Rifftides: November 2006 Archives

In the 1950s, the New Orleans saxophonist Al Belletto had a surge of international success with his sextet. A contemporary of Al Hirt and Pete Fountain, Belletto grew up steeped in traditional jazz as a clarinetist. But like Ellis Marsalis, Alvin Batiste, Ed Blackwell and other young New Orleans musicians, he was entranced by the music of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Bud Powell. He became an alto saxophonist and formed a small band whose members sang every bit as well as they played. For a time, they were a part of Woody Herman's touring big band. They recorded for Capitol, Bethlehem and King and performed throughout North and South America. But Belletto couldn't get New Orleans out of his system. The town effects people that way. In the 1960s, he left the road and returned home.

Belletto swam against New Orleans' conservative musical preferences and turned the tide. Playing modern jazz, he developed an audience and established himself as a local favorite. He became a guru to generations of young musicians. They learned as they passed through his bands, and they invariably address him as "Coach." Now and then he made CDs, including this splendid big band album. He was content to spend the rest of his life in the city whose call he couldn't resist. The Louisiana Jazz Federation named Belletto its artist of the year.

Then Katrina devastated New Orleans. Belletto retreated to his weekend place in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, but it took a heavy hit and could not be a refuge for long. His house in New Orleans was filled with eight-and-a-half feet of water and mud. Everything in it was ruined. After being submerged for weeks, two of his alto saxes have been repaired, but he says they'll never be the same. Recordings, sheet music, memorabilia of his long career--all are gone. Belletto and his longtime companion Linda moved in with his son and his family in Dallas. After several months came a painful decision; they would not move back to New Orleans. They were unable to handle what it would take physically and emotionally to get started again amid the wreckage. Now, they have their own house in Dallas. Settling in, adjusting to the idea of being exiles, they are filled with longing for their city, its history, its incomparable culture and atmosphere, longing for what New Orleans was before the storm.

I thought of Al Belletto and Linda as I read Howard Reich's Chicago Tribune report about Katrina obliterating substantial portions of the documentation of New Orleans music. To read Reich's piece, go here. Be sure to visit the photo gallery and interactive features of the article. As clarinetist Michael White takes Reich on a video tour through the debris-filled hulk of his house, you'll get an impression of what White, Belletto and thousands of other New Orleanians went through after Katrina came to call.

As we reported soon after Katrina, in the wake of the hurricane con artists circled like a school of sharks, claiming that they would help musicians recover and re-establish. Most of the scammers have moved on to prey on victims of other disasters, but be cautious. Check out relief organizations before you give. Be sure that your money goes where you want it to go. Musicians displaced, disrupted or impoverished by the storm still need help, and will for a long time. The New Orleans Musicians Hurricane Relief Fund is an authenticated 501(c)(3) organization that directs to musicians all of the funds it receives. Click on the link above to go to the NOMHRF web site and make a donation. Belletto is getting by in Dallas. White is living in a FEMA trailer. Others aren't as fortunate.

November 29, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (1)
Excuse interruption of music festival, please, but would mind repeating excrutiating sound made with assistance of cat intestine?

--Charlie Chan to son Tommy, who has been playing "jazz" violin. From the motion picture Docks of New Orleans, 1948

November 29, 2006 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

Saxophonist, arranger and leader Bill Kirchner writes:

Anita O'Day's passing reminded me of a week I spent working with her in the summer of 1982 at the Blue Note in NYC. I was part of her backup quartet: Mike Abene, piano; Rick Laird, bass; her longtime partner John Poole, drums; and myself on saxes and flute.

As one might expect of someone with Anita's frequently harsh life experiences, she was pretty brittle, though I got along with her well enough. She didn't sing very many ballads, for whatever reason. On medium-to-up tempos, Poole would play nice brushes and Anita would float over them with one of the hippest, most laidback time feels I've ever experienced from anyone, singer or instrumentalist. Alas, when it was time for me to solo, Poole would exchange brushes for sticks, to less-than-exquisite effect. It was tough.

One night, though, Anita called "My Funny Valentine" at a slow tempo. She sang the melody and then, as we had predetermined, I soloed for a half-chorus and then paused for her to come back in. Apparently I was doing something right, because she motioned for me to finish the chorus. At that moment, I happened to look into her eyes; to my surprise, her protective shell seemed to disintegrate, revealing one very vulnerable soul.

Anita never said a word about this, but it was one of the most unforgettable moments I've had in music, and one of the greatest compliments I've ever received.

In her autobiography, High Times, Hard Times, Ms. O'Day explored those "harsh life experiences," sparing no one, least of all herself. Her caption on a mug shot police took following a drug bust:

Arrested for the fourth time in Kansas City, I was as angry as I look. On a previous occasion I was framed and served time. This time I was guilty and managed to get off without a trial.

If you'd prefer to remember her in more innocent days, try this clip from the early 1940s, when she became famous as Gene Krupa's vocalist.

November 28, 2006 12:30 AM | | Comments (1)
Anita O'Day was my hero because she used four-letter words. That was really neat. I didn't myself say them for a long time, but I loved hearing her say them.--Carla Bley

All I know is that there are four beats to a bar and there are a million ways to phrase a tune.--Anita O'Day ( Down Beat, circa 1938-39)

November 28, 2006 12:15 AM | | Comments (0)

Over the long weekend, we lost Anita O'Day, who died in Los Angeles on Thanksgiving day. She was eighty-seven. The stalwart bassist Walter Booker is also gone, dead in New York on Friday at the age of seventy-three.

O'Day was the last of the great female jazz vocalists who emerged in the swing era. She survived Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Peggy Lee and Carmen McRae. She had perfect time and pitch, a voice without vibrato and the ability to swing as hard as the top horn players of her era. Her feistiness matched her musicianship and she had the respect of her instrumental colleagues, an honor not always accorded singers. One of the O'Day anecdotes being circulated concerns the time she was overheard correcting her drummer. He told her not to tell him how to play. "I'm not telling you how to play," she said, "I'm telling you when to play."

O'Day might have been ill advised to continue singing into her eighties, when after a monumentally rough life about all that remained of her talent was her spirit, but she soldiered on. It is unlikely that anyone could have persuaded her to retire.

For as long as she is remembered, her most indelible image is of the glamorous woman in the black dress with white flounce and spectacular hat singing at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. To see and hear her at Newport, click here for "Sweet Georgia Brown" and here for "Tea for Two." But do not miss a sample clip from her less publicized 1963 Tokyo television special, a superb recital by one of the most important singers of her time.

Walter Booker played with scores of top jazz artists, but he will be best remembered as Cannonball Adderley's bass player in the late 1960s and early '70s when Adderley's quintet was one of the most popular bands in the world. Never a virtuosic acrobat of his instrument, Booker's specialties were good notes and dependable time, qualities that served Adderley well on more than a dozen Capitol and Fantasy albums including Pyramid. For a reprise of Booker's life as a musician and as the operator of an important recording studio, go here.

November 27, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (1)

November 25 would have been Paul Desmond's 81st birthday. Less than two years before he died, he made a featured appearance at the 1975 Monterey Jazz Festival. He played Johnny Mandel's "Emily" with an all-star rhythm section that included pianist John Lewis, bassist Richard Davis and guitarist Mundell Lowe. Exquisitely lyrical, even for Desmond, the performance might have justified his celebrated claim that he had won several awards for playing slowly. To see and hear it, click here.

November 27, 2006 1:04 AM | | Comments (2)

In our review of the Tony Bennett TV special, a question arose about the absence of arranger credits. The New York Sun's Will Friedwald, reviewing Bennett's Duets CD, provides a substantial clue that the charts were a team effort:

Mr. Bennett's musical director and pianist Lee Musiker, string orchestrator Jorge Calandrelli, and horn arranger Torrie Zito (who has worked with Mr. Bennett for 40 years) have collaborated to rewrite or amend classic Bennett charts by Ralph Sharon, Johnny Mandel, and others in a way that preserves the best of the past.
Rifftides reader Mark Stryker, the music writer for The Detroit Free Press, sent the following message with information about Calandrelli and about the eighty-year-old Bennett's vocal regimen.
I happened to meet Calandrelli in August at the Vibrato Grill, the swanky restaurant-jazz club in Bel Air owned by Herb Albert. I was in Los Angeles working on a couple of stories and went to the place to hear a friend of mine, pianist John Campbell; Calandrelli was there to eat and check out the music after some function at the Mancini Institute, and we were introduced. He seemed to be a very, very nice man. What was weird was that two days earlier I had spoken to Bennett for 20 minutes for a quick-hit story for the Free Press. I mentioned this to Calandrelli, who told me about the CD, though I cannot recall if he said anything about the film. In my short interview with Bennett, which we ran as a Q-and-A, I asked him specifically about craft and how he's kept his voice in such good shape. I've copied the exchange below. It relates nicely to your observations and those of your D.C. correspondent.

Question: At 80, your voice is still in remarkably supple shape. You've taken good care of your instrument, haven't you?

Bennett: Yes. I had good training and very good teachers. After the Second World War, when I came home, I studied at the American Theatre Wing under the GI Bill and they taught me how to keep my voice in good shape.

Q: What did they teach?

A: Stay very musical and the system of and doing that warm-up, which is very easy, unlike what everybody thinks. I'm not trying to sing like Pavarotti. Just the vowel sounds of A, E, Ah, Oh, OO, and warm up that way because each day it's a little different. It keeps you in shape, so you don't have to push.

Q: Do you have a vocal routine?

A: It takes about 15 minutes. Sometimes it's very intimate and no one can even hear you do it. It's a matter of breathing properly and when you feel the center -- it's almost like tai chi -- you get relaxed and you can see where you are that day.

I do it in bits and pieces. Like in the morning, if I'm shaving, I'll very quietly hum a kind of flat sound without any vibrato, and then about 2 o'clock in the afternoon I go to it for about 15 minutes. Once I feel that center, I'm ready to perform.

Q: I spoke recently with the great jazz pianist Hank Jones, who just turned 88 and still practices two hours a day. As his fellow pianist Cedar Walton told me, "Preparation is his secret weapon."

A: Boy, that's good advice. You know, the late Joe Williams saw me on a airplane once, and we had a chat. He sang with the Basie band in the '50s. He said, "You know what it is about you? It's not that you want to sing. It's that you have to sing." I said, "You just saved me a lot of money from going to a psychiatrist."

Q: You're not a jazz musician, but jazz has clearly had a huge impact on your phrasing, your sense of time, the way you interact with a band.

A: I know how to improvise, and for me jazz is the greatest contribution culturally that the United States has given to the world.

Q: You're always concerned with getting the message of the song across, but there's a looseness to the phrasing that makes it come alive in the moment.

A: That's the whole thing. It's the interpretation of going behind the beat or in front of the beat, and it changes every night. You might be singing the same song but there's a vitalness that the musicians feed me and I feed them. I'll make a turn of phrase and all of sudden they'll change the chords, embellish it and make it better.

Q: There's such optimism in your singing and the way you interpret a lyric. Are you you really that happy?

A: No, it's a gift. My life is absolutely gorgeous. Imagine the things that are happening to me. I'm 80 years old and it's really the greatest year that I've ever had -- becoming an NEA Jazz Master and the Smithsonian Institute has accepted one of my paintings and it's in there permanently, along with John Singer Sargent and Hopper and Winslow Homer. I'll never get over that.

--Mark Stryker

November 24, 2006 1:30 PM | | Comments (0)

This is an important American national holiday. To those of the U.S. persuasion, the Rifftides staff sends wishes for a happy Thanksgiving. To readers around the world: we are thankful for your interest, attendance and comments.

November 23, 2006 12:01 AM | | Comments (0)

Our occasional Washington, DC, correspondent John Birchard sent a message that included the following observations about Tony Bennett, An American Classic, the special that ran on NBC Television last night.

I thought The Old Man outclassed all the other performers. Bennett is in astonishingly good shape, vocally. The last few years, he seems to take more liberties with the melodies, adding nice little alternatives that freshen the songs he's sung so many times. (example: "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," which also featured lovely accompaniment from Bill Charlap)

My major complaint about the show is that it seemed like the camera never stopped moving. I suppose the director and/or producer deem that necessary for today's media-saturated generation, but I find it tiresome. Also, it seemed like the camera seldom settled on Bennett in close-up... there were mostly medium- and long-range shots, or hazy, atmospheric closer pictures of him. Are they afraid we'll see how old he is?

But, all in all, it was good to see and hear an hour with Bennett. The word "icon" is
used altogether too often on so many of today's suddenly-arrived stars, but it seems
appropriate for somebody who's stood for so long as a model of taste and integrity
in the notoriously changeable pop music world.

Hope you had a chance to catch the show. --JB

Yes, I watched it, amazed that a network would do something like that these days. The Las Vegas segment was godawful, but we speculated that, as a spoof, Rob Marshall, the director, made it as faitfhul as possible to one of those dreadful Vegas hotel productions. I had never before heard Elton John sing an actual song. He was in tune, and his phrasing wasn't bad. K.D. Lang sang well.

Bennett looked and sounded fine, with only a couple of intonation slips. His phrasing and interpretation of lyrics have improved over the years, and they were good to start with, even on that terrible song that made him famous, "Rags to Riches."

The rapport I've seen in the past between Diana Krall and Tony didn't quite materialize. Stevie Wonder's harmonica solo was the instrumental highlight of the hour. His singing drove me nuts. It always has, but he's written two or three good songs. Christina Aguilar? That was a joke, right? Bublé? Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Charlap got a solo chorus on "San Francisco," but they covered him with meaningless b-roll shots, about twenty of them in half a minute. Television, like the movies, is infected with the quick-cut disease. God forbid that a director should let the audience get used to a shot for longer than three seconds.

Let's see, who else was there? Oh, Streisand, at the beginning. She sang beautifully. I wish that the show had maintained the taste and simplicity of that opening song, but any network getting away with presenting palatable music in 2006 must satisfy the MTV generation and those with MTV tastes. When Bennett is gone, what popular singer of classic songs who has taste, ability and a repertoire of standards will have the clout to get a network television program like this?

Do you know who wrote the arrangements? I tried to catch that info during the closing credits, but missed it - if it was there. -- JB

I went here to get arranger credits. The arranger(s) got no credit. Hooray for Hollywood.

For a review that ran in advance of the broacast, go here.

November 22, 2006 5:33 PM | | Comments (2)

Nat Hentoff is a champion of the Jazz Foundation of America in its efforts to help aging musicians who lack the resources to provide for themselves. In his latest column in the Village Voice, Hentoff makes it clear that jazzmen and women who find themselves in want are not always those who failed to make it to the top of their profession.

Jazz musicians do not have pensions, and very few have medical plans or other resources. Pianist Wynton Kelly, for example--a vital sideman for Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie--died penniless. I was at the first recording session of pianist Phineas Newborn, whose mastery of the instrument was astonishing. As jazz musicians say, he told a story. His ended in a pauper's grave in Memphis.

At last, 17 years ago, in New York, a group of musicians and jazz enthusiasts for whom the music had become essential to their lives formed the Jazz Foundation of America. Its mission is to regenerate the lives of abandoned players--paying the rents before they're evicted, taking care of their medical needs, and providing emergency living expenses.

To read all of Nat's column, learn of Dizzy Gillespie's crucial role in the foundation and find out how to help, click here.

November 22, 2006 1:12 PM | | Comments (1)

One More: The Summary, Music of Thad Jones, Vol. 2 (IPO). To name the players is to indicate the quality of this project: Eddie Daniels, Richard Davis, Benny Golson, Hank Jones, James Moody, John Mosca, Jimmy Owens, Kenny Washington and Frank Wess. Assembling all-stars is no guarantee of success, but most of these men worked with Jones in the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, love his music and deeply understand it. They give "Little Pixie," "Three and One," six other Jones compositions and Jerome Richardson's "Groove Merchant" everything they've got. They've got plenty, and it is as much in evidence here as it was in Volume 1 with a slightly different cast.

November 22, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Like many blogs, Rifftides is under seige by lurkers filling the Comments bin with messages having nothing to do with Rifftides. Some days there are hundreds. The strictest filters do little to stem the tide of these unsolicited links to hard porn sites. In an attempt to delete en masse a batch of this filth, we may have inadvertently deep-sixed a few legitimate comments.

We want to hear from you. The Rifftides staff will don gas masks, hip boots and rubber gloves to wade through the sludge and find legitimate communiques. Please keep your comments coming.

November 22, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Ruth Naomi Floyd, Root to the Fruit (Contour). Ms. Floyd is a Philadelphia church singer whose jazz connections and finely tuned musicianship are as organic to her art as are her Christian convictions. In her fifth album, she leads ten musicians including saxophonist Gary Thomas, drummer Ralph Peterson, bassist Tyrone Brown and the incredible flutist James Newton. Songs like "Mere Breath" and "The Bottle of Tears" disclose her as a solid composer and lyricist whose work holds up well in the company of pieces by Randy Weston, Mary Lou Williams and Antonín Dvořák. The control, phrasing and inflections of her creamy mezzo-soprano voice make Ms. Floyd one of the most compelling singers of the day, regardless of idiom.

November 22, 2006 1:04 AM | | Comments (1)

BED, Bedlam (Blue Swing). BED is the acronym for vocalist Becky Kilgore, guitarist Eddie Erickson and trombonist Dan Barrett. The group also includes bassist Joel Forbes, but the name BEDJ wouldn't make much sense. What does make sense is Ms. Kilgore's sunny, flawlessly in-tune singing and the way she interacts with the easy-going playing and occasional singing of her three co-conspirators in the art of delivering fine songs. BED's repertoire includes great standards and some unusual entries: a banjo medley of tunes from "Oklahoma," for instance. And when is the last time you heard "My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes?"

November 22, 2006 1:02 AM | | Comments (0)

Debra DeSalvo, The Language of the Blues (Billboard Books). From "Alcorub" to "Zuzu," Ms. DeSalvo combines solid research with humor, insight and straightforward description to explain the often arcane terms that populate blues songs. You may have an idea about the various meanings of "easy rider," but how about "faro," "biscuit," "cooling board?" "Mojo" gets two full pages. The book is more than a dictionary; it's a lesson in the Southern black culture that took root in rural blues and spread throughout the world. That's no woofin' (page 158).

November 22, 2006 1:01 AM | | Comments (2)

The Heath Brothers, Brotherly Jazz (DanSun). Part documentary, part concert, this engrossing film about the celebrated Philadelphia brothers was shot a year before elder brother Percy Heath died in 2005. Their life stories are varied--Percy the fighter pilot who became a major bassist--Jimmy, the saxophonist who transformed himself from an addict into one of the great arrangers--Tootie, the drummer who says his older brothers saved him from a possible future as a doctor or lawyer. They play for producer Danny Scher's cameras in one of their last gigs together. Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock and Percy's fishing buddy Peter Jennings make appearances. The archival footage includes film of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, early colleagues of the Heaths.

November 22, 2006 1:01 AM | | Comments (0)
I never thought that the music called "jazz" was ever meant to reach just a small group of people, or become a museum thing locked under glass like all other dead things that were once considered artistic.

Miles Davis

November 21, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

For years, there have been reports that there would be a feature film about Miles Davis. No film has appeared. Pat Broeske writes in Sunday's New York Times that two such motion pictures may actually be on the drawing board. One would have a screenplay by Quincy Troupe, who co-authored Davis's autobiography and later wrote a memoir about his friendship with the trumpeter. Another, according to Broeske, would be a picture "authorized" (the quotation marks are Broeske's) by the Davis estate. That leaves the impression that the Troupe version would be unauthorized. Given the dark, scatological nature of the autobiography, it's not hard to see why. To read the Times piece, go here.

The challenge of containing in even a long picture the contradictions in Davis's character, the variety of his music and the complex web of his relationships could make film biographies like Ray (Charles) and Walk The Line (Johnny Cash) seem simple assignments. The shortcomings of Bird (Charlie Parker) and earlier movies about Gene Krupa, Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman suggest that Hollywood has room for improvement in jazz musician bio flicks. It will take a director of extraordinary skill and insight, and an exceptional actor, to fairly portray the creative son of a middle-class family who at twenty reached the apex of jazz with Parker and later decided to cloak himself in the image of a dirty-talking gut-punching street fighter.

People who were close to Davis tell of not only his toughness but also his warmth, humor and sensitivity. I was not close to him, but I have a small story.

In January, 1961, I was in New York for a week interviewing for a correspondent job with CBS News. It was a near thing, but ultimately the news division president, Richard Salant, wisely decided that I needed seasoning. "Come back in a year or so," he said. I didn't, but that's another story. That night, moping around Manhattan, I ended up at The Jazz Gallery in Greenwich Village, where Miles Davis was operating a sextet. Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane had moved on, but Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers were still aboard. Philly Joe Jones was temporarily back with Miles. The horns were Davis, Hank Mobley and J.J. Johnson. Teddy Wilson's trio alternated sets with Miles's band. The story of my encounter with Davis first appeared in notes for the LP reissue of some of his early Prestige recordings and later in Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers.

Aside from the distinct recollection that Miles, Philly Joe and J.J. played superbly that night, two memories of the evening survive. Between sets, Miles sat at a table in front of and slightly to the right of the piano and listened to Wilson intently and with great enjoyment. During a later break he came to the bar and took a stool next to mine. I had heard all those stories about Davis's surliness and wasn't about to get him riled up by coming on like the hick fan I was. But he initiated a conversation and for maybe twenty minutes we made small talk, little of it about music. The freezing weather came up, as I recall, the New York newspaper strike, foreign cars, and Teddy Wilson. There was no handshake, no exchange of names. Then, as Miles got up to return to the stand, he asked where I was from. No place he'd ever heard of, I said, Wenatchee, Washington. He paused a moment, then said:

"Say hello to Don Lanphere."

Don was pleased.

If there is a movie, I hope it includes that thoughtful facet of a complicated man.

November 20, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (2)

The Rifftides staff has added Marshall Bowden's Jazzitude web site to Other Places in the right-hand column. Befitting its Louisiana origin, Jazzitude is a gumbo of a site. On the menu: news, reviews, features and history sections. If the free enterprise road to the internet future is advertising, Bowden is paving it with a profusion of links to books, DVDs, CDs, posters, instruments, equipment and sheet music. His menu doesn't trap you in the ads, though. It allows navigation to what interests you.

November 18, 2006 11:31 AM | | Comments (0)

Good old video keeps surfacing. The new Jazz Icons series of DVDs (about which, more later) is a prime example. Short clips show up on YouTube, Google, Yahoo and whatever new video sites have materialized in the past half hour. A recent addition to the YouTube gallery is a 1961 performance in Holland by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. They play "St. Louis Blues," for years Brubeck's concert opener. All hands solo at length following Brubeck's introduction, beginnning with Paul Desmond's five choruses overflowing with invented melodies and a couple of borrowed ones. This is prime Desmond about halfway through his nearly two decades with the quartet. Sound and video quality are good. To see and hear the DBQ when "Take Five" had made them even more famous, click on this link.

Watch for terrific closeups of Eugene Wright, smile in full flower, reacting to Brubeck's solo then continuing to smile through his own. Listen to Desmond make "The Lady in Red" almost fit behind Brubeck's penultimate sixteen bars before the coda. These guys did have fun.

November 17, 2006 5:19 PM | | Comments (0)

Like Brahms and Bartók late in their careers, Bob Brookmeyer has achieved increased profundity by clarifying his musical palette. The tensions and conflicts that continued to roil his compositions as he emerged from a period of electronics and experimentation in the first half of the 1990s may not be gone, but if they linger they do not dominate.

Spirit Music, Brookmeyer's new recording with his New Art Orchestra, includes moments that recall his advanced mainstream writing in the 1960s for the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band and the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. "Silver Lining" does that. Brookmeyer's splendid solos on that ebullient piece and the reflective "Alone" leave no doubt that he is still the leading valve trombonist of his time.

On the CD's five additional tracks, he lays his horn aside and speaks through new compositions for his eighteen-instrument ensemble. "Silver Lining" may suggest the harmonic structure of "Blue Skies," but his other pieces are compositions in the full sense--not dependent on pre-existing chord patterns or on riffs, but arising from one of the most original minds in the eight-decade history of big jazz band writing. Titles like "New Love," "Dance For Life" and "Happy Song" indicate that Brookmeyer's psyche has taken a turn toward tranquility. The music reflects that greater ease, but it has the gravity of experience and wisdom. Brookmeyer approaches his 77th birthday next month with his insights sharpened and his creativity expanding.

The members of the New Art Orchestra, most of them Europeans, all of them supremely talented, "phrase and interpret my music perfectly," as Brookmeyer puts it in his album notes. Among the impressive soloists are trumpeter Ruud Bruels and tenor saxophonist Nils van Haften. In "New Love," van Haften creates a dreamy tenor saxophone solo that suggests he is a direct descendant of the Stan Getz of "Early Autumn." But all of the solos, including Brookmeyer's own, are in the service of his writing, which has deep textures, pulses with subsurface rhythms, and reflects a passionate soul.

When listeners consign art to categorical boxes, they achieve not exclusivity but exclusion. If they eschew Brookmeyer's recent work on grounds that it is not jazz as they define it, or as he used to play and write it, they turn their backs on the larger world of music in which he lives, and they miss great satisfactions.

November 16, 2006 12:29 AM | | Comments (1)


The pig pen smelled like pigs.

--William Faulkner
The Sound and the Fury

November 15, 2006 11:17 AM | | Comments (0)
Music, I feel, must be emotional first and intellectual second.--Maurice Ravel

I haven't understood a bar of music in my life, but I have felt it.--Igor Stravinsky

It's the way you play that makes it . . . Play like you play. Play like you think, and then you got it, if you're going to get it. And whatever you get, that's you, so that's your story.--Count Basie

November 15, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Phil Woods responds to John Birchard's review of his recent Washington, DC, concert:

Hey Doug,

Upon reflection, I think the reviewer missed the point of emphysema - it is Nature's way of saying - "Stop playing all those 16ths and find a whole note that means something."


November 13, 2006 11:14 AM | | Comments (1)

It's not too late to put a reminder on your listening calendar. Bob Brookmeyer is the subject on Bill Kirchner's Jazz From The Archives tonight at 11:00 p.m. EST on WBGO radio, which you will find at 88.3 on your FM dial if you're in the Newark-New York area and at this address on the internet. Kirchner will survey the music of the valve trombonist and standard-setting composer and arranger. In addition, he promises "a surprise." A vist from the great man himself, perhaps?

November 12, 2006 5:09 PM | | Comments (0)

Rifftides reader John Birchard, a Voice of America newscaster, has been attending the Jazz Heritage series of concerts in Washington, DC, and sharing his impressions with us. Here is his latest report. The Rifftides staff has added links to Woods' recorded performances of some of the pieces John mentions.

Once upon a time, Phil Woods was the hottest alto player on the planet.

Bird was dead. Benny Carter had disappeared into the Hollywood studios. Cannonball Adderley was biding his time with Miles. Johnny Hodges was pretty much coasting in the safety of the Duke Ellington sax section and Paul Desmond was relaxing elegantly in the crook of Brubeck's piano.

Phil, meantime, was rocketing into orbit from his spot in the Dizzy Gillespie band. It was Phil and Quill. It was Phil featured with Quincy's band in Europe... Phil scorching on Oliver Nelson's "More Blues and the Abstract Truth"... Phil the bomb throwing malcontent on Benny Goodman's Soviet tour... Phil on fire with the European Rhythm Machine... Phil dignifying Billy Joel's "The Way You Are" (and winning a Grammy) with one of his epigrammatic solos... Phil still smokin' with his Delaware Water Gap bands.

Philip Wells Woods turned 75 this past week (Nov 2). The ol' be-bopper has put in a lot of hard miles. He has, as they say in the NFL, lost a step. Emphysema will do that. Rather than routinely exceeding expectations, he now merely meets them...which, when you get to his level, ain't bad.

The U-S Air Force jazz band, the Airmen of Note, closed out their Jazz Heritage series for 2006 the day after Phil Woods' birthday by featuring him in concert at Lisner Auditorium on the campus of George Washington University in Washington, DC.

The band set the tone for the evening with a roaring tribute to the late Maynard Ferguson - Don Sebesky's arrangement of "Take the A Train", featuring some blistering work from the trumpet section. Vocalist Paige Wroble was up second and swung hard with an oldie, "You Can Have It", which included a strong tenor sax solo from Tedd Baker.

Then it was time for Woods to hit - and his portion of the evening began with his original "target="_blank"All Bird's Children..." showcasing his alto, some nice piano from Steven Erickson and tasty 8's and 4's from drummer David McDonald.

Another Woods' original, dedicated to the memory of Bill Evans, dropped the tempo to ballad pace. "Good-bye, Mister Evans" is a lovely tribute and, mixed blessing that it was, showed both Phil's wonderful way with a melody and his reduced lung capacity. His phrases are shorter now, less often tossed out with the matchless confidence of his younger days. Not bad, mind you, but for the long-time listener, a melancholy reminder that even the greatest can't beat the ravages of age. As Phil put it, "Growing old is not for sissies."

And yet... Woods and the rhythm section trotted through the be-bop national anthem, "How High the Moon" with Phil slipping in some fire, some humor and a cliche or two from his own repertoire. Geoff Reecer was heard to advantage in a guitar solo.

A change of pace found the altoist joined by the sax section only for the Quincy Jones ballad, "The Quintessence", which Woods claimed he played "four times a night back in the 50s and 60s" as a member of the Jones band. In this case, familiarity bred not contempt, but a lyrical solo and some choice ensemble passages.

A bright Woods original showed off Phil's composer/arranger skills along with his still-virile alto, plus the Airmen's ability to zip through a complex chart with equanimity. The largest crowd of the season gave the Grammy winner and the band a standing O and were rewarded with a stunning performance of "High Alto-tude", featuring Phil and two altos from the band, lead man Lucas Munce and Andy Axelrod. The chart calls for the ability to negotiate breakneck-speed twists and turns in a three-man ensemble and to solo in what amounts to an old-fashioned cutting contest. Woods brought his "A" game to this one, and Munce and Axelrod were up to the challenge, with no one backing away. When it was over, the crowd was yelling, whistling and stomping, and the other band members were grinning and applauding.

So - the Lion in Winter may have to take a couple of hits on his inhaler to get through a performance these days, but he can still jerk an audience to its feet from time to time. And it ain't nostalgia that does that, pal. That's the native talent that prompted Dizzy Gillespie to hire the boyish phenom fifty years ago. Long may he wave.

Your Washington correspondent,

John Birchard

November 12, 2006 2:00 PM | | Comments (2)

Gerry Mulligan became famous well beyond jazz circles for his 1950s quartet that included Chet Baker on trumpet, succeeded by Bob Brookmeyer on valve trombone. Mulligan achieved universal admiration among musicians and a large following of listeners with his Concert Jazz Band, which flourished in the early 1960s. He frequently said, though, that his greatest musical satisfaction came from the sextet he headed from 1955 through 1958.

The sextet made a brief preview appearance in December of 1954 when Mulligan played a concert at a high school in San Diego, California. On that occasion, Red Mitchell was on bass and Larry Bunker on drums. Then, the quartet with Brookmeyer was still Mulligan's working band, but nine months later he constituted the sextet as a permanent entity. The front line had Mulligan's baritone saxophone, Brookmeyer's trombone, Zoot Sims' tenor saxophone and Jon Eardley's trumpet. The bassist was Peck Morrison, the drummer Dave Bailey. Eardley was replaced for a short time near the end of the band's life by Don Ferrara, Morrison by Bill Crow. The sextet recorded three twelve-inch LPs on the Emarcy label, none of which the company ever reissued on CD. Verve, which bought the Emarcy masters, now offers one of the albums as a web site digital download.

All of the Mulligan Sextet recordings, including the San Diego concert first issued by Pacific Jazz, are in a new three-CD box on Spain's Fresh Sound Label. To find it, go here. The set is also available here. It is called The Fabulous Gerry Mulligan Sextet. The hyperbole of the title is justified. Mulligan's leadership molded the six men into a unit capable of bringing to life the ambitious vision he laid out in his compositions and arranging. They combined the spontaneity of a freewheeling jam session with the disciplined performance of a chamber group. Because of Mulligan's voicings, the horn lines that he layered and intertwined, and the intensely close relationships among the players, the group often sounds twice its size. The critic Ralph J. Gleason once characterized the effect of the sextet's horns at their most rambunctious as "a boiling and bubbling stew which can raise me right off the floor."

The pieces include Mulligan's "Apple Core," "Nights at the Turntable" and "Elevation," Jerry Lloyd's "Mud Bug," Eardley's "Demanton" (read it backward), and Mulligan's ingenious treatments of standards. Two Duke Ellington medleys, the impressionistic "La plus que lente" and a glorious "Sweet and Lovely" are highlights of an album of highlights. There is not a dull moment in thirty-seven tracks. Among other attributes, these sextet recordings have some of the most inspired and ebullient Zoot Sims on record, compelling statements by Brookmeyer in the gruff-old-man style of his youth, and Mulligan's baritone in full, majestic bloom. Eardley, with his fleet lines and slightly acerbic tone, fit perfectly with his more famous colleagues.

Later, Mulligan formed other sextets of various instrumentations. The enchanting Night Lights has the one with Brookmeyer, trumpeter Art Farmer and guitaritst Jim Hall. But there was never another Mulligan sextet that had quite the vivacity and sense of discovery of the band with Sims, Brookmeyer and Eardley. The digital remastering and reissue production by Dick Bank give the recordings greater depth and brilliance than they had in their original format. This welcome CD reissue of an important chapter in modern American music has been needed for a long time.

Coming soon: a few thoughts about Brookmeyer's latest, Spirit Music.

November 10, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Referring to the WKCR Lennie Tristano Festival and, on the other hand, the general white bread-with-mayonnaise quality of most radio today, particularly in regard to jazz, DevraDoWrite, observes:

I know a lot of dee-jays who are nearly in tears because their bosses, not wanting them to break the musical spell with any talk, won't even allow them to tell us listeners who's playing on a particular track let alone mention that the artist might be appearing in town.

Amen. Maybe it's time to again lower on the pabulum purveyors and their consultants who run most radio operations, public and private. Not that it ever does much good. Apparently, listeners are getting what they want, or they would rise up against mediocrity. To read all of Devra's posting, go here.

November 10, 2006 1:04 AM | | Comments (1)

As I write this, I'm hearing Lennie Tristano talk about his admiration for Charlie Parker. The archived 1973 interview with Tristano, who died in 1978, is a part of a four-day celebration of his music by WKCR, the radio station of Columbia University. WKCR is billing it as a Tristano festival. It will run through noon EST on Saturday, November 11.

Tristano just said:

I had the best possible opportunity of anybody in the forties and fifties, because I was the only one who wasn't doing what Bird was doing.

Tristano admirers undoubtedly know about the marathon broadcast and are listening. Those unfamiliar with his importance will be enlightened. In the New York area, tune your radio to 89.9 FM. In the rest of the world, the streaming audio is available on the web. Go here and click on "Live Broadcast" at the bottom of the page.

The following paragraphs are from the station's news release.

A pivotal and often overlooked figure in jazz, Lennie Tristano was a virtuosic pianist whose singular achievements in performance, composition and teaching continue to resonate in today's world. Born in 1919 in Chicago, he immersed himself in the New York scene at a time when Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were in the midst of their revolutionary collaborations. Tristano quickly integrated into the bebop community and went on to build a musical world based on a distinct concept of improvisation.

Our festival seeks to present the many sides of Tristano's genius. In addition to an airing of his entire recorded output, there will be in depth features on his compositional techniques and teaching methodology, as well as interviews with the former colleagues and students of Tristano who represent his living legacy.

The festival will include a chronological presentation of Tristano's complete discography, presented uninterrupted throughout the day of Friday, November 10th.

The Rifftides staff encourages comments about the broadcast and about Tristano. Please use the comment link at the bottom of this posting or send an e-mail message to the address in the right column.

November 8, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (2)

A recurring theme of this blog is the universality and remarkably consistent quality of jazz in nearly every precinct of the globe. Jay Thomas has done his part to not only stimulate the growth of that quality abroad, but also to see that those of us in the music's homeland get to hear the new generation of players from abroad. The trumpeter-saxophonist-flutist-leader and international sojourner spends a good deal of time in Japan and frequently imports his Japanese colleagues to work with him in the US.

A few days ago, Thomas's East/West Jazz Alliance kicked off Seattle's Earshot Jazz Festival with a concert at City Hall. In addition to Thomas, the band has pianist John Hansen, bassist Phil Sparks, alto saxophonist Atsushi Ikeda, tenor saxophonist Yasahiro Kohama and drummer Daisuke Kurata. Seattle's remarkably hip municipal website has streaming video of the concert--nearly an hour long. To see it, go here. The Thomas concert is the first item.

Scrolling down the page, you will find video performances by The Tiptons, the energetic all-female saxophone quartet and drummer; and a stimulating set by the veteran trombonist Julian Priester's quartet, which includes the rising young pianist Dawn Clement. Immediately below the Thomas video is the link to a November 12 recital by pianist Byron Schenkman with Mozart's delicate Sonata in D-minor K31, and a set of Schubert's compelling late piano pieces performed with notable vigor.

Seattlites can conduct their municipal business at city hall, then stop by the atrium for live music. There are compensations for living with all that rain.

Jay Thomas will be taking an edition of the East/West Jazz Alliance into The Seasons Saturday, November 11. I will have the pleasure of introducing the band. If you find yourself in Yakima, Washington, that night and attend the concert, please make yourself known.

November 6, 2006 1:06 AM | | Comments (0)

Thanks to Bob Young of Jazz Boston for adding Rifftides to the links from the site, which chronicles jazz people and events in the Boston area and includes Carol Sloane, Joe Lovano, Danilo Perez, Terri Lynn Carrington and Charlie Kohlhase on its board of artistic advisers. They must be giving good advice; it is a web site with good design, sensible organization, extensive information and hip background music .

Thanks to Mr. Young, also, for including among Jazz Boston's links one to a collection of pieces Tony Gieske has written and illustrated with his photographs over the years. Gieske, once with The Washington Post, now writes for the Hollywood Reporter. His site is called Remembrance of Swings Past. It has columns, essays, and anecdotes about Woody Herman, Miles Davis, Tiny Grimes, Jimmy Rowles, Ravi Coltrane, Bob Brookmeyer, Sam Rivers, Peggy Lee, Charles Lloyd Conte Candoli, Chet Baker, the young trumpeter Maurice Brown and a couple of dozen others. Gieske is good at description:

Brookmeyer poked the mike deep into the bell of his instrument and began producing that drawly, equable sound of his, buzzy and furry and intimate. The brilliant guitarist Larry Koonse, immaculate and cool, gave the sound a silvery core as the two exposed the text of whatever familiar theme they had chosen.

Gieske has an ear for quotes, like this one from a profile of Annie Ross, the heroine of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross:

The other day I was walking along Madison Avenue and I passed a police station and a black policeman came out off duty and he's walking up the street singing 'Moody's Mood for Love.' He did the female chorus, the whole thing, walking along Madison Avenue. Out of sight! I was thrilled.

And this one from Tiny Grimes recalling New York in 1944:

I had a little job with my quartet down on 52nd Street, and Charlie Parker used to come in, and I used to let him play, you know? He couldn't get a job nowhere because nobody at that time understood the music. But I could dig it. I just couldn't play it that well.

But Bird was there every night. He was there so often, they thought he was workin' there. And then when I got this record date for my group, the producer at Savoy over in New Jersey - he really didn't want him. I talked him into it. It was Parker's first real record date, where somebody let him play.

I am adding Jazz Boston and Remembrance of Swings Past to the links in the right-hand column. Pay them a visit. Don't forget to come back.

November 6, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

In the recent Rifftides piece about Freedom and Josef Skvorecky, I named several jazz musicians from former Communist countries who have risen to the top of their profession. One of them was the Czech pianist Emil Viklický.

The world is small and tightly interconnected. A day or two after the piece appeared, I got a message from Viklický informing me that he knows Skvorecky "quite well" and that he contributed an important element to a masterly--and very funny--Skvorecky novel. Emil wrote:

There is my long letter to him, written in 1974 to Canada, published as a resolution of novel The Engineer of Human Souls.

The Engineer of Human Souls rambles through life under the Nazis, the Communists, academia and the human condition. In this brilliant roman á clef, the narrator, a Czech professor of literature teaching in Toronto, is Skvorecky once removed. One of the characters from his Czech past is his friend Benno Manes, described by Viklický in his message as "dirty speaking fabulous trumpetist." Viklický discloses that Manes' had a counterpart in real life.

Skvorecky of course changed all real names to fictive names. It was necessary back in 1974. The letter describes the death of Pavel Bayerle, bandleader, trumpeter, a close friend of Skvorecky. I was in army big band in October 1971 when Bayerle died of heart attack on the stage while conducting the band in Russian-occupied army barracks in Olomouc. Bayerle was 47 then. My letter to Josef remained in the novel practically intact. Skvorecky received my letter just when he was finishing Engineer.

Skvorecky changed Olomouc army barracks to Bratislava Russian barracks. In Russian barracks, we often played longer improvisations mostly ending in aggresive free music. It was our kind of protest. We knew that Russian listeners didn't like it that way.

As it appears in the book, the letter mentions a singer, Miluska Paterjzlova; a guitarist named Karel Kozel, "a big handsome fellow with a green Gibson;" the MC, Private Hemele; and a trumpeter called Pavel Zemecnik who helps the letter writer, "Desmosthenes," pull the stage curtain closed when Benno Manes dies as he is conducting. They were fictional names of Viklicky's real bandmates.

Real singer name was Helena Foltynova, lately married as Helena Viktorinova, still singing some backgrounds for pop stars now. She was Marilin Monroe type of beauty, at the time simply stunning. Guitarist real name was Zdenek Fanta, his Gibson was dark red colour. Private Hemele is well-known actor Jan Kanyza; Trumpeter, who closed yellow curtain from the other side, was Petr Fink. Bayerle died in the 5th bar of letter D of his own song.

From the letter about Benno Manes' death in Skvorecky's novel:

The last thing I remember, and I'll never forget it, was how he was lying there in that empty hall on an empty stage, with his huge belly completely purple, and dark grey trousers, and you couldn't see his head for the stomach, and all around there was yellow bunting, that awful yellow bunting. Yellow and purple, maybe the bust of some statesman behind it but all I could see when I looked into the hall for the last time was that ghastly purple stomach and the yellow bunting. Then we left for Prague.

I thought you might be interested in how your friend died.

They went on to become friends, the novelist emerging as a major literary figure; the pianist about to leave the army, devote himself to jazz and become one of Europe's most famous jazz musicians. Viklicky adds:

When my quartet played in Chicago in 1991, Skvorecky came down from Toronto and stayed with the band for a few days. I think he was fascinated by musicians' talk, because he stayed through rehearsals as well. Backstage slang in '91 was probably different than back in the '40s when Skvorecky was young. But he seemed to love to listen to it. And maybe put it into his next novel.
Yes, the world is small and tightly interconnected.
November 3, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (2)

When they played The Seasons the other night, it had been nine months since I heard alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón's quartet. I was impressed with the band at the Portland Jazz Festival and with Zenón's Jíbaro CD. In Feburary, the leader's fellow Puerto Rican Henry Cole had recently replaced the formidable Antonio Sánchez on drums and was working into the group. Cole's working-in is long past. The band has the cohesion, mutuality of direction and sense of purpose that come when performance together night after night settles individual players into a unit.

Zenón, Cole, bassist Hans Glawischnig and pianist Luis Perdomo are without question a unit. Playing to a hinterlands audience unsure of what to expect from a band most of them had neither heard nor heard of, Zenón took the bold step of performing the tunes in each of two sets without interruption. Before intermission, all of the pieces but two new compositions, "Camarón" and "Penta" were from the Jíbaro album. In the second set, the music consisted only of fresh music by Zenón, unified in the form of a suite.

I could sense surprise and mild discomfort in the hall when the playing in the first set had continued without a break for fifteen or twenty minutes. Gradually, the content of Zenón's music, the band's intensity and the passion of the soloing created the awareness that this was chamber music of a high order; captivating chamber music flowing with Latin pulses, lyricism and yearning, fed by jazz sensibility and swing. Zenón's playing is unlike that of any other young alto saxophonist of whom I am aware. He has the potential to become one of those soloists--not uncommon a couple of generations ago--whom the average listener can recognize after a few notes. Cole is an equally distinctive player. The four members of the band interact with almost eery interconnectedness inside complex music made to sound natural and easy.

I have frequently commented here on the regrettable trend of knee-jerk standing ovations. If everything deserves a standing ovation, nothing deserves one. When the concert ended, there was a long standing ovation full of shouts and whistles. The Zenóns deserved it.

The new pieces that made up that entrancing second half were "Ulysses in Slow Motion," "Santo," "Lamamilla" and "3rd Dimension." None has been recorded. Zenón told me that he hopes to take the band into the studio early next year and incorporate the new music into a CD. Good.

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

About this Archive

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

Rifftides: October 2006 is the previous archive.

Rifftides: December 2006 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

AJ Ads

AJ Blogs

AJBlogCentral | rss

About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Artful Manager
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
blog riley
rock culture approximately
critical difference
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dog Days
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
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
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

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
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
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
Quick Study
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

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
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.