Rifftides: July 2008 Archives

This is a plea for abandonment of an irritant that infests the English language. The phrase is "if you will." Just now on a news program, an economic spokesman for one of the US presidential candidates (which one doesn't matter; this is not a political comment) said, "if you will" nine times in the course of a ten-minute interview. In not one of those instances did "if you will" clarify, explain or inform. It only muddied understanding and interrupted thought. I think that I'll adopt the practice of a friend. Whenever someone he's speaking with says, "if you will," he interrupts with, "I won't."

She Literally Exploded.jpgTwo editors of The Daily Telegraph in London have corraled several hundred language misusages and obfuscations into a delightful little volume titled She Literally Exploded: The Daily Telegraph Infuriating Phrasebook. Sample entries:



 They, them, their     Instead of he, him, his/she, her. A failure of pronouns to agree with verbs is a glaring grammatical error, but is embraced to avoid specifying sex: The caller withheld their number.

Basis     Used to form a cumbersome adverbial phrase instead of an adverb: on a daily basis, instead of daily; on a voluntary basis, instead of voluntarily.

Concerns     After the stabbing, teachers' representatives voiced concerns over classroom discipline. 



July 30, 2008 1:05 AM | | Comments (2)

Not long ago in a Recent Listening in Brief posting, I brushed by the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra's new CD. Brevity by no means indicated a lack of enthusiasm for the latest recorded work of that remarkable institution. Will Friedwald, the jazz critic of The New York Sun, is another VJO enthusiast. He attended the band's recent performance at New York's 92nd Street Y in the summer concert series overseen by pianist Bill Charlap. Here is some of what he wrote about Thad Jones and Jim McNeely:

Fifty years ago, when Jones was playing in Count Basie's trumpet section, he had a hard time getting the Count to play his music. When he did, Basie felt obliged to "dumb" Jones's music down -- he regarded it as too complex for mainstream audiences, especially for dancers, who essentially wanted everything in foot-patting foxtrot tempo. This, naturally, was a big part of what impelled Jones to launch his own big band (in collaboration with the drummer Mel Lewis).

If Jones's charts seemed radical in their day, when they're compared with the more deliberately complex and concert-styled works of Mr. McNeely, they now seem amazingly straightforward and swinging. Not that Jones's charts were simplistic or lacking in intricacy; as Mr. Charlap pointed out, "Little Pixie" is, on the surface, a basic variation on "I Got Rhythm," but it's got as much going on as a Stravinsky ballet.

To read all of Friedwald's column, go here.
July 30, 2008 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)
Summer has us in its grip. The Rifftides staff is regrouping. Assuming that you are being patient, we thank you for your patience.
July 28, 2008 9:23 PM | | Comments (1)

Our patience will achieve more than our force. -- Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France.


Turn thy complexion there, Patience, thou young and rose-lipp'd cherubin; Ay, there, look grim as hell! -- Shakespeare, Othello


Patience and fortitude,

Patience and fortitude,

Patience and fortitude,

And things will come your way. -- Patience and Fortitude, lyrics by Johnny Mercer

July 28, 2008 9:22 PM | | Comments (0)

Johnny Griffin, a tenor saxophonist whose technical command set standards for his instrument and who refused to compromise his art, died today at his home in the village of Mauprevoir in France. From Ben Ratliff's obituary of Griffin in today's New York Times:

Griffin 2.jpgHis height -- around five feet five -- earned him the nickname "The Little Giant"; his speed in bebop improvising marked him as "The Fastest Gun in the West"; a group he led with Eddie Lockjaw Davis was informally called the "tough tenor" band, a designation that was eventually applied to a whole school of hard bop tenor players.

And in general, Mr. Griffin suffered from categorization. In the early 1960s, he became embittered by the acceptance of free jazz; he stayed true to his identity as a bebopper. When he felt the American jazz marketplace had no use for him (at a time he was also having marital and tax troubles), he left for Holland.

At that point America lost one of its best musicians, even if his style fell out of sync with the times.

When the man admired as the Little Giant celebrated his eightieth birthday in May, Rifftides posted this retrospective. It includes a CD recommendation and a link to video of Griffin in action.
July 25, 2008 10:43 AM | | Comments (4)

Lately, I've been missing Tom Talbert. I went into the archive to see what Rifftides had to say about him following his death a little more than three years ago. Here is one paragraph of the remembrance:

Talbert.jpgTom died on Saturday, a month short of his eighty-first birthday. An elegant, soft-spoken man, he was an early and drastically overlooked composer, arranger and band leader on the west coast before West Coast Jazz was a category. His mid-to-late-1940s Los Angeles bands included Lucky Thompson, Dodo Marmarosa, Hal McKusick, Al Killian, Art Pepper, Claude Williamson and other musicians who were or went on to become leading soloists. Talbert's writing for large ensembles was ingenious and subtle. The best of it, "Is Is Not Is," as an example, rivaled George Handy's iconoclastic work for the Boyd Raeburn band. The recordings Talbert made shortly after World War Two sound fresh today. Art Pepper fell in love with Tom's treatment of "Over the Rainbow" and adopted the song as his signature tune.

To read the whole thing, go here. Then, see what the distinguished critic Larry Kart had to say about Talbert. To read more about Tom Talbert and hear excerpts from the National Public Radio Jazz Profiles program about him, click here.
July 25, 2008 1:05 AM | | Comments (2)

You compose because you want to somehow summarize in some permanent form your most basic feelings about being alive, to set down... some sort of permanent statement about the way it feels to live now, today--Aaron Copland

Well, American composers are the best composers. At this time in the world, we are where the energy is. We are the most diverse, the most iconoclastic, the most maverick, and the most skillful--David Del Tredici

I don't hate work, composing is not work for me, it's my pleasure; it's my life. So why should I stop? If something is pleasurable and exciting and rewarding, why should one stop?--Gunther Schuller

July 25, 2008 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

In a 1995 Jazz Times review of a Sylvia Syms CD, I wrote:

Sylvia Syms had a vibrato like a telephone wire in a breeze. She sometimes slid around both sides of a note before she settled on it. She often added the syllable "uh" to the end of a word ("ridin' on the moon-uh"). She could pounce on a consonant and ignore the vowel next door. Some of her power notes were pure brass and there were moments when she sounded alarmingly like Carol Channing.

Hey, nobody's perfect, but to many discerning listeners, musicians and singers, Sylvia Syms was. This live recording has all the reasons: passion, drama, phrasing, interpretation of lyrics, a solid but flexible time sense and the ability to keep an audience in the palm of her hand.

Frank Sinatra admired Syms so much that he conducted an album for her. It has never made it to CD, but the LP is available. Syms was not the British film star of the same name, but in her treatment of songs and in the way she related to her audiences, she was a vocal actress. This 1991 appearance in England gives an idea why Sinatra called her "the world's greatest saloon singer." 


The year following that performance, Syms died of a heart attack on the bandstand of the Oak Room in the Algonquin Hotel in New York. She was seventy-four.

July 24, 2008 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)


In the course of writing about Gloria Cheng's new CD (in the next exhibit), I mentioned Gary McFarland's collaboration with Bill Evans, a basic repertoire item in every serious CD collection of twentieth century music. Bill Kirchner includes it in his survey of a dozen essential tracks from a variety of McFarland's and others' recordings. Kirchner's preamble places in perspective this brilliant musician, called by Gene Lees an adult prodigy, who was taken from us in a senseless bar room prank. To see Bill's list and comments, go to this page on Ted Gioa's web site.



Desmond.jpgThe stock-in-trade of Steve Cerra's new blog, Jazz Profiles, is cannily-selected pieces about musicians and others in jazz. His lead story at the moment is Scott Timberg's 1999 article about William Claxton. If you recognize these photographs, you probably know about Bill Claxton. But you may not know as much as you'll find if you go here.



I haven't written as much here recently as I should have about an important Other Matter, journalism. To say that there is upheaval in the profession, craft, calling--whatever it is--doesn't begin to cover the uncertainty of its transition to the next phase of the business. Ah, business; yes, that's what it is. Wherever journalism is headed, an essential element is sure to be citizen journalism. What's that? For a discussion that includes, appropriately, a video definition, see Jay Rosen's Press Think. Be prepared to follow several important links. Then come back to Rifftides, please.

July 23, 2008 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Marsh.jpgWarne Marsh & Kenny Drew In Copenhagen (Storyville). Recorded in 1980, Marsh--a tenor sax master of subtlety and liquid imagination--plays in a quartet with Drew, one of the brightest graduates of Bud Powell's college of bebop piano knowledge. Marsh has a few "oops" moments in note choices, but hearing him think his way out of them is part of the fun. This CD has one of Marsh's most stimulating explorations of "Star Eyes," a song that inspired him for decades.

The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Monday Night Live At The Village Vanguard.jpgVanguard (Planet Arts). In a continuum that started with Thad Jones-Mel Lewis and ran through the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, the VJO carries on a solid tradition of elevated musicianship, unfettered swinging and good, clean fun. Imperishable arrangements by Jones, Bob Brookmeyer and Jim McNeely provide extended opportunities for the band's galaxy of soloists. Among the players are Dick Oatts, Terrell Stafford, Scott Wendholt, John Mosca, Rich Perry, Ralph Lalama, Gary Smulyan and McNeely.

Reptet, Chicken Or Beef? (Monktail). The method in their madness Reptet 3.jpgis sometimes concealed in over-the-top shenanigans, but there's plenty of artistry, discipline and technique in this second CD by the Seattle sextet. They meld a wild combination of musical ingredients into tight arrangements that in some of their more structured moments recall the combo writing of Rod Levitt, in others jump bands of the early forties and, in many, nothing but Reptet.

Gloria Cheng, Piano Music of Salonen, Stucky, and Lutoslawski (Telarc). Cheng specializes in music of twentieth and twenty-first Cheng.jpgcentury composers. Her brilliant playing of Witold Lutoslawski's 1934 sonata discloses his early inspiration in the impressionistic lyricism of Ravel and Debussy, a revelation to me. Steven Stucky's and Esa-Pekka Salonen's pieces--written in recent years--in turn show their debts to Lutoslawski. Cheng soars through these demanding compositions with touch, articulation and dynamics that may overcome any resistance you have to contemporary "classical" music. The deftness and feeling she brings to the "Chorale" section of Salonen's Three Preludes reminded me of something. I dug out The Gary McFarland Orchestra with Special Guest Bill Evans from 1963 and listened to "Night Images." Sure enought, the moods, if not the styles, of Salonen's and McFarland's pieces complement one another perfectly. It's all music, folks.

For previous entries in this Recent Listening series, go here and here.

July 22, 2008 1:05 AM | | Comments (1)

Zenon 1.jpgMiguel Zenón, Awake (Marsalis Music). In the DownBeat critics poll results announced in the magazine's August issue, Zenón swept the "Rising Star Alto Saxophone" category and placed sixth among established alto players. That puts him in company with Ornette Coleman, Phil Woods, Lee Konitz, Kenny Garrett and Greg Osby and ahead of the pack of alto players closer to his age. He is thirty. The timing of the release of this remarkable suite just before the voting deadline may have had something to do with his showing, but Zenón registered a large blip on the critics' radar with his previous CD Jíbaro and his work with David Sánchez, Charlie Haden and the Mingus Big Band, among other groups. Nearly two years ago, when the music on Awake was a work in progress, I raved after hearing much of it in concert.

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.

To read the whole thing, click here. I erred then in attributing "Camarón" to the Jíbaro CD. Zenón was developing that beguiling piece for the album that became Awake, along with "Santo," "Lamamilla," "3rd Dimension" and "Ulysses in Slow Motion," which is intriguing for more than its title. They are among Awake's ten pieces, which can fairly be called movements because they are parts of a unified whole.

It is an index of Zenón's ability to conceptualize that in the sixth track he adds three horns to the quartet for several minutes of simultaneous free improvisation and that he incorporates it lucidly into the form and flow of Awake. I should think that Ornette Coleman, avatar of free jazz, would smile on hearing that section. Zenón's maturing compositional skills are reflected in his scoring for string quartet on two of the pieces. The writing for strings is not grafted onto the music, as it often is in jazz projects. It is organic, like his uses of Latin rhythm patterns in his compositions, and his improvisational methods. When he quotes Bud Powell's "Parisian Thoroughfare" in the course of his solo on "Camarón," his wit galvanizes the listener's attention for a second, then, with a neat harmonic turn, directs it back into the course of the music.

For nearly three years, Zenón's quartet has Cole.jpgincluded his fellow Puerto Rican Henry Cole, a drummer whose listening reflexes and placement of small, controlled, explosions beneath the improvisations of Zenón, pianist Luis Perdomo and bassist Hans Glawischnig account for much of the music's vibrancy and energy. It is good to have recorded evidence of Cole's work with this satisfying band, and good to hear Zenón's creative growth matching or exceeding his increasing success with audiences...and critics. 

July 21, 2008 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Jo Stafford, a perfect singer, died on Wednesday. She was ninety years old. There will be obituaries this morning in newspapers all over the world. Web sites have them already. Many people who read them will be hearing of her for the first time because in the 1960s, at the top of her game, she walked away from the music business. Tributes to Jo and memories of her showed up today across the internet. My artsjournal colleague Terry Teachout has a fine one, as does Bill Reed. I know of no better line of description about Jo's singing than this one from Gene Lees in his book Singers and the Song II:

Possibly it was her way of letting a song happen rather than shoving it at you soaked in personal style.

Here's what Gene had in mind:

July 18, 2008 1:06 AM | | Comments (6)

...An Explanation:

As recently as the early 1980s, relatively few major labels made jazz records. Columbia, RCA Victor, Decca, Capitol, United Artists, Warner Bros, Atlantic and Mercury were the big names. Independent companies that specialized in regular jazz releases included Prestige, Savoy, Blue Note, Riverside, Contemporary, Fantasy, Bethlehem, Verve and Commodore. Mode, Dooto, Roost, Dig, Tampa, Debut and dozens of other small labels occasionally produced and released jazz recordings on long-playing vinyl discs.

LP.jpgThose who wrote about jazz could be reasonably confident of keeping up with established artists or those with significant potential because those were the performers in whom record companies were willing to invest. Particularly among the majors, a musician got a contract and studio time only if someone at a label believed that a recording would sell enough copies to produce a profit.

After the advent of compact discs, the technology and economies of scale in CD production rapidly developed to the point where an eighteen-year-old saxophonist could be his own record company. With reasonably good off-the-shelf equipment, a musician could even record at home and come up with an album that would not make your ears hurt--at least not for technical reasons. CDs became cheap to produce and--more important--cheap to reproduce. Musicians pass them around like business cards. Ralph the budding pianist, guitarist or drummer becomes Ralph Records. He produces his own album of twelve original compositions and sends it to every publication, writer, radio station, web site and blogger whose address he can find.

In the first paragraph, I mentioned twenty-two record companies. It would take at least twenty-two pages to list all of today's labels. Virtually every young musician you heard last night in a club, coffee house, corner bar, church recreation room or your neighbor's garage has made, is making or is about to make a CD. He or she (there are lots of aspiring young women musicians today) will distribute the disc to those who might write about it or play it on the air or the internet.

To ambitious players and singers, this ease of production and distribution opens vistas of CD stack 3.jpghope. For critics, reviewers and DJs, it results in floods of promotional CD copies or MP3s that stream into their real or virtual mail boxes. Rising tides of CDs engulf their offices and listening rooms. If they devoted all of their waking hours to listening, they could not hear a tenth of the music pouring in. All of this is not to complain; there are those who think that being awash in free CDs would be heaven.   

It is merely to explain that what follows is an attempt to mention, with brief comments, a few of the CDs that have recently arrived at Rifftides world headquarters--some not so recently. I selected a few of them because the artists seem to me important. I chose some out of curiosity, others by closing my eyes and pointing. I hasten to add that these are, for the most part, professionally produced albums by experienced musicians. The other kind go to the listening room floor...because I'm out of shelf space.

This is the first part of an overview that may go on for a few days along with whatever other items pop up on Rifftides. If the overview doesn't include your CD, or your favorite eighteen-year-old tenor player's, please understand that it would be humanly impossible to hear, let alone write about, all the CDs that show up.


Wynton Willie.jpgWillie Nelson, Wynton Marsalis, Two Men With The Blues (Blue Note). Without pretension, with solid musicianship, the country hero and the jazz lord of Lincoln Center get together in concert. They play and sing lots of blues, but "Stardust" and "Ain't Nobody's Business" steal the honors. Saxophonist Walter Blanding and the young pianist Dan Nimmer deserve equal billing.

Roy Hargrove, Earfood (Emarcy/Groovin' High). royhargrove.jpgThere's nothing pretentious here, either. The trumpeter leads his quintet through a set that often recalls predecessors like Lee Morgan and Kenny Dorham. This is a working band, tight and unified. Standing out from all the hard bop cooking and soul stirring is Hargrove's simple, expressive flugelhorn exposition of Kurt Weill's "Speak Low." What a gifted melodicist he is.

Uhlir.jpgFrantišek Uhlíř, Maybe Later (Arta). Three months ago, I wrote that I was looking forward to a new CD by this Czech virtuoso of the double bass. It finally arrived. In addition to his long association with pianist Emil Viklický, Uhlíř leads his own trio. He is brilliant in interaction with the unusual guitarist Darko Jurkovic and drummer Jaromir Helesic and establishes yet again that he is one of the masters of his instrument. This may be hard to find outside of Europe. It is worth a search.

Paul Bley, About Time (Justin Time). More than a half-hour of the CD is devoted to the title Bley.jpgtrack, which consists of the venerable pianist's autumnal meditation on "All The Things You Are" or, to put it more accurately, on the song's harmonic material. It provides a look into Bley's allusive, sometimes whimsical, and always very musical methods. The shorter piece is Bley rummaging through Sonny Rollins's "Pent-up House," retitled for the occasion, "Encore." Amusing moment: his quote from "I Ain't Mad at You."

More next time.

July 18, 2008 1:05 AM | | Comments (3)

          Busy old fool, unruly Sun, 

                   Why dost thou thus,

Through windows, and through curtains call on us?

Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run? -- John Donne, The Sun Rising

Bloggers' seasons, too. Summer temptations and summer duties call. Blogging is on hold for a day or two. Or three.

July 16, 2008 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

DevraDoWrite reports that Gerald Wiggins died this morning in Los Angeles at the age of Wiggins.jpgeighty-six. Encouraged when he was a youngster by Art Tatum, for decades Wiggins was revered by listeners and musicians--particularly by other pianists. Anyone familiar with his playing could recognize him immediately by his harmonic acuity, touch, use of space and wry turns of phrase. Jimmy Rowles, one of his greatest admirers among fellow pianists, did Wiggins the rare honor of writing the liner notes for one of his albums and said,

Wig is a great natural soloist, besides being a very good accompanist. He doesn't just play a concert. He uses the approach of telling his story of the song (and sometimes presents it in three or four different ways). And when he hits the rhythm he has perfect time.

In her long obituary, Devra writes:

Wig was always extremely generous in sharing his time and his talents with fellow musicians, especially the younger ones... He loved to share his knowledge with aspiring and seasoned performers alike. Young pros such as pianists Benny Green, Eric Reed, and bassist John Clayton have felt free to call on Wig for advice. Clayton even recommended his bass students to study with Wig, proclaiming him to be "a one-man jazz history lesson."

To read all of DevraDoWrite's Wiggins obit, click here. Wiggins was a favorite accompanist not only of instrumentalists running stylistically from Louis Armstrong to Joe Pass but also of singers including Nat Cole, Dinah Washington, Joe Williams and Helen Humes. With his glasses more often perched atop his head than on his nose and his smile uninterrupted, Wiggins was a frequent presence in Southern California clubs and at jazz concerts and parties.

Concord Records has dropped Gerry Wiggins Live at Maybeck Recital Hall, the 1991 CD that Rowles praised, but it is available here as an MP3 download. In his role as a sideman on this Cal Tjader session from 1956, Wiggins did some of his most relaxed and stimulating playing on record, with Eugene Wright on bass and Bill Douglass on drums. For other Wiggins CDs, go here.

Gerald Wiggins, 1922-2008.

July 13, 2008 11:04 PM | | Comments (5)

Rifftides reader Ries Niemi reflects on the Slim Gaillard performance in the clip from Hellzapoppin'.

It's interesting to contrast this with one of the very last Slim Gaillard clips I have seen, in the movie Absolute Beginners, from 1986. Gaillard was in real life what he plays in that movie- one of the midwives of the birth of postmodernism in music.

The novel Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes, on which the movie is based, is part of a trilogy about the invention of the teenager in England in the 50's. Which, in a way, is about the invention of postmodernism, about a culture, music included, with multiple threads that simultaneously question and participate in commercial culture. MacInnes's books show single black hipster immigrants in London, who existed due to the vagaries of late British Empire immigration, education, and labor laws, helping the white teenagers to understand what "cool" is, at which point the white kids, of course, commercialize it in a way the Carribeans and Africans could not. And in the movie, Gaillard is the personification of this older generation of ultra hipsters who leads the way. In real life, of course, he did the same thing--I would argue he is one of the grandfathers of rap music.

The lineage from Slim and Slam's ironic, insider hipster reworking of the dozens, ranking scat singing and the African-American oral tradition thru hipster "jazz poetry" in the 50's, to the Last Poets and Gil Scot Heron in the 60's, and thence to rap is pretty direct. And the irreverance and vocal gymnastics of Gaillard is discernable in one of the other "Godfathers" as well--James Brown.

Whether you like rap or not (me, I find some of it inspired, and most of it drivel, just like all other genres of music) it's hard to deny the influence Gaillard had on it. Ironic, then, that the song he sings in Absolute Beginners is titled "Selling Out."

Ries Niemi is an industrial artist. To see his web site, go here.
July 12, 2008 11:58 AM | | Comments (1)

Art Pepper, Unreleased Art, Vol. III, The Croydon Concert (Widow's Taste). Pepper Croydon.jpgThis 1981 concert in the London borough of Croydon captures some of the remarkable music the alto saxophonist made during the last year of his life. Pepper had absorbed some of the Coltrane influence that dominated him for a few years, shaken off the rest and emerged a more powerful individualist than ever. Driven by pianist Milcho Leviev, bassist Bob Magnusson and drummer Carl Burnett, Pepper bares emotions from tenderness to ferocity (in"Patricia," within the same few bars.) Laurie Pepper, the widow of the label's name, includes an illuminating, touching, essay about her husband.

July 10, 2008 4:00 PM | | Comments (1)
Cassandra Wilson, Loverly (Blue Note). After Blue Skies, Wilson seemed to walk away from Wilson.jpgthe standard repertoire. Twenty years later, we get her second collection of standard songs. It was worth the wait. Her relaxation, phrasing and idiosyncratic interpretations make this one of the vocal CDs of the year. Highlights: irony and boogaloo energy in "St. James Infirmary," "The Very Thought of You" in duet with bassist Reginald Veal, the gentle swing and longing in "Wouldn't it Be Loverly?" Pianist Jason Moran does some of his most accessible playing here. Minor non-musical matter: fire the art director who prints essential information in tiny black type on a dark blue background.
July 10, 2008 3:59 PM | | Comments (0)
Martin Wind, (Challenge). The versatile bassist brings together multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson, Wind.jpgpianist Bill Cunliffe and drummer Greg Hutchinson to play compositions by Wind, Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington. Wind's complex "Mr. Friesen," a tribute to cellist Eugene Friesen, could give this talented composer an entry in the jazz standards book. Of his arsenal of instruments, Robinson confines himself to tenor sax, bass clarinet and echo cornet. His tenor work suggests that he should be placing in poll categories other than those for unusual instruments. Cunliffe's solos show why he is in demand on both coasts. Wind's bass lines, as usual, are perfection.
July 10, 2008 3:58 PM | | Comments (1)
Hank Jones, Jazz Master Class (Artists House). The pianist will be ninety at the end of this hank-jones.jpgmonth. He was only eighty-six when he taught this class. Jones plays a solo concert, coaches and evaluates student pianists, charms his audience, chats with critic Gary Giddins and, in general, defies time. Together, the two DVDs in this package run more than five hours. They comprise one of a series of Artists House DVDs that capture producer John Snyder's master classes at New York University and Loyola University in New Orleans. Others feature Phil Woods, Cecil Taylor, Clark Terry, Toots Thielemans, Benny Golson and Jimmy Heath.
July 10, 2008 3:57 PM | | Comments (0)
Three CDs, a DVD and a book: your new Doug's Picks are in the center column. To see previous recommendations, click "more picks" at the bottom of that section.
July 10, 2008 3:56 PM | | Comments (0)
 Roger Scruton, Culture Counts (Brief Encounters). If you're concerned that the bad in culture is driving out the good, Scruton 2.jpgthis little book by the British philosopher and polymath may make you feel better. Scruton writes not only about music, but about architecture, painting, literature and the high-water marks of Western culture. He offers hope that lowlife pop culture will not overwhelm a society seemingly bent on dumbing itself down. He proposes that music can play a positive role in moral education. He attacks "nihilistic intellectuals" and he has a lovely little section on laughter as a "society-building response."
July 10, 2008 3:56 PM | | Comments (0)

Looking for the earliest Slim Gaillard clip I could find, I came across a sequence from Olsen and Johnson's manic 1941 hit movie Hellzapoppin'. Gaillard plays piano and guitar, with his constant companion of the period, the great Slam Stewart, on bass. Among the several dozen uncredited musicians and dancers is the Duke Ellington cornetist Rex Stewart, done up in a cook's outfit. If anyone can identify the clarinetist, trombonist and drummer, please send a comment. You'll see some of the most aggressive jitterbugging ever filmed, but keep your ears open to the jam session that inspires the dancers. The funny little man in the opening scene is Hugh Herbert.

They don't make them like this anymore. How could they?

July 9, 2008 10:57 PM | | Comments (4)

Summertime, and the living is easy.

            --Ira Gershwin, "Summertime"


I hear laughter by the swimming hole.

Kids out fishing, with the willow pole.

Boats come drifting 'round the bend.

Why must summer ever end?

            --Iola Brubeck, "Summer Song"

(With apologies to Rifftides readers in the Southern Hemisphere)

July 8, 2008 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

It has been some time since we ran a check on the whereabouts of Rifftides readers. Here is a partial location list of recent visitors, starting at the point farthest from home base.

Wellington, New Zealand

Wollongong, Australia

Sydney, Australia

Tokyo, Japan

Beijing, China

Tarnow, Poland

Kronobergs Lan, Sweden

Dalmine, Lombardia, Italy

Heidelberg, Germany

Terneuzen, Zeeland, Netherlands

Kettering, Nottinghamshire, England

Glasgow, Scotland

Casablanca, Morocco

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Santo Domingo, Domican Republic

Mangua, Nicaragua

Apodaca, Nuevo Leon, Mexico

Mexico, Distrito Federal, Mexico

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

In the United States, you are in too many places to count, from Aliso Viejo, California (the home of Ketel One Vodka, Fluor Corporation and the Marie Callender's restaurant chain) to Evans City, Pennsylvania. Any state that names a town after Bill Evans can't be all bad.

Welcome, one and all. Please visit often, and let us hear from you. Use the Contact me button in the center column or the comments link at the end of any item.

July 5, 2008 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

The Rifftides staff is going to take a couple of days off and trek across the mountains to watch the Mariners play the Tigers. The links are for the benefit of those in, say, Casablanca or Tarnow who may not be familiar with the quaint US sporting culture.

In the meantime, enjoy this video of Miguel Zenon and two of his homeboys at work in their native San Juan, Puerto Rico, last December. The bassist is Ricky Rodriguez, the drummer Henry Cole.


More on Zenon soon. Have a pleasant weekend 

July 5, 2008 1:04 AM | | Comments (1)

A few years ago, research disclosed that Louis Armstrong was not born on the Fourth of July, Armstrong.jpg 1900, but a little more than a year later. No matter; Armstrong believed that Independence Day was his birthday and identified himself with the United States of America. As his career and popularity developed and the magnitude of his genius became apparent, the country he loved--and much of the rest of the world--adopted him as a symbol of the spirit of America.

Much of Armstrong's reputation stemmed from the audacity, the inventiveness, the sheer visceral and intellectual excitement of his work in the late 1920s with his Hot Five and Hot Seven. And yet, barely more than a decade after they were made, the Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings had all but disappeared. That situation disturbed a fan who found a way to do Avakian.jpgsomething about it and went on to become one of the greatest jazz record producers. The young man was George Avakian (pictured here), now in his ninetieth year. New York Sun columnist Andrew Wolf chose the eve of the Fourth of July to retell the story of Avakian's determination to see that Armstrong's revolutionary music became available to new generations of listeners.

There is a key figure in Armstrong's career who still is alive and has a great story to tell of Satchmo, and his own story of American ingenuity and his contribution to the music industry.

George Avakian, a spry and energetic 89-year-old, is my neighbor here in Riverdale. As a student at the Bronx's Horace Mann School in the late 1930s, he came up with what was then a revolutionary idea -- the reissue of collections of music of the past.

To read all of Wolf's column, and see a terrific photograph of Armstrong, go here.

Thanks to Avakian's early labors, Armstrong reissues moved through 78 rpm albums, LPs, cassette tapes and CDs into the era of digital downloading. This box set has all of the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens.

Here is the Armstrong Hot Seven in 1927 playing "Potato Head Blues." Armstrong's final chorus is one of the wonders not just of jazz improvisation, but of all twentieth century music.

Happy Independence Day.

July 4, 2008 1:05 AM | | Comments (4)

(An annual Rifftides reminder)

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.--Benjamin Franklin

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.--Abraham Lincoln


July 4, 2008 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

It appears that Ernestine Anderson is going to be able to stay in her house--at least for now. Ernestine 2.jpgNews of the seventy-nine-year-old singer's impending eviction traveled quickly around the world last week, and people responded. Help came from fans, old friends--including Quincy Jones--and just plain folks who sympathized. Here are the most recent essential facts from The Seattle Post Intelligencer.

Folks over the weekend held benefits. And dozens upon dozens in the city, across the state and nationwide deposited help at Bank of America to help meet Anderson's $45,000 payment deadline by Monday.

See Robert L. Jamieson, Jr.'s Post Intelligencer column for the whole rescue story and how officials are looking into whether Anderson's dilemma ties into the predatory lending scandal mitigating the housing crisis. Her mortgage payments on a modest house are $4,422 a month. That special Bank of America account for Anderson will continue to accept funds

Among those who jumped in, Pat Strosahl, the major domo of The Seasons performance hall, offered Anderson a booking with a guaranteed fee and a promise to donate proceeds of the gate to help with her financial problem. Anderson is now scheduled for an October 15 appearance as part of The Seasons Fall Festival in Yakima, Washington, across the Cascade mountains from Seattle.

July 2, 2008 4:52 PM | | Comments (0)

It was in the back of my mind that I would post something about this morning's bicycle ride. I took the mountain bike along the canal trails. It was a perfectly good ride, but it turned up nothing to report beyond the fact that by the time I finished, around 11 a.m., the temperature was approaching one hundred degrees.


So, I decided to dig into the archives and bring back by popular request (one), a piece that generated considerable response when it ran nearly two years ago. Hey, if Dave Barry can rerun columns and Charles Schultz can (posthumously) rerun comic strips, why can't a blogger reblogitate? 


Other Matters: October


Any day now could be the last good one of the year for cycling, so I said goodbye to work and took advantage of a late October afternoon so perfect that to have left it out there by itself would have been a shame. Deciding not to pit the road bike against heavy, skitterish Friday traffic, I left it in the shed and headed the mountain bike toward the system of canals that criss-crosses this agricultural valley. I dropped onto the path along a canal a block from my house and entered instant peace and quiet, except for the dogs that charge with intent to kill the moment they sense a cyclist.


Is there an animal psychologist out there who can tell us what it is about bicycles that drives dogs temporarily insane? Fortunately, there's a leash law that keeps dogs mostly behind fences in town. In the country, you can usually get up a head of steam and outrun a farm dog, but a couple of weeks ago, a big black brute roared out of a yard and was gaining on me. When he came alongside and started nipping, I yelled as loud as I could (that's loud), "Go home." To my relief--and from the expression on his face, to his astonishment--he went home.


Nothing like that happened today. The only annoyances were piles of mud dredged out of the canals by ditch riders cleaning up after a summer of irrigation, and the extra shirt I threw on under my jersey. The air seemed cool when I started, but the temperature quickly rose on the steep hills. Russet and red leaves along parts of the path crackled under my tires. A crow circled along in the clear sky above me for a few hundred yards, reprimanding me for some offense. Two horses looked up as I passed their pasture. Apple harvest was over in most of the orchards. One pear farmer apparently decided that his crop wouldn't bring him enough to make picking worthwhile. The pears lay beneath his trees where he let them fall, in the first stages of returning into the earth.


On a stretch up near the valley rim, a squirrel darted across the path fifty feet ahead. To my right, I saw a bigger creature move along the edge of an expansive lawn. The man paused to pump his air gun, then stalked the squirrel. He stopped, took aim, got off a shot, shook his head, and resumed gliding slowly along the edge of his property. Not wanting to distract him, I stopped and watched for ten minutes as he pursued his quarry with no less concentration than a sahib on safari. He took two more shots, but it was clear that the varmint had escaped. As he turned around, I said, "Hold your fire."

"Oh," he said, "I didn't see you."


"I know. I didn't want to startle you and be your next victim."


He felt like talking. He said he couldn't keep flowers and couldn't grow vegetables. The squirrels dig them up and eat them. They undermined a stone walkway he built. It was sinking, he said. He pointed to two pieces of equipment, a loader and a hay rake. One of his sons was storing them there, but he told him he'd have to move them, so the son found a buyer who gave him fifty dollars for the loader and a hundred for the rake, but the buyer hasn't come for them.


"You see that shed," he said. "I put that there years ago to store my tools while I built the house. I intended to tear it down when the house was done, but now it's full of my grandson's stuff. I told him he'd have to get it out of there next year. I want this area clear so I can plant it in lawn. That camper my son put there has got to go." His gaze swept over his property. "I've got a lot of lawn, two acres of it. That area there, I cleared," he said, pointing to a space ten by twenty feet bordered with creosoted timbers. "My other son had this old Mustang. It sat there for a long time, then some fella from Australia came along and paid him ten thousand dollars for it. Shipped it back to Australia with three or four other Mustangs. I guess they like old Mustangs down there.


"I've had this place since 1941. Retired from the mill fifteen years ago. Raised three kids here. After we had the first one, a daughter, the doctor told my wife she couldn't have any more children. Seven years later, we had a son. He was fine. She was fine. Shows you what doctors know. Fourteen years after that, we had another son. What happiness. She was fifteen when we met, I was seventeen. Got married when she was twenty and I was twenty-two. I love it out here. It's quiet. Away from the road. I've got a long driveway. Got that ditch running by. Nearest neighbor is clear over there, but his property runs right up against mine. We get along."


He gestured at the orchard across the canal. "The old man who owned that had property ran clear into town, down by the freeway where the mall is. He used to stop by here when he was in his eighties, and I'd say, 'I'm going in and get you a coke,' and we'd just sit here by the canal and talk, for hours sometimes. He's gone now."


I extended my hand. We exchanged names. "I ride by here now and then," I said. "We'll talk again."


"We sure will," he said. "You take care."


I rode home feeling good. The dogs seemed friendlier.


First published October 28, 2006 1:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

July 1, 2008 1:05 AM | | Comments (2)

When man invented the bicycle he reached the peak of his attainments. Here was a machine of precision and balance for the convenience of man. And (unlike subsequent inventions for man's convenience) the more he used it, the fitter his body became. Here, for once, was a product of man's brain that was entirely beneficial to those who used it, and of no harm or irritation to others. Progress should have stopped when man invented the bicycle. ~Elizabeth West, Hovel in the Hills

When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race. ~H.G. Wells

July 1, 2008 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Rifftides in July 2008.

Rifftides: June 2008 is the previous archive.

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lies like truth
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No genre is the new genre
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Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
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