main: February 2007 Archives

To jazz fans, Annie Ross will always be a third of the nonpareil singing group Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. But she left L-H-R in 1962. Ever since, she has been up to her ears in a variety of music and entertainment ventures. Will Friedwald caught up with the indefatigable Ms. Ross in New York and talked with her about her kaleidoscopic show business life and current singing career. She told Will about Bob Weinstock of Prestige Records asking her in 1952 if she could write lyrics to a group of instrumental solos.

I took the records home to my little one-room flat and the one that caught my ear was Wardell Gray's "Twisted" -- that suggested a whole mess of things to me.

Ross's recording of "Twisted" became a jazz hit and led to her teaming with Dave Lambert and Jon Hendricks. To read more about Annie Ross In Friedwald's New York Sun column, go here.

February 28, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (1)

Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival
Moscow Idaho

After presentation of student winners, Saturday evening's final concert began with one piece by pianist Benny Green, bassist Christian McBride, guitarist Russell Malone and drummer Jeff Hamilton--the festival house band--who then accompanied James Morrison. Morrison began "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" on trombone with a long, exhibitionistic acapella cadenza that subsided into a melodic first chorus. As he built intensity in his improvisation, the rhythm section urged him on. Green's comping led the charge. The others dug into the developing groove. The swing that Hamilton generated during Green's, Malone's and McBride's solos was irresistible. Morrision reentered on trumpet, taking the horn boldly where no man but Maynard Ferguson had gone before. After making several orbits, Morrison landed in the low register with an expansive tone and a few quiet phrases. His welcome dip into lyricism raised a question: if he can play that tastefully, why doesn't he allow his more thoughtful self out in public more often?

Before intermission came two quintets with identical instrumentation, the same pianist and different personalities. Trumpeter Roy Hargrove kicked his group into a fast modal piece that sizzled with excitement and a sense of risk-taking that characterized most of the set. In an unnamed Latin tune (Hargrove made no announcements), alto saxophonist Justin Robinson played an impressive, if busy and slightly repetitious, solo. Hargrove followed with a lesson in the use of space to make a solo breathe without losing anything of intensity or rhythm. Gerald Clayton inflected his piano choruses with bebop figures that melded into the Latin groove. Bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Montez Coleman had a rhythm fiesta, Coleman's explosive accents kicking the time along.

Hargrove played "Fools Rush In" on flugelhorn, creating a highlight of the festival. If I had entertained doubts that he finds his truest expression on the larger horn, this performance would have erased them. His chorus of pure melody led into a lovely solo by Clayton. Then, with his cashmere sound, Hargrove improvised a chorus in long tones and a few fluid runs, caressed the final eight bars of Rube Bloom's melody, added a held note and ended with a sweet afterthought of a tag. Simply beautiful.

Clayton stayed on stage to play in the Clayton Brothers Quintet led by his bassist father John and his uncle Jeff, one of the few alto saxophonists who takes Cannonball Adderley as his primary model. His Cannonball leanings predominated, but in the ballad "That Night," Jeff Clayton introduced a bit of Johnny Hodges sensualilty. Trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos and drummer Obed Calvaire completed the group. Castellanos, one of the bright lights of Southern California's jazz scene, played brilliantly in the front line with Jeff Clayton and helped to remind the audience that the post-bop tradition of Art Blakey and Horace Silver is alive. In a piece called "Gina's Groove," Gerald Clayton summoned up Silver's infectious style. His father, a protégé of Ray Brown, continues the Brown institution of solid time and a fat sound. An exemplar of the bow, in the course of the festival he played several masterly arco solos. In "Last Stop," the senior Clayton's arrangement emphasized ensemble dynamics, not a lost art in jazz, merely a rare one.

The concert and the festival wrapped up with the Lionel Hampton New York Big Band backing three guest vocalists. Roberta Gambarini gave a commanding performance of Benny Carter's "When Lights Are Low." Dee Daniels, who applies gospel soul to everything she sings, did "Our Love Is Here To Stay,"complete with a just-us-girls suggestive monologue. John Pizzarrelli, guitar in hand, sang and played three songs from the Frank Sinatra tribute album he made with the Clayton-Hamilton big band. For Pizzarelli's set, the Jeff Hamilton Trio served as the rhythm section with the Hampton Band. Pizzarelli sang with his usual boyish charm and verve. On "You Make Me Feel So Young," he played an intricate solo and negotiated a tricky guitar part with the ensemble. He achieved serious swing in his guitar/voice unison improvisation on "Yes Sir, That's My Baby."

For the penultimate number, the Hampton band played--what else?--"Flyin' Home," with solos all 'round. Doug Lawrence tore it up with a tenor saxophone solo that would have had Hampton grinning ear to ear. Finally, things quieted and the live band accompanied the recorded Hampton singing "What A Wonderful World" as a digital slide show on huge screens illustrated the history of the Lionel Hampton festival from 1984 to that very evening. It was an emotional remembrance of Hamp and a retirement sendoff for Dr. Lynn Skinner, the founder and director of the festival from its beginning. The new festival regime will be headed by John Clayton.

February 26, 2007 9:28 PM | | Comments (0)

The Hampton festival's core purpose is the development of young jazz musicians. Students from several states converge here to play in big bands and combos, vying for group and individual honors. Nearly 400 youngsters competed in the final day's events. Before the professionals played on Saturday evening, we heard student winners in several categories.

In competitions across the country it has become predictable that Seattle's Roosevelt and Garfield High Schools will be among the top big bands. Indeed, they often place one-two. In Moscow, Garfield, under director Clarence Acox, edged Roosevelt, under Scott Brown, for first place and performed in the big hall. Then, fifteen winners in the Outstanding Student Instrumentalist category lined up across the stage in front of a rhythm section. Each played two choruses of "C-Jam Blues." There was a tie in only one category, between alto saxophonists John Cheadle of Garfield and Logan Strosahl of Roosevelt. The two played together in middle school, but went to separate high schools, each developing impressively. Results in all categories of student competition are posted on the Hampton Festival web site.

Music students from middle schools, high schools and colleges all over the United States and abroad flock to the the Hampton festival and to the jazz education components of other institutions. Undoubtedly, a number who come here and to The Centrum Port Townsend Bud Shank workshop, Jamey Aebersold's camps, programs of The Commission Project and at least a dozen other such ventures are simply enjoying pleasurable school activities. An appreciable percentage of them, however, plan careers in music. Many of them would like to be professional jazz musicians. Given the low receptivity of the public to jazz, and the resulting economic reality, it is certain that there will not be enough work to provide a living to more than a lucky few. Except during the big band era, that has always been as true in jazz as it is in, say, the classical chamber music business.

Still, here is a puzzle. Thousands of children go through jazz education programs in the schools and colleges. One presumes that they develop knowledge and appreciation, perhaps even love, of the music. These programs have been flourishing for a long time, twenty or thirty years. Why hasn't that resulted in an expansion of the audience for jazz clubs, concerts and record sales? Let's suppose that the widely publicized estimates of jazz CD sales as three percent of the total are low. Even if those sales were five percent, shouldn't the jazz education movement of the past few decades have stimulated greater demand? Do the kids go home from these programs, revert to rock, hip-hop and rap, grow into adulthood and never pursue the higher interests to which they were exposed? I don't have the answers to these disturbing questions. I don't know that there are answers, but this is a fertile area for a PhD candidate in economics, business or music searching for a thesis topic or a reporter who can talk his editor into a long investigative project.

As always, comments are encouraged and welcome.

February 26, 2007 9:27 PM | | Comments (8)

The Seasons Performance Hall has launched its own CD label with a Jessica Williams solo piano recital on the hall's nine-foot Steinway. Go here to read about Jessica Williams Live At The Seasons and listen to one of the tracks. Full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes, which are reproduced on The Seasons page at the link above.

February 26, 2007 10:47 AM | | Comments (0)

Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival
Moscow, Idaho

In the packed ballroom of the University of Idaho's student union building, The members of the festival's house rhythm section were answering questions. Jeff Hamilton, Benny Green, Christian McBride and Russell Malone now and then played to illustrate a point. A young woman asked what they do to prepare when a soloist is going to perform with them. Following a brief reply concerning repertoire and key signatures, Hamilton asked the questioner what her instrument is. She told him that she is a vocalist.

"And what would you sing with a band?" Hamilton asked.

"A standard, probably. Maybe "Autumn Leaves."

"Come on up and sing it," he said.

As the singer made her way to the stage, several hundred audience members took a deep breath. She huddled with the musicians for a moment, went through the find-a-key exercise with Green, agreed on C-minor and sang one chorus of "Autumn Leaves." In French. In tune. With great poise. She got a big hand from the audience and the musicians.

In a brief conversation with her at the end of the workshop, I learned that her name is Kathryn Radakovich and that she is a student at the University of Idaho.

February 25, 2007 11:30 AM | | Comments (1)

Later, I'll have a report on the final concert of the Hampton festival, the changing of its artistic leadership, and a few thoughts on jazz education and the future of the jazz audience. At the moment, the hotel's checkout deadline is looming. I'm packing up and hitting the road following an intense and interesting four days in Moscow.

As promised, I'll also be catching up, by way of mini-reviews, with some of the CDs that have accumulated in the past few weeks.

February 25, 2007 11:29 AM |

Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival
Moscow, Idaho

At this jazz festival doubling as a music education experience for young people, there are as many as a dozen events in every hour of the day. They are scattered across the University of Idaho campus and the town of Moscow. It is impossible to sample more than a smattering of them.

Example: At 3:00 p.m. on Friday, the schedule listed workshops by The Four Freshmen; Roberta Gambarini and Tamir Hendelman; the Estonian saxophonist Lembit Saarsalu with the Russians Leonid and Nik Vintskevich on piano and saxophone; a lecture by Penny M. von Eschen about Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington in the Soviet Union; and eight workshops for student vocal ensembles or soloists.

The current Four Freshmen are the latest in a line of successors to the original vocal quartet founded in 1947. I dropped in on their workshop to see whether I had an accurate impression from their recordings that they have more musicianship than previous editions of the Freshmen. I did not come away with a definitive answer. The hour contained more repartee than music. Bob Ferreira, Vince Johnson, Brian Eichenberger and Curtis Calderson, are raconteurs who have perfected a style of casual interactive standup comedy that was a big hit with the audience of mostly teenagers. Few of the students' questions or the Freshmens' answers dealt with issues of musical substance. For the most part, the group's singing was standard Freshmen four-part harmony with Eichenberger's lead on top. The songs we heard were from the vintage Freshmen repertoire or patterned on the classic style. Calderon's cornet playing was impressive for his range and lyricism. Ferreira's drumming, Johnson's bass playing and Eichenberger's guitar work did a functional job of support at the workshop and at their concert that night. Except for Calderon, they played no extensive instrumental solos. The group was entertaining, with more to offer than nostalgia, but I did not find an answer to my question about musical depth.

The evening concert filled the massive Kibbie Dome. It opened with a pre-show performance by the Sacramento pianist Jim Martinez in a group that featured vocalist Julia Dollison. In his notes for her CD Observatory, my colleague Terry Teachout described Dollison's voice as "warm, airy, dappled with summer sunshine, technically bulletproof from top to bottom." I heard her for the first time at this festival. I can only agree enthusiastically with Terry. I look forward to hearing more of Ms. Dollison.

Next came a succession of student vocalists, winners in their divisions of the educational branch of the festival. It is wonderful that the festival arranges for its student participants to perform before large congregations. The experience is important in their development. Last night's singers ranged from adequate to unfortunate. All but one indulged in scat singing. I am lobbying for passage of a federal law that public scatting by amateurs and professionals alike will be allowed only after ten years of extensive education culminating in a rigorous examination for a license to scat, with a fee of $500. Isn't there challenge enough in learning to sing a lyric melodically, in tune, with appropriate interpretation, phrasing and feeling?

Next came the house band--Benny Green, Russell Malone, Christian McBride and Jeff Hamilton. They played "Have You Met Miss Jones?" with all of the qualities mentioned above, and swung like crazy. Still swinging, they accompanied, in order, the Russian tenor saxophonist Igor Butman, trombonist Bill Watrous and the Australian brass phenomenon James Morrison. Each seemed determined to exhaust every technical capability of his instrument and to leave no note unplayed, no space unfilled. Morrison, not content to break altitude and speed records on trumpet and trombone, added to his arsenal a borrowed euphonium. Following Morrison's featured spot, Butman and Watrous came back on to join him and his euphonium in a rendition of Sonny Rollins' "Tenor Madness" at warp speed. Butman led off the solos with a chorus that evoked Rollins. After that, came the deluge. In the immortal words of Louis Armstrong, "Chops was flyin' everywhere." The three technical monsters outdid themselves and one another, culminating with an exchange of four-bar phrases, then twos, ones and finally nones, improvising simultaneously with a ferocity that had the audience on its feet. Morrison was in danger of exploding his friend's euphonium. Along the way, Green and Malone soloed, choosing contrast rather than competition. They did not damp down the swing, but introduced welcome breaths of air into the proceedings.

After intermission and before the Four Freshmen, Jeff Hamilton's trio with pianist Tamir Hendelman and bassist Christoph Luty worked their intricate, propulsive magic. Hamilton is a drummer's drummer, a musicians' drummer, a peoples' drummer and the all-purpose workhorse of this festival. Green is spelled occasionally by Hendelman, Monty Alexander, Kuni Mikami and other pianists, but Hamilton, Malone and McBride spend virtually of their waking hours playing in concerts and workshops, showing no visible or audible signs of exhaustion.

February 24, 2007 5:44 PM | | Comments (1)

Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival
Moscow, Idaho

Here's a quick update on highlights of a few of the dozens of festival events since the last posting.

Last night's concert ran past midnight. It was dedicated to the late bassist Ray Brown and featured colleagues who achieved fame as sidemen in Brown's bands. Pianist Benny Green's trio with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Jeff Hamilton set a high standard with an explosive performance of Brown's "Buhaina Buhaina." My notes say, "Hamilton likes to swing." The more intense the rhythm became, the broader grew Hamilton's smile. He smiled constantly.

Lynn Skinner, the retiring founder of the festival, introduced Roberta Gambarini by quoting Hank Jones from a phone call earlier in the day. He said Jones had called Gambarini, "the finest vocalist I've heard in the past 60 years." Then, with McBride, Hamilton, guitarist Russell Malone and her empathetic piano accompanist Tamir Hendelman, she demonstrated what led to that exalted level of praise. Gambarini is deceptive; she makes perfection in every department--swing, intonation, diction, control, coloration, taste, intepretation of lyrics--seem easy. Earlier in the day, at a vocal workshop, Gambarini gave a good-natured exhibition of the kind of over-the-top vocalizing that in jazz circles too often passes for singing. Toward the end of last night's concert, Jane Monheit also sang. I don't think that she attended Gambarini's workshop.

In two sets, one with a quartet, one with a trio, pianist Monty Alexander achieved the power, drama and propulsion of his work with Brown thirty years ago. He reached a climax of hard, happy swing in the reunion of his trio with Hamilton and bassist John Clayton. Their "Battle Hymn of the Republic" had the musicians in the backstage bistro area riveted to the big monitor screen and cheering along with the audience when Alexander's roaring performance ended.

At the after hours jam session, the student alto saxophonist Grace Kelly from Massachusetts sat in with a group that included veteran guitarist John Stowell. I know of no explanation other than genius for this slender fourteen-year-old girl's attainment of maturity in her art. She has mastery of the instrument, passion, profound swing, and judgment that one would expect in a player with twenty years of professional experience. The other jam session surprise was a vocal by guitarist Malone. With Miss Kelly and Stowell playing obligato, he sang an engaging "I've Grown Accustomed To Your Face." The roomful of close listeners demanded an encore, which they did not get. "No more," Malone announced, waving them off.

February 23, 2007 1:47 PM | | Comments (6)

Local wisdom has it that the population of Moscow, Idaho, doubles during the week of the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival. Half of the temporary immigrants seem to be Russian musicians and others from the former Eastern bloc. At the opening concert in the University of Idaho field house, we heard satisfying sets by pianist Leonid Vintskevich and his saxophonist son Nik, who plays soprano and alto. They performed as a duo and with a strings orchestra, playing pieces written by Dr. Lynn Skinner, the founder and executive director emeritus of the festival. Tenor saxophonist Lembit Saarsalu, from Estonia, also played at a high level.

Saarsalu and the Vintskeviches followed the unusual solo guitarist Enver Izmailov, who taps the instrument's strings, in the manner of Stanley Jordan. He developed the approach in Ukraine never having heard or heard of Jordan. Izmailov's virtuosity encompasses jazz techniques, blazing speed and harmonic ingenuity, but his artistry is deepened by his incorporation of folk elements and effortless use of time signatures native to his part of the world. Izmailov is a master musician and a master entertainer.

After hours at the main festival hotel there was a jam session that featured a changing cast of Russian music students attending the festival to participate in workshops. None of them looked older than seventeen. All of them played at or near professional level--an impressive element of the festival's Moscow-to-Moscow exchange program. They are among hundreds of jazz students from elementary, middle school and high school programs who descend on the Hampton festival to learn from and sometimes play with the corps of professionals who come here to impart their knowledge.

The concert's Nat King Cole tribute brought together Nat's brother Freddy with Monty Alexander, a pianist profoundly influenced by Nat Cole; drummer Jeff Hamilton, bassist Christian McBride and guitarist Russell Malone. Benny Green was on piano in the rhythm section for a set by three trumpeters, Claudio Roditi, Terrell Stafford and Vern Sielert. All were splendid in Lee Morgan's "Sidewinder" and in Sielert's arrangement of Kenny Dorham's "Lotus Blossom," but Roditi left the most memorable impression with his uncomplicated, heartfelt "Body and Soul" in the ballad medley.

I'll be writing at length about the festival in a Jazz Times article to appear in a spring issue, and I'll be posting more here in the next few days. It is snowing now, I have no proper cold weather gear, and have to hitch a ride to the next concert. Later

February 22, 2007 7:15 PM | | Comments (0)

To his amazement and, apparently, that of his doctors, my brother had recovered enough to be checked out of the hospital today and sent home. Going into major surgery a week ago, his situation was touch and go. Thanks to all of you who expressed concern. He knows and is grateful.

February 22, 2007 7:15 PM | | Comments (0)

Thanks to Bill Reed, aka Dr. Chilledair, for alerting us to recent video of Pinky Winters performing. The occasion was a concert during her December tour in Japan. You may recall that in the Rifftides review of her new CD recorded in 1983, I emphasized that she is singing beautifully these days. To hear and see proof, go here. Mr. Reed, in addition to his blogging activity, produces Ms. Winter's CDs.

February 21, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

No, not that Moscow, the one in Idaho. I'm off later this morning to the Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival. In its fortieth year, the twenty-second under his name, the festival goes on without Hamp, worse luck, but with an array of peformers including Benny Green, Jeff Hamilton, Christian McBride, Terrell Stafford, Tamir Hendelman, Roberta Gamborini, Russell Malone, John Pizzarelli, a number of Russians and "some great surprises," according to the advance publicity. For the first time, the four-day shebang is under the artistic direction of bassist John Clayton, who has developed a subsidiary career doing this kind of work.

I'll be writing about the festival for Jazz Times and, of course, for Rifftides. The first postings from Moscow may not be for a day or two.

February 21, 2007 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

A benefit is scheduled for next week to help pianist Larry Willis, who was burned out of his home last month. The January 7 fire in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, destroyed the living quarters of the house he shared with a friend. Willis is one of the great journeyman pianists in modern jazz. His resumé includes work with Jackie McLean, Stan Getz, Cannonball Adderley, Blood Sweat & Tears, Branford Marsalis, Carla Bley and Steve Swallow, Roy Hargrove, the Fort Apache Band and David "Fathead" Newman. These days, he leads his own trio.

When I asked Willis his plans, he said, "To reconstruct my life, to find another place to live, and to replace the things I lost--my clothing, my music and my important documents. They were all destroyed in the fire." The origin of the blaze is undetermined. Willis said he thinks that it was in the old house's wiring. He was at home when the fire broke out but escaped unharmed.

The benefit, called "Pianists Play For Larry," will be in New York City at St. Peter's Church, Lexington Avenue at 54th Street, at 7:00 pm Monday, February 26. Among the pianists scheduled to perform are Randy Weston, Geri Allen, Don Friedman, Bertha Hope and Jean Michel Pilc. A $20 donation is suggested. Larger ones are encouraged.

Blue Fable

As the benefit was announced, High Note records released Willis's new CD Blue Fable, which reunites him with a childhood friend and early musical partner, the bassist Eddie Gomez. The album also features alto saxophonist Joe Ford, trombonist Steve Davis and drummer Billy Drummond. It opens with Willis, Gomez and Drummond locking into a version of Thelonious Monk's "Rhythm-a-ning" at a fast pace that does nothing to impede complex interaction among the three players.

Despite "Nardis"'s and Gomez's long association with Bill Evans, Willis only hints at his Evans influence and makes the piece his own. His treatment of the ballad "Never Let Me Go" is true to the melody and full of harmonic innovation. A highlight--perhaps the highlight--of the CD, it includes a stunning Gomez solo. The four tracks with Davis and Ford are in the tradition of post-bop quintets in the Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard, Max Roach mold. Both men are impressive, Ford with his unusually spacious alto sound, Davis for his inventiveness within the Curtis Fuller tradition. Willis's "Prayer For New Orleans" adds a rich element of spirituality to this fine CD.

It is doubtful that royalties from the album will go far toward allowing Willis to rebuild his life. If you are within walking, driving or flying distance of midtown Manhattan, you might keep in mind the benefit for him at St. Peter's.

February 20, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (1)

A message came in yesterday from a Rifftides reader who did not identify himself except to write, "I am going to be 25 in July and I consider myself not to be like most young people who at my age are probably getting their news from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert."

The anonymous correspondent said that he had read last September's posting about Katie Couric's debut on The CBS Evening News. He went on...

I found it to be fascinating, it turned up when I was doing a search for any information about the program's new theme music by James Horner. I collect news theme music packages made for television, and as an aspiring musician myself I have been working on things very similar to that music which has been used for news programs. Do you think that this often-times bombastic and urgent sounding music has basically added to the sensationalization of TV news? It's bad enough that newscasts often report stories having to do with celebrities of questionable morals or display shocking video to be replayed over and over again. I would like your opinion on this.

I thought no one would ever ask.

When I started doing television news, most newscasts had no theme music. Huntley-Brinkley on NBC used the first few bars of the second movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite had some kind of perfunctory opening and closing music, but I can't for the life of me bring it to mind. Sometime in the 1960s, theme music became de rigueur. The use of music going into commercial breaks during newscasts soon followed. After the discovery that news could be a major profit center and consultants began flourishing, music in newscasts metastisized. It is far from the worst thing about what most television news has become, but it has helped to devalue news and erase the line between news and entertainment.

February 19, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (1)

My brother is flat on his post-operative back, tethered to his hospital bed like a docked freighter, tubes going into every natural and created orifice. A nurse circumnavigates the bed checking monitor screens for vital signs, adjusting catheters, smoothing sheets. Then, heading for the door, the nurse says over his shoulder, "I'll be back."

My brother replies, "I'll be here."

He's doing better. This concludes the current series of medical reports. Enough, already.

February 17, 2007 10:09 PM | | Comments (0)

I left my hometown hospital after sitting with my brother in the intensive care unit for several hours. He is sedated up to his eyeballs, thank goodness, but seemed to know that I was there. Well, he knew that someone was there. The doctors tell me that the operation--a risky one--went well. We are all hoping that the recovery will be as successful. Many of you sent good wishes and prayers. Thank you, from all of us.

February 17, 2007 12:02 AM | | Comments (0)

Following the hospital visit, I had a terrific salmon dinner, then went to a bistro for a glass of wine. I ordered a Russell cabernet, which turned out to be a good choice. At a nearby table was a distinguished looking man of about sixty sitting with a couple who appeared to be in their late twenties. Before their dinner, they were sampling a flight of Washington red wines, which led the older man to share his wine expertise. I am spelling, as accurately as I can based on his pronunciation, the names of the regions he discussed.

He said that he didn't care much for Bardots. He had been to France, toured the Bardot region and tasted a lot of them, but they didn't do much for him. Italy, he said, was another matter. He explained that Italy is divided into two wine regions, Bartolo and Pimenti and although he liked both types, he gave the edge to the Bartolos. His young companions listened with great interest, as did I. I'll take wine wisdom wherever I can get it.

February 17, 2007 12:01 AM | | Comments (4)

Nearly a year ago, reviewing The Shadow Of Your Smile: Pinky Winters Sings Johnny Mandel...with Lou Levy, I went on at length about that remarkable release by the vocalist and the pianist. Here is a bit of the review.

Pinky Winters does not scat, swoop, or indulge in any form of "jazz singer" posturing. I have no doubt, given her innate musicianship, that she could embellish up a storm, but--like the man who knows how to play the accordion in Mark Twain's definition of a gentleman--she chooses not to. She merely sings the song, with impeccable diction, interpretation, time and phrasing, and with intonation that is centered in the heart of each note. Strike "merely;" there's nothing mere about her kind of artistry. The great bassist Red Mitchell once wrote a song called "Simple Isn't Easy." He might have had Pinky Winters in mind.

To go to the archive and read all of that piece, click here. Then come back and get the good news; at the same 1983 concert that produced The Shadow Of Your Smile, Pinky Winters and Levy recorded enough songs for an additional CD, which has just been released for the first time. Called Speak Low, it includes that Kurt Weill song along with eleven others by Gershwin, Berlin, Arlen, Kern, Styne, Blane, Livingston, Loesser--the usual suspects among great American song writers, plus Jobim's "No More Blues" and Luiz Eca's "Dolphin." Assisted by bassist Bill Takas, Winters and Levy perform with the practiced ease of master musicians who know one another's qualities inside out. Longing comes with no more poignancy than in their treatment of "Never Let Me Go," joy no more infectious than in their romp through Jobim's "No More Blues." And there is plenty of Levy in solo, including his and Takas's exhilirating duet on an unlkely vehicle, Berlin's "The Piccolino." Levy's work here reminds us what a complete pianist he was.

Like Levy, Takas has been gone for several years. A bassist who sustained notes the way lovers prolong caresses, he was a musicians' favorite who never got the acclaim he deserved. Winters is in Southern California, singing beautifully and recording for obscure, expensive, import labels. It is obvious what that says about the state of culture and of the recording industry in the United States.

February 16, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (1)

For the moment, I am back at Rifftides world headquarters, following a hundred-mile drive through dense fog in the wee hours to be with my unexpectedly hospitalized brother. Arriving after 2:00 a.m., I "slept" for four hours on a cot in his room. If you have ever done time in a hospital, you will understand why "slept" is in quotation marks. After watching his many doctors, nurses and the hospital support workers in action, I have boundless admiration for their skill, dedication and good nature under relentless pressure. The ordeal is not over for my brother, but he is in good hands. Thanks to those of you who sent expressions of concern. They help a great deal.

February 15, 2007 10:54 AM | | Comments (0)

Considering that the last of his last four albums was released in 1966 and only one of them is available on CD, there has been a suprising amount of response to the January Rifftides piece about the music of Rod Levitt. A message that arrived this morning updates the Levitt story.

Rod Levitt turned 75 years old in September 2004. In June of that year, after having made contact with him through various friends and acquaintances, I drove up to S. Wardsboro, Vermont where Rod and his wife Jean and their many dogs have lived for years. My purpose was to interview him so I could do a feature on him and his recordings for my radio show, "Jazz from Stuio Four" heard on WGBH, 89.7FM, Boston. The program aired on September 17th, 2004, one day after his 75th.

It took a while to find their house, nestled back on a series of dirt roads that seemed to go nowhere but, voila! There I was pulling into their driveway after making various turns at certain landmarks and mailboxes given to me as signposts (a left at the white picket fence and another left at the falling down garage). The mailbox that looked like a red barn led me up their long gravel road).

I spent the afternoon with Rod. We had lunch and then settled down to work. I brought a DAT tape machine, a couple of good quality microphones and some headphones. Rod's memory was spotty. Somethings he remembered in minute detail, other times he couldn't recall the name of someone he sat next to in Dizzy's band. I myself don't remember if this was due to his being in the early stages of Altzheimers or Parkinsons. But he ultimately came through and managed to tell me wonderful stories of his days in New York, meeting Quincy Jones, Dizzy and many others and the recordings that he made with them and his own for Riverside and RCA Victor. At times he became very emotional and teary eyed as he recalled a name of location that meant a great deal to him but that he hadn't thought about in years. He still had his horn and I asked him if he would mind playing something for me. He played the opening notes of "Hollar" from The Dynamic Sound Patterns...

Always Know,

Steve Schwartz
Jazz from Studio Four
Friday, 8p-midnight
WGBH, 89.7FM, Boston

February 15, 2007 10:39 AM | | Comments (1)

I have no idea how many recorded jazz versions there are of Cole Porter's Songs. Hundreds, I imagine, possibly thousands. Think what handsome contributions "Love For Sale," "I Love You," Easy To Love" and "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To" must have made to Porter's royalties income. Of course, melodic evasions like "Hot House," based on the harmonic structure of "What Is This Thing Called Love," did not add to his riches; you can't copyright a chord pattern.

Like most of the classic American song writers, Porter regarded jazz musicians warily when they adapted his creations, but I think he would have liked a forthcoming CD by the elegant Swedish pianist Jan Lundgren. It consists entirely of love songs by Porter. Before he and his trio go into improvisation, Lundgren honors Porter by playing his melodies as the composer wrote them. Preparing an essay for the album, I was reminded of an exchange Porter had with Andre Previn during Previn's youthful career writing scores for Hollywood films. Previn recounted it in his book No Minor Chords, one of the funniest and most endearing of all motion picture memoirs.

Cole Porter was the most elegant of creatures, his manners as courtly as his dress. Only once did I hear him voice a vituperative opinion. I was working on the film version of Kiss Me Kate, and Cole had interpolated the song "From This Moment On" into the existing score, for use as an elaborate dance number. "I have to warn you about something before you start making this arrangement, he said to me, his voice quite angry. "This tune has been recorded by Woody Herman and his band. Have you ever heard of him?"

I nodded eagerly. "Well," he went on," what they did to my tune is absolutely disgusting. It was turned into a loud, strident jazz mess, and the melody is just about unrecognizable. It's a good example of someone not having any idea what the tune is about!" He stopped, thought for a moment, and grew less choleric. Finally he smiled. "But what am I talking about. Your arrangements are always so theatrical and correct for the occasion, I'm sure I'll love what you write." And, indeed, when he came to the recording, he was fulsome in his praise. "That's more like it," he said, smiling. "I knew you would understand the song."

I never told him that I had written the arrangement for Woody Herman as well.

No Minor Chords is out of print, but seems to have plenty of used copies. I wouldn't dream of giving his tales away, but Previn's story behind the book's title and his Ava Gardner reminiscence alone are worth much more than the price of a recycled copy.

February 14, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (4)

A family emergency has called me away. I don't know for how long, but the nature of the emergency has me not daring to hope that it will be a short stay. I'll be posting again as soon as possible.


February 14, 2007 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

The Grammy win last night by Brian Lynch and Eddie Palmieri for Best Latin Jazz Album is also a victory for the proposition that independence can bring rewards. Lynch said goodbye to the oversight of record companies, produced Simpático on his own and released it with ArtistShare, the cooperative venture that allows musicians greater control over their recorded work and a greater share of the profit from it. Even better, it's a splendid CD. To read last fall's Rifftides review of Simpático, go here.

The focus of much attention lately on Rifftides, Michael Brecker posthumously won his twelfth Grammy for his tenor saxophone solo on "Some Skunk Funk".

Congratulations to friend Dan Morgenstern. He won for best liner notes for Fats Waller: If You Got To Ask, You Ain't Got It, discussed under the current Doug's Picks in the right-hand column.

February 12, 2007 12:41 PM | | Comments (0)

Rifftides Washington, DC correspondent John Birchard heard Dave Holland's new band the other night and filed this report.

Terrace Theater, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C.
February 9, 2007.
Dave Holland, bass; Robin Eubanks, trombone; Antonio Hart, alto saxophone; Alex Sipiagin, trumpet & fluegelhorn; Mulgrew Miller, piano; Eric Harland, drums.

Dave Holland made his third visit to the Kennedy Center, leading a band he described as "a relatively new project." The British-born bassist is coming off a banner year, having been named Bassist of the Year for 2006 by readers of Down Beat, his quintet named Best Jazz Group and his big band voted Best Big Band. On the evidence of last night's first set, Holland is not resting on those laurels.

The new band can justifiably be called an all-star group. There are no weak links. The audience that filled the Terrace Theater heard a set of originals by the leader that showcased each musician in arrangements that demonstrated freshness and originality. Holland kicked off the evening with a snappy Latin piece that featured Mulgrew Miller and Robin Eubanks.

A tribute to the late Ray Brown, "Mister B", followed. A loose-limbed, medium swinger, the tune reminded one of Brown and featured Miller again and altoist Antonio Hart, who is not afraid to allow space as he builds a solo and will mine a phrase, repeating it as if examining it first from one side then another, not just stuffing notes in as a substitute for thought.

An up-tempo "Interception" was next, offering an intense Alex Sipiagin whose chops are impressive and tone on trumpet is bright. His fiery playing put me in mind of my youth when Europeans were considered second-rate jazz players. Those days are long gone, thank God. If any proof were needed, the work by Sipiagin and his leader last night were fine examples. The fast, staccato piece came to a close with Eric Harland's drum solo, which at times sounded like a machine gun with hiccups.

Holland then introduced another of his originals, one inspired he said by a scene from the old movie Cleopatra, in which Elizabeth Taylor made her stately way down the Nile on a barge. He calls it "Processional" and its exotic minor sound and leisurely pace offered a chance to hear Sipiagin's mellow fluegelhorn state the melody and gave Antonio Hart another pleasing showcase.

The set concluded all too soon with a tribute to the late drummer Ed Blackwell and his New Orleans background, titled "Pass It On". Holland, who played a 3/4-sized bass throughout, began the tune with an unaccompanied pizzicato solo that featured soulful double- and triple-stops and gradually morphed into a rhythmic beat that had the audience fairly tasting the gumbo of the Crescent City. Harland slid in underneath Holland and showed the Blackwell beat did not die with its inventor. Robin Eubanks offered a fine, raucous solo full of smears and a burry sound appropriate to the tune and Antonio Hart turned up the temperature even more, leading to Eric Harland's infectious solo and then out.

Dave Holland's new band is a worthy successor to his previous quintet. At times, the front line reminded this listener of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and at others of the Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet. But mostly, the sextet bears the stamp of its leader. It is an uncompromising jazz band with a sound that is anchored in the past and looks ahead with intelligence, taste and imagination.

John Birchard

February 12, 2007 1:06 AM | | Comments (2)

There have been several interesting comments about the Rifftides Pay To Play posting. Jim Brown's comment constitutes an essay and gets a posting of its own. He wrote it in response to messages about the Pay To Play piece that appeared on a listserve devoted to west coast jazz. The emphases and the colorful language are all Mr. Brown's.

I come at this with the perspective of engineer (formal training), jazz fan for 55 years, actively working in and with jazz clubs for the last 30 years, and a background in accounting -- both mom and dad were accountants.

In this modern world, our educations are "Balkanized" -- that is, we specialize in whatever we've chosen to study seriously (usually, but not always what makes us a living), and rarely learn much about anything else -- ESPECIALLY anything so venal as the economics (or the politics) of how the world works.


You would have to be living under a very large rock to miss the facts 1) that rents for spaces that are suitable for jazz clubs are sky high; 2) sound and lighting to support jazz isn't cheap; 3) people who make decent waitresses and bartenders for jazz clubs need to be "a cut above" in terms of intelligence and sensitivity, and they deserve a living wage too; 4) it costs money to buy the advertising that fills the club; 5) there are taxes and licenses that a club owner must pay; 6) there are lots of nights in any jazz club I've ever been in with lots of empty seats, even with top musical talent and quality management.

The Jazz Showcase in Chicago has tried a bunch of locations over its 60+ years of existence, but not one of them that wasn't in a high rent location has been successful! What do I mean by successful -- fannies in the seats!

While I believe to the core of my existence that Jazz is the greatest artistic contribution of the 20th century, and on a par with the combined output of what we commonly call "classical music," both classical music and jazz are minority interests to the population at large. The reasons for this reality are a sad comentary on the modern world, but they are a reality, and WE are fools if we ignore it.

We as jazz fans, and those of us who are musicians, all need to do our part as a TEAM to create, nurture, and support the jazz clubs that do exist, the people who make major investments in their time, talent, and dollars to make them run, the technical folk who work in those clubs when they could make lots more dollars elsewhere, and those who make the music. Without ANY of them, the jazz scene is far less rich (and damned well could disappear).

The "pay to play" syndrome that Marvin Stamm talks about is really about the musician sharing some of the cost of a financially unsuccessful gig. It costs the club owner a lot of money to open the club for a night. If it doesn't come from folks who walk in the door, where does it come from? Especially because running a real jazz club is such a fragile business, you can't have a lot of those nights and stay afloat.

When I was living in Chicago, I had a long standing offer of $2K to Joe Segal of The Jazz Showcase to book a very well known and very inventive pianist, if only for one night. He never took me up on it -- it wasn't enough, because he didn't trust the pianist's drawing power!

On the other hand, someone must promote the gig, and put the fannies in the seats. Usually that responsibility falls to the club owner. If it can be shared with a record company (or the artist), all the better. Veteran singer/pianist Judy Roberts, a stalwart of the Chicago club scene who ALWAYS seems to be working, does her part, in the form of a mailing list, circulating to greet her fans, and doing the things a real entertainer does to keep the audience satisfied.

ALL of us must be continually aware of the economic realities with every element of our contributions to the scene. I'm like Jack Benny in a gas station when I design sound systems or assist a jazz club owner in setting up his or her system. Musicians and jazz fans need to do the same. That includes everyone -- musicians, bartenders, clubowners, and promoters working hard to make the audience feel appreciated and "in the scene." It includes an audience that fills those clubs regularly, buys some drinks, and doesn't bitch about the cover charge that pays the freight.

I'll ask a rhetorical question here -- "How many nights have readers of Rifftides spent in a jazz club over the past year?" As for the musicians among us, how many nights of a cover have YOU paid to support a jazz club in your community? Let those who answer, "more than once a week" cast the first stone. And the rest of you are full of s---.

Jim Brown

February 12, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (5)

A reminder: Don't miss the comments from fellow Rifftidesers. We get some interesting ones. There is a comments link at the end of every posting. While you're there, please submit comments of your own. Your fellow readers and the staff like to hear from you.

February 9, 2007 2:12 PM | | Comments (1)

The tireless Bret Primack has made the leap from mere blogging into video blogging. His first posting has a sixteen-minute mini-documentary about the late Michael Brecker. It includes Brecker discussing his playing, and an organized jam session with Michael, David Liebman, Joe Lovano and the incendiary rhythm section of Phil Markowitz, Rufus Reid and Billy Hart.

At the bottom of Primack's page are links to several of his favorite YouTube videos, so I have him to thank for chewing up a substantial chunk of a morning I should have spent writing. No hard feelings, though, because I saw and heard Fred Astaire singing with Oscar Levant (I'm not making that up) and Lord Buckley as a guest on Groucho Marx's You Bet Your Life. Younger Rifftides readers may think I'm suggesting a trip to fogeyville, but they are likely to discover that true hipness has no age. To find out for yourself, go here.

Be aware that YouTube has a second part of Astaire's guest spot on the Levant show in which he does a brilliantly underplayed impression of Samuel Goldwyn.

February 9, 2007 12:01 AM | | Comments (2)

Do not attempt to go to the Hotel Pianist blog recommended two items down. Hotel Pianist reports that an unscrupulous blogger ignored her request for anonymity and outed her, naming her hotel and posting a picture. She feels that she must decommission her blog in order to preserve her job. That is a shame because Hotel Pianist was a delight.

February 8, 2007 12:01 AM | | Comments (13)

Doug McClennan, commander-in-chief of and blog construction wizard, has shown the Rifftides staff how to keep older Doug's Picks accessible. Following the current picks (right column), you will see the phrase more picks. Click on it. Then you will be able to scroll through all of the recommendations since the middle of last year. We are working on further refinements.

February 6, 2007 4:14 PM | | Comments (0)

Thanks to fellow traveler Terry Teachout for mentioning a blog of which I was unaware until ten minutes ago. It is witty, quiet and touching, and I can't help wondering if that's how the anonymous blogger known as The Hotel Pianist plays. Here are samples of her writing:

As I've written, I don't often smile while sitting at the hotel piano. I used to smile automatically at guests who walked by, but on too many occasions, my smile was met with a scowl or a stone-cold expression. This hurt my feelings (hey, hotel pianists have feelings, too!), so my default expression is now a preemptive scowl. But if you happen to approach me with a shy smile, I'll gladly return the pleasantry. (As long as you don't request certain tunes.)
Comment Of The Night
"Before you were born," said a wizened man who claimed to have attended high school with Bobby Timmons, "they used to have places like the Blue Note." (The last time I checked, the Blue Note was alive and well, if a tourist trap!)

I am still racing multiple deadlines. It is late at night. I just finished one piece and am about to start another. There will be no further posting here tonight. So you may as well check in with The Hotel Pianist. Please come back tomorrow.

February 6, 2007 12:05 AM | | Comments (0)

An accomplished pianist in New York, not famous but not obscure, told me about her attempts to find work. They were discouraging. There seemed to be no work. Then, the owner of an Italian restaurant made her an offer. She could play in the restaurant, but only Italian songs or those associated with Frank Sinatra. Oh, and one other thing: there would be no pay. It was an offer she refused. But look on the bright side. The owner didn't tell her that she would have to pay him. Many musicians these days aren't that lucky.

In the last century--not so long ago, really--the best bands in jazz became the best by working together in jazz clubs night after night, week after week. In the 1950s and '60s, it was not unusual for a group to have two, three and even six-week engagements in New York clubs like The Half Note, The Five Spot, Slug's, The Village Vanguard and The Jazz Gallery. There were counterparts elsewhere; the Jazz Showcase in Chicago, the Black Hawk in San Francisco, Sardi's and Shelly's Manne Hole in Los Angeles, The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach. In the clubs during long runs, Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, the Lighthouse All-Stars, the Miles Davis Quintet, Shelly Manne and His Men, Cannonball Adderley's Quintet, the Bill Evans Trio, the Modern Jazz Quartet, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Cal Tjader's quartet and many other groups perfected their music. None of them got rich playing clubs, but they grew together musically. Their exposure and popularity in the clubs led to record contracts and fame.

Zoot.jpg Montgomery.jpg
For Example

Club owners were not philanthropists. They were in business to make money, but they knew that in the long run if a band brought in enough customers, the economics would make sense for all concerned. Well, the long run is back there in the twentieth century, with recording contracts. Like nearly everything else in the most affluent economy the world has ever known, we want results now, the money now, return on investment now. Why should club owners be different? They are not, so many of them devise formulas whereby the musicians who play their clubs guarantee the club owner a profit. If you would like to know more about that, let Marvin Stamm explain it from the musician's standpoint. He does so in the most recent edition of his excellent electronic newsletter, Cadenzas. Yes, musicians now sometimes have to pay to play in clubs. If that comes as news to you, if it shocks you, wait until you read the details in Stamm's piece.

Marvin Stamm

Here is an excerpt:

Many club owners refuse to take any chances with musicians and their groups, and are rarely willing to expend an effort to develop any kind of working relationship with them. The artist is expected to assume total responsibility; rarely do you find a club willing to share any of the risk. This is a very sad situation, particularly for some of the newer groups or lesser-known artists, because it places many clubs more or less off limits except for an off-night or those times when or if the musician shows a willingness to "pay to play," a practice with which I strongly disagree. The "pay to play" syndrome is something I don't remember occurring when I came to New York in 1966. It now seems to have been going on for a good while and exemplifies what I have been writing about.

If an artist or group is new or unknown, some clubs - even the larger clubs - will ask that the artist or group's record company guarantee that the club will break even. If there is no record company to back the artist, then he will probably have to guarantee this himself. An example of this is something I was told recently by someone close to me about a young saxophonist approaching the booker or owner of a club about bringing his quintet into the club on an off-night. The club agreed to pay the quintet five hundred dollars, but the musician had to guarantee the club attendance by thirty people for their performance - at twenty-five dollars a head, or a total of seven hundred and fifty dollars. If the artist didn't draw those initial thirty people, the difference had to come out of his pocket. So, in essence, the leader of the quintet had to "pay to play." Sad! Disgusting!

That is a small portion of a long, troubling article. To read the whole thing, go to Cadenzas and scroll down to "New York Jazz Clubs." Fortunately for Marvin Stamm, talent and forty years of hard work have elevated him to a place where he doesn't have to depend on night clubs to make a living. But he is worried about the next generation. It has never been easy for young musicians to find places to polish their art and be heard. Now, it's even tougher, and they may be forced to pay for the opportunity.

February 5, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (6)
The lyfe so short, the craft so long to lerne --Geoffrey Chaucer
A man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it --Samuel Johnson
No writer ever truly succeeds. The disparity between the work conceived and the work completed is always too great and the writer merely achieves an acceptable degree of failure --Philip Caputo
February 5, 2007 1:04 AM | | Comments (1)

I have just wrapped up a project that gave me enormous pleasure, writing the notes for Jessica Williams' next CD, recorded in a solo concert at The Seasons. I'll let you know when it is available. Talking with Jessica, I learned that her music and her life are changing and that another remarkable pianist, Glenn Gould, is playing a major role in the transition. (See this Rifftides posting involving Gould).

It seems unlikely that one of the major living jazz pianists will leave the field, but that's how Ms. Williams is talking, and how she recently wrote about jazz in her web log.

I now avoid the word. I bracket it in quotation marks. I have come to dislike the word. The word itself derives from roots that hold disrespectful and flatly barbaric connotations for me. I do not feel like a jazz musician. I do not know what that is anymore.
Perhaps I am too sober. Being a non-drinker and a non-smoker, having left all of my nasty little vices and habits behind, I don't often feel comfortable around true "jazz buffs". When I play festivals (which I do with much less frequency than before) I feel as though I'm at a really big, loud party where everyone is having an absolutely great time but me. The wine is flowing and the smoke is blowing and the drums are banging and the bass is twanging and I feel totally displaced.
I have either moved away from it or it has moved away from me.

There is much more about this in Jessica's blog piece. I, for one, would be disappointed if she left jazz behind, but I will listen to anything she plays. There are indications of her new direction in that forthcoming Seasons CD, along with generous portions of--you should pardon the expression--jazz. There were no banging drums at the concert. There was no twanging bass. Wine did not flow, but it was sipped. Everyone did have an absolutely great time. Maybe even Jessica Williams.

February 3, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (1)

Too many valuable people are dying. Now, Molly Ivins is gone. In my journalism career, I encountered Molly now and then. I was once on a panel with her, discussing journalism ethics. It was around the time of the O.J. Simpson trial. Molly, naturally, found the circus atmosphere surrounding the trial horrifying enough to warrant her most serious attention, meaning that she was wickedly funny about it. What I remember of the hour is that we were all shaking with laughter. Molly found the spectacle of herd journalism almost as worthy of skewering as the opera buffo of Texas politics. I see no one among the current crop of syndicated columnists who is likely to replace that invaluable woman. My colleague Jan Herman's fine piece about Molly includes many links. To read it, go here.

February 2, 2007 1:06 AM | | Comments (0)

This announcement will be of interest to many in the New York area.

Tuesday, February 20th
Town Hall
123 West 43rd Street
6:00-7:30 pm
General Admission
Public Invited
Doors open at 5.15pm
February 2, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

If you have sent Rifftides a comment in the past 24 hours, please send it again...unless you are one of the spammers who caused a wipeout that erased all pending comments. We apologize for the inconvenience.

February 2, 2007 12:28 AM | | Comments (1)

Whitney Balliett

Writing about jazz generally takes one of two paths, analysis or appreciation. Whitney Balliett was not a musicologist, but one of the field's most gifted appreciators. His descriptions of what he heard, saw and felt in music are among the best twentieth century English prose in any field. Consider this passage about Thelonious Monk.

His improvisations were attempts to disguise his love of melody. He clothed whatever he played with spindly runs, flatted notes, flatted chords, repeated single notes, yawning silences, and zigzag rhythms. Sometimes he pounded the keyboard with his right elbow. His style protected him not only from his love of melody but from his love of the older pianists he grew out of -- Duke Ellington and the stride pianists. All peered out from inside his solos, but he let them escape only as parody.

Musicians and academic analysts often found more poetry than accuracy in some of Balliett's lyrical descriptions of performances and called him to account for evaluations like his contention that Max Roach didn't swing. But it was easy to forgive him anything when he created sentences like these from an account of Pee Wee Russell's clarinet playing.

By this time, his first chorus is over, and one has the impression of having just passed through a crowd of jostling, whispering people.
In his final chorus, he moves snakily up toward the middle register with a series of tissue-paper notes and placid rests, adopting a legato attack that allows the listener to move back from the edge of his seat.

Balliett's skill at describing music was matched by his ability to capture the those who make it, as in this passage about Earl Hines at the piano.

Hines--tall and quick-moving, with a square, noble face--is a hypnotic performer. His almost steady smile is an unconscious, transparent mask. When he is most affected, the smile freezes--indeed, his whole face clenches. Then the smile falters, revealing a desolate, piercing expression, which melts into another smile. He tosses his head back and opens his mouth, hunches over, sways from side to side, and rumbling to himself, clenches his face again, tears of sweat pouring down his face. His face and his manner are his music--the sort of perfect, non-showman showmanship that stops the heart.

Balliett was not enamored of the avant garde of the sixties, writing that "It depends not on mere emotion but on an armored passion." Nonetheless, he went to hear its leading figures and gave it a balanced assessment.

At its worst, then, the new thing is long-winded, dull, and almost physically abrasive. At its best--in the hands of Ornette Coleman or (Cecil) Taylor--it howls through the mind and heart, filling them with an honest ferocity that is new in jazz and perhaps in any music.

Balliett was the jazz critic of The New Yorker for forty years under its brilliant editor William Shawn. The magazine's new owners forced Shawn out in 1987. As the editorial leadership went through changes, Balliett was downgraded, finally reduced to doing short profiles. Not long after he was relegated to a quickie sketch of Barbra Streisand, he disappeared from The New Yorker altogether, one of the magazine's greatest assets flung away. In his last decade, he wrote occasional articles for other magazines and a few memorable pieces for The New York Review of Books.

Most of Balliett's work for The New Yorker was anthologized in books. Two of the most recent are American Musicians II: Seventy-one Portraits in Jazz and Collected Works: A Journal of Jazz 1954-2001.

After having read him all of my adult life, I finally met Balliett in 1997, prepared to tell him what his work had meant to me. He derailed me with kind words about something I had written. I managed to get back on track with praise that embarassed him. We had occasional encounters when I was in New York. After our last conversation, I had no doubt that The New Yorker's rejection had done serious damage to his spirit.

Yesterday, I learned with sadness that Whitney Balliett was ill. Today, he died. He was eighty years old. I shall miss him.

February 1, 2007 2:55 PM | | Comments (8)

The second half of a remarkable concert I told you about last October is going to hit the airwaves and cyberspace this weekend. Here is the announcement from Jim Wilke:

Jazz meets classical music in Part 2 of a concert by The Bill Mays Trio and members of Finisterra on Jazz Northwest on Sunday February 4 at 1 pm Pacific time, 4 pm Eastern time, on KPLU. The New York based jazz trio is joined by members of a Seattle chamber group in music by Ravel, Bach & Bird as well as original music by Bill Mays and Matt Wilson. Narrator Doug Ramsey joins the group on two selections, one including the poems of Carl Sandburg. The concert was recorded last Fall at The Seasons in Yakima. Jazz Northwest is produced by Jim Wilke exclusively for broadcast on 88.5, KPLU and
A rehearsal with the Mays trio and Finisterra. I am lurking behind Mays at the piano. On seeing the photograph, Matt Wilson sent a message: "Man, do I have a gorgeous left leg or what???"

You can hear the program at 88.5 fm in the Seattle area, or in KPLU's streaming audio on your computer.

February 1, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the main category from February 2007.

main: January 2007 is the previous archive.

main: March 2007 is the next 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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