main: November 2005 Archives

Bill Crow, the stalwart bassist and indispensable jazz anecdotist, comments on the Rifftides posting about the separation of reporting from advertising.

I'm glad you brought up the news/advertising issue in newspapers. And it isn't just the's the editors. I rely on The New York Times for a lot of the information I want, but I'm afraid it isn't the paper it once was. There seems to be a new editorial policy to make the front page more entertaining. There are hardly any straight news stories any more. Everything is written with a byline, and with a personal slant. It bugs me to have to wade through three paragraphs of cute writing in a news story before I can find out what happened.
Every day or so, the Times notes in its Corrections department a mistake that was made "due to an editing error." They've got to find this editor and stop him before he edits again!
November 29, 2005 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

The piece about Randolph Scott brought a comment from Frank McGrath in New York.

About two years ago, I gave up on trying to find classic movies at my local Blockbuster video store, and I started a subscription to Netflix. After reading your Rifftides piece on Randolph Scott, I went to and found that about two dozen of his movies are available, including Seven Men from Now. I'm pretty happy with Netflix, especially never having to pay a late fee.

Hmmm. I may try it. Thanks for the tip

November 29, 2005 1:04 AM |

Joshua Breakstone, the melodically inspired guitarist, writes, also from New York:

Thanks for the link to Terry Teachout's article on Randolph Scott. As great as the lines you quoted in your piece are, it's genius- no doubt- to come up with an observation on the order of "The dashing young leading man of the Thirties now looked as though he’d been carved from a stump, and every word he spoke reeked of disillusion." It's brilliant, it's illuminating and heart wrenching at the same time, it's got time, cadence, rhythm, what a line!
November 29, 2005 1:03 AM |

I feel the hot breath of a deadline on my neck. For a day or two, posting may have to take a back seat to necessity. But check in tomorrow. You never know, I may have a burst of speed and be able to feed Rifftides a little something. In the meantime, be sure to visit the fine blogger colleagues (blogeauges?) in the right-hand column.

November 29, 2005 1:03 AM |

“…on Jazz And Other Matters,” it says up there on the masthead, or whatever a masthead is called in blogese. You may have noticed that the other matters occasionally include journalism. News is where I came from, and my conviction is as strong as ever that a free flow of information through the news is essential to the survival of the democracy. The flow can be impeded as easily—perhaps more easily—from inside news organizations than from outside.

Increasing fiscal pressures on newspapers and traditional broadcast journalism companies are forcing them to look for ways to increase revenue in order to survive. Deep staff cuts are a cost-cutting method at nearly all major newspapers, including the Boston Globe, the Knight-Ridder papers, the papers of the Tribune Company and at The New York Times, which is about to make a big reduction in manpower.

Another way to increase revenue and profitability to stockholders is to make the newspaper more attractive to advertisers. It must be tempting, if you own a newspaper, to break down the traditional separation between the news side of the paper and the advertising department. There are plenty of advertisers eager for credibility they think will come from a more direct connection with news content, and there are plenty of good reasons why a breakdown of separation is a bad idea for a news organization.

In a recent column, Byron Calame of The New York Times wrote about why it’s a bad idea. Calame retired after years as the number-two man on the news side at The Wall Street Journal and contracted with The Times to be its ombudsman—the paper’s independent in-house monitor and critic of news practice. Here is some of what he wrote:

Why is the line between news and advertising so important? I hold to the traditional view, that readers trust a paper more when there's a clear separation. Advertisers are attracted to readers who trust what's in the news columns. And the resulting revenue enables the newspaper to keep providing high-quality journalism.
Advertising, of course, is the major source of revenue for newspapers. Although The Times doesn't break out the numbers, advertising appears to account for about twice as much revenue as circulation does.
The sky isn't falling at The Times. But I see a few worrisome indications that advertisers are being allowed to tap into the credibility of the news columns in ways that slip over the line.

To read Barney Calame's entire column, click here. His warning is important for The New York Times and for the print and broadcast news business at large. It is important for all citizens, regardless of whether they are disenchanted with the performance of news organizations. If you have thoughts about it one way or the other, please share them with your fellow Rifftides readers. You will find the e-mail address in the right-hand column.

If you wonder why a jazz guy is addressing an issue like this one, see "About Rifftides" at the top of the right column.

November 28, 2005 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Well, as long as we're on other matters, how about Randolph Scott? Video stores, at least the ones where I live, do not have his movies for rent. There's no theater within 800 miles of here that's likely to run one, let alone mount a Randolph Scott film festival. I got hooked on his laconic, righteous cowboy character years ago, and I miss him.

It came as no surprise to learn that colleague Terry Teachout also appreciates Scott. After reading the long piece about Scott that Terry wrote for American Cowboy magazine, I searched the net for DVDs of Scott pictures and found that a few are available, including the remarkable Seven Men From Now. In his Westerns, Scott had flint in his visage, his convictions and his resolve. His films are simple, short and satisfying. Here's a paragraph from Terry's article about Scott.

He always played the same character, a lanky, dryly amusing cowboy with a Virginia accent who spoke only when spoken to and shot only when shot at, and you could take it for granted that he’d do the right thing in any given situation. If he’d been younger and prettier, he would have been too good to be true, but Scott was no dresser’s dummy: he had a thin-lipped mouth and a hawk-like profile, and wasn’t afraid to act his age on screen. Nobody in Hollywood, not even John Wayne, looked more believable in a Stetson.

For the whole thing, click here. It's a terrific read.

November 28, 2005 1:04 AM | Commander-in-Chief Doug McClennan posted a lead to a BBC Radio report on the likelihood of New Orleans musicians returning home to a city ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. It's another good reason to regularly check the AJA home page.

The Beeb's Stephen Evans has two reports, one in print, one a superb broadcast documentary. You needn't agree with his editorial conclusion that Wynton Marsalis is "the world's greatest trumpeter - classical or jazz" to admire the thoroughness of his reporting on the background of New Orleans music and its perilous future. But you're likely to love hearing Ellis Marsalis, Wynton's dad, propound his theory that if the English and not the French had ended up with New Orleans, there would be no jazz. To read and hear Evans's reports, click here.

November 26, 2005 1:05 AM |

Eric Felten, trombonist, singer, band leader and occasional Rifftides correspondent, is a talented free lance writer. Now and then he does a column—“How’s Your Drink?”—for the weekend Wall Street Journal. This weekend, his topic is single malt scotches. In our affluent culture, single malts have become a passion of people who, a few years ago, might have been coveting rare cigars. Felten reports that some single malts sell for more than $50,000 a bottle.

Driving these prices are extremely limited quantities. The Dalmore 62 was created in 2002 when the distillery combined what it had from four old casks -- 1868, 1878, 1926 and 1939 -- yielding just enough whiskey to fill 12 bottles. Most of the rare single-malt scotches are bottled from individual casks, which, depending on the type, hold from 200 to 500 liters when filled. But when old casks are finally tapped, they give up far less than that. Evaporation steals between 1% and 2% of the whiskey every year -- the "angels' share," as it is called.

I wish that I could link you to the column, but the Journal restricts its online content to electronic edition subscribers. The best alternative is to pick up a print copy of the weekend edition published today.

The Personal Journal section also includes a short list of Diana Krall’s favorite Christmas recordings. Her own new CD would be on my short list, if for no other reason than her moving treatment of Irving Berlin’s “Count Your Blessings.” The Christmas album is a lovely way for Krall to bounce back after the boredom of her excursion into pop territory, The Girl In The Other Room.

November 26, 2005 1:04 AM |

If Paul Desmond had lived, he would be eighty-one years old today. His last birthday, in 1977, fell on Thanksgiving. For the occasion, Devra Hall cooked a turkey dinner for Desmond and her parents, Jim and Jane. Here's the end of the story of that visit, told by Devra in Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond.

"It was a very quiet dinner. Paul was not feeling well, but he was clearly happy not to be home alone. He didn’t have to say a word around my folks. They talked a blue streak, usually, but he was just very comfortable. My fondest recollection is that I made him dinner on his last birthday.”
The senior Halls and Desmond went back to Jim and Jane’s apartment when they left Devra’s, and on the way stopped at the Village Vanguard. Thelonious Monk was performing there. Between sets, they all gathered in the Vanguard’s kitchen, the closest thing the club has to a Green Room.
“It was the most coherent conversation I ever had with Thelonious,” Hall said, “in the kitchen with Paul and me and Thelonious. I had a sort of nodding acquaintance with Monk, but he and Paul really connected. I’m not even sure what they talked about, just standing around in that kitchen, going through old memories and things. It was nice.”
November 25, 2005 1:05 AM |

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

November 24, 2005 1:06 AM |
The trumpet is an extremely difficult instrument. It feels and reacts differently to the player each and every day—Allen Vizzutti
Some days you get up and put the horn to your chops and it sounds pretty good and you win. Some days you try and nothing works and the horn wins. This goes on and on and then you die and the horn wins—Dizzy Gillespie
You pick up the horn, put it to your chops and the son of a bitch says: Screw You—Roy Eldridge
I have never seen a country where they worry so much about their chops as they do in America—Maurice Andre
November 24, 2005 1:05 AM |

One of the joys of listening to The Bill Holman Band the past decade or so has been the opening minute of “No Joy In Mudville.” Over an insistent one-bar riff figure repeated by the saxophones, Bob Enevoldsen plays a valve trombone solo of pure exuberance. It is the first track in Holman’s CD A View From The Side. It was, almost invariably, the first piece he called when the band performed. I write “was” because the bad news is that Enevoldsen died last Saturday. In a palpable sense, he was central to the spirit of that great band, as he was to jazz on the west coast for more than half a century.

In Leonard Feather’s and Ira Gitler’s Biographical Encylopedia of Jazz, his entry begins,

ENEVOLDSEN, BOB (ROBERT MARTIN), v-tbn., tbn, bs, bari horn, tr sax, etc. b Billings, MT, 9/11/20

That “etc.” covers arranging. Enevoldsen was a superb arranger and ochestrator and, when the occasion arose, an effective and congenial leader. He was best known for his valve trombone and in greatest demand on that horn, but he was also a tenor saxophonist with original ideas and a fetching graininess in his tone. He shines on both horns in his own group and with Harry Babasin’s quintet in Jazz In Hollywood, a CD reissue of 1954 recordings from the Nocturne label. In the fifties when his trombone chops went temporarily into decline, Enevoldsen switched to bass and continued to make a living. There’s a bit of his bass playing on the Babasin recordings.

Much of his income came from work in Los Angeles television and movie studios, which offered economic survival for many top-flight jazz artists. But his heart was in jazz, and he left a fifty-year trail of memorable performances and recordings with Holman, Gerry Mulligan, Shelly Manne, Shorty Rogers, Bob Florence, Bob Crosby, Tex Beneke, Mel Tormé, the Lighthouse All-Stars, Henry Mancini and Terry Gibbs, to name a few in the wide range of musicians who insisted on his services.

A burly man, after he worked up a crop of facial hair and took on some age he came to resemble St. Nicholas with a neatly trimmed beard. Enevoldsen was hampered the past several years by the circulation problems that led to his death, but he kept working. His daughter drove him to rehearsals and gigs and helped him onto the bandstand. Bill Holman told me yesterday that Enevoldsen’s physical problems disappeared once the band started playing. “When it was time for him to solo,” Holman said, “the years fell away.”

Bob Enevoldsen: never a star, never a household name, always a pleasure to hear; gone at eighty-five.

November 23, 2005 1:05 AM |

Two weeks ago, Rifftides examined one aspect of the film Good Night, and Good Luck, which tells the story of Edward R. Murrow's pursuit of the demagogue Senator Joseph McCarthy. The entry included this:

CBS head William S. Paley's demotion of Murrow established the primacy of network profit over news integrity. It set up conditions for the MBA mentality that meshed with technology and the rise of cable networks to produce the broadcast and cable news we have today in which, with few exceptions, the line between information and entertainment has been blurred beyond distinction.

To read the whole thing, go here.

Three days before my posting, in her invaluable Serious Popcorn, fellow blogger Martha Bayles recognized the point about commerce versus journalistic independence. As one would expect of a film critic with finely tuned political antennae, her posting ranges more widely through the film's messages. She praises director George Clooney for not taking a direct route along the road of what she calls "righteous Hollywood anti-communism."

No, Clooney went for the slightly less burned-over district of TV news in its early fluid state, before it hardened into the monstrous shape we know and love today. Not surprisingly, the red meat here is anti-anti-communism – or if you prefer, red-baiter-baiting, performed at the highest level of photogenic integrity. The film neither stresses nor denies the fact that Murrow came late to this cause. By the time his program, “See It Now,” jumped on the anti-McCarthy bandwagon, it was already loaded with radio commentators, print journalists and editorialists, congressmen and senators from both parties, military brass, and the Eisenhower White House.
But no matter. If this movie achieves anything beyond flogging the well pulped carcass of McCarthy, that achievement will be its portrayal of how unfree TV was during its so-called Golden Age.

Bayles refers to and agrees with the warning by Murrow's contemporary, the critic Gilbert Seldes, that television's power to persuade is neutral, as potentially dangerous in the hands of bad guys as it can be beneficial in the hands of good ones like Murrow. Her conclusion that the film "totally shuts out the concerns that made McCarthy’s witch hunt possible" assumes that moviegoers who were alive then have short memories and that those who weren't are uneducated about American history. That may be at least half right. In any case, her piece stimulates thought about the uses of journalism, television and political power. To read all of Bayles's review of Good Night And Good Luck, go to Serious Popcorn.

November 22, 2005 1:00 AM |

A check of tracking information discloses that Rifftides has readers today in Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Bermuda, Russia, Canada, Sweden, New Zealand and all parts of the United States including Lampasas, Texas; Aliso Viejo, California; and Lithonia, Georgia.

Welcome. Come back soon. Tell your friends.

November 21, 2005 2:13 PM |

What constitutes a jazz standard? Purists may contend that only an original composition by a jazz musician qualifies—“Confirmation,” “Doxy,” “Sail Away,” “Seven Come Eleven,” as examples. Working musicians and fake books say otherwise; a jazz standard is a song, adaptable to improvisation, that has worked its way into the general repertoire. An entire website is devoted to that proposition. was put together by jazz aficionados and musicians who saw the need for a centralized source of information about the tunes most often played in jazz. The site ranks jazz standards from 1 to 1000 in order of importance and frequency of performance. It has documentation and links for the first hundred songs. Number one, hardly a surprise, is “Body and Soul.” The information about it and the other top 100 runs from basic…

Because of its complex chord progressions, “Body and Soul” remains a favorite of jazz musicians. The unusual changes in key and tempo are also highly attractive and provide a large degree of improvisational freedom.

to technical…

A very motivic melody, thus easily remembered. Noteworthy is the use of the penultimate “blue note” (flatted third) at the end of “A,” – easily missed by the untrained or novice performer. The harmonic progression seems to be controlled by the movement of the bass line, descending and ascending by step (Ebm –Bb7/D – Ebm7/Db - Ab/C – Db – Ab9/Eb – Db/F –E˚7 – Ebm – Ebm7/Db – Cm7(b5)) before returning to the tonic via the circle of fifths, using parallel minor substitutions.

Each song’s profile includes its history, recommended recordings, links to CD samples, links to books about the songs and their composers and, in some cases, musicians’ comments on the pieces.

In the forty years I’ve played “’Round Midnight,” I’ve done so to my satisfaction perhaps a dozen times at most. It’s one of the hardest for me in that, to play it really correctly, you can’t use those “fake book” changes; you have to use the Monk changes or it sounds silly (to me). —Jessica Williams needs musicians’ comments on more of the listed songs, and it cries for something it probably can’t have—lyrics. It would be daunting and expensive to get clearances for publication of words to the majority of songs that are in copyright. Those, however, are minor deficiencies in a website whose complex facets are wrapped into a design that’s easy to navigate. is a resource for musicians and researchers, and rewarding for anyone interested in song. The site was founded by Jeremy Wilson and is edited by Sandra Burlingame, who also writes much of it.

November 21, 2005 1:05 AM |
Don’t be a musician under any circumstances unless you can bring yourself to be nothing else—Paul Desmond
If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music—Albert Einstein
November 19, 2005 1:05 AM |

The week's eeriest internet experience: being mesmerized by the masthead picture box at the top of Jazz Improv magazine's home page as a dozen great musicians appear and dissolve.

While you're there, don't miss the interview with guitarist Russell Malone. It includes his story of sitting in, as a twenty-two-year-old novice, with the brilliant, irascible, organist Jimmy Smith and making a shambles of "Laura."

So I was going to leave, but I said, “Well, you know, I should, at least, go up to the old man and thank him for letting me sit in with him.” So I walked up to the bar and I tapped him on the shoulder. He looked around at me and before I could get the next sentence out of my mouth, he got in my face and poked his finger in my chest, like this, and he said, “Let me tell you something. All of these guys that you’re trying to play like”—and he named Pat Martino, Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Kenny Burrell, this long list of guitar players—“all those guys that you’re trying to play like, I taught them too.” And he said, “So don’t ever get on my bandstand with that bullshit again.” So I said, “Oh my god, man!” So I hung around. At around 11:45, he finished his drink, and he motioned for me to come with him. He said, “Bring your guitar. Come with me.”

The story has a happy ending.

November 18, 2005 1:05 AM |

I first heard the tenor saxophonist Tommy Smith on opening night of the Portland Jazz Festival earlier this year. Smith was a commanding figure in several areas of the festival, notably so in a guest turn with one of his favorite collaborators. I mentioned that appearance in a Jazz Times review of the event.

Vibraharpist Joe Locke’s Four Walls of Freedom quartet included Tommy Smith, Scotland’s impressive contribution to the world’s post-Coltrane tenor sax population. Performing in kilts, Smith matched the high-tension energy and stop-on-a-dime tempo and mood shifts of Locke, bassist Ed Howard and drummer Gary Novak.

To read the entire review, go here.

Smith is something of a Scottish cultural treasure. His precocious talent became known in Edinburgh when he was a teenager in the mid-1980s. A public fund drive raised money to send him to the US and the Berklee School of Music in Boston. At eighteen, he was playing with Gary Burton. Long since back home and active as a composer, educator, and nurturer and developer of young talent, he devotes much of his time and considerable energy to giving back to his country.

Smith shares his knowledge with radio listeners on BBC Scotland. In his latest series, he examines jazz standards in a well-produced, entertaining, thirty-minute program called Jazzlines. Smith’s attentions in the current installment are on “A Night in Tunisia.” Internet listeners can hear it in streaming audio by going here. The program includes various recordings of the piece and a live duo performance by Smith and pianist Brian Kellock. Smith's inspired tenor sax personalization of Charlie Parker's famous alto break is worth considerably more than the price of admission.

November 17, 2005 1:05 AM |

This piece ultimately concerns Ben Webster, but it requires setup. The setup has to do with books.

The book discussion group to which I belong operates a bit unconventionally. We don’t use outlines or lesson plans. There is no discussion leader. We are a sort of freewheeling literary cooperative. Sometimes, the discussion goes far afield from the book at hand, although we usually manage to get back to it. We laugh a lot. We live in one of the great wine producing regions of the world, so we drink wine—moderately, of course—as we discuss the book at hand. There are eight of us, four men, four women, none married to one of the others. We alternate meeting at one another’s houses. The host provides the wine, coffee and dessert.

Ordinarily, we select a slate of six or eight books for the coming year. Last year, this was the list:

The Conservationist: Nadine Gordimer
The Moviegoer: Walker Percy
Light in August: William Faulkner
My Name is Red: Orhan Pamuk
The Canterbury Tales: Geoffrey Chaucer
Robinson Crusoe: Daniel Defoe
Kim: Rudyard Kipling/Candide: Voltaire (a twofer)
Wise Blood: Flannery O’Connor

This time around, we are devoting an entire year to James Joyce’s Ulysses. It’s only fair; Joyce devoted nine years to writing it. Last night, in addition to discussing the book, we watched an installment of the 1967 Irish film of Ulysses starring Milo O’Shea as Leopold Bloom. Then, we had coffee and dessert. As we ate, I noticed that the host had on a table next to my chair a copy of the CD box set of Duke Ellington at Fargo, 1940. He saw me staring at it as lustfully as Blazes Boylan contemplating Molly Bloom and asked if there was something I’d like to hear.

“Of course,” I said, “Ben Webster playing ‘Stardust,’” He put it on.

“My God,” one of the women said about halfway through, “It’s as if he doesn’t have a horn, as if he’s just breathing the music.”

A good deal has been written about that imperishable tenor saxophone solo, but I can’t imagine a finer description of it. Joyce couldn't have put it better.

November 16, 2005 1:05 AM |

In the adjoining exhibit, under Doug's Picks, are the Rifftides staff's latest recommendations. We hope that you find them worthwhile. Either way, let us know, please. The e-mail address is also in the right column.

November 15, 2005 1:06 AM |
It bugs me when people try to analyze jazz as an intellectual theorem. It’s not. It’s feeling—Bill Evans
Music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all. Music expresses itself—Igor Stravinsky
November 15, 2005 1:06 AM |

My heavily-traveled weekend with an assemblage of couples out for a good time included an evening at Jazz Alley in Seattle eating well and hearing Toots Thielemans, Kenny Werner and Oscar Castro-Neves. Thielemans is a member of that astonishing corps of world-class jazz octogenarians (Hank Jones, Marian McPartland, James Moody, Dave Brubeck, ClarkTerry, Buddy DeFranco) who seem uninterested in slowing their pace, let alone retiring. At eighty-three, his polish, harmonic daring and swing on the harmonica keep him the undisputed champion not only of that unlikely jazz instrument but of all instruments that show up in the jazz magazines’ “miscellaneous” poll categories.

When it comes to Thielemans’ level of musicianship, categories don’t matter. He would likely be as creative if he played comb and tissue paper. Thielemans and Werner, long established as a formidable duo, became a virtual chamber orchestra with the addition of Castro-Neves’ guitar. There were moments at Jazz Alley when the piano, guitar and harmonica melded into chords so expansive and deep, it seemed impossible that they came from only three instruments. The authenticity of Castro-Neves’ Brazilian rhythms and bossa nova spirit were an essential part of the set’s air of happiness. An inveterate quoter, Thielemans now and then broke himself up with some of his allusions. He threw sly glances at Werner as he worked snatches of several other Frank Sinatra hits into his solo on "All The Way."

On some pieces, Werner supplemented his piano with an electronic keyboard. His goal may have been to create atmospherics, but rather than enhance the sublime quality of the ensemble, his synthesizer “sweetening” diluted it. A pianist of his protean capabilities needs no digital reinforcement, as he demonstrated in brilliant solos on “The Dolphin,” “Chega de Saudade,” and an unlikely neo-samba treatment of “God Bless America.”

The trio’s treatment of the Irving Berlin classic inspired a standing ovation, then a short speech by Thielemans about how jazz and the American people drew him to move to the United States from Belgium in 1957 and to become a US citizen. He talked about his love of Louis Armstrong. Then, as an encore, Thielemans, Werner and Castro-Neves played “What a Wonderful World.” For the ninety minutes of their set, the world, the band, the audience, the club, were wonderful. Everything was wonderful.

November 14, 2005 1:05 AM |

The islands of Puget Sound are among the glories of the Pacific Northwest. Vashon Island, where we celebratory couples spent the night after we left Jazz Alley, is one of the loveliest. Because the only way to get to it is on the water, Vashon has managed to retain much of its rural and small town charm despite its proximity to Seattle.

For now, and I hope forever, to get on and off Vashon, you drive, bicycle or walk onto one of the boats of the Washington State ferry system and take a fifteen-minute ride. The ferries run frequently and usually on time. They provide essential transportation for commuters and sightseeing opportunities for visitors.

From time to time there has been talk of building a bridge from Seattle to Vashon. If that happened, the developers would eradicate the place’s character quicker than you can say bulldozer. Island people are frustrated when they miss a ferry or it runs late, but most of those who live on Vashon will regard you with horror if you mention the word bridge. When you find yourself in this part of the world, carve out time to take a ferry boat ride.

November 14, 2005 1:04 AM |

The veteran Pennsylvania broadcaster Russ Neff is once again doing a jazz program, but he’s streaming it on the internet. He writes that he was inspired by Jim Wilke’s Jazz After Hours to return to jazz radio.

I'd not been on the air since 1991 and since no local station was interested in my services, I decided that online audio was the way to go…audio streaming is my chosen vehicle.

To hear Russ’s current My Favorite Things, click here and then on “Listen Here.” The program has a minimum of talk from Neff—all of it informative—and a generous, mellow and varied supply of music, some of it unexpected. As I write this, he has just played B.B. King singing and Eric Clapton gargling “Come Rain or Come Shine” and segued into “The Quintessence,” by Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass.

November 12, 2005 1:05 AM |

Jessica Williams has entered the blogosphere. She is a most welcome entry. Her blog, The Zone, is unlike any other, just as Ms. Williams is unlike any other pianist. Here is some of what she wrote in a posting called “Making Oneself Available.”

Never rehearse a moment. Too much practice kills all magic, all spontaneity. Being spontaneous is the highest form of calculated artistic achievement. Calculated only in that it's a plan not to have a plan. Sitting alone at home at the piano, I become the piano.
Most piano players see the piano like a big black bull. They go to the bullfight as toreadors, they fight the bull, they are either gored or they are bull- killers.
By becoming the piano, you become music, you become a musician.
Never strive to be a pianist.

To read the whole thing, click here, and then roam through Ms. Williams’ other postings. I am adding her blog to the Other Places list in the right-hand column.

Please don’t forget to return to Rifftides, and spread the word.

November 11, 2005 1:05 AM |

Dick McGarvin writes from Los Angeles:

I've been catching up on stuff, including a backlog of Rifftides (high tide?), which brings me to...
I'm not sure why, but your letter to Gene Lees about Willis Conover touched me even more than when I first read it in the Jazzletter. Maybe it's because of reading TAKE FIVE and knowing more now about that great 1969 New Orleans Jazz Festival and your relationship with Willis. (By coincidence, I just recently was playing the Gary McFarland album PROFILES on which Willis Conover makes the introduction.) Ironic and sad that one of the most important broadcast figures in this country's history is one of the least known.
This slightly belated response to your item about Willis Conover was also prompted by the news that, yesterday, as I'm sure you know, this year's Presidential Medal of Freedom awards were presented. There were fourteen recipients, including Alan Greenspan, Muhammad Ali, General Richard Myers, Aretha Franklin, Frank Robinson, Andy Griffith, Carol Burnett and Paul Harvey.
I agree that Willis Conover should have been on that list years ago and, if there is ever a petition to have him awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously, I would like to add my name.
P.S. - All this got me to wondering if Edward R. Murrow (another recent Rifftides subject) ever received the honor, so I checked. He did. In 1964.
November 11, 2005 1:04 AM |
I hate music, especially when it's played—Jimmy Durante
Wagner’s music is better than it sounds—Mark Twain
November 11, 2005 1:02 AM |

The pianist Roberta Mandel was at San Francisco State College in the 1940s with Paul Desmond, Jerome Richardson, Cal Tjader, Ron Crotty, Dick Collins and Vernon Alley, among other young musicians who went on to fame. She later sang with Boyd Raeburn’s trail-blazing band in broadcasts on NBC and CBS and was a member of the instrumental-vocal group Three Beaux and a Peep. In Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond, you can read her account of a final encounter with Desmond during his last days.

A working pianist in her eighties, Ms. Mandel keeps up with music, in part by going to New York a couple of times a year and making the rounds of jazz clubs. She went there recently. When she got home, she sent friends a report. She gave me permission to let you read it just as she wrote it. The Rifftides staff added links to information about some of the people and places she mentions.

I heard Bill Charlap at the Village Vanguard. He played all show tunes, most of which I have never heard of. His mother is a famous vocalist and sang "The Boy next Door" and broke up the place.
Next was Eldar at the Blue Note. He is 18 years old and has chops, musical taste, a very large repertoire of tunes. He is a chaming young man and speaks to the audience as if he has been doing so for years. Hard to believe what I heard and saw.
At the Knickerbocker grill I heard Joanne Brackeen. She had a great bass player and played excellently as usual. The noise was so loud I could barely hear her. Folks talked and did not listen.
Went to the Blue Note again to hear the Dizzy Gillespie alumni All stars. They were: James Moody; Slide Hampton; Roy Hargrove; Mulgrew Miller; John Lee; Dennis Mackrel and Paquito D'Rivera. They played all Dizzy tunes of course. Great night.
Went to the new jazz at Lincoln Center on 60th St. in the Dizzy Gillespie Coca Cola Room. George Cables and his group were there. Jeff Tain Watts on drums, Gary Bartz on sax. I was too close to the drums to suit me. A large dinner party was sitting near to George.
I got to the new Modern art museum. it is now 6 stories high and covers an entire block from 6th ave to 5th on 49th st. We could take pictures so I did. It is huge and I could not find anything I was looking for. I could, before they remodeled.
I also got to the Metropolitan Museum. The outside is being painted and was all covered. The Van Gogh exhibit had 200 folks lined up that Saturday. I did not wait for it. They now allow picture taking in the Met, so I did photograph all the instruments in the 2 music rooms. The old pianos with ocean waves at their feet, and mermaids were the feet. All the saxes of Adolph Sax were in one large case. Brass instruments ancient and contemporary; drums old and new; violins, violas; basses old and new. SO many things to see. Amazing place.
It rained for the 2 weeks I was there; the wind was strong and the temperature hovered between 43 and 50. I was even glad to leave, which I never have been before.

To go to Frankie Nemko's only slightly dated interview with Roberta Mandel (Jerome Richardson has since died), click here.

November 10, 2005 1:05 AM |

Rifftides reader Jon Foley writes:

Thank God someone has finally brought up this subject. I thought I was the only one who thought this phenomenon was ridiculous. What could be more annoying than, let's say, a tenor player finishing a beautiful ballad solo, the crowd completely hushed and enthralled to that point, and then as the pianist starts his solo, an eruption of applause, whistling and yelling, completely destroying the mood? And I don't think it's a genuine expression of appreciation, as evidenced by the fact it occurs after every solo, good or bad; I think it's nothing more than a desperate attempt to appear hip by an unfortunately large number of pathetically unhip people.
If anyone wants to start a petition to get rid of this silly practice, I'll be the first one to sign. In the meantime, we can all do our part by just not doing it.

I'll sign.

November 10, 2005 1:04 AM |

Jon Foley explains that his messages tend to come in batches.

Yesterday, I was listening to a west coast jazz station over the internet, and a track came on, a quintet, I believe. The rhythm section caught my attention, even when the horns were soloing. When it came time for the piano solo, I was riveted. You know how sometimes you're listening to musicians solo, and they're all good, and then one plays and immediately makes you think, wow, this guy's on another level completely? I didn't recognize him right away, so I waited for the announcer to give the personnel. She finally came on, gave the line-up, and the pianist was, of course, ..........Bill Charlap.

November 10, 2005 1:03 AM |

Bill Kirchner took time out of his busy schedule to send a response to a review.

Thanks for commenting on jazz audiences' "self-conscious rote clapping" after every solo. This to me is the most mindless of all jazz customs. (Where did this idiocy come from--does anyone know?) It usually prevents audiences from hearing the beginning of each solo--and hearing the opening phrases is often the key to understanding an improviser's intent.
I once read a "jazz for kids" booklet that told them to clap for each solo, lest the performers be insulted. God help us!
November 9, 2005 1:05 AM |

Bill Kirchner's latest CD is Everything I Love. The instrumentation is his soprano saxophone, Eddie Monteiro's accordion and Ron Vincent's drums and percussion. Monteiro equips his instrument with MIDI ( musical instrument digital interface), making it possible for him to sound like a string section, which he does sparingly and in impeccable taste. The effect, combined with Vincent's variegated drumming, allows Kirchner to achieve a floating feeling, as if he were playing among clouds. Additionally, Monteiro vocalizes in unison with his accordion lines, often giving his solos an ethereal quality. And yet, for all its eclecticism, the music is, most satisfyingly, jazz.

The album includes the gorgeous Cal Tjader waltz "Liz Anne," which is rarely played these days; "Aquamarine" ( "Body and Soul" in a new guise); a daring and intriguing tribute to the late Steve Lacy by Kirchner playing four overdubbed soprano saxes; Kirchner's beautifully phrased reading of the title tune; and Toninho Horta's "Beijo Partido," nicely sung by Monteiro.

The CD has a lovely and welcome surprise, two vocals by the enchanting Jackie Cain, recording for the first time since the death of her husband and partner Roy Kral. A great ballad artist, she sings two pieces by Kirchner, "Try to Understand," with lyrics by Jay Leonhart, and "I Almost Said Goodbye," with lyrics by Loonis McGlohon. The return of Ms. Cain is an event to be celebrated. That it happens in such eminently suitable surrounding is a bonus.

The CD booklet is informative, with good pictures of the artists and a vintage cover photograph that is wildly at odds with the music and extremely funny.

November 9, 2005 1:04 AM |

The Jazz Times website now has my reviews of the Bill Charlap and Gary Hobbs performances at the Earshot Jazz Festival in Seattle. Here is some of the Charlap piece:

From the first blowing chorus on “Who Cares?” the trio locked into one another. The Washingtons are brothers in time, Kenny exemplifying with his mastery of brushes his lineage from Jo Jones, Kenny Clarke and Philly Joe Jones, Peter recalling such sturdy predecessors as Paul Chambers and Doug Watkins. The complexity and clarity of Charlap’s work and the trio’s unity were compelling, nearly mesmerizing. Their listeners were frequently so engrossed that they abandoned the self-conscious rote clapping after each solo that jazz audiences have come to believe is an obligation. The audience’s concentration on the music was a far greater expression of appreciation than little explosions of applause.

To read the whole thing, click here. At the bottom of the Hobbs section is a link to Thomas Conrad's review of other Earshot events. He can write. Here's his lead paragraph:

In Seattle, late October arrives like an act of hostility. The low sky turns black. The seagulls circling overhead begin to look like vultures. The rain spits at you as the wind blows it sideways. And then, as if flipping you the bird, Daylight Saving Time stops. But for Seattle’s jazz community, late October contains a major consolation: the Earshot Jazz Festival.
November 8, 2005 1:07 AM |

A career in print and broadcast journalism may have hardened my conviction about the importance of a free press in a democracy, but it seems to me that every American should see the motion picture Good Night, and Good Luck. George Clooney, the film’s guiding spirit, the son of a television journalist, understands why Edward R. Murrow’s exposure of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunt in the 1950s was a courageous and patriotic act. Murrow’s and Fred Friendly’s pursuit of McCarthy inspired the Senate investigation that brought McCarthy down. It also cost Murrow his authority at CBS News and ultimately drove him out of the news division that he largely created and that he inspired for twenty-eight years. During that time he became a symbol of excellence in broadcast news.

CBS head William S. Paley's demotion of Murrow established the primacy of network profit over news integrity. It set up conditions for the MBA mentality that meshed with technology and the rise of cable networks to produce the broadcast and cable news we have today in which, with few exceptions, the line between information and entertainment has been blurred beyond distinction. The other day, I tuned in to the last half hour of the Today Show to get the latest on Iraq, the White House investigation and the peril facing earthquake survivors in the Himalayas as winter moves in. I was treated to the spectacle of the Today Show principals, including the newscaster, cavorting and joking in Halloween costumes. They broke for a clownish weather report, but they scrubbed the newscast. Why distract viewers from Halloween hilarity and depress them with the state of the world?

Paley cannot be blamed directly for the deterioration of the Today Show or of NBC News. He did not run NBC or ABC, he competed with them. But when he neutralized Murrow, he helped to create the atmosphere that brought about this Today Show debacle. Over on ABC the next day, Good Morning America presented news, but before and after her reports the news anchor, Robin Roberts, diluted her credibility by joining in fun and games with hosts Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer, journalists who now spend much of their air time as entertainers. Roberts crossed, and stomped on, that fine line. I wonder if she knew it. Harry Smith seems to have maintained his dignity, or most of it, on the CBS Early Show. Could that be why viewers have relegated him to third place among the network morning programs? Can the democracy survive if the flow of information is choked with trivia? See Good Night, and Good Luck and think about that question.

November 8, 2005 1:06 AM |

Good Night and Good Luck’s period atmosphere is supplied, in part, by Diane Reeves singing standards. She is important to the movie as a dramatic element. On the sound track and on camera, she does some of her finest work in the uncomplicated setting of a rhythm section and a tenor saxophonist. Reeves and her record producers have rarely seemed to understand that she is at her best just singing songs, without elaborate orchestral trappings, overlays of soul or forced emotion. The film’s sound track CD is the purest recorded expression in years of her remarkable talent.

November 8, 2005 1:05 AM |

As articulate with words as he is at the piano, Bill Charlap gave a talk preceding his concert at the Earshot Jazz Festival in Seattle the other night. He spoke about the music that he, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington were about to perform, songs of George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein. In conversation with Seattle Times jazz critic Paul deBarros, Charlap contrasted Gershwin with Beethoven. Beethoven was a development composer, he said, and demonstrated how Beethoven married melody and harmony as he developed beyond the opening theme of his Fifth Symphony.

“With Gershwin,” Charlap said, “the melody and the harmony were not welded together, but they were cast.” He illustrated with the harmonic structure of “A Foggy Day” and Gershwin’s chord choices. He used “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” to point out Gershwin’s use of the seventh interval, “so American, so forthright.”

Asked where the standard songs of thirty-five or forty years from now will come from, Charlap pointed out that the musical theater that produced Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, Kern and Arlen no longer exists, that Bernstein was the last of it. Stephen Sondheim’s songs “don’t quite meet our needs,” he said, “nor do the chords of Bob Dylan and R.E.M.”

The trio’s concert was splendid. I covered it for Jazz Times. I’ll let you know when the review is up on the JT website.

DeBarros mentioned Charlap’s recent duo CD with his mother, the singer Sandy Stewart, and came up with a question that turned out to be a straight line:

DeBarros: How many pianists get to accompany their moms?
Charlap: How many singers give birth to their accompanists?
November 7, 2005 1:05 AM |

Top 10 Sources has honored Rifftides by including us in its list of the top ten jazz sites on the web. To see the company we’re in and what the other nine sites are up to, go here. Thanks to Quentin Palfrey and all of the Top 10 Sources folks.

November 7, 2005 1:04 AM |

Many state and local governments have elections tomorrow. Politicians making last- minute speeches might benefit from this 500-year-old wisdom.

Words which do not satisfy the ear of the hearer weary him or vex him, and the symptoms of this you will often see in such hearers in their frequent yawns. You, therefore, who speak before men whose good will you desire, when you see such an excess of fatigue, abridge your speech, or change your disourse; and if you do otherwise, then instead of the favor your desire you will receive dislike and hostility—Leonardo da Vinci
November 7, 2005 1:03 AM |

The tenor saxophonist and composer Alex Coke wrote me from his home in Austin, Texas, asking if I would listen to his new CD. After going to his website, I replied, with misgivings, that if he sent the album, I would. Music advertised as being on a social mission is almost certain to end up on the stack of CDs that I might some day get around to. I find that few such pieces are in a league with certain works of Ligeti, Schulhof, Penderecki, Sonny Rollins’ “Freedom Suite,” Ellington’s “Black, Brown and Beige,” a couple of songs by Woody Guthrie and Beethoven’s “Eroica.”

Coke’s IRAQNOPHOBIA/Wake Up Dead Man is on VoxLox, a small label explaining that its “documentary sound art advocates for human rights and acoustic ecology. Our human rights recordings present exile, refugee, disaporic, and indigenous voices muted or censored by mainstream media.” That kind of description would ordinarily guarantee an album a reservation on the some-day stack. But a promise is a promise. I listened. The creed the company wears on its sleeve did not prepare me for what I heard—music that needs no mission statement to be effective as music. It has variety, melodic and harmonic interest, humor and depth. I reacted to it much as I did to Witness, a Dave Douglas album of a few seasons ago whose music was “about” profit-oriented greed, environmental irresponsibility, “rampant poverty” and protest of “a system that co-opts and marginalizes almost every unique and original thought that confronts it.” Not that I discount protest music. In a Jazz Times review of Witness, I wrote, in part:

Songs are effective vehicles for the delivery of outrage, and the history of protest music is only slightly shorter than the history of music itself. Musical expression of political protest reached its greatest concentration in the 20th century, which provided not only inexhaustible fodder for it but also the technical means of delivering protest messages to the masses. From Joe Hill and the I.W.W. through Woody Guthrie to Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan and Rage Against the Machine, music has shaped the way that populations think about issues. Can anyone doubt the influence of popular music on America's civil-rights struggle or its turn against the Vietnam War? Further examples abound in Pakistan, Czechoslovakia, Indonesia and dozens of other countries.

Nonetheless, as I listened to Coke’s music, the messages about domestic ills (prisons and social justice) and foreign-policy mistakes (the Iraq war) receded. They were not lost but were superseded by accomplished writing, improvising and ensemble playing. The pieces incorporate elements of Southern blues, modern mainstream jazz, avant garde classical music, free jazz and middle-Eastern songs. There are intentionally jarring notes, but only a few incongruous ones, most of them in a silly unbridled trombone solo in the “Iraqnophobia” section. Even the track’s title, “The Shreik of Araby,” is out of keeping with the overall seriousness of the project. But that is a mercifully brief blemish on an album that is impressive for its quality, music that can stand on its own, aside from the message.

For a profile of Alex Coke go to this story in the Austin Chronicle.

November 3, 2005 1:05 AM |

Early tomorrow, I'm headed back to Seattle and the Earshot Jazz Festival to cover the Bill Charlap Trio for Jazz Times. I'll be traveling light; that is, without the laptop, so the probability of new Rifftides posts is small for the next couple of days. Unlike some foresightful bloggers, this one has no contributing editor backing him up. So, enjoy all of the arts mavens listed in the right-hand column, and come back soon.

November 3, 2005 1:04 AM |
If Beethoven had been killed in a plane crash at the age of 22, it would have changed the history of music... and of aviation—Tom Stoppard
November 3, 2005 1:03 AM |

Bob Brookmeyer periodically posts Currents, his reflections—not all of them ascerbic—on music, life, love, war and other matters. The next one is often a long time coming. The last one was on July 5, shortly after a club gig in New York.

The Jazz Standard is a very fine place and the people who work there are unfailingly gentle and helpful. However, they -- and all jazz clubs -- suffer from the fear of silence. The minute we stop playing, ON comes the music from somewhere, and it won't stop until we get on the stand -- sometimes not even then. It's an established tradition and a vile one.

To read the whole thing, go here.

Serious musicians generally share Brookmeyer’s irritation with canned music in clubs and other public places. In my experience, most of them are distracted by it and incapable of closing their ears to it. This has come up before on Rifftides.

The truth is, I don’t want to hear Desmond, or any other music, in the Safeway, at the gas station, in Starbucks, the Mexico City subway, The Gap or the dentist’s office, certainly not on the street, and not often in my car. I don’t have an Ipod and don’t want one. I want a little peace and quiet now and then.

To read the whole thing, go here.

And to read a followup, go here.

November 2, 2005 1:05 AM |
In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness—Mahatma Ghandi
November 2, 2005 1:04 AM |

Rifftides reader Doug Freeman reports from Los Angeles that he has finished reading Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond.

Perhaps more than any biography I've read, yours leaves me wanting to know this man, to hang with him as you were fortunate enough to do.

Mr. Freeman has a question.

The regret I'm most left with after finishing your wonderful book, though, is not to be able to hear his speaking voice. I'm wondering if any of the on-air interviews you cited are hearable anywhere. Or any other evidence of his vocal pattern. We know his musical rhythm so well, and thanks to your book I have a decent sense of his life rhythm, but given his gift for the English language, it sure would be nice to know his speaking rhythm.

We’re in luck. On his web site, the San Francisco saxophonist Mel Martin has a Real Audio clip of Paul’s interview with Charlie Parker on disc jockey John McClellan’s program in Boston in 1954. To listen to it, go here

A transcription of the interview is on page 162 of Take Five.

November 1, 2005 1:06 AM |
My problem is that I appeal to everyone that can do me absolutely no good—Rodney Dangerfield
They say you should be nice to everyone on your way up because you might need them on your way down. I haven’t seen anyone I know on the way down—Jack Sheldon
November 1, 2005 1:05 AM |

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the main category from November 2005.

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