Rifftides: September 2008 Archives

It was nearly dawn after a round -- several rounds -- of music and conviviality during the 1969 New Orleans Jazz Festival. A few of us were sitting on the balcony of Bobby Hackett's hotel room on Bourbon Street swapping stories and thinking it might be about time to call it a night. Hackett's guests, in alphabetical order, were Count Basie, Jack Bradley, Willis Conover, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Paul Desmond and I. Dropping those names is a bit disturbing because all of their owners but Jack and I are memories. There was a good deal of laughter and -- to use a phrase I wish hadn't fallen out of fashion -- shuckin' and jivin'. We decided to extend the party and order breakfast from room service. Before we adjourned, we toasted the sun rising over the rooftops of the French Quarter. That was a good night.

Rifftides readers no doubt recognize all of those names except, perhaps, Bradley's. Jack is a photographer, quite a good one. He used to do a fair amount of writing for jazz publications. I've never been entirely sure how he supported himself; probably not by writing about jazz and shooting pictures of musicians. Bradley, Pops.jpgI used to see him occasionally in New Orleans and, later, fairly often in New York. Here, Louis Armstrong and Jack are pictured together in 1963. I knew that this garrulous and engaging man was close to Armstrong and collected Armstrong memorabilia.  Until Niko Koppel's story in the Sunday New York Times, I didn't know the extent of that closeness or his collecting obsession.

Mr. Bradley archived just about anything from Armstrong that he could save -- discarded letters, eyeglasses, handkerchiefs, even clothes that did not fit properly after Armstrong lost weight. In addition, he paid Armstrong's valet and housekeeper for goods and ephemera that the musician gave to them. "It was important to preserve everything that he spoke and he did," Mr. Bradley said. "He was the genius of the 20th century."

Now, Jack is passing his extensive Armstrong collection to an institution that will preserve it and show it to the public. To read the whole story, go here.

If you need a reminder of why it is easy to be obsessed with Louis, watch this video. It's also a nice way to remember Paul Newman.

September 30, 2008 1:05 AM | | Comments (2)
Please see the center column for the new batch of recommendations. It took a while, but you may find that they were worth waiting for.
September 29, 2008 3:31 PM | | Comments (1)
Broadbent.jpgAlan Broadbent, Moment's Notice (Chilly Bin). In heavy demand as arranger, conductor and accompanist, Broadbent's schedule leaves him too few opportunities to work with his longtime sidemen, bassist Putter Smith and drummer Kendall Kay. In this welcome set, Broadbent plays with his customary blend of power, relaxation and inventiveness on tunes by Charlie Parker, Mal Waldron, John Coltrane and Benny Golson, among others. There is riveting interaction between Broadbent and Smith on Parker's "Chi Chi." Broadbent's "Lady Love" has the makings of a new jazz standard.
September 29, 2008 2:05 PM | | Comments (0)
Javon Jackson.jpgJavon Jackson, Once Upon A Melody (Palmetto). Whether as the result of marketing gambits or of press stereotyping, Jackson's name rarely appears without the word "funk" nearby. In truth, from the time of his early beginnings with Art Blakey, his tenor saxophone playing has had fuller stylistic and emotional range that of a funkmeister. This CD is satisfying evidence of Jackson's breadth, from the sensitivity of his respectful treatment of the melody of "My One and Only Love" to the engaging energy and --all right-- funk of his blues "Mr. Taylor." It's good to hear Jackson interpret pieces by two of his influences, Wayne Shorter's "One By One" and Sonny Rollins's "Paradox." His thoughtful way with Matt Dennis's "Will You Still Be Mine?" is another highlight.
September 29, 2008 2:04 PM | | Comments (1)
Louis Armstrong, Fleischmann's Yeast Show & Louis' Home-Recorded Tapes (Jazz Society). If Armstrong's big band of the late 1930s had been this supercharged on its commercial Armstrong.jpgrecordings, critics might not have written all those disparaging things about it. These air checks tell the real story of what Armstrong was capable of in fronting Luis Russell's band. Here is the fountainhead of jazz inspiration in full flight. The companion CD is a generous sampling of Louis reminiscing, singing, playing and joking into his home tape recorder. To hear him in the 1950s playing along, gloriously, with his 1922 recording of "Tears" is worth multiples of the price of this set.

September 29, 2008 2:03 PM | | Comments (0)
Cannonball DVD.jpgCannonball Adderley, Live in '63 (Jazz Icons). Riding high on his success as a leader, the alto saxophonist was proud of his early 1960s sextet. These televised concerts capture him and his sidemen expansive and swinging. Yusef Lateef, Nat Adderley, Joe Zawinul, Sam Jones and Louis Hayes had integrated with Cannonball into one of the tightest small bands in jazz. Lateef was nearing the end of his tenure with the band, pleasing the audiences --and, clearly, Cannonball, too-- with his solos on flute and tenor sax. In his later years, Zawinul went out of his way to disparage his playing during this period. Hearing him here, I can't imagine why. Sound and black-and-white video quality are excellent.
September 29, 2008 2:02 PM | | Comments (1)
Reluctant Art.gifBenny Green, The Reluctant Art (Da Capo). Dave Frishberg's recent message to Rifftides in which he recommended this book sent me scrambling in haste and embarrassment to obtain a copy. I had never read Green's book, subtitled "Five Studies in the Growth of Jazz" and should have. There are actually six studies. I am being rewarded by Green's insights into Bix Beiderbecke, Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Art Tatum and Charlie Parker. One provocative thought from Green: "Improvisation is more than a virtue. It is a responsibility demanding a degree of creative fertility which a high percentage of respected jazz musicians simply do not possess."
September 29, 2008 2:01 PM | | Comments (0)

Researching an article that involves Ernestine Anderson, I came across this video of her rehearsing in Hungary in 1994 with Milt Jackson. It is one of several YouTube clips from the same occasion. The Hungarian musicians are not identified.

September 27, 2008 3:49 PM | | Comments (1)

Miguel Zenon.jpgAlto saxophonist and composer Miguel Zenón is one of twenty-five winners of 2008 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellowships. The grants were announced today. Each of the awards is for $500,000 over five years, to be used in any way the recipient decides. Although not officially described as "genius grants" by the MacArthur foundation, that is what the fellowships have come to be called.

This year's fellows include writers, scientists, an architect, a farmer, and artists in various fields. Zenón was cited for "drawing from a variety of jazz idioms and the indigenous music of his native Puerto Rico to create a new language of complex, yet accessible sounds that overflow with emotion."

For a Rifftides review of Zenón's most recent recording, go here. In the video below, Zenón is with pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Henry Cole playing for a good-natured New York audience.


Alex Ross, the music critic of The New Yorker, Alex Ross.jpgwas chosen by MacArthur for "offering both highly specialized and casual readers new ways of thinking about the music of the past and its place in our future." Ross has a first-class blog called The Rest Is Noise.

For biographical sketches and photographs of all twenty-five MacArthur fellows, go here. If you are interested in applying for one of next year's grants, forget it. Candidates don't know that they are in the running. They are chosen in secret by a committee whose members' identities are also secret. Some years ago when I had business at the MacArthur Foundation headquarters in Chicago, I jokingly offered to fill out an application. The executive director said he would be glad to put me on a list of those to be notified when they are not chosen.

September 23, 2008 1:29 PM | | Comments (2)

I know, I know; Doug's Picks is overdue for new entries. They'll be coming along, but the Rifftides staff is engaged in a number of projects, including preparation of a reading from Poodie James, with strings. More about that later. Among other things, I'm writing the notes for a forthcoming CD co-led by Charlie Shoemake and Terry Trotter. It is a delight. I'm not at liberty to tell you about it except to say that its title is Inside and the music, uncompromising but accessible, is a delight. It will be released later this year.

In any case, since Norma Winstone's latest CD is one of the current picks (see the center column), it seems fitting to let you know that Bill Kirchner (pictured) has prepared a Winstone spectacular for his next broadcast, which will be streamed on the internet. Here is his announcement:

Kirchner.jpgRecently, I taped my next one-hour show for the "Jazz From The Archives" series. Presented by the Institute of Jazz Studies, the series runs every Sunday on WBGO-FM (88.3).

Britain's Norma Winstone (b. 1941) is not exactly a "well kept secret" (though that's the title of one of her albums), but she's much less known than she deserves to be, given her stature as one of the finest vocalists in current jazz. She's capable of singing everything from standards to challenging original material. And she's a first-rate lyricist as well.

We'll hear Winstone with trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, reed players Tony Coe and Klaus Gesing, pianists Jimmy Rowles, John Taylor, and Glauco Venier, bassist George Mraz, drummer Joe LaBarbera, and Wheeler's big band.

The show will air this Sunday, September 28, from 11 p.m. to midnight, Eastern Daylight Time. NOTE: If you live outside the New York City metropolitan area, WBGO also broadcasts on the Internet at www.wbgo.org.

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

Frishberg.jpgDave Frishberg's friendship and collaborations with Dick Sudhalter go back more than three decades. He sent this appreciation.

I want to say something about Dick Sudhalter and the sadness of his passing . I'm staggered by Sudhalter's contributions to jazz literature and criticism. There are plenty of good writers who write about the music, but for my money Sudhalter and Benny Green stand out as the enduring literary giants of the genre. Both of them were involved with "classic" jazz and swing music, both of them were excellent professional musicians, and both of them could, with authority and elegance, write critically about the heart of music . They were widely informed and narrow-minded -- requisites of good criticism, as I see it. My favorite jazz literature: Green's The Reluctant Art and Sudhalter's Lost Chords. I find myself going back again and again to those books and never failing to enjoy them.

You find Sudhalter's writing in the unlikeliest places. In the series of large spiral-bound piano albums published by Reader's Digest in 1980s , e.g. Treasury of Best Loved Songs, and Popular Songs That Will Live Forever, I found the annotations to be sophisticated and beautifully written. Sure enough--turned out to be by Sudhalter. (Incidentally, the piano arrangements in this series are all by Dan Fox, and they are easy to play and very hip.) Sudhalter also annotated a lot of the Mosaic reissue packages, and his comments are essential to the enjoyment of those collections. Richard wrote with power, grace, and precision; his literary style just sang right out as if it were music. He sure will be missed.

September 22, 2008 1:05 AM | | Comments (2)
Please do not miss Terry Teachout's newly posted remembrance, in poetry and video, of Richard M. Sudhalter. Go here.
September 21, 2008 1:49 PM | | Comments (0)

Richard M. Sudhalter gave elegance and exactness to speech, writing and music-making.

Sudhalter 3.jpgDick's perfection of expression came in natural flows, whether he was writing,  playing the cornet or chatting over dinner. Gene Lees observed that Dick was the only person he knew who always spoke in perfect sentences and paragraphs. Sudhalter's mastery of language is everywhere in his biographies of Bix Beiderbecke and Hoagy Carmichael and his monumental study Lost Chords. Currents of coherence, logic, passion and humor are equally evident in his playing.

A few years ago, a stroke robbed Dick of the ability to play and caused halting speech. Then a disease called multiple system atrophy (MSA) attacked him and, over a few years, shut down his body. He lost speech and the use of his limbs. The disease left his intellect intact but destroyed his ability to communicate, the thing he did extraordinarily well. Friends and admirers around the world donated to a fund for his medical expenses and there was a benefit concert, but MSA is progressive and incurable. Dick died in a New York hospital shortly after one o'clock this morning.

He sometimes used trumpet and he had a distinctive way with the flugelhorn, but he preferred cornet, the instrument his hero Beiderbecke stayed with despite the trumpet's having come to dominance in jazz. Dick was a man out of his time in other ways, too. In an era of increasingly casual dress, he preferred the bespoke tailoring he learned to love during his London years as a UPI correspondent. He was open-minded about new developments in jazz,

Sudhalter, Crow.jpgbut had a firm attachment to the emotional and intellectual straightforwardness of Bix and the Chicago School. You can hear it on all three of his instruments in this CD with friends including Dave Frishberg, Daryl Sherman, Dan Barrett and Bill Crow, among others. (In the picture, Dick, on the left, is with Crow.) Sudhalter is exclusively on cornet in The Classic Jazz Quartet with Dick Wellstood, Joe Muranyi and Marty Grosz -- a gathering of four spirits aligned in their love for music, writing and clowning.

Because of its subtitle, Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contributions to Jazz, 1915-1945 was reflexively attacked by partisans who chose to see it as an effort to diminish the importance of black musicians. Had they bothered to read the book, they would have found that Sudhalter does quite the opposite while balancing the historical record of achievement in jazz and providing deep insights into the nature of the music. As a player, Bix was his hero and primary influence, but Dick also wrote beautifully about Louis Armstrong in, among other places, the notes for Heart Full of Rhythm, Vol.2, a CD with some of the music Armstrong recorded for Decca. Here's a small sample of his ability to draw on the present in illuminating a performance from the past.

Pianist Bill Evans used to insist that excision of sentimentality yielded the purest form of romanticism. My bet is he'd have been delighted with what Louis does to "Once in a While." Even on paper its lyric teeters precariously on the edge of bathos. Yet Louis manages (how? what's the secret?) to strip away the self-pity and make it affecting, even poignant.

A few months after Dick's stroke, I was in the lounge above the front lobby of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York. His close friend Daryl Sherman was playing Cole Porter's piano and singing. She told me that Dick was going to try to be there, but not to count on it; he was having some bad days. Soon, though, I saw him making his slow way across the room to where our friend Jill McManus and I were listening to Daryl. He was impeccably turned out in sport coat, slacks and tie, just the right late-afternoon outfit for the proper New York gentleman of the 1940s, a decade in which I think he would have preferred to be living. When Daryl took a break, the four of us sat chatting. Dick's wit and incisiveness shined through the slow speech, but he tired quickly and returned to the apartment to rest.

After that encounter, we talked by telephone a few times. Then, he could correspond only by e-mail -- then, only through relays from other people -- then, not at all. One can only imagine how it was for this most articulate of men to be imprisoned within himself, unable to express ideas or emotions.

Dick wanted to go, I'm sure of that. His ordeal is at an end. Knowing that it was inevitable and coming soon did not prepare me for this depth of sadness. His music, his books, the good luck of his friendship, will enrich me for the rest of my life.

Our mutual close friend Terry Teachout was extremely helpful to Dick in his last year or two. For Terry's tribute, go here.

(Photo of Dick Sudhalter courtesy of Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University) 


September 19, 2008 4:48 PM | | Comments (8)

John McNeil and Bill McHenry have reemerged with their quartet, cleverly timing their next appearance and new affiliation with the fuss surrounding that other current phenomenon, a massive worldwide financial crisis. Here's the announcement popping up in e-mail in-boxes from Truckee to Tokyo.

This Friday, Sept. 19th at Cornelia St. Café

The John McNeil/Bill McHenry Quartet Returns!

The boys took a brief hiatus to recover from the rigors of their recent New England tour. Dealing with surging, underwear-throwing crowds night after night takes a physical and psychological toll that is hard for normal Americans to imagine. After a few weeks away from the glare of publicity, however, the boys are refreshed and ready to participate in FONT (Fest. of New Trumpet Music) and to once more dispense their life-giving improvisations to the jazz public.

In more news, the band is now under the corporate sponsorship of Lehman Bros., a prestigious Wall Street firm, and this solid financial backing should help raise the public awareness of the McNeil/McHenry brand of spiritual and physical healing. Good times ahead!

John McNeil -- Trumpet

Bill McHenry -- Tenor

Joe Martin -- Bass

Jochen Rueckert -- Drums

One set, starting at 11:00 -ish $10.00 cover Cornelia Street Café, Cornelia St. betw. Bleecker & 6th Ave, Manhattan (212) 989 - 9319 http://corneliastreetcafe.com/

If you live in Sweden, China, Brazil, New Zealand, Poughkeepsie or some other farflung locale where Rifftidesiacs dwell, and find it inconvenient to be in New York tomorrow night, here's a consolation prize by the McNeil-McHenry Band. The tune is "Batter Up," written by Russ Freeman and first recorded by him with Chet Baker's quartet in 1953.

September 18, 2008 4:05 PM | | Comments (0)

Scenes along the way on this morning's road bike ride through Cottonwood Canyon and environs 

Thumbnail image for Bike Ride Shots 001.jpgBike Ride Shots 002.jpgBike Ride Shots 003-thumb-381x285.jpg


Bike Ride Shots 004.jpg

September 18, 2008 12:26 PM | | Comments (0)
Rifftides Washington, DC, correspondent John Birchard watched a DVD of the Modern Jazz Quartet's 1994 35th Anniversary Tour and sent this review.



The 57 minutes were recorded at the Freiburg, Germany, music festival in 1987 and the evening shows the guys in average (that is to say brilliant) form.


The program opens with a vigorous "Rocking in Rhythm" from the Ellington songbook, featuring stop-time passages for each member. It seems that in their later years together, the four grew somehow both tighter and looser. The ensembles were ultra-crisp from so many performances, yet the feeling is one of relaxed, flowing conversation.


Milt Jackson handles the announcements and they are models of economy, no wasted words. The program resumes with "Echoes", a lovely ballad that picks up momentum with the MJQ's patented chugging two-feeling. Was there ever a better ballad player on vibes than Jackson? 


"Kansas City Breaks", dedicated to Charlie Parker, follows, then a rather fussy version of "Django". The quartet must have played "Django" ten thousand times or more over the years and John Lewis often re-arranged the piece to keep it fresh. This arrangement tinkers with the structure rather more than necessary.


Gershwin's "Summertime" is next, then "Bags Groove", another piece that the group surely performed in the thousands of times. But, at least for this listener, it has never grown stale. The medium blues showcases the strengths of the MJQ - John Lewis' infectious, epigrammatic comping and his deceptively simple solos... Jackson's never-ending supply of great blues choruses...Percy Heath's ferocious, stomping four-to-the-bar time... and Connie Kay, head slightly bowed and turned to the left as he listened, laying down the foundation upon which the others built their soul-satisfying structures. 


The DVD ends with the group's encore -- "A Day in Dubrovnik", one of Lewis' compositions inspired by European cities. Lewis introduces it in his soft, almost apologetic way, saying it's an extended piece that describes in music the flavor of the old Adriatic city  -- the arrival of tourists in the afternoon, the night life and the quiet of the morning. Lewis wrote several attractive European-sounding themes for the piece, as he had done before in such compositions as "Spanish Steps" and "Vendome". It is my own shortcoming that I cannot appreciate this part of John Lewis' talent as much as I do his more straight-ahead jazz writing and playing. But I can tell you the Freiburg audience was vocal in its appreciation of "Dubrovnik" and the group, of course, played it well. Not my cup of tea, but the rest of the DVD is top-notch MJQ. 


The disc is a reminder of what we have lost with the passing of these gifted men. They each recorded with other artists, and often the recordings were very good to excellent. But together they created a unique body of work, a blend of delicate strength and refined funk that stands alone.


                                                                -- John Birchard



September 17, 2008 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

The scourge of heroin addiction among jazz musicians of the 1940s and 1950s is central to dozens of stories, novels, poems, plays and movies, most of them dreadful, overwrought clichés. Bad art aside, the monkey on the backs of musicians was real. It rode many of them to their graves. Unhorseing the habit required triumphing over more than the punishing chemical consequences of withdrawal. It meant also withstanding social pressure to conform in tight little communities of addicts whose lives were governed as much by the drug as by music.

It is impossible to exaggerate the courage of musicians who purged themselves of heroin addiction. Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, Don Lanphere and others managed to survive a legion of colleagues who committed the slow suicide of slavery to heroin. However much the long-term effects of drug damage may have ultimately shortened their life spans, when they got clean they added productive decades.

Sonny Rollins is also a victor over drug addiction. There is power in the story of his struggle. As the recent Chicago Jazz Festival got underway with the 78-year-old Rollins as a headliner, Neil Tesser told Rollins's story in an article in the Chicago Reader. The piece is called "How Rollins.jpgSonny Defeated the Dragon." Rollins told Tesser about temptation in Chicago when he went there in 1955 after being released from the narcotics hospital at the federal prison in Lexington, Kentucky. One night when he thought he had accumulated enough fortitude, he went to a prominent jazz club known as a gathering place of addicts.

"When I got there, I saw a lot of old friends, a lot of the guys: 'Hey Sonny, let's go get high,'" Rollins says. "I had to be strong enough to withstand that. And that's where I faced my Goliath. It was hard, man, because some of these guys knew I was not that far from using drugs. It was one of these biblical-like temptations. I resisted--my palms got sweaty and everything, but I resisted. I went back to my custodial job, but I thought, 'I gotta get back into music.' It was very difficult, because to tell the truth, I just escaped that first time; I just was able to resist all my friends offering these free drugs. But I thought, 'I'm a musician and I have to be strong enough to be around drugs,' because that was the scene."

To read all of the story, go here. The online piece incorporates two audio clips of Rollins playing with the Clifford Brown-Max Roach quintet. One of them is a twenty-two-minute "Get Happy" with Rollins full of confidence and wit, and astonishing work by Brown. Thanks to Harris Meyer for tipping me to the Chicago Reader story.

In 1963, eight years after he rescued himself, Rollins appeared, hale and hearty, with his quartet on Italian television. Jazz had changed, in part because of the freedom introduced by Ornette Coleman.  With Rollins were Coleman's trumpet pal Don Cherry; bassist Henry Grimes and drummer Billy Higgins. The tune is Thelonious Monk's "52nd Street Theme," in an eccentric sculpted arrangement by Rollins. As you will see, they didn't call Higgins Smiling Billy for nothing. At the end, the lights go up, Sonny almost smiles, a big band plays them off and we get a quick shot of a woman who may have been the hostess of a variety show.

September 16, 2008 1:05 AM | | Comments (2)

I think as long as people can hear a record and hear people like Lester Young on a recording, there will always be a great inspiration for somebody to try to create jazz. - Sonny Rollins

No one is original. Everyone is derivative. -- Sonny Rollins

There was a period which I refer to as the 'Golden Age of Jazz,' which sort of encompasses the middle thirties through the sixties, we had a lot of great innovators, all creating things which will last the world for a long, long time. -- Sonny Rollins

I guess I'm fortunate that I'm still around and I emphasize "I guess" because you never can tell what musicians would be playing had they been around as long as I have. - Sonny Rollins

September 16, 2008 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

Today would have been Cannonball Adderley's eightieth birthday, reason enough to bring you this video of his sextet. The band is Cannonball, his brother Nat, cornet; Yusef Lateef, tenor sax; Joe Zawinul, piano; Sam Jones, bass; and Louis Hayes, drums. The tune is "Jessica's Birthday" by Quincy Jones. The year was 1963.

Adderley died on August 8, 1975.

September 15, 2008 9:45 AM | | Comments (1)

Following a brief Rifftides review of the CD reissue of two of Bob Brookmeyer's 1954 quartet recordings, Bill Kirchner wrote to recommend Back Again. It is a Brookmeyer quintet album that I didn't know existed. I acquired it quickly and have been listening to it with interest and pleasure over the past two or three weeks.

Back Again has the valve trombonist in 1978 with cornetist Thad Jones, pianist Jimmy Rowles, bassist George Mraz and drummer Mel Lewis. Jones and Lewis, of course, were co-leaders of the magnificent orchestra that bore their names. Brookmeyer had been a major Brookmeyer Back Again.jpgsoloist in that band and wrote some of its most memorable arrangements. Mraz was the Jones-Lewis bassist from 1972 to 1976 and was now working around New York with Rowles. One of the most unclichéd pianists in jazz, Rowles' history with Brookmeyer went back to the trombonist's first L.A. tour of duty, when they and bassist Buddy Clark recorded two classic albums in 1953 and 1960. Now, in '78, Brookmeyer had returned to New York from a second west coast stay that he found uninspiring. He was happy (see the cover shot) to be back and in a studio with this congenial group, recording for the Swedish label Sonet.

With their mutual depth of harmonic understanding and willingness to let whimsy lead them where it might, Brookmeyer and Jones made a two-horn front line loaded for beauty and surprise. Playing off one another in "Sweet and Lovely," they give us both. Brookmeyer the melody maker opens the improvisation with a delicious phrase any composer would be proud to have written. The lunging West Indian feeling of "Carib" sets up two choruses of counterpoint between the horns that approaches downright abandon. There is a lot to like here, not least Brookmeyer's through-improvised solo -- if that's the term -- on "Willow Weep for Me," on which he wrote a deathless orchestration in 1966 for the Jones-Lewis orchestra. Here, he invents one slow chorus of pure, original, melody that is itself worthy of orchestration.

"In a Rotten Mood" belies its title with chorus after chorus of assertive, good-natured vigor in a fast B-flat blues with altered changes. It has a slot for unaccompanied Rowles holding no finger in reserve, splendid soloing by Mraz, and more of that free-spirited counterpoint. The other tunes are "Caravan," "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" (more mutual commentary by Brookmeyer and Jones) and two takes of "I Love You;" standard material, extraordinary results. Throughout, Lewis sustains his reputation for perfect time and perfect adaptation to every subtle change in flow of ensemble and soloist. Rowles is, simply, Rowles; unimitative and inimitable, one of the great originals.

During this period, Brookmeyer had not yet moved past his penchant for half-valve phrases, growls, slurs and exclamatory, explosive, glissandos in both directions. His playing in those days often achieved the approximation or intimation of human speech that a few master horn players -- also including Pee Wee Russell, Eric Dolphy, Lawrence Brown, Clark Terry and Bill Harris -- made such endearing parts of their styles. I love the way Brookmeyer plays today, but that was a special time in his development.

I bought the Back Again CD from an online company in Canada that now says it is sold out will not have more copies. But don't give up. This outfit announces that it will have Back Again back again on September 23 at a sale price. Who knows for how long?

September 15, 2008 1:05 AM | | Comments (4)

The publisher of Poodie James has reduced the price of my novel. My slight loss in royalties is your gain. Ordering direct from the publisher benefits everyone on the writing and production end.

From a review:

I'll cut to the chase: Poodie James is a very good book. Not only is it handsomely and lyrically written, but Ramsey's snapshots of small-town life circa 1948 are altogether convincing, and he has even brought off the immensely difficult trick of worming his way into the consciousness of a deaf person without betraying the slightest sense of strain... Ramsey is no less adept at sketching the constant tension between tolerance and suspicion that is part and parcel of the communal life of every small town. -- Terry Teachout, Commentary

September 15, 2008 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

VOA.jpgWith esteem for the United States at a low ebb around the world, the government continues to dismantle the Voice Of America, for more than half a century one of the nation's most effective creators of good will abroad. The Washington Post reports on the latest VOA service to be stilled by the Bush administration:

NEW DELHI -- At the height of the Cold War, as India leaned resolutely toward the Soviet Union, one direct line of communication remained open from Washington to India's teeming millions: Voice of America, the U.S. government's radio network. Rangisah Prasad, 70, recalls the days when there was just one radio set in his village, and Voice of America's Hindi-language broadcasts provided an escape from the dull drone of India's state-controlled radio news.

The Cold War is over, but Prasad's devotion to VOA lives on. "I have been hearing this station for 40 years now. Their tone was always friendly and informal. People gathered around the radio in the village square and listened to Voice of America," Prasad said in a telephone interview from Dumarsan village in the Indian state of Bihar. "We understood the world through their programs."

But in a move that reflects shifts in U.S. foreign policy after the Cold War and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors has decided that VOA's seven-hour Hindi-language radio service will end this month, after 53 years. VOA will also eliminate radio broadcasts in three Eastern European languages. Radio broadcasts in Russian went off the air in July.

To read all of the Post story, go here. The administration's relentless disassembling of one of the most effective and cost-efficient US tools of cultural diplomacy seems to have gone unnoticed by either presidential campaign. The candidates should be asked what they would do to revive the VOA. The Rifftides staff's concern with this matter goes back a long way. The lack of public concern disturbs me.It should disturb all Americans, and those in other countries who wish us well.
September 13, 2008 1:05 AM | | Comments (1)

Golson.jpgOn Jazz Wax, Marc Myers's marathon interview with tenor saxophonist, arranger and composer Benny Golson (pictured) started running on September 8 and winds up today. If you are put off by transcribed verbatim interviews, never fear. Myers edits with care, provides appropriate web links and illustrates his pieces lavishly, sometimes to a fault (Golson says -- tongue in cheek, I hope-- "As the future crouches beneath my window waiting unashamedly to reveal itself..." and Myers shows you a dreamscape of a sky -- tongue in cheek, I hope).

Golson on how Art Blakey let him know he wasn't playing forcefully enough:

One night, instead of playing a press roll for two bars before we came into the new chorus, he started that press roll eight bars early. He was so loud I thought he had lost his senses. When he came down for the new chorus, every two or three beats he'd hit a loud crash. I said to myself, "What is wrong with this guy?" I still didn't get it. Finally, he hollered over at me, "Get up out of that hole!" I said to myself, "Man, I guess I am in a hole. Nobody can hear me." So I started playing harder and with more bite.

To read the five-part interview, go here, then scroll down to part 1 and work your way back up.

But first, you may wish to refamiliarize yourself with Golson's work. Here, he leads a band with Curtis Fuller, trombone; Teramasu Hino, trumpet; Mulgrew Miller, piano; Ron Carter, bass; and Billy Higgins, drums. The piece is one of Golson's most famous, "Blues After Dark."

September 12, 2008 5:12 PM | | Comments (0)

The September Jazz Times has my rather long review of Mosaic's box of Lionel Hampton's small-band recordings from the late 1930s and early forties. The five CDs contain a sizeable percentage of the best combo music of the period. From the review:

Hampton.jpgRCA Victor's formula was simple: put the exciting young vibraphonist, drummer and two-finger piano player Lionel Hampton in a studio with various combinations of his peers and see what happens. With a few exceptions, these were lightly organized jam sessions. Accordingly, the music varies in quality, but many of the 107 tracks represent the swing era at its artistic zenith. Hampton's collaborators came from the bands of Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Luis Russell, Fletcher Henderson, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller and Earl Hines, giving him the cream of the period's soloists and rhythm players.


Often on autopilot and in full bombast, Hampton was always propulsive. When he was in the mood and in the right company, he could also be lyrical and sensitive with dynamics and harmonies. He was in the right company late in 1939 in a session with Carter on trumpet, Coleman Hawkins on tenor, clarinetist Edmond Hall and a stimulating rhythm section of pianist Joe Sullivan, guitarist Freddie Green, bassist Artie Bernstein and drummer Zutty Singleton. Hampton is particularly effective in "Dinah," but Hawkins steals the date with the magnificence of his playing on that tune, "My Buddy" and "Singin' the Blues."

To read the whole thing, go here.  

Hampton wanted to put Quincy Jones in his trumpet section after he heard him in Seattle when Jones was fifteen. Mrs. Hampton overruled her husband and insisted that the boy finish Quincy Jones.jpghigh school. Jones did, and was studying at the Schillinger School of music in Boston when Hampton renewed the offer. That was the end of school and the beginning of Jones's career as trumpeter, arranger, composer, leader, producer and the winner of more Grammy awards (27) than anyone but Sir George Solti (31). Paul deBarros recently published a profile of Jones in The Seattle Times. It covers Jones's life from before his formative days at Seattle's Garfield High School to the present.

When the new freshman class enters a new Garfield in a few days, it's likely many will not know the school was named for an American president. But most will have heard of Quincy Jones. That's because, again and again, he has adapted to current musical trends. Starting out with Hampton's jazz, he moved easily through the jazz/rock fusion of "Walking in Space," the '70s funk of the Brothers Johnson, the crossover rock of Jackson's "Thriller" (which merged black and white traditions in an unprecedented way), then went on to hip-hop with "Back on the Block."

Some jazz musicians view Jones as an opportunist who deserted the art of jazz for the commerce of pop. But as many others have noted, Jones' creative vision makes moot most arguments about jumping musical fences. In 1973, when funk was king, he coproduced the TV show "Duke Ellington, We Love You Madly." Quincy says Ellington himself told him after the show, "Q, you may be the one to decategorize American music."

To read all of deBarros's article, go here.

Here is a sample of the magnificent 1960 Quincy Jones big band playing "Rack 'em Up," with tenor saxophonists Jerome Richardson and Budd Johnson out front.

September 11, 2008 3:25 PM | | Comments (0)
Those unfamiliar with The Wall Street Journal, might be surprised to learn of its cultural component. The newspaper's Personal Journal section has frequent profiles, reviews and backgrounders involving painting, sculpture, architecture, literature, dance--the whole range of Keepnews.jpgcultural interests. The most recent piece of particular interest to jazz listeners is Tom Nolan's update on Orrin Keepnews, the 85-year-old co-founder of Riverside Records and indefatigable producer of reissues of a wide range of recordings, including many of his own productions. From the article, here is some of what Keepnews has to say about the economics of independent jazz recording in the 1950s, with Riverside as the case in point.


Much of the label's development reflected the improvisatory nature of the music it documented, Mr. Keepnews says, at a time when audio tape and the long-playing record were changing producing in radical ways. "Nobody was an expert at what it was we were fumbling around trying to do," Mr. Keepnews says, "because the whole basic technique was brand-new."

One of the key elements in the development of Riverside and other independent labels, Mr. Keepnews says, was the "postwar deflationary period": "At that point, union-scale pay for a sideman for a three-hour session was $41.25; double that for the leader. Among other things, you could do a trio album for a total musician cost of, in round numbers, $250. That is probably the most important factor in the growth of independent jazz labels -- and why, as it turned out, the "50s was such a golden age for recorded jazz, I think."

The on line version of the story has links to clips from important recordings. To read the whole thing, which includes some of Keepnews's thoughts about Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans and Cannonball Adderley, go here.
September 10, 2008 1:05 AM | | Comments (1)

As I set out for a bicycle ride, this is what I saw across a corner of the garden. It was a good way to start the day.

Garden, morning 001-thumb-2816x2112.jpg

September 10, 2008 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

The Portland Jazz Festival is no more. Word went out that next year's edition has been scrubbed and the festival will not be revived. Here is part of the official announcement.

Operations and planning for the 2009 February event could not continue because of a decline in funding and sponsorship support. Shortfalls accumulated to a total need of over $100,000 that could not be met by ticket sale projections and other forms of earned revenue. Recent attempts to develop support throughout the community were not successful. The 09 festival was to have been dedicated to the 70th anniversary of Blue Note Records.

For details, go to the festival's web site.

Critics of the Portland festival complained that it focused on hiring major performers from out of town and luring tourists from outside of Portland and Oregon. They claim that the national emphasis cut local and regional artists out of the action and discouraged support by Portland listeners, businesses and institutions. I have seen no analysis of the extent to which the recession--if it is a recession--is responsible for the lack of funding, but how could our massive economic downturn not have an effect?

I covered two of the Portland events for Jazz Times. There were flaws, often having to do with mismanaged sound systems in cavernous hotel ballrooms. There were also memorable performances. Here is what I wrote about one of them at the 2006 festival:

The last of the festival events I attended was a concert at the Portland Marriott by Bill Frisell's Unspeakable Orchestra, one of four bands the eclectic guitarist heads these days. The string section was violinist Jenny Scheinman, violist Eyvind Kang and cellist Hank Roberts. Tony Scherr was the bassist, Kenny Wollesen the drummer. Frisell announced no numbers, in fact said little beyond telling one of his snail jokes and saying to the audience, "This is great. You guys are cool."

The strings began playing parts over active bass and drums ornamentation, FrisellFrisell.jpg comping lightly. Allusions began to creep in, to "The Tennessee Waltz," Monk's "Misterioso," "You Are My Sunshine." They were all too short to be considered quotes; feelings, perhaps. The harmonic basis was vaguely country, vaguely blues. The time was 3/4. Roberts soloed, Scheinman soloed. Kang soloed. Then Frisell developed a gorgeous dissonance over the sweetness of the strings and there was the first of several segues, this one into Kang's viola lead that was more or less Far Eastern. Intensity built through written parts for the strings, the violin carrying the lead.

The next segue led to more written parts, although it was becoming difficult to determine what was written and what was free improvisation. As the piece bloomed, the strings went into a tremolo mode while Scherr and Frisell--smiling at one another--invented unison fragments. Then Scherr and Roberts, the cellist, began a series of unison chromatic lines leading into another segue transition. Suddenly Frisell's guitar was in solo on a peaceful melody as the strings made a transition from free playing to a folk melody. Behind them, Scherr raised the intensity with an arco solo, then the activity decreased back toward peacefulness, but it was a more troubling peace, a dissonant, polytonal, Schoenbergian peace that didn't end but melded into Frisell playing heavy guitar over a slow, insistent waltz beat.

The strings slid under him in ensemble, and suddenly the guitar was emitting wah-wah and chicken sounds, intimating country music and rural blues, everyone in unison, with guitar interjections. Then, the band was fully into country--real yee-hah stuff--a hoe-down, a barn dance, Frisell conducting his orchestra from the guitar with smiles and directional nods of his head.

When that ended, Frisell made his "You guys are cool" remark, and kicked off a Monkish melody over Scherr's walking bass, the only conventional 4/4 playing he had done so far. Scheinman 2.jpgThe melody was a wild, through-composed line that went on for a couple of choruses before it began to dawn on me that it was built on the changes of "What Is This Thing Called Love." Scheinman played a gorgeous solo, followed by Frisell in a solo that was as close to pure bebop as we're likely to hear from him. The audience gave a standing ovation. The encore was Burt Bachrach's "What The World Needs Now," which may or may not have been done tongue-in-cheek. With Frisell, you're never quite sure.

To read the complete review of that festival, go here.

And to read Joe Woodard's review of this year's PDX Festival --the last one-- go here.

Impresario Bill Royston poured his vitality, Royston.jpgorganizational ability and knowledge of music and musicians into the Portland Festival. Whether he has the energy or desire to marshal the forces required to mount another such event remains to be seen. He deserves credit for having put together what in five years became a major happening in jazz and keeping the overall quality amazingly high. In these times of dwindling interest in the music, that is no small accomplishment. 

September 9, 2008 1:05 AM | | Comments (3)

Rifftides postings have been seldom lately because I'm working on a magazine piece about the resuscitation of Lester Young's tenor saxophone and the consequent revival of a band devoted to his music. More about that later. In the meantime, here's a set of thoughts from and about Prez.

Well, the way I play, I try not to be a 'repeater pencil', ya dig? Originality's the thing.   You can have tone and technique and a lot of other things but without originality you ain't really nowhere. Gotta be original.--Lester Young

The trouble with most musicians today is that they are copycats. Of course you have to start out playing like someone else. You have a model, or a teacher, and you learn all that he can show you. But then you start playing for yourself. Show them that you're an individual. And I can count those who are doing that today on the fingers of one hand.--Lester Young

When Lester plays, he almost seems to be singing; one can almost hear the words.--Billie Holiday

In some ways Lester Young is the most complex rhythmically of any musician. He does some things which are just phenomenal.--Lee Konitz

Anyone who doesn't play like Lester Young is wrong.--Brew Moore

And, in case you haven't seen it in a while, here are Prez and a few of his friends in Gjon Mili's classic 1944 short film Jammin' The Blues. The cast credits run at the top. Do yourself a favor and watch it full screen.

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

The list of veterans of the glory days of modern jazz in Sweden grew significantly shorter onDomnerus 2.jpg Tuesday with the death of Arne Domnérus at the age of eighty-three. The alto saxophonist and clarinetist came to popular attention in the late 1940s and early 1950s as one of the most adroit disciples of Charlie Parker and Lee Konitz. Within a few years, his own personality emerged and he distinguished himself as a soloist immediately recognizable for the individuality and warmth of his playing. Those aspects of Domnérus's work were emphasized today in his obituary in the British newspaper the Telegraph.

His playing mellowed with age until, by the 1980s, it had attained a state of great expressive simplicity. While it was still possible to trace early influences in his style on both saxophone and clarinet, he could no longer be fitted into any conventional jazz category.

With pianist Bengt Hallberg, baritone saxophonist Lars Gullin, clarinetist Stan Hasselgard, trumpeter Rolf Ericson and a few other pioneers of modern jazz in Sweden, Domnérus became recognized as a peer of the best young American jazz musicians. His approach was cooler than that of the fieriest Parker acolytes, but he worked on an equally high level of creativity. When American musicians visited Sweden, they often recorded with Domnérus. He was prominent as a soloist when Clifford Brown and Art Farmer collaborated in 1953 with the Swedish All-Stars in four tracks included in this CD set.

Domnerus 3.jpgJan Lundgren today occupies a place in Swedish jazz comparable to that of Bengt Hallberg in the 1950s. He played frequently with Domnérus. Their work together on the Domnérus quartet CD Dompan! Is among the highlights of both mens' discographies. From his home in Malmö, Lundgren sent this message to Rifftides:

Having worked with some great musicians through the years, there isLundgren playing.jpg still nobody who had such an enormous emotional effect on me as Arne. The secret was in his sound and in his way of nuancing each tone. He was a jazz musician who reached a whole nation, including people who wouldn´t normally listen to jazz. He was loved by the audiences.

Anyone with an interest in jazz should take a listen to "The Midnight Sun Never Sets," recorded in the 50s with Quincy Jones leading the Swedish Radio Big Band -- a classic. Arne was one of the world´s finest interpreters of the Great American Song Book, but not only that, he was also one of the pioneers in playing music of Swedish origin, popular songs and folk music, in a jazz context. Arne Domnérus was one of the great ones and will be missed by thousands of fans.

"The Midnight Sun Never Sets" is available here as an MP3 download. That piece and many others with Domnérus are included in volume 8 of Svensk Jazzhistoria: Swedish Jazz 1956-1959.

In 1950 in a concert in Malmö, Domnérus shared a rhythm section and trumpeter Rolf Ericson with Charlie Parker--although the two saxophonists performed in separate sets. The concert was recorded and recently released in this CD.

September 4, 2008 12:47 PM | | Comments (2)

Despite his ability early in his career to approximate Charlie Parker, throughout Arne Domnérus's life, Benny Carter remained a primary inspiration. In this 2000 performance in Paris with pianist Claes Crona, Domnérus thoroughly explores Carter's "When Lights Are Low."

September 4, 2008 12:45 PM | | Comments (1)

The Bix Beiderbecke discussion that began here last week has spread to other precincts of the internet, most recently in an entry on Marc Myers's JazzWax. Marc builds on what he points out is an absurd trumped-up competition, Beiderbecke vs. Louis Armstrong; as if music was boxing, a track event or a beauty contest. To read it, and hear the recording of Bix's "Sorry," go here.

And don't miss this phrase in Myers's text...

...the rubbery bark of Adrian Rollini's bass sax.

That's a nice piece of writing.

September 1, 2008 4:18 PM | | Comments (1)

About this Archive

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

Rifftides: August 2008 is the previous archive.

Rifftides: October 2008 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.