main: June 2007 Archives

Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond in duo were one of the great treats of the seventies even as Desmond contended with the lung cancer that was soon to end his life. Someone caught one of their reunions on tape--a short blues performance culminating in the "Audrey" or "Balcony Rock" melody that they favored for more than a quarter of a century. This is another example of why Desmond said that Brubeck was his ideal accompanist.

June 29, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

In the recent Rifftides piece about Lennie Tristano at the Half Note, I included a link to a Dave Frishberg remembrance of the club. It turns out that no sooner had I posted that link than the site disappeared, and Frishberg's memoir with it. I asked Dave if he knew of another site that had it. He did not, so he sent the piece and his permission to use it, for which the Rifftides staff is uncommonly grateful. The story ran many years ago in Gene Lees' JazzLetter. Although the JazzLetter and everything in it is copyrighted, Mr. Lees encouraged us to run Frishberg's story. First, a setup by the author:

This Russian or Ukranian guy, Dolghik, I think his name was, interviewed me by email about ten years ago, said he planned to publish it in his jazz magazine. A few days later he wrote back and wanted to know more about the Half Note. I replied that I had once written a piece about the Half Note, and I sent it to him by email.

Years later on the internet I came upon my e-mail interview with Dolghik! But Dolghik had included the Half Note article and remarked that I had written it especially for him. I thought that was weird.

Yes. Not the weirdest expropriation in internet history, but weird enough.


"There's a place called the Half Note not too far from here," I announced to my friend one summer night in 1959, as I paged through the New York Post looking for a place to hang out and hear some music. "We can walk there easily. Lennie Tristano is there this week. How bad can it be?" So I started out for the first of what would become hundreds of evenings at the Half Note.

We left my apartment on Waverly Place, taking care to bolt all three locks on the door, and walked south on Seventh Avenue past Morton and Leroy Streets, to where it becomes Varick, and when we got to Spring Street we hung a right and headed for Hudson Street. By that time we had passed out of the bustling Village night-time scene into a shadowy cobble-stoned area of warehouses and factories, all closed up tight for the night. Big trucks were parked along the curbs.

I remember my friend said, "This can't be right. There's nobody here. The streets are deserted." But then we spotted the neon symbol of a half note on the far corner of Hudson and Spring, and we could make out the sound of saxophones and drums. We waited to cross Hudson, while some huge trailer trucks rumbled over the cobblestones. Suddenly the nightclub door was flung open and two men burst out onto the corner. One, a burly guy in a white shirt, began to punch the daylights out of the other, who was dressed in a business suit. Down to his knees went the man in the suit, and the other one jerked him up by the necktie and belted him with a right hand that knocked him rolling into the gutter where he lay motionless. Then the white-shirted guy picked him up and, with a grunt, threw him into the alley down the street, well away from the club entrance, and, dusting his hands together, went back inside the club, closing the door behind him.

"Are you kidding?", my friend said. We were both shaken by the violence of what had taken place. But we decided to enter, and there, greeting us at the door, was the guy in the white shirt, all smiles now and cool, not even breathing hard. "Would you like a table?", he said, and thus was I ushered into life at the Half Note. This was to be my musical home for the next decade, during which time, by the way, I never again witnessed any comparable episode of the kind that might ruffle the warm family-style ambience of the place.

In time I grew to feel affection for the Canterino family, the owners and operators of the Half Note. Poppa and Mama took care of the kitchen, preparing pasta, their famous meatballs, and really tasty Italian food in general. The two brothers, Mike and Sonny (the guy in the white shirt) were behind the bar. The daughter Rosemary, and the two daughters-in-law, Tita and Judy, were usually on hand to check coats and help with the hospitality. It was a real family operation, and the Canterinos made all the musicians feel like part of the family.

Years later I reminded Sonny about the circumstances of my first visit, and how I actually felt uneasy about coming in. "You know," he said, "that was one of the very few times anything like that ever happened. I remember that guy. He was drunk and loud and making obscene remarks. I warned him several times, but he kept getting crazier and crazier, until finally I had to take him outside. He never came in after that."

Dave Frishberg then

During the decade of the sixties I shared with Ross Tompkins and Roger Kellaway the position of house pianist, playing in the rhythm section for Ben Webster, Roy Eldridge and Richie Kamuca, Bob Brookmeyer and Clark Terry, and dozens of other soloists who would appear there for a week or two at a time. But the major portion of my Half Note decade was spent with the Al Cohn-Zoot Sims quintet, the closest thing to a house band the Half Note ever had.

Al and Zoot might be there for three weeks in a row, and then a month later be back for three more weeks. Every Friday there was a live radio broadcast on WABC. I listen to the tapes sometimes: "From the Half Note on Hudson and Spring, this is Portraits in Jazz, live in stereo with your host Alan Grant--tonight featuring the music of Al Cohn and Zoot Sims with the fabulous Jimmy Rushing. And now to get things started, what's it going to be, Al?" Then comes Al's wordless count-off, his heel banging on the stage floor, and the band sails off into "Chasing the Blues" or "P Town" or "Chicken Tarragon."

On one tape, Alan Grant says, "What's next, Al?", and then there is heard the unmistakable call of Al-the Waiter, placing his order from far across the room: "Son-neee! Two stingers!" Al-the-Waiter knew he was on the radio. Al-the-Waiter didn't miss a trick.

I never knew Al-the-Waiter's last name. He was a spindly little pinch-faced man, wound up tight, scurrying around in his raggedy tuxedo like a crazed magpie, chattering and jabbering to himself or anyone who would listen. Often, when he was the only waiter on duty, the place would fill up unexpectedly. Al-the-Waiter would spring into action at full vocal volume with his "world's greatest waiter" routine: "Your order, sir! Your drink, madam! Sorry to keep you waiting!" Now all eyes were on him, and Al-the-Waiter, giddy with power, would become a whirlwind of obsequious service. "Young lady! Young lady! Young lady! Don't light that cigarette!" he would call and careen madly across the room, balancing a tray of dinners on one hand, and producing an instant flaming match with the other. "Beautiful ladies shouldn't light their own cigarette! Isn't that correct,sir! Isn't that correct, young lady! Son-neee! Meatball samwich!"

Once I was there when the terrible-tempered Mingus stopped in the middle of a bass solo and fixed Al-the Waiter with a malevolent glare that would have frozen a Doberman in its tracks. Al-the-Waiter was unfazed. "Mister Chollz Mingus!" he cried. "May I bring you something!" Mingus was speechless with rage. He stomped off the bandstand while the audience sat in uncomfortable silence. Al-the-Waiter called out, "Intro-mission! Intro-mission! Vinny, turn on the juke box!" A lot of the customers covered their mouths and laughed discreetly. Mingus was not amused. But with Sonny around, people usually curbed their violent impulses.

Charles Mingus

Informality--and sometimes irreverence--came naturally in the Half Note, which was by no means a fancy place. It was one large dingy room bisected by the bar, and decorated with album covers tacked up along the walls, and red checkered cloths on the tables. The album covers were selected, it seemed, at random, because they related to none of the musicians and none of the music that was heard at the Half Note. Instead there were Sinatra and Perry Como and Tijuana Brass, and assorted items jumbled together the way one might expect to find them at a rummage sale. I asked one night "Who picked the album covers?", and everybody shrugged. Cheech, who stood by the jukebox and smoked cigarettes, said, "Maybe they fell off a truck," and everybody laughed.

The music took place in the middle of the room, on a high narrow platform back of the bar, making a theater-in-the-round effect. Sonny and Mike poured drinks and punched the cash register directly beneath the musicians, and when the bar action quieted they would sometimes stand and look up at the players with big beaming smiles. They were real jazz fans.

On the bandstand, Al Cohn would drain the contents of a shot glass in one gulp, then, staring straight ahead, he would hold the glass with thumb and index finger at arms length, shoulder level, and let it drop. Sonny or Mike would whirl and pluck the glass cleanly out of the air with barely a glance upward. Mousey Alexander would "catch" the action with a cymbal crash. I never saw anybody miss. The customers told each other, "Now that's hip. That's class."

And they were right, of course. I felt the same way. Not because of the trick with the shot glass, even though that gesture did seem to express perfectly the casual unflappable worldliness that was Al Cohn's personal magic. No, it went deeper than that. When Al and Zoot played, the listeners got a message, and it was the same message I was getting where I sat at the piano. The very essence of musicality was in the air, and, player and listener alike, we all tingled with it.

The customers smiling at the Half Note tables may not have realized that they were responding to the same electric jolt--the jolt of beauty fused with excellence--that can galvanize a child's musical spirit and, in an instant, render him a musician for the rest of his days. But they knew something pure was going on up there on the bandstand. Even the plain-clothes detectives, wolfing their free meatball sandwiches in the kitchen, knew they were overhearing something special.

Al and Zoot

Zoot and Al were majestic in the way they commanded their horns, and they played rings around that music. They were locked into each other's playing like no other two musicians I ever heard. During their solos they were really composing as they played--they couldn't help it. They were compulsive composers, and it would be totally out of character for either of them to play reflexive licks, or to quote from nursery rhymes or corny pop songs, or to trivialize their music in any way. Jazz critics can probably point to certain "influences" in Al's playing, or Zoot's--Lester Young is the obvious point of departure. But the fire and the swing, and the way they swarmed over the changes and discovered ever fresher and more lyrical ways to navigate them resembles nothing else that came before or followed after. Al and Zoot evolved their own musical ethic, their own point of view about improvising, and the way I see it, their music represents the culmination of what Lester Young and Charlie Parker brought to the dance band musicians in the thirties and forties. Kansas City music, I would suggest, carried to its logical conclusion. Anyway, all such speculations aside, it was music for adults, played by would-be adults.

It became my custom to drop in at the Half Note on my way home from other gigs. It normally remained open til 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning, and I could count on running into someone I knew. If not at the bar, then certainly in the basement.

The Half Note basement was the private domain of the musicians and their guests. The entrance to the "nether regions", as I used to call it, was in the back reaches of the dining room, and I can remember being amused by the puzzled faces of the diners as they watched us musicians troop by the tables in single file and disappear through a door hidden by shadows.

You had to stumble down several steps in the dark to reach the string that pulled the light. switch. It was a bare bulb of course, maybe sixty watts, and it jutted from the stairway wall about half way down. Its rays shone down through the slats of the stairway and illuminated just that area at the bottom of the stairs. Beyond that, farther into the dark uncharted areas of that gloomy place, I never ventured. Instead, we would all stand clustered at the foot of the stairs, sometimes as many as a dozen people, shouting, laughing, swapping stories and occasionally speaking of deep matters. But mostly laughing.

Mousey Alexander

Mousey used to call it "my office", as in "I'd like a word with you in my office." He started a rumor that there were rats down there the size of cats, and the thought of that unnerved me to the extent that I would never head down the steps first, but would hang back until others had made sure that no rats were around. I was sure that rats were watching us from the darkness.

Among the steady customers, especially during the late closing hours, you could count on seeing the regular neighborhood "faces", like Big Dick the giant longshoreman, and his king-size girlfriend Loretta, who both towered over all of us, and Honest John Annen, a glum and silent man, who if he spoke at all, spoke in riddles or mysterious monosyllables. I can remember entire conversations with him, lasting several minutes, and often becoming quite heated, during which I understood not one sentence he spoke or one reference he made. I used to ponder over what he might mean, or what he could possibly be suggesting, until I finally realized that the guy was probably schizophrenic. It didn't hit me until years later.

Usually, the last customer out the door was Mister George. George was his first name, nobody asked his last, and he seemed to take a certain pleasure in hearing himself addressed as Mister George. He normally arrived after midnight, after his shift at the Christopher Street post office, and he always sat at the far end of the bar, opposite the kitchen doors, and opposite me, the piano bench being at that end of the stage. After a drink or two, Mister George's forehead would rest on the bar, and his arms would hang down at his sides. He would then stay in that position for the rest of the night, listening with intense concentration to the music, and when something especially worthwhile took place on the bandstand, he would signify his approval by making the "thumbs up" sign with both hands, while his forehead never left the bar.

Al Cohn wrote a piece for the quintet, and titled it "Mister George," and when we premiered it at the Half Note, Mister George gave us extravagant thumbs-up signals all during the performance. He never admitted as much, but we could all tell that he was touched and made proud by Al's gesture.

Al Cohn

The musicians usually took generous intermissions, and I always felt that the listeners appreciated a chance to relax and enjoy conversation. Background music was provided by the juke box, stocked with the same records it contained when the place opened for business in the middle fifties. Often the jukebox would go unplayed, and the quiet was nice relief.

Things began to change in the middle sixties when the Half Note started to book two attractions at a time: Al and Zoot PLUS Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane PLUS Carmen McRae, Bob Brookmeyer and Clark Terry PLUS Anita O'Day, and so on. The regular customers began to stay away in droves. They were obviously disgruntled at paying a door charge. But more important, I felt, was the factor of wall-to-wall music. No time to talk and enjoy the meatballs. I've always felt that audiences get tense and feel irritated when they're subjected to music, even excellent music, without some time to sit and rest in quiet. I think a lot of people stopped hanging out at the Half Note and casually explained that it had become too expensive, and they probably believed it themselves. But I think the real reason was that they no longer enjoyed the experience. Too much high intensity music with no time for rest and conversation. Overkill.

The magic was gone. The place never felt the same after that, and I suspect the profits dwindled. So the Half Note moved into midtown, where they catered to an entirely different audience and presented a different cast of characters on the band stand. I heard that Al-the-Waiter died, and that they found about $75,000 in his mattress. Tip money for sure.

Anyway, by that time I had left for the West Coast, and I'm not sure what happened to the old place on Hudson Street. If they haven't demolished the building, there's probably still a lunch place there. After all, the kitchen is probably intact.

I should visit the place next time I go to New York. If it's a restaurant, I'll order a meatball sandwich. Maybe when nobody's looking, I'll slip down to Mousey's office. Or maybe not. The rats are probably big as German Shepherds by now.

August, 1987

Dave Frishberg recently

Mr. Frishberg's latest CD as composer, pianist and singer is Retromania. He is the pianist in the remarkable Strange Feeling by the John Gross Trio, which includes Al Cohn's "Mr. George."

June 28, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (6)

If you are planning on attending the Newport Jazz Festival, keep in mind that it is no longer held over the Fourth of July weekend but in the second weekend in August. For a rundown on this year's event, go here. For a three-CD compilation scanning the festival's fifty-one-year history, try this boxed set. You'll find a wide range of performances from Louis Armstrong's "Tin Roof Blues" to John Coltrane's "My Favorite Things." Among the treasures are the famous Duke Ellington "Dimineundo in Blue" with Paul Gonsalves' marathon tenor sax solo, Sarah Vaughan's "Black Coffee," the Dizzy Gillespie big band with "I Remember Clifford" and the Dave Brubeck Quartet's piquant version of Ellington's "Jump For Joy."

June 27, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (1)

Over the next few postings, the Rifftides staff will attempt the impossible--to catch up with recordings. The best I can do is single out a few and offer observations in hopes that they will provide Rifftiders guideposts as they decide which CDs in the endless stream are worth their time and money. The observations will be brief. This time, three saxophonists:

Michael Brecker, Pilgrimage (Heads Up). With his disease in what turned out to be temporary remission, six months before he died Brecker played like a man who had found new life. He put himself in the studio with five musicians he adored--Herbie Hancock, Brad Mehldau, Pat Metheny, John Patitucci and Jack DeJohnette--and delivered power, humor and unremitting creativity. The swaggering "Tumbleweed" is a hoot. But, then, so is the whole album. What a goodbye.

Zoot Sims Plays Tenor & 4 Altos (Fresh Sound). The release date is a few days away, but you may want to get in line now. Zoot Sims Plays 4 Altos all but evaporated as an LP a few years after its release in 1957. Devotees of Sims and George Handy have been clamoring for its reissue ever since. Mint copies of the LP have sold well into three figures. Based on Sims' initial improvisation, Handy brilliantly scored arrangements for four alto saxophones. Sims then overdubbed the additional three parts. It was a thoroughly musical tour de force. The CD also includes the 1956 album Zoot!, with Sims on alto and his mainstay tenor, one horn at a time. Handy plays piano on both albums. Trumpeter Nick Travis, bassist Wilbur Ware and drummer Osie Johnson are on Zoot! Knobby Totah and Nick Stabulas are the bassist and drummer on 4 Altos. This is a reissue event.

Clifford Jordan in the World (Strata-East). On CD at last, this 1969 recording follows up the late tenor saxophonist's Glass Bead Games. It doesn't have quite the cohesive sweep of that equally rare recording, but it has Jordan at a high level matched by sidemen Kenny Dorham, Don Cherry, Julian Priester, Wynton Kelly, Wilbur Ware, Richard Davis and Albert "Tootie" Heath--an eminent cast of adventurers finding the sweet spot between bebop and free jazz. It is further proof, if proof is needed, that Jordan was one of the great tenor men.

The next few days will include a business trip. I'll try to work in a few more in this series of CD alerts

June 26, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Generally, I'm against exclamation points. The one in the headline is a justified exception.

If you miss Art Farmer as much as I do, follow this link. The YouTube information line tells you that the rhythm section is Ray Brown, Jacky Terrason and Alvin Queen. It doesn't tell you that the tune is Charlie Parker's "Moose the Mooche," that Art, late in his life, was playing with enormous beauty and power, or that Ray Brown was the boss of the bass. If the shape-shifting video bothers you, close your eyes. This is a gem.

June 26, 2007 1:04 AM | | Comments (4)

Anat Cohen has not quite taken New York by storm. In this culture, only rock stars or politicians who campaign like rock stars do that. But Cohen has established herself in the jazz capital of the world as one of the bright new reed artists. The story of her becoming a jazz musician in Tel Aviv, her musical brothers, and substantial samples of her music occupied a sizeable chunk of National Public Radio's Weekend Edition Sunday. To hear Liane Hansen's feature on Anat Cohen, go here.

June 24, 2007 12:09 PM | | Comments (0)

I value the decades I spent in television news. Helping people to understand the events and issues of the day was important work that brought satisfaction and, at its best, promoted the democratic ideal of an informed citizenry. Now from the Society of Professional Journalists come two items about the state of broadcast journalism that are enough to embarrass me on behalf of the profession, or craft, and make my teeth hurt. I hope these travesties move news consumers in Tyler, Texas, and Portland, Maine, to demand corrective action, but my guess is that the line between news and entertainment has been so thoroughly plowed under that audiences don't see anything amiss. Viewers have been conditioned by local and national television and cable news to accept a standard of professionalism dominated by the ethics of beauty contests and show business promoters.

Here is the first item, from SPJ's electronic newsletter :

BOOB TUBE? A television station in Tyler, Texas, has a beauty pagaent queen with no journalism experience anchoring a news show. The woman's experiences are being chronicled for a reality television program titled, "Anchorwoman." Cary Darling of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported SPJ President Christine Tatum's reaction to the station's hiring decision.

Next: This item from Tatum's own newsletter. Be sure to follow her link to the television news staff's promotion of a movie. The first time I watched it, I thought it was a gag, a parody. The second time, I shouted bad words at the screen.

Then, there's the news team at WGME in Portland, Maine, which appears in one of the biggest assaults on journalism integrity ever to hit the silver screen. But, hey, I give them credit for managing to promote a theater and their newscast while also directing moviegoers to turn off their cell phones and pick up their trash. That takes real talent!

Wake up, people. You're harming journalism -- and looking fabulous as you do so.

I don't know who the news director is at WGME, but the Radio Television News Directors Association does. The RTNDA should reprimand him or her and the news director at KYTX in Tyler for their breaches of professional standards and for further disillusioning Americans about the reliability of broadcast news.

June 22, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (4)

I used an hour and a half of the fifteen-and-a-half hours of daylight on this first day of summer for a morning ride on the Bianchi.Biranchi%20Vigorelli%202.jpgThe bike took me (with a little help) up a series of hills, past the golf courses and expensive housing developments that are pushing farms farther out from town and up the western slopes of the valley. Never fear, however; there are plenty of orchards left. If what I saw this morning is an indication, the world can expect an abundance of Washington applesapples.jpgnext fall, regardless of competition from China and New Zealand. By the time I got onto the roads out in orchard country, what passes for rush hour traffic around here was down to a car every four or five minutes. It was a peaceful place to start the day.

June 21, 2007 3:16 PM | | Comments (2)

A recent reimmersion in things Tristano led to the mini-review of the Warne Marsh book in the latest batch of Doug's Picks (right-hand column). It included several viewings of a video of Lennie Tristano's quintet at the Half Note in 1964. The picture quality may have been fine originally, but it appears to have been through several generations of dubs. No matter; the sound is reasonably good. Through the murk you get a tour of the beloved Half Note in the days when folks dressed to go out in the evening. Those strips of cloth you will see on the mens' shirtfronts were called neckties.

In this ten-minute clip, the bartender we glimpse now and then is Mike Canterino. He and his brother Sonny manned the bar. Their father may have had a formal name but his family and the customers called him Pop. He and Mamma took care of the kitchen. The word pasta never crossed Pop's lips; it was spaghetti. The uncomplicated menu gave jazz club food a good name, a major accomplishment. Mike's wife Judi and Sonny's wife Tita helped out. Judi became a singer after James Moody recruited her one night to sing the Blossom Dearie bridge on "Moody's Mood For Love." Al the waiter completed the staff. In its original incarnation, the Half Note was among the warehouses and garages of lower Manhattan. In the seventies, the club moved uptown, lost its soul and died.

Tristano often played at the Half Note. To see and hear him, Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Sonny Dallas and Nick Stabulas, click here. The piece they're playing is "312 E. 32nd," Tristano's reimagination of "Out of Nowhere."

For a lovely remembrance of the Half Note by Dave Frishberg, who often played there, go here. Dave paints splendid pictures of Al the waiter and of Mr. George, a dedicated customer for whom Al Cohn named a tune. For Mike Canterino's story of the night Judy Garland came in, go here.

June 19, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (2)

Please visit Doug's Picks in the right-hand column for recommendations of two CDs, two DVDs and a book. Thanks for your patience; these have been a long time coming.

June 18, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Alerting the Rifftides staff to this combination, Bill Kirchner wrote, "Yes, you read that right." There may have been less likely tenor saxophone encounters, but I doubt if they were captured on camera. The third tenor player--the one we see but don't hear--is Lew Tabackin.

The house of the good old blues in F has many mansions. Here's proof. YouTube doesn't disclose the year, but from the youthful appearance of the principals, I'd guess this was a good two decades ago.

June 16, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Most customers, by the time the musicians reach the second set, are to some extent inebriated. They don't care what you play anyway.--Charles Mingus

The boppers flat their fifths. We consume ours.--Eddie Condon

I'm all in favor of getting grants for musicians. Or any other good brand of Scotch.--Pepper Adams

June 13, 2007 9:49 PM | | Comments (0)

As you may have surmised from the paucity of substantial postings the past few days, I am still working my way through an accumulation of professional obligations, some connected with music, some not. Nonetheless, I try to give you items that I hope will keep you coming back to Rifftides.

So, here is a link to a rarity--video of the sublime singer Carol Sloane. It was made in New Orleans in 1979. Sloane was in town with her friend Jimmy Rowles, who was the pianist in Ella Fitzgerald's trio. Keter Betts was the bassist, Bobby Durham the drummer. Ella had the night off from her engagement at the Blue Room of the Fairmont Hotel, so Sloane borrowed her rhythm section and accepted the invitation of the talented director John Beyer to tape a show at WYES-TV, the public station. I'm hoping to track down the entire program. For now, all that is to be found is a clip on YouTube. Ignore the faulty credit blurb; the year was 1979, not 1984. It is probably unlikely that Ella knew Carol was using her musical support staff. All of the above information is courtesy of the gracious Ms. Sloane, who says, "Knowing Ella, I doubt she'd have been upset in the least." Especially if she could have heard the result.

To see and hear a memorable Carol Sloane ballad performance, click here. I suggest listening to it at least twice, once concentrating on the riches of Rowles' accompaniment to "My Ship."

Don't forget to visit Sloane's blog. It's terrific. It is linked in the Other Places section of the right column, but this direct link will take you there. No extra charge.

June 13, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (1)

On his blog Pop Musicology, Michael J. West discloses that he has joined the ranks of reviewers for Jazz Times. He was recommended by Nat Hentoff, a fine way to be launched. In the Other Places department, I am adding a link to Pop Musicology.

The subtitle of Mr. West's blog is:

Popular music treated seriously. Damnedest thing, ain't it?

It is.

June 12, 2007 12:06 PM | | Comments (0)

I asked bassist Bill Crow what he remembered about the Gerry Mulligan Sextet concert that is the subject of the next exhibit, posted yesterday. Here is his response:

I was delighted to see and hear the sextet again. That was such a good band. I had forgotten about the large orchestra behind us. I think it was a concert, but it could also have been a TV show. We went over on the Andrea Doria (the year before it sank) to Naples, then played Rome, Milan, Bologna, and Genoa, and then a small Mercedes-Benz bus took us to Paris, where we were one of the acts on the bill at the Olympia Theatre for three weeks. On our off nights they ran us out to Lyons, Rouen and Roubaix for concerts in movie theaters. We returned home on one of the Queens, and the sextet finished the album we had begun before we left, played a couple of more nightclubs on the circuit, and then Gerry and I had a disagreement in Providence and I left the band.

He called me again later when he formed the quartet with Art Farmer, and I left that group when they went to California. I rejoined when the Concert Jazz Band came back from Europe and Conte (Candoli) and Buddy Clark left to go home to California. Stayed with the quartet with Brookmeyer until I left after another disagreement with Gerry in Chicago, and that was the end of my time with Mulligan groups. It was a great experience, and I was glad to go on and do some other things. Crow%2C%20Bill.jpg

You will find a link to Mr. Crow's web site in the Other Places section of the right-hand column. It is always worth a visit.

June 12, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

As noted in this Rifftides post last November, Gerry Mulligan remarked more than once that of all his achievements, the sextet he led from 1955 to 1958 gave him the greatest satisfaction. No wonder. His sidemen in the front line were tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims, valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer and trumpeter Jon Eardley. The rhythm section was Bill Crow on bass and Dave Bailey on drums.

If it was generally known that film existed of the sextet, the fact eluded me until about a week ago. As if from out of nowhere, three videos of the Mulligan Sextet popped up on YouTube. They were filmed in Rome in 1956. We see the sextet in front of a sizeable orchestra complete with strings. The orchestra is not identified and does not play; its members are an appreciative audience.

In most appearances, on at least one tune Mulligan played piano in his engagingly rustic style, as he does here in "Ontet." Click on the following links to see and hear living documents of a remarkable band:

Bernie's Tune


Walkin' Shoes

After being too long out of circulation, all of the audio recordings of the Mulligan sextet are available in a boxed CD set. To find it, go here. The set is also available here. It is called The Fabulous Gerry Mulligan Sextet. The hyperbole is justified.

June 11, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (2)

We are pleased to report that Rifftides has been nominated in the 2007 Jazz Journalists Association awards program as Best Website Concentrating on Jazz.

June 9, 2007 11:51 AM | | Comments (4)

Nick Moran, The Messenger (CAP). I mentioned Moran's guitar playing nearly two years ago in one of the first Rifftides postings. The piece was about a visit to The Garage in New York's Greenwich Village. It included this observation:

Moran is a good young guitarist with a lyrical bebop bent and an alert harmonic faculty. He would benefit from self-editing, but it's a rare young improviser who would not.

Perhaps because the occasion is a recording, not a jazz club performance, Moran's solos here are shorter and crisper. It is good to hear him again with Ed Withrington. In this case, however, Withrington's keyboard is a Hammond B-3, giving the group the fashionable organ trio sound but less of the crisp interplay with Moran that I heard when Withrington was on piano and the group had a bassist at The Garage. Withrington supplies bass lines with his foot pedal. Drummer Andy Watson has a chattery style and a nice feel for snare and cymbal accents.

The repertoire is nine pieces by Moran. Combined with the instrumentation, the uniformity of compositional style produces a restful, if moderately enervating, listening experience. That may be precisely what Moran was aiming for, but this listener would have welcomed relief in pace and atmosphere, perhaps by way of a familiar standard or two or more of the adventurousness the group displays in the final track, "Shorter Steps."

I'll be following Moran's development with interest.

June 8, 2007 3:39 PM | | Comments (0)

Have you ever wondered why Buddy Rich was called the world's fastest drummer?

Go here.

Have a good weekend.

June 8, 2007 2:30 PM | | Comments (2)

Rifftides correspondent John Birchard sent a link to this remarkable video with the comment, "It ain't jazz, but it is certainly extraordinary work."

Amen. The playing by an unidentified cellist is extraordinary, too.

June 7, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

The tenth edition of The Commission Project's Swing 'n Jazz event in Rochester, New York, was a canny three-day blend of fund-raising, concertizing and education. Initiated fifteen years ago by Ned Corman, the project sends musicians into schools across the country. As I wrote last year in explaining Swing 'n Jazz,

It is a piece of a cultural mosaic that, for its variety and vitality, would be remarkable in many larger cities. TCP's mission description reads that it shall foster "creativity through music education by bringing students together with professional composers and performers in schools and communities nationwide." Swing (as in golf) 'n Jazz is built around a tournament attracting well-heeled contributors who provide the money that keeps the nonprofit TCP running. Some of the musicians swing both on the stand and the links. But, mostly, they work with students and those who educate students, to improve understanding of how to make jazz.

For all of that posting, go here.

Again, trumpeter Marvin Stamm was the music director. He and Corman assembled a playing-teaching staff that included well known national musicians. Clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera, bassists Jay Leonhart and Mike Richmond, drummers Akira Tana and Rich Thompson, guitarist Steve Brown, trombonist Fred Wesley, trumpeter and composer Paul Smoker were among the volunteer faculty. All of the musicians donate their time and talent. They include a galaxy of performers from the Rochester area, many of them seasoned professionals who teach at the Eastman School of Music and other higher education institutions.

A major concert for the public on Saturday night involved nearly all of the two dozen or so musicians. Smaller fund-raising performances on Friday and Sunday evenings, both at country clubs, entertained donors and prospective donors who keep the nonprofit TCP afloat. At one, called Bassists' Night Out, Leonhart was in charge of eight bassists accompanied by Brown on guitar with Tana and Thompson alternating on drums. Four of the bassists were the veteran music educator Malcom Kirby, Sr., and his three adult children Caroline, Elliott and Malcolm, Jr. Mike Richmond, Jeff Campbell and Aleck Brinkman also played. The evening may have been bottom heavy, but it was light hearted, especially when Leonhart did a couple of his celebrated songs accompanying himself. I've heard him do "Nukular" a half-dozen times, and it still affects me deeply. Unfortunately, President Bush was on his way to Prague to speak of things nuclear and couldn't be in the audience.

Because they were all scheduled at the same time, I could attend only one of the six Saturday workshops held in Rochester schools. It was at the School of Arts, a part of the Rochester public school system. The perfomers and faculty were Stamm, D'Rivera, Brown, Leonhart and Thompson. In the course of the morning, they played three pieces and coalesced into a chamber group of rare balance and musicality. It was an ad hoc gathering of artists who developed immediate sensitivity to one another.

From the first piece, Cole Porter's "I Love You," the quintet melded into a blended perfection that bands seldom achieve short of weeks playing together. In "Morning of the Carnival," Stamm, D'Rivera and Brown had a mutuality of spontaneous thematic development that sometimes happens in jazz at the highest level. D'Rivera, a brilliant clarinetist, reversed a phrase of Stamm's and Brown echoed one of of D'Rivera's, all within the parameters of Luis Bonfa's ravishing melody. When the solos began, D'Rivera increased the intensity, then Brown imparted a blues feeling. Stamm began his improvisation outside the harmonic pattern of the piece and flowed through his solo with melodic inventiveness and lack of apparent effort that could almost lead one to believe that the trumpet is easy to play. Leonhart bowed his solo, vocalising in unision. He and D'Rivera collaborated in a chorus of counterpoint. Then, harkening back to the idea Stamm had planted, they all joined in a chorus of free playing before sliding back into the closing statement of the melody.

"That was fun," D'Rivera said. This group should definitely record.

Their singleness of mind and purpose extended beyond the music into discussion with the audience. "What do you think about when you're improvising," a youngster asked.

"Motivic ideas," Steve Brown said. "To me, it's all about conversation with other people."

That led, over the course of the morning, to a chain of related ideas.

"It's an amazing physical, mental and emotional process," Jay Leonhart said.

"You must listen to all kinds of music," D'Rivera said.

"If all you know is rock, which is loud music, what you would play in reaction in this setting would not be appropriate," Thompson said.

"If you don't listen to this music, to jazz, no matter how much technique you have, you can't play this music," Stamm said. "It's like speech. You learn to speak by ear. You accumulate vocabulary. If you listen to the right music, your phrasing will develop."

"How do you balance theory and natural musicality?" an older member of the audience asked.

"There is no conflict between intuition and technique," Stamm said.

"But," D'Rivera said, "You must read music. You think you can get by on your great ears? Play me Beethoven's 9th Symphony."

"The audience knows when you're communicating," Stamm said. "You can't be condescending to the audience." On the importance of subduing peformer's ego for the benefit of the music, he returned to Brown's thought about music as attentive conversation. "There's no one up here who isn't ready to give it up for the others."

That is a music lesson that goes beyond music.

By way of "All the Things You Are," the quintet demonstrated its point about listening and conversing, and the workshop ended, two hours of wisdom through teaching and playing by five musicians who were uncommonly effective in both areas. It was a small, memorable example of what The Commission Project achieves.

School systems under budget pressure eliminate music and arts programs first. That has been the case for a couple of decades. It is damaging the United States and it is an indictment of priorities and values in our society. The Commission Project is doing something about that failing. It deserves substantial help. I have seen the program in action two years running, watched the light go on in young minds. Go to the TCP web site and learn where you can send support. The Commission Project is a national program. It is based in Rochester, but there is no reason that most of its financial support should come from there. Your help will be welcome. The children need it.

June 6, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

The eminent trumpeter and early morning runner Marvin Stamm responded to the recent Rifftides post about T.S. Eliot and television.

I couldn't agree with you more. you are right on the money - 4:00 am or no. Beautifully written! I will take issue with you regarding Stewart and Colbert. Sid Caeser, Jackie Gleason, George Gobel, et al, were a different ilk. Unbelievably brilliant, but in their way, with what they do. So, too, in my opinion, are Stewart and Colbert. They are just very different, doing what they do in very different times. Wouldn't it be great to see how Caeser, and the others would do today!

If Caesar were around, anything he might do would be fine with me. As you watch this sketch with Caesar and Nanette Fabray, keep in mind that it was done live before an audience, not on videotape. You don't have to know much about television production to admire not only the obvious genius of Caesar and Fabray but also the skill and timing of the director and cameramen, who were wheeling enormous RCA studio cameras on massive carriages.

June 3, 2007 12:29 PM | | Comments (0)

The young veteran broadcaster Jason Crane podcasts from his interesting site The Jazz Session. During my visit to Rochester, he was kind enough to ask me to join him for an extended conversation about jazz, news, Rifftides and other things. To hear it, click here.

June 1, 2007 2:12 AM | | Comments (1)

About this Archive

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

main: May 2007 is the previous archive.

main: July 2007 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

AJ Ads

AJ Blogs

AJBlogCentral | rss

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off

Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.