Rifftides: November 2007 Archives

Apropos of nothing, I love this picture of Jelly Roll Morton, evidently lecturing the members of his Red Hot Peppers.


This was 1926 or '27 in Chicago. Behind Morton from left to right are Omer Simeon, clarinet; Andrew Hilaire, drums; John Lindsay, bass; Johnny St. Cyr, banjo; Kid Ory, trombone; and George Mitchell, trumpet. To hear them play "Grandpa's Spells", click here.

November 28, 2007 9:18 PM | | Comments (0)

The world lost Cecil Payne today. He didn't quite make it to his eighty-fifth birthday. Born on December 14, 1922, Payne was thought by many of his peers to be the greatest baritone saxophonist of the first bop generation. He anchored Dizzy Gillespie's seminal big band from 1946 to 1949 and went on to play with dozens of leaders including James Moody, Duke Jordan, Kenny Dorham, Randy Weston, John Coltrane, Woody Herman, Tadd Dameron, Coleman Hawkins, Count Basie and Lionel Hampton.

Cecil Payne

Payne never got the recognition his talent should have brought him. The kindest and most considerate of men, his personality was reflected in the gentle tone with which he played even the most involved lines. Early in this century, beginning to lose his eyesight and not wishing to be a bother, he disappeared into the life of a virtual hermit in his Brooklyn home, eating little and growing weak. Concerned friends eventually arranged for meals to be taken to him and when he got his strength back saw that he had transportation to engagements with close colleagues and younger musicians. He continued playing until he went into a nursing home about a year ago. For a combination obituary and tribute go here.

This page has a selection of many of Cecil Payne's CDs. The first album under his own name, Patterns Of Jazz (1956) is there, without a picture of the cover. Don't overlook it. Savoy has evidently let that classic 1956 album with Kenny Dorham and Duke Jordan go out of print. It has an unforgettable version of Randy Weston's "Saucer Eyes." It is available from various web sites and auctions for as much as seventy-eight dollars. That makes this twenty-seven-dollar offering a bargain.

November 27, 2007 4:09 PM | | Comments (0)

Rifftides Reader Chuck Mitchell, a veteran of print journalism and television production, writes concerning Dizzy's Bebop Reunion.

As it happens, I was a 24 year-old associate producer on Soundstage in 1976 when this program was shot at Chicago Public Television, having been hired away from my Down Beat job by the series creator, Ken Ehrlich, who went on to greater fame as the producer of the yearly Grammy broadcasts and other shows. Ken had decamped to Hollywood from Chicago after booking this show, however. I had about a month's worth of TV experience at the time of taping.

The idea behind the Dizzy show belonged to Ben Sidran, who had developed the concept with Ken and Diz, booked several of the artists, and provided much of the musical glue behind the scenes. I don't recall any (or at least very many) lead sheets, so rehearsals were a process of creating arrangements on the spot and reconstructing some pretty tricky tunes from the collective memory of the players. I have a particular recollection of the effort to work out the ending of 'Round Midnight, a vocal spotlight for Sarah Vaughan. Almost everyone took turns at the piano trying to get it exactly right. As I recall, it was the Divine One who nailed it after all. But it was over 30 years and a thousand gigs ago, so things may have gotten a little fuzzy for me.

Most importantly, Dizzy had developed a nasty cyst on his upper lip, which caused him so much pain that he could only play on the first of the two taping nights, and with great difficulty. As you might expect, he was extremely upset and disturbed about not being able to acquit himself well on his own program, not to mention apprehensive about what this condition might mean for his future as a player. We took him to the Bah'ai Temple on Lake Michigan as a way of giving him some comfort, with the bonus of a beautiful setting for the interview intended to give the viewers some historical perspective and a brief insight into Dizzy's own personality. Upon returning for the second night's taping, Dizzy, ever the showman, played the role of host perfectly, and we were able to intercut the two nights so that unless you know what's going on, you might not notice.

Fortunately, Diz got the problem taken care of and returned the following year to guest on a show we did based on the life and music of the irrepressible David Amram. He played splendidly.

November 26, 2007 11:50 AM | | Comments (0)

Had he lived, Paul Desmond would have been eighty-three years old today. Jim Hall said it best, "He would have been a great old man."

Here's a good way to remember Desmond--having fun with Dave Brubeck, Gene Wright and Joe Morello in 1976, fourteen months before his death.

At CKUT-FM in Montreal, the veteran broadcaster Len Dobbin played Desmond's music today on his Dobbin's Den. It was part of the station's celebration of its twentieth anniversary. The program is archived. You can listen to it by going here. He kindly recommended this book to those who want to know more about Desmond.

November 25, 2007 12:51 PM | | Comments (0)

It turns out that the exhilirating version of "Groovin' High" that was the subject of yesterday's post was only a sample. It came from an hour television program that, if you have enough bandwidth, you may watch in its entirety. Rifftides reader Richard Carlson again does the setup:

Now that I've recovered a bit from yesterday's feast, maybe I can supply some details about the clip---and, I'm assured, more to come from that show. It's an early Soundstage production, the PBS series that features the kind of artists they usually show us during the fund-raising "festivals". The program was titled "Dizzy Gillespie's Bebop Reunion," and if you Google that title it appears commercial release may have occurred at some point. Soundstage does not offer it among its merchandise.

Each artist gets a feature and "Groovin' High" turned out to be Moody's. Milt Jackson also is on hand, as are Sarah Vaughan and Joe Carroll...so there is much to look forward to. Everybody is in positively peak form! There also are segments in which Diz theologizes about his spiritual life and, since it was shot in Chicago, takes us to the Baha'i temple there.

I found out about the session when Grange Rutan, Al Haig's widow, gifted me with a DVD of it she made. Grange, dubbed Lady Haig by Dizzy, published her book about Al this year, entitled Death Of A Bebop Wife, and it sold out almost immediately. If anybody wants a copy you might write Cadence and ask for a second printing.

Grange Rutan is also in touch with Rifftides, a bit miffed about the pricing of her Haig book on the internet and happy to provide further ordering information.

I almost fainted when I saw that amazon.com was out of it but had nine reviews and a used copy they are willing to sell for $75.00 when the going rate is $28.00 plus $6.75 with Cadence Jazz Books at 315-287-2852. I have a few autographed copies at my office that I would be glad to personally sell. You could reach me by e-mail at alhaigbebop@aol.com.

Lady Haig offers a description of the segment of the show in which Gillespie, Moody, Sarah Vaughan, Milt Jackson and Joe Carroll create a first-generation bebop scatfest:

The endorphins will really kick in when they all scat...Al laughing at the piano propelling them into a magcial and chaotic blending of bebop at it's finest. Kenny Clarke is his elegant self and Joe Carroll is so hip.

Intrigued? You can watch the whole thing by clicking here. Don't let the opening sequence of artsy-craftsy 1970s psychedelic jump cuts throw you. After a few minutes, things settle down.

Grange Rutan says she knows of no plan to release this as a commercial DVD. Too bad.

November 24, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

The Rifftides staff thanks reader Richard Carlson for alerting us to a piece of video from a 1976 television program. It gives us James Moody, Ray Brown, Al Haig and Kenny Clarke playing Dizzy Gillespie's "Groovin' High." This is a rare opportunity to see Haig, one of the most influential bebop pianists. We glimpse Gillespie at the beginning of the clip, but he disappears behind Brown and doesn't play a note. Brown's ebullience may have been set off by what Dizzy said to him as he passed by. Note Clarke's admiration as Brown solos.

I once introduced Moody as an alto saxophonist. He quickly said, "Tenor saxophonist. I play alto only when I have to." The way he plays it here doesn't sound as if he was under duress.

To view the clip, click here.

November 23, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

This is an important American national holiday. To those in or from the United States, the Rifftides staff sends wishes for a happy Thanksgiving. To readers around the world: we appreciate your interest, attendance and comments. Wherever you are, we hope that you have much for which to be thankful.

November 22, 2007 12:01 AM | | Comments (0)
Having read many articles and liner notes you have written as well as Take Five, your marvelous book on the life of Paul Desmond, I had no doubt that I would enjoy your first novel, Poodie James. This was confirmed to me the day that Bill and Judy Mays, Matt Wilson, Martin Wind, Alisa Horn, and I attended your book signing in Yakima, where you read excerpts from the book. All of us bought copies of Poodie James that afternoon.

But though I knew I would enjoy the book, I was unprepared for the depth of feeling that your writing would evoke from me. I was truly touched. Your writing style is very personal, as if you are telling the story directly to me; and each character in the book immediately comes to life, possessing all the very human traits we experience in dealing with people every day. They have both the good qualities and human failings of us all.

Your book is filled with the warmth of people who feel deeply the sensitivities of others; other people who interminably sit on the fence, having difficulty deciding whether to do the right thing; and then those who have such a abiding prejudice against anyone who is different that they are blinded to any of the good things that life offers. Your description of life from that period of time in which the book is set truly calls to my mind the memories and feelings of that period of my own childhood.

Poodie James is a wonderfully compelling and touching book. I "felt it" as much as I enjoyed it - as my wife is now experiencing as I write this. Thank you for this gift. As I do anything that you write, I very much look forward to reading and enjoying your next endeavor.

Marvin Stamm
New York

Marvin Stamm, the master trumpet and fluegelhornist, lives in Westchester County, New York.

November 20, 2007 10:21 AM | | Comments (0)

Rifftides Washington DC correspondent John Birchard writes:

Thanks for the heads-up on the program about Willis. I'll make sure to listen to it. I also alerted several of my VOA colleagues as to its existence.
And thanks, too, for your continued attention to the systematic dismantling of VOA's English programming on radio. Every voice helps.

Management has announced the closure of the big Delano, California, transmitting facility... and in March, one of our biggest, the short-wave site at Tangier, Morocco, built during the Reagan administration and featuring ten 500,000-watt transmitters, will be history as well. Last fall, it was the facility at Rhodes, Greece. In the past three years, we have lost 55% of our transmitting capacity, even as such "friends" as China, Russia and France have ramped up their English programming. The Board of Broadcasting Governors' (BBG) intent is clear: if Congress won't pass a budget that gives them the license to shut us down, they'll do it by chipping away at our ability to be heard. By the time, our representatives wake up to the situation, it will be too late to reverse these moves. Short-wave frequencies given away are lost forever, snapped up by those who understand their value.

November 18, 2007 9:16 AM | | Comments (0)

In an era when the leadership of the United States all but ignores culture as a diplomatic tool and downgrades the Voice Of America, an hour with Willis Conover has a sharp poignancy. Conover, the VOA's great jazz broadcaster for more than four decades, is the subject of a program airing tonight (November 17) at 11:05 EST on WFIU, 103.7 FM, in Bloomington, Indiana and tomorrow night at 10:00 EST on Michigan's Blue Lake Public Radio. More important to Rifftides readers around the world, the program is permanently archived for online streaming.

Host and producer David Brent Johnson has been at work on the show for months. His meticulous research, knowledgeable music selection, canny interviewing and smooth production result in a valuable document of a man who for decades was the United States' most valuable cultural diplomat.
Willis Conover

You can hear Conover's Coming Over: Willis Conover and Jazz at the Voice of America by going here. The page carrying the streaming player also links to several Rifftides pieces about Conover.

November 17, 2007 12:49 PM | | Comments (0)

Sometimes comments come along considerably after the appearance of the item that inspires them. Rifftides reader Ian Russell sent a note concerning this January 28, 2006 piece about Jackie Cain.

I had a 12" LP of Jackie and Roy performing with Charlie Ventura & his big band. What a treasure ! I listened to it many times over the years, and then somehow lost it. What I would give to have it back. One of the numbers was "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles." I've yet to hear anyone even come close to that great arrangement.
Jackie%20%26%20Roy.jpg Mr. Russell is in luck. So is anyone else who lacks the classic 1948-49 Jackie Cain-Roy Kral recordings with Charlie Ventura and his Bop For The People band, which also included Shelly Manne, Conte Candoli and Bennie Green, among other rising stars. The music is available on CD, still exciting, still fresh.
November 12, 2007 9:17 PM | | Comments (1)

The late pianist Jack Brownlow will be honored today on the radio. Bruno died on October 27 at the age of 84.

Jim Wilke will devote his Jazz Northwest program on KPLU-FM to Bruno and his music. That's at 1:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, 4:00 Eastern. To listen live in the Seattle-Tacoma area go to 88.5 FM. To hear the program on the internet click here.

November 11, 2007 9:52 AM | | Comments (0)

Seattle, Washington, November 10

Preoccupied with death and its aftermath for two weeks, I decided to seek out life, so I went to Serafina.

Serafina is not a girl friend. It's a restaurant. Arriving at 7:15, I asked the hostess for a table for one. Her eyes sparkled with amusement, but she refrained from saying, "In your dreams."

"Maybe by 9:30," she said, "but if you'd like to wait for something to open up at the bar, you can eat there. Full menu." It was like being back in New York, even unto the fashionably hip, mostly young, crowd.

The bar has maybe ten stools. They were all occupied, and there was a phalanx three deep trying to find enough elbow room to hoist their aperitifs. Fat chance, I thought, but I ordered a glass of wine and stood chatting with a woman who lives in the neighborhood. She asked what I do. I told her. She asked what I'd written lately. "Ah," she politely responded, and asked me to spell Poodie. "I read a lot," she said. "Mysteries. Can't get enough of them. Lately, it's been James Lee Burke. I knew I should have come earlier. It's like this on Saturdays." She disappeared into the Eastlake Avenue night.

A man yielded his stool. The heftier bartender with the grey beard waved me forward. I indicated the rest of the waiting crowd. He shrugged. We shook hands and exchanged names. He was Matthew. His colleague, tall and lean, was Matthias. "Matt and Matt," he said. There is little more satisfying than the pleasure of watching people do what they do well and enjoying it. These guys were craftsmen. Matthew's creation of a chocolate martini, something I can't imagine drinking, was bartender ballet.

I ordered the Trota al Tortufo, roasted trout stuffed with artichokes and truffles finished with a black truffle-butter sauce, served with sautéed spinach. Matthias suggested an Italian white wine, Vermentino Sardegna Pala Crabilis. It was an inspired pairing. For dessert, he recommended a pumpkin something or other, but I had a double espresso and the chocolate tort, or Torta di Cioccolata e Mandorla, as such things are called when they cost a lot.

"The pastry chef shows up every afternoon and does these incredible things," Matthew said, "then she disappears. Her name is Mei." With Mei's tort and the espresso, I hit my second daily double of the meal.

Serafina was beyond crowded, pulsing with life, noise and happiness. Just what I needed.

This is quite likely the only restaurant review I will ever write. Grazie, Serafina.

November 10, 2007 9:35 PM | | Comments (0)

Nearly every waking hour is consumed by the task at hand--the settlement of a friend's estate--but I manage to grab a few minutes here and there in an attempt not to fall too far behind events and ideas. In August, I wrote at some length about Maria Schneider's CD Sky Blue. Today, I caught up with Francis Davis's October 30 commentary in The Village Voice about Schneider's relative importance as a composer. It is a thoughtful piece full of insights that, it seems to me, put her in proper perspective. Here is a key section that follows a keenly observed background paragraph preparing us to consider Schneider as a successor to Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Gil Evans.

Though some might deem it premature to advance Maria Schneider to the pantheon just yet, at 47 she seems to me to have all the qualifications, right down to a core of steadfast orchestra members: "Those guys play her music like they'd take a bullet for her," another composer remarked enviously following a recent performance. Schneider's new Sky Blue makes it easy to hear why.

To read all of Davis's essay, go here.

Rifftides will be back in full swing as soon as possible. Among other things, I plan to watch and report on the rest of the new Jazz Icons DVD series. In the meantime, please stay in touch, either by comments (link at the end of items) or by way of the e-mail address in the right-hand column.

November 9, 2007 10:05 AM | | Comments (0)

At Seattle's Jazz Alley, Luciana Souza began and ended her long single set with the Brazilian music that is her birthright and her glory. She also sang several pop-cum-bossa nova songs from her album The New Bossa Nova, but it was the old bossa nova that lifted her performance and lit up the audience. She opened with João Gilberto's "Adeus América," rubbing softly on the head of a tambourine as she sang, Keith Ganz strumming quiet harmonies on his green guitar.

Souza described the nature of the bossa nova. "It is about reverence for the music and the words," she said. "More is less." With Ganz's guitar, Matt Aranoff's bass and occasionally her wire brushes on a red cardboard box top, she spent an hour-and-a-half demonstrating the esthetic. Following the vivacity and sense of discovery in her Brazilian Duos and Brazilian Duos II, Souza seemed subdued in covers of somber songs by Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman, James Taylor, Brian Wilson and others. Still, the perfection of her voice, her impeccable time and the radiance of her personality proscribe dullness.

Luciana Souza

Crediting Frank Sinatra as a primary influence for "his diction, delivery, maturity," she sang a slow "You Go To My Head" incorporating rhythmically daring repeated phrases that would have crashed on the shoals of lesser musicianship. Accompanying herself on a thumb piano, she recited Pablo Neruda's "Sonnet # 49" from her Neruda CD. Souza developed "Sometimes I'm Happy" as an architectonic progression, with only bass accompaniment for the first chorus, bringing in guitar under her voice and introducing melodic variations and wonderfully flexible phrasing in the second, scatting the third, giving Ganz the freedom to play a solo marinated in rich chord substitutions, and ending the final vocal chorus in unison with her accompanists on a tag from Thelonious Monk's "I Mean You."

When she returned to the Brazilian repertoire, she energized the club with "So Danco Samba," including a scat chorus of vocalise, and with "Aguas de Marco." As an encore, she all but reinvented "Corcovado" with a slow rubato first chorus leading into melodic variations over adventurous reharmonizing by Ganz and Aranoff. She sang it in Portuguese, except for one line of Gene Lees' famous English lyrics.

Quiet nights of quiet stars,
quiet chords from my guitar
floating on the silence that surrounds us.

A bewitching ending to the evening.

November 5, 2007 5:46 PM | | Comments (0)

Noticing that I am on temporary or intermittent leave, Rifftides Washington, DC correspondent John Birchard leaps into the breach with a review.

By John Birchard

Like Jimmy Blanton, Scott LaFaro died 'way too young. But, in their brief times on earth, both men had an immediate and profound effect on the way jazz is played on the bass. It's hard to overestimate their influence on succeeding generations.

One of the worthy successors to Blanton and LaFaro played the K.C. Jazz Club at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC on November 2nd. John Patitucci brought two friends - the guitarist Larry Koonse and the drummer Brian Blade. We caught the first of two sets.

The trio attracted a number of Washington-based musicians, including bassist Tom Baldwin. We sat next to Baldwin and his 8-year-old son Benjamin, a piano student. The program began with some bop for the people, Charlie Parker's "Visa," Patitucci digging in strong from the beginning on the acoustic bass and Brian Blade especially crisp and imaginative with his fills.

Though we tend to think of Patitucci as among the younger crop of jazz musicians, he has been on the national stage since the mid-1980s, establishing himself with Chick Corea over a ten-year period. His playing combines the strong time sense of the Blanton-Ray Brown school with the fleet-fingered dexterity of LaFaro. He has recorded extensively with everyone from Wayne Shorter to Queen Latifah and has more than a dozen recordings as a leader.

John Patitucci

The Kennedy Center program included a number of attractive Patitucci originals. "Agitato" found Brian Blade setting the tempo with a Latin rhythm with the leader then stepping in and finally guitarist Koonse contributing a well-conceived solo made of up alternating single-note lines and interesting chords on the minor-keyed melody. Patitucci was again the muscular underpinning for the piece. He puts lots of body English into his playing and his expressive face shows the passion he pours into his performances.

Patitucci described his "Tone Poem" as sounding as "if Sibelius played 6-string bass." He picked up the electric instrument and showed the chops of a guitarist (which he was as a youngster) on the unaccompanied, out-of-tempo performance. A quiet, lovely moment.

Next came "The Root", another original by the bassist who stayed with the six-string. He smilingly sub-titled the piece "Bach Goes to Africa." It's a gentle melody with a feeling of ¾ time. Blade distinguished himself here with some sensitive dynamics in accompaniment.

Patitucci switched back to the acoustic instrument for the title tune from his latest CD, "Line By Line" and again laid down some firm, earthy lines for the others to build on.

On an adaptation of Manuel de Falla's lullaby "Nana," Blade laid out while the leader demonstrated his arco abilities. He produces a sweet, singing tone with the bow, a pleasure to hear. Koonse's role on the nylon-string acoustic guitar was mostly in sensitive accompaniment.

It was back to the electric bass as the trio picked up the tempo with an unusual approach to Monk's "Evidence." We had never heard the tune done as a calypso sort of samba, but it sure worked. In the midst of Patitucci's solo, he busted the high C string on his instrument, but he never missed a beat, continuing to play with the broken string flailing around as he moved. The capacity audience cheered both the tune and the bassist's unflappable demeanor.

The set closed with an encore - the original "Folk Lore," which Patitucci calls his "Irish tune." It's a slow and expressive waltz with a plaintive melody. Blade was effective again in accompaniment, using a combination of brushes and mallets.

The trio produced a varied and interesting set that was recorded for later broadcast on NPR's Jazz Set with DeeDee Bridgewater. Koonse and Blade make valuable contributions and the leader is quick to credit them. John Patitucci combines a friendly, outgoing personality as a leader with his well-earned reputation as a first-class bass player.

Tom Baldwin and son Benjamin, the budding pianist, pronounced themselves pleased with the performances -- and your fthful crspndnt couldn't agree more.

A fine report. Thanks, John.

November 3, 2007 6:00 PM | | Comments (1)

Today's Seattle Times has a substantial obituary of Jack Brownlow. It begins:

Jack Brownlow learned to play the piano by ear at age 12. By his late teens, he was an accomplished professional. Although he never sought a national stage, he made a stir here as a musician's musician, a quiet pianist known best for his harmonic sophistication and his encyclopedic knowledge of songs.

When he first heard Mr. Brownlow play, Paul Desmond, the alto saxophonist and lead soloist in the Dave Brubeck Quartet, reportedly remarked: "If I played piano, that's how I'd want to play it."

To read the whole thing, go here.

Rifftides will resume normal operation eventually. This executorship business is going to be full time for at least a few days. I hope to find time for a report on Luciana Souza's perfomance at Jazz Alley. Please check in now and then.

November 1, 2007 12:39 PM | | Comments (0)

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Rifftides in November 2007.

Rifftides: October 2007 is the previous archive.

Rifftides: December 2007 is the next archive.

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