Conventional wisdom, which–granted–isn’t always dependable or even wise, holds that current sales of jazz recordings account for about three per-cent of the recorded music market and classical recordings another three per-cent. Fellow artsjournal.com blogger Greg Sandow has thoughts about that, and a look at what those figures might have been forty-six years ago. His piece just might make you contemplate the state of culture in the new century.
Archives for 2006
Francis Davis, who monitors developments on the outer edge, writes in this week’s Village Voice about the avant garde tenor saxophonist David S. Ware’s new CD of standard ballads. Davis suggests that Ware may be playing to an audience for whom classics by Kern, Gershwin, Porter and other popular song writers of the first half of the last century have no meaning.
…who under the age of 50 has the lyrics to those songs going through his or her head now? Standards figure in the marketplace today largely as a way of letting aging rock stars play dress-up, and I often find myself having to explain to younger people what I even mean by the word.
The only remaining incentive for a jazz instrumentalist to do standards–the best reason all along–is what they have to offer harmonically.
That seems reason enough. It is interesting to learn from Davis that the adventurous clarinetist Andy Biskin has reached back even further than Ware and recorded an album of songs by Stephen Foster. Since Dave Brubeck in his 1959 album Southern Scene (out of print), few jazz musicians have recognized the improvisational possiblities in Foster’s songs. To read Davis’s Voice column, go here.
When Pandora Internet Radio first popped up on the web a year ago, I visited it often but in the press of business and activities gradually forgot about it. Today, I remembered. I’m glad I did. Over the course of an hour or so, out of Pandora’s box came, in succession, Cannonball Adderley, Von Freeman, Donald Harrison, Hank Mobley, Eddie Higgins, Dave Brubeck with Gerry Mulligan, Russell Malone, Ellis Marsalis, Clara Nunez (new to me), Elis Regina and Lee Morgan.
Pandora, powered by something called the Music Genome Project, customizes playlists based on the music you request. It asks you if you like the piece you’re hearing. You reply by clicking on a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down icon. By this interactive means, before long Pandora knows your taste and preferences and offers you options for change.
Pandora seems able to find virtually any jazz, pop, country, Latin or rock musician, but offers no classical music. When I requested Aaron Copland, I got this query: “Do you want the artist Aaron Comess?” When I asked for Charles Ives, “Do you want ‘Charles Ives’ by Frank Zappa?” A request for Franz Schubert brought, “Do you want ‘Franz Schubert’ by Kraftwerk?” You can have Dr. Dre but not Debussy, Cash but not Callas, Springsteen but not Shostakovich.
A disappointment for information junkies is that Pandora does not give the names of sidemen, only of leaders or featured performers. Who was the other guitarist I just heard dueting with Emily Remler? But why complain? Pandora is free, supported by advertising on the screen and also, I presume, by a percentage of sales to those who follow its links to websites and buy CDs. In return for the existence of that bit of commerce you can, in effect, build a rotating library of music you like and occasionally be delivered a surprise. A version free of advertising is available by subscription for thirty-six dollars a year.
From Rifftides reader Mel Narunsky :
It should be pointed out that this service is available only in the US – anyone outside the US will not be able to log in to this service.
In the Rifftides report on the ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards ceremony the other day, I mentioned that audience members were told not to take photographs through the windows of Jazz At Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Room. If that restriction –based on a claim of copyright– sounded strange to you, you’re not alone. Noel L. Silverman, a veteran lawyer who represents many musicians, takes issue with it in this communique.
I’m surprised at JALC, most especially whoever there has instructed the staff to warn people in the audience not to take photographs of the scene out the sixth story windows of the Rose Room: “JALC has copyrighted the view through its windows.”
Well, perhaps it has. If so, that would prevent others from reproducing the JALC photograph (without permission) and otherwise using the JALC photograph in ways which violate the exclusive rights of a copyright owner. But it doesn’t prevent anyone else from taking her or his own photograph of the same scene.
Just think what would happen if it did. People could claim a quasi-monopoly in a particular view from whatever location they had marked out for themselves. OK – that’s your spot, but this is my spot. And pretty soon there wouldn’t be any more spots left, and we could no longer take photographs of the Grand Canyon, or the Washington Monument, or sunset in Central Park from the Frederick P. Rose Room.
The Copyright Law doesn’t work like that. It grants protection to “the writings of an author” which specifically includes photographs, just as it includes musical compositions, paintings, choreography, sculpture and various other things which require a somewhat expansive definition of “writings” as well as “author.” It requires that the work, to be eligible for copyright, possess a modest degree of originality, but it doesn’t prevent someone else from exercising his or her own original creative skills in treating a particular subject.
That makes sense, too, when you think about it. While the good people at JALC have a right to protect their expression of the view from their window – which was taken at a particular time of day, covering a specific area, in color (or black and white), with a specific degree of sharpness, depth of field and intensity, why should that prevent someone else from taking a photograph from the same spot with a different lens, with a different focus, a different kind of film, or a different length of exposure – and while we’re at it, at a different time of day, at a different season of the year, with a different set of people in the park, with a different assortment of foliage in bloom, with different weather; you get the idea. In fact, the Copyright Law doesn’t prevent any of that. It simply gives the copyright owner certain limited rights in a particular expression of the author’s vision. I can take the same photograph, from the same spot, under circumstances which I regard as worthy (or interesting, of challenging, or whatever I regard them as), and end up with a copyright in the expression of my vision. The only thing I may not do (and even here there are exceptions) is copy your photograph.
Now JALC may have decided – as landlords and property owners or even as lessees, if that’s what they are – to prevent guests on their property from taking photographs of a particular view under certain or even under all circumstances. (It may in their view enhance the uniqueness of their particular photograph.) They can do that in the same way that I can prevent you, or at least attempt to prevent you, from looking out my kitchen window, or using my blue towels instead of the green guest towels. But none of that has anything to do with copyright.
And shame on them for suggesting that it does. ASCAP certainly knows better as well. Perhaps they were just being good guests, or trying to improve their chances of being invited back.
Noel Silverman is Paul Desmond’s executor. He played the crucial role in persuading the American Red Cross to acknowledge the millions of dollars that have gone to it from the Desmond estate. The story of how he did it is in the Coda section of Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond.
The Rifftides staff is back at home base following a transcontinental flight and a drive through the snowy Cascade mountains. Posting from New York a few nights ago about the ASCAP Deems Taylor bash, in my bleary-headed condition at 2:30 a.m. I forgot to mention this:
My thirty-second oration wound up with, “I wish that Desmond were here because, as his friend the guitarist Jim Hall has often said, Paul would have been a great old man.”
Somewhere in the hall, a woman sighed. Desmond would have loved that.
Rifftides offers a short list of recommended holiday music — one old CD, two new ones.
OLD: The umpteenth reissue of Vince Guaraldi’s imperishable sound track to Charles Schulz’s television classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas. Maybe I love it because the music is so good, so fresh, that listening to it every year is a rediscovery. Maybe it’s because when I hear it, I’m bewitched by the image from long ago of two little boys in their pajamas, transfixed as they watch Linus, Lucy, Charlie Brown and Snoopy. Maybe it’s because I knew Guaraldi and in this music he captured his own child-like sense of wonder.
NEW: Dawn Clement: Christmas. The young pianist who made an indelible debut on Julian Priester’s In Deep End Dance and an impressive followup with her own Hush offers a delightful holiday gift. In Christmas, she plays Bach, Guaraldi, Lizst and a variety of classic carols, singing many of the songs in her improbably high, pure voice. It is all enchanting. Clement is a latter-day Blossom Dearie, just as musical and, in her own way, just as hip. You are unlikely to find this jewel anywhere but on Ms. Clement’s web site.
NEW: David Friesen, Jeannie Hoffman: Christmas at Woodstock. The bassist and the pianist-singer give a holiday concert not at Yasgur’s iconic farm in upstate New York but at a wine shop in Portland, Oregon. With them are guitarist Jerry Hahn, saxophonist Rob Davis and drummer Gary Hobbs. The camaraderie is infectious, the musicianship stunning. Friesen’s bass virtuosity is well known. Hoffman’s skill as a pianist and her husky, quaintly phrased singing are less familiar than they would be if her career had taken more conventional paths. Those who think all the best players are based in New York will find Hahn, Davis and Hobbs to be revelations. Some of the pieces are finely crafted sketches, others little concertos. The Friesen-Hoffman-Hahn-Davis-Hobbs “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” swings as hard as any piece of music I’ve heard lately.
When I was among the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award winners in 1997, there was a handful of us, barely more than a half-dozen. There has been an expansion of categories. They include not only writers and publishers of books, articles and liner notes, but also–observing new media reality–hosts and producers of radio and television programs and proprietors of blogs. The total of winners for 2006 is thirty-seven. It’s the No Writer Left Behind Program, and I am delighted not to have been left behind. For a complete list, go here.
The ASCAP ceremony Thursday night was held before the backdrop of Columbus Circle, Central Park and a large section of Manhattan glittering outside a three-story glass wall. The setting was the Frederick P. Rose Room on the 6th floor of the home of Jazz at Lincoln Center. Staff members warned people in the audience not to photograph the scene; JALC has copyrighted the view through its windows. The dramatic vista from the Rose room perspective has become an east coast equivalent of the famous registered logo of Pebble Beach Resorts, a lone pine on a rocky promintory in Monterey, California, verboten to tourist cameras.
The awards production was beautifully organized by the ASCAP staff and ran like clockwork, with multi-media presentations about the winning entries. Each of us was allowed thirty seconds for an acceptance speech. No one, as far as I could tell, ran longer. In the photograph, authorized as an artifact of the ceremony, I am the small figure in the lower right corner, about a third of the way through my half-minute of fame. The lights of New York’s West Side are behind me.
In a few cases, there was live music appropriate to the subject of the award.
Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond was acknowledged by the young alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw playing Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere.” Shaw, accompanied by bassist Joe Martin and drummer Kendrick Scott, did Desmond the honor of observing the spirit but not the letter of his playing. Paul, the great individualist, would have applauded Shaw’s being himself.
The ceremony, the reception afterward, the milling around and chatting with other Deems Taylor recipients; it was a great evening with ASCAP.
The next time you are looking for surprises on YouTube, do not bypass Tommy Flanagan playing Billy Strayhorn’s “Rain Check.” The 1991 performance at a club in Germany was with his trio; George Mraz on bass, Bobby Durham on drums. The video and audio quality are unusually high for a YouTube clip, with matching direction and camera work. Flanagan’s Ellington quotes in his solo might be expected, but…”Star and Stripes Forever?”
Rifftides reader Don Emanuel has managed to excerpt from a Polish television program a rare performance of “‘Round Midnight” by Thelonious Monk. It was taped during the Monk quartet’s 1966 European tour, with Charlie Rouse, tenor saxophone; Larry Gales, bass; and Ben Riley, drums. Watching Monk is half the fun. Mr. Emanuel posted the clip on YouTube. You may see it by going here.
YouTube also has a clip showing rehearsal and performance of “Evidence” by a medium-sized Monk band that includes Rouse, Riley, Gales, Phil Woods, Johnny Griffin, Ray Copeland and a trombonist who may be Benny Powell. We briefly see Monk in conference with Hall Overton, who did orchestrations for at least three concerts by similar Monk groups. YouTube gives no information about date or place. This is a fascinating look at Monk preparing a performance and an opportunity to see him solo at his best.
Our latest check on Rifftides readers’ whereabouts shows that some of you are in:
Armadale North, Australia
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Settimo Torinese, Italy
And the continental United States from Paradise, California, to its east coast counterpart, Brooklyn, New York. It’s good to have you aboard.
The Rifftides staff is headed to New York to receive the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond (still available, suitable for fancy wrapping and holiday giving).
Posting from the road will take place as possible.
Floyd Standifer was an essential member of the Seattle jazz scene in the 1950s when the city had dozens of superior players who banded together in a close-knit community. I hadn’t seen him more than two or three times since those Northwest Jazz Workshop days, but recently I was pleased to encounter him twice. In late November, Standifer joined drummer Don Kinney’s trio for a concert at The Seasons. A fine trumpeter from time he was a teenager, Floyd later took up the tenor saxophone and became an impressive singer. He has been a revered performer and teacher in the Pacific Northwest ever since he returned from Europe and New York in the early 1960s. He filled all three of his roles splendidly in the Kinney concert, captivating his audience, as he does on this CD.
A week or so earlier, I saw and heard Standifer as a member of the 1960 Quincy Jones band. The Jones outfit was so good, Floyd told me the other night, that after Quincy opened for Count Basie’s band at the Olympia Theater in Paris, Basie said to him, “You’re not planning to take this band back to the States, are you?”
On the Quincy Jones DVD in the new Jazz Icons series, Standifer solos in the trumpet section with Clark Terry, Benny Bailey and Lennie Johnson. When Jones formed the band, he hired Floyd along with two more of Quincy’s Seattle pals, bassist Buddy Catlett and pianist Patti Bown.
Trombonist Melba Liston was the other woman in this ground-breaking band, which also boasted saxophonists Phil Woods, Porter Kilbert, Sahib Shihab, Budd Johnson and Jerome Richardson; trombonists Quentin Jackson, Ake Persson and Jimmy Cleveland; drummer Joe Harris; Les Spann on flute and guitar; and the incredible French horn player Julius Watkins. The DVD catches the band in a television concert in Belgium and another a couple of months later in Switzerland with Roger Guerin replacing Terry. Hearing the Jones band on records has been impressive enough over the years. Witnessing the visual dimension of the precision, musicality and camaraderie of this legendary group is a revelation.
Jones did take the band back to the States, but the European sojourn was a fiscal disaster for him and any threat to Basie was short-lived. By the mid-sixties Jones was recovering by broadening his efforts into the more lucrative areas of show business in which he has thrived. During the short life of his big band, he wrote an important paragraph in the history of jazz. If the economics of his situation had worked out differently, the paragraph might have grown into a chapter.
Because it is so revealing and powerful, the Jones DVD is first on my list of the nine Jazz Icons DVDs in the series’ initial release by Reelin’ In The Years Productions, but they are all impressive and valuable. Made from films and videotapes produced by noncommercial state television stations in Europe, even those from the late 1950s are of exceptional quality. We see Lee Morgan blaze into his famous trumpet solo on “Moanin'” with the classic 1958 edition of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers–Chet Baker in 1964 and again fifteen years later, playing beautifully on both occasions–Dizzy Gillespie in 1958 burning through the blues, with Sonny Stitt on tenor saxophone giving no quarter.
Buddy Rich’s drum solo on “Channel One Suite” in Holland in 1978 is a prodigy of musicality and control, evidence for liner note writer Dean Pratt’s argument that Rich was a genius. Ella Fitzgerald has an electrifying moment in a 1957 concert in Belgium when for one number Oscar Peterson sits in on piano and Roy Eldridge on trumpet. With guitarist Herb Ellis, bassist Ray Brown and drummer Jo Jones, it’s Peterson’s powerhouse trio augmented. Fitzgerald is inspired to a level of rhythmic intensity unusual even for her on “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing”.
What else? Count Basie in 1962 with his New Testament band that included Thad Jones and the two Franks, Foster and Wess; Thelonious Monk in 1966, fascinating in his concentration and eccentricity, with his quartet featuring Charlie Rouse; and Louis Armstrong with his 1959 All-Stars in a typical performance…that is, exhilirating. If you want proof that in his late fifties Armstrong could make other trumpeters shake their heads in disbelief, you’ll find it here.
This project demonstrates the quality that DVD reissues can achieve when they are produced with dedication, skill and the understanding that jazz listeners want not just music, but also information. Far too many DVDs provide auxiliary material only as extras on the disc. Each Jazz Icons box contains an illustrated booklet with carefully researched notes by experts of the caliber of Ira Gitler, Don Sickler, Chris Sheridan, Will Friedwald and Michael Cuscuna.
David Peck and Phillip Galloway, the Jazz Icons producers at Reelin’ in The Years, plan further releases if there is demand. Possibilities include performances new to DVD by John Coltrane, Roland Kirk, Charles Mingus with Eric Dolphy and Duke Elllington with Ella Fitzgerald. I wonder what other treasures are resting in the vaults of those European TV stations.
Thanks to Bill Kirchner, who calls me to account for an error in the previous item, Boxes, about Cannonball Adderley’s tenure with Miles Davis.
Cannonball was a member of the Miles Davis sextet from the gitgo–December 1957. Cannonball had been working for Miles since the fall of 1957, and Miles then rehired Philly Joe Jones, Coltrane, and Red Garland. As you know, Bill Evans replaced Garland in the spring of 1958, followed shortly thereafter by Jimmy Cobb replacing Jones.
It may be that on the CafÃ© Bohemia pieces you mentioned, Cannonball was unavailable that
evening. On the TV show that Miles did for Robert Herridge in 1959, Cannonball was not
present because of migraines that he suffered periodically. (You’ll note that he nonetheless
is listed in the show’s credits.)
To see and hear Davis, John Coltrane, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb give a first-rate performance of “So What” from the Herridge broadcast, go here. The entire half-hour program, or all of it that survives, is available on DVD.
Adderley and Evans continued the mutual admiration society they formed on Davis’s Kind of Blue sextet. In 1961, after they had moved on to be leaders of their own groups, they recorded Know What I Mean? with bassist Percy Heath and drummer Connie Kay of the Modern Jazz Quartet. A highlight in the discographies of both men, the CD has one of the most charming versions of Evans’s “Waltz for Debby” and additional takes of the title tune and Gershwin’s “Who Cares?” Unlike many alternate takes, these bonus tracks are as good as the originally released cuts.
Publishers allow complete sets of Shakespeare and Faulkner to go out of print. Record companies are under no greater obligation when it comes to classics in music. In the free market, a label is at liberty to do whatever it pleases with its stock. Concord, the company that bought the Fantasy complex of labels, has not disclosed its intentions for other important complete collections, but it has dropped from its catalogue the monumental 18-CD Complete Bill Evans on Riverside. Amazon.com is down to five copies of the Evans box. Two of the five are used. One of the sets described as new and unopened is offered at the astonishing price of $399.94. That’s $200 above list. A few other sets are scattered among assorted web sites. Evans completists who have been waiting might do well to move quickly, as might those who have been putting off buying Thelonious Monk: Complete Riverside Recordings. That 15-CD box is also gone from the Concord catalogue, along with Wes Montgomery: The Complete Riverside Recordings (12 CDs).
So far, Concord’s John Coltrane: The Prestige Recordings (16 CDs) and Miles Davis Chronicle: The Complete Prestige Recordings (12 CDs) are still in the catalogue and available at or near list prices. It would be nice to think that Concord not only considers commercial potential but also places cultural existence value on treasures like the Coltrane and Davis boxes, but the fate of the Evans, Monk and Montgomery sets is not encouraging.
To Concord’s credit, it has recently reissued smaller, but still substantial, Coltrane and Davis boxes and one with some of saxophonist Sonny Stitt’s best early work. John Coltrane: Fearless Leader has six CDs covering the 1957 and ’58 Prestige dates under the tenor saxophonist’s own name. That means his collaborations with Sonny Rollins, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Hank Mobley, Paul Quinichette, Tadd Dameron, Gene Ammons and several cooperative sessions are not included. Still, the collection presents Coltrane during a period of stunning development when he cleaned up his life after being fired by Miles Davis for unreliability. Under Thelonious Monk’s leadership, he expanded his craftsmanship and creativity at a pace all but unprecedented by an established jazz musician. He was on his way back and soon would rejoin Miles Davis in the mind-blowing sextet with Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones.
The Miles Davis Quintet: The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions is the 1955-’56 band with Coltrane, Chambers, Jones and pianist Red Garland. This was Davis on his own comeback trail, establishing himself as one of the most influential and popular musicians of his generation and his quintet as one of the best small bands in jazz history. The music in this set was released as LPs called Miles, Workin’, Relaxin’, Steamin’ and Cookin’. The four CD set contains previously unreleased performances made as air checks from Steve Allen’s Tonight Show and two taped at the Blue Note in Philadelphia. It also includes four pieces recorded at the CafÃ© Bohemia in New York after Bill Evans replaced Garland in 1958 but before Adderley made the band a sextet. Thus, the new disc would be important as a document of transition even if the music wasn’t first rate, which for the most part it is.
Sonny Stitt once told me with a straight face and aggressive finality that he arrived at his way of playing independent of Charlie Parker’s influence. It is a matter of continuing speculation among students of jazz geneology whether it is conceivable that Stitt, four years younger, could have sounded so much like Parker without having heard bebop’s incandescent solo genius. Given Stitt’s cocky bravado, it is difficult not to be skeptical, but in the long run the music is what matters to all but scholars and specialists. The best of Stitt’s music, which includes nearly everything in this collection, is in the top tier of jazz improvisation. Aside from the question of stylistic originality, he was one of the most gifted saxophonists of the bop era, as technically formidable, creative and hard-driving on tenor as on alto. Stitt’s Bits, Sonny Stitt: The Bebop Recordings, 1949-1952 is a 3-CD box that starts with Stitt in J.J. Johnson’s quintet and ends with him at the head of an octet. It concentrates on Stitt’s tenor saxophone, the instrument on which he was warmest, even at the rapid tempos he loved.
It presents all ten tracks from his Prestige quartet sessions with Bud Powell, the progenitor of modern jazz pianists. Stitt and Powell achieved an intensity that makes the perfectly respectable quartet tracks that follow, with pianist Kenny Drew, seem polite. The collection covers the early years of the celebrated two-tenors collaboration between Stitt and Gene Ammons, starting with the 1950 session that produced their famous “Blues Up and Down” and including the great chase sequence on “Stringin’ the Jug.” On alto, with a dream rhythm section of Junior Mance, Gene Wright and Art Blakey, Stitt soars through “Cherokee” at a blazing tempo, leaving no doubt that regardless of whether he modeled himself on Parker, he equaled the master in facility. Like the Coltrane and Davis sets, the Stitt box has beautifully remastered sound and attractive, informative packaging.
I have been critical enough of Concord Records that it is fair to give the company credit when they earn it. With these sets, they earn it. The tilt of Concord’s new recording efforts is drastically away from the invaluable mainstream music that still populates the labels they bought from Fantasy, Inc. Big headline in the “News” section of the Concord web site:
TV ALERT- MICHAEL BOLTON TO APPEAR ON DR. PHIL AIRING DECEMBER 12!
Let’s hope that the Fantasies, Riversides, Prestiges, Contemporaries and Debuts in the Concord catalogue survive the Bolton era.
In the 1950s, the New Orleans saxophonist Al Belletto had a surge of international success with his sextet. A contemporary of Al Hirt and Pete Fountain, Belletto grew up steeped in traditional jazz as a clarinetist. But like Ellis Marsalis, Alvin Batiste, Ed Blackwell and other young New Orleans musicians, he was entranced by the music of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Bud Powell. He became an alto saxophonist and formed a small band whose members sang every bit as well as they played. For a time, they were a part of Woody Herman’s touring big band. They recorded for Capitol, Bethlehem and King and performed throughout North and South America. But Belletto couldn’t get New Orleans out of his system. The town effects people that way. In the 1960s, he left the road and returned home.
Belletto swam against New Orleans’ conservative musical preferences and turned the tide. Playing modern jazz, he developed an audience and established himself as a local favorite. He became a guru to generations of young musicians. They learned as they passed through his bands, and they invariably address him as “Coach.” Now and then he made CDs, including this splendid big band album. He was content to spend the rest of his life in the city whose call he couldn’t resist. The Louisiana Jazz Federation named Belletto its artist of the year.
Then Katrina devastated New Orleans. Belletto retreated to his weekend place in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, but it took a heavy hit and could not be a refuge for long. His house in New Orleans was filled with eight-and-a-half feet of water and mud. Everything in it was ruined. After being submerged for weeks, two of his alto saxes have been repaired, but he says they’ll never be the same. Recordings, sheet music, memorabilia of his long career–all are gone. Belletto and his longtime companion Linda moved in with his son and his family in Dallas. After several months came a painful decision; they would not move back to New Orleans. They were unable to handle what it would take physically and emotionally to get started again amid the wreckage. Now, they have their own house in Dallas. Settling in, adjusting to the idea of being exiles, they are filled with longing for their city, its history, its incomparable culture and atmosphere, longing for what New Orleans was before the storm.
I thought of Al Belletto and Linda as I read Howard Reich’s Chicago Tribune report about Katrina obliterating substantial portions of the documentation of New Orleans music. To read Reich’s piece, go here. Be sure to visit the photo gallery and interactive features of the article. As clarinetist Michael White takes Reich on a video tour through the debris-filled hulk of his house, you’ll get an impression of what White, Belletto and thousands of other New Orleanians went through after Katrina came to call.
As we reported soon after Katrina, in the wake of the hurricane con artists circled like a school of sharks, claiming that they would help musicians recover and re-establish. Most of the scammers have moved on to prey on victims of other disasters, but be cautious. Check out relief organizations before you give. Be sure that your money goes where you want it to go. Musicians displaced, disrupted or impoverished by the storm still need help, and will for a long time. The New Orleans Musicians Hurricane Relief Fund is an authenticated 501(c)(3) organization that directs to musicians all of the funds it receives. Click on the link above to go to the NOMHRF web site and make a donation. Belletto is getting by in Dallas. White is living in a FEMA trailer. Others aren’t as fortunate.
Excuse interruption of music festival, please, but would mind repeating excrutiating sound made with assistance of cat intestine?
–Charlie Chan to son Tommy, who has been playing “jazz” violin. From the motion picture Docks of New Orleans, 1948
Saxophonist, arranger and leader Bill Kirchner writes:
Anita O’Day’s passing reminded me of a week I spent working with her
in the summer of 1982 at the Blue Note in NYC. I was part of her backup quartet: Mike Abene, piano; Rick Laird, bass; her longtime partner John Poole, drums; and myself on saxes and flute.
As one might expect of someone with Anita’s frequently harsh life experiences, she was pretty brittle, though I got along with her well enough. She didn’t sing very many ballads, for whatever reason. On medium-to-up tempos, Poole would play nice brushes and Anita would float over them with one of the hippest, most laidback time feels I’ve ever experienced from anyone, singer or instrumentalist. Alas, when it was time for me to solo, Poole would exchange brushes for sticks, to less-than-exquisite effect. It was tough.
One night, though, Anita called “My Funny Valentine” at a slow tempo. She sang the melody and then, as we had predetermined, I soloed for a half-chorus and then paused for her to come back in. Apparently I was doing something right, because she motioned for me to finish the chorus. At that moment, I happened to look into her eyes; to my surprise, her protective shell seemed to disintegrate, revealing one very vulnerable soul.
Anita never said a word about this, but it was one of the most unforgettable moments I’ve had in music, and one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received.
In her autobiography, High Times, Hard Times, Ms. O’Day explored those “harsh life experiences,” sparing no one, least of all herself. Her caption on a mug shot police took following a drug bust:
Arrested for the fourth time in Kansas City, I was as angry as I look. On a previous occasion I was framed and served time. This time I was guilty and managed to get off without a trial.
If you’d prefer to remember her in more innocent days, try this clip from the early 1940s, when she became famous as Gene Krupa’s vocalist.
Anita O’Day was my hero because she used four-letter words. That was really neat. I didn’t myself say them for a long time, but I loved hearing her say them.–Carla Bley
All I know is that there are four beats to a bar and there are a million ways to phrase a tune.–Anita O’Day ( Down Beat, circa 1938-39)
Over the long weekend, we lost Anita O’Day, who died in Los Angeles on Thanksgiving day. She was eighty-seven. The stalwart bassist Walter Booker is also gone, dead in New York on Friday at the age of seventy-three.
O’Day was the last of the great female jazz vocalists who emerged in the swing era. She survived Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Peggy Lee and Carmen McRae. She had perfect time and pitch, a voice without vibrato and the ability to swing as hard as the top horn players of her era. Her feistiness matched her musicianship and she had the respect of her instrumental colleagues, an honor not always accorded singers. One of the O’Day anecdotes being circulated concerns the time she was overheard correcting her drummer. He told her not to tell him how to play. “I’m not telling you how to play,” she said, “I’m telling you when to play.”
O’Day might have been ill advised to continue singing into her eighties, when after a monumentally rough life about all that remained of her talent was her spirit, but she soldiered on. It is unlikely that anyone could have persuaded her to retire.
For as long as she is remembered, her most indelible image is of the glamorous woman in the black dress with white flounce and spectacular hat singing at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. To see and hear her at Newport, click here for “Sweet Georgia Brown” and here for “Tea for Two.” But do not miss a sample clip from her less publicized 1963 Tokyo television special, a superb recital by one of the most important singers of her time.
Walter Booker played with scores of top jazz artists, but he will be best remembered as Cannonball Adderley’s bass player in the late 1960s and early ’70s when Adderley’s quintet was one of the most popular bands in the world. Never a virtuosic acrobat of his instrument, Booker’s specialties were good notes and dependable time, qualities that served Adderley well on more than a dozen Capitol and Fantasy albums including Pyramid. For a reprise of Booker’s life as a musician and as the operator of an important recording studio, go here.