main: June 2005 Archives

Ending our survey of a few of the CDs that piled up while Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond was occupying the author, here are brief observations on three more.

Mulgrew Miller, Live At Yoshi’s, volumes one and two. One of the most consistently interesting pianists in jazz, Miller has in his trio Derrick Hodge, a new bassist to keep your ears on, and the rapidly developing drummer Karriem Riggins. Horace Silver’s "Peace," Victor Feldman's "Joshua" and Donald Brown’s "Waltz for Monk" are highlights.

Dexter Gordon, The Complete Prestige Recordings. This is everything the great tenor man recorded for Prestige from 1950 to 1973, eleven CDs’ worth, with a who’s-who of sidemen, peers and guests, from Wardell Gray to Freddie Hubbard. It’s Gordon in all of his complexity, subtlety and power. No retrospective this comprehensive can be A-plus throughout, but triumphs of the quality of "Fried Bananas," "Stanley the Steamer," "Body and Soul" and Dexter’s two-tenor collaborations with James Moody, uneven as they are in spots, carry the day.

Zoot Sims Recorded Live at e.j.’s Aug. 9, 1981 Atlanta, Georgia is the comprehensive title of a surprise released nearly twenty years after Sims’s death. With a fine local rhythm section, Zoot played the club in high spirits, sparring hilariously on three pieces with the Atlanta tenor man Rick Bell. As if to remind us that categorizing him as a descendant of Lester Young is too facile, he opens his “Take the ‘A’ Train” solo with a phrase that is pure Coleman Hawkins.

June 30, 2005 1:05 AM |

I have just been informed that WNYC radio in New York archived my June 23 appearance on The Leonard Lopate Show. It was a zippy thirteen-minute discussion of Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond. You can listen to it here. It’s the second item from the bottom of the page.

Joe Maita’s long interview with the author is transcribed on the Jerry Jazz Musician website. It is integrated with samples of Desmond’s playing and a few photographs from the book, in a skillfully assembled package. While you’re there, browse his site, which is loaded with riches and rewards. But hurry back.

June 30, 2005 1:04 AM |

My ArtsJournal colleague Terry Teachout points to a development in German publishing that he says should be of concern to all writers. I agree. It should also disturb readers dependent upon authors free of interference with their work. The situation involves a new biography of Carl Jung, the seminal (I hope that's not too Freudian) psychoanalyst. Given the concern of jazz musicians and listeners with freedom of expression, I think that friends of Rifftides will find it important. To read the item, go to Watch On The Rhine in Terry's Arts About Last Night web log.

June 30, 2005 1:03 AM |

Benny Carter died on July 12, 2003. His absence is made a little easier to bear with EMI’s reissue of a rare 1960 album originally on United Artists. The CD is Sax a la Carter, with Jimmy Rowles, Leroy Vinnegar and Mel Lewis. The programs begins with “And The Angels Sing” in shuffle rhythm, possibly to honor or tweak Jonah Jones, a trumpet sideman from Carter’s 1941 band who had a series of easy-listening shuffle hits in the late fifties. Lewis provides a shuffle beat that is essence of shuffling. Following eleven other standards, including a classic “If I Loved You,” Benny concludes with two of his own songs, neither well known. One is “Friendly Islands”, a bit of mild exotica that Martin Denny also recorded. On “Ennui,” heard for the first time on this CD, he plays the flowing melody on soprano saxophone, an instrument he should have employed more often. It lasts two minutes and nineteen seconds, with no improvisation, and it is glorious. None of the pieces runs longer than four minutes. That is as much time as Carter needed, as much as Rowles needed, to be memorable.

One of Benny’s biggest fans, Phil Woods, is teaming up these days with Bud Shank for appearances that might be billed as Two Tough Old Altos. I saw them, backed by Bill Mays, Joe LaBarbera and Chuck Deardorf, bring a festival audience of 1500 to its feet, cheering. The partnership is the jazz equivalent not of Grumpy Old Men, but The Sunshine Boys. It has produced the splendid CD Bouncing With Bud and Phil Live At Yoshi’s, recommended for two weeks now in the Doug’s Picks section in the right-hand column, and for good reason.

By 1959, Woods had established himself as one of New York’s hottest alto saxophone players—hot in terms of the emotional temperature he created in his solos and of demand for his services. That year, Quincy Jones landed Woods for his new big band, which went to Europe with Harold Arlen’s musical (often described as a blues opera) Free and Easy. The show soon folded, but Jones struggled to keep the band together and Phil stayed with it until it finally dissolved. The two bonded musically and personally. Jones went on to other endeavors, including movies scores and stewardship of Michael Jackson’s career, and eventually spun off almost entirely into pop music. I remember Phil saying a few years ago that he was happy about his pal’s success, but asking, plaintively, “couldn’t he make a jazz album at least every few years?”

That hasn’t happened, not with fealty to the straight-ahead jazz to which Woods remains committed. So, Phil made the album and called it This Is How I Feel About Quincy. Jones wrote all but one of the tunes, and his great ones are there, “Stockholm Sweetnin’,” “Meet Benny Bailey,” “The Midnight Sun Will Never Set” and that delightful product of Jones’s early career, “Jessica’s Day." The Woods Quintet with Brian Lynch, Bill Charlap, Steve Gilmore and Bill Goodwin is augmented with four horns to fill out the splendid arrangements by Woods (and one of “The Pawnbroker” by Lynch). Following a thoughtful and sinewy solo by Woods, his arrangement of "Stockholm Sweetnin’" encompasses a transcription of Clifford Brown’s famous trumpet solo alternated among combinations of the band’s eight melody instruments.

The playing by all hands is at the highest level. The Woods composition “Q’s Delight” is a tribute to his friend, but the entire album honors Quincy Jones by renewing and validating his music in its purest state, something that Jones himself has chosen not to do.

June 29, 2005 1:06 AM |

Yesterday I declared at an end the discussion of alternative approaches to improvisation, with a proviso: "Unless someone out there has a new take on this matter." If you're just joining us, the focus of the dialogue (or diablog) was the late tenor saxophonist Bill Perkins. The inquiry was into how much he knew about chords and whether he elected to play outside of them in spite of his knowledge, or because he lacked knowledge. Vibraharpist and teacher Charlie Shoemake responded to my original post about Perkins's continuing growth and adventurousness, as did critic Larry Kart.

When accomplished composer-arrangers like Mike Longo and Bill Kirchner -- theoreticians and talented soloists -- weigh in, it would be rude and irresponsible not to allow them the virtual floor. Therefore, the discussion is reopened. (It's wonderful to be your own editor and publisher). Let me suggest, even if you are not educated in theory and harmony, that you follow along here because the gist of what our guest experts offer can improve our listening ability, regardless of whether we know an F minor 7th chord from a Harmon mute. First, this communique from Mike Longo, leader and pianist of the New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble.


Just a note about the harmonic discussion centering around Bill Perkins, especially in connection with the comparison to Wayne Shorter in terms of the use of notes that are apparently not in the prevailing chord structure. Wayne, like many of today's contemporary players, has embraced 20th century harmonic thinking which is rooted in intervalic playing. Once intervalic logic has been activated, notes that appear to be outside the spelling of the harmonic structure seem to sound related. This is because the logic of intervals has taken over.

For example, one may play an interval sequence that outlines an Fm7 chord and then play the same sequence a half step up and it will sound related to the original chord, even though on paper it may appear to be the tones of an F#m7 chord being played against an Fm7. In fact, it is merely a sequence of the intervals just heard, deflected up a half step. Therefore, the ear accepts it as related. These are practices employed by 20th century composers such as Bartok and Stravinsky and are outlined in a book by Vincent Persichetti called 20th Century Harmony which has become quite an influence on many contemporary jazz musicians.

In addition to his composing, arranging and playing, Bill Kirchner is a band leader, annotator (in depth) of Mosaic boxes, historian and editor of the invaluable Oxford Companion to Jazz.


In jazz, improvising "outside the chords" goes back more than 50 years. For an early example of "sideslipping" (Jerry Coker's term, I believe), hear Lennie Tristano's 1955 recording of "Line Up" (based on "All of Me"). Tristano frequently uses phrases a half-step away from the basic chord scales. George Russell also pioneered in jazz bitonality in his writing as far back as 1949--hear his big-band charts on "A Bird in Igor's Yard" (for Buddy DeFranco)* and "Similau" (for Artie Shaw).

In the early '60s, John Coltrane extended this practice and probably did more than anyone to make what saxophonist Dave Liebman calls "chromaticism" (in a jazz sense) part of the basic harmonic language of this music. When playing on tunes like "Impressions," Coltrane would superimpose phrases in several different tonalities on top of a basic tonality (e.g., D minor). Also, what's called intervalic playing became popular; for an example of a tune written in that style (in this case, fourths), check out Eddie Harris's "Freedom Jazz Dance". Go to any jazz school in the world today, and you'll hear this stuff coming out of the practice rooms.
Bill Perkins, being an intellectually curious man, checked all this out in depth and to an extent incorporated it into his playing. However, Perkins came out of the Lester Young tradition; Young and most of his disciples, as Charlie Shoemake pointed out, were "ear players" in the best sense. Whatever they knew or didn't know about chords (Al Cohn, for one, knew a lot), harmony really wasn't the primary feature of their styles. Rather, it was melodic (linear) playing, usually on simple changes. When I listen to Zoot Sims, I don't listen for a dazzling harmonic conception; he of course had other virtues.(Though Stan Getz could play well on harmonically challenging tunes like "Con Alma" when he wanted to.)
So, if Perkins once played an A natural against an F minor 7 chord, he could have made a mistake, or he could have been sideslipping to produce an intentional momentary dissonance. Context and melodic intent make an enormous difference. As pianist Jim McNeely once remarked about his tenure with Getz, you don't go to a player like Getz and tell him that such-and-such a note doesn't work against a certain chord; a strong, well-placed melodic phrase usually will override harmonic considerations. A great player can make "wrong" notes work. As the Lunceford record said, "'Tain't Whatcha Do, It's the Way Thatcha Do It."
By the way, for those seriously interested in these and similar matters, I recommend Dave Liebman's book A Chromatic Approach to Jazz Harmony and Melody (Advance Music).

I won't again make so bold as to say that's the end of this conversation. Let's see what happens.

*"A Bird in Igor's Yard" is neary impossible to find on CD, but this link takes you to a box set that allegedly has it. Good luck, and let me know if you find it.

June 29, 2005 1:05 AM |

It's time to put a wrap on the discussion about whether Bill Perkins knew the chord structures of pieces on which he improvised. You may recall that vibraharpist Charlie Shoemake, who played with Perkins, wasn't convinced either way. Critic Larry Kart thought that Perk probably did know the chords but felt free to depart from harmonic guidelines that he thoroughy understood. Unless someone out there has a new take on this matter, Shoemake gets the last word.

Larry Kart could be right if he's evaluating from Bill's late recordings (which I don't own). My observations came from standing next to him on the bandstand (here in Cambria and elsewhere). When I hear someone play an A natural half note on an F minor 7 chord, I figure that he either doesn't know anything about chord changes or doesn't care where they fall, a la Wayne Shorter.
June 28, 2005 1:06 AM |

We're still catching up with CDs that appeared while I was writing Paul Desmond's biography. If you don't have your copy of the book yet, hurry.


Columbia/Legacy is systematically reissuing (again) everything it has by Duke Ellington. In the case of Blues In Orbit, it has done so with class and thoroughness, from the inclusion of previously unissued pieces and alternate takes, to digital remastering that brings out nuances, to Patricia Willard’s informative new notes. The back-cover blurb calling Blues In Orbit an undervalued gem is accurate. In the late fifties, Ellington and Billy Strayhorn were writing intriguing things into new compositions and old ones alike, and the album radiates the feeling of discovery even on "C Jam Blues" and "In A Mellow Tone," which the band had played hundreds of times. Johnny Hodges was back after a layoff and sounds happy to be home.


Emil Viklicky, a Czech born in Moravia in 1948, is one of the finest jazz pianists in the world. His standing in his own country may be inferred from that fact that last year when President Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic initiated a series of jazz concerts at Prague Castle, the counterpart of the White House, Viklicky and his trio were the first performers. That concert, with the Swiss trumpeter Franco Ambrosetti as guest artist, was recorded and is available as Franco Ambrosetti & Emil Viklicky Trio (Multisonic 31 0644-2). Ambrosetti at first lessens the impact of his inventiveness by using excessive volume, but his ideas ultimately carry the day. Viklicky, bassist Frantisek Uhlir and drummer Laco Tropp are wonderful throughout, and sublime on the final three pieces, with Ambrosetti sitting out. Trying to negotiate the complex Multisonic website is frustrating. It would be easier to send the company an e-mail message to find out how to order. The CD is worth the trouble. (Can you imagine George W. Bush honoring jazz with a series of recitals at the White House?)

Here is a short list of other recent CDs that have given me pleasure or stimulation or at least kept my attention:

Ken Peplowski, Easy To Remember. Peplowski plays a varied program that includes a lovely unaccompanied clarinet solo on Ellington’s "Single Petal of a Rose" and a tenor sax romp on Al Cohn’s "High on You." There is fine work by Al’s guitarist son Joe and pianist Ted Rosenthal.

Branford Marsalis, Eternal. Quartet music by the saxophonist balancing originals with standards, among them the old Nat Cole ballad "The Ruby and the Pearl." The title piece is well named; it runs eighteen minutes and holds up thanks to Marsalis's continuity of ideas and cohesive accompaniment by pianist Joey Calderazzo and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts. You want liner notes? The booklet tells you to download them from Marsalis’s web site. Puzzling consumer relations, putting the information burden on the customer.

Metz’n Around. Pianist Ed Metz, Sr. with drummer Ed, Jr., other family members and friends in oldies like "’Deed I Do," "Little Rock Getaway" and "Goody Goody." Infectious fun, and worth a few hearings for the solos of John Allred, a great trombonist.

Jane Monheit, Taking A Chance On Love. Imitative and overhyped at the beginning, she is now a grownup singer with her own personality and a touch too much vibrato in the middle register.

The Mildred Bailey Radio Shows.Three programs from 1945 with Bailey singing perfectly, of course, and exchanging scripted banter with guests Earl Hines, Tommy Dorsey and Cozy Cole. The big band backing her has Teddy Wilson, Roy Eldridge, Red Norvo and Jimmy Maxwell, among others. What a singer.

Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard, Steve Swallow, Billy Drummond, The Lost Chords. This is really Bley’s record, and it’s laced with her angular humor as well as her profundity. Its opening suite is based on "Three Blind Mice." One of the movements has a subsection titled "Leonard Feather." Her notes are not about the music but about the group’s travails on a tour of Europe, complete with a map and amusing photographs. The music is excellent.

Enrico Pieranunzi, Paul Motian, Doorways. The Italian pianist and the former Bill Evans drummer in a series of pieces that are free and sound composed or are composed and sound free. When saxophonist Chris Potter joins them on three tracks, the result is nothing like Lester Young, Nat Cole and Buddy Rich. Abstract, luxuriant music.

Tomorrow: A few thoughts about Benny Carter and Phil Woods, among others.

June 28, 2005 1:05 AM |

Reissuing important music in impeccably produced editions, Mosaic Records continues to thrive. Its most recent box set is The Complete Clef/Verve Count Basie Fifties Studio Recordings. I just finished a long review of the album for Jazz Times. Watch for it in the September 35th anniversary issue.

Another recent Mosaic gem is The Complete Argo/Mercury Art Farmer, Benny Golson Jazztet Sessions. Farmer and Golson were in the thick of the hard bop movement of the 1950s and early sixties. Together, they transcended hard bop’s orthodoxies, Farmer with his incomparable melodic inventions on trumpet and flugelhorn, Golson as a writer of memorable tunes and pungent arrangements and as a lusty tenor saxophonist under the spell of Don Byas and Lucky Thompson. They reached what Gene Lees described in Down Beat in 1960 as “a balanced amalgam of formal written structure and free blowing — the long-sought Grail of jazz.” That balance is responsible for the music’s sounding fresh more than forty years later, along with remarkably undated playing by the leaders and their changing cast of sidemen.

The pianists were McCoy Tyner, Cedar Walton and Harold Mabern; the bassists Addison Farmer, Herbie Lewis and Tommy Williams; the trombonists Curtis Fuller, Tom McIntosh and Grachan Moncur III; the drummers Lex Humphries, Tootie Heath and Roy McCurdy. The seven CDs in the Mosaic box encompass everything the Jazztet recorded in its 1960-’62 incarnation (Farmer and Golson reassembled the band briefly in the 1980s), as well as individual dates by the leaders. They include four of the best quartet albums of the decade, Golson’s Free and Turning Point and Farmer’s Art and Perception. Both of Farmer’s and one of Golson’s quartet dates have Tommy Flanagan, the other Golson has Wynton Kelly, two of the most influential pianists in modern jazz. The box also contains Listen To Art Farmer And The Orchestra with Oliver Nelson’s arrangements, and Golson’s clever Take A Number From 1 To 10, in which he starts alone and adds one instrument per track until he has a tentet. In the twenty-page booklet, Bob Blumenthal contributes a deeply researched essay and track-by-track analysis.

With the Farmer/Golson bonanza coming on the heels of its monumental Complete Columbia Recordings Of Woody Herman And His Orchestra & Woodchoppers 1945-1947, Mosaic is having a good run. As usual. The label’s Mosaic Select series of smaller boxes brings together in three CDs five Bob Brookmeyer albums from the fifties. It includes two rarities, Brookmeyer’s ten-inch 1954 Pacific Jazz quartet album with John Williams, Red Mitchell and Frank Isola, and The Street Swingers with guitarists Jim Hall and Jimmy Raney, bassist Bill Crow and drummer Osie Johnson. Mint copies of The Street Swingers LP have gone to Japanese collectors for hundreds of dollars. It’s good of Mosaic to rescue it from the archives for listeners of more modest means.

Brookmeyer long since passed safely through what he has called his “music to make your teeth hurt” period. For an idea of what he is up to these days, I recommend his Waltzing With Zoe for writing in a league that he and Bill Holman, among contemporary arranger-composers, occupy alone. Maria Schneider and Jim McNeely are stars of the farm club.

For Brookmeyer’s small group work on valve trombone, try Island, a challenging collaboration with Kenny Wheeler, possibly the most surprising trumpet soloist alive. John Snyder has revived his Artists House as a nonprofit organization and taken it into leading-edge multi-media production and education. Artists House includes in The Island package not only the CD but also a DVD with scenes of the recording session, interviews with the musicians and printable scores. To find Island on the Artists House website, click on "Contact" on the right side of the screen.

Snyder just completed his first academic season as Conrad Hilton Eminent Scholar and Director of Music Industry Studies at Loyola University in New Orleans. In case those Artists House and teaching involvements don’t keep him busy enough, he has also taken on stewardship of a series of musicians’ master classes at New York University. The Artists House web site presents streaming video of classes conducted by Benny Golson, Cecil Taylor, Percy and Jimmy Heath, Barry Harris and Clark Terry. The only one I've seen all the way through is Taylor's. His question and answer session with NYU students is, like his music and his life, intriguing performance art.

June 27, 2005 1:05 AM |

When I stay with my friend Jack Brownlow(page 267 in The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond), he often comes up with special entertainment. Yesterday, it was a couple of episodes of The Beiderbecke Connection, a 1988 series from Granada, the British TV network. Jack's daughter checked it out from the public library on VHS, but it is also available here on DVD. Trevor Chaplin and the adorable Barbara Flynn play the lead characters, unmarried school teachers with a child they call "the firstborn" because they can't agree on a name for him. The couple have a talent for trouble when they try to accomodate beguiling, unscrupulous friends who request favors with a slightly illegal tinge.

Bix Beiderbecke, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Charlie Parker, among other jazz figures, come up casually in conversation among the characters. The scoring by Frank Ricotti, a musician previously unknown to me, functions well with the action of this mystery spoof. Ricotti is a vibraharpist and in one sequence leads his band in an episode that takes place in a London club called, oddly, The Village Vanguard. One of the few television series to incorporate running references to jazz and jazz artists, it features welcome subtlety and humor in script, acting and direction. Perhaps you've noticed that we don't see much of that in domestic television these days.

June 27, 2005 1:04 AM |

You may knock New York if you like. I won't. I lived there in the seventies, when it was truly knockable. Let me tell you three things about the couple of days I spent in Manhattan last week.

1. On the glorious day that was last Thursday, I sat blogging on my laptop in City Hall Park, a free wireless internet zone, a sure sign of a civilized city. I was surrounded by people eating their lunches in the sun, tours of grade school children gleefully and loudly exulting at the sight of baby squirrels, a man who looked to be about one hundred and five writing avidly in longhand, a city employee on the smallest riding lawnmower I've ever seen waving at the kids on each circuit of a patch of lawn as if he were Rex on a Mardi Gras parade float.

2. I saw planter after planter in midtown spilling over with spring flowers...wave petunias, coleus, begonias, comras and others I couldn't name. Just down the hill from Carnegie Hall's 56th Street side, the Metropolitan Tower has four magnificent raised beds of impatiens. In the elevator lobby, I congratulated the security guards on the flowers, and they beamed.

3. I sat down opposite Cole Porter's piano at the Waldorf while Daryl Sherman was playing it and singing "I Like New York in June." When she saw me, she altered the lyrics to, "I like Paul Desmond's looks, er, licks, they give me a thrill."

No, I won't knock New York.

June 27, 2005 1:01 AM |

I first heard Rick Trolsen in New Orleans (Never The Big Easy, please, unless you want to be considered a tourist cornball unduly infuenced by bad movies; calling it The Crescent City is okay). He was in Al Belletto’s big band. I loved his unreservedly tromboney solos. Trolsen is not a young hot dog trombonist harboring an inner trumpeter yearning to be free, but a mature one who loves the instrument for itself. Since I have long been hooked on Brazilian music, it came as a double surprise and pleasure when Trolsen’s wryly titled Gringo Do Choro showed up one day while I was in the throes of a troublesome part of the Desmond book. I knew that if I put it on, I’d lose the writing battle, so I set it aside. When I finally got around to the CD, it made me even happier than I had anticipated. Trolsen recorded it in 2003 in Rio de Janeiro with eight Brazilian musicians of whom I have never heard, not surprising since it seems that one out of three Brazilians is an accomplished musician. His immersion in New Orleans is plain to hear in his samba improvisations, and he blends the north-south elements with verve, humor, saudade and the feeling of abandon common to both musics.

The repertoire includes pieces by Trolsen, Clare Fischer and assorted Brazilians including Anontio Carlos Jobim and Jacob do Bandolim. Bandolim loved the mandolin so much that he took the Portuguese word for it as his last name. Henry Lentino, who is on the album, kept his own name but plays the Bandolim beautifully. The package has Trolsen’s fine introductory notes, observations on the songs by Marcia M.A. de Brito and a great cover shot of the trombonist playing with Central Rio below and, in the distance, Sugar Loaf swathed in fog. You are unlikely to run across this in your corner one-stop. You can go to Trolsen's web site to find out where to get it, or call (504) 368-8130. Many albums on artists’ own labels are premature, self-indulgent and boring. This one is generous of spirit and entertaining.

Luscious Lu (Okay, so it's a corny subhead, but it's not wrong)

Luciana Souza, a Brazilian turned New Yorker and new U.S. citizen, is one of the best singers in the world. She performs with equal facility and mastery in Brazilian music, American songs and classical music. She has sung Osvaldo Golijov's "Pasion" with the New York Philharmonic and scatted with cutting-edge young jazz players in Greenwich Village. She wins critics polls (Last week, the Jazz Journalists Association's Female Jazz Singer of the year award) and Grammy nominations. She is just beginning to reach the general acclaim justified by her talent and charisma. Souza’s musicianship is deep and wide. The half-step modulations she improvises over Romero Lubambo’s guitar in the tag ending of "Amanha" on her Brazilian Duos are astonishing. Her second volume of duets is, if anything, even better than the first. On North And South she stretches the phrasing of "All Of Me" with assurance, subtlety and control of the time so that although her approach is daring, she maintains respect for the song’s integrity. With the Maria Schneider Orchestra in Concert in the Garden her wordless vocalising is an integral element of the ensemble in Schneider’s title composition, the "Choro Dancado" section of "Three Romances" and the masterpiece of the album, "Buleria, Solea y Rumba." In other words, Schneider uses Souza as an instrument in the orchestra. Souza executes the demanding parts flawlessly and, evidently, without effort.

Schneider Triumphant

With Concert in the Garden, Schneider reaches a plateau in her notable young career. The CD won four Jazz Journalists Association awards last week and a Grammy in the spring. The student of Gil Evans and Bob Brookmeyer is more clearly than ever an original voice in composition and orchestration. Her writing is integrated with the abilities of her musicians in ways that nurture the individualism of soloists like trumpeters Ingrid Jensen and Greg Gisbert, tenor saxophonists Rich Perry and Donny McCaslin and pianist Frank Kimbrough. Schneider is one of a few musicians also breaking ground on the business side of jazz recording. She made the album under the auspices of ArtistShare, formed to give artists control, more of the money they earn and a chance for their audiences to participate in and support the creative process. Guitarist Jim Hall has also joined AristShare and has released his first independent album, the brilliant Magic Meeting. Hall is preparing for ArtistShare a duo album with pianist Geoff Keezer. Bob Brookmeyer has joined ArtistShare, and Ingrid Jensen told me the other day that she is signing up as well. Assuming that it can matintain its integrity, the organization seems a bold step away from the convolutions, exploitation and abuses of the traditional recording industry. Schneider’s album is available only from her at ArtistShare. It is an indication of the way the world is going that the ArtistShare website offers neither a physical address nor a phone number. Sorry about that, troglodytes.

June 24, 2005 1:10 AM |

The latest on tenor saxophonist Bill Perkins's solo methodology: critic and historian Larry Kart responds to musician Charlie Shoemake's pondering the other day on the nature and origin of Perkins's harmonic choices.

I understand what Charlie Shoemake says up a point, but then I don't understand it all, at least not as it applies to latter-day Perkins, who seems to me to have become one of the more harmonically oriented players on the planet -- a man whose melodies were in effect being generated by a series of (no doubt to some considerable degree self-invented) substitutions. Not only that, it also seems fairly clear to me that the obliqueness and, at times IMO, the awkwardness of Perkins' latter-day harmonic thinking amounted to an attempt on his part to make obliqueness in that realm trickle over into the realm of rhythm,where Perkins apparently felt that he was far less fluid, hip, you name it than he would have wanted to be (witness his statements about how he felt about the rhythmic nature of his own playing versus that of Richie Kamuca when they were running buddies).

If I had to take a guess, I'd say that the model for latter-day Perkins was Thelonious Monk, in whose music every significant harmonic event (especially as rendered in pianistic terms) also was a significant rhythmic event ("the piano is a drum"). The problem here, at least for me, is that generating that kind of simultaneous harmonic/rhythmic friction and making it work in "language" terms over the long run is a heck of a lot harder to do on an essentially linear instrument like the tenor saxophone. One tenorman these days who seems to be doing, or trying to do, this is Rich Perry -- whose playing to my ear bears some some resemblance to that of latter-day Perkins (at least in terms of underlying principles) and who, for what it's worth (given Shoemake's identification of Joe Henderson as a key harmonically oriented/knowledgable player), was so heavily influenced by Henderson when he was coming up that he was known as "Little Joe."

Larry Kart's new book is Jazz In Search Of Itself.

June 24, 2005 1:09 AM |

The trombonist and singer Eric Felten chimed in the other day on the proposition that listeners deserve the break of being given something familiar to hang their ears on before the improvisation starts.

I enjoyed your post on the question of writing new tunes, versus playing something recognizable. Jimmy Knepper once told me that the main reason he wrote new tunes for his albums was so that he would get the royalty taste rather than the Gershwins or Victor Young getting it. Thus his boppish "Spotlight Girl" instead of "Stella by Starlight."

When one thinks of the great eras, and styles of jazz, each has a distinctive repertoire that immediately comes to mind, songs that every musician of the era would be able to play if they were called on the bandstand. Was there a swing era player who didn't know "Lady Be Good" or "Moonglow" or "Undecided"? Bop players who didn't know "Scrapple from the Apple?" Hard boppers who didn't know "Moments Notice?" Or anyone since who doesn't know the essential tunes from the Miles canon? But this came to a screeching halt sometime in the sixties or early seventies.

For all of the revival of jazz performance in the 80s and 90s -- and for all the tunes written on all those records -- I can't think of a single song that has entered the jazz repertoire in the last 25 years. It isn't that there haven't been any good songs written, just that no one has picked one up and repeated it. One would think that, with the tremendous success of Norah Jones and the fact that several of the songs on her first record were jazz-inflected, we would see a slew of players treating "Don't Know Why" as a new standard. But if that's happened, I've missed it.

Why? I'm not really sure, but perhaps it's because very few players today listen to the records being made by their contemporaries. I know I'm guilty of this myself -- when I go to the record store, there's always a Basie record or some such that I don't have that I'd like to pick up. Maybe it's that there just haven't been enough distinctive, compelling tunes written. But I'd be interested in your thoughts on why the jazz repertoire seems to have stopped with the compiling of the Real Book (hmmm, and maybe that might have something to do with it...).

Hmmm, indeed. I'd be interested in Rifftides readers' thoughts.

Back when I was first attempting to play jazz, someone gave me a three-ring binder full of surreptitiously photocopied lead sheets with lyrics and rudimentary chord symbols. "Learn these, and you'll be okay," my mentor said. The degree of okayness that ensued is still up for debate. But I digress. That book was a fake book. The difference between it and The Real Book is that The Real Book is legal.

It has been a long week, full of blogging and travel, with more travel to come. My intention is to post again on Monday, but if I slip, put something you like on your CD player, Ipod or Garrard AT6, and wait for me, please. If you don't know what a Garrard AT6 is or was, ask your dad. Or his dad.

Have a good weekend.

June 24, 2005 1:08 AM |

Today, I'll have the pleasure of being a guest on The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC, New York, 93.9 FM. I'm scheduled sometime around 12:30 or 1:00 pm. WNYC streams on the net here.

Later (much later) at 1:00 am Friday, I'll talk about Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond with Joey Reynolds on his WOR (710 AM) show. The Joey Reynolds Show streams on the net and also rides a satellite across much of the world, from Hawaii to Puerto Rico.

June 23, 2005 1:12 AM |

Here is a possibly prejudiced assertion: Jazz albums should have program notes. Listeners want and deserve information about the music. It seems that years ago someone in record company accounting decided that since rock albums sold in the millions without notes, why not treat jazz albums the same way and save a buck? Case in point: Don Byron’s Ivey-Divey titled after a saying of Lester Young’s and inspired by Young’s trio recordings with Nat Cole and Buddy Rich. CD buyers would have no way of knowing from the package about that inspiration unless they happened to catch and decode a reference to Young in the fine print thank-yous near the back of the booklet. Reviewers know because their advance copies of the CD came with a news release full of information about Byron’s addiction to Lester, unusual for an avant garde clarinetist, and his adaptation of Prez’s bassless trio format.

The release has quotes from Byron about why he chose Jack DeJohnette as the drummer and Jason Moran as the pianist (Moran reminded him of Jaki Byard), why he thought Lester’s music made sense as a point of departure for free playing, how he has two degrees of separation from Leopold Stokowski, and why the album includes two pieces from Miles Davis’s repertoire. As I often do in such situations, I cut and folded the news release into a size and shape that would fit inside the noteless Blue Note booklet. The consumer doesn’t have that option and remains in the dark about the genesis of a fascinating piece of work. Not all record company news releases would make good liner notes, but this one easily could have. Miles Davis and many other musicians have said that music speaks for itself and liner notes are unnecessary. Yes and no. I love Mahler more and understand him better because, through their album notes, writers like Jeremy Noble and Andreas Maul helped me hear things I might have missed. Serious listeners to serious music deserve insights other than their own.

So, how’s the Byron CD? Stimulating, fresh, iconoclastic, intriguing, a little upsetting. Byron is terrific on clarinet and bass clarinet. Lester Young comes through in softer clarinet passages and in Byron’s tenor playing, of which I wish there were more. DeJohnette is a wizard. This is the first Moran I’ve heard that gives me an inkling of why there is a good deal of shouting about him. I’m still waiting for the light to go on when I listen to his own Blue Note albums. I am particularly taken with Moran’s comping and soloing on Sammy Price’s "The Goon Drag," which generates a slinky old New Orleans feeling.

McCoy Tyner’s Illuminations tackles that feeling in Tyner’s "New Orleans Stomp," with trumpeter Terence Blanchard testifying like someone who grew up there, which he did. Lewis Nash, a drummer for whom my admiration is all but limitless, does a fair approximation of New Orleans parade drumming, but I decided to put it to the test by following it with Astral Project’s Burgundy from their 1998 Elevado and concluded that Johnny Vidacovich is still the modern champion of authentic parade drumming. He is, in fact, quite possibly the greatest little-known drummer alive, for the most part remaining near his home in New Orleans. Tyner’s (noteless) CD has, in addition to Blanchard and Nash, saxophonist Gary Bartz and bassist Christian McBride. His piano is leaner and more focused than I’ve heard it since his early 1960s Impulse! and Blue Note albums and his first work with The Jazztet and John Coltrane. The towering modal structures Tyner often erects are absent here. When he compensates with booting bebop on "The Chase" and Bill Evans-like voicings on "Come Rain or Come Shine," I don’t mind the respite.

That's enough for today.

June 23, 2005 1:04 AM |

Ken Dryden’s long review for All About Jazz of Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond notes an aspect of the book with which I took some pains.

Ramsey avoids the use of psychobabble to explain Desmond’s relationship with his mentally disturbed mother, his reluctance to make long term commitments to any of the women in his life, or his experimentation with drugs. Instead one comes to accept them as part of his extremely complex character.

Read the entire review here.

Also in AAJ, Jack Bowers writes of The Bill Holman Band Live:

Big-band album of the year? It’s too early to say, but the first-ever live recording by the superlative Bill Holman Band has earned front-runner status for that honor and will surely be hard to trump. Holman, an acknowledged master in the realm of writing and arranging for large ensembles, already has one Grammy Award in the trophy case (for Brilliant Corners, his ingenious adaptation of the music of Thelonious Monk), and could soon have another if NARAS members lay aside any unreasonable biases and vote with their ears.

To read Bowers’ full review, go here.

Full disclosure: I wrote the liner essay for the album. It’s always fun to analyze one of Holman’s arrangements.

In “Woodrow,” leading up to Christian Jacob’s piano solo, Willis has the trumpets and the trombones play catch with a triplet figure. The reeds expand on the figure in ascent and Jacob echoes it as he begins his solo. Midway through Ray Herrmann’s tenor sax solo, triplet figures emerge again, this time tossed back and forth between the trumpets and the reeds, but only momentarily. The triplets make a final appearance in the ascending lines the sections play to end the piece. It is one of the threads that holds the arrangement together. Another, recalling the trombone section’s opening notes, is Bob Efford’s baritone sax combination of punchy off-beat quarter notes, and long tones. The baritone provides underscoring as the brass and reeds intermingle phrases that add up to the sort of thing Brookmeyer was talking about when he said that Holman’s arrangements speak. This is musical conversation of the highest order.

The rest of the notes come with the CD.

June 23, 2005 1:03 AM |

Yesterday afternoon, hydroplaning across the Cascade mountains toward Seattle in the first thunderstorm of the summer, I listened to an advance of Sonny Rollins's next CD. The album is called Without A Song (The 9/11 Concert). It was recorded in Boston four days following the terrorist attacks on the twin towers in Lower Manhattan. Milestone will release it in August. Rollins is amazing on the title track and "Where or When." Stephen Scott's piano solos, dazzling and capricious, run Sonny a close second. Trombonist Clifton Anderson has a good night, and Bob Cranshaw demonstrates that a great player can give electric bass lines the definition, clarity, and swing of the acoustic instrument. The young drummer Perry Wilson and, on some tracks, percussionist Kimati Dinizulu kick things along, and the entire concert has a feeling of power and good humor.

I crested the summit of Snoqualmie Pass during a ferocious tenor solo on "Where or When," then the CD ended to a thunderous ovation from the audience. At that moment the storm quadrupled its ferocity. The rain beat on the windshield with an intense roar. Lightning ripped across the horizon. It was as if the forces of nature were acknowledging one of their own.

June 22, 2005 1:06 AM |

We're examining some of the CDs that I couldn't get around to during the gestation of Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond. Today, more from the Origin label and one each from Jay Thomas, Mike Longo and Dizzy Gillespie.

New Stories: Hope Is In The Air: The Music of Elmo Hope. Marc Seales, bassist Doug Miller and Origin’s drummer proprietor, John Bishop, are the New Stories trio. The less famous peer of Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, Hope was a splendid pianist who left an impressive body of compositions. Three of them, "Dee-Dah," "Bellarosa" and "Carving the Rock," are familiar to many through an early Clifford Brown recording. Seales’s playing is less spikey, less loose, than Hope’s, and has a transparency that opens clear views into Hope’s unconventional harmonic constructions. Hope’s widow and collaborator, Bertha, plays piano on three tracks, with bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington. There are guest appearances by the underappreciated alto saxophonist Bobby Porcelli and trumpeter Don Sickler. Roberta Gambini sings, beautifully, Hope’s "This Sweet Sorrow." Anyone intrigued by this CD may want to check out Hope’s own work. Fantasy’s Original Jazz Classics catalog has six of his albums. Elmo Hope Trio with Jimmy Bond and Frank Butler is a good place to start.

Add the Seattle Women’s Jazz Orchestra to the growing list of successful all-female groups. Well, almost all-female. The lead trumpeters and the drummer are men, but, to quote Joe E. Brown’s Osgood Fielding III character in Some Like It Hot, nobody’s perfect. On the evidence of Dreamcatcher, the band’s weakest point is soloing, but the section work is good and the ensemble generates a rolling swing on several pieces including Johnny Griffin’s "63rd Street Theme" and Kim Richmond’s "Big Mama Louise."


The astonishingly talented trumpeter and saxophonist Jay Thomas is one Seattle jazz musician who does not record for Origin. That is because he has his own label, McVouty, named in honor of his former employer Slim Gaillard. If you don’t get the “McVouty” connection, you are required to immediately rush out and buy every Gaillard record you can find, starting with this box set. Thomas’s Accidentally Yours features two other extraordinary musicians, the former Ray Brown pianist Geoffrey Keezer and Wataru Hamasaki, a newly minted Japanese medical doctor who operates a tenor saxophone. In his photographs, Hamasaki looks like a freshly scrubbed teenager. With the perfect support of Keezer, bassist Matt Clohesy and drummer John Wikan, Hamasaki’s expressiveness and tonal dynamics on his ballad “Time Out of Time” exemplify the qualities that make him a young tenor to keep your ears on. Questions of the relative fame of other trumpeters aside, Thomas is one of the finest improvising musicians alive, as he demonstrates here on trumpet, flugelhorn and soprano saxophone.

Laura Welland is a bassist and trumpeter developing into a singer with a clear soprano voice and considerable potential. She debuts on Love Is Never Out Of Season a collection of a dozen standards. Her rhythm section is Bill Mays, John Clayton and Joe LaBarbera, not a bad way to launch a career. Welland and Mays are a relaxed duo on "I’m Confessin’." With the trio, she swings, of all things, "Be My Love." The CD has no composer credits, an oversight unusual for Bishop’s labels, but an increasingly common — and aggravating — failing of many albums. Origin captions its photographs so that you know which musician is which. I’ve seen dozens of CD packages lately with mystery photos of the participants. Without identification, a picture of a big band is largely meaningless except, possibly, to friends and family of the players.


Photo anonymity is the only sin committed by Oasis pianist Mike Longo’s latest CD with his New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble. The seventeen-piece band is rehearsed tightly and swings loosely. It has a few veterans — Longo, Sam Burtis, Santi Debriano, Gerry Niewood, Curtis Fowlkes — but Longo knows where to also find state-of-the-art musicians without household names. Tenor saxophonist Frank Perowsky, trumpeters Joe Magnarelli and Freddie Hendrix, guitarist Adam Rafferty and singer Hilary Gardner are among the notable young soloists, but to these ears Longo’s writing is the main attraction. He is immersed in the tradition of big-band arranging from Eddie Sauter, Ralph Burns, Dizzy Gillespie and Gil Fuller forward, invests ballads with unsentimental softness and has a knack for the harmonic tang of impressionism in his voicings across the sections. He digs beneath "Lazy Afternoon" to rework the changes in ways that illuminate the melody and float Magnarelli’s flugelhorn solo on reed section passages that billow and swell. His way with the blues on two originals, "Bag of Bones" and "Mike’s Lament," is delicious. He makes of Jobim’s "No More Blues" ("Chega de Saudade") a fine romp punctuated by lusty, deep trombone interjections. Longo is not averse to giving another writer a showcase. Perowsky’s composition "Song of My Dream," in his arrangment, with a nicely crafted lyric by Philip Namenworth and a stunning performance by Ms. Gardner, is an homage to Duke Ellington. It ends the album and keeps surfacing in my mind.

The memory of Longo’s former boss is not entirely well served by a CD on the Just A Memory label, Dizzy Gillespie: Salt Peanuts. Benny Carter, who admired Dizzy, put it perfectly when he said — privately — that the aging Gillespie was a prisoner of his own technique. Now that they’re both gone, I don’t mind quoting Benny. What I take him to have meant was that, unlike Louis Armstrong or Chet Baker, to use two disparate examples, Gillespie could not adjust his playing to the loss of the speed and range that still governed his conception. Dizzy’s humor, magnetic personality, singing and incomparable rhythm were strong to the end. Late in his career he could produce flashes of brilliance, but his trumpet chops were uneven, at best.

The night this was taped at the Rising Sun Celebrity Club in Montreal in 1981, he did a lot of fluffing and foundering, although in "Night in Tunisia" he nailed a couple of complex runs that could have come from 1949. Sayyd Abdul Al-Khabyyr’s flute is clearly heard, but his tenor saxophone is often so far from the microphone that he might have phoned in some of his solos. Al-Khabyyr, whose birth name was Russell Thomas, was a solid, blues-inflected player who tended to contaminate his lovely melodic inventions with gratuitous honks and squeals. Guitarist Ed Cherry, when you can hear him, and drummer Tommy Campbell are in great form. Michael Howell’s electric bass is overmodulated into mush much of the time, an abuse chronic to that annoying instrument. If all electric bassists would take from Steve Swallow and Bob Cranshaw lessons in tone and restraint, this would be a better world. Dizzy’s love affair with the instrument has always been a puzzle.

This CD could serve as spirited party music, and it’s not hard to believe that the audience had a great time. Dizzy's singing on "Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac" is a joy. It is difficult to imagine that Gillespie would have approved the recording’s release, but his estate okayed it. I doubt if I’ll listen to it often, but just a memory of his charm and charisma kept me with it and underlined how much I miss him. Len Dobbin’s liner notes supply helpful background.

That's enough for today.

June 22, 2005 1:05 AM |

The June 17 item about Bill Perkins elicited this response from Gordon Sapsed in the UK.

Thank you - and to Steve Voce for the original interview. The piece today about Bill Perkins has got me starting my day revisiting Perk Plays Prez - and the CD will follow into the car with me when I go out later. I had forgotten that it is Jan Lundgren on piano - and that Jack Sheldon vocal! Rifftides is already influencing my life ....

Tell your friends. We want all the visitors we can round up.

The superb vibraharpist, jazz theoretician and teacher Charlie Shoemake e-mailed this reflection on Perkins.

Bill Perkins was a wonderful musician but a bit of a mystery to me.I've always thought that there were two ways to improvise.One, completely by ear and, two, by ear based on knowledge of chord changes.If you were to transcribe any solos of Sonny Stitt, Hank Mobley, Dexter Gordon, Harold Land, Sonny Rollins, Tubby Hayes, Joe Henderson, (and many others coming from Charlie Parker's concept) you would be able to easily ascertain the chord changes of the song from their melodic lines because that's where they're drawing them from. With other players like Zoot Sims, Art Pepper, Paul Desmond, and Bill you couldn't. In an earlier time think of the difference between Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw or Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins.

It's not that one way is infinitely better (though I myself always tended toward more admiration for the harmonically knowledgeable guys), they're just two different approaches. The mystery for me with Bill's playing was that I always assumed that because of his style that he didn't know anything about chord changes, but in speaking with the fine pianist Frank Stazzeri awhile back (Frank worked and recorded with Bill extensively) he said that wasn’t the case at all. He said that he too felt as I did at first but as he got to know and work with him more he realized that in actuality Bill knew EVERTHING about the changes of the songs he played.He just heard his melodic lines in a different way. This was really surprising to me because, as you mentioned in your piece, he started out coming from a Lester Young base and finished more in the style of Wayne Shorter (both of whom put very little stock on improvising off of specific chords). Straz also said that Bill's playing (and personality as well) always had some hidden hint of mystery, which I certainly agree with.

Charlie and his wife, the fine singer Sandi Shoemake, left the wrangle that L.A. has become and moved up the coast to Cambria. They run a series of concerts at a restaurant called the Hamlet, with name players as guests. It has become a Central Coast attraction, I once wrote, second only to the Hearst Castle. Details here.

June 21, 2005 1:06 AM |

For the next few days, I'll continue playing catch-up with CDs that accumulated, and may have reproduced, while I was working on Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond (See Doug's Books on the right). John Bishop’s Origin and OA2 labels concentrate on jazz in the Pacific Northwest. That gives Origin a large pool of talented musicians from which to draw. The label issues so many CDs that it’s hard to keep up with them. The music ranges from mainstream to the near edge of the avant garde. The sampler Modern Jazz: A Collection of Seattle's Finest Jazz offers an overview, but merely hints at the riches of the Origin catalog. Like many albums by Origin artists, the sampler consists exclusively of original compositions. However satisfying that approach may be to the artists’ egos and sense of integrity, and regardless of how many mechanical royalties they avoid paying to the Gershwin and Porter estates, it presents a challenge to listeners who subscribe to the Broadbent principle. As you may recall from yesterday, that principle involves pianist Alan Broadbent's conviction that listeners need and appreciate familiar melodies and forms with which to orient themselves. Trombonist Michael Vlatkovich’s trio CD Queen Dynamo offers a double whammy—nine originals as points of departure for free playing. I wonder how many record store or internet browsers unfamiliar with Vlatkovich’s blowsy, often optimistic, music are likely to add it to their shopping carts based on track titles like "The Length of the Tail Doesn’t Really Matter But it Does Have to be Bushy." The music is funny and cheerful, and Jonas Tauber is one hell of a bass player.

Notes on a few other Origin and OA2 CDs:

Marc Seales Band, A Time, A Place, A Journey. A professor of music at the University of Washington, Seales is one of the Northwest’s most popular jazz pianists. This set by his sextet, recorded at Tula’s night club, shows why. It tends toward Seales’s reflective aspect and includes a slow "Deep River" ending on a powerful tremolo that releases the tension of exhiliration beneath the spiritual’s surface.

Steve Korn, Points In Time. Korn is the drummer on Seales’s album. Seales is the pianist on Korn’s. Two saxophones with a rhythm section play originals that are gentle, modal, peaceful, suitable for meditation. The CD is interesting until, about half way through, a sameness sets in.

Randy Halberstadt’s Parallel Tracks has only pieces by others, among them Artie Shaw, Bronislaw Kaper, Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Cole Porter and Frederic Chopin. Halberstadt wrote one of the best books on jazz improvisation, Metaphors For The Musician: Perspectives from a Jazz Pianist. Accompanied by bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer Gary Hobbs, he demonstrates with his refined touch, harmonic adventurism and humor that he knew what he was writing about.

Like Halberstadt, Johnson and Hobbs would be better known if they were based in New York. Johnson’s Near Earth is a successor to his Free CD of a few years ago and again presents the bassist in empathetic conjunction with the luminous saxophonist Hans Teuber and a drummer, in this case Tad Britton. The only standard tune is Johnny Mercer’s "Dream." As in their originals, they take "Dream" out, but not so far out that they’re not near Earth.

Hobbs, who played in one of Stan Kenton’s last bands, is a thinking drummer whose arranging imagination is an important factor in his Of My Times. He blends horns and cello with each other and with conventional and unconventional rhythm section instruments for surprising effects, among them a sly funk version of "Oh, Suzanna," langorous backdrops for Gretta Matassa’s vocal on "Besame Mucho" and the techno thrust of "Robot Love." I would like to have heard fewer synthesizer features and rock derivatives and more of the lyricism of the title track, but Hobbs’s drumming is fascinating no matter what the context.

More tomorrow on items from the Origin storehouse

June 21, 2005 1:05 AM |

I think it's about time to put to rest the matter of New York Times critic Ben Ratliff's predicting the quality of a concert that hadn't happened (Rifftides, June 15.) But not quite. The Portland, Oregon, writer Jack Berry offered us this thought:

The Ratliff flap is sad. But it's not so much the need to be "edgy," which some observers suggest is the Times' new obsession. Pop culture is all about the next thing. If it's been done, it's done. Jazz is classical music (for better and worse). Writers about classical music are supposed to check in and see what the primary performers are doing. And, in doing that, you can be "edgy." It's appropriate to drop music that has no shelf life and that's where Ratliff should be working. Ah, when Mozart was pop, when jazz was pop....

Berry is writing a biography of the tenor saxophonist Jim Pepper.

June 21, 2005 1:02 AM |

During the more than two years I was mostly closeted writing Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond, CDs kept materializing in my mailbox. There wasn't much I could do about them but write an occasional review. When I emerged from isolation, I sampled many and paid close attention to a few. In the next few days, I'll share with you my imprssions of some of them.

Now that any eighteen-year-old tenor player is likely to be a record company, the CDs come pouring in. Some weeks, self-produced albums by fledgling musicians outnumber those by players with track records (so to speak). More often than not, these maiden voyages are launched on waves of compositions by the leader, but I have encountered no new jazz composer with Herbie Hancock’s ability to sustain an album of original material. When I see on the back of an album a list of tunes written by someone six months out of Berklee, my inclination is to consign the CD to the box reserved for things I may get around to some day. I'm with Alan Broadbent, who spoke years ago about the importance to performer and listener alike of improvisation based on recognizable music.

“There’s a joy, an intellectual bliss that derives from being able to discern the form of something and to hear how somebody is playing on it,” Alan told me years ago when I was preparing the notes for his Pacific Standard Time. "A lot of listeners who know a tune sense its form and feel that they’re a part of it. They can feel the tension. They can hear how the tune is being reharmonized. That’s part of the joy of the art of it, for listeners to be able to use their minds, so it’s not just mood music.”

Still, once in a while something intrigues me into hearing a collection of originals by a young musician. In the case of Alex Heitlinger’s Green Light, the hook was the presence in Heitlinger’s sextet of the remarkable trumpeter Greg Gisbert. Heitlinger is a 24-year-old Colorado trombonist who played in symphony orchestras in the Rocky Mountain region and around the Southwest. He recently moved to Jersey City to be close to the New York scene. His jazz playing has elements of whimsy that remind me of Bill Harris and Roswell Rudd. His flights of fancy extend into his writing on "Crazy Jake," which sounds like George Russell visiting a 1920s Berlin cabaret, and "Pondering," with a melody perfectly suited to the title. "Missing You" is a waltz with a bittersweet cast and nicely harmonized horn parts behind Art Lande’s piano solo. "The Foot," whose line is more a series of impressions than a melody, opens up space around a vamp for the horns to sputter and splatter at will, which they do entertainingly and not to excess. Lande, Heitlinger, saxophonist Peter Sommer and Gisbert solo lustily, with bassist Dwight Kilian and drummer Jill Fredericksen strong in support. This one was a pleasant surprise.

More tomorrow on recent (well, relatively recent) CDs.

June 20, 2005 1:05 AM |

Don't miss DevraDoWrite's update on Bill Crow, bassist, anecdotist, musicians' champion and good guy. Excerpt:

Bill Crow was a musical chameleon in his youth, playing trumpet, baritone horn, alto sax drums, and valve trombone. He didn’t take up the bass until he was in his early 20s. Within a few years he was playing bass with Stan Getz, Marian McPartland, and Gerry Mulligan, to name just three, and he never looked back.

Read the whole thing, and see a great recent picture of Bill, here.

June 20, 2005 1:04 AM |

The Czech Frantisek Uhliř is one of the greatest bassists in the world. He works frequently in the trio of his countryman pianist Emil Viklicky, another great European player about whom most Americans know little. I just ran across a brief note I made when I was in Prague twelve years ago, helping American economists teach market economics to Czech journalists newly released from communism.

June 10, 1993: Went to Agartha last night to hear Frantisek Uhlir, the wonderful bassist. Earlier in the day one of his fans told me he is better than George Mraz. Maybe, maybe not, but he is superb, world class. Uhlir is a short, powerful, chubby man with a pleasant round face. His tone is round, too, and centered, and he is fast, agile and swinging.

Vicklicky’s trio with Uhlir and the Slovakian drummer Laco Tropp backs the multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson on Robinson’s lovely Summertime CD released last year on the Czech label Cube Metier. In my Jazz Times review of the album and one by Robinson of Louis Armstrong compositions, I wrote:

One of the best contemporary pianists, Viklicky's soloing and comping, his touch, voicings and intervals have a good deal in common with fleet, tasteful pianists like Tommy Flanagan, Jimmy Rowles and Bill Charlap. His individuality is deeply informed by the music of his native land, and particularly by that of Moravia.

To read the review of both albums, go here.

June 20, 2005 1:04 AM |

This may be a subject better suited to Nancy Levinson’s Pixel Points than to Rifftides, but here goes: what has happened to house design? I don’t mean high-end design by top-rung architects working with wealthy clients, but design of houses for ordinary folks. Not far from where I live, a small orchard has disappeared—almost overnight, it seems—and been replaced by a half-dozen houses that will probably sell for a couple of hundred thousand dollars each. They are builder houses, not so much designed as extruded; featureless, bland, sited cheek-by-jowl on their lots with their backs to views, their fronts looking at each other across a cul de sac, two of the four walls devoid of windows except for tiny ones looking out of bathrooms. The forbidding doors of two-car garages dominate the house fronts. Variations on this depressing theme characterize a high percentage of new housing built in the United States.

In contrast, a mile or so away, is a three-acre former farm also now populated with houses. Those houses were bought by an entrepeneur and moved there when a hospital expanded and forced them out. They appear to have been built in the late 1930s and forties, with light, openess and welcoming characteristics in mind. None of them is grand, but each is an individual. Some are on a new curving short street, others face a busy thoroughfare. Together, they have the friendly aspect of a village. The houses on the old orchard land have all the charm of a clump of prefab classrooms on the back lot of an overcrowded high school.

In their book A Pattern Language (Oxford), Christopher Alexander and his fellow architects of the Center for Environmental Structure long ago set out principles not only for design of houses but also of neighborhoods, towns and regions. A few headings from the book hint at what they suggest for dwellings:

Light on Two Sides of Every Room
Opening to the Street
Connection to the Earth
Garden Seat
Sitting Circle
Natural Doors and Windows
Low Sill
Pools of Light
Front Door Bench
Windows Which Open Wide
Small Panes
Flow Through Rooms

Little in A Pattern Language is technical. Most of it is based in taste and common sense. Driving around new subdivisions, I can’t help wondering about the supply of both among many of today’s home homebuilders—and why buyers settle for lousy design.

June 20, 2005 1:03 AM |

It is clear from responses I am getting that some of you are working journalists and that others have an interest in the news process. So, I am adding Tim Porter's First Draft blog to the list of Other Places in the right-hand column. Porter has a solid background as an editor and, later, as an independent thinker about journalism problems. He has valuable insights into the big issues. He is unforgiving of bad writing and clichés. And he must be a good guy; he lives in Mill Valley, California, perhaps the favorite of my many former home towns. First Draft is worth a look.

June 18, 2005 8:08 PM |

The Jazz Institute of Chicago website has the transcription of a valuable 1981 interview with Bill Perkins by the indefatigable British print and broadcast journalist Steve Voce. Perkins was one of the great tenor saxophonists who grew out of Lester Young. In the fifties, Stan Getz said of him, “Perk is playing more than any of us.” I have always assumed that by “any of us,” Getz meant not just himself, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Paul Quinichette, Brew Moore and dozens of others who worshipped Lester, but tenor saxophonists in general. Perkins adored Young, but he was on a constant search beyond Young, beyond himself, so that he could get deeper inside himself and his music. He worked incessantly and intensely to become a more expressive player. And he seemed never to be satisfied with his own playing. More than once I have seen his fellow musicians’ mouths fall open in astonishment at some daring passage he played, only to have him come off the stand shaking his head in disgust at what he considered a failed attempt. His self-deprecation was no act. Here’s some of what he told Voce.

As you know the attraction to Los Angeles for the musicians was the chance to make money in the studios. It was a very enticing thing. But in recent years because of the sheer number of musicians there they've made their own thing musically. And still you can't possibly make a living as a jazz musician in Los Angeles. I think I took the studio work too seriously. I'd go to each job with the attitude that it was supposed to be a work of art and I'd wind up going home almost on the point of tears because I thought I'd played badly. But, as my dear friend Ernie Watts pointed out, it's not art it's craft at best, and if you look at it that way it won't be so painful to you. Here's a man half my age educating me!

The important thing about Perk—all musicians who played with him in later years remarked on it—was his unceasing self-renewal as an artist. A coterie of fans constantly barraged him with requests that he play as he did in 1956; specifically, as he did on the marvelous Grand Encounter with John Lewis, Jim Hall, Percy Heath and Chico Hamilton. But, like Hall, he kept growing, exploring, taking harmonic and rhythmic chances, never entertaining the thought of remaining static. That made it difficult for admirers whose antennae were pointed backward, but he treated more open-minded listeners to some of the most adventurous playing in all of jazz. His exploratory, occasionally boggling, conception comes through in his last recordings with the Bill Holman Band, and there is a lot of it in CDs with the Danny Pucillo Quartet on Pucillo's Dann label and in Silver Storm with Bud Shank's sextet on Raw Records. Still, Perkins never lost his love for Lester Young and was persuaded late in his life to recreate some of Young's most famous solos on Perk Plays Prez on the Fresh Sound label.

In part because he was on the west coast, in part because it is demanding to follow a moving target, Perk's daring late work eluded taste-making critics. Anyone who examines his ouvre of the late nineties and early 21st century will witness astonishing music-making. I rarely tell musicians what I think they should do. Generally, they don’t need or want to hear it. But in 2002, when we are all in the same place, I suggested to Perkins and the guitarist Jim Hall, another giant incapable of not looking ahead, that they collaborate on new music. They liked the idea. That would have been something to hear. If only it had happened before Perk died in August of 2003.

June 17, 2005 1:10 AM |

Leo Boucher in Houston sent a message about my comments Wednesday on Ben Ratliff's New York Times piece predicting a boring concert at the JVC Festival.

I read it differently. I don't think he meant that those players are boring or that the concert would be boring. I think he meant that it is an example of boring, uninspired programming. My guess is that that's why he didn't name the pianists; he wasn't dissing them, but the festival programmers. I look forward to reading your blog.

Nate Dorward, a Canadian reviewer and blogger, wrote much the same, and added:

I think a better word would have been "unimaginative" or "safe": heartfelt tributes originated by the musicians themselves are one thing, but the way festival programmers (and record labels) constantly turn jazz into unimaginatively packaged tributes to a pantheon of past greats is frustrating for many jazz fans. It would be far more respectful of the individual geniuses of Weston, Allen, Barron and Caine to give them each a concert to themselves and let them play whatever music struck their fancy.

I don’t know how far I’m going to go with the Food section under Doug’s Picks, but Jack Wright of Boston responded to the first entry.

For your asparagus recipe, allow me to recommend a favorite pinot gris of mine. The label is Big Fire, the winemaker is R. Stuart & Co of McMinnville, OR. That's what I'll be drinking when I make your recipe. I look forward to reading Rifftides fervently.

Ah, those Oregon pinots—gris and noir. Salud.

Another Bostonian, the respected critic Bob Blumenthal, had a thought about Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond.

Am I the only one who has said that your Desmond book reminds me of nothing so much as the recent Albert Ayler "spirit box"? And I mean that in a good way, but these are two saxophonists who don't normally share the same thought.

I can hear Desmond giving his conspiratorial chuckle at the thought. He rather liked Ornette Coleman, even if he did say that listening to Ornette was like living in a house where everything was painted red.

The master trumpeter Marvin Stamm writes concerning my evening at the Garage Restaurant in Greenwich Village:

I am glad you had the opportunity of hearing Virginia Mayhew play while on your recent NYC sojourn. I have been doing several gigs with her these past few months and am enjoying her playing immensely. She's a beautiful player and a lovely person to work with. She's an excellent musician who knows what she wants, yet allows each player plenty of latitude for their own musical input. She's certainly showing me a thing or two about playing in odd meters!
June 17, 2005 1:05 AM |

I have had unbelievable luck lately. Just this morning, I got an e-mail message notifying me that I have won a million Euros in the Royal Spanish Sweepstakes Lottery, another from the son of a murdered bank official in Kenya who will make me rich for helping him invest his inheritance, and one from a merchant in Dubai who led a selfish life, but now that he is dying of a particularly hideous form of cancer, wants to give his fortune to charity and would like me to help him dispose of it. As if that weren’t enough, I’ve been offered a huge stockpile of Viagra at bargain prices. What opportunities the internet brings.

Have a nice weekend.

June 17, 2005 1:04 AM |

Shortly after Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond came out, we threw a book party at Elaine’s Restaurant. In his last decade, Paul spent a good deal of his time at that way station of culture and good times on Second Avenue in Manhattan, hanging out with writers and thinking about finishing the book he barely started. Malcolm Harris of Parkside Publications, Dave and Iola Brubeck and I co-hosted the party. Elaine Kaufman, her chief of staff Diane Becker and their crew are known as book party experts, and they made this one special, complete with Desmond solos floating through the room. There were sixty-odd—and some merely interesting—guests. Most of them knew Paul. Some of them played with him. His two favorite guitarists were there. Jim Hall came up from Greenwich Village. Ed Bickert, to everyone’s amazement, left his seclusion in Toronto and came all the way to New York just for the occasion, his gorgeous daughter in tow. Don Thompson, who played with Bickert in Desmond’s last quartet, showed up with the great alto saxophonist John Handy. They were playing at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in Handy’s reunited quintet, the one that stunned the jazz world in the sixties. Thompson said he’s been trying to persuade Ed to start playing again. Bickert says it’s too much work.

Arnold Roth, whose incomparable drawings grace the end papers and several pages of Take Five, was there with his wife Caroline. They met Desmond in Philadelphia in the days when the Brubeck Quartet took turns sleeping in the back of Dave’s cavernous old Kaiser Vagabond. The alto saxophonist Jerry Dodgion, who played with Paul in Alvino Rey’s hotel band in 1951, was there, as were the writers Jack Richardson, Nat Hentoff, Whitney Balliett, Ira Gitler, Will Friedwald, Bruce Jay Friedman and James Lincoln Collier. The great singer Jackie Cain reminisced with bassist Bill Crow about Paul’s playing in a medley of Brubeck’s “Summer Song” and Gershwin’s “Summertime” on her and Roy Kral’s Time and Love. Here’s how she tells it in Take Five.

So, at the proper moment, Paul was there, ready. He was warmed up and played it once. He played it so beautifully. I think if he had done other takes, it would have been just as wonderful, but it was so great that there was no need to do another take. So, we stopped and listened to it, and he was happy. We were all happy, in fact delighted, with it. Then he said, “Well, what’s next?” But that was it. That was the only thing he’d been brought in for, to do that one song.

Brubeck entertained The New York Times’ Campbell Robertson with stories about his cowboy youth. Elaine told Robertson about the night Desmond went backward off a bar stool and hit the floor without spilling a drop. George Avakian, who produced many of Desmond’s and Brubeck’s albums, beamed at being with so many of his old friends. Rick Breitenfeld, the cousin who immeasurably enriched the book by unearthing information about Paul’s growing up, circulated chatting with other characters from Desmond’s life. Jean Bach, doyenne of the New York jazz scene, came with Charles Graham, the audio genius who kept Paul’s sound system in shape.

As the evening was winding down, I looked across the dinner table at Brubeck. From the speakers, through the restaurant babble, he and Desmond were at Storyville playing their incomparable, intuitive,1952 duet on "You Go To My Head." Dave was leaning back with his eyes closed, smiling.

June 16, 2005 1:10 AM |

Devra Hall yesterday posted a charming memory of Alec Wilder on her blog, DevraDoWrite. I recommend that you take a look at it.

Alec and Paul Desmond were friends. Evenings with Alec holding court in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel, his home, were among the highlights of my years in New York. One occasion with Wilder, Desmond, Willis Conover of the Voice of America and the great French horn player Jimmy Buffington may have been the highlight. There was much hilarity and much wisdom.

Alec was not opposed to improvisation, as some have claimed. He was disturbed in his quietly outraged way when jazz players messed with his melodies on the first chorus. After faithful observation of the tune, improvisation was okay with him. In her memoir Marian McPartland’s Jazz World, Marian recalls that Alec was delighted when Desmond told him, “the perfect chorus is the song itself.”

June 16, 2005 1:05 AM |

Thanks to the veteran AJ bloggers Terry Teachout, Andrew Taylor, Jan Herman and Tobi Tobias for their warm welcomes into the tent. Following the launch, I heard from writers, musicians, broadcasters, old and new acquaintances and a couple of long-lost friends. The prodigious pianist Jessica Williams checked in with this:

Congrats on stepping into a new area of literary critique; before you know it, you might be writing copy for or The great thing about blogging is—you are your own news outlet, no walls. And subject matter is now entirely up to you. Have fun!

I’m not sure I’m ready to jump back into the daily news grind, but Jessica is right about the freedom of this digital medium. While I’m having fun, I’ll try to remember that with the freedom to spread information comes responsibility. (Whoa. Wait a minute. No sermons.)

June 16, 2005 1:00 AM |

Today is the first day of this new web log about jazz and, as its subtitle proclaims, other matters. At the top of the right-hand column you will find a sort of manifesto, below that information about the proprietor. Farther down the right-hand column under "Doug's Picks" are things I like that I hope you will like. I want this to be not merely a blog, but a diablog, so please respond with reactions. Your participation will be at least half the fun. There is an e-mail address under "Contact" in the right-hand column. My intention is to post every weekday, and weekends when the spirit or events move me.

Launching this venture, I would like to thank Terry Teachout, who suggested blogging as an alternative or supplement to the print straitjacket, and ArtsJournal commander Doug McLennan, who agreed to give Rifftides a home and helped me build it. Doug's a wizard.

June 15, 2005 12:13 PM | | Comments (0)

In yesterday’s New York Times, Ben Ratliff performed the amazing critical leap of predicting that a musical event will be uneventful. Ratliff wrote of a JVC Jazz Festival-New York tribute: “Tomorrow (that's this evening, 6/15--DR) there is a concert blurrily called ‘Piano Masters Salute Piano Legends,’ with four different pianists playing Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock and Thelonious Monk. How boring.” The pianists, for those of you who missed them in Ratliff’s piece because he didn’t bother to name them, are Randy Weston, Uri Caine, Kenny Barron and Geri Allen. I can’t recall being bored by any of them, but Ratliff and I may have different thresholds of boredom.

This raises an interesting critical conundrum for Mr. Ratliff. Does he skip the concert, having decided that it’s not worth hearing? Does he cover it to give it a fair chance? If he covers it and likes it, does he say so in print, thereby letting the air out of his reputation as a seer? In any case, does he continue his new policy of deciding the merits of music yet unheard? Rifftides readers who attend, please let us know by the end of the week about the accuracy of Ratliff’s clairvoyance. Journalism ethicists, I wouldn't mind hearing from you, too.

June 15, 2005 12:12 PM | | Comments (0)

One of the pleasures of New York as recently as the 1980s was to schlep around Greenwich Village and drop into small clubs for casual listening. An evening of music, even in major clubs, did not require a reservation secured by a credit card, and a second mortgage to fund the occasion. Today, there is a minor renaissance of listening spots that at least hint at the fifties, sixties and seventies when there were places like the Five Spot, Slug's,The Guitar, Bradley's and--somewhat farther afield, down in the meat packing district--the blessed Half Note. My publisher, Malcolm Harris, his wife Karen and I took an evening out of our recent whirlwind book promotion visit to New York to dine in the midst of the youth explosion at Pastis (recommended for the food and the nonstop floor show provided by the crowd of early-twenties hangers-out at the bar) and then prowl in search of music.

The Village Vanguard was sold out, full of advance planners and second mortgagers eager to hear Lou Donaldson. We wandered three blocks down the street and found a 1920s garage converted into a jazz club. Even adjusting for inflation, the Garage Restaurant at 7th Avenue South near Grove is no throwback to the last golden age of jazz in New York--not in the fiscal sense. A couple of drinks can make twenty dollars disappear. But there is no cover and no minimum, and it is possible even on a populous Saturday night to comandeer a stool at the bar, focus your hearing through the hilarity and be treated to a superior jazz performance.

We listened to the Nick Moran trio with bassist Marco Panascia and pianist Eduardo Withrington. Moran is a good young guitarist with a lyrical bebop bent and an alert harmonic faculty. He would benefit from self-editing, but it's a rare young improviser who would not. Unless you don't want to hear the piano, try for a spot at the bar that is not under the enormous copper air vent, a relic of a cooking area long dismantled. The metal seems to block or absorb the piano's sonority.

Next up was the bright young tenor saxophonist Virginia Mayhew, a Garage regular. She was at the helm of a pianoless quartet, a good idea under the acoustic circumstances. Mayhew's playing was so far advanced from the last time I heard her that I was riveted by her expansive tenor sound, flow of ideas, humor, use of space, and swing that is by turns loping and hard-driving. This pleasant brunette, lean as a model, is one of the most interesting mainstream players of her generation. She has rhythm in her bones, and her exchanges with drummer Victor Jones are amiable conversations. When Jones solos, he makes melodies. Occasionally in her improvising, Mayhew reorients the listener by returning to or referring to the melody, an act of generosity she performed this night during an adventurous turn on Charlie Parker's "Confirmation." During a slow dalliance with "Deep in a Dream," I wondered if she was thinking of Sinatra.

The Garage floor show is provided not by the customers but by a pair of young veteran bartenders, David Cross and Mary Ann Stevenson, who deftly dodge each other, occasionally dance together, hug now and then, josh with the counter dwellers and seem to have the time of their lives while slinging the sauce at top speed. Cross moved from Seattle to the Village thirteen years ago. In his spare time, he books the club. Sunday nights, he gets out from behind the bar and onto the bandstand. Next trip, I hope to find that he sings with the band as well as he performs with Ms. Stevenson under the copper overhang. Overhang is what I did at Garage. The loss of sleep was worth it.

Next time: The Take Five book party at Elaine's.

June 15, 2005 12:11 PM | | Comments (0)

If you live in Dallas, Fort Worth, northeast Texas or southern Oklahoma, you may want to tune into KETR-FM 88.9 tonight at 8:00. I'll be on with Bruce Tater and Mark Chapman to discuss Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond. Sorry, the station doesn't stream its programs on the web. I'll talk about Desmond with Claudia Russell on KSDS, San Diego, at 6:oo pm PDT on Sunday, June 26. KSDS does stream. You'll find it here. Several radio appearances are coming up when I'm in New York at the end of next week. I'll let you know details soon.

June 15, 2005 12:10 PM |

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Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
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rock culture approximately
critical difference
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Richard Kessler on arts education
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Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
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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
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Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
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Out There
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classical music
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The Future of Classical Music?
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Jerome Weeks on Books
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lies like truth
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