main: October 2007 Archives

Thanks to all of you who have sent condolences. Some of you were friends of Jack Brownlow (see the next item). Others knew him only by his music. A few have asked if his CDs are available. This web site says it has them.

I'm doing the things an executor does. It will take full attention. Blogging will be intermittent, if at all, for a few days.

October 30, 2007 9:55 AM | | Comments (0)

Rifftides will be in suspension for a while. I don't know for how long. Two years ago, I wrote this about a great pianist:

Jack Brownlow, at 81, has doggedly refused to let a round of health problems put him out of commission. He is gigging less, but a stream of colleagues comes to his house to play music with him and learn from him. He is an inspiration to them, as he has been to me since I was sixteen.

This evening, the health problems won. I've lost my best friend, a wise teacher, the older brother I never had, a musician who from the time I was a child moved me with the profound beauty of his playing.
Jack Brownlow

When Paul Desmond heard Jack for the first time, he said, "If I played piano, that's how I'd want to play it."

There is a lot to sort out. I'll check back in as soon as possible.

October 27, 2007 10:55 PM | | Comments (4)

We continue the Rifftides survey of the second release of Jazz Icons DVDs. For earlier reviews of the Mingus and Ellington discs, go here.

In addition to their first-rate musical material and high production values, the Jazz Icons discs--unlike far too many DVDS--provide background about the music and the artists. Each includes a booklet with discographical information, photographs, and program notes by knowledgable experts. Patricia Willard wrote essays for the Ellington disc and for the Sarah Vaughan.

Sarah Vaughan Live In '58 & '64 (Jazz Icons)

In her 1958 appearances in Sweden and Holland, the singer was in her mid-thirties, a seasoned performer but still shy before audiences and cameras. The girlish reticence that was part of her persona and her charm is on the film that went into this DVD, and so is bewitching singing from an extraordinary time in her career. Vaughan's discography of the late fifties is rich with gems, including the first recording of "Misty," her live date at Mr. Kelly's in Chicago and her initial dates with Quincy Jones and members of the Count Basie band. Much of the cream of that repertoire is represented here, including "Lover Man," "Sometimes I'm Happy," "Mean To Me" a sublime "Over The Rainbow" and a supremely relaxed up-tempo "Cherokee." She was in perfect voice--she was nearly always in perfect voice--with few of the mannerisms that crept in later. With perfect time, intonation and taste, she is hand-in-glove with her trio, pianist Ronell Bright, bassist Richard Davis and drummer Art Morgan.

By 1964 in Sweden, there were hints of grand operatic tendencies, but not to the extent that sometimes took the edge off Vaughan's later work. She was more elaborately gowned and coifed and had developed a polished stage presence. Vaughan had updated her repertoire with Bernstein's "I Feel Pretty" and "Maria" from West Side Story and with "Baubles, Bangles and Beads," but the highlights of the set are a joyous "I Got Rhythm" with finger-snap accompaniment, and a definitive slow performance of "The More I See You." Her trio is pianist Kirk Stuart, drummer George Hughes and the young Buster Williams on bass.

Dave Brubeck Live In '64 & '66 (Jazz Icons). Full disclosure: I wrote the foreword to Darius Brubeck's notes for this DVD of a pair of European concerts by the classic Brubeck Quartet. Here is the first part:

Aside from its music, which is among the best I have heard in hundreds of hours of listening to the classic Dave Brubeck Quartet, this DVD explains an essential element of the band's huge success. Concert audiences made the Brubeck group a phenomenon, at first on college campuses, then in the world at large. Listeners in concert halls and clubs could see the esteem and fondness Brubeck, Desmond, Wright and Morello had for one another.

Without a trace of artifice or overt showmanship, the four displayed the enjoyment they got from playing together. It was infectious. People who may not have known a quarter note from a mouthpiece were captivated as they shared in the quartet's naturalness with the creative process.

The concerts in Belgium and Germany capture that naturalness, with the quartet at or near a peak of performance. In "St. Louis Blues," which they must have played a thousand times, Joe Morello and Gene Wright lock up in a way justifying Wright's claim that their togetherness was "like Jo Jones and Walter Page with Count Basie." In a delicious video moment, the alert director switches to a shot that captures the camaraderie of the bassist and drummer who called one another, "Section." There are two versions of "Koto Song." Both have remarkable minor blues solos by Paul Desmond. Brubeck is at his most ethereal and impressionistic in the one before a German audience.

The two "Take Fives," are relaxed and flowing. Morello, who introduced 5/4 time to the quartet in the late fifties, creates a structurally perfect piece of musical architecture in the '64 performance in Belgium. The concerts also include "Three to Get Ready," "I'm In A Dancing Mood," "In Your Own Sweet Way," "Forty Days" and "Take The 'A' Train." In both cases, the simplicity of the stage settings and the direction imparts a timeless quality to the look of the video. Sound quality is more than acceptable. This is the best Brubeck on DVD.

Coming up: The Wes Montgomery, Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane Jazz Icons DVDs.

October 27, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)
Miles Davis: You know you can't play anything on a horn that Louis hasn't played.

Dizzy Gillespie: No him, no me.

October 25, 2007 9:34 PM | | Comments (0)

A few weeks ago, writing at length about a new CD of music by the Charles Mingus Sextet, I referred to a forthcoming DVD of that remarkable band on its '64 European tour. The disc is one of a set of eight in the second release of Jazz Icons DVDs. I am viewing and reporting to you about them as time allows.

Charles Mingus Live in '64 (Jazz Icons). It is a revelation to see this edition of the Mingus sextet at work during one of his happiest periods. Explosive temperament under wraps, the bassist is downright avuncular in three concerts with Eric Dolphy, trumpeter Johnny Coles, tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan, pianist Jaki Byard and drummer Dannie Richmond. Dolphy the incredible flutist (and saxophonist and bass clarinetist) was a primary source of Mingus's satisfaction, but far from the only one. This was a unit attuned and interlocked, every soloist in his creative prime, the band's power and responsiveness at a peak. Video (black and white) and audio quality are excellent. Direction and camera work provide plenty of intimate looks into the working relationships among the musicians, particularly the bond between Mingus and Richmond. All that we need to know about the depth of his admiration is expressed in Coles' gaze on Dolphy as the saxophonist solos.

The Brussels "Meditations On Integration" is a milestone performance. The one in Stockholm a few days earlier is not far behind. All eleven pieces on the DVD are at the highest level. "Take The 'A' Train" in Oslo nearly equals the intensity of that Belgium "Meditations." We witness a touching moment during a rehearsal. Mingus tells Dolphy that he will miss him when the band returns to the US and Dolphy remains in Europe. Mingus asks how Dolphy long he will stay. Probably a year or so, Dolphy says. Within weeks, he was dead in Germany following an episode of diabetic shock. Mingus went into depression. He recovered, and his career had further periods of distinction through the sixties and seventies, but he never again had a band, large or small, that reached the heights of this sextet.

Duke Ellington Live in '58 (Jazz Icons). This concert in Holland is typical of the Ellington band in the late fifties. Old hands like Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney and Ray Nance combine comfortably with relative newcomers -- Clark Terry, Paul Gonsalves, John Sanders. The repertoire is a survey of Ellingtonia. The exception is "My Funny Valentine," in which clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton and trombonist Quentin Jackson play the melody so beautifully that variations would be redundant. We get a romp through "Rockin' in Rhythm," an extended Sam Woodyard drum solo, Hodges sliding with implacability and the essence of swing in "All of Me" and "Things Ain't What They Used to Be," Ozzie Bailey's heartfelt vocals, a ten-minute medley of ten Ellington hits, and the amazing Nance singing, dancing, and playing cornet and violin with gusto. The capper is "Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue," with Gonsalves featured in the tenor sax interval that made him famous at Newport two years earlier. He is just as bluesy, although this time at not quite the same length or intensity.

Conducting from the piano or in front of the band, announcing or digging the soloists, Ellington is coolness itself, leaving the audience in no doubt that he does love them madly. The band members, as they usually did, alternate between looking bored (but hip) and amused. Sound is good. The director is occasionally asleep at the switch when shot changes would be appropriate, but, generally, we see what we're hearing. What we're hearing is the Ellington band on a very good night.

Next installment: The Sarah Vaughan and Dave Brubeck Jazz Icons DVDs.

October 24, 2007 4:17 PM | | Comments (0)

No longer being in New York has disadvantages--not being able to attend a concert of Benny Carter's music, for instance. Carter died in 2003. He would be 100 years old now. The concert over the weekend was the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra's season opener. Ben Ratliff's account in The New York Times makes me sorry to have missed it.

If there was a star, it was a whole bloc within a band: the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra's saxophone section, playing the tightly harmonized passages that were among Carter's signatures.

Carter's arrangement of "All of Me," from 1940, is a good example. After an introduction, it began with the four saxophonists playing two choruses of harmonized lockstep, running a rewritten version of the melody through the chords, and it had everything an individual solo can have: melodic shape, hesitation, easy swing, double-timing, open space.

To read all of Ratliff's review, go here. Links to some of Carter's best recordings are in this Rifftides piece.

October 22, 2007 11:26 AM | | Comments (0)

Mateusz Kolakowski, Ad Libitum, 1st Warsaw Jazz Concert (Zaiks). When I first heard Kolakowski, he and two of his Polish contemporaries were touring the United States with their mentor, the clarinetist Brad Terry. That was in 1998. At thirteen, the boy was an impressive jazz pianist. He has continued to develop his jazz sensibility as a student at the Music Academy of Katowice while winning international awards for his performances of Chopin.

Mateusz Kolakowski

Now twenty-one, Kolakowski is formidable in this solo concert recorded last year. He uses his classical technique to soar through wild improvisations without orbiting away from the jazz values that were apparent when he was barely into his teens. There are moments here when he seems headed toward Cecil Taylor country, but in Miles Davis's "Nardis," Monk's "Well, You Needn't" and Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady," he creates freely while observing the composers' outlines. His own "14th Spring" has evolved into a rhapsody melding Chopin references into the fabric of a movingly personal piece of music. If Kolakowski's development continues at the pace and depth of the past few years, he is on his way to becoming a major pianist.

Finisterra Trio (Seasons Audio). The first CD by this young classical piano trio is a big program: the Lalo and Shostakovich trios for piano, violin and cello. More than a year ago, I wrote that a Finisterra concert performance of the Lalo was the best version I'd ever heard. This recording sustains that opinion. Their treatment of the demanding Shostakovich work, with its beauty, dissonance and pathos, is on the same level. A few weeks ago, Finisterra premiered Angel Band Trio, a new piece by Daron Hagen. To read about it, go here. Let us hope that they also record the Hagen.

Claus Ogermann, Works For Violin and Piano: Yue Deng and Jean-Yves Thibaudet (Decca). Ogermann's involvement with jazz and pop music attracts more attention than the concert work on which he has concentrated since the 1970s, but he is a contemporary composer of substance and ingenuity, as "Sarabande Fantasie," "Duo lirico," "Prelude and Chant" and "Nightwings" attest. These chamber pieces add to Ogermann's achievement as a creator of classical music that manages to incorporate modern harmonic advancements while maintaining the imperative of melody. Thibaudet, one of the most acclaimed concert pianists alive, beautifully realizes Ogermann's subtlety and dynamic shadings and supports the violin in a sensitive partnership, but it is Deng's brilliance and purity that ring in the mind when the music has ended. It is puzzling that in the CD booklet, Decca provides no information about a young woman who is clearly a rising star of her instrument. That seems a missed opportunity for the company to promote an asset.

For more information about Yue Deng, her collaboration with pianist Roger Kellaway and her adaptation to jazz, go to this page of Kellaway's web site.

Next time: The new Jazz Icons DVDs.

October 22, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Rifftides has readers today in Ecuador, France, New Zealand, Italy, Japan, the UK, Brazil, South Korea, France, Portugal, Austria, Finland, Sweden, Mexico, Australia, Switzerland, Spain, Canada, Iceland, and across the United States from Federal Way, Washington, to Swoope, Pennsylvania and Hollywood, Florida. Thank you all for joining us.

October 20, 2007 4:02 PM | | Comments (0)

Gail Pettis, May I Come In? (Origin). In her recording debut, the Seattle singer chooses a mixture of familiar standards and less-well-known songs, delivering them with warmth and intelligent interpretation. Pettis concentrates on serving songwriters' intentions, but her delighted treatment of Jimmy McHugh's "I Just Found Out About Love" includes one of two scatting episodes in the collection. She scats with musicianly understanding of harmony. There is not a lot of that going around among singers. Pettis gives "Black Coffee" its bluesy due but avoids the affected emotion with which many singers are tempted to smother the song.

In "I've Grown Accustomed to Your Face," bassist Jeff Johnson, with his customary strength and sensitivity, is the singer's sole accompanist. "We've Met Before" is a duet between Pettis and pianist Randy Halberstadt. With this lovely song, Halberstadt may have composed a new standard. He and Johnson are on half of the tracks. On the other half, Darin Clendenin is the pianist, Clipper Anderson the bassist, Pacific Northwest stalwarts in good form, as is Mark Ivester, who plays drums throughout. Pettis keeps her considerable vocal power in reserve, using it with restraint and taste. In the burgeoning population of new singers, she is a standout.

Dave Brubeck, Indian Summer (Telarc). Brubeck's solo piano excursion through the autumn of his life has Brahmsian gravity, dignity and reflection. It also has moments of playfulness and no lack of harmonic audacity, as in his polytonal opening bars of "I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You." He includes "Sweet Lorraine," "Memories of You" and "Indian Summer" along with other standards and a few of his own tunes, among them "Summer Song" and his tribute to Chopin, "Thank You." He reaches back to his youth for the anthem of his college, reharmonized and movingly expressed. Brubeck has taken a lot of knocks for the vigor of his playing. Here, he reminds us that at the lower end of his dynamic range he has one of the softest touches of any pianist--and those harmonies, still daring after all these years. This is one for quiet evenings in front of the fire.

Joe Chindamo, Smokingun (Newmarket Music). A couple of weeks ago, in reviewing Karrin Allyson's performance with the Yakima Symphony Orchestra, I wrote:

Allyson sang with her customary charm, musicianship and irrepressible energy, occasionally spelling pianist Joe Chindamo at the keyboard while he played accordian. Chindamo, an Australian new to me, was impressive as an accompanist and in solo. His piano chorus on Leonard Bernstein's "Some Other Time," alluding to Bill Evans, was a highlight of the evening.

Later that week, I heard Chindamo (pronounced Kin-dámo) at greater length when Allyson and her quartet played The Seasons, and was thoroughly taken with his playing. From there, they went to New York for a week at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola. His tour with Allyson ended, Chindamo is back in Melbourne where he is a mainstay of Australian jazz and of movie sound stages. Listening to his trio's CD Smokingun, with alto saxophonist Graeme Lyall as guest artist, I understand why. He assembles a potpourri of tunes that would seem unlikely album mates and makes sense of them individually and as a collection, even while giving them unconventional treatments. Slow versions of "Take Five" (Chindamo on accordian) and "The Entertainer" (Chindamo on piano, Lyall slinky on soprano sax), "Goodbye Porkpie Hat" and Dvorak's "Going Home" theme succeed in deliciously different ways. Joni Mitchell's "God Must Be a Boogie Man" becomes an adventure in pointilism and rhythm shifts. Chindamo and Lyall liberate the improvisational possibilities in two unlikely movie themes, "The Magnificent Seven" and "Goldfinger."

Lyall manages to refer to Paul Desmond's style without imitating Desmond except for what seems to be an affectionate outright tribute in "Look For the Silver Lining." He and the trio work together with the kind of reactive empathy that Desmond and Brubeck often achieved, although the resemblance of this group to the Brubeck quartet doesn't go much beyond the instrumentation. Bassist Phil Rex and drummer David Beck, also little known outside Australia, are world class.

This video of Chindamo playing "But Not For Me" at Italy's Umbria festival in 2005 will acquaint you with his solo style. At the end of another clip, with his trio, he delivers to his fellow Australians a confidence-building speech about their cultural uniqueness. It would seem inevitable that we non-Aussies will be hearing more from Joe Chindamo.

October 19, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Former Down Beat editor Jack Tracy has always had an ear for fresh young talent. He sent this link to video of a blues-singing bird - the avian variety.

Could it be the reincarnation of Rob McCroby (1934-2002)? McCroby's recordings for Concord, something of a sensation in the 1980s, have never been reissued on CD. To see a compilation of his television appearances, go to this web site. You may not want to sit through all twenty minutes, but there's no denying that McCroby could blow.

October 18, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (1)
Piano. n. A parlor utensil for subduing the impenitent visitor. It is operated by depressing the keys of the machine and the spirits of the audience. -- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

Nothing soothes me more after a long and maddening course of pianoforte recitals than to sit and have my teeth drilled. -- George Bernard Shaw

Get up from that piano. You hurtin' its feelings.-- Jelly Roll Morton

October 17, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Bill Evans redeems the piano from Bierce's and Shaw's disdain in this video clip, made in Norway in August of 1980 when Evans was mortally ill and undoubtedly knew it. Thanks to Jan Stevens of The Bill Evans Web Pages for finding it. The bassist and drummer are Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbera.

October 17, 2007 1:04 AM | | Comments (3)

In his blog, About Last Night, Terry Teachout quotes Whitney Balliett's incomparable tribute to the ability of most jazz musicians to maintain their unbreakable spirit despite being cold-shouldered by the culture.

Whatever the reasons, these musicians form a heroic legion. They work long hours in seedy and/or pretentious places for minimum money. They make sporadic recordings on unknown labels. They play for benefits but are refused loans at the bank. They pass their lives pumping up their egos.

To read the whole thing go here. It reminded me of the story about a conversation between a musician and a person from the ranks of what Woody Herman called civilians.

Civilian: What made you decide to become a jazz musician?

Musician: I dislike crowds.

October 17, 2007 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

Harry Whitaker, Thoughts (Past And Present) [Smalls]. Whitaker has been a working pianist since he was fourteen, but for much of his career he has concentrated on producing, arranging and serving as musical director for others, including singer Roberta Flack and vibraphonist Roy Ayers. In nine of his compositions, Whitaker's firm touch, careful chording and absence of pyrotechnics add up to what musicians often call arranger's piano. In that category he is in good company with people like Gerry Mulligan, Tadd Dameron, Bob Brookmeyer and Gil Evans. The bassist Omer Avital is, as usual, impressive. Another young Israeli, drummer Dan Aran, is particularly effective in his feathery work with brushes. Whitaker's tunes tend toward modal construction, giving the collection an air of contemplative mystery, which may account for the relief I felt when the record ended with a sunlit F blues called "Blues For The Piano Players."

Zaid Nasser, Escape From New York (Smalls). At times Nasser's playing resembles that of Paul Gonsalves, notably on "Warm Valley" and "Sophisticated Lady," the two Ellington compositions here. However, this alto saxophonist with a fat tenor sax sound and a post-post-bop ethos goes beyond slippery Gonsalves chromaticism. He edges into avant garde territory without surrendering to licentiousness. As producer Luke Kaven points out in his notes, the spirits of such players as Junior Cook and Clarence "C." Sharpe inhabit Nasser. His speedy "Junior's Soul," a frolic through the changes of "Body and Soul," is a hoot. I admire the chutzpah and humor of a young man who can have fun with a 97-year-old chestnut like "Chinatown, My Chinatown" without poking fun at it, a trait reminiscent of Sonny Rollins. Nasser's rhythm section players are perfectly attuned to him. They are Sacha Perry, piano; Ari Roland, bass; and Phil Stewart, drums. Zaid is the son of Jamil Nasser, the formidable bassist formerly known as George Joyner. I didn't know that Nasser the younger existed until this CD materialized. I'm glad that he does.

Ari Roland, And so I lived in Old New York (Smalls). Roland's own album includes Perry and Stewart, along with tenor saxophonist Chris Byars, the group with which he toured in Russia this year. Their experience together is apparent in relaxed performances of seven original compositions, all by Roland with collaboration by Perry on one and Byars on another. It's his CD, so Roland takes a fair number of solos, but the bass doesn't overwhelm the proceedings. His time and note choices in the ensemble are solid. When he uses the bow in solo, he swings and has a full tone and good inflection; none of the sagging notes with which jazz bassists often do themselves in when they go arco. Pianist Perry and saxophonist Byars construct solo lines that have continuity and flow, with Perry under the spell of Bud Powell. Good brush work from Stewart. Nice album.

Fabio Morgera, Need For Peace (Smalls). Pleasant generic playing--and sometimes better than that--from Morgera, an Italian trumpeter in the US for twenty years. On several tracks his work, evidently inspired by Miles Davis, alternates with vocals by guest singers. His best moments come when he ditches the singers and the synthesizer and plays with just the rhythm section on Jobim's "Portrait in Black and White" and his own "All Alone." Between irritating vocal passages by Miles Griffith, Morgera constructs a lovely solo on Thelonious Monk's "Friday The 13th."

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

Rifftides reader Sam Stephenson writes from North Carolina:

I'm excited to hear this new Gil Coggins record. Thank you for the tip. I only wish it could have been released before he passed.

In 2002 I interviewed Gil as part of my loft project. He was a veteran of the 6th Ave. loft I'm researching and is recorded on a few of W. Eugene Smith's tapes circa 1960-61.

I went to hear Gil at his regular gig in the East Village, where he played beautifully the night I heard him, and a few days later we met for the interview. He met me on the sidewalk outside his apartment, also in the East Village, where I think he'd lived for several decades, and he was
dressed impeccably in a suit, vest, and tie, topped off with a fedora.

His gigantic car - I think it was a late 1970's Cadillac - was parked out front and he needed to move it, so we got in his car and drove around lower Manhattan for more than an hour. We were talking and listening intermittently to Freddy Cole on a cassette he had in the car. Gil wanted to stop at a McDonalds somewhere down below Canal St. and I watched him parallel park his car in a spot where I was sure the car wouldn't fit. He did it without even turning his head, using only the mirrors. I couldn't believe it. Then, we drove back to his place and he did it again in a new spot. He was definitely the best parallel parker I've ever seen, especially among folks who used only their mirrors to do it.

We talked more and afterward he drove over to Smalls to meet Jimmy Wormworth and some others. I was sick to have another appointment that night and miss that gig. When I listen to this record you write about I'm going to pretend that it was the gig I missed.

October 16, 2007 1:03 AM | | Comments (0)

Gil Coggins, Better Late Than Never (Smalls). The first phase of pianist Coggins' career tapered off in the mid-1950s after he recorded with Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Jackie McLean. Although his work was distinct from his contemporary John Lewis, he shared with Lewis a spare approach to soloing, and chords in his accompaniments that often formed complementary melodies. Coggins went into real estate in 1954, continuing to work in jazz occasionally and recording with McLean as late as 1957.

Gil Coggins ca. 1954

Over the next four decades he moonlighted in lounges around New York, in 1999 returning to recording with a Japanese import CD now out of circulation. Shortly after the turn of the century, he made Better Late Than Never. Coggins never recovered from an auto crash in 2003 and died of his injuries in 2004 at the age of 79. The CD was released this year by Smalls, the label of a lower Manhattan club that tends to feature adventurous music.

Coggins' playing on this album is neither cutting-edge nor a throwback to the fifties. There is a timelessness to it, dark harmonic beauty and a deliberate, almost hesitant, rhythmic quality suggesting that he was contemplating every phrase. He unrolls the Charles Mingus tune "Smooch" with exquisite slowness, so that every chord and run seems to exist in its own space. At faster tempos, he takes similar ruminative approaches in pieces including Tadd Dameron's "The Scene Is Clean," Neal Hefti's "Repetition" and the standards "I'm Old Fashioned" and "Isn't It Romantic?" The cumulative effect is curiously relaxing, nearly mesmerizing. Drum duties are shared by the veterans Louis Hayes and Jimmy Wormworth, with Mike Fitzbenjamin on bass. This is a fine remembrance of an artist who had the talent and individuality to be an influential figure but chose to make music his secondary occupation.

Next time: Impressions of a few other CDs on the Smalls label.

October 15, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (1)

Sunday, we harvested the last of the blackberries, cut back the spent canes from the arches and tied down the canes that will produce next year's crop. That pleasant task out of the way, my Italian friend and I went for a thirty-mile ride through farm and orchard country. The route had early autumn scenery of a kind that might have inspired Ralph Burns and Johnny Mercer. I looked down on a little valley below the road into a field bordered by a perfect white fence. On two adjoining sides, rows of maple trees in their red and gold glory stood watch over a small herd of cattle so impressive in their sleekness, beauty and rich chocolate color highlighted by the slanting sunlight that they must have come from cow central casting.

October 15, 2007 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

Following the August Rifftides piece about Hal McKusick, Marc Myers, aka Mr. JazzWax, sought out McKusick and is running a multi-part interview with the veteran reed man. The 83-year-old McKusick reminisces about a life in music from his debut as a teenager in the big bands to his teaching today. The gifted saxophonist, composer and arranger Al Cohn was among his colleagues.

Al and I worked in Elliot Lawrence's band in the early 1950s. Al was the most unbelievable arranger. He could write anything and it would swing. He was tireless. He would play all day and write all night. I used to copy for Al. Working with him taught me so much about arranging and copying, which helped when I was copying for Johnny Mandel and Gil Evans.

We'd go all night at Al's apartment in Brooklyn. You can't believe what a thrill it was to write an arrangement, copy the band parts from the score, bring them into rehearsal the next day and hear great musicians play it perfectly on virtually the first run-through. That's what kept you motivated--knowing what you were hearing in your head would be heard by many soon after you finished writing it up.

To read all five parts of Myers' interview with McKusick, go here.

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

I did not attend Sonny Rollins' Carnegie Hall concert last month and had not heard or read much about it until a review by Francis Davis in the current issue of The Village Voice. Davis calls it "this year's be-there-or-be-square event" and gives it a thorough going-over, reporting the good and the better; unsurprisingly, there seems to have been no bad. Rollins, who is seventy-seven, performed with his current band. He also played with a pianoless trio, as he did at Carnegie Hall fifty years ago. The bassist this time around was Christian McBride, four decades younger than Rollins, the drummer Roy Haynes, five years older. Here is a section of Davis's review.

For me, the mock-aria from South Pacific--an unlikely vehicle for anyone but Rollins--was the evening's glory. He and Haynes didn't exactly trade fours on it for 10 minutes running, and they didn't exactly not; their exchanges followed the rules of conversation, not metrics. Analytical rather than discursive or ecstatic, Rollins treated the melody to an endless series of variations, slowing down his vibrato and dropping into a subtone to summon up the ghosts of both Enzio Pinza and Coleman Hawkins, all the while moving in and out of tempo within phrases shaped to Haynes's elegant brushstrokes. Even those who might have wished for conventional improvised choruses had to agree that it was magic.

Davis reports that Rollins has a new CD in the works incorporating recently-discovered trio tracks recorded at the 1957 Carnegie concert with new trio performances. To read all of his Voice review, go here.

October 12, 2007 1:04 AM | | Comments (1)

The Rifftides staff directs your attention to the right-hand column, where you will find a new batch of Doug's Picks.

October 11, 2007 1:06 AM | | Comments (0)

Here is a bit of Terry Teachout's review of Poodie James in Contentions, his column.

I'll cut to the chase: Poodie James is a very good book. Not only is it handsomely and lyrically written, but Ramsey's snapshots of small-town life circa 1948 are altogether convincing, and he has even brought off the immensely difficult trick of worming his way into the consciousness of a deaf person without betraying the slightest sense of strain. I especially like the scene in which he tells us how it feels for the title character to "listen" to Woody Herman's big band at a local dance:
A man with a big smile walked out holding a clarinet. The musicians sat up and brought their horns to their mouths. The man raised his hand and brought it down. The force of the sound hit Poodie and traveled through his chest as a tingle.... Poodie wondered if the dancers got the same sensation from hearing the music that he did from feeling it, radiance in the belly, warmth around the heart.
I wish I'd written that.

Well, I am flattered that Teachout wrote that. To read all of his review, go here.

October 11, 2007 1:01 AM | | Comments (0)

The Seasons Fall Festival wrapped up over the weekend in Yakima, Washington, with concerts that featured two Bill Mays trios. James Moody also starred, performing at eighty-two with the wisdom of age and the energy of a teenager.

Friday night, it was Mays, piano; Marvin Stamm, trumpet and fluegelhorn; and Alisa Horn, cello - the Inventions Trio. Their recently released CD is superb, but their collaboration has taken on profundity and polish since they made the recording two years ago. Their reworkings of Rachmaninoff, Borodin and other classical composers, their treatment of standards and new pieces by Mays and Stamm, had the audience enthralled. Mays' six-part suite inspired by the Delaware River's run from the mountains to the sea was a journey encompassing grandeur, nostalgia, folksy humor including a hoedown, and avant garde audacity. It also incorporated spoken segments of regional reminiscing that disclosed the musicians' unsuspected talents as vocal actors.

Inventions Trio
For years, Stamm and Mays have performed as a duo exploring the possibilities in classical themes. The addition of Horn, the young cellist, has resulted in a group capable of a remarkable store of textures. She has extensive classical training and rich technique, but is relatively new to jazz. Under Mays' and Stamm's tutelage, she has learned to swing when she's bowing, and to play pizzicato a la Oscar Pettiford, Percy Heath and Ron Carter. It was a joy to witness the passion she brought to the performance. Mays and Stamm are jazz and studio veterans whose discipline and versatility make possible this group's demanding chamber music. They achieve complexity without sacrificing swing or zeal. They are a pleasure to watch as well as to hear. Few groups have as much fun making music as this trio.

Wilson, Mays, Wind

One that does is Mays' trio with bassist Martin Wind and drummer Matt Wilson. Two years ago they inaugurated the former Christian Science church as a performance hall. Their appearance at The Seasons has become an autumn event, and they were as astonishing as ever. One of the great piano trios of the day more than lived up to their reputation. With Wilson aboard, there is always bound to be a surprise. In 2005, it was his action-theater piece having to do with free range chickens and the chant, "Set them free." Last year, he crafted a musical setting for Carl Sandburg's poem Choose and conscripted the audience as a Greek chorus. This time around, Wilson debuted a composition inspired by a swimming party the night before in his hotel pool, possibly involving minimal clothing. He called it "Yakimaquatics" and introduced it with a drum solo that incorporated the breast stroke, the backstroke, the butterfly and the crawl, all executed with rhythmic exactitude and leading into a melody with a harmonic pattern possibly influenced by Pat Metheny. Fun and games out of the way, Mays, Wind and Wilson dug in. It was a fine first half.

Following intermission, the Mays trio became the rhythm section of the James Moody quartet. Moody had his famous flute along, but it never left the case. He stayed on tenor saxophone through the set, except when he was singing or telling uproarious stories. In a pre-performance discussion, he spoke about the harmonic education he received early in his career from Dizzy Gillespie and Tom McIntosh. In concert, he demonstrated the extent to which that harmonic sense has progressed in the past sixty years or so. Applying chord extensions on top of chord extensions, he danced through "Woody'n You" and "Giant Steps" with dazzling mastery. If the audience had Coleman Hawkins in mind when Moody began "Body and Soul," his ingenious creation of new melodies and his audacious expansion of the chord pattern brought them thoroughly up to date.

Mays, Wind and Wilson were in swinging lock step with Moody throughout the concert, but their participation went far beyond accompaniment. They gave the old master nudges that inspired him to explore beyond what in more routine settings is often a polished bag of phrases and devices. Clearly, he was pleased with the collaboration. When Mays was soloing, Moody stationed himself in the curve of the piano, listening intently. When Wind was bowing one of his virtuosic arco solos, Moody edged nearer. When Wilson soloed, Moody stood beaming at him.

James Moody

Of course, he did "Moody's Mood For Love," singing his own famous solo and, in split throat-tones, the piano solo from the original 1949 recording. Earlier, he said that audiences never let him get away without doing it, so he builds it into his every appearance. The Moody concert was a rousing and entertaining conclusion to more than a week of stimulating music.

I once wrote (in Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers):

Like every art form, jazz has a fund of devices unique to it and universally employed by those who play it. Among the resources of the jazz tradition available to the player creating an improvised performance are rhythmic patterns, harmonic structures, material quoted from a variety of sources, and "head arrangements" evolved over time without being written. Mutual access to this community body of knowledge makes possible successful and enjoyable collaboration among jazzmen of different generations and stylistic persuasions who have never before played together.

The Moody concert was a demonstration of that truth. I overheard the rehearsal. It went more or less like this:

Moody: Do you know "Woody'n You?"

Mays: Yeah, we know that.

Moody: "Giant Steps?"

Mays: Sure.

Moody: How about "Invitation?"

Mays. Yep

Moody: Okay. We'll be cool.

And they were.

October 8, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

While a bunch of us were standing around waiting to be seated at a restaurant following Saturday night's concert at The Seasons (see the previous item), the conversation turned to singers. Jo Stafford came in for prominent and enthusiastic mention. The next morning, I was checking out Marc Myers' Jazz Wax blog and found this link to a wonderful Stafford performance from 1947. The band is identified as that of her husband, Paul Weston, but it doesn't look like Weston conducting. The only player I recognize is the phenomenal guitarist George van Eps.

The singing is perfection. But then, it's Jo Stafford.

October 8, 2007 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

The British Columbia newspaper Peace Arch News has a report about the success of Libros Libertad, the publisher of Poodie James.

With five books released so far - and as many on the way by year's end, the imprint is rapidly gaining stature and credibility with its up-market style paperbacks.

Poodie James, a novel by veteran U.S. broadcaster Doug Ramsey has already become a break-out hit, selling out its first printing. The Passage of Sono Nis is a definitive collection of works by internationally respected author J. Michael Yates - who is also senior editor for the company. And well-known jazz writer/lyricist Gene Lees ("Yesterday I Heard The Rain," "Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars") is readying a novel, Song Lake Summer, for release by Libros Libertad.

To read the whole thing, go here and click on the "entertainment" tab.

October 8, 2007 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

One of the finest jazz pianists in the world is barely known in the United States. His many CDs are on Japanese, Spanish and Scandinavian labels that sometimes show up in US stores despite their limited distribution in this country. Jan Lundgren visits the US infrequently, usually to record for foreign companies. His most recent tour was last month's series of concerts in Japanese cities. When I mention Lundgren to musicians and canny jazz listeners who keep up with developments in music, I often get blank looks. After I persuade them to seek out Lundgren's work, they respond with enthusiasm.

Jan Lundgren

My first encounter with Lundgren's playing was in the mid-1990s when I was preparing to write notes for Bill Perkins' Perk Plays Prez. Perkins and producer Dick Bank wanted a pianist who could play Count Basie and Teddy Wilson to Perkins' tenor saxophone evocation of Lester Young--without apeing Basie or Wilson. Bank brought in Lundgren. The young pianist more than filled the bill. He had already earned the enthusiasm of Lou Levy, always tough in his evaluations of other pianists, and of another exacting old pro, alto saxophonist Herb Geller. Bank recruited Lundgren for Geller's You're Looking at Me.

Some of Lundgren's Fresh Sound (Spain) and Marshmallow (Japan) CDs are available at this address. His most recent trio collection is sold in the US by Eastwind, a distributor with an internet retail operation. Swinging Rendezvous (Marshmallow) includes Lundgren's long-time bassist Jesper Lundgaard and drummer Alex Riel, Scandinavian veterans who have played with a cross-section of the best European and American musicians. It is a trio of rare swing and cohesion. Their workout on Thelonious Monk's "Well, You Needn't" is a masterpiece of common intent, interaction and reaction. Lundgren supports his improvisational wizardry with speed, precision, dynamic mastery and a sense of romance. He is a modern bebop pianist at the highest level. If you think that "modern" and "bebop" constitute an oxymoron, listen to Lundgren.

All but one of the CD's 11 pieces were written by major jazzmen, among them Monk, J.J. Johnson, Mal Waldron and Oscar Pettiford. The exception, the folk ditty "Billy Boy," is so closely associated with Red Garland that many people no doubt think Garland wrote it. Lundgren tackles two pieces by Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers' ebullient "Whims of Chambers" and "Third World" by Herbie Nichols. He and Lundgaard interpret the elusive harmonic nuances of Nichols' music so effectively that he makes me wish the trio would take on more of Nichols' eccentric compositions. Indeed, interpretation, not imitation, is what Lundgren practices. Waldron, Nichols, Kelly, Bud Powell, Bill Evans, Bengt Hallberg, Oscar Peterson and other predecessors inspired Lundgren, but he has absorbed and melded their elements into a style that Japanese and Scandinavian listeners have taken to their hearts. It may be that now is Lundgren's time in the United States.

Go here and here for Rifftides reviews of previous Lundgren CDs.

October 5, 2007 1:05 AM | | Comments (3)

Veteran journalist Ed Stover reviews Poodie James in today's Yakima Herald-Republic.

Ramsey's journalistic writing style carries the story along. It's a good story, too, a page-turner that offers up romance, attempted murder, a Snidely Whiplash rascal of a mayor, a Dudley Do-Right police chief, a noble bum, a nosy reporter and a whorehouse. Set in the late 1940s, there is even a visit by President Truman.

Finally, there is Poodie, the loveable little junk collector who becomes the target of the wrathful mayor. Put it all together and you have a book that has become a best-seller for Libros Libertad, the Surrey, British Columbia-based literary small press that published the novel in early August.

To read all of Stover's article, click here.

I'll be doing a signing and reading tomorrow, Saturday, at 2 pm at Inklings Bookshop in Yakima. If you're in the neighborhood, please drop by and say hello.

October 5, 2007 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

Last evening, fortunate listeners at The Seasons Fall Side-By-Side Music Festival heard the world premiere of a work that has everything it takes to become a staple in the classical piano trio literature. It was composer Daron Hagen's Angel Band Trio #4, played by the Finisterra Trio. Based on humble themes in the Appalachian gospel song "Angel Band," through its six movements the trio blooms into a big chamber piece graced with a melding of peculiarly American melodic strains, dissonant conflict and satisfying resolution. It is a modern statement rooted in tradition, soaring on rhythm, shot through with gripping harmonic patterns and saturated in emotion.

Hagen (pronounced like the first name of the ice cream), found his inspiration for the work in the story of Joyce Strosahl, a former concert violinist and the matriarch of the family that founded The Seasons. The trio was commissioned by three of her sons. The Finisterra Trio--pianist Tanya Stambuk, violinist Kwan Bin Park and cellist Kevin Krentz--poured themselves into the piece with a passion that left the audience in a state of mild shock at the end of the volatile rondo movement and brought them to their feet when the final notes faded.

Daron Hagen

The evening began with a discussion among the composer and the members of Finisterra, shepherded with his usual skill, knowledge and good humor by composer and conductor Bill McGlaughlin, the host of public radio's St. Paul Sunday. During the conversation, Krentz, who was headed for a career as a singer before he ended up as a cellist, accompanied himself by strumming his instrument and sang "Wayfaring Stranger," the inspiration for a previous Hagen work, Wayfaring Stranger, Piano Trio #3. He, Park and Stambuk then played the evocative second movement of that piece, setting up the performance, of the new work, which was a triumph for the composer and Finisterra.

For a description of Angel Band Trio #4, go to this page of Hagen's web site. To see the schedule for The Seasons Fall Festival, which runs through Saturday, October 6, click here.

Saturday night at the Capitol Theater, McGlaughlin conducted the Yakima Symphony Orchestra in the premiere of his Béla's Bounce. That's a whimsical name for a serious work that reflects on what might have happened if Béla Bartok and Charlie Parker had met when they were living in New York in the early 1940s. The references to Parker's "Billie's Bounce" are subtle and integral to the piece. McGlaughlin incorporates Bartokian uses of strings and percussion with deep understanding of Bartok's methods, but not in imitation. It's a delightful work. Béla's Bounce and Angel Band Trio #4 deserve to be on CD, and soon.

Karrin Allyson

The other guest artists for the YSO concert were McGlaughlin's wife Karrin Allyson and her quintet. Allyson sang with her customary charm, musicianship and irrepressible energy, occasionally spelling pianist Joe Chindamo at the keyboard while he played accordian. Chindamo, an Australian new to me, was impressive as an accompanist and in solo. His piano chorus on Leonard Bernstein's "Some Other Time," alluding to Bill Evans, was a highlight of the evening. Bassist Jeff Johnson, guitarist Dan Balmer and drummer Todd Strait frequently beamed as they luxuriated in the surroundings of the full orchestra playing McGlaughlin's arrangements. Allyson included several Brazilian pieces, mainly by Antonio Carlos Jobim. She has an affinity for samba and announced that she has a Brazilian project in the works. Let us hope that it includes a recording. Allyson and her band perform again tonight, sans symphony orchestra, at The Seasons.

Between Allyson sets, McGlaughlin conducted the YSO in three movements of Stravinsky's The Firebird. First, in his Philadelphia Scots accent, he regaled the audience with a summary of the legend on which Stravinskly based the work. "Apparently the firebird had a voice just like a bassoon," he said. Ninety-eight years after its premiere, The Firebird still sounds revolutionary. McGlaughlin was obviously pleased with the performance the musicians gave him. At a gathering later, I overheard him tell Brooke Creswell, the orchestra's music director and regular conductor, "Who'd have thought to find such a band in Yakima, Washington."

October 1, 2007 1:06 AM | | Comments (0)

Pardon my pride, but less than a month after seeing the light of day, Poodie James has gone into a second printing. Thank you.


For further information (how to order, for instance), click here.

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

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About Last Night
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rock culture approximately
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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
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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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