the only language I know of that's universal. What is a soul? It's like electricity - we don't really know what it is, but it's a force that can light a room. My version of 'Georgia' became the state song of Georgia. That was a big thing for me, man. It really touched me. Here is a state that used to lynch people like me suddenly declaring my version of a song as its state song. That is touching. … [Read more...]

Just Because: Ray Charles

Ray Charles performs a song written for the motion picture Ballad In Blue—Directed by Paul Henreid, the last of the actor's efforts as a film director. Playing himself, Charles comes to the rescue of a hard-luck family plagued by drinking problems. Their son is blind. Charles wants to pay for recovery of the boy's eyesight. The family worries about what could happen if the effort goes amiss. Charles's musical numbers, including "Light Out of Darkness," are definite highlights of this … [Read more...]

Billie Holiday At 100

Billie Holiday

Yesterday was Billie Holiday’s 100th birthday. Rarely has the centenary of a jazz artist received as much notice. There have been tributes galore, special television and radio reports and long articles in major publications. This Rifftides remembrance of Holiday is confined to a short period of her early career in which she extended with a big band what she started with small groups in the 1930s Holiday sang with Count Basie’s band for a year, but her contract with a different company from … [Read more...]

Other Places: Sloane On McRae

Carmen McCrae 2

On her blog, Carol Sloane (pictured above) observes the birthday of Carmen McRae (1920-1994), the woman she calls her, “girl friend, confidant and Sister Singer Superior.” The two singers had a long, rare, honest, sometimes tempestuous friendship that lasted until Carmen’s death. For Ms. Sloane, the friendship continues. Her remembrance incorporates video of McRae in concert in 1988. Tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan is the guest artist with Carmen and her trio. To read Sloaney’s tribute and … [Read more...]

Listening Tip: Mays, Stamm And The WDR In Cologne


Pianist Bill Mays and trumpeter-flugelhornist Marvin Stamm are just back from a European tour. One of their trip’s highlights was a March 20 concert in Cologne, Germany, with the formidable WDR Big Band. The theme was New York State Of Mind, with compositions by Mays, Stamm, George Gershwin, Billy Joel and Duke Ellington, among others. The pair’s exhaustive preparation for the concert included Mays arranging Thelonious Monk’s “52nd Street Theme” with complexity, irony and wit that I can imagine … [Read more...]

Gerry Mulligan At Brecon

Mullligan Head Shot

Gerry Mulligan would have been 88 years old today. Until a year or so before his death in 1996, Mulligan was playing and writing at the top of his game. To remember him, let’s listen to one of the classic compositions played by his quartet at the Brecon, Wales, Jazz Festival in 1991. Here’s Mulligan’s “Walking Shoes” with Bill Mays, piano; Dean Johnson, bass and Dave Ratajczak, drums. For an entire Mulligan concert a year earlier at the Bern, Switzerland, Jazz Festival, with Bill Charlap … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Rudresh Mahanthappa

Mahanthappa Bird Calls

Rudresh Mahanthappa, Bird Calls (ACT) Listeners steeped in the music of Charlie Parker may be able to detect clues to the inspirations for Mahanthappa’s new compositions in this stimulating collection. If doing so adds to their enjoyment and appreciation of the album, so much the better. But in approaching the collection as a blindfold test, literalists may miss the point. Alto saxophonist Mahanthappa has taken Parker, his primary muse, as the point of departure for compositions and playing … [Read more...]

Recent Listening: Brasileiras

Elaine Elias Cover

The bossa nova phenomenon infused jazz and popular music with fresh ways of thinking about rhythm and about story telling through music. It arrived when rock and roll was firmly established, the Beatles were beginning to dominate music on the radio and hardly a week passed without another boy band taking its place in the pop firmament. Brazilian music was a distinct contrast and, to many, a relief. Fortunately, it has remained a small but rewarding strain in popular music and a vital part of … [Read more...]


Presley Monk cover

I suppose it figures that on April Fools' Day, something like this would be making the rounds of web pranksters. You may have difficulty finding it in your corner record store or online—unlike this early Monk gem from his Complete Blue Note Recordings. Thelonious Monk, piano; Idrees Sulieman, trumpet; Danny Quebec West, alto saxophone; Billy Smith, tenor saxophone; Gene Ramey, bass; Art Blakey, drums. October 15, 1947. Yes, "Humph" is based on "I Got Rhythm." … [Read more...]

Jazz Appreciation Month 2015


April 2015 is the twelfth observance of National Jazz Appreciation Month. Founded at the Smithsonian Institution in 2002 by the jazz scholar, Duke Ellington biographer and musician John Edward Haase, the celebration is intended, in the words of Quincy Jones, to “…recognize that our indigenous music — jazz — is the heart and soul of all popular music, and that we cannot afford to let its legacy slip into obscurity." Jones’s quote is on this page of the National Endowment for the Humanities … [Read more...]

Weekend Extra: Thad Jones Revisited

Thad Jones by Wolff

The master trumpeter, composer, arranger and bandleader Thad Jones would be 92 if he had lived to celebrate his birthday yesterday. He died in 1986. Fortunately for us, Jones practiced his profession in an age of ubiquitous recording. There is a living museum of CDs, LPs and videos of the work he did in many contexts, including the magnificent band that Jones and Mel Lewis co-led for nearly 15 years. His "Central Park North" rarely failed to stoke the fires that burned in the hearts and souls of … [Read more...]