Rifftides: August 2005 Archives

I wrote this piece before Katrina sent New Orleans into agony. I almost held it back until the city revives. But that is likely to be years. Because I believe in the indomitable spirit of a place that is a part of my heartbeat and because WDSU's news department is doing the kind of great work it always did in times of crisis, I offer this little recollection of the Crescent City in better times.

For a few years in the 1960s, when broadcasting companies still operated both radio and television stations, I had the good fortune to work for WDSU in New Orleans. The station was founded on the notion that public service was at least as important as profit. Edgar Stern, who owned the company, and A. Louis Read, who ran the TV, AM and FM stations, were committed to having the best broadcast news operation in the south, which they did. We covered the civil rights struggle, including school desegregation, not only for local viewers and listeners, but also for the network. NBC News had no bureau in the south then, and we frequently fed the Huntley-Brinkley show major stories on civl rights, Louisiana politics, Jim Garrison’s Kennedy assassination investigation, oil rig fires and hurricanes, among other things that happened in the best news town I ever worked in. I anchored the 6 pm and 10 pm television newscasts and did a fair amount of reporting.

Five nights a week, between the TV newscasts, I conducted a radio discussion program, Closeup, that had guests and invited telephone calls from listeners. This was years before Rush Limbaugh and his ilk laid waste to the idea of civil conversation on the radio. When I suggested that we try the same show on television, the station carved out a slot following the Tonight Show. We found, to our surprise, that a small late-night audience would watch a program whose only visual interest was two or three people discussing ideas and events, with calls from disembodied voices on a speaker phone.

Among the guests were politicians, sports stars, musicians and French Quarter characters. One memorable night during the New Orleans Jazz Festival, Jaki Byard, Danny Barker and Paul Desmond came on. I persuaded Byard and Barker to play a couple of piano-guitar duets. How I wish that I had a tape of that program. Desmond, sans horn, sat and grinned in that Cheshire-cat way. Another time, the guests were Woody Herman, George Wein and Sweet Emma Barrett the Bell Gal. Advertising revenues did not exceed the overtime costs of keeping the studio live and the technical staff on duty after midnight, and after a few weeks, Closeup bit the dust. Still, it was the sort of thing with which WDSU was willing to experiment.

Stern, Read and their radio manager Hal Wheelahan indulged my wish to do a jazz program on the radio. For several years, I taped a weekly hour that ran Saturday nights on WDSU-FM and AM. Jazz Review had reviews, plenty of music and visits from New Orleans musicians—Paul Barbarin, Alvin Alcorn, Monk Hazel, Al Belletto, Willie and Earl Turbinton, Eddie Miller, Pete Fountain frequently and, once, the magisterial trumpeter Red Allen. When they were in town, Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich, Cannonball and Nat Adderley, Joe Zawinul, Gary Burton, Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson and other itinerant players dropped by. Jazz Review was well sponsored and more than paid for itself. The FM station had a signal that powered across the Gulf Coast flatlands as far as Alabama and up into parts of Georgia. I was astounded to learn years later that the governor of Georgia was a regular listener, long before he became president.

(I’m getting to the Charlie Parker part.)

The theme music for Jazz Review was Charlie Parker’s two perfect choruses on “Funky Blues” from the Jam Session #1 album on Verve. Googling recently, I came across a 2001 interview by the Boston broadcaster Christopher Leydon with the great writer Whitney Balliett. In the program, Balliett is reluctant to be analytical in answering Leydon’s questions. He maintains that music of the quality of Parker’s, Pee Wee Russell’s and Ben Webster’s is laden with secrets. He implies that it cannot be dissected. Leydon plays Parker’s solo for Whitney, who calls it one of his favorite pieces of music.

“He preaches the first couple of measures,” Ballilett says. “Now, that’s full of secrets.”

You can go here to listen to WBUR’s audio stream of the broadcast. Exactly six minutes into it, you’ll get that incredible solo. Whenever I hear Bird play those magical twenty-four bars, they conjure up for me a time in New Orleans when a commercial broadcasting operation had a community-spirited mission and a sense of adventure. If there is one like it anywhere today under the deregulated earnings-driven corporate pressures of 21st Century broadcasting, I’d be happy to know about it.

August 31, 2005 1:05 AM |

The new Sonny Rollins CD is out, the one I raved about after I heard the advance a couple of months ago.

Rollins is amazing on the title track and "Where or When." Stephen Scott's piano solos, dazzling and capricious, run Sonny a close second. Trombonist Clifton Anderson has a good night, and Bob Cranshaw demonstrates that a great player can give electric bass lines the definition, clarity, and swing of the acoustic instrument.

The album is Without A Song: The 9/11 Concert. Rollins plays with the force of the emotions he took into his concert four days after he witnessed the attacks on the twin towers, a story told by Bob Blumenthal in his notes for the CD. Sonny is elemental in this performance.

August 30, 2005 1:05 AM |
The man who created these all-too-human ballets led a life outwardly uneventful, at least by the standards of the best-seller list. He fled the Soviet Union in 1924, settling first in Europe and then in New York City, where he started a dance school and a series of ballet companies. For the rest of his days, he made and rehearsed dances. That was all there was to it, he claimed. Asked on one occasion by a journalist to sum up his life, he replied, "It's all in the programs."

All In The Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine, by Terry Teachout

My only conversation with Coltrane took place in 1963 when he was appearing with his quartet at a Cleveland jazz club called Leo's Casino. I was the Cleveland correspondent for Down Beat and I was assigned to interview him.
"Why?" asked Coltrane on the telephone.
I allowed that he must be tired of interviews.
"Shouldn't I be?" he asked. "I can't explain anything. It's all in the music. Come to the club and hear the music."

Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers, by Doug Ramsey

August 30, 2005 1:04 AM |

As noted here earlier, to his credit Teachout temporarily refitted his Arts Journal About Last Night into a blog clearinghouse on Hurricane Katrina. In the process, he discovered something about this capacious and puzzling new medium.

As Hurricane Katrina finally slowed down and Monday lurched to a close, I stopped updating “Live from Katrina” and started thinking about the implications of what I'd been doing for the past two days. On the one hand, nothing could have been less typical of “About Last Night” than for me to have thrown myself head first into so unlikely an undertaking. Yet at the same time, nothing could be more characteristic of the new world of new media. One of the most distinctive properies of blogs, after all, is that they are instantly and infinitely malleable at the whim of the blogger. “About Last Night” is about art because Our Girl in Chicago and I want it to be about art. If we decided at noon tomorrow that it would henceforth be about hockey, or smoked salmon, there'd be nothing to stop us from changing course at 12:01. Instead, we decided to make a one-day detour into citizen journalism—and the blogosphere promptly sat up and took notice.

Read all of TT's Katrinablog reflections here.

August 30, 2005 1:03 AM |

From a Rifftides reader:

Thanks for the postings and links on New Orleans. Teachout's site led me to great info. I'm from New Orleans and most of my family still lives there. Naturally I lost contact during the storm and the WDSU site had the early video and allowed me to see the area where they live. Fortunately most of my relatives evacuated. What a disaster! Thanks again for your concern.
August 30, 2005 1:01 AM |

The worst of Katrina has passed New Orleans. Now, flooding is the big concern. With dozens of news organizations and hundreds of bloggers covering the storm and the city's agony, there is little point in my attempting to add much from this distance. Monitoring tells me that my alma mater, WDSU-TV, is doing a good job of continuing updates, as is The Times-Picayune.

Here's a recent entry from WDSU's web log:

11:52 a.m.: Evacuees Huddle In Hallways At Chalmette H.S.

People who took shelter in Chalmette High School are now huddled in the hallways because the windows have blown out. The building has sustained significant damage. There are reports that the water is 10-feet deep near the high school and is rapidly rising. -- WDSU.com Web Staff

And here's one from the Picayune's Jon Donley in a NOLA weblog :


9:34 - Reports of widespread flooding now, although not at the doomsday scenario levels. But we've got several hours to go before we've seen the worst past. Scanner traffic is busy with calls of rising water, including 18 inches and rising against the levee in the French Quarter. Dispatchers questioning officers on the scene, trying to determine if there is a break in the river levee, or if water is pouring over the top. Independently, NOLA has received a flooding alert for the French Market area.

Fairly heavy street flooding in front and behind the Times-Picayune . . . water appears about knee deep, whipped by the steady wind into whitecaps and breakers. Water is hubcap deep on the furthest vehicles in the employee parking lot, and rising quickly.

For a guide to other blogs on the Katrina situation, check the list at About Last Night.

August 29, 2005 10:15 AM |

With Katrina veering only slightly east, moving fast and staring New Orleans in the face, I'm worried about my friends there. We spent eight years in that amazing city and went through many hurricanes. We were there in 1969 for Camille, the one that's being compared with tonight's monster storm. I covered Camille. WDSU-TV was the only station in town with auxiliary power through most of it. I was on the air for something like thirty-six straight hours broadcasting to those who had electricity, hadn't fled and were watching television. There was a surpisingly large number of them.

On average, the city is three feet below sea level, a massive dish. Camille hit the Gulf Coast considerably east of the city. When a cameraman and I went there a couple of days after the storm, we were stunned by the extent of the devastation in that relatively unpopulated area. I just now looked at the film we made, shaking my head at what would have happened if Camille had made a direct hit on the city.

It doesn't seem possible that New Orleans will be as lucky this time. Everyone from Mayor Ray Nagin to President Bush has urged people to get out to higher ground. Reports are that many Orleanians, unable to accept that this really is the big one, have decided to stick it out. Some of them, apparently, are observing the old tradition, defying nature by hunkering down in their homes and throwing hurricane parties. How I hope that none of them are the folks I know and love.

Terry Teachout and Laura Demanski have set up as part of their Arts Journal About Last Night a clearinghouse of bloggers sending reports from the city or from where they have sought safety. If you are concerned about or interested in what seems certain to happen to New Orleans, I suggest that you check in with Terry and Laura, along with your traditional news sources.

August 29, 2005 1:06 AM |

David Liebman, the perpetually searching saxophonist, has been playing festivals all over the world. He emphasizes that he is not complaining, but he is disturbed by the reaction of people attending those high-priced events.

If anything concerning the question of communication is at all relevant, it is for me about the degree of successful interaction between band members. Doing this to the best of our abilities is the mechanism for demonstrating our respect for the audience. Miles used to say when he turned his back, it was to play to the band so they could hear him better.
(Just to be sure we are on the same page, I am obviously talking about the kind of audience that is there to hear jazz by design, not by mistake. In other words, opening for the Rolling Stones for example is just not relevant to this discussion.)
...Therefore when I look out and “vibe” the audiences I have encountered this summer ranging from Los Angeles to Rome to down the road from where I live, it amazes me that so many people can just sit there and not react at all. It seems the bigger the gig and the higher the fee, the more tepid the reaction.

To read all of Liebman's essay. go to his newsletter, Intervals.

August 29, 2005 1:05 AM |

Nearly three years ago, I reviewed in Jazz Times a CD that pianist Kenny Barron recorded with bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Ben Riley at Bradley's, the lamented Greenwich Village club.

Barron takes "Solar" at a fast clip that does nothing to suppress his development of original melodic ideas or inventiveness in voicings. There's not a cliche to be heard. Drummond aces another solo, Riley and Barron exchange eights and the three go into a long tag ending that culminates in a densely harmonic Latin vamp. It is an exciting performance.

To read the whole review, go here.

Sunnyside Records has issued a second volume of performances from Barron's 1996 Bradley's engagement and subtitled it, "The Perfect Set," a claim with which I have no argument. On a solo version of Thelonious Monk's seldom-heard "Shuffle Boil," Barron's harmonic and rhythmic wizardry includes what sound like references to the crippled cadences of stride masters like Donald Lambert and James P. Johnson. The trio follows with a fourteen-minute workout on Monk's "Well You Needn't" that took my breath away the first time I heard it...and the second. The title of Barron's "The Only One" alludes to Monk. The melody line and the improvisation have Thelonious written all over them.

It was not an entirely Monk evening. Barron's "Twilight Song," a ballad tinted with Latin accents, and a quarter-hour exploration of "You Don't Know What Love Is" complete the perfect set. There are few improvisers whom I care to hear play anything for fifteen minutes. Kenny Barron is one of them.

Not incidentally, the beautifully recorded piano on which Barron performs is the Baldwin grand that Paul Desmond willed to Bradley's. Since the club's demise, it has been on loan to The Jazz Gallery, a nonprofit club in Lower Manhattan. On page 310 of The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond, you will find a picture of Renee Rosnes sitting at it. You didn't think I'd pass up a chance to plug the book, did you?

August 29, 2005 1:04 AM |

Mark Stryker's column in today's Detroit Free Press is about the alto saxophonist Charles McPherson. Here's some of what McPherson told Stryker about his school days, when he studied with the pianist Barry Harris, another Detroiter:

One day I came home from school and I had my report card, and he asked to see it. I was a C student; I didn't try for anything more than that. He saw the C's and he said, 'You're quite average, aren't you?' I said, 'Well, I'm passing.'
He said, 'You can't be average and play the kind of music you're trying to learn. There's too much going on. Charlie Parker is not average. Your heroes are above average.'
It was like a little epiphany. It totally changed my life. I put in more effort and instead of being a C student I got A's. I started getting interested in literature. I read Henry Miller's 'Tropic of Capricorn,' and I started reading philosophers, for instance, Francis Bacon, Kant, Schopenhauer.

McPherson is interesting on Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, Lonnie Hillyer and himself. You can read all of Stryker's piece here.

August 28, 2005 3:48 PM |

Here is the critic A.B. Spellman on Ornette Coleman's groundbreaking Change Of The Century album.

A large part of the credit I believe must be given to the rhythm section. Because in Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins you have two Hall of Fame musicians. And this rhythm section again was working with a different kind of sense of accents. You had a strong melodic lead in the bass of Charlie Haden, because without a piano, the bass then has more responsibility for sort of leading the group. The responsiveness of this particular rhythm section would not permit for (sic) a dead spot.

That is from the transcript of a broadcast conversation between Spellman and Murray Horwitz of the American Film Institute. Their dialogues are central to National Public Radio's mini-programs centered around a basic library of 100 essential jazz recordings. Because of scarce air time, the radio installments are short, but many of the web site versions include at least one musical illustration; in the case of Change Of The Century the complete six-minutes of Coleman's "Una Muy Bonita."

Anyone could argue about what is on and not on the list, but the NPR choices constitute a fine basic library. If you have never heard Bix Beiderbecke's golden "I'm Coming Virginia," you can have it..all of it...here. Then, next time you hear one of a few thousand trumpet players steal Bix's tag phrase, you'll know where it came from, even if the soloist doesn't. If you have somehow missed bassist Sam Jones' and drummer Arthur Taylor's hand-in-glove support of Thelonious Monk in Monk's famous Town Hall big band concert, NPR gives you the complete "Thelonious."

The explanations by Spellman and Horwitz (sometimes Horwitz alone) are as basic as the library itself; the segments run only about three minutes apiece. Still, if you know someone who is just entering jazz as a listener you could do much worse than recommend NPR's introductory course.

August 27, 2005 1:05 AM |

Alec Wilder on Irving Berlin's "Puttin' On The Ritz."

Berlin keeps you totally off-balance until the fifth bar, where he sensibly lands on a whole note tied to a half note and then whips you with the title phrase in eighth notes. The release, again sensibly, he leaves for the most part unrhythmic. The structure is straight A-A-B-A. It's a marvelous song.

Wilder: American Popular Song (Oxford)

August 27, 2005 1:03 AM |

DevraDoWrite is peeved about website inadequacies and excesses and doesn't mind saying so. As an example:

Ineffective site search tool – If you do any kind of research, search tools are invaluable. I believe that sites with a lot of content, be they static or ever changing and growing blogs, should provide a search tool specific to that site. On this blog, for example, you can search for Luther Henderson and see a listing of only those posts in which his name appears.

Amen to that and all of her other gripes. I wish that I had Devra's technical grasp of this medium. Please notice that THIS site has a search tool. It's that little blank box in the right-hand column. Don't bother looking for Kenny G.

August 27, 2005 1:02 AM |

Dave Brubeck, touring at eight-four as if he were twenty-four, is in California—momentarily. Saturday night at eight, he will play in Sacramento at the Radisson Hotel Grove Amphitheater with his quartet (Bobby Militello, alto saxophone; Michael Moore, bass; Randy Jones, drums). A few weeks ago at Carnegie Hall, during the JVC Jazz Festival Newport, Brubeck began noodling one of his introductions designed to mystify his sidemen. It is one thing for a pianist to play an obscure introduction to a piece in the band’s repertoire. Erroll Garner made a specialty of it. It is quite another to offer an inscrutable introduction to a song the band has never played. Few leaders outside the bailiwick of free jazz would take that chance in a major concert, but I have often seen Brubeck do it. At World Series time a couple of years ago, he sprang “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” on the quartet. Once they figured out what the boss was pitching, they knocked it out of the park—er—theater.

At Carnegie, it began to dawn on Militello, Moore and Jones that Brubeck was slyly unveiling “Sleep,” a 1923 chestnut by Earl Lebieg that for years was the theme song of Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians. Although a few jazz musicians, including Benny Carter and Tommy Dorsey, recorded it, “Sleep” hardly became a staple of the repertoire. I’d bet that most jazz players don’t know it exists. The Brubeck group had certainly never played it together, but Militello, Moore and Jones were just old enough to have it lurking in their consciousnesses. Once the puzzlement subsided, grins appeared on the sidemens’ faces. They exchanged glances, took a simultaneous deep breath and dove in. “Sleep” is not “Giant Steps” in the chord changes department. To call the song simple may be upgrading it. The structure and melody are basic—two sixteen-bar sections that are nearly identical. But this was a demonstration of the truth of the Sy Oliver-Trummy Young maxim, ‘Tain’t What You Do (It’s The Way That’Cha Do It). The piece developed momentum, good cheer and, ultimately, an intensity that captivated the audience. It was the hit of the evening, and it was no mere novelty. It was thoroughly creative music making.

I was standing backstage next to the tenor saxophonist Harry Allen. As a member of John Pizzarrelli’s band, he was about to follow Brubeck. We listened and watched on monitors, and Allen said, “Can you believe the way these guys are swinging?”

In addition to springing surprises with simple tunes, Brubeck continues his complex older ways. He works in time signatures, polyrhythms and polytonalities that, after a half-century of his pioneering them in jazz, few other musicians have tackled, let alone mastered. One who has them comfortably in mind and under his fingers is Joe Gilman, a pianist who might be much better known as a player if he didn’t devote himself primarily to education. Gilman is one of the teachers at the Brubeck Institute Summer Colony for gifted young jazz players and a professor at American River College in California. He can not only play Brubeck’s demanding music, he can also explain it, as he does in a five-and-a-half-minute radio piece produced by Paul Conley of KXJZ in Sacramento. You can hear it by clicking here and then clicking on the “listen” icon on the Capitol Public Radio page.

August 26, 2005 1:05 AM |

...he has an undergraduate degree in piano and jazz studies from Indiana University, a masters from the Eastman school and a doctorate in education from Sarasota University. There is more on his background here. Gilman, with six CDs under his belt, is a teacher who can do. His albums date back to 1987. One from 1992 has drummer Bob Hurst and Jeff "Tain" Watts as sidemen and the brilliant tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson as guest soloist.

In the course of his teaching, Gilman has become an expert on Brubeck's music. Not a mimic of Brubeck's playing style, he has more in common with bop and post-bop players. His Time Again: Brubeck Revisited, volume 1 and volume 2 present twenty Brubeck compositions. "In Your Own Sweet Way" is included, as are "Blue Rondo a la Turk," and Paul Desmond's "Take Five" in a wildly cartoonish version on prepared piano. He also interprets such less-well-known pieces as "Recuerdo," "There Will Be No Tomorrow" and the stirring "Love and Anger." Gilman is accompanied by bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Justin Brown. They take unBrubeckian approaches to "Blue Rondo" and "Summer Song," to single out just two examples. Gilman sees "The Duke," as less Ellingtonian than like a Velvet Gentleman with a touch of decidedly unarthritic atonality in the left hand.

Brubeck appreciates adventurousness by others as much as he enjoys committing it. He is reported to be delighted with Gilman's versions of his songs.

August 26, 2005 1:04 AM |

The Rifftides staff is always glad to hear from you. We direct your attention to the e-mail address in the right-hand column.

And we promise that there will soon appear new items in Doug's Picks.

August 26, 2005 1:02 AM |

Today I made a round-trip drive of six hours for an hour-and-a-half meeting that could have been completed in thirty minutes or a twenty-minute conference call. While motoring, I auditioned several CDs that I promised to listen to, only one of which was rewarding. As a result, my blogspiration index is lower than my blood sugar and the level of fuel in my gas tank. That’s low. A good night’s sleep and relief of the temporary hypoglycemia should send me back into action. In other words, there will be no new posting for at least a few hours, maybe not until tomorrow.

In the meantime, remember to check in with the mother of all artsjournal.com bloggers, ArtsJournal, and the AJ webloggers to whom Rifftides links in the right-hand column. These people know their stuff.

August 25, 2005 12:05 AM |

A couple of weeks ago, the Italian plum tree in our little orchard broke off at the base of its trunk and fell over, loaded with hundreds of perfect purple plums. Before the hired man chopped it up and hauled it away to a useful end in someone's fireplace, I harvested the tree's final crop and stashed it in bushel baskets.

This evening, I pulled a chair up to the dissecting table in the garden shed, switched on the radio and set to work cutting the plums, removing the pits and putting the halves into dehydrators. My timing was lucky. Terry Gross replayed her interesting 2000 interview with Robert Moog, the synthesizer inventor who died on Sunday, and Northwest Public Radio followed Fresh Air with Franz Schubert's Quintet in C.

If one of the primary aims of jazz improvisation is the creation of melody, could there be a more inspirational concentration of examples than in this astonishing work? Each of the four movements is awash in melodies that implant themselves in the listener's mind. The melodies are sustained by Schubert's harmonic genius, as bold as Beethoven's; visionary in the early Nineteenth Century. Any developing jazz player would benefit by paying close attention to the little melodies, as fleeting as thought, in the brooding Adagio, and to the ripping chromatic dance tune of the Scherzo that Shubert contrasts with the movement's funereal slow section. They are examples to aspire to as surely as those of Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Lester Young, Art Farmer, Paul Desmond, Bobby Hackett, Miles Davis and the other great melodists in jazz.

Solos by Armstrong reflect his love of the Italian operas that were a living part of New Orleans when he was learning. Charlie Parker quoted melodies from classical composers, including Wagner, that he absorbed from radio, records and live performances. Desmond had a fund of Stravinsky phrases on which he worked variations and permutations. How many teachers in the high school and college programs turning out the majority of today's prospective jazz players immerse their students in melodic geniuses of classical music as well as those of jazz?

August 24, 2005 1:06 AM |

One of my favorite quotations about writing could apply just as well to jazz soloing.

No writer ever truly succeeds. The disparity between the work conceived and the work completed is always too great and the writer merely achieves an acceptable level of failure. --Phillip Caputo
August 24, 2005 1:05 AM |

The Los Angeles drummer and leader Dick McGarvin responded to Benny and Miles with this communique:

When Lights Are Low Priced

In the early 1990s, I decided I wanted to do WHEN LIGHTS ARE LOW with my group. However, all my music books had the one with the Miles Davis bridge. And I didn't have a recording of the correct version so I could take it down off the record.

Then I remembered - Benny lives in LA. Why not go to the source? I got out my Local 47 directory and called the number - kind of expecting to reach an office or a business manager. But, it was Benny who picked up the phone. I identified myself, told him why I was calling. He was very gracious...and grateful that I wanted to do his tune correctly and said he'd be happy to send me a leadsheet.

I figured there'd be some kind of charge for it. At the very least, I wanted to reimburse him for the postage. So I asked him how much it would be. And Benny said, "Fifteen hundred dollars!" There was a moment of silence and, realizing he was kidding, I said, "Would you take a check?"

We laughed - and he said there would be no charge...on one condition. And I said, "What's that?" He said, "I'll send it to you ONLY if you let me send you some of my other songs, as well." And I thought - yeah, I can handle that.

Some days later, a packet arrived containing WHEN LIGHTS ARE LOW and half a dozen other Benny Carter originals.

God Bless him.

No one who knew Benny will be surprised by his generosity or his humor.

August 23, 2005 1:05 AM |

Some time ago, Eric Felten wrote in response to this item about Benny Carter. It's about time that I posted his note and commented on it.

Just listening to his playing is a complete post-doctoral course in the power of melodicism in improvisation. Personally, I'm devoted to the session with Ben Webster and Frank Rosolino. When I first heard it I was giddy with the shock that anything so wonderful as a meeting of Ben, Frank and Benny existed. It still leaves me shaking my head.
You correctly mention that "When Lights Are Low" is Benny's best-known tune. But it is still amazing to me the extent to which it is his best-incorrectly-known tune. Call it on the bandstand and 9 out of 10 players do the Miles bridge. Now when Miles chose to replace Benny's bridge with the A section in a new key, that was an interesting and valid jazz permutation on the tune. But how many players nowadays know that that bridge was a permutation? How many know the original bridge (which has wonderful changes over which to blow)? Playing that tune is a rough and ready way of finding out whether musicians have taken the time to listen to Carter, or whether the Miles 50s canon (worthy as it is) is as far back as their jazz education goes.
Kudos on the fine job you're doing with the site. I'm enjoying it a lot.

Instead of using the exquisite bridge that Carter wrote for the piece, Davis simply repeated the first eight bars, but in a-flat rather than e-flat. Why he did so is a puzzle. He played in Carter's big band in the mid-forties and must have known the tune. It could hardly have been because the bridge was too complicated for John Coltrane, Red Garland and Paul Chambers. When I discussed this years ago with Marian McPartland, she became indignant. She said, "Oh! How could he have done that to Benny's song?"

Good question. If you want to hear the bridge as written, you'll find it on this album. If you want to hear the Miles Davis rewrite, it is on this one.

August 22, 2005 1:05 AM |

Years before his death at the end of July, disillusionment, indigence, homelessness and mental illness stilled Lucky Thompson’s tenor saxophone. His life began to unravel in the sixties. In the early seventies, he played little, then stopped. Kind strangers who admired his music saw after him in his last years.

I never knew Mr. Thompson, never saw him in live performance, but his work reached me from the first time I heard it on Charlie Parker’s 1946 Dial recordings. On “Moose The Mooche,” “Yardbird Suite,” “Ornithology” and “A Night in Tunisia,” Thompson’s solos suggested elements of Coleman Hawkins and Don Byas, but the surge and thrust of his invented lines and the swagger in his delivery—particularly on the master take of “Tunisia”—set him apart from other tenor players. He was not, srictly speaking, one of the early bebop artists, but his playing fit perfectly with theirs. Later, I went back a step to 1944 to listen to Thompson on Count Basie’s “Taps Miller” and “Avenue C” and found that he was a fully formed soloist at twenty, mixing smoothness and roughness in perfect balance.

If I were to recommend essential Thompson recordings to people unfamiliar with him, I would start with the Parker Dials, then refer them to the 1954 Miles Davis Walkinsession on Prestige, which has some of Thompson’s greatest solos. Of his own albums, I suggest Tricotimsm (1956) on Impulse! and Lucky Strikes (1964) on Prestige. Tricotism includes bassist Oscar Pettiford and pianist Hank Jones, with both of whom Thompson had special rapport. The album is hard to find. Here is one possible source. Jones, with bassist Richard Davis and drummer Connie Kay, is also on Lucky Strikes. In it, Thompson plays soprano saxophone in addition to tenor, and the album may well be his masterpiece.

August 19, 2005 1:05 AM |

Jim Brown writes from Chicago:

I concur that Lucky Strikes and Tricotism are primo Lucky Thompson, and probably his best, but don't forget his very important contributions to Cuban Fire, Johnny Richards fine mid-50's work for the Kenton band. Richards had been around for quite a while by then, but this was his first major work. It may be the one for which he is best remembered, and with good reason. I also like his writing for Adventures in Time.

August 19, 2005 1:04 AM |

Thanks for reminding me about the Phil Woods DVD, and Phil's Quincy Jones CD. I've just ordered both... I noticed them first a few weeks back when I ordered the Bill Holman Live release. BTW, 'Rifftides' has become a daily reference for me. Thanks!

Ted O'Reilly

Ted O'Reilly is a distinguished Toronto broadcaster and producer.

August 19, 2005 1:04 AM |

Just read your review of Blanchard's set at Yoshi's. I saw the band's last set at Jazz Alley on the 7th. I'm still sorting out my own reaction to the music that evening. Certainly an entertaining show, and really a treat to see Aaron Parks continued growth.

Bruce Moore

Bruce Moore is a photographer in Seattle. You can see some of his images of the Blanchard Band here.

August 19, 2005 1:03 AM |

My recommendation of Bud Guthrie’s Field Guide to Writing Fiction (right column, under Books) did not arise out of whim. Unless you use your computer strictly for, say, logartihmic calculations, you are writing. Now that anyone on the web can decide to be a journalist, editor and publisher, writing with clarity and simplicity is more important than ever. (Don’t do as I do, do as I say.) That responsbility came to mind again today as I was reading Jay Rosen, a professor, gadfly and multiblogger from New York University who has been a conscience of journalism for twenty years. Rosen captured me with the introduction to his blog:

We need to keep the press from being absorbed into The Media. This means keeping the word press, which is antiquated. But included under its modern umbrella should be all who do the serious work in journalism, regardless of the technology used. The people who will invent the next press in America--and who are doing it now online--continue an experiment at least 250 years old.

Here is some of what Rosen wrote a year and a half ago in a blog piece called Journalism Itself Is A Religion.

We're headed, I think, for schism, tumult and divide as the religion of the American press meets the upheavals in global politics and public media that are well underway. Changing around us are the terms on which authority can be established by journalists. The Net is opening things up, shifting the power to publish around. Consumers are becoming producers, readers can be writers.

To read all of Rosen’s long essay, go here, and then go here.

I am adding Rosen’s PressThink to the Other Places list in the right-hand column.

August 18, 2005 1:00 AM |

Kindly notice that the right-hand column is populated with new entries in the Doug's Picks category. Enjoy.

Postings today will be light, possibly nonexistent. Travel and too much time away have overtaken me. Other duties call. I could use a nap. Or two.

August 17, 2005 1:05 AM |

Bill Evans would be seventy-six years old today. He died on September 15, 1980 at the age of 51. To borrow what Jim Hall said about Paul Desmond, Bill would have been a great old man. That is an easy conclusion; he was a great young man. Here is a little of what I wrote about him in the notes for the 1997 boxed CD set, The Secret Sessions.

The evolution of jazz music as a distinct form of creative expression is contained in only eight decades of the 20th century. The maturing of the art of jazz piano improvisation is an index to the astonishing speed of that development. It took less than 40 years, and its main current ran from James P. Johnson through Fats Waller, Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson, Nat Cole, Bud Powell, and Bill Evans, with Art Tatum standing apart as an unclassifiable phenomenon. (If I were writing that last sentence today, I would add Jelly Roll Morton and Al Haig.)
Evans, the last great jazz piano innovator, inherited and expanded the art transmitted through the fountainheads of piano style...
He recorded his first trio album late in 1956 and little more than a year later had begun to enhance his reputation through brilliant work with Miles Davis. Acting on insights gained from the music of Debussy and other impressionist composers, he enriched his chords beyond those of any other jazz pianist. Comparisons that come to mind are with harmonies that Gil Evans and Robert Farnon wrote for large orchestras and with some of the mysterious voicings of Duke Ellington. Even in his earliest trio work he stretched and displaced rhythm and melody and hinted at modes and scales as the basis for improvisation.

No week passes without my listening to Bill Evans. Although I find it difficult to write with music playing because I cannot ignore it, I am now listening to the brilliant solo pieces he recorded on January 10, 1963. He was about to move on from his relationship with producer Orrin Keepnews at Riverside Records and join Verve. For reasons Keepnews explains in his notes for Bill Evans: The Complete Riverside Recordings, the seventeen performances did not leave the Riverside vaults until the boxed set was issued on LP in 1984. It is now on CD. Evans reached deep into his soul for these performances. I find them indescribably moving on several levels, and I am celebrating his birthday by listening to them, having an excellent Oregon pinot noir and suggesting that it would be a better world if we all heard more Bill Evans. If you need further impetus, ask Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Bill Charlap, Kenny Barron and a legion of other jazz pianists where they would be without Bill Evans.

If you don't know about it, I suggest that you investigate Jan Stevens's web site, The Bill Evans Pages. It is a compendium of information about Evans and an accurate guide to his recordings.

August 16, 2005 1:06 AM |

By way of his invaluable blog, Terry Teachout has news of the indispensable Shirley Horn. It is not good. Shirley needs cheering up. Please go here for details.

August 16, 2005 1:05 AM |

The Encyclopedia of Jazz, The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz and Ira Gitler's books on bebop spell the name of a famous Charlie Parker-Dizzy Gillespie bassist as Curly Russell. But Jack Tracy informs me that when he was editor of Down Beat, Russell told him that he preferred Curley (his given name was Dillon). Accordingly, I am adding the "e" in the Rifftides posting about the CD called Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Town Hall, New York City, June 22, 1945.

This is really just an excuse to again call your attention to that remarkable recording.

August 15, 2005 4:45 PM |

Saturday night, following my lecture as jazz scholar-in-residence, I attended the final concert by the students of the Brubeck Institute’s 2005 Summer Colony. The Institute staff invited prominent jazz musicians to select the seventeen colonists by compact disc audition from among the best teenaged jazz musicians in the United States and some from outside this country.

Sixteen-year-old alto saxophonist Ben van Gelder came from the Amsterdam Conservatory in the Netherlands. Playing with haunting tonal quality, he invented melodies that incorporated a judicious use of space, and made harmonic choices outside the chords without sounding contrived. He is one of those rare young musicians who establishes his individuality in three or four notes. His work in the student all-star combo nurtured by trumpeter Ingrid Jensen included not only captivating solos but also unison playing of absolute precision. Listen for Ben van Gelder.

Kyle Athayde, the son of a high school band instructor, is seventeen and came to the Summer Colony from Acalanes High School in Lafayette, California, across the bay from San Francisco. He is a trumpeter, vibraharpist and composer, impressive in all of those areas. The ensemble played a piece, the sort of thing that used to be called a rhythm ballad, that had such an aura of professionalism about it that until Athayde announced it as “a composition of my own,” I assumed that it had been composed and arranged by someone like Jimmy Heath, Frank Foster or Slide Hampton. His trumpet playing, like that of 17-year-old Gregory Diaz of Los Angeles, covered all of the harmonic, rhythmic and technical aspects required of a first-rate jazz soloist. If they have yet to achieve the level of individualism of Ben van Gelder, so do many players who have been making a living in jazz for decades.

In a few days, seventeen-year-old Katie Thiroux will begin her senior year at the Hamilton High Music Academy in Los Angeles. A bassist, she swings hard, solos well and develops supporting lines that inspire soloists. In the all-star combo, her rapport with pianist Julian Bransby and drummer Steve Renko was remarkable. She and her fellow bassists Nick Jozwiak and Charlie Zuckerman joined in a double bass trio workout on Oscar Pettiford’s “Blues in the Closet.” (Introducing them, institute executive director J.B. Dyas, a bassist, explained to the audience that all you need for a jazz combo is a bassist plus one other instrument.)

Not content to be merely a superb player, Ms. Thiroux sings beautifully, accompanying herself on bass in the manner of Kristin Korb, with whom she has studied. In a duet with Ingrid Jensen, she sang “Close Your Eyes” simply and brilliantly, with a canny understanding of the meaning of the lyrics and their relationship to the melody. She and Ingrid ended the piece with a complex unison line that culminated in a high G perfectly intoned by Jensen’s muted horn and Ms. Thiroux’s angelic voice. Generous and giving, Katie Thiroux is a thoroughgoing musician, the anthithesis of the image of the egocentric chick singer. I hope to hear more of her, for the sheer pleasure of it.

Steve Renko is fifteen. He is from St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Ohio. His drumming is controlled but swings loosely, and he has perfect time. Julian Bransby, the seventeen-year-old pianist in Jensen’s combo, is from Bloomington, Indiana. Both of his parents are professional musicians. Given the quality of his playing, they must be proud parents, indeed.

In Saturday’s post, I mentioned Isaiah Morfin, the shy fifteen-year-old alto saxophonist who played at my book signing. That night, in the big band directed by colony instructor Joe Gilman, Isaiah, who is approximately the height and weight of his baritone saxophone, played a stomping solo awash in rhythmic intensity and tonal variety. On alto, his soloing is incandescent and derivative. On baritone, the real Isaiah seemed to emerge, brimming with confidence. This time, he did not smile furtively when he got a huge round of applause; he grinned, as pleased with his solo as was the audience.

Drummer Harvel Nakundi, a seventeen-year-old from Miami’s New World School of the Arts, is one-quarter Art Blakey, one-quarter Philly Joe Jones, one quarter Buddy Rich and one-quarter sheer exhuberance in search of consistency. He is a riveting drummer now. When he gets his loose ends tucked in, he will be formidable.

Brian Crutchfield, 17, is a towering Texan from Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. His tenor saxophone conception and tone complement his large frame. His solos showed not only an allegience to John Coltrane and Michael Brecker, but also self-editing that allowed his substantial ideas room to blossom. Such discipline is not often a hallmark of post-Coltrane saxophonists.

One of the faculty said of seventeen-year-old trombonist Ismael Cuevas of Eagle Rock High School in Los Angeles, “Ismael is basically an ear player—but what an ear.” He demonstrated his harmonic acuity, rich sound and range in several contexts.

I was also impressed with guitarist Graham Keir of Wyndmoore, Pennsylvania, and drummer Max Wrightson of Los Angeles, both seventeen. Sixteen-year-old Woody Goss of Skokie, Illinois, is a pianist of depth that reflects his classical training. Pianist Noah Kellman is fourteen. He just finished the eighth grade. His parents, visiting the colony from the family’s home in DeWitt, New York, told me that when he was five, Noah stood watching as his dad played a simple Mozart piece. He asked if he could do it, too. Indulging the boy, his father helped him onto the bench, whereupon Noah played what he had just heard, flawlessly. Lessons ensued. He became a jazz player at the age of ten. Four years later, he is an accomplished jazz accompanist and soloist.

Nadia Washington is a sixteen-year-old senior at the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, the school at which Bart Marantz’s jazz program produced Roy Hargrove and Norah Jones, among others. She sings in a clear voice and loves Ella Fitzgerald. One of her pieces Saturday night was a virtual reproduction of Fitzgerald’s famous “How High The Moon” from a Jazz At The Philharmonic recording, right down to Ella’s ad lib about forgetting the words—a neat trick of imitation, but a trick nonetheless. Ms. Washington’s real singing came with the colony big band on Dave and Iola Brubeck’s “Since Love Had Its Way” from The Real Ambassadors. It was a sensitive and poised performance.

As I listened to the encore piece that closed the concert and this year’s colony, I thought of this passage from the chapter, called A Common Language, in Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers:

Like every art form, jazz has a fund of devices unique to it and universally employed by those who play it. Among the resources of the jazz tradition available to the player creating an improvised performance are rhythmic patterns, harmonic structures, material quoted from a variety of sources, and “head arrangements” evolved over time without being written. Mutual access to this community body of knowledge makes possible successful and enjoyable collaboration among jazzmen of different generations and stylistic persuasions who have never before played together. It is not unusual at jazz festivals and jam sessions for musicians in their sixties and seventies to be teamed with others in their teens or twenties. In the best of such circumstances, the age barrier immediately falls.

The encore was Thelonious Monk’s “Bright Mississippi.” With the colonists and teachers Greg Tardy, Ingrid Jensen and Hal Crook wailing away on the “Sweet Georgia Brown” changes, the barrier was definitely down. All of this may be more than you wanted to know about seventeen astonishingly talented youngsters. I imagine that it is considerably less than you will want to know as the years go by, assuming that the narrow confines of the jazz economy allow them to work as performing artists.

August 15, 2005 2:42 PM |

Well, the book signing at Barnes and Noble in Stockton went fine. We moved a few copies of Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond and I signed a batch of shelf copies on which Kathleen Anderson, the store’s lively, intelligent events manager, slapped “Autographed Copy” stickers. “These will go fast,” she promised.

Before the signing and as it happened, a combo of talented summer colonists from the Brubeck Institute played. A fifteen-year-old alto saxophonist from Bakersfield, Isaiah Morfin, began his blues solo on Coltrane’s “Cousin Mary” with a couple of bars of “Take Five.” “That was for you,” he later said, shyly. His parents and little sister were in the audience, beaming.

More later on these remarkable youngsters.

August 13, 2005 3:54 PM |

Here in hot Stockton, California (more than a month of daytime temperatures in the nineties or higher, with no relief), the young musicians of the Brubeck Institute’s Summer Colony are learning to be better improvisers. I’ll hear some of them for the first time this afternoon when one of their combos plays at my book signing. The faculty members, who include Ingrid Jensen, Hal Crook and Bart Marantz, tell me that this is a notably gifted bunch of teenagers.

This year’s Yoshi’s distinguished artist-in-residence is Terence Blanchard. Last night, the seventeen colonists, Institute director J.B. Dyas, some of the faculty and I piled into vans and cars and drove eighty miles to Oakland to hear Blanchard’s band at Yoshi’s. Oakland was overcast and cool. Mark Twain famously said that the worst winter he ever spent was one August in San Francisco.

Blanchard’s band, with sidemen averaging not much older than the age of the colonists, concentrated on music from his new CD, Flow. In a long set, they played four pieces, none of them quite free, at least not in the Ornette Coleman sense; none of them straight ahead. They incorporated African elements centered in the astonishing vocal and rhythmic utterances of the guitarist Lionel Louweke, and a variety of world music influences. They played to each other with virtuosity and great enthusiasm. Blanchard demonstrated his mastery of the trumpet. Tenor saxophonist Bryce Swanson, particularly on the piece called (I think) “Wandering Wander,” played with impressive tone and use of space. The drummer, Kendrick Scott, filled and accented beautifully, with internal rhythms and colors that shifted and shimmered.

Pianist Aaron Parks consistently invented chord changes where there were no changes, underscoring by contrast what, for me, was the problem with this band. They were having a splendid time playing for one another, and their enthusiasm transmitted to the audience. Still, except for Parks’s enchanting harmonies on the hymn-like “Over There,” the music lacked harmonic elements on which I could get a handle. And it was missing the consistent time that makes the best jazz performances compelling. At the end, I was full of admiration for the Blanchard band’s skill and elan, but went away unsatisfied and rather empty.

August 13, 2005 10:09 AM |

Devra Hall, aka DevraDoWrite, was Joe Williams’s publicist and close friend. She responded to yesterday’s post.

The Joe and Ben story is a great one, and Joel Dorn's account is quite accurate, but I would quibble with one phrase. Joel writes, "But blizzard or not, enough people showed up so that Joe had to perform." For Joe it was never a matter of having to perform; the imperative came from his own desire. If there had been but one person in the house, Joe would have wanted to do his show. If I had a nickel for every time Joe told me, "Every night is Carnegie Hall," I'd be a very wealthy blogess. And of course you are spot on about Joe's blues and balladry. I had the privilege of composing the notes for Joe's funeral program, in which I wrote:
"He rode to fame on the back of the blues, but he bared his soul with romantic ballads. The real heartbreak in the 1957 release of A Man Ain't Supposed to Cry was not about lost love but about a world that was not yet ready to embrace a black balladeer."
Now that's a record that can make you cry!
August 12, 2005 1:05 AM |

I have had one day at home and in the office following my adventures—Marine and otherwise—on the east coast. This morning, I am flying to Stockton, California. Stockton is the site of the University of the Pacific, home of the Brubeck Institute. I’ll speak at the institute’s Summer Colony for promising young jazz musicians and do two book signings, one at the institute. There will also be a 1 p.m. signing Saturday, August 15, at the Stockton Barnes and Noble store, 4950 Pacific Ave # 319. If you are in the neighborhood or nearby, please join us.

The Summer Colony is funded by Herb Alpert in honor of Paul Desmond. Trumpeter Ingrid Jensen is the colony’s artistic director. The faculty includes trombonist Hal Crook and Dave and Iola Brubeck’s bassist-trombonist-composer son Chris. You can read all about the colony here. I expect to report to you on what I see—and hear.

August 12, 2005 1:04 AM |

You may have heard about the new (yes, new) Joe Williams CD. There has been a lot of talk about it. No wonder.

In the winter of 1964, Williams had an engagement with a magnificent rhythm section at Pio's a club in Providence, Rhode Island. The weather was so bad that Williams, pianist Junior Mance, bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Mickey Roker were afraid that no one would come. A few isteners did, despite the storm. So did someone else. In the liner notes for Havin'A Good Time, producer Joel Dorn tells the story. Here is a part of it.

...the city got hit with a blizzard. But blizzard or not, enough people showed up so that Joe had to perform. When Joe and the guys got there, to their surprise, they found Ben Webster, saxophone in hand, sitting in a corner. They didn't know he was in town and, obviously, had no plans to play with him. Ben asked if he could sit in. Well, who wouldn't want Ben Webster on the band stand with 'em? Ben, who by this time had stopped drinking was, according to Junior, "sweet and gentle."
For me, this album is what jazz is really about. It's what happens when world class players get together and do what cats have been doing for decades, make magic on the spot. Thank God somebody was runnin' a tape.

There is little to add to Joel's enthusiastic report, except to say that this is one of the best albums of Williams's post-Count Basie career, the trio is superb, and Webster worked himself into the arrangements as if he had rehearsed with the band. The early sixties was not a particularly happy time for Webster, certainly not a high point in his career. You'd never know it from his playing that night in Providence.

If you think of Joe Williams as a great blues singer, you're right, but he was also a master of the art of the ballad. He demonstrates both facets here. To mention only two examples, he gives a booting performance of one of his staples, Joe Turner's "Kansas City Blues," and a touching one of "That's All," a song he tells his audience he doesn't know very well. He shouldn't have spilled the beans. They never would have guessed.

August 11, 2005 1:05 AM |

A Rifftides reader responds to the posting about Annapolis.

Weems Creek: I lived in Annapolis from 1969-1986, with a brief 2-year return to NYC in the late 70s (Memo to self: Thomas Wolfe was right). Managed a record store some of those years on West Street, and still have many friends there, including my oldest continuous friend, who is a tutor at St. John's College; it may have been a sleepy and somewhat shabby town in 1970 compared to today, but I prefer it to Bobo Heaven--when did over-priced coffee and a nice white wine reduction become synoymous with civilization? I'd rather eat home-made crab cakes on crackers and drink 25 cent National Bohs at Sam Lorea's (ask your friend).

I asked my friend. He said:

National Bohemian was a cheap beer. It was okay. We also drank Munich beer. It was even cheaper, and awful. The 50-cent crab cakes were spectacular. Sam Lorea (pronounced Low-Ray) was a right-wing racist who refused to serve anyone with long hair, and adorned his bar with pictures of Spiro Agnew. Sam always closed his bar at 6 p.m. because he wanted to go home, leaving his customers thirsty and in search of a bar that was open. When he died in 1976, they found several hundred thousand dollars worth of liquor stashed upstairs. Sam feared a return of prohibition. The current Bobos in the restaurant business are more into in-time service.

Crab cakes in Annapolis now go for several multiples of 50 cents, but they are still spectacular. We had great ones last night down at O'Leary's.

August 9, 2005 9:51 AM |

Regarding my rave review of the Marine Corps Band the other night, if you haven't heard Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever" for a while and don't have it in your collection, here is a free refresher course. It's a Real Player download of the entire three-and-a-half minute piece by an unidentified band. They take it a trifle fast, but it has a great piccolo solo and an exhuberant out-chorus...if that's the term.

What does this have to do with jazz? Nothing. Please see the About Rifftides explanation at the top of the right-hand column.

August 9, 2005 1:05 AM |

This afternoon during my Annapolis sojourn, I recorded an hour with John Tegler for his Capitol Conversations show. If you stay up late Friday night, you can hear it on Baltimore's WCBM, 680 AM. The air time is Saturday morning, August 13, at 12:05 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time...five minutes after midnight (9:05 PDT). John is a former Air Force jet pilot, Elliott Lawrence and Woody Herman drummer, band leader, concert producer and veteran radio interviewer. He has an inquiring mind and a finely honed interview style. We had a good time talking about Paul Desmond and associated subjects. I hope that you can join us on WCBM's streaming internet audio or one of the show's 99 affiliates connected by satellite. Please check your local listings.

August 9, 2005 1:04 AM |

This afternoon I will be signing copies of Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond at Hard Bean Coffee and Book Sellers in Annapolis. The signing will follow the taping of a 2 PM interview with John Tegler for his Capitol Conversations radio program. Both things will happen at Hard Bean, 36 Market Space, on the downtown Annapolis waterfront. If you're in the area, please come by and say hello.

August 8, 2005 9:01 AM |

Most people alive are too young to have heard Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker when they were establishing bebop. Most, indeed, were not born. Observers have attempted to describe the excitement of hearing Gillespie and Parker together for the first time, but words cannot convey the abstract wonders of great music. Now, thanks to an astounding new CD, it is possible to hear the fountainheads of bop as World War Two was ending - when they were virtually unknown, when to all but a tiny minority of musicians and listeners, jazz meant the music of the big bands, when “A Night in Tunisia” and “Salt Peanuts” had not been drilled into the collective consciousness. Those pieces and others that became part of the bebop canon had been played for audiences only a few dozen times, if that many.

Until Uptown Records released Dizzy Gillespie-Charlie Parker Town Hall, New York City, June 22, 1945 a few weeks ago, Parker’s and Gillespie’s partnership that year was known on records only within the three-minute limitation of 78 rpm technology. Someone—it is unclear who—recorded the concert in superb sound on twin acetate disc recorders, capturing complete performances in the seven-minutes range, with chorus after chorus of brilliant playing. Anyone who hears these recordings and doubts that Gillespie was at least Bird’s equal as a creative artist will have to maintain an unreasonable degree of stubborness.

Throughout, Gillespie’s control, range, harmonic ingenuity, melodic inventiveness and time—above all, his time—are breathtaking. In these performances, he and Parker give profound meaning to Dizzy’s frequently-quoted description of Bird as, “the other half of my heartbeat.” The two were the most uncanny unison players ever, their intellectual and psychic connection absolute. Their togetherness, at a furious tempo, on the out-chorus of “Bebop” must be heard to be believed. The transition from Bird’s solo to Dizzy’s on “Groovin’ High” is priceless, not because one repeats the other’s phrase—that trick is as old as jazz improvisation, probably as old as music—but because of the exquisite timing, the humor, what it says about their mutual respect and friendship. Gillespie’s solo on the piece is a statement of pure joy. And, everywhere, Parker’s virtuosity and heart match his boss’s. This was Dizzy’s band. Its concepts, and particularly its codification of the harmonic and much of the rhythmic language of the new music, came from Dizzy’s leadership and teaching.

In his liner notes, Ira Gitler describes pianist Al Haig’s playing on the concert as stiff, but that might be true only in comparison with Bud Powell’s most inspired work. Haig has long deserved a great deal more credit than he has received as a trailblazing pianist who inspired many of his successors. Those in debt to Haig include, as the researcher Allan Lowe has recently pointed out, Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan and Barry Harris. I would add Bill Evans to that list. Haig and drummer Max Roach had a relationship, also built on rhythm, that complemented and illuminated the one between Diz and Bird. Entertaining and swinging as Sid Catlett is in his guest appearance on one piece, Roach was clearly the perfect drummer for this band. As for Curley Russell, he kept great time and was one of the best bop bassists after Oscar Pettiford, but suffice it to say that bass playing was a few years away from catching up with Parker, Gillespie, Haig and Powell.

Symphony Sid Torin, the unctuous radio host who MCed the concert, was unquestionably an important part of the New York jazz scene, but including only his opening announcement might have been enough. Symphony Sid's cutesy, self-referential, tune introductions do not detract from the music. Nothing could. But they are irritating on repeated hearings. And he mispronounces Dizzy's last name as "Jillespie."

I could go on about this remarkable recording, but I’ll abide by the first paragraph’s admonition concerning the inadequacy of words. I cannot imagine anyone serious about serious music not cherishing it. Robert Sunenblick of Uptown Records deserves adulation for recognizing the value of what he discovered on those acetates and for seeing that it became available to the world.

August 8, 2005 1:05 AM |

As I write this, I'm having difficulty keeping my eyes off the scene out the window to the left of my friend's computer. I am spending a few days with a cherished colleague from my TV news days. He and his wife live on Weems Creek, a tributary of the Severn River in Annapolis, Maryland. Every house along this broad creek has a dock, and every dock has at least one boat. I see a place with a sailboat, a speed boat and two kayaks. The houses, the boats behind and the vehicles in front bespeak affluence. (My friend, reading this, said, "They bespeak debt.")

When my pal moved here more than thirty years ago, downtown Annapolis was run down and a little dangerous. Store fronts were empty. There were three or four bars and a couple of restaurants. Tourists interested in American history wandered through now and then. Annapolis is marinated in history. I wonder how many of you knew---I did not---that for a short time in the late seventeen-hundreds, it was the capital of the United States.

Thanks to political, community and business leadership, and thanks to good economic times, things have changed here. Yesterday afternoon we meandered from the area of the state capitol and St. John's College along the brick streets down to the waterfront. The marina was lined with vessels ranging from sleek speed boats to yachts in the mine-is-bigger-than-yours trophy class, hundred-footers. The sidewalks were packed with tourists. The tourists were packed with ice cream from four thriving stores. The handful of original bars has been joined by many more, and there are a dozen or so first-class restaurants. Some of the locals are not happy with the proliferation of T-shirt and curio shops or the influx of tourists. But most accept them as inevitable side effects of prosperity and growth. Annapolis is impressive on both counts

August 7, 2005 8:32 AM |

Our reuniting Marines spent yesterday cruising the Potomac, visiting the Korean War, Viet Nam, World War Two and Franklin Delano Roosevelt monuments, then the Washington Navy Yard for a long lunch. One of our 150 guys failed to make it back to the bus following the monuments tour, causing a good deal of concern. "You know, Barry didn't look so good," somebody said. "We'd better check the hospitals." We did. No Barry. A few hours later, Barry showed up at the Marine Barracks at 8th and I, where we assembled as darkness fell to see the evening parade on the grassy field. He had walked across DC to reunite with the reunion.

There was a breathtaking display of precision execution of the manual of arms by the Marine Corps silent drill team, using M-1 rifles with bayonets. Don't try it at home. The music was by the Marine Corps Band and the Marine drum and bugle corps. The band's numbers included "Stars and Stripes Forever," not just a great march but a great piece of American music, categories aside. They preceded it with a so-so march, perhaps by design, so that when the John Phillips Sousa piece got underway, the contrast was startling. Sousa may have had nothing to do with pre-jazz forms and may later in life have disdained jazz, but jazz isn't the only kind of music that swings, and Sousa built a kind of swing into that march. The Marine Band gave it a superb performance last night. A diminutive woman stepped out front, played the bejabbers out of the famous piccolo obbligato and got an ovation. It was a terrific evening of music, martial pomp and patriotism, and I was glad to be a part of it. I strongly recommend that if you visit Washington, you arrange to see the evening parade at 8th and I. There is nothing like it.

August 6, 2005 11:10 AM |

More than a hundred men who were commissioned Marine Corps second lieutenants together a long time ago are gathered at the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia. We visited the Officer Candidate School on the banks of the Potomac where we spent twelve weeks convincing the Corps that we were good enough to be officers, wondering how we had conquered the fearsome obstacle course, survived the twenty-two-mile hikes with eighty-five-pound field packs, studied late, slept little, and came out of it in the best condition of our lives. We watched some of the current crop of officer candidates meeting the same challenges—but wearing more accomodating fatigue uniforms and boots. We marveled at the young women undergoing the same rigors as the men.

It was 100 degrees with 90 percent humidity today when we went into the boondocks to see the quonset huts where we lived for nine months as we trained to be worthy of the gold bars on our collars. The huts have windows now. In that distant August, they were airless metal half-tubes filled with double rows of bunk bed, perfect for roasting half-baked second lieutenants. We joked about the rough times. We became solemn when we talked about the guys who didn’t come back from Viet Nam.

At dinner tonight, the MC read the posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor citation for one of our number, Colonel Donald Cook. Don assumed senior status after he was captured in Viet Nam, stood up to the captors, gave his own food and medicine to those who were in many cases no hungrier or sicker than he and was punished for his leadership and defiance. He died at Phoc Tuy in 1967 following nearly four years of North Vietnamese captivity.

The speaker after dinner was retired Navy Admiral William J. Crowe, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and father of a Marine Corps officer in Iraq. Admiral Crowe praised the Marines for their performance in Iraq. Then he talked about larger questions. He agreed with the Bush administration’s refusal to peremptorily pull out of Iraq. But he said that the US is reaping the consequences of not pre-planning. Far up the list of consequences, he said, is the cost of US operations in Iraq, five billion dollars a month. He concluded that before going into Iraq, or any such challenging situation, the United States should have a balance of three essential elements:

·Sufficient military capability
·Carefully conceived diplomacy
·Well planned, adequate, budgeting

Crowe called for a coordinated plan among all agencies of government, looking ahead to the nation-building he sees as an inevitable responsibility of a superpower in a changing world.

I thought that Rifftides readers would be interested.

August 5, 2005 12:01 AM |

When the Four Freshmen were winning 1950s Down Beat polls as the top vocal group and their recordings were ubiquitous on radios and juke boxes, I was more impressed by their contemporaries, the Hi-Los. The Hi-Los’ mix of voices was richer and more varied, their arrangements more harmonically daring, and the group always sounded as if they were enjoying themselves. I found much of the original Four Freshmens’ work lugubrious.

Well, the Hi-Los are no more, but thank heaven for recordings. I have been listening to the brilliant The Hi-Los And All That Jazz since it came out in 1959. I keep hearing new things in their performance of its brilliant Clare Fischer arrangements. Jack Sheldon’s eight-bar trumpet solo on the bridge of “Then I’ll Be Tired of You” is embedded in my psyche. Inexcusably, Columbia has allowed The Hi-Los And All That Jazz to go out of print, but “Then I’ll Be Tired of You” is included in this compilation.

The Four Freshmen roll on. The original members were Hal Kratzsch, Bob Flanigan and the brothers Ross and Bob Barbour. Kratzsch was succeeded by Ken Errair in 1953 and then Ken Albers in 1956. Flanigan, the last of them, retired in 1992, but the group has continued through a variety of incarnations. It seems to me that the current edition is the best of all, including the original. The new Freshman are Brian Eichenberger, Curtis Calderon, Vince Johnson and Bob Ferreira. Over the past two or three years, they have evolved, retaining the vocal matrix of the Barbour-Flanigan-Kratsch group, adding impressive instrumental musicianship and degrees of subtlety in their new album, The Four Freshmen In Session. Eichenberger, the lead singer, is a more than capable guitarist. Johnson chooses good notes in his bass lines and adds trombone to the textures of the instrumental ensemble. Calderon comes as the real surprise. He is a superb soloist, lyrical on flugelhorn in an intriguing arrangment of “My One and Only Love,” articulating crisply in the high register on trumpet in a seven-bar solo on “It’s All Right With Me,” then ending the piece softly muted over voices in a coda.

I might quarrel with a diction decision or two in the ensemble singing—occasional over-emphasis on consonants (“meaDow,” “ShaDows”)—and with the laconic whistling on a couple of tracks. But, all in all, I find myself enjoying this CD more than I ever thought I would enjoy a Four Freshmen album. They deserve accolades for helping to keep alive the wonderful Bill Carey-Carl Fischer song, “You’ve Changed.” Whoever has the vocal solo on “If I Only Had A Brain” captures the spirit of the song better than anyone since Ray Bolger in The Wizard of Oz.

If you’d like to compare the original Four Freshmen with the new group, Mosaic has issued a box set of their fifties Capitol recordings.

August 4, 2005 1:05 AM |

Rifftides reader Martin Fritter writes,

I've just discovered Benny Carter's alto playing, which seems of absolutely the highest caliber. Could you recommend some basic discs?

With pleasure. This is the best assignment I’ve had in weeks. I envy anyone’s hearing Carter for the first time. He’s one of the great joys of jazz listening—and there is so much of him in so many of his aspects; saxophonist, clarinetist, trumpeter, arranger, composer, leader. There are hundreds of Carter recordings. Even the Carter website offers only a selected discography. All I can give you are a few highlights. Let’s include Sax ala Carter, which I discussed last month in this posting. He recorded that in 1960.

Then, let’s go back thirty-one years before that, to 1929, when Carter was twenty-two years old and playing in a great band with a silly name, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers. He has a solo on “I’d Love It” that shows not only his early mastery of the alto saxophone, but also the close attention he had paid to Louis Armstrong’s phrasing. It comes a minute into the real audio clip of the entire recording. You will find it on this page of the Red Hot Jazz website. Scroll down and click on “I’d Love It.” You will also hear solos by Fats Waller, Coleman Hawkins and the wonderful trombonist Claude Jones.

Another Bluebird collection, All Of Me, has thirteen tracks of Carter’s early 1940s big band. The title number has his magnificent scoring for saxophones and a prime example of his clarinet, which he later dropped from his arsenal. The album also has Carter as a sidemen in five groups from 1934 to 1947, playing a beautifully formed trumpet solo with Willie Bryant’s band on “The Sheik of Araby”, alto sax with an Artie Shaw all-star combo plus strings, and guesting with a band of young boppers led by tenor saxophonist Lucky Thompson. This bountiful collection also presents four of the pieces he co-composed and orchestrated for the late-fifties television series M Squad, with a rare serving of Carter on soprano sax.

The Radio Years 1939-1946 has twenty well-recorded air checks of three editions of Carter’s big band. The 1943 band included several important figures in the swing-to-bop transition, among them J.J. Johnson, Freddy Webster and Curly Russell. In 1946, Miles Davis was in the Carter trumpet section, but he has no identifiable solos here. Carter’s alto solo on “I Can’t Get Started” is one of the loveliest melody statements he, or anyone, ever played.

One of the most astonishing sessions Carter was involved in was someone else’s. In 1939, Vibraharpist Lionel Hampton put together an ad hoc recording band with three of the four reigning tenor sax giants, Chu Berry, Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins (only Lester Young was absent); Carter on alto; young Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet; and a rhythm section of Hampton, pianist Clyde Hart, guitarist Charlie Christian, bassist Milt Hinton and drummer Cozy Cole. They recorded a song Carter had written in England three years earlier, “When Lights Are Low.” It became his most famous composition. The alternate take is the only track with Carter in the rare Hampton CD, The Jumpin’ Jive, which the Rifftides staff managed to track down (so to speak) in a sub-basement of the Amazon website.

In the 1950s, Carter was heavily committed to arranging and scoring work in the Hollywood studios, but he found time to record for Norman Granz’s labels. His sessions with Oscar Peterson’s Trio were notably successful. One of his enduring masterpieces came in 1958 in the Jazz Giant album for the Contemporary label. It reunited him with Ben Webster and brought in west coast luminaries Jimmy Rowles, Andre Previn, Frank Rosolino, Barney Kessel, Leroy Vinnegar and Shelly Manne. It is one of the few jazz albums by anyone that is an unqualified success from its first note to the last. I’ve always thought of the 1962 Swingville CD Benny, Ben & Barney, which I have always thought of as a sort of sequel to Jazz Giant. Webster is on board again, with the Ellington clarinetist Barney Bigard, trumpeter Shorty Sherock, Rowles, Vinnegar, guitarist Dave Barbour and drummer Mel Lewis. It has a splendid version of “When Lights Are Low” and a delicious long performance called “You Can’t Tell The Difference When The Sun Goes Down Blues.”

Finally: One of the great jazz albums of any era, Further Definitions, for which Carter assembled three other great saxophonists—Coleman Hawkins, Phil Woods and Charlie Rouse—and a perfect rhythm section of pianist Dick Katz, bassist Jimmy Garrison, guitarist John Collins and drummer Jo Jones. The latest CD reissue pairs Further Definitions with Carter’s 1966 followup, Additions to Further Definitions, which is almost, but not quite, as good. Hardly anything is.

From there, you’re on your own. Carter continued to record through the sixties, seventies, eighties and much of the nineties. He made a quintet album with Phil Woods, the other member of a mutual admiration society, in 1996, when Carter was eighty-nine years old. He died in 2003, just short of his ninety-sixth birthday, one of the most revered figures in American music.

August 3, 2005 1:05 AM |

Jim Brown writes about a couple of points with which he takes issue in a recent Rifftides piece, Harmony And History.

First, I take great pleasure in sitting in a Starbucks or other small restaurant and hearing QUALITY music in the background (or even the foreground). It appears that Starbucks did a lot to make this practice widespread, and I applaud it. In fact, many of the restaurants that my wife and I patronize for the food have adopted quality jazz as their background.
A few years ago, I walked into a Panera Bread restaurant to hear a track from Clifford, Sonny, and Max's Joy Spring session, and wondering if they had ever guessed that day what masterpieces they were creating, and that the music might not only outlive them, but also become music for the masses.
And on the topic of late night satellite radio, I have no quibble at all with the high quality show that Bob Parlocha does on a hundred or more stations every night. When this show was in the planning stages, an engineer friend who works for WFMT, the syndicator of the show, asked me for suggestions of who might host it. One of those I mentioned was jazz trumpeter Art Hoyle, a Chicagoan who both loves the music (when I'm out listening to someone good, Art is nearly always there too) and whose great voice has long made him a favorite for voiceover work. He didn't get that gig, but he is "voicing" one of the satellite jazz channels (XM or Sirius). He could have a lot to say about all of the music, but I doubt that he does (I don't have a receiver for those sources).
Like many jazz fans of my generation, I was lucky enough to grow up with GREAT jazz radio, and consider it critical to the good health of the art form. Great jazz radio should be both entertainment and education, and the great jazz jocks could do both very well. And I agree that the currently widespread practice of not talking about the music, failing to identify soloist, sidemen, and arrangers, etc. is doing jazz a great disservice. The great jazz jocks I grew up with were my early teachers -- guys like Dick Martin, Sid McCoy, Hugh McPherson, Daddyo Daylie, Harry Abraham, Bill Artis, and Dick Buckley were some of them. Buckley is still on the air in Chicago. The rest are gone. But I'll put Parlocha in their class. I only wish he was on the air in Chicago.

Jim Brown is a distinguished audio expert who, among his other accomplishments, recorded Carmen McRae at Ratso's, that fine two-CD set released a few years after she died.

August 2, 2005 1:05 AM |

I am working tonight in an airport hotel. Tomorrow morning, I shall clamber aboard an airplane and head for Quantico, Virginia, and a reunion with a bunch of guys who took their commissions away from the Marine Corps a long time ago. Most of us haven’t seen each other since. Someone told me that our first reunion event is a twenty-mile forced march with eighty-five-pound field packs followed by hors d'oeuvres and white wine. I think it was a joke—the white wine part. While I’m in the Quantico-Washington-Baltimore-Annapolis area, I’ll do a few book interviews and a signing or two. If anything happens that I think you might find interesting, I’ll post at once. In the meantime, I have prepared a few tidbits that will appear over the next few days. Watch this space. Bring friends.

August 2, 2005 1:04 AM |

I made a one-day trip to the Centrum Port Townsend (Washington) jazz festival over the weekend for a book signing and to hear as much music as I could take in. Copies of Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond moved quite nicely, thank you.

The music I heard was in the four-hour Saturday afternoon concert in Fort Warden State Park's McCurdy Pavilion (no, it's not named for Roy McCurdy). The opener was bassist Christian McBride's quartet with saxophonist Ron Blake, drummer Terrion Gully, and pianist John Beasley subbing for Geoff Keezer. McBride stunned the packed house with his virtuosity and swing. Blake never fails to impress me, particularly on tenor sax, and he was in great form. Gully is a young powerhouse. With little notice, no rehearsal time with the band and barely a sound check, Beasley more than held his up his end. But it was a disappointment that, with a perfectly good Steinway concert grand sitting there, he spent most of his time on a Fender-Rhodes electric piano and a synthesizer.

In his introduction of pianist Kenny Barron, John Clayton emphasized Barron's keyboard touch. Then, in four duets with violinist Regina Carter, Barron demonstrated his touch, time and exquisitely honed harmonic sense. The crowd responded with long, loud enthusiasm to the duo's sensitive approach to "Don't Explain," and again to the set closer, "Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise," also a highlight of their Free Fall CD.

Clayton wrapped up the afternoon conducting a spirited set of Count Basie pieces by the festival big band that included tenor saxophonist Ricky Woodard, trumpeter Byron Stripling and drummer Gary Hobbs. Bruce Forman supplied rhythm guitar and proved that he understands the mixture of strength and subtlety with which Freddie Green propelled the Basie band. Pianist Bill Mays proved that he understood Basie. Carmen Bradford sang three songs with the band and captivated the crowd. By the time the band signed off with "One O'clock Jump," jumping had been persuasively defined and Clayton seemed to have firmly established himself as the festival's new artistic director. Not all of the bitterness has dissipated after the clumsy dismissal of Bud Shank in that role a year ago, but attendance and enthusiasm seem to indicate that the Port Townsend festival is viable.

August 1, 2005 1:05 AM |

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Rifftides in August 2005.

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