Weekend Extra: Evans Reflects On Ellington

NYC; 1968

In the aftermath of my Bill Evans piece in The Wall Street Journal this week and the many generous comments about it here and in the online edition of the paper, I thought you might enjoy a rare Evans performance. It is the exquisite concert version of a piece that he recorded for this album in 1978 and played again in his memorable appearance on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz program. This was at Carnegie Hall on June 28, 1978. Bill makes the introduction. … [Read more...]

Odds And Ends: Sloane On Balliett, Reilly On Haden

Tea Bag

On her SloaneView blogspot, Carol Sloane posts recollections of her long-running affection for The New Yorker. Describing the time Whitney Balliett interviewed her for a profile in the magazine, she discloses how the great writer prepared his tea. Haven’t you always wondered? And she tells what it was like to be on the confirmation end of The New Yorker’s exhaustive fact-checking process. To read Ms. Sloane's blog, go here. Also in the recollection department, the veteran pianist Jack Reilly … [Read more...]

The Bill Evans Legacy

bill-evans-color head shot

My piece in today’s Wall Street Journal is about Bill Evans, his continuing influence on pianists and on the general course of jazz, 35 years after his death. You may be able to see the column here (that's a link). Otherwise, I hope that your town has a newsstand or a full-service supermarket that sells the Journal. … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Lisa Parrott

Lisa Parrott Round Tripper

Lisa Parrott, Round Tripper (Serious Niceness Records) There is muscle and grit in the sound of Ms. Parrott’s baritone saxophone on Ornette Coleman’s “Round Trip.” Playing alto, she comes closer to essence of Coleman in “Rosa Takes a Stand” and “D. Day.” Her work on both horns is inflected with a kind of Coleman chanciness, but it would be a mistake to categorize this Australian who moved to New York in the 1990s. In a song written with her bassist sister Nikki, “Do You Think That I Do Not … [Read more...]

Super Bowl Jazz

Super Bowl XLIX

As everyone in the United States cannot help knowing, and as many people around the world cannot help puzzling over, today is an unofficial US national holiday known as Super Bowl Sunday. In Phoenix, Arizona, The Seattle Seahawks play football of a kind that is not soccer, against the New England Patriots for the championship of the National Football League. Multiple millions of dollars are spent on the game——and that’s just for commercials aired in the television broadcast. In … [Read more...]

Dick Vartanian’s Little Book

Vartanian & Desmond

Dick Vartanian, a trumpet player, was one of many San Francisco jazzmen who served in World War Two and returned home to see if they could make a living playing music. He and a clarinetist, Paul Breitenfeld, had become good friends at Polytechnic High School. The war behind them, the young Army veterans attended San Francisco State College, worked gigs in and around the city and played together for a time at the Feather River Inn, a resort in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We see them pictured … [Read more...]

Just Because: Lester Young

Prez 1

Lester Young, tenor saxophone; Teddy Wilson, piano; Roy Eldridge, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Gene Ramey, bass; Freddie Green, guitar; Jo Jones, drums. This Year’s Kisses. Prez, Teddy, Roy, Vic, Gene, Freddy, Jo. “This Year’s Kisses” from Jazz Giants ‘56. … [Read more...]

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...]

Monday Recommendation: Bley, Sheppard, Swallow

Carla Bley Trios

Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard, Steve Swallow, CBTrios (ECM) Trios concentrates the essence of understanding that Bley, Sheppard and Swallow have developed over two decades of collaboration. She recorded the album’s five pieces in various configurations on earlier albums, but the spare instrumentation of her piano, Sheppard’s saxophones and Swallow’s bass creates space for leisurely exploration of the deep harmonic possibilities in her compositions. Most of all, though, melody is what dominates … [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...]

Monday Recommendation: Art Tatum

Tatum, God

Art Tatum, God Is In The House (High Note) The title comes from what Fats Waller said when he saw Art Tatum walk into a club where Waller was playing. Dan Morgenstern tells the story in his notes for this essential collection, “…he stopped the music and announced: 'Ladies and gentlemen, I play the piano, but God is in the house tonight.'” Tatum was Waller’s primary inspiration. The master had no hesitation about paying obeisance to the student. Using a disc recorder, Jerry Newman captured … [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...]

Monday Recommendation: Jimmy Greene

Greene, Beautiful Life

Jimmy Greene, Beautiful Life (Mack Avenue) The album opens with saxophonist Jimmy Greene’s 6-year-old daughter Ana angelically singing “Come Thou Almighty King” at a 2011 family Christmas celebration. A year later Ana was one of the 26 pupils and teachers murdered in the assault on Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. In his notes, Mr. Greene stresses that the album is in memory not of how she died, but of “how she lived, lovingly, faithfully and joyfully.” Joining him in the … [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 kcsm.org … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Nat Hentoff

Hentoff Doc.

The Pleasures Of Being Out Of Step: Notes On The Life Of Nat Hentoff (First Run Features) In his 89 years, Nat Hentoff has melded defense of the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment of the US Constitution with his love of jazz. His writings on those passions have made him a powerful voice in music journalism and in the turbulent arena populated by those who debate what the American founders intended in the Bill of Rights. This David L. Lewis film presents Hentoff reflecting—often … [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...]

Monday Recommendation: Edward Simon

Simon Venezuelan Suite

Edward Simon, Venezuelan Suite (Sunnyside) Few jazz albums have been devoted to the music of Venezuela. Victor Feldman’s superb The Venezuelan Joropo (1967) was an exception. Latin musicians were impressed with the authenticity that Feldman achieved using Los Angeles colleagues to interpret traditional Venezuelan music. When it comes to authenticity, however, Edward Simon has an advantage. He is a native of Venezuela who has established himself in the US as a versatile pianist, composer and … [Read more...]