main: March 2006 Archives

When a voice behind me whispered low, 'That fellow's got to swing.' —Oscar Wilde, Hélas (1903)
It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. —Duke Ellington (1932)
March 31, 2006 10:35 AM | | Comments (0)

John Birchard of the Voice of America writes:

I read your new material on Willis Conover and VOA. When I joined the staff in '93, Willis was in decline with cancer. As I worked ights, I didn't see him often and, in fact, never had a conversation with him. It was my impression that a fair number of staff people kinda resented his status - his renown, his separateness from the "regular" employees.

Following his death, I was appalled that VOA continued to run his tapes for months and months. After some time had passed, I spoke with the then-Deputy Director of VOA, Alan Heil, asking what was going to happen to the program. He said they would hold auditions for a successor. I applied, knowing that whoever followed Willis would suffer by comparison, but feeling that they should have a "live" replacement and continue the great tradition.

Months went by and I was never given the courtesy of a response to my audition, and I learned a couple of other aspirants were treated the same. Management finally signed Russ Davis and put him on the air with a taped show with no publicity or promotion...a shabby epilogue to one of the great careers in broadcasting.

One final Willis anecdote: For most of the 1970s, I was emcee for the annual Quinnipiac College Jazz Festival, which featured the top college jazz bands along the eastern seaboard. Each year, festival organizers invited a distinguished panel of judges to critique the bands - people like Ernie Wilkins, Clark Terry, Chico O'Farrill, Rev Norman O'Connor, Jimmy Lyons, etc. At the time, I worked as a talk show host in New Haven. The festival ran Friday thru Sunday evenings and I couldn't make the first hour of the Friday show because I was on the air. The organizers would run in a substitute for me for that hour. One Friday night, I believe it was in 1972, I arrived at
the festival site, walked in the hall and heard a very distinctive voice over the PA...yes, it was Willis. I made my way backstage, anxious that I might have lost my gig. When he was given the high sign from the wings, he introduced me. I walked onstage, took the mic and said to the audience, "Do you know how intimidating it is to try to follow the most famous jazz disc jockey in the world?".

I don't know if the audience realized who he was - but I sure did. It's a memory I shall treasure lways.

March 30, 2006 1:00 AM | | Comments (0)

"Bix Lives," read the graffiti after cornetist Bix Beiderbecke died in 1931. "Bird Lives," began appearing on walls in New York within days of Charlie Parker's death in 1955. Neither Beiderbecke nor Parker, however, inspired an establishment of religion. So far, the only jazz musician to be declared a saint is John Coltrane. In Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers, the chapter on Coltrane included this:

For a complex variety of reasons, few of them musical, a legendary John Coltrane was created in the years immediately after his death in 1967. The legend persists, and it exists alongside the music as if on a separate plane. Coltrane the legend is a divinely inspired mystic who ultimately transcended music to deliver to the world a spiritual message of love and salvation. The legend comes complete with an appropriately mystical name for Coltrane, Ohnedaruth, evoking the mists, incense and chants of some great Zen beyond, from which Trane is sending back vibrations.

I have been in the pads of youngsters who have constructed little shrines not unlike those of Japanese or Italian working class homes. But the centerpiece is not a lithograph of Buddha or Jesus. It is a print of the cover photograph from Coltrane's album A Love Supreme. In the late sixties and early seventies, the time of flower children, Haight-Ashbury, Vietnam, and burgeoning drug use, Coltrane became a convenient object of the search for heroes. And his early death seemed to qualify him, among those in need of martyrs, for the company of Dr. King, Malcolm X and Robert Kennedy.

One of the manifestations of the zeal surrounding Coltrane's memory was the creation in San Francisco, four years after his death, of the St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church. It exists thirty-five years later. Evelyn Nieves of The Washington Post visited the church and reports that its founder and members are serious and dedicated in their adoration of Coltrane.

Last Sunday's service was typical: lots of music and listening. "The first part of our service is quiet meditation," said Johnson, as a boombox on the floor played John Coltrane Live at the Village Vanguard.

The house-band members took their places in front of a seven-foot-tall Byzantine-style painting of Coltrane holding a saxophone with flames coming from it. Bishop Franzo King, in white robes with a fuchsia skullcap and cummerbund, took a seat in front of a conga drum, his soprano sax in hand.

To read the whole report, go here.

March 28, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (1)

Ken Dryden writes:

I enjoyed reading Paul Blair's comments about the late Willis Conover. What ever happened to his jazz collection--is it still in the VOA archives or was it disposed of with his estate, donated to an archives, etc.? Maybe Paul should get busy on a Conover bio.

I just picked up a DVD of the 1969 New Orleans Jazz Festival, whose lineup he was instrumental in putting together (before politics turned it into a commercial multi-cultural event with significantly less jazz content). He's shown emceeing a group (Clark Terry, Zoot Sims, Jaki Byard, Milt Hinton and Alan Dawson, plus a deservedly obscure singer on one song) in the Court of Two Sisters courtyard, a place legendary for its awful food, even though it is a picturesque setting.

As Mr. Dryden knows, but perhaps others do not, Conover was central to the success of the 1969 New Orleans jazz festival, a milestone event of its kind. He produced it. Here is a little of what I wrote about it in the Rifftides piece that initiated this periodic Conover retrospective and the subsequent discussion of the peril facing the Voice of America's English language broadcasts.

The ’69 festival turned out to be one of the great events in the history of the music. It reflected Willis’s knowledge, taste, judgment, and the enormous regard the best jazz musicians in the world had for him. I won’t give you the complete list of talent. Suffice it to report that the house band for the week was Zoot Sims, Clark Terry, Jaki Byard, Milt Hinton and Alan Dawson, and that some of the hundred or so musicians who performed were Sarah Vaughan, the Count Basie band, Gerry Mulligan, Paul Desmond, Albert Mangelsdorff, Roland Kirk, Jimmy Giuffre, the Onward Brass Band, Rita Reyes, Al Belletto, Eddie Miller, Graham Collier, Earle Warren, Buddy Tate, Dickie Wells, Pete Fountain, Freddie Hubbard and Dizzy Gillespie. The festival had style, dignity and panache. It was a festival of music, not a carnival. An enormous amount of the credit for that goes to Willis.

For more on the '69 JazzFest and Conover, go here. Also, read Charles Suhor's accounts in Jazz In New Orleans: The Postwar Years Through 1970.

March 28, 2006 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

I'll be unbloggable, and possibly sleepless, in Seattle for a couple of days of meetings at the University of Washington, and some book business. There are worse places to be in springtime, when the cherry trees bloom in the UW quad, the showers lighten, and people smile more.

In the meantime, visit the Rifftides archive and investigate what the other bloggers have to offer you (links in the right-hand column).

March 28, 2006 1:03 AM | | Comments (0)

Another location recording by Dave Frishberg?

What do you mean, another? There hasn't been one since Do You Miss New York? That was four years ago.

Ah, the one with "Jaws" and "The Hopi Way." How can he top that?

Top it? Why does he have to top it? Music isn't a contest, a quest to set records (heh heh). Can't he just make a CD with a few new songs and a few old ones and tie 'em together with a theme?

What's the theme?

Nostalgia. You know, "The Dear Departed Past."

Oh. Of course. Any new baseball songs?

Several, and he spins them together in a story about the White Sox scandal in 1919 and Christy Mathewson ("Matty"). One of them, "Play Ball," is a nifty waltz. "Van Lingle Mungo" and "Dodger Blue" are there, too.


I forget to mention the boxing song, "Who Do You Think You Are, Jack Dempsey?"

How's his piano playing?

Terrific. Nice little solos. Sympathetic accompanist. Listens to the singer. He does his best "Listen Here" on record.

Okay. What's the album called?

Retromania: Dave Frishberg At The Jazz Bakery. Good cover shot; Frishberg and a bunch of old sports magazines. He wrote the liner notes. Sample: "I'm nostalgic about stuff that hasn't even happened yet."
March 27, 2006 1:06 AM | | Comments (0)

The Rifftides discussion of the perilous situation of the Voice of America’s English language broadcasting has a running sidebar about Willis Conover. Conover was the VOA’s free lance jazz voice, one of the United States’ most effective instruments of public diplomacy during the Cold War. Ironically, although he was a hero to millions behind the Iron Curtain—teaching them about jazz and, as an unintended bonus, to speak English—he was unknown to most Americans and unrecognized by the government of the nation to which he attrracted incalculable good will. Since Willis died in 1996, a number of people who understand the importance of his contribution have tried to see that he is awarded a posthumous presidential medal of freedom. The Clinton administration ignored the entreaties. The Bush White House has shunned them with equal ignorance and indifference. Paul Wolfowitz, an architect of the Iraq war, gets a medal of freedom. Willis Conover, who provided masses of people under Soviet bondage with hope and artistic object lesson in the meaning of freedom, does not.

Until the pianist, singer and songwriter Dave Frishberg sent the following story, I was unaware of the extent to which the VOA itself failed to recognize the importance of the man who brought so much credit to the agency and its country.

When Willis Conover was living in in New York around 1970 he assembled a big band under the direction of Bill Berry, and presented the band in a series of Sunday afternoon concerts at the Roosevelt Hotel. I was playing piano in the band, and that's when Willis and I met.

In April, 1984 when I was playing in Washington DC, he invited me to lunch and told me to meet him at the Voice Of America studios. When I checked in at the security desk in the lobby, none of the security personnel had heard of Willis Conover, and I was denied access to an elevator. They looked in every possible phone directory and his name was nowhere to be found. I explained loudly that Willis Conover was THE VOICE in the Voice Of America, but they stared at me with mounting mistrust. A man walked by and heard me arguing with the security people and told me he was going up to VOA and would tell Willis that I was in the lobby. When Willis came down to get me, I told him "These security guards don't even recognize your name!" He smiled and said , "I know. Ridiculous, isn't it?"

Dave Frishberg

To read the full Willis Conover story, go to this Rifftides posting from the archive. For more on Conover's relationship with the Voice, go to the next exhibit.

March 27, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Paul Blair, now an editor, free lance writer and licensed New York City tour guide, was a colleague of Willis Conover at the Voice Of America in the 1980s. He hosted a daily VOA broadcast. Blair sent Dave Frishberg the following recollection after reading Dave's story in the previous Rifftides posting. We're bringing it to you with their permission.

I believe Willis had, by the spring of 1984, left (or been left by) the New York wife and more or less settled in Washington for good. Apparently this was his final spouse, some sort of exotic and difficult European princess. I think he had a little apartment somewhere up on Capitol Hill but he'd never reveal his home address or number. He was quite Ellingtonian in many ways, always eager to keep the various aspects of his life separate from one another.

VOA still broadcasts from those aging facilities at 330 Independence Ave. SW, across from the Mall from where the Museum of the American Indian has lately been built. He'd have been working daily from a cramped little studio on the second floor. What you have to understand is that Willis was never a fulltime government employee. Instead, he had some kind of lucrative long-term contract as an outside vendor, selling his services to VOA but not actually a civil servant like the rest of us. No one else ever used his personal studio, or could have. Perhaps you'll recall how crowded it was with LPs and tapes, literally spilling out of huge metal cabinets, arrayed in such a way that only he could ever locate anything. Anyway, this explains why no rent-a-guard at the VOA entrance would have been ableto locate Willis in a staff directory – but why anyone who'd been working awhile in the building knew exactly where to find him.

The rest of us all used studio engineers from a rotating pool of old timers. But Willis had his own personal engineer, someone who'd be available whenever he felt like recording shows at any time of the day or night. These tended to be youngish guys from the Polish, Bulgarian and Latvian Services who'd grown up hearing Willis and were worshipful of him – but who'd always quit after six or eight months because they couldn't get used to either his hours or his temperament. At that point, they'd be returned to the pool of regular engineers, where they sit around and retell Conover anecdotes to one another and anyone else who'd listen.

Willis' personal assistant/secretary for many years was a lovely older woman named Nita Brasch. The only photo on the desk in her basement office was (at his instruction, I'm sure) a framed shot of Meredith d'Ambroiso, for whom he obviously had the hots. I do want to emphasize how kindly and generously this guy treated me over the seven years I worked at VOA. Once, at a Duke Ellington Society conference, he actually stood up and introduced me at some length to fellow attendees. He'd brought along a tall, impossibly slender but not terribly young Russian-language broadcaster to that gathering as his own guest. He gestured toward her at one point and whispered to me, "That's not chopped liver!" I also remember him telling me one day – though can't recall the context – that his forties had been an especilly active decade for him sexually. My own heartthrob at this point was a broadcaster in the Indonesian Service. (It was because of this woman that I resigned from VOA in 1988; I pursued her all the way to Jakarta, where I ended up living for ten years – and subsequently married someone else.) Not knowing of this relationship, he invited this young woman into his private studio one day and detained her with compliments and questions for nearly an hour. As she left, he autographed a photo to her personally, one showing him interviewing Ellington. I still have it.

Willis stayed on top at VOA through some very effective politicking with top brass who'd been around for many years. I always fancied that Willis regarded me as the person most likely to succeed him, and I believe others in the building had similar thoughts. But in fact the whole idea of VOA broadcasting jazz really died when Willis did. There's no real jazz on government air any more. After all, the commies have been soundly beaten and European musicians are now the world's most adventuresome. In retrospect, maybe he knew that he'd never be succeeded. He did take care to polish his own legend, though. Whenever Nita received an interview request, she'd send out a press packet thick with previous pieces written about Willis. Surely this explains why the same anecdotes (triumphal airport welcomes in Eastern Erope, etc.) are repeated in one profile after another.

A few years ago, Terry Ripmaster, a guy in New Jersey, was working on a Conover bio. We spoke on the phone once or twice around 1999. I don't know if he ever finished the manuscript or found a publisher. But I can relate one story unlikely to appear in such a book. Once when my four-year old son was visiting me at VOA, I took him into the men's room, a huge marble-encrusted affair. My son was chatting with great animation. Although we thought we were alone in there, Willis was seated in one of the stalls – and he obviously thought that someone was addressing him. His response was to ask, loudly, "What?" Given the resonance of his voice plus the impressive echo within those confines, it sounded like God himself was addressing us. My son, scared into silence, proceeded to pee on the floor.

Paul Blair

To visit Mr. Blair's SwingStreets website featuring news about and ways to take his walking tours of New York, go here. If you roam around the site long enough, you'll find a way to play full-length examples of New York jazz from various eras. To go directly to that feature, click here and scroll to the bottom of the page. It is easy to let the music seduce you into entrapment there. Don't forget to come back to Rifftides.

March 27, 2006 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

Last night's concert by the Jim Knapp Orchestra at The Seasons Performance Hall drew on much of the repertoire from Knapp's most recent CD, Secular Breathing. There were a few changes in personnel, most notably the addition of Tom Varner, the brilliant French hornist who has moved from New York to Seattle. Varner fits perfectly into Knapp's philosophy, which involves the creation of orchestral structures layered in rich textures that he parts to provide soloists opportunities for as much freedom as they care to exercise.

Varner cares to exercise plenty of freedom, as he made plain in his roaming, exploratory solo on "Wild West," a piece not on the CD. Varner wasn't the only one who rode the open country of Knapp's orchestration. Each of the reed men played at length, baritone saxophonist Jim DeJoie ending his long, gutsy, solo by improvising simultaneously with alto saxophonist Mark Taylor; Taylor soloing at length and melding with tenor saxophonist Steve Treseler, who merged with fellow tenor man Adam Harris, who gave way to bassist Phil Sparks for a bowed solo that segued into pizzicato playing and led the orchestra out of the exhilirating untethered region of free time into strict tempo and resolution. The performance kept the audience in its grip. It had focus and energy so profound that later when one of the musicians remarked that the piece had lasted twenty-six minutes, I was startled. I thought it had been ten or twelve minutes.

There were impressive solos through the evening by trombonist Jeff Hay, trumpeters Jay Thomas and Vern Sielert and pianist John Hansen. Andy Omdahl, playing publicly with the band after only one rehearsal, was thrilling in his lead trumpet work on Knapp's demanding arrangements. But the star of the thirteen-piece orchestra is Knapp, who manages to evoke his influences—including Debussy, Ellington, Gil Evans, Ives and (I think) Dvorak—while creating music that has his own mark of individuality. If this band were based in New York rather than Seattle, my guess is that it would be creating a significant buzz. My further guess is that it will do so in any case. A live recording is reportedly in the works. Keep an ear out for it.

March 27, 2006 1:02 AM | | Comments (0)

The Portland Jazz Festival ended early this month, a week after I had to leave it. One of the events I hated to miss was a concert by the Jim Hall-Geoffrey Keezer duo. The Oregonian's Marty Hughley was there. I just came across his review, which contains this apt characterization of Hall.

At 75, Hall is one of the genre's revered elder statesmen, long lauded for his mellow, saxophone-like tone and gentle lyricism. It would be a mistake, though, to think of Hall as an old-fashioned musician. Through just more than an hour of music, Hall and pianist Geoff Keezer played music that was refined and pleasing to the ear, yet frequently challenged convention in subtle, refreshing ways.

To read all of Hughley's review, go here.

March 24, 2006 9:55 PM | | Comments (0)

Thanks to Bill Reed and David Ehrenstein for calling this to our attention.

March 24, 2006 5:30 PM | | Comments (0)

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was going to my hometown—Wenatchee, Washington, The Apple Capital of the World and the Buckle of the Powerbelt of the Northwest—to give a talk preceding a concert by the Jeff Hamilton Trio. I had not heard Hamilton’s group in person since early in the century, shortly after he brought aboard pianist Tamir Hendelman and bassist Christoph Luty. His drumming has been an addiction since I first heard him with Woody Herman in the late 1970s. My fascination with his work grew when he was with the L.A. Four and, later, when he sparked the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and recorded with Ray Brown, Milt Jackson, Bill Holman, Diana Krall and Benny Carter, to name a few of the major musicians he has supported and inspired.

I’m not sure how the talk went that night; I was preoccupied with giving it. But I know that the concert was a success. The first half was by the Wenatchee Big Band, a semi-pro outfit with polish and sophistication suprising in a town with fewer than 30,000 people far from the big population centers. Hamilton sat in with the band, swinging it harder—I think it’s safe to say—than it may have thought it could swing. Among big band drummers, he most effectively embodies the unique combination of power and refinement the late Mel Lewis brought to that demanding craft. In a combo setting, he is every bit as effective, as he demonstrated with his trio in the second half.

I was unprepared for the degree to which Hamilton, Hendelman and Luty have coalesced into a group that, in unity of thought, purpose and execution, is in a league with the greatest piano trios. It has a personality different from the trios of Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Tommy Flanagan or, more recently, of Bill Charlap and Kenny Barron, but comparison with them defines its standing. The trio’s character grows out of Hamilton’s astonishing command of time. He maintains irresistible swing while executing rhythmic permutations of enormous complexity, more often with brushes than with sticks. That night in Wenatchee, Hendelman and Luty were not only with him every step of the way, but melded into his rhythm and he into theirs. They achieved a chamber music ideal, performance as one mind, one spirit. How wonderful it would be, I thought, if they could capture this level of perfection and swing in a recording. It would have to be a live recording, of course, because such things virtually never happen in the cold, demanding precincts of a studio.

This is a case in which it is good to be wrong. The trio’s new CD arrived a few days ago. The Jeff Hamilton Trio: From Studio 4, Cologne, Germany, has the warmth, enthusiasm and flawless musicianship we heard in the Wenatchee concert. The arrangements by the members of the trio are smart, functional, never too clever for their own good. The pieces include a Milt Jackson blues, a samba by Hamilton, Hendelman’s clever treatment of Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy,” and several standards given new life. Among the more or less familiar songs are Luty’s arrangement of “Moonglow” incorporating Hamilton’s subtle virtuosity with wire brushes, “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” and the gorgeous “Too Many Stars.” With Hamilton’s group, Hendelman, an engaging team player, has grown into a major piano soloist, and Luty has developed further as a bassist strong in support and in solo.

March 24, 2006 1:06 AM | | Comments (0)
The V.O.A. on short-wave radio and, in particular, the jazz presented by Willis Conover was top of our listening list as U.K. students in the late 1950's. Starved of American artists in the U.K because of the Musician's Union Ban, this was one way of our hearing the best U.S. jazz of the day.The programmes did a great deal to influence my musical taste and sow the seeds of a lifetime commitment to 'America's Music'.

When the band exchanges started during that period John Dankworth took his band to a festival in New Jersey and reported back with one revelation: "Willis Conover talks in the same careful, almost pedantic, way in real life". Later Dankworth had to pay out of his own pocket for records by his band and Cleo Laine, sent to V.O.A. and played by Willis Conover. The U.K. record company (EMI) regarded V.O.A. as irrelevant to their marketing!

Gordon Sapsed in the U.K.

March 24, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Thanks to ArtsJournal commander-in-chief Doug McLennan for calling our attention, by way of his daily digest, to this story from the San Jose Mercury-News :

San Jose's summer jazz festival calls itself the "largest free jazz festival in the United States." But that designation may be about to change. The festival may have to start charging: $5 a person for an all-day pass. "The reason for the charge: rising operational fees coupled with a loss of corporate sponsors Ford, Chevron and Applied Materials. The festival costs almost $1 million and, much to their disappointment, organizers said, only $60,000 comes from a city that has just designated $4 million for a car race.

To read the whole story, go here.

Allow me to remind you that ArtsJournal bloggers write regularly on music, the visual arts, architecture, media, publishing, theater, dance and the business side of culture. It is a smorgasboard of expertise under one web umbrella. To sample it, go to AJ BLOGS CENTRAL.

March 23, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

The Bush administration’s efforts to reduce or eliminate the amount of English language broadcasting overseas by the Voice Of America are receiving close attention from all sectors of the body politic. Not all of the warnings about the shortsighted foolishness of the administration strategy are coming from the left and middle of the spectrum. Even the conservative Heritage Foundation, no hotbed of anti-Bush activism, raises the alarm. In a national security research memo issued by Heritage, Stephen Johnson writes:

Because public diplomacy efforts such as international broadcasting take years and decades to do their work, shifting massive resources to current hotspots may net little in the end. America needs a more balanced long-term strategy for its foreign broadcasting, and its overseers need to use greater creativity to spread American culture and ideas successfully.


More recently, poor vision has caused policymakers to regard the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington as proof that most threats now come from the Middle East. In a rush to influence Middle Eastern public opinion in a hurry, they gutted the global Voice of America (VOA) radio and TV networks to create new regional broadcasting services. However, research shows that changing deep-seated perceptions takes time and targeting through multiple channels such as supplying textbooks, supporting libraries, and sponsoring academic exchanges. Sadly, face-to-face public diplomacy efforts remain disorganized at the U.S. Department of State.

To read the entire Heritage Foundation memo, go here.

Average Americans can do something about this dangerous plan, which works against the longrange interests of The United States. We can apply pressure. For the original Rifftides posting on this attempt to gut the VOA’s invaluable public diplomacy, click here. Then use the suggested message to e-mail your senators and representative in congress.

As for Rifftides readers around the world, please let us know what the Voice of America has meant to you. Use the "Comment" link at the end of this posting or the e-mail address in the right column.

March 22, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)
I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play, bring a friend... if you have one.

- George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill

Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second... if there is one.

- Winston Churchill, in reply

March 22, 2006 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

Bill Crow read the Rifftides post about The Seasons, then wrote:

Could this be the realization of the dream Red Kelly had when he started the OWL party in Olympia. He wanted to build a giant Sin Drome near Chehalis, where everyone could come and party.

His slogan: "Unemployment isn't working!"

Uh. No, but any opportunity to remember Red Kelly is welcome. His campaign to be elected governor of Washington was, like much in his life, for laughs. He was serious about music. For those who may not have had the pleasure, Red was a shipyard welder in Seattle in 1943 when he taught himself to play the bass. He had heard there was a shortage of musicians because of the war. After a period with the pianist Johnny Wittwer in 1944, he went on to play with—more or less—everybody. Here's a quote in which he described his career path.

I picked the brains of the best: Ted Fio Rito, Randy Brooks, Sam Donahue, Chubby Jackson, Herbie Fields, Charlie Barnet, Red Norvo, Claude Thornhill, Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson, Stan Kenton, some studio work, back to Herman (the third Herd), Les Brown — we hated each other — finally Harry James off and on for 14 years. And I’ll never forget the night I played with Charlie Parker at Birdland. He even hugged me, so it must have been okay.

That is from a column Harvey Siders wrote for Seattle's Earshot Jazz Monthly not long after Red died in 2004. Much of the good and funny stuff of Red's life is in Siders' piece; his dream rhythm section partnership with Buddy Rich and Jack Perciful in the James band; the time Red Norvo hired him thinking he was Red Mitchell; his tongue-in-cheek run for governor in 1976 as the candidate of the OWL Party ("Out With Logic, On With Lunacy"), winning nine percent of the vote; how his bar in Tacoma because a must-hang spot for the jazz elite. To read the whole thing, go here. To read even more, see the Tacoma Public Library's Red Kelly Collection website, officially named Remembering Red. Very few jazz bass players become the best known characters in their states. Red managed it.


Kelly was in the 1955 Woody Herman Road Band that also included Dick Collins, Richie Kamuca, Chuck Flores and Cy Touff.

Blues On The Rocks incorporates Kelly's Classic 1960 Pacific Jazz Good Friday Blues with guitarist Jim Hall and fellow bassist Red Mitchell playing piano.

One of Stan Kenton's best albums of the 1950s, Kenton At The Tropicana, has Kelly on bass and singing his touching ballad, "You and I and George."

Red had a knack for showing up on bands when they were at their height in terms of musical quality, or maybe he had something to do with their achieving it. On Verve Jazz Masters 55, he is with Harry James at one of the trumpeter-leader's peaks.

March 21, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

A couple of Rifftides readers have asked if there is a website for The Seasons, The Seasons Hall.jpg the nifty 400-seat performance hall in Yakima, Washington, my current home town. The Pacific Northwest of the United States is a wonderful place to visit. It is unlikely that many of you have immediate plans to come here, especially those in, say, Beijing, Perth or Oslo. Nonetheless, click here to be transported to The Seasons site and see its intriguing artist lineup for the next few months. Perhaps you'll decide to hop a plane and come. If you do, please let me know. We'll tour a few of the Yakima Valley's world-class wineries.

Recent performances I have attended included splendid concerts by Tierney Sutton and her band, the Brazilian pianist Jovino Santos Neto and his Quartet, and the Thomas Marriott Quartet. I am told that in addition to the musicians listed on the website, Kenny Barron, Meredith d'Ambrosio, Miguel Zenon, and Luciana Souza (with Romero Lubambo) will all be playing The Seasons before the year is out. The Bill Mays Trio, which inaugurated the hall, will be back, and Mays is likely to cross over and perform the stirring finale from Mendelssohn's Trio in D Minor with The Seasons' classical artists-in-residence, the Finesterra Trio.

Not bad for a city of 75,000 on the unpopulous side of the Cascade Mountains in the upper left corner of the country. The sky, by the way, is nearly always as blue as you see it in the photograph above; this is the non-rainy side of the Cascades. (Full disclosure: I am not in the employ of the Yakima Chamber of Commerce. I am a volunteer advisor on talent matters to The Seasons nonprofit management and sometimes give unpaid pre-concert talks. They get me in free.)

For previous Rifftides postings about music at The Seasons, go here and here.

March 20, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

For ten years or so, David Sills has been emerging as a tenor saxophonist with a knack for fashioning calm, cool improvised lines laced with melodic and harmonic interest. His tonal quality leads reviewers to make comparisons with Stan Getz and Lester Young. Based on his harmonic resourcefulness, unruffled execution and slightly dry sound, it would be just as easy to find similarities to Hank Mobley and Warne Marsh. But comparisons are weak vessels. Sills is no imitator.

In his new CD, Down The Line, he begins his solo on “It’s All You” by toying with a series of intervals, seeming as casual as a man whiling away the time bouncing a ball. As he enters the sixteenth bar of his first solo chorus (the piece is based on “It’s You or No One”), he brings out material from the deeper harmonic structure of the tune and builds toward the mid-point of his solo. In the second chorus, Sills continues to increase the complexity of his melodic line and the intensity of his rhythm, but not his volume. As he approaches the final sixteen bars of the solo, his line is at its most variegated. Then he eases off with a succession of phrases like scales, recalling his opening intervals. He plays a section of mostly sixteenth notes, and finishes with a short speech-like declaration. In sixty-two seconds, Sills has told a story that has a definable beginning, middle and end. Economy of expression is not something of which post-Coltrane soloists are often accused. Here’s one who knows how to conceive a short statement, make it count, and get out.

In the same piece, Sills and alto saxophonist Gary Foster have a chorus of unaccompanied counterpoint in the style of Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz. Foster’s own solo finds him at his most Konitz-like, but on the album’s title tune—an “I Got Rhythm” variant—Foster is his identifiable self, and he has a quietly glittering solo on “Eastern View.” He and Sills blend so effectively on the out-chorus of “Slow Joe” that it was difficult on the first hearing to know whether it was one horn or two.

Alan Broadbent is the pianist. One of the great accompanists in jazz today, he also one of its most breathtaking soloists, as his work here on “Slow Joe” and “Down the Line” demonstrates. Broadbent’s introduction to Sills’ achingly beautiful peformance of “Never Let Me Go” and his solo on the piece are highlights of the CD. In common with Sills, guitarist Larry Koonse does not wear his virtuosity on his sleeve, but he doesn’t need to; his musicianship and the richness of his ideas are obvious. Broadbent’s longtime sidekick Putter Smith is the bassist, Tim Pleasant the sensitive drummer.

Nice album.

March 17, 2006 6:02 PM | | Comments (0)

Larry Kart writes from Chicago about the David "Fathead" Newman review in the next exhibit:

A wise, lovely, loving piece of writing. A "customized time value" -- yes. I had a similar thought the other day listening to Lou Donaldson on the reissue of his Blue Note album The Natural Soul. The way he holds a note as though he were holding/molding it with his hands.
March 17, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

One minute and twenty-six seconds into a blues called “Bu Bop Bass” on his new CD, Cityscape, the tenor saxophonist David “Fathead” Newman begins his solo with a phrase that consists of two quarter-note Fs, a quarter-note A and a half-note A—an interval of a major third in the key of F concert. How simple; except that it is not simple. It is complex, because Newman gives each note a customized time value that no annotator could capture on paper. They are Fathead Newman quarter notes and a half note. In addition, he gives the half note a slight downward turn, not so far that it becomes A-flat, just far enough that it’s a David Newman moan, a characteristic of his expression. Furthermore, he plays the phrase, as he does all of his music, with a tone that manages to be full and airy at the same time, not quite like anyone else’s tone. Newman has invested a one-bar phrase with his personality, so that anyone familiar with his work will know in that instant who is playing.

This sort of thing is what experienced musicians, fans and critics have in mind when they say that there was a time when they could recognize a soloist after a few notes. Except in the nostaligic minds of older listeners, that time is not gone, although it must be conceded that there are plenty of young soundalike players on every instrument. Is that a new phenomenon? Aside from specialists, could anyone really tell apart all of those disciples of Coleman Hawkins in the late 1930s and early forties, the herd of alto saxophonists in the 1950s who wanted to be Charlie Parker, the 1960s trumpeters who aspired to be clones of Freddie Hubbard? Imitators are eventually lost in the crowd. Individualists stand out.

On Cityscape, Newman places himself in the context of a seven-piece band similar to the six-piece Ray Charles outfit in which he became well known in the 1950s. He hasn’t recorded in that setting in a few years, and it’s good to hear again. The sound and feeling are reminiscent of the Charles days, but Newman and pianist-arranger David Leonhardt have collaborated to make the harmonic atmosphere fresh. Howard Johnson fills the crucial baritone saxophone chair. Benny Powell, often sidelined by illness the past few years, is on trombone. He and Johnson solo infrequently but well. With Winston Byrd on flugelhorn, they fill out the rich ensembles behind Newman’s tenor and alto saxophones. On alto in a piece called “Here Comes Sonny Man,” Newman recalls “Hard Times,” one of the records that made him famous with Charles.

This is basic music mining a rich tradition that grows out of jazz, rhythm and blues and the expansive territory band history of the American Southwest. No one alive does this sort of thing better than Fathead Newman.

March 16, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)
Speak low, if you speak love —William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, 1599
Speak low, when you speak love—Ogden Nash, Kurt Weill, “Speak Low,” One Touch of Venus, 1943
March 16, 2006 1:04 AM |

A copy of every jazz album released does not show up at my house. It only seems that way when I look at, maneuver around or trip over stacks of CDs. The stream of review copies arriving by mail, UPS, FedEx and DHL makes it possible for a music writer to keep up with the work of established artists, learn what new ones are up to and hope for revelations, surprises, discoveries. That’s the theory.

The realilty is that listening to music is a linear pursuit. Until there’s a way to inhale or inject it (no jokes, please), the amount of music one human being can absorb is limited to the number of hours in the day minus time for distractions such as eating, sleeping, making a living, staying fit and maintaining agreeable relations with family and friends. There are people who expand their listening hours by employing iPods to pour music into their skulls every waking hour. I have no intention of being one of them. I have heard of a teenager who goes the next step. He retires with ear buds in place, his iPod supplying him through the night with music as he allegedly sleeps. We can only imagine the eventual effect of this practice on his development.

But, I digress. The point is that the accumulation of albums presents an opportunity and a burden. The opportunity is to evaluate a representative sample of what is happening in the music. The burden is one of guilt that stems from the inescapable fact that it is impossible to hear every CD that record companies and individual musicians send in the hope that it will be favorably assessed. The necessity to pick and choose is unavoidable.

Over the next several postings, I will offer observations on some of the recent CDs I have rescued from the stacks, dogged by the certainty that I will overlook something important.

March 15, 2006 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

In the quarter of a century during which Marian McPartland has presented Piano Jazz on National Public Radio, her guests have included most of the idiom’s important pianists of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, ranging in style from Jay McShann to Chick Corea. One of the most rewarding of her programs was in 1984 with the late Shirley Horn. Usually shy and reluctant to verbalize about her music, Horn came out of her shell for McPartland. The two pianists got along beautifully and delivered a supremely relaxed hour of conversation and music. They played with and for one another, and Horn sang—perfectly—three songs. At times, the patter edged into the giddiness of a couple of friends indulging in girl talk. Charming stuff.

When they tackled Don Redman’s 1928 pop song “Cherry” and collided harmonically on its bridge, McPartland and Horn worked their way out of the confusion and laughed about it afterward. Collaborating on a spontaneous blues, each played at the top her game, stimulated and encouraged by the other. There may have been more profound and instructive installments of Piano Jazzthe one with Bill Evans, as an example—but none more enjoyable.

Jazz Alliance, a subsidiary of Concord Records, has issued a new batch of Piano Jazz shows on CD. They include guests Dave Brubeck, Teddy Wilson, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton and—from the sort-of-, would-be- or near-jazz category—Steely Dan, Elvis Costello and Bruce Hornsby. To check out several of the most recent and older Jazz Alliance releases in the series, go here.

March 15, 2006 1:03 AM | | Comments (0)

If conventional wisdom and the Nielsen SoundScan survey are right, jazz titles constitute three-to-four percent of CDs. That means that jazz CDs account for about two-million-480-thousand of the 619-million total CD sales Nielsen reports for 2005. Putting aside such value-laden considerations as what constitutes a jazz record or, for that matter, what jazz is, nearly two-and-a-half million CDs sold indicate a substantial audience. Of course, the jazz album market is not large in comparison with the audience for, say, recordings by Arctic Monkeys or Black Eyed Peas (I am not making up those names).

Except for Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte in the eighteenth century, certain songs of Stephen Foster in the nineteenth, and a few hits during the unreproducable years of the swing era, art music has always been less commercially viable than pop. It probably always will be, whether it is by a jazz piano trio or the Budapest String Quartet. Charlie Parker sold many fewer records than Patti Page. At the height of his jazz-rock success, Miles Davis sold millions fewer than Jimi Hendrix or Sly And The Family Stone. Diana Krall, one current jazz musician who has edged into the pop market, is leagues behind Jennifer Lopez—in terms of sales, that is.

It is not that jazz (and classical) musicians are opposed to popular success, or even that they are unwilling to compromise. The guitarist Jim Hall once said, more or less seriously, “Where do I go to sell out?” But a musician of Hall’s commitment, integrity and talent is unlikely to be able to sell out even if he makes the effort, simply because of his inability to tune into frequencies lower than those of his artistry. Witness trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s Coumbia albums of the 1980s, ineffective as either jazz or pop.

So, what to make of Rewind That by the gifted twenty-two-year-old trumpeter Christian Scott. There is no apparent reason not to take him seriously when he is quoted in a Concord Records news release, “I set out to find my own style to convey how I feel in my heart…” and, “Everyone wanted me to do a straight-ahead album, but that’s like meeting a woman and trying to be like her last boyfriend. You’ve got to be special.”

If individuality is the key to being special in jazz—I am persuaded that it is—good for Scott for wanting to develop his individuality. If, on the other hand, he is devoted to being different for the sake of being different in order to achieve commercial success, he is likely to end up being like the last boyfriend.

From Tod A. Smith’s liner notes for Rewind That:

His music is the language of this era – forged by the sounds of a new generation and developed by the shared experiences of that new generation. And while others may be content with reading the primer for this new language, Christian Scott is writing the definitive style guide.


Scott appeared destined to record this music, at this very moment in time. Incorporating the influences of jazz, hip hop, R&B and rock in a Harrison-developed concept called Nouveau Swing.

Harrison is Scott’s uncle, Donald Harrison, the brilliant New Orleans alto saxophonist who made his first splash in jazz in the eighties. I first heard Scott with Harrison’s band at the Estoril, Portugal, jazz festival in 2000, when Scott was seventeen, already an impressive trumpeter. I made a note then to keep an ear out for him. Harrison called not only his concept, but his band, Nouveau Swing. It had the rap and rock underpinnings that Scott was to adopt, but it also embodied swing, the kind of 4/4 groove that grew out of Kansas City in the 1930s and has delineated the rhythmic component of jazz for decades. Rewind That does not have that kind of swing. Rather, it seems to contrive to bend over backward not to swing in the conventional sense (“You’ve got to be special”). As a result, despite Scott’s gorgeous tone, and his range and fluency on the trumpet, the music of his sextet has an oddly static feel throughout much of the album.

The drumming of Thomas Pridgen occasionally hints at New Orlean parade beats but most often concentrates on hip-hop rhythmic sensibilities, as do Linques Curtis’s fragmented, non-linear bass patterns. Straight time is not an element of this collection. That, clearly, is how Scott wants it. Most of the music stutters along to a degree where, ultimately, I found myself excoriating the speakers, “Swing, damn it,” even as I was enchanted by Scott’s soft tone and crisp articulation in the lower register of his horn. As Scott meanders over the rhythmic hesitancies of “Caught Up” and “Paradise Found,” the most unified and satisfying track of the album, an experienced listener taking a blindfold test might conclude that he was hearing Chet Baker.

Walter Smith III’s tenor saxophone solos in the post-Coltrane mold flow nicely, as do the solos of guitarist Matt Stevens. Zaccai Curtis’s Fender-Rhodes piano is employed mostly to provide chords and atmosphere. Donald Harrison, a guest on four tracks, is the most adventurous of the soloists, taking interval leaps that bring life to the piece called “Suicide.”

If Christian Scott is “writing the definitive style guide” for his generation of jazz musicians and his style continues to develop around hip-hop rhythmic values, I am disturbed about where jazz may be headed. In the final analysis, swinging is what differentiates jazz from other music. It will be a challenge to keep paying attention if swinging is phased out. So far, jazz has absorbed and integrated its influences. The optimist in me assumes that it will not be dominated by rap and hip-hop. There is much to like in Mr. Scott’s playing. I shall continue to have an ear out for him and hope that he listens more to Count Basie and Zoot Sims and less to Black Eyed Peas.

March 14, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (3)

Bill Crow, bassist, author and occasional Rifftides correspondent, has taken to the air or the ether, or whatever you call the medium that contains the internet. His new website is a work in progress, as all good websites should be. He writes,

I keep polishing it as I learn the software. Some of the pictures are a little fuzzy, but I think I know how to fix that, as soon as I get time to rescan them.

Well and good, but the photos are fascinating as is. Bill uses many of them to illustrate his biography, from his birth in 1927 to the present. They include shots, from early in his career, of two musicians who would have been among the best known and most admired in jazz if—to grab the nearest handy cliché—their lifestyle choices had been a tad more moderate and they had lived. They were the drummer Buzzy Bridgeford and the tenor saxophonist Freddy Greenwell. Among his slightly better known colleagues are Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Marian McPartland, Kai Winding and J.J. Johnson, Claude Thornhill, Tommy Flanagan and Bob Brookmeyer, to name a few among dozens. Crow's discography starts with Mary Lou Williams in 1950. Its most recent entry is a CD with tenor saxophonist Tony Lavorgna, recorded last month.

I am adding to the links in the right-hand column, where it shall remain.

March 13, 2006 1:00 AM | | Comments (0)

The Charlie Parker posting has elicited a number of interesting responses, including this one from Rifftides reader Dave Lull.

The late Esther Bubley took photographs of Charlie Parker and others at a jam session. There are a few of them posted at a web site devoted to Ms Bubley, and more posted here.

From the Esther Bubley Gallery forward:

"Esther Bubley was the photographer at the Norman Granz Jam Session recording in 1952. What is really remarkable about this series of photographs is that they show Charlie in a variety of moods: attentive, jovial, exhausted, nervous, and most of all, respectful towards Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter, both of whom were Charlie's idols. Barney Kessel said, "The odd thing, I felt more warmth and receptivity from Charlie Parker towards the others than they did to him. [...] He was younger and he learned from them. They didn't learn from him, they'd already left him a legacy; they were already established people before he'd even picked up a horn. He openly admired them". Esther Bubley's document of this session is genuinely unique for the photographs not only capture Charlie in the creative process, but are linked to one moment in time."

These photographs are available in her book Charlie Parker, published in France by Editions Fillipacci, 1995.

Dave Lull

During my New Orleans years, Charlie Parker's two-chorus solo on "Funky Blues" from the Jam Session album was the theme song of a radio program, Jazz Review, that I did on WDSU. When Cannonball Adderley was a guest one night, the theme came up and he vocalised it in perfect unison with Bird. If only I had cued the engineer to open Cannon's microphone, we'd have had a classic duet recording.

March 13, 2006 12:59 AM | | Comments (0)

Good news for radio listeners in Cincinnati, Ohio, or anywhere on the internet: The veteran broadcaster Oscar Treadwell (legendary would not be a hyperbolic term in this case) is back on the air. In his early career, Treadwell was so highly regarded by musicians that Wardell Gray named one of his compositions "Treadin' With Treadwell," Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie recorded "An Oscar for Treadwell" and Thelonious Monk wrote "Oska T."

Treadwell retired in 2001, but a survey of listeners disclosed that they wanted him back and WXVU-FM (91.7) gave him a two-hour slot at 9 pm Eastern Time on Sundays. The station streams its programming live and has an archive of Treadwell's programs. I have sampled several of them and find him as hip as ever, expert in all eras of jazz; tasteful, to the point and knowledgeable in his comments.

The Rifftides staff thanks reader Dave Barber for calling this to our attention.

March 10, 2006 11:03 PM | | Comments (0)

Several interesting comments came in regarding the Charlie Parker posting. Many of them included information about the DVD that was the source of the footage on the Dailymotion web site. Here are some of the reader responses.

The Parker/Hawkins footage is on "The Greatest Jazz Films Ever,” available from various outlets. That 2-DVD set also includes the complete Sound Of Jazz, Jammin' The Blues with alternate takes, The Robert Herridge Theater Miles Davis/Gil Evans program, the "Hot House" Bird/Dizzy TV appearance and Jazz From Studio 61, featuring the Ahmad Jamal Trio and a Ben Webster all-star group. An absolutely essential DVD set. By the way, you should know that on the Parker/Hawkins Jazz At The Philharmonic segment, the musicians are playing to a pre-recorded track - watch the hands of Ray Brown and Buddy Rich. Notice that the sound is excellent studio sound, but there are no microphones visible. And if you watch really closely, you'll see a number of places where it doesn't match up (if you watch that closely, though, it takes away from the enjoyment of the film, I have to admit). Check out Buddy Rich's tiny drum set. He must have laughed when he came into the studio and saw that. It was directed by Gjon Mili, just like "Jammin' The Blues."

Jon Foley

Hi Doug,

The 2 DVD set that Jon Foley references is a Spanish production that most likely has ignored the fact that this footage was edited and produced by Norman Granz, Frank Tenot, and Jacques Muyal and is ® 1996. I am certain that if Norman were still alive he would descend upon the Spanish producers and sue them for every penny in their possession. Of course they would point to the fact that it was filmed in 1950 and therefore exempt from copyright protection. But the truth is that the footage had been in storage until the nineties when Granz was urged to release it, and had never been released or viewed prior until 1997 when it came out in Japan. Upon closer examination of the credits on the box I see that it was also released as a Laser Disc, TOLW-3258. I recall that Swing Journal devoted numerous pages to this monumental release when it came out.

One of the delights of the original production is the on camera presence of Norman Granz who opens the film and sets the stage for what he was trying to achieve, an examination of the art of improvisation which is at the heart of jazz. Norman also narrates introductions to the film clips that follow the opening Mili sequence. The BLUES FOR JOAN MIRO clip with Duke Ellington was filmed at the Foundation Maeght in St. Paul on the Riviera, and includes Miro and Duke strolling the grounds before Duke sits down to improvise his piece dedicated to Miro.

Jim Harrod

Hi, Doug,

You did fine in thinking the tune Hawk is featured on is "I Got It Bad,,,," only it is called "Ballade" on the the records and videos that have it. The second tune by Bird and the rhythm section is called "Celebrity." These were recorded in a studio in NYC in the Fall of 1950. The filming was done later in Gjon Mili's studio with the players doing their best to sync it.

Russell Chase

Ah. Good. The ears may still have a few miles to go.


Wow, killer site with the jazz clips. Those Bird vids where he confidently cuts (Hawk) and Hawk looks sorry he ever showed up...and Bird digging Buddy for his sheer energy level are something--as is everything else at the site, in fact. Mick Jagger singing "Like a Rolling Stone" ain't chopped liver, either.

Hats off to you! Fab find.

Marc Myers

Mick Jagger?

You probably don't want people commenting on other comments, but Marc Myers seems to be projecting too much of his own point of view onto the reactions of Bird and Hawk. I don't see any expression of remorse or discomfort by Hawkins - just mutual digging and appreciation by both of them. Hawkins' solo is beautiful, and Bird appreciates it, just as Hawkins appears to groove to Bird. And one can just as easily read Bird's response to Buddy Rich as mocking disbelief at the bombastic drummer's unhip antics, but that would be my opinion.

Larry Beckhardt

Not apropos of Charlie Parker, but if you live in or around New York City and your interests include chamber music, do yourself a favor and visit Mr. Beckhardt's website, Hellgate Harmonie. It will tell you about performances in the kinds of places Mozart frequented in Vienna in the late 1780s. You might hear fine music for the price of a beer or a cup of coffee. Intriguing.


The story behind that Billie Holiday/Prez segment on The Sound Of Jazz was told me by Gerry Mulligan, who was also there. Prez was not in good shape at the rehearsal, and the Basie alumni group he was supposed to play with complained about having him with them. Billie said, "Let him play with me," and during the rehearsal, Prez played weakly, trying to put some ideas together for his solo. On the take, he really pulled himself together and, though not physically strong, played a lovely chorus. It was his triumph over his condition that evoked the expression on Billie's face that was caught by the camera.

Bill Crow

Mr. Crow, as nearly everyone knows, was the bassist with Mulligan's quartet and, later, his Concert Jazz Band. He is the author of Jazz Anecdotes and From Birdland to Broadway, essential inclusions in every two-foot shelf of books about jazz.

March 10, 2006 4:06 PM | | Comments (1)
One of the pleasures of living in the Washington, D.C. area (there ARE some), is that the three main military jazz bands make their homes here.

One of the better concerts I attended this past year was at George Washington University, where the Airmen of Note, the U-S Air Force's jazz group, played host to the great guitarist Pat Martino. The band was inspired by Martino's presence and the guitarist clearly dug being surrounded by such a talented big band, an experience I expect he doesn't get to enjoy every day. And, of course, the icing on these GI jazz "cakes": not a penny is charged for admission.

The Army Blues, the Navy's Commodores and the Airmen all present periodic concerts in the DC area at attractive sites like the U-S Capitol steps, the Navy Memorial and various local parks, in addition to their tours around the country.

Hard to say which of the three bands is "best". Each of them is worth hearing any time you get the opportunity.

John Birchard

Devra Hall, aka DevraDoWrite, sent this about military bands:

Joe Williams is one of the many jazz artists who loved to work with the The Airmen of Note, the premiere Air Force band that was for many years under the baton of Col. Gabriel. For about a year (2003-2004) I wrote a monthly column for Here are links to a couple of those pieces still archived online:

Military History 101: Warrant Officers --

Song Notes: From WAAC to WAC to WAF --

And here's a link to Patriotic Jazzmen, my blog post from last July4th. --


Good reports. Carry on. I'll be in the area all day.

March 9, 2006 4:33 PM | | Comments (0)

Rifftides is extending its reach in southern regions. Welcome to new Rifftides readers in Mexico, Peru and Djibouti.

March 9, 2006 3:02 PM | | Comments (0)

For years, I have thought that the only film showing Charlie Parker at work was a well-known 1952 clip of Parker with Dizzy Gillespie when they appeared on a television program to receive a magazine award and played “Hot House.” It turns out, happily, that I was wrong. A website called Dailymotion has filmclips and videotape sequences of a number of musicians, jazz and otherwise, including two with Bird.

In Dailymotion’s Parker video, we see him at first listening with great appreciation to Coleman Hawkins play what seems to be "I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good," then sharing the performance with the great tenor saxophonist. An up-tempo blues follows—Parker with pianist Hank Jones, Bassist Ray Brown and drummer Buddy Rich. It’s nearly as much fun watching Bird dig Buddy’s solo as to see and hear his own playing. Another piece has the rhythm section with Lester Young, Bill Harris, Harry Edison, Flip Phillips and Ella Fitzgerald. The video quality is crisp, the sound clear. To see the clip, go here. If you do not have a high-speed internet connection, it may download slowly.

The knowledgeable Jim Harrod of the Jazz West Coast listserve says that the clip is “from NORMAN GRANZ PRESENTS IMPROVISATION released in Japan on 9/26/1997 by Toshiba EMI, release number TOVW-3258, VHS. I believe it has also been released on DVD. The entire film runs 64 minutes and includes footage from 1966, 1977 and 1979.”

The footage of Parker and the other stars of Granz’s Jazz At The Philharmonic troupe is, of course, from the early 1950s. Parker died fifty-one years ago next Sunday, on March 12, 1955. My internet search turned up references to the DVD on web sites, apparently Russian, whose links did not work. Maybe you'll have better luck. If you know where the DVD can be obtained, let us know, please.

To see part of the Parker-Gillespie “Hot House” clip, go here.

As long as I'm directing you to the Dailymotion stash of videos, I should mention Billie Holiday's "Fine and Mellow" from the 1957 CBS program The Sound of Jazz. If you have never seen the look on Holiday's face as her friend Lester Young plays his perfect blues chorus, go here.

March 8, 2006 3:16 PM | | Comments (3)
With all the back-and-forth about Maynard Ferguson's band and outreach, music ed and so on, I wonder why the military bands are never mentioned? These ensembles are comprised of some of the best players and composers/arrangers on the planet and probably do more to keep students interested in jazz than most others. Granted, their concerts are free (a competive advantage), but it's nice to see some of our tax dollars going into worthy endeavors.

Dennis E. Kahle

The armed forces jazz bands are not mentioned often enough. That's true. But, "never?" Here's part of a recent Rifftides posting.

Buddy DeFranco, approaching his eighty-fourth birthday, played in concert with the U.S. Army Blues Jazz Ensemble. Made up of sergeants of various stripes and led by Chief Warrant Officer Charles Vollherbst, the Blues (named for their dress uniforms) is one of the best big jazz bands at work, military or civilian. It has a stompin’ rhythm section, impressive brass and wind sections, fine soloists, and arrangers with skill and imagination. Staff Sergeant Liesl Whitaker’s lead trumpet work places her among the best in that demanding, punishing craft.

To read the whole thing, go here.

March 8, 2006 12:01 PM | | Comments (2)

From Ciardi’s A Browser’s Dictionary (1980):

Hip Mod. Slang (and prob. becoming passé). Aware, knowing, up on, in the know. [Earlier hep with the same senses, perhaps modified from the military usage for counting cadence, itself a modification of “left” as in hep-ri'-hep (because “hep” is easier to say with great expulsive force. MMM* attests hep in this military usage by 1862; with the sense “aware, knowing,” as of 1903; the sense shift being from military alertness to alertness in any sense.

Ciardi being Ciardi, that wasn’t enough information about the word. He added,

J.L. Dillard, Where Our words Come From,asserts a straight-line connection between West African hipi and mod. slang hippie; but this assertion addresses only the present form hip without considering earlier hep, it suggests no conceivable line of transmission, and must be dismissed as a fetch based on surface resemblance only by a Negro scholar who is a bit overzealous in his otherwise admirable desire to show how much Africa culture has contributed to American life—as it has done richly, though that contribution is not assisted by willful etymology.]

*(Mitford M. Matthews, A Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles)

March 7, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

"Good Morning," he said, "this is John Ciardi prowling around your breakfast table and peering into your cereal bowl to find a whole cluster of words there." It was his introduction to one of the pieces he did on National Public Radio's Morning Edition in the 1980s. To hear the whole thing, go here and click on "Listen. "

If you like that one, go here for five NPR podcasts of Ciardi sending "good words to you." (This page is a slowwwwww loader. Be patient)

March 7, 2006 1:04 AM | | Comments (1)

He published 38 books, 12 of them for children, one a translation of Dante. He was a fine poet.


I've zeroed an altimeter on the floor
then raised it to a table and read three feet.
Nothing but music knows what air is
more precisely than this. I read on its face
Sensitive Altimeter and believe it.

Once on a clear day over Arkansas
I watched the ridges on the radar screen,
then looked down from the blister and hung like prayer:
the instrument was perfect: ridge by ridge
the electric land was true as the land it took from.

These, I am persuaded, are instances
round as the eye to see with,
perfections of one place in the visited world
and omens to the godly
teaching an increase of possibility.

I imagine that when a civilization
equal to its instruments is born
we may prepare to build such cities as music
arrives to on the air, lands where we are
the instruments of April in the seed.

From John Ciardi: Selected Poems ©1984

Ciardi died in 1986 at the age of seventy. Damnit.

March 7, 2006 1:03 AM | | Comments (0)

Art Kane’s 1958 photograph of fifty-eight musicians in front of and on the steps of a Harlem brownstone ran in Esquire magazine, which called it A Great Day In Harlem. It became one of the best known snapshots in the world, already famous for decades when Jean Bach made a film about it in 1994. Now, in her late eighties, she has expanded the film and brought the picture and its subjects even more renown. Ms. Bach, the brilliant film editor Susan Peehl and director Matthew Seig added nearly four hours of new material to the production. Like the picture that inspired it, the film is not a polished product. It is a rough and ready masterpiece that makes the most of the materials at hand, rather like a jam session solo.

At the IAJE meeting in January, Ms. Bach gave me a copy of the updated two-DVD release of A Great Day In Harlem. Over this past weekend, I finished watching it. One of its most appealing qualities is that, after the viewer has seen the main body of the production, he can dip into the nearly four hours of new features when its convenient, without fear of losing continuity. Navigation is easy by means of menu features that give the option of using alphabetical listings or—for computer users—browsing through the Kane photo with arrow keys and highlighting individual musicians to bring up their stories.

Some of the new segments are interviews with the musicians from the photo who were still alive when the film was being made, among them Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Art Farmer, Bud Freeman, Horace Silver and Max Kaminsky. Most of the others in the picture were gone by then, including Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Red Allen, Pee Wee Russell, Rex Stewart, Thelonious Monk, Roy Eldridge, Count Basie and Sonny Greer. Their surviving colleagues—and sometimes the vital and knowledgeable Jean Bach herself—tell their stories, all fifty-eight of them. In their recollections, Chubby Jackson is effusive, Sonny Rollins thoughtful and writer Nat Hentoff savvy and often amused.

The cumulative effect, whether or not the viewer is a hard-core jazz fan, is a sense of the yeastiness of what may have been the last golden era of jazz. Pioneers of the form were still at work, sometimes on the bandstand with musicians a generation or two, or three, younger. A natural companion to A Great Day In Harlem, the 1957 CBS television program The Sound Of Jazz, illustrates the generational compatibility, respect and understanding that marked the New York jazz scene through the fifties and into the early sixties. Ms. Bach’s film draws from the kinescope of that landmark show for scenes, for instance, of Count Basie listening raptly to Thelonious Monk, of Gerry Mulligan playing with Ben Webster and Rex Stewart.

Bill Charlap and Kenny Washington, who didn’t exist when Kane took the picture, reflect on the legacy of their predecessors in an interview highlighted by Washington’s uncanny impression of the character and mannerisms of Jo Jones, an idol of Washington and virtually all other drummers. The new DVD set also includes a mini-documentary about the making of the film, with hilarious sidebars about the travails of fund-raising, locating musicians and trying to coax accurate information from failing memories. Ms. Bach gracefully and affectionately corrects Art Blakey’s confident representations of facts that are clearly wrong, including his claim to have owned the brownstone that was the setting for the photograph. There is a brief feature about Kane, who committed suicide in the 1990s, apparently because of health worries. In addition, Jean Bach guides the viewer through an exhibit of the many “Great Day” photo imitations; A Great Day In Philadelphia—San Diego—New Jersey—Haarlem (Netherlands), et al—even A Great Day In Hip-Hop.

The film is informative, entertaining and uplifting. Whatever misgivings you may have about where jazz is headed, A Great Day In Harlem is almost sure to make you happy about where it has been.

March 6, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

“Jazz is where you find it.” That is the opening sentence in the first paragraph of an essay in Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers. Here is the rest of the paragraph.

The Polish novelist and essayist Leopold Tyrmand, who spent much of World War Two as a forced laborer in Germany, tells of hearing the music of Benny Goodman from a hand-cranked phonograph in a rowboat in the middle of a river. The phonograph was operated by a Nazi soldier afraid of being thought an American spy or sympathizer if he listened openly. With difficulty, Tyrmand talked his way into the soldier’s confidence, and a strangely matched pair of fans spent a Sunday afternoon spelling one another at the oars and digging Benny.

Owen Cordle, a correspondent for that excellent newspaper the Raleigh, North Carolina, News and Observer, may not feel as isolated and certainly not as endangered as Tyrmand and Hitler’s soldier did. Cordle lives in a small suburb of Raleigh where high-quality jazz does not run rampant. He reports, however, that great music materialized there the other night. Owen sent the message below to share the experience with Rifftiders. It confirms my frequent observation that it is possible to be surprised by fine music almost anywhere in the United States. I have supplied a few informational links.


Lou Marini showed up last Saturday night at the Lotus Leaf, a small Vietnamese restaurant in Cary, NC, as part of a dinner party booked by Frank Corbi, his former saxophone teacher. There was no publicity other than an e-mail message from the owner to the musicians who regularly perform there that Lou and Frank were coming and that they might bring their horns. Guitarist Richard Fitzgerald, who was performing there with singer Deb Trauley, had done a little preemptive homework -- just in case.

Dinner orders placed, Lou and Frank headed for the corner where Richard and Deb were set up. Richard launched "T-Bone Shuffle" and the horns tore into it, Lou on alto, Frank on tenor. Knowing Lou's history as a member of Blood, Sweat & Tears, the original Saturday Night Live band and the Blues Brothers band (he was in both Blues Brothers movies), I was primed for a heavy R & B scene. But Lou proved a fierce bebopper. With Frank in his lively, oblique Lester Young bag, this was as close to Bird and Pres as I've ever come. I was knocked out.

This may sound odd, but part of the joy came from watching Lou grab bits and pieces of the heads and sometimes feel his way through the first improvised chorus or part thereof and then nail the chord changes solidly the next time around. He was fallible and human but a quick study. And that was the beauty of it -- recovery, ingenuity, memory and the musical ear in action on the wing. He played lots of blistering runs and varied the entrances and exits of his phrases. You could catch Bird's vibrato once in a while. He showed intense drive. In the words of the "Cannonball" Adderley title, this was "spontaneous combustion."

Frank's tenor -- full of quotes and circling runs and behind-the-beat phrases -- took the harmony to places it had rarely been before. He can make the oddest note fit. It was lovely and floating. He was the Four Brothers to Lou's Bebop Brother.

Richard called the tunes, started an intro and let the horns find the melody and weave counterlines: "I Remember You," "Have You Met Miss Jones," "Blue Monk," "Autumn Leaves," "Tenor Madness," "There Will Never Be Another You" ...

Sometimes the spirit of a thing can give you hope and heal you even when the source isn't perfect. Such was the case here. I wouldn't have changed a note.

(For the record: Frank lives in Cary. Lou’s dad., who was also present, now lives in Raleigh. Frank and the Marinis lived in Ohio during Frank's teaching days.)

(I sent you this because jams of this caliber and spontaneity don't happen too much anymore, especially where I live.)


In addition to his work for the News and Observer, Owen Cordle reviews music for JazzTimes magazine.

March 2, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Several versions of a joke usually beginning something like, "A note walks into a bar...." are floating around the internet. Buddy DeFranco forwarded the most elaborate I've seen. The Rifftides management makes no claims about the reliability of the musicology in this tale:

A C, an E-flat, and a G go into a bar. The bartender says: "Sorry, but we don't serve minors." So, the E-flat leaves, and the C and the G have an open fifth between them. After a few drinks, the fifth is diminished: the G is out flat. An F comes in and tries to augment the situation, but is not sharp enough.

A D comes into the bar and heads straight for the bathroom saying, "Excuse me. I'll just be a second."

An A comes into the bar, but the bartender is not convinced that this relative of C is not a minor.

Then the bartender notices a B-flat hiding at the end of the bar and exclaims: "Get out now! You're the seventh minor I've found in this bar tonight."

The E-flat, not easily deflated, comes back to the bar the next night in a 3-piece suit with nicely shined shoes. The bartender (who used to have a nice corporate job until his company downsized) says: "You're looking sharp tonight, come on in! This could be a major development." This proves to be the case, as the E-flat takes off the suit, and everything else, and stands there au naturel.

Eventually, the C sobers up, and realizes in horror that he's under a rest. The C is brought to trial, is found guilty of contributing to the diminution of a minor, and is sentenced to 10 years of DS without Coda at an upscale correctional facility. On appeal, however, the C is found innocent of any wrongdoing, even accidental, and that all accusations to the contrary are bassless.

The bartender decides, however, that since he's only had tenor so patrons, the soprano out in the bathroom, and everything has become alto much treble, he needs a rest - and closes the bar.

March 2, 2006 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

Reaction to the Bush administration's cockeyed attempt to emasculate the Voice of America through budget cuts is getting shocked attention not only among policy analysts at home but also from members of the VOA's audience abroad. Here is part of a letter from a New Delhi man named Vijay Kranti to The Washington Times, a heavily conservative newspaper. Earlier, the Times's editorial page urged the White House to abandon its plan to cut English language news broadcasts by slashing VOA's funding.

I wonder if the U.S. policy-makers ever knew that the total population of shortwave radio listeners in India alone is more than total number of U.S. voters on any given day. Unlike me, most of these listeners live in areas where they have just "zero" or not enough access to TV, FM or Internet. Shortwave radio has, for decades, been their main source of information. And it is going to stay with them till the day technology offers them a low-cost battery-operated direct to home TV.

It may be news to U.S. policy-makers that thanks to radio networks like VOA, millions of these listeners world over are better informed about America and the world situation as compared to an above-average American citizen.

To read the whole thing, go here and scroll down to the second letter. If you are concerned about the administration's attempt to stifle a government agency that sends objective and balanced news and information to a world in which the United States needs understanding, tell your senators and representatives. Congress can stop this repressive campaign against open expresion.

March 1, 2006 1:05 AM |
John Stowell's solo on "Blues on the Corner" should be transcribed by every serious guitar player on the planet.

On second thought, make that every serious player.

Bill Kirchner

Jeff Albert's story the other day about his daughter's innocently perceptive question brought this followup.


My favorite father/daughter story comes from my friend, the great drummer Allen Schwartzberg from New York. Quite a few years ago he took his eight-year-old daughter to hear an evening outdoor concert of Rostropovich and the National Symphony. Sitting together under the stars, before the concert was about to begin, Allen pointed to the television cameras and explained to her that the concert was going to be broadcast live all over America. To which she replied, "You mean we're gonna miss it?"

Alan Broadbent

March 1, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Not that you would, but don't miss Terry Teachout's essay about going home again. This will give you a hint of what it's about, although it's about much more.

“Thanks, Carol, I'd love to, but…” But the truth is that I don't play anymore, Carol, I haven't touched a bass in years, it wouldn't be fun for either one of us, maybe some other time. Long pause. Deep breath. “But promise me one thing—don't make me take any solos.”

He also writes this:

The trouble with good advice is that nobody ever takes it. Kind friends warned me that a book tour is the only thing more humiliating than falling in love with someone who likes you back, but that didn't stop me from hitting the road and watching every single word they said come true. The TV people hadn't read my book; the newspaper reporters had, and hated it. As for the in-store appearances, the worst one was in a small town where I did an early-morning guest shot on the local radio station, then went to the mall and sat for five straight hours without signing a single copy.

OH, yes.

To read it all, go here. Then, come back.

March 1, 2006 1:04 AM |

You may be interested in where some of your fellow readers are following Rifftides. A recent check of the site meter finds them all over the world, in places including:

▪Mickleover, Derby, United Kingdom
▪Mere, Warrington, United Kingdom
▪Brussels, Belgium
▪Barcelona, Spain
▪Arche, Limousin, Spain
▪Cceres, Extremadura, Spain
▪Mijas, Andalucia, Spain
▪Montreal, Quebec, Canada
▪Hamilton, Bermuda
▪Tokyo, Japan
▪Kuguta, Chiba, Japan
▪Paris, France
▪Nantes, Pays de la Loire, France
▪Zurich, Switzerland
▪Penrose, New Zealand
▪The United States, from Wenatchee, Washington to Fenton, Missouri, to West Henrietta, New York, and hundreds of spots in between—large and small. Welcome to you all.

Wenatchee, my home town (funny I should mention that), is The Apple Capital of the World and the Buckle of the Power Belt of the Northwest. The masthead of The Wenatchee World has made that clear since long before I began my career in journalism launching copies of the newspaper onto subscribers’ porches. I will be visiting Wenatchee tomorrow. The occasion is the annual Wenatchee Jazz Workshop, an annual event that brings student players together with a faculty of world-class musicians. I have been asked to speak preceding a concert featuring the Jeff Hamilton Trio with Tamir Hendelman and Cristof Luty, trombonist Bruce Paulsen, tenor saxophonist Tom Peterson, trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos, and the Wenatchee Big Band. The kids are in good hands. I’m looking forward to hearing them and their visiting teachers.

March 1, 2006 1:04 AM | | Comments (1)

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the main category from March 2006.

main: February 2006 is the previous archive.

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About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Artful Manager
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
blog riley
rock culture approximately
critical difference
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dog Days
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Life's a Pitch
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
Mind the Gap
No genre is the new genre
Performance Monkey
David Jays on theatre and dance
Plain English
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Real Clear Arts
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
Rockwell Matters
John Rockwell on the arts
State of the Art
innovations and impediments in not-for-profit arts
Straight Up |
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

classical music
Creative Destruction
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
The Unanswered Question
Joe Horowitz on music

Jerome Weeks on Books
Quick Study
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off

Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
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