Rifftides: February 2006 Archives

DevraDoWrite is trying to answer a question from one of her blogees. This is it:

In 1966, the Hampton Hawes trio (with Red Mitchell & Donald Bailey) recorded ‘live’ for Contemporary Records at Mitchell’s Studio Club in Los Angeles (the ‘Mitchell’ in question was no relation to Red, the bassist). Two LP albums were subsequently issued: The Séance and I’m All Smiles. My question is: Do you – or does anyone among your many readers happen to recall the address of this particular club?

Phil Woods and Ray Bryant also recorded at Mitchell's. I have no further clues.

February 28, 2006 3:09 PM | | Comments (1)

If you direct your attention to the right-hand column and scroll down, you will come upon the new batch of Doug's Picks. At the top of that column in "About," the Rifftides staff makes the assumption that people who follow jazz are also interested in other matters. The book pick this time around may be, at least in literature, the ultimate Other Matter.

February 28, 2006 1:07 AM | | Comments (0)

Nice piece of writing by Ben Ratliff in today's New York Times. He covered the concert in which 87-year-old Gerald Wilson took over the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Ratfliff reports that Wilson "hijacked the evening."

Mr. Wilson made the show an exclamation point. He stalked the front of the stage, his white mane turned to the audience and his piercing eyes trained on the band. His body was tuned to the music — dislodging rich, overstuffed harmonies of brass and reeds and quelling them, socking his right fist into his left hand to drive the rhythm section harder, ending songs crisply.

To read the whole thing, go here.

February 25, 2006 3:04 PM | | Comments (1)

The Portland Jazz Festival ends on Sunday, but the main events took place last weekend. Here are samples of my impressions, from a long review for Jazz Times.

McCoy Tyner’s trio with bassist Charnett Moffett and drummer Eric Gravatt played the opening concert. Before a capacity audience in the gargantuan grand ballroom of the Portland Hilton, Tyner pulled out the stops, meaning that on a dynamic scale of 10, he kept the music between 8.5 and 10. A monster sound system, suited to a rock concert in a stadium, grossly over amplified Moffett’s bass so that Gravatt had no choice but to compensate with full drum power. What could Tyner do but lean into the piano with all of his considerable strength, exaggerating his natural tendencies.

On Dee Dee Bridgewater:

The one American song was Neal Hefti’s “Girl Talk.” Bridgewater announced it as strictly for the women in the audience. She sang it in French, then English. As it progressed, she morphed from sophisticated Parisienne into a Della Reese/Pearl Bailey persona and converted the song into a sketch about picking up a man in a bar, taking him home to bed, then dismissing him without their ever learning one another’s names. If that sounds earthy and outrageous, it was, explicitly so, with illustrative body language. It was ”just between us girls” and it was very funny.

On Bill Frisell:

Scherr and Roberts, the cellist, began a series of unison chromatic lines leading into another segue transition. Suddenly Frisell’s guitar was in solo on a peaceful melody as the strings made a transition from free playing to a folk melody. Behind them, Scherr raised the intensity with an arco solo, then the activity decreased back toward peacefulness, but it was a more troubling peace, a dissonant, polytonal, Schoenbergian peace that didn’t end but melded into Frisell playing heavy guitar over a slow, insistent waltz beat.

To read the whole thing, go to the JazzTimes website.

Have a good weekend.

February 24, 2006 10:21 AM | | Comments (0)

Fine commentary on Earl Hines' rightful place in jazz legend. You might also have mentioned how indebted Nat Cole was to the Fatha and how Nat is also often unrecognized today for the giant he was--most people seem to remember him as just a singer.

He exhibited the same joy and exuberance in his playing that Hines did and need not have ever sung a note in order to be always remembered.

Jack Tracy

I couldn't agree more with the former editor of Down Beat about Nat Cole's greatness as a pianist. In addition to the qualities Mr. Tracy mentions, Cole's keyboard touch and advanced harmonic concept influenced almost all modern jazz pianists who came after him, including Bud Powell, Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans. Considering the impact those three alone had on the course of jazz piano, it is clear that the multiplier effect of Cole's example pervades the music. He had other influences—Teddy Wilson, Billy Kyle—but Hines was his primary inspiration, and Cole often acknowledged him. Hines' effect on Cole is directly apparent on the earliest King Cole Trio recordings on Decca. There are even more refined examples of it in his "Body and Soul" solo from the first Jazz At The Philharmonic concert in 1944, in "Lester Leaps In," and most dramatically in "Tea for Two." You can also plainly hear Hines in the way Cole comps at JATJP behind Shorty Sherock, Jack McVea, Les Paul, and Illinois Jacquet on "Rosetta." On the same album, his exchange of two-bar phrases with Les Paul in a chase sequence on the blues demonstrates the exuberance Jack mentions, as well as Cole's lightning musical reflexes and his love of risk-taking. Nat Cole's spectacular, and deserved, popular success as a singer eclipsed his role as a pianist, but his enduring musical importance came at the keyboard.

I'm glad that Jack raised this point about Cole. It sent me to the shelves to dig out the JATP album. I hadn't heard it in years. I haven't had more listening fun in weeks, even unto the tenor sax honks and squeals of McVea and Jacquet. Sixty years later, they seem not gratuitously outrageous, but amusing. I suspect that is how they were intended. Not the least of the CD's pleasures is hearing the young trombonist J.J. Johnson making the transition from swing to bop.


In a confluence of recent Rifftides topics...

I took my 11-year-old step son and 4-year-old daughter to a Maynard Ferguson Big Bop Nouveau concert at a local high school last night. The high school's big band opened for them.

During the first tune, after a couple of solos and the traditional after-solo applause, my daughter leaned over to me and asked, "are they going to play straight through, or stop between songs?" I said, "no, they will stop between songs," to which she replied, "then why are we clapping while the music is still playing?"

Jeff Albert

My kind of 11-year-old.

February 24, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

In my Maria Schneider report a few weeks ago, I speculated about the economics of moving large congregations of musicians around the country. It turns out, according to DevraDoWrite, that the speculation was on target. The difference between Devra and me is that she has the inside facts. A sampling:

Having been Maria’s manager at one time, I know that she pays her musicians well (especially compared to some other leaders) and that on occassion she has netted less on a gig than anyone else in the band. I have even seen her take a loss (yes, pay out of her own pocket) because for the sake of the music she wants more rehearsal time and pays for that as well. Add in manager and agent commissions and an artist’s slice of the pie is often just a sliver.

Devra's posting has a review of the Los Angeles concert that included the new commission piece Schneider debuted there. To read the whole thing, go to Maria Schneider at Disney Hall.

February 24, 2006 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

Under Other Places in the right-hand column, you will find a new link, to Jazz Scene, a site operated by the British journalist David Fishel. Jazz Scene is rather like an internet radio station over which the listener has scheduling control. Mr. Fishel's specialty is interviews with musicians. He intersperses the conversations with music by his guests, rather as Rebecca Kilgore did in her short-lived and lamented On The Road series. His current subject is the Italian pianist Enrico Pieranunzi. In his "Show Files" link, he has programs with musicians as varied as Dianne Reeves, Svend Asmussen, Charlie Hunter, Horace Silver, Marilyn Crispell and Roger Kellaway. Good listening.

Even though Terry Teachout's About Last Night is linked under AJ Blogs, I linked him again in Other Places just to be sure you don't miss his and Our Girl In Chicago's terrific omnibus nexus of culture. Visit them often, but please come back. Bring your friends.

February 24, 2006 1:03 AM | | Comments (0)

Although most modern jazz pianists don’t acknowledge the fact or don’t know it, modern jazz piano begins with Earl Hines. For the most dramatic evidence, listen closely to Hines in the 1920s, especially in the mind-blowing “Weatherbird” duet with Louis Armstrong or his QRS recordings from 1928, "Chicago High Life," for instance. (Follow the link, then scroll down to hear it.) You can bet that Bud Powell studied that chording left hand and those “trumpet” passages in the right hand and knew them inside out. Hines is recognized by older musicians, historians and critics as one of the most important figures in American music. It is a mystery why younger musicians, who could benefit from familiarity with his playing, don’t study it. Fortunately, there is at least one exception. Nearly twenty-three years after Hines’s death at seventy-nine, Harold Danko has recorded a tribute to the seminal musician whom his sidemen quite justly nicknamed Fatha when he was in his twenties.

Danko includes an obscure 1923 Hines composition, “Congaine” into which he fits references to Powell, as if to emphasize the line of descent. The album is called Hinesight. It is a collection of a dozen Hines pieces played by Danko, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Jeff Hershfield. Danko, too little appreciated as one of the most adventurous and far-sighted post-Bill Evans pianists, is on the faculty of the Eastman School. He brings an educator’s zeal to his Hines project. His interpretations, however, are about as far from academic exercises as one can imagine. He makes 7/4 time for “Deep Forest,” 5/4 for “You Can Depend on Me” and a leisurely samba 6/4 for “Ann, Wonderful One” sound as if Hines meant them to be played that way. “Rosetta” gets a snappier bossa nova treatment and a slight revision of its chord changes.

Danko plays three of the QRS pieces, “Stowaway,” “A Monday Date” and “Blues in Thirds,” a trademark composition that Hines revisited all of his life and relished filling with surprises. It is a splendid CD. I can imagine Earl hearing that rollicking “Congaine” and, all smiles, giving Danko one of his patented compliments, “Well done, young man, well done.”

After hearing a Hines performance in New Orleans in 1980, I wrote that he was, “if anything, an even more ferociously experimental creator than he was at twenty-three.” Here is a little more from that chapter of Jazz Matters.

Rummaging in the basement of the keyboard, applying rococo layers of chords in the middle and a lightning scattering of tenths on top, erecting arhythmic passages that somehow continue the beat, taking pauses that suggest a gliding eagle surveying possibilities, Hines is in full cry, eyes closed, head back, grimacing in intellectural strain and the ecstacy of creation. Possessed of a tone with the brilliance of polished metal and fingers with the speed of pistons, he indulges himself in the surprises he loves: runs, curlicues, doodads, pizzazz, castles in the air, tension, release, single and multiple explosions, harmonic excursions into unknown territory, feats of metric foolery. Conversation stops and the noisiest drunken life underwriter is compelled to listen. Other pianists look anxious; this is clearly impossible, and the impossibility has nothing to do with technique. That is why there has never been a successful Hines imitator. The imitation would have to go beyond notes. The most meticulously written transcription could not capture the joyous rage, the abandon, the whimsy.

This CD, recorded a couple of years earlier in New Orleans at Le Club, has moments of Hines at the top of his game, with a dynamite ”Blue Skies” and a “Wolverine Blues” full of tremolos and cascades that might have made even Jelly Roll Morton smile at what his young admirer did with his tune.

February 23, 2006 12:05 AM | | Comments (0)

In the next day or so, I'll post impressions of the Portland Jazz Festival, including performances by McCoy Tyner, Miguel Zenon, Bill Frisell, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dave Peck and Lynn Darroch.

We're overdue for new Doug's Picks. Watch this space or, more accurately, the space in the right-hand column.

And let us hear from you. The Rifftides staff loves to get your comments.

February 23, 2006 12:04 AM | | Comments (0)

Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond has been running neck and neck with Frank Sinatra: The Life as best-selling book on jazz at the Barnes and Noble website. Yesterday we were first. Today we're second.

And you thought the Winter Olympics were exciting.

February 23, 2006 12:03 AM | | Comments (0)

Signing books at the Portland Jazz Festival Saturday evening, I was pleased to meet Joe Maita, the proprietor of the web site called Jerry Jazz Musician. He reminded me that I took part in his exercise asking a number of musicians, writers and other people in the jazz community to designate recording sessions they wish they had attended. The other respondents for Joe's first installment were Ingrid Jensen, David Liebman, Jane Ira Bloom, Lalo Schifrin, Herman Leonard, Lee Tanner, Buddy Bregman, Bill Moody and Tim Brooks. Here is the first part of Ms. Jensen's answer:

It’s all Miles dates for me. From Kind of Blue, to Nefertiti, Amandla and beyond. If I were to pick one session (actually sessions) it would be the Plugged Nickel. Even before reading Wayne Shorter’s book (Footprints) I found fresh energy and heavy inspiration from the playing of the entire band, especially Wayne.

From Jane Ira Bloom:

I wish I could have been sitting in a front row table at the Village Vanguard when Bill Evans recorded The Village Vanguard Sessions with his trio with Paul Motion and Scott LaFaro.

To see everyone's reply, click here.

February 20, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)
At this time the fashion is to bring something to jazz that I reject. They speak of freedom. But one has no right, under pretext of freeing yourself, to be illogical and incoherent by getting rid of structure and simply piling a lot of notes one on top of the other. There’s no beat anymore. You can’t keep time with your foot. I believe that what is happening to jazz with people like Ornette Coleman, for instance, is bad. There’s a new idea that consists in destroying everything and find what’s shocking and unexpected; whereas jazz must first of all tell a story that anyone can understand. —Thelonious Monk
Now, can you tell me a story? —Lester Young (after listening to a pyrotechnic display by a young hotdog saxophonist).
February 17, 2006 1:06 AM | | Comments (3)

We've had our political disagreements in the past, but your post on the Voice of America was spot on. I read the editorial in the Washington Times yesterday and was appalled at the cuts. The funding (peanuts, when you think about it) should be dramatically increased, for all of the reasons you mentioned. How quickly we forget. The VOA was a beacon for freedom for Eastern Europe in the days of the Iron Curtain and could well serve the same purpose today. Sometimes the President's policies are simply bewildering to this conservative.

I plan to join you in making my displeasure known. Hope other readers will do the same.

Willis Conover is a most deserving candidate for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. I met him back in the mid-'70s when I was writing for CashBox and Down Beat. A true gentleman. Why we so neglect our cultural heritage and its leading citizens is a mystery to me. But that's a whole nuther story.

—Steven Marks

February 17, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

The Bush administration's attempt to use the war on terrorism as an excuse to destroy the Voice of America angers me. I sent the message below to my senators and congressman and a few other senators who I thought might understand what's at stake. I hope that you will consider taking similar action. Most of the senators' and representatives' web sites provide easy ways to send them e-mail messages.

I urge you to fight the Bush administration's budget cuts that would result in the Voice of America stopping or reducing English Language news broadcasts. At a time when the US image around the world is soiled, we need continuation of the objective shortwave news programs whose very existence has informed millions about our nation, not to mention helping them learn English so that they might better understand what The United States of America stands for. This proposed budget cut would effectively disable one of the few official cultural exchange vehicles left to us. Please discuss this with your Senate and House colleagues and do all that you can to preserve the VOA.

I am unaccustomed to doing this sort of thing, in great part because a life in journalism has conditioned me to maintain public objectivity in matters of public policy. However, objectivity in this matter won't get me, or you, or the United States anywhere. For the facts in the story so far, and quotes from both sides, go here.

Even on the opinion page of The Washington Times, rarely noted for reservations about Bush policies, the alarm is going up about this misguided move.

Now that the administration is chipping away at the VOA with the apparent aim of dismantling or neutering it, I don't suppose there is a snowball's chance that one of the Voice's major heroes will get a presidential medal of freedom posthumously. Willis Conover still deserves it, as he did when he was alive. To read why, go here.

February 16, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

This weekend, I will be in Oregon for the third Portland Jazz Festival. Headliners are McCoy Tyner, Ravi Coltrane, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Stefon Harris, Miguel Zenon, Eddie Palmieri, Susan Werner and Bill Frisell’s Unspeakable Orchestra. With live audiences, I’ll be conducting two Jazz Times Before & After sessions, one with Zenon at 10:30 Saturday morning, the other with Frisell at 1:00 Sunday afternoon. If you are not familiar with the Before & After audio quiz, go here. For a detailed festival schedule, go here.

At 7:00 Saturday evening, preceding the Bridgewater concert, I’ll be signing copies of Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond. It would be wonderful to say hello to Rifftiders who attend the festival.

February 15, 2006 1:00 AM | | Comments (0)

The great tenor saxophonist, composer, arranger and wit Al Cohn died 18 years ago tomorrow. He and his frequent tenor sax partner Zoot Sims were so closely associated, so compatible in every respect that they were often mentioned as if they were a single entity named Alan Zoot. As quick and inventive with words as he was with notes, Cohn was celebrated for his bon mots. Here are a few:

On being offered a Danish beer of the brand called Elephant—“Oh, no, I drink to forget.”

Handing a banknote to a drunken panhandler, then pulling it back—“Wait a minute, how do I know you won’t spend this on food?”

Acquaintance: Where are you living these days?
Cohn: Oh, I’m living in the past.

“Free jazz—like playing tennis without a net.”

When I was covering the White House and Watergate in 1973, I flew out of the Westchester County airport in White Plains, New York, to Washington on Sunday nights or Monday mornings and stayed in DC until late Friday. UPITN put me up at a place near its bureau south of the capitol, the Airline Inn. For a few weeks, Al Cohn was also staying there. He was polishing the orchestration for the musical Raisin, which was breaking in before it moved to Broadway. Most mornings, Al and I met for breakfast and talked about his work, my work, music, the state of the world, anything and everything. Then, he was off to the theater and I was off to a hearing room on the hill or a briefing by the White House press secretary. Those breakfasts with Al are among my fondest memories. After that I didn't see him often, except in passing at a festival or in a club.

In the eighties, I was living and working in Los Angeles. Toward the end of 1988, a few weeks before he died, Al played at a place in Toluca Lake, the Money Tree. The rhythm section was pianist Ross Tompkins, drummer Nick Martinis and, as I recall, Chuck Berghofer on bass. Despite his obvious deterioration, Al's playing was the most moving I had ever heard from him. The pianist Lou Levy heard Al much more extensively than I did, beginning in the 1940s when they were with Woody Herman. He had the same impression of Cohn's playing at the Money Tree. Al was deep, measured and thoughtful that night, and swung with astonishing power. He sat with us between sets. We talked about Zoot. He told us that the last time they played together, when Zoot was dying, he was astonished that his friend could get on the stand, let alone lift the horn, but that he played as if he were twenty-five. "I don't know where it came from," Al said.

I know. It came from the same place in Al, the heart.

If you are thinking of building a Cohn collection—a splendid idea—here are three CDs you might start with:

You 'n Me, one of his finest collaborations with Zoot.

Nonpareil, with a quartet including Lou Levy.

Heavy Love, a masterpiece of duo playing, with pianist Jimmy Rowles.

February 14, 2006 1:06 AM | | Comments (2)

We'll be moving on to other matters now, but you'll find interesting comments on the Maynard Ferguson dispute or discussion, or whatever it was, here and here.

February 14, 2006 1:05 AM |

In the 1940s and early 1950s, a stretch of Central Avenue in Los Angeles was prime jazz territory. Hampton Hawes, Eric Dolphy, Don Cherry, Vi Redd and Billy Higgins learned and developed in clubs and jam sessions there, alongside veterans including Dexter Gordon, Roy Porter, Charles Mingus and Jack McVea. In recent years, fortunes along Central have declined, but help is on the way. A story by Jean Merl in Sunday's Los Angeles Times gives details.

Nearly half a century has passed since Central Avenue slipped out of the limelight as the jazz mecca and heart of African American Los Angeles.

Long gone are the bustling eateries, shops and nightspots that had lined the once-vibrant street, then known to locals as simply "the Avenue."

The famed Dunbar Hotel, which was host to such musical greats as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Lena Horne in the 1930s and '40s, currently houses low-income residents and social service agencies.

The neighborhood now is predominantly Latino and poor, with careworn storefronts, most sporting signs in Spanish.

But city officials hope to recapture some of the Avenue's past glory with a $500,000 revitalization plan approved by the Community Redevelopment Agency.

To read the whole thing, go here.

February 13, 2006 1:06 AM | | Comments (1)

Regarding John Salmon's communique about Maynard Ferguson, a musician and historian writes:


John Salmon would have made his case for Maynard Ferguson better without the hyperbolic prose. For example:

1) "Some, like his Roulette era albums of 1958-1962, and are unrivaled by anyone, including Basie and Ellington."

I think that Ferguson's '57-'65 bands were among the best of their time, but I've never heard even the most hyper-partisans of MF make a claim like Salmon's. "Endless taste wars" indeed, Mr. Salmon--I suspect that Maynard himself would blush.

2) "I love Maria Schneider, but name one kid drawn into jazz by her music."

As a musician who teaches jazz at three universities and does clinics on three continents, I've observed much student interest in Maria's music.

3) "And many of the guys in her bands came up through MF's bands."

I know most of Maria's players (male *and* female, by the way) personally, and I know of only two who are MF alumni: Tim Ries and Keith O'Quinn. I may be missing at most one or two. A number of others are Woody Herman, Gerry Mulligan, and Buddy Rich alumni.

—Bill Kirchner

And one is a graduate of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra. Tenor saxophonist Rich Perry was with Jones-Lewis, then the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, and now plays in the current incarnation of those bands, The Vanguard Orchestra, as well as in Schneider's.

February 13, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (3)

John Salmon writes about the Rifftides review of Maria Schneider at Jazz Alley:

I'm amazed that anyone could write a piece on big bands and not mention Maynard Ferguson's band, which is on the road 200 days a year. How is it possible to do a piece on big bands and ignore the one touring band still out there? Yes, there are larger groups that don't tour (MF has 10 pieces, including himself), but who's reaching the public, especially young people, for jazz?
Many critics like to dump on Maynard, but almost any MF album, other than the last few he did for Columbia in the 70's, (when Freddie Hubbard and many other jazzmen were doing similarly dubious albums), is at least good. Some, like his Roulette era albums of 1958-1962, and are unrivaled by anyone, including Basie and Ellington. I love Maria Schneider, but name one kid drawn into jazz by her music. And many of the guys in her bands came up through MF's bands.
Maynard's drawn many thousands, as players and listeners, into this music. Before you scoff at Maynard as a player, note that Ellington wanted him on his band, and asked him to join several times. The question is, will jazz be "art music" solely, with no broad audience, or will it be music that retains at least enough popularity to employ all the music school graduates you spoke of?
I could list all the great players that came up through Maynard's bands, but just talking about tenor players there are-Wayne Shorter, Joe Farrell, Don Menza, Carmen Leggio, Nino Tempo, Lou Tabackin, Mark Colby...and writers including Bill Holman (who you mentioned), Quincy Jones, Al Cohn, Johnny Mandel, Don Sebesky, Mike Abene, Jaki Byard, Kenny Wheeler, and dozens of others.
I'm upset about this, because the failure to mention Maynard is symptomatic of the cliquish nature of writing about the music. It's not "Maynard or Maria"-it's both. What about Chris Botti? Far too popular to get a mention here, no doubt. A fine player who deserves all the kudos he can get...and a far more interesting player than Wynton Marsalis.
Jazz's endless taste wars are foolish and destructive. Dixie v. swing? Why not both? Bop v. swing? Why not both? Coltrane or Getz? Why not both? Why do we have to choose? For a while there, no critic had a word to say about any tenor player not named Coltrane.
Why not also promote talented people who are producing good music and who are able to maintain what little public interest there is in jazz? Unless there's simply more snob appeal in being a fan of, and writer about, unpopular music.
—John Salmon

I disagree with little in Mr. Salmon's comment, but I am not content to be set up as the straw man he wants to knock down.

I did not write "a piece on big bands." I wrote a piece on Maria Schneider's big band, prefacing the review portion with a few remarks on changed economic circumstances that generally keep big bands off the road.

My not mentioning Ferguson is not "symptomatic of the cliquish nature of writing about the music." It is symptomatic of the fact that Ferguson does not now have a big band, regardless of its name (Big Bop Nouveau). Ten pieces add up to a medium-sized band, fourteen or more to a big one.

"Many critics" may "like to dump on Maynard." I do not. Nor can I recall ever "scoffing at him as a player." As an owner-operator of trumpets, I would be drummed out of the trumpet corps.

If Mr. Salmon thinks I fall into the category of critics who categorize music and promote "endless taste wars," he hasn't read much of my stuff. I invite him to do so.

February 11, 2006 3:45 PM | | Comments (4)

There was a time when big jazz bands were so numerous and held in such esteem that the best of them might show up virtually anywhere in the United States, no matter how small the town: Duke Ellington in Fargo, North Dakota; Artie Shaw in Palacios, Texas; Woody Herman in Eugene, Oregon; Stan Kenton in Redlands, California; Count Basie in a succession of one-nighters across the upper Midwest. It was an era in which good music and popular music were often one and the same. The swing era thrived for only a decade or so. The bonanza of big bands began to fade in the late forties. By the end of the 1950s, it had pretty much played out. Now, most of the big bands that tour are attached to the names of dead leaders. They tend to play country clubs, corporate functions and—now and then—private parties of the wealthy.

There are, of course, innovative large jazz ensembles, among them The Vanguard Orchestra, the Bill Holman Band, the Mingus Big Band, Bob Brookmeyer’s New Arts Orchestra, the Jon Faddis New York Band, The Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, the Blue Wisp Big Band, the Columbus Jazz Orchestra, the Mike Vax band, Holland’s amazing Metropole Orchestra, Germany’s powerhouse WDR Big Band and, perhaps most discussed these days, the Maria Schneider Orchestra. Chains of one-nighters used to draw bands across the country, providing music for millions and, at the swing era’s peak, employment and experience for thousands of young musicians. The supply of jazz players today is large, the demand for them small. The primary law of economics dictates that the few big bands mostly stay put, rehearsing regularly and working rarely—once a week when they’re lucky, and usually for little money. When they do travel, it is often to big European festivals, seldom to those in the U.S.

It is unusual, nearly unheard of, for a big band based on the east coast to tour in the west, so when the Maria Schneider Orchestra played Seattle’s Jazz Alley for two nights this week, the club was packed. Whether that indicates hunger for the music or response to all the publicity she has been getting lately is beside the point. The evening I was there, 350 people listened with concentration and appreciation to a cross-section of Schneider’s compositions from her five albums. She also unveiled two new pieces.

“Some nights are better than others,” the band’s baritone saxophonist, Scott Robinson, said afterward at the bar. “This was a good one.” Good for the band and for Robinson. His solo over the langorous subtleties of Schneider’s suspended ensemble backgrounds in “Sea of Tranquility” displayed his technical control and emotional range from the big horn’s deep bottom to its altissimo top, where most baritone players do not or cannot go. Robinson’s judiciously applied throat sounds and split tones contributed to the logic and beauty of the solo. In its creativity it was miles beyond what he did with the piece in Schneider’s 2000 CD Allegresse. Robinson has played it dozens of times since. Familiarity breeds insights.

It is a writer’s band, and the writer populates it with musicians who play her demanding compositions with virtuoso skill and provide ensemble cohesiveness that can come only from long, close association. Most of the band’s members have been with Schneider as long as Robinson has. They are from the cream of New York players and include some of the music’s most individual improvisers in a period of jazz not overflowing with individuality. Among the memorable soloists at Jazz Alley was Steve Wilson on "Sky Blue," a new composition. Schneider told the audience that she wrote it after a friend died. It is a hymn, not a dirge. Wilson’s soprano saxophone tone has breadth and depth rather than the pinched snake-charmer sound favored by many who play the horn. His solo was a marvel of structural unity and passionate delivery. “He took my breath away,” said the woman on the next bar stool, “he’s beautiful.” (The bar is the best place in Jazz Alley for sight lines and balanced sound. Don’t tell anyone; I want to be able to get a seat there the next time.)

A new Schneider piece,“The Pretty Road,” is yet to be recorded, something to anticipate. It has to do with her memories of growing up in Windom, Minnesota, “the environment of my past,” she said. She has layered into it little references to things she recalls—church music, childhood songs, a meadowlark, the sight of the town from a hilltop at night. It is program music of a high order. She featured on flugelhorn and trumpet Ingrid Jensen, who soloed with the self-editing of increased maturity that leavens her spirited virtuosity. The dynamics of Schneider’s ensembles in the piece were meticulously shaped—almost micro-managed—by her graceful but definite conducting.

As the band was about to launch into its final number, a woman in the audience cried out, “Why don’t you sing, Maria?” Ah, of course, a pretty woman on a bandstand must be a singer. Every female jazz musician has dealt with the stereotyping a hundred times. Schneider responded with good humor, “Some night I’m going to do that. I’ll sing ‘My Ideal,’ and you’ll go running.”

Through the evening, there were fine solo moments from trombonist Rock Ciccarone, alto saxophonist Charles Pillow, Greg Gisbert on trumpet and flugelhorn, pianist Frank Kimbrough, tenor saxophonist Rich Perry and, in the flamenco surge of “Buleria, Soleá Y Rumba,” a wild few moments from tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin. McCaslin’s ardor was so appropriate to the spirit of the music, his solo so entwined with Schneider’s ensemble passages that when a man at the bar was moved to give a loud whoop, dagger stares from those around him discouraged further interference. It was a listening crowd. John Wikan on cajon and Peruvian percussionist Hugo Alcaraz swelled the band to twenty members for this three-part Spanish extravaganza. Following Gisbert’s memorable flugelhorn solo, the interaction among Wikan, Alcaraz and drummer Clarence Penn, punctuated hilariously by Penn’s cowbell triplets, concluded in a feat of rhythmic precision that brought the piece to an abrupt halt, setting off a joyous roar from the audience. Now it was okay to whoop.

Maria Schneider does not sing. She writes music. Her band sings it for her.

February 10, 2006 12:37 AM | | Comments (1)

On OH! Say

Love your column and read it faithfully every day. Actually, the "Star-Spangled Banner" is a glorious and thrilling and quite triumphant melody and, if you think about it, is a pretty potent anthem, while "God Bless America" (tune I'm talking about here) is the worst sentimental garbage. The problem with "Star" is that it is difficult in that it has an innate theatricality, a grand opera quality, that is totally destroyed if you "pop music" it in any style; gospel, R&B, country, whatever. It takes a well-trained, classically-produced tone to reveal the melody in all its glory. If you can sing something "straight" and in tune and you have beautiful high notes, you're in. Now, Aaron Neville can do that - I didn't hear the performance but it sounds like too many cooks spoiling the broth - unnecessary. Aaron Neville has a beautiful voice and is representative enough of New Orleans - why were the other two even necessary - so much of these big spectacles is overdone and worthless from a sheer performers' point of view. I wonder what kind of mess they will make of the Grammy's this year.
—Vicki Seldon

Two points: (1.) When I wrote "God Bless America," I meant "America The Beautiful." Mea culpa. (2.) An evaluation of Mr. Neville's vocal quality is a matter of taste and stylistic preference. At the Super Bowl, whether because of nervousness, bad luck or bad material, he used his voice poorly.

February 9, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (2)
Hal Wilner (sometimes spelt Willner on the web), the producer, has put together some extraordinary collaborations on his tribute records to Mingus, Nino Rota, Monk, Poe, Weill and Disney. What's more, most of them work. One of my favourites is Ringo Starr, Ken Nordine, Bill Frisell, Herb Alpert and Wayne Horvitz doing "When You Wish Upon A Star" on Stay Awake: Interpretations of Vintage Disney Films (1988). On this CD you also can experience perhaps the segue to end all segues - Sun Ra to Harry Nilsson!
I was also lucky (and old) enough to see many of the 20 episodes of NBC's Night Music with David Sanborn when Hal was Producer. Couplings such as Sonny Rollins with Leonard Cohen, or Phil Woods with the NRBQ (New Rhythm and Blues Quartet) were not uncommon. Bring them out on DVD someone!
—John Kieffer

The collection of performers on Stay Awake is even more eclectic than Mr. Kieffer indicates. The CD also includes Suzanne Vega, Yma Sumac, Bonnie Raitt, The Replacements, Garth Hudson, Los Lobos, Betty Carter, Buster Poindexter and His Banshees of Blue, and James Taylor. Tom Waits sings, or rasps, “Heigh Ho” from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Aaron Neville of Super Bowl notoriety does the “Mickey Mouse March.”

February 7, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (2)

The digital doctor and his aide have ministered to my invaluable, but not irreplaceable, electronic assistant, Mr. Dell. 'Ol Dell is feeling considerably perkier and moving from task to task with dispatch. I think he'll make it, after all. (Hat in the air. Spin Around. Big smile. Music up and out.) If you don't get that, you haven't watched the right reruns lately.

Speaking of up and out, I'm headed over the mountains to Seattle today to transact a bit of business and listen to the Maria Schneider Orchestra at Jazz Alley. I just learned from Jon Wikan that he will be adding his cajon to the rhythm section, bringing the size of the band to twenty. There must be staggering economics involved in transporting a big band from New York to the west, then up and down the coast. I'm glad that it can still be done.

There will be no new posts for a couple of days; I'm traveling sans laptop. I'll plan to publish a report on the performance when I return to duty.

February 7, 2006 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

Introducing yesterday's rendering (word chosen with care) of the national anthem at the Super Bowl, the booth announcer said that it was to be, in part, a tribute to New Orleans. Hasn't that unfortunate city suffered enough? Granted, "The Star Spangled Banner" is a miserable piece of music and our national anthem should be "God Bless America," but Francis Scott Keys' song did not deserve the trashing it received from Aaron Neville, Aretha Franklin and Dr. John. By comparison, the Seahawks got off lightly. Not only was the treatment a bad idea, but it was a bad idea poorly executed. The Rolling Stones might have done it better. Shame on everyone involved.

February 6, 2006 12:10 PM | | Comments (0)

It was a full weekend, full of the Superbowl and full of maddening computer and server glitches. The down periods were frequent and frustrating. The beast is running for the moment, so we'll post recent correspondence. I'm hoping for a return to complete online health after the digital doctor makes a house call. (DR)

February 6, 2006 1:07 AM | | Comments (0)

There must be a whiff of country in the winter air.


One more for the books—that works—Gatemouth Brown and Roy Clark, Makin' Music. It's listed as a country album, but it's really Louis Jordan with a twang. The tunes include "Take the A Train" and "Caldonia," and the band includes Airto Moreira on percussion and the Memphis Horns.

It may be slightly off topic, but with that cast I couldn't resist adding it to the list.

—Peter Levin


I also have a soft spot for Gary Burton playing with banjo icon Sonny Osborne on "Tennessee Firebird." (1962) It's more a display of Burton being able to play in Bluegrass rhythm than of Osborne being able to do jazz rhythms, but it's very enjoyable.

—Anson Young

(DR responds)

Furthermore, it is an instance of drummer Roy Haynes kicking jazz and country behind in equal measure, so to speak. Haynes is also the drummer on Oliver Nelson's The Blues and the Abstract Truth. If you want a real hoot, play Nelson's "Hoe Down" and Burton's "Tennessee Firebird" back to back.

"Wee-hah," as they say, or holler, down yonder.


Re your "Odd Couple" pairings, here is one that may shock you, but you ought to try and find it someday: Dorothy Collins and Barney Kessel!! That's right! They did an album together in the Fifties called "Songs by Dorothy Collins", which I remember very well. She was the "girl next door" pop singer on the "Hit Parade" TV show, and was never known as a jazz singer, but on this one album she selected some great standard ballads, put together a great rhythm section of Barney with an unknown bassist and drummer, and she really delivered a very credible jazz set -- sort of an early Susannah McCorkle. She was probably chafing for years, singing all those pop songs, and secretly harboring a desire to be a real jazz cabaret vocalist. The album revealed a lovely voice with perfect pitch, a great rhythmic sense, crystal clear diction and great sensitivity to the lyrics. I'll look for a copy on e-bay!

—Mal Harris

A search of internet music outlets, including e-bay, turns up references to the album, but no indication that it is available.

February 6, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)
Might the moral of the "Odd Couple" series be that in jazz there are no odd couples—that the very nature of jazz allows for nearly infinite combination?

—Terry Teachout


This is TT's birthday, a momentous one, as you'll see if you go here.

February 6, 2006 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

I got hip to Paul Desmond from a line in a Michael Franks' tune, "Rainy Night in Tokyo" - "Paul Desmond on the stereo..."

I went through my fathers' jazz collection and found 3 albums. I've been hooked ever since.

Good luck with your book.



February 6, 2006 1:03 AM | | Comments (0)

Blogger John Salmon of Magritte's Apple writes a followup to the recent review of a Dave Brubeck concert:

I did a little review of Dave's Mass the other day. Randy Jones and Bobby Militello are veterans of the Maynard Ferguson band, one of jazz's great farm teams. When Bobby was on MF's band he played baritone (and some flute); it's nice to see that with Dave he gets to play an instrument that won't wreck his back.

I'm wondering if others find themselves enjoying Brubeck's playing more today than in the classic quartet days? He does seem to rely more on single note lines, but I'm not sure his playing has changed as much as my tastes have.

February 6, 2006 1:02 AM | | Comments (0)
Thanks in DOUGS PICKS for recommending the superb album "'Round Midnight" by Alan Broadbent. Broadbent doesn't overwhelm with technique for its own sake, but his measured and tasteful playing remain with you.
However, if its "chops" you want, listen to the blistering performance on "The Man I Love". I was also particularly struck with Joe LaBarbera's tasteful and swinging playing throughout. One underrated drummer.
A class album that, without your recommendation, would have passed me by.

Don Emanuel
Kent, UK
February 6, 2006 1:01 AM |

My piece in this morning's Wall Street Journal is about the brain connection between music and sports.

As someone who writes about and plays music, I would be the last to disagree with William Congreve that music hath charms. But silence has charms, too, and it’s getting hard to find. When Congreve wrote his famous line, circa 1700, people who wanted music had to make it themselves or go find it. The technological revolution in the past century changed that. Now music pursues us in the supermarket, the gas station, The Gap, the dentist’s office, the elevator, even the street. That’s bad news when I’m trying to think, let alone write. But it’s good news when I’m on the NordicTrack; the steady beat of music makes the workout easier. And I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Sorry, I can't link you to the rest of the article. If you're a WSJ subscriber, you'll find it in the print edition and on line. Otherwise, a dollar at the newstand will get you the piece and bonuses including the day's news, stock market reports and artsjournal.com blogmate Terry Teachout's theater reviews.

February 3, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (4)

Entries continue to arrive in the unlikely-pairings sweepstakes. As we head into the weekend, here’s the latest batch.

Here are a few "Odd Couplings":
Gary Burton & Stephane Grappelli - Paris Encounter - Atlantic
Barry Harris with Don Cherry, Steve Lacy, Charlie Rouse, & Roswell Rudd - Interpretations Of Monk – DIW
Peter Friedman

Mixings of generations and styles don’t always work. Those collaborations did, because the participants had open ears and open minds. Interpretations of Monk has dicey moments, particularly in volume two. Over all, however, fun and musical values outweigh confusion.

The one Johnny Hodges album I was always afraid to buy was the collaboration with Lawrence Welk.
Michael Moore

On the other hand, From a Rifftides reader who identifies himself as “Ellingtonrecords” (I wonder if that’s the first name or the last).

You did not mention one of the oddest pairings in the history of recorded jazz, the album Johnny Hodges and Lawrence Welk. I have it and while not a great album, it is not bad either. Welk had the good sense to let Johnny Hodges be Johnny Hodges. He hired big name arrangers for each of the songs on the album. It is far better than many of Johnny's Verve label albums from the 1960's.

Agreed. It's a lovely album.

The obvious one that comes to mind is one I haven't heard, mostly out of fear. It's Mary Lou Williams and Cecil Taylor' Embraced, which is by all accounts a bit of a train wreck.
John Shade

Couplings don't come much odder, or much less successful. The minds did not embrace.

How about the odd couple that turned up on Joe Pass' final studio date? Roy Clark & Joe Pass Play Hank Williams.
I don't even know whether the Buster Ann label is still around, but it is an entertaining set.
Ken Dryden

How much is odd-couple entertainment worth? Amazon lists the Pass-Clark CD at $39.95.

Have a good weekend.

February 3, 2006 1:04 AM | | Comments (1)

I'm grateful to your readers for their many excellent and interesting suggestions. And best of all, I can't help but marvel at the friendly and civil nature of the responses. So much of the web, and blogs in particular, is marred by snarkiness run amok. What a pleasant surprise it is to find a little corner where interesting grown-ups are free to act like interesting grown-ups. Well done.

Eric Felten

February 2, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Bob Coughlin, a longtime Dave Brubeck aficionado, attended a concert by the Brubeck quartet the other night, took notes, and posted his review on the Brubeck e-mail listserve. I thought it deserved wider dissemination. The quartet has the same musicians it has had for years—Brubeck, alto saxophonist Bobby Militello, bassist Michael Moore and drummer Randy Jones. “Russell” in Mr. Couglin’s report is Russell Gloyd, Brubeck’s manager, a musical collaborator who often arranges and conducts on large-scale Brubeck projects. “Iola” is Mrs. Brubeck.

I am frequently asked how Dave is doing at eighty-five. I usually say that he’s being careful, but touring and playing as if he were twenty-five. Mr. Coughlin’s report helps bear that out. The Rifftides staff thanks him for permitting us to share it with you.

Asheville, North Carolina, Grove Park Inn--Sat., January 28
Despite what I've heard about Dave being exhausted, he looks great and well rested backstage. Eager to talk, same twinkle in his eyes, but the traditional fingertip handshake has been replaced by an even more prudent extended left elbow and a gentle hello bump.
Dave being carefully attended to—Russell sets up a chair with two cushions backstage and Dave tries it out—wants the same arrangement onstage.
Onstage—Dave introduces the group and says that the dicey weather has inspired his choice of tunes.
”Gone With The Wind”—Dave opens, Bobby solos, Dave solos—solid swinging solos but they are just warming up.
”Stormy Weather”—bluesy intro by Dave, and then Bobby opens with long, mournful notes, deliciously stretching every note for all the anguish he can find. Super solo by Michael. Iola points out that we can watch Michael's fingering on the bigscreen TV over to the left--amazing to watch, but makes me wish the cameramen could get equally good shots of Dave's hands.
”On the Sunny Side of the Street”—smooth, swinging intro by Dave; Bobby's first line is a blistering uote, "Standing on the corner, watching all the girls go by,” so fast I have to question whether I heard it.
”Thank You”—Dave starts slowly--the tune is disguised in rich, classical lines. Then the main theme emerges, followed by quite a few choruses of lovely variations. But then he pauses--not sure for how many beats. 3? 4? 6? 8? The silence is striking. And Dave seems to hunch over the keyboard, pulling his hands tightly together. Ba-boom! Da-da-da-dumm! (like the explosions in Stravinsky's Rite of Spring) Tight little volleys of gorgeous chords, amazing stuff, dazzling choruses, finally leading into sweeping lines, and then several choruses that settle down into the final theme. There was no way this could have moved into the cue for Bobby, Michael, and Randy to jump in. It had to remain a solo. (Wow—this is why we go to concerts.)
”London Flat, London Sharp”—excellent version with Bobby and Dave both blasting and then a long solo by Michael—amazingly, he keeps the energy going, despite the limitations of the bass.
”Don't Worry 'Bout Me” / “These Foolish Things”—Dave plays "Don't Worry 'Bout Me" more slowly than I've ever heard, reflective and sad, conjuring memories of Paul Desmond's quiet solos. Beautiful. Segues into "These Foolish Things" and a happier mood. Great work by Bobby too, and then Michael wraps it up with a long, mesmerizing solo.
”Take Five”—Dave kicks it off, but is looking tired. Bobby carries the tune, building it up and up, and then handing it over to Randy for an extraordinary drum solo--the usual complexities but perhaps a bit more accessible than usual, culminating with several distinct rhythms chugging together and then the addition of one more pattern, which at this point seems impossible.
Abruptly, it's over. The emcee interrupts the applause by having a birthday cake brought in and leading "Happy Birthday”—which would be what?—53 days too late?
Crud. It's over.
—Bob Coughlin
February 2, 2006 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

Ladies and gentlemen, in the exhibit to your right you will find a new assortment of Doug's Picks. I know, I know; it's about time. I've been busy. You'll be busy too, but deliriously happy, if you adopt the recommendations. Good listening, viewing and reading to you, and happy February.

February 1, 2006 1:07 AM |

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Rifftides in February 2006.

Rifftides: January 2006 is the previous archive.

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About Last Night
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Art from the American Outback
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Life's a Pitch
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
Mind the Gap
No genre is the new genre
Performance Monkey
David Jays on theatre and dance
Plain English
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Real Clear Arts
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
Rockwell Matters
John Rockwell on the arts
State of the Art
innovations and impediments in not-for-profit arts
Straight Up |
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

Jazz Beyond Jazz
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Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

Out There
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classical music
Creative Destruction
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
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Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
The Unanswered Question
Joe Horowitz on music

Jerome Weeks on Books
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Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off

Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
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