Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Irene Kral: A Voice So Irresistible, Beguiling and Pure [From the Archives]

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Irene Kral was not just another jazz singer.

“She had a delicate style, yet every note was placed with deliberate aim, and she always hit her mark with unerring accuracy. She had a brilliant flair for picking tasty, little-known material, often by up and coming young, jazz-influenced songwriters.

She recorded only a small number of albums, often on small, jazz labels and she never sang in a show-off way, never scatted, never belted or made her voice raunchy .

Most aficionados of female vocalists have never heard of her, and she remains largely forgotten in the jazz history books. Yet her work deserves to be searched out, for her intimate style and purity of tone.”

“Irene had a lovely, resonant voice with a discreet vibrato, flawless diction and intonation …. She was a master of quiet understatement.”
- Linda Dahl, Stormy Weather: The Music and Lives of a Century of Jazz Women [p. 151]

“She was a superior ballad singer of impeccable taste.”
- Reg Copper, The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz

Drummers and “chick singa’s” do not go together like love and marriage and a horse and carriage.

Contrary to what Sammy Cahn and Jimmy van Huesen say in their lyrics, drummers and female Jazz vocalists “… is an institute you [can] disparage” just by asking most drummers about their experiences in working with female Jazz singers.

By the way, before this introduction gets labeled as some sort of sexist rant, the same can be said about the antipathy that many drummers have about working with most “boy singers,” too.

My statement is only a generalization, but most of the time, drummers work with singers because they have to in order to make a few schimolies and not because they want to as singers usually drive them nuts.

There are exceptions, of course.

It was a total blast to work with Anita O’Day during a two week stint as a member of her trio at “Ye Little Club” in Beverly Hills [John Poole, her regular drummer, had taken ill].

The late Irene Krall is also among my special favorites, a list which includes the likes of Carmen McRae, Blossom Dearie, Ruth Price and Ruth Olay. I heard Irene sing with Shelly Manne’s group on a few occasions and I remember him remarking: “Irene is just the best. She’s like another member of the band. She’s a musician.”

And Russ Freeman, the late pianist who worked with Irene in Shelly’s quintet and on Irene’s 1965 recording Wonderful Life, said of her: “She is a gas to work with. Her choice of tunes is so different and she handles difficult material like a snap.”

Hal Blaine, the drummer on the Wonderful Life album said of Irene: “When she did that cut on Sometime Ago, we were all spellbound. Most singers do the tune too slow like they want to wrap themselves in every word. She sang it perfectly and then went on to do a swinging version of Bob Dorough’s Nothing Like You Has Ever Been Seen Before. Just like that: bam, bam. What a pro.”

Music captivated her at an early age. As Gene Lees recounts in the following excerpt from his essay on Irene’s older brother, Roy Kral [a pianist and a singer], and his singer-wife, Jackie Cain:

"When I was about seventeen, we were rehearsing our dance band in my basement. Four brass, four saxes, three rhythm."

His sister, Irene, would always remember this. She said, ‘I was always fascinated by my brother rehearsing in the basement with different bands and singers, and they were having so much fun, I just knew that I wanted to do that too.’ Born January 18, 1932, Irene was eleven years Roy's junior and so must have been about six when that band was in rehearsal.” Singers and the Song II, p. 176]

It’s a good thing that she got an early start. Sadly, Irene’s “wonderful life” was over all too soon as she passed away at the relatively young age of forty-six [46].

Here’s a retrospective of the salient aspects of Irene’s short-lived career and a well-focused explanation on what made her singing so unique as excerpted and translated from the insert notes to Irene Kral with Herb Pomeroy: The Band and I [Japanese Capitol TOCJ-6076].

© -  Capitol Records, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Irene Kral was not just another jazz singer.

She had a delicate style, yet every note was placed with deliberate aim, and she always hit her mark with unerring accuracy. She had a brilliant flair for picking tasty, little-known material, often by up and coming young, jazz-influenced songwriters.

She recorded only a small number of albums, often on small, jazz labels and she never sang in a show-off way, never scatted, never belted or made her voice raunchy .

Most aficionados of female vocalists have never heard of her, and she remains largely forgotten in the jazz history books. Yet her work deserves to be searched out, for her intimate style and purity of tone.

Irene Kral was born to Czechoslovak parents on Jan. 18th, 1932 in Chicago. Her earliest musical influence was her brother, Roy, who at 18 formed his own big band and would rehearse the group in their parent's basement. While watching her brother and his band, she decided that she wanted to sing. She was 8 years old at the time. Her brother, Roy, became well known later as half of 'Jackie and Roy', a highly influential bebop vocal duo, well-respected in jazz circles.

By the time she was 16, she was singing and accompanying herself on piano, performing at school and the occasional wedding. Her vocal skills impressed her professional musician brother enough for him to take her by the hand to audition for a swinging Chicago big band, led by Jay Burkhardt. Burkhardt’s band had been the starting point for two other singers, who went on to bigger things, Joe Williams and Jackie Cain (who later married her brother, and was the 'Jackie' of 'Jackie and Roy). A series of jobs with other bands came and went, over the next few years, including a brief stint with Woody Herman.

In 1954, she landed a job singing with a jazz vocal group called the Tattle Tales. She played drums, and sang lead with the group, which traveled from coast to coast, and to CanadaBermuda and Puerto Rico. The group recorded for Columbia Records, but nothing much came of the records. She stayed with the group for a little over a year. Following her heart to stretch out as a solo artist, she left the Tattle Tales and began picking up the occasional weekend solo job, and auditioning for any band that she thought might be going places.

When she was 25, in 1957, her friend Carmen McRae recommended her to band-leader Maynard Ferguson. The next time Ferguson came through Chicago, she got up on the stand and sang one tune with the band. After Ferguson heard Krai finish singing Sometimes I’m Happy he hired her on the spot and she started that night with no rehearsal. In Ferguson’s band she met Joe Burnett, a trumpet and flugelhorn player, whom she married in 1958. She stayed with the Ferguson band for nearly two years, recording one album with them, before she was offered her own contract to record solo.

In 1959, while in Los Angeles, she became a regular vocalist on The Steve Allen Show. Her exposure on the Allen show led to the recording of her first solo LP for United Artist Records, an entire album of songs written by Steve Allen entitled Stevelreneo. The same year, she cut the LP The Band And I, with the Herb Pomeroy Orchestra, working with legendary saxophonist and arranger Al Cohn.

Next, she became the featured vocalist with Shelly Manne and his Men, a popular leader of 'West Coast cool jazz'. She also appeared solo at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas. By 1961, Irene and her husband, Joe, had relocated to TarzanaCalifornia, a small suburb of Los Angeles where their daughter, Jodi was born. Their second daughter, Melissa, followed. She limited her yearly out of town performances to a half-dozen choice engagements around the country, in order to spend time with her family.

Throughout her career, she felt like she had been born too late, and had just missed the height of the Big Band Era. She recalled, ‘When I was in high school, I bought every Woody Herman and Stan Kenton record that came out. June Christy seemed to be in the greatest spot in life, and gave me my first inspiration. I'm sorry I missed hearing some of the really good big bands around earlier, like Jimmie Lunceford's and Billy Eckstine's, and Dizzy Gillespie's first band.’

‘Now when I'm old enough to appreciate them, almost all the really good bands are gone.’ She named a few of her other favorite singers as being Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughn, Dinah Washington and Helen Merrill.

Although she could swing with the best of them, she thought of herself as primarily a ballad singer. ‘I love to sing ballads more than anything, and consequently I know three times more ballads as 'up' tunes. I dig tunes that have a warm laziness about them.’ Jazz vocalist Carmen McRae who, talking about Irene, said, ‘Besides being a marvelous singer, Irene has great taste in tunes. In fact, I've 'stolen quite a few from her!’

In 1964, she sang on Laurindo Almeida's Grammy© Award-winning album, Guitar From Ipanema. The following year, she recorded an album of her own, called Wonderful Life, on the small Mainstream label. In addition to her usual choice of great songs, unfortunately, the company insisted that she record three tunes aimed at the Top 40 'teen' market. On these songs, she seems like a fish out of water. Nothing came of the attempt to make her more 'commercial,’ and the songs stand as the only blemish on her recorded output of classy material.

Ten years passed before she recorded again. She continued to perform regularly at jazz clubs around the country. By the mid 70's, her relationship with her husband, Joe, had begun to deteriorate and shortly after their divorce, she met a Los Angeles disc jockey named Dennis Smith. ‘They got along wonderfully and really hit it off right from the start,’ her brother, Roy Kral recalls. ‘Dennis was the best thing that could have happened to her. It was his love and warmth, and his protection, and his caring for her that brought out this wonderful sound from her, at the time. Before that, her vocal tone had been a little more strident. Her relationship with Dennis brought all this warmth out of her, and that really showed in her singing on the Where Is Love album.’

Where Is Love was released in 1975 on the Choice label. On this album of solely ballads, she is accompanied by just piano, thoughtfully played by Alan Broadbent. The material is so laid back, it almost stands still. In the liner notes, she wrote, ‘This is meant to be heard only during that quiet time of the day, preferably with someone you love, when you can sink into your favorite chair, close your eyes and let in no outside thoughts to detract.’

In her 1984 book on women in jazz, Stormy Weather, Linda Dahl wrote: ‘Irene Kral had a lovely, resonant voice with a discreet vibrato, flawless diction and intonation, and a slight, attractive nasality and shaping of phrases that resembled Carmen McRae's. But where McRae's readings tend to the astringent, Kral's melt like butter. She was a master of quiet understatement and good taste.’

Her album, Kral Space, was released in 1977, and was a welcome return to the swinging trio sound of her earlier efforts. The album brought together the songs of contemporary jazz songwriters like Dave Frishberg and Bob Dorough, as well as Cole Porter and Jerome Kern. Kral Space was nominated for a Grammy© for Best Jazz Vocal performance.

The following year, another quiet album of voice and piano, Gentle Rain was released. Again she was nominated for a Grammy© for her work. Both years, she lost the award to her good friend Al Jarreau. Downbeat Magazine, in its' review of Gentle Rain, had this to say about her voice: ‘Irene Kral is one of today's most engaging vocalists. Though she doesn't possess a great natural instrument, Kral projects intelligence and emotional depth. This gives her performance a worldly dimension akin to that of Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra.’

Jazz singer/songwriter/pianist Dave Frishberg remembers, ‘Irene had a definite direction in her singing. I accompanied her many times as I've done for other singers. Usually, when you accompany a singer, there are times when the piano player can lead the singer into different directions. With Irene, she definitely led you and you followed. She knew exactly what she wanted, and she was firmly in command.’”

“Sometime Ago” which forms the audio track to the following video tribute to Irene and is from her Wonderful Life CD.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Sonny and Jim and The Bridge

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“When I went to the bridge, I wanted to learn how to arrange and improve my musicianship …. That kind of self-initiative was very important to me.”
- Sonny Rollins as told to David Yaffe in 1995 and quoted in Gary Giddins, Visions of Jazz [p. 416]

“... no matter the context - hard bop or free jazz - and however much he adjusted his timbre, he never abandoned a few enduring principles: a style of improvisation that combines thematic development with melodic paraphrase; a large and ever-changing book of standard songs complemented by distinctive originals; and a dedication to stout rhythms verging on dance.
Gary Giddins, Visions of Jazz [p. 418]

“Like Sarah Vaughan, … [Sonny] established a loyal concert following apart from the record-buying public.”
Gary Giddins, Visions of Jazz [p. 419]

“Rollins …  went into seclusion for over two years, practicing, refining his craft, reading, thinking. His return was eagerly anticipated by jazz fans—especially given the superheated atmosphere of the jazz world circa 1960. New sounds were in the air. At no time in the history of jazz music had the mandate to progress been felt so pervasively by the leading players. At times it seemed as if progressivism were the only aesthetic measure that really counted, for many critics and some fans, at this juncture in the music's evolution.”
Ted Gioia, The History of Jazz, [p. 312]

When I listen to the music of tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, I sense a brooding melancholy but also a broad humor. He is a fearless improvisor.  But for a  player with so much assurance, he also exhibits so much doubt when away from the music; so much energy yet so much turmoil when involved with the music.

Throughout his distinguished career, tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins has periodically taken time away from it.

When he first started doing this, the Jazz media would issue broadsides asking - “Where’s Sonny?”

Being the New York neighborhood cat that he was, it wouldn’t take long for a Sonny Sighting to occur usually involving some quixotic behavior on his part like practicing under the Williamsburg Bridge.

Back in the day, if you were not working the club scene and recording on a regular basis, especially if you were such a large talent like Sonny, people questioned your sanity.

These days with concert performances more the norm than club dates, when Sonny takes a few weeks or months off it’s not quite as big a deal.

However, as an example of Sonny’s tendencies to wander off the scene,  prior to the 1962 issuing of one of my favorite Rollins recordings, “the saxophonist disappeared for two years, before returning to the studio with a new contract from RCA. The Bridge [LP 2527; CD 0902 668518-2] started him off. [Guitarist Jim] Hall is an unexpectedly fine partner throughout, moving between rhythm and front line duties with great aplomb and actually finding ways to communicate with the most lofty of soloists. It is an often compelling record as a result.” [Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed. p. 1266]  

“Unexpectedly” is a nice way to characterize the pairing of Sonny Rollins with guitarist Jim Hall, but the result is an excellent example of the ‘sound of surprise” a phrase created by the late, writer Whitney Balliett to describe one of the remarkable qualities of Jazz.

[I’ve yet to find an observation in the Jazz literature linking the title of Sonny’s album - The Bridge - with his two year hiatus from the music prior to its recording, some of which found him practicing under the Williamsburg Bridge [!]. Too obvious, perhaps?

Gary Giddins offers these views of The Bridge and the pairing of Sonny and Jim on The Bridge in these excerpts from his always insightful Visions of Jazz:

“He exhibited a more rugged, direct timbre when he returned, with a lucrative RCA contract and The Bridge. (In the '50s, he had recorded exclusively for small independent labels, including Prestige, Contemporary, Blue Note, MGM, and Riverside.) Rollins sloughed off comparisons to his earlier work and upset critical preconceptions by constantly tinkering with his sound, while sampling in his uniquely jocular (many said sardonic) way the avant-garde and the new Latin wave. Some people were offended by his humor, some by his implacable authority. Others presumed a rivalry between Rollins and Coltrane that must have been galling to both men. Of the six controversial albums that emerged from his association with RCA, The Bridge was initially the most widely admired, probably because it was the most conventional—the most like his '50s LPs. Although the album presents his quartet, with Jim Hall on guitar, Rollins's solos are usually backed by bass and drums, so there is a connection to the trio albums. Yet the jazz world had changed in his absence: the new music surfaced and Rollins was intrigued.” [p. 416]

And writing in his seminal The History of Jazz, Ted Gioia put The Bridge in the following context:

“Rollins …  went into seclusion for over two years, practicing, refining his craft, reading, thinking. His return was eagerly anticipated by jazz fans—especially given the superheated atmosphere of the jazz world circa 1960. New sounds were in the air. At no time in the history of jazz music had the mandate to progress been felt so pervasively by the leading players. At times it seemed as if progressivism were the only aesthetic measure that really counted, for many critics and some fans, at this juncture in the music's evolution. Rollins felt these pressures yet he ultimately reacted with ambivalence. When he returned, Rollins may have been a changed man — during his sabbatical he had become a Rosicrucian, studied philosophy, exercised, practiced — but his music was strikingly unchanged, disappointing those who felt that Rollins, like Coltrane and Coleman, would create a totally different sound. His comeback album, The Bridge, was a solid effort, but found Rollins again playing jazz standards with a fairly traditional combo. The main change here was the addition of guitarist Jim Hall, a subtle accompanist and inspired soloist, but hardly the "new thing" in jazz.

Post-1960, Rollins's career tended to display tentative forays into the latest trend, followed inevitably by a return to more familiar ground….

Rollins's various retirements, reclusions, and reconsiderations could stand as symbolic of the whole era. Jazz was in a period of transition, of fragmentation into different schools, of reassessment. The music's modernist tradition, which Rollins epitomized, could no longer simply be taken for granted. Its assumptions—about harmony, melody, rhythm, song structure, instrumentation, and perhaps even more about the social role of jazz music — were constantly being questioned and increasingly found wanting by the more revolutionary musicians of the younger generation. Rollins's self-doubts were in many ways the same anxieties felt by his whole generation as it struggled to clear a path through this seeming pandemonium. Some looked for even more, for a transfiguring movement, the next new thing, that would draw these fragments back together into a new coherence. Others, less sanguine, felt that there would be no more towering figures, titans of the caliber of Armstrong, Ellington, Goodman, or Parker, who could define a whole age, give impetus to an entire generation. Instead jazz, it seemed, was condemned to — or was it blessed by? — a pluralism, in which "next new things" would come and go with amazing alacrity.” [pp. 312-313]

You can checkout Sonny and Jim together with Bob Cranshaw on bass and Ben Riley on drums as they perform Without A Song on the following video.

Whatever its limitations or representations, the pairing of Sonny and Jim was - to these ears - sublime.

Click on the “X” to close out of the ads.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Big Band Bossa Nova: Stan Getz and Gary McFarland [From the Archives]

The occasion for this re-posting is the copyright Gods granting of the reinstatement of the video that you will find its conclusion. 

On it you can hear the magic of the Getz - McFarland working relationship as Stan performs Gary's big band arrangement of Chega De Saudade which has been translated into English as both No More Blues and Too Much Longing.

From this vantage point, it is difficult to remember back to when the beautiful bossa nova melodies swept the USA in the early 1960s as a prelude to the psychedelic rock craze that closed that decade with The Beatles lodged somewhere in between.

Musical styles moved rapidly during that transitional decade and so did a lot of other socio-cultural developments. 

Many of bossa nova composers explained that the music was intended as a blending of "cool" Jazz sounds with a lighter samba rhythm so as to dial down the intensity of the street Samba which is so noisily characteristic of the Brazilian carnivals.

Unfortunately, the bossa nova did not prevail as an international musical trend, but it was nice while it lasted. 

© -Steven Cerra. Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Fresh from the sudden success of Jazz Samba and "Desafinado," Stan Getz asked the 28-year-old, strikingly gifted Gary McFarland to arrange a bossa nova album for big band as a follow-up. Getz is always his debonair, wistful, freely-floating self, completely at home in the Brazilian idiom that he'd adopted only a few months before. – Richard Ginell www.allmusic.com

Getz’s melodic gift was never more evident; even the way he plays "straight" melody is masterful. Few jazzmen have had this gift - Lester Young did - and it has to do with singing by means of an instrument, for Getz doesn't just play a solo, he sings it,… - Don DeMichael

Recorded in 1962, Stan Getz’s Big Band Bossa Nova [Verve V6-8494, CD 825771-2] which features his tenor sax in a series of magnificent arrangements by Gary McFarland is an album from a time when the world was awash in good music. 

Mainly through his early association with composers Antonio Carlos Jobim, João  Gilberto and João’s wife, vocalist Astrud, Getz was to become personified [and made quite wealthy] by his association with the bossa nova music from Brazil that became an international sensation in the early 1960s.

Lyrics were such a powerful and intriguing part of the bossa nova movement that it was initially unusual for instrumental-only versions of the music to succeed.

Big Band Bossa Nova was one of those early instrumental-only success LP’s. Getz, who had such a beautiful tone on the tenor saxophone that some musicians referred to him as “The Sound,” plays beautifully throughout, no doubt inspired in part by McFarland superbly developed and orchestrated arrangements.

Thanks to a friend in New Zealand whose collection of criticism and writings about Jazz appears to be equal to or greater than his [quite vast] collection of the recordings themselves, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles is able to share the following reviews of Big Band Bossa Nova which appeared in the Jazz press around the time of the album’s release.

Also included to further familiarize the reader with the album and its music are Gary McFarland’s and esteemed Jazz author Dom Cerulli’s liner notes to the original LP.

While Stan Getz was to go on and have a long and distinguished career, quite sadly, Gary McFarland passed away, under mysterious circumstances, at the very young age of 38.

For those interested in delving further into Gary’s music please checkout the website lovingly maintained in his honor by Douglas Payne.

Liner Notes to the Verve LP Big Band Bossa Nova [V6-8494]

“My first exposure to bossa nova was in the Spring of 1960 when a friend played a recording by João  Gilberto, a Brazilian guitarist and vocalist. I liked it immediately. Naturally, I responded to the rhythm, but it was more than that. There seemed to be more underplay, more subtlety than in other Latin rhythms but with just as much buzz or intensity. The songs had interesting chord progressions, and the melodic intervals were more modern than in traditional samba melodies. I'm sure that Gilberto's singing had much to do with my response to this music. His voice has an indefinable quality- something close to melancholy, but not quite.

I asked a Brazilian friend about the bossa nova, and he explained that it is a variation of the samba with modern harmonies and more syncopation than the traditional samba. He also told me that the first reaction in Brazil to this new music was similar to the American public's reaction to be-bop in the 40's- it was misunderstood by the traditionalists. However, it is now more widely accepted.
When Stan asked me to write an album for him, he told me to do anything I wanted. I had written a few bossa nova arrangements for Cal Tjader's group, and Stan had recorded a jazz samba album with Charlie Byrd. We both enjoyed working with this music, so we decided to do a big-band album with four songs by Brazilian composers and four songs of mine.

MANHA DE CARNIVAL (Morning Of The Carnival) is a theme from BLACK ORPHEUS. When I saw the movie, 1 was deeply touched by the gentle melody. In keeping with this mood is Jim Hall's treatment of the introduction on unamplified guitar. Following Stan's statement of the theme is an interlude in 5/4 leading into the guitar solo.

BALANCO NO SAMBA (Street Dance) was inspired by the film BLACK ORPHEUS, particularly the street scenes with the marching bands romping, the people dancing and yelling. This is more like a traditional fast samba. 1 think the band got a real happy feeling on this song.

MELANCOLICO (Melancholy) is another tune of mine. Stan plays the verse, the band enters, and he states the melody. The piano solo is by Hank Jones.

ENTRE AMIGOS (Sympathy Between Friends). Stan's phrasing on this tune is, as always, extremely lyrical. After Stan's solo the trumpets play a 16-bar figure that is typical of the high level of their performance on the entire date.

CHEGA DE SAUDADE (Too Much Longing) was also written by Jobim and is one of the best-constructed songs I have ever heard. Notice the restatement of the original minor theme in major during the last 16 bars of the song. Doc Severinsen introduces the melody in the opening statement. Stan begins his solo and is joined by Bob Brookmeyer for 32 measures, leading into the complete statement of the melody. Doc's sensitive handling of the introduction and the interplay between Stan and Bob are high points.

NOITE TRISTE (Night Sadness) is a song of mine. The melody is first stated out of tempo by Hank Jones and then restated by Stan leading into his solo. Drummer Johnny Rae plays Chinese finger cymbals on the first 16 bars of the solo.
SAMBA DE UMA NOTA SO (One Note Samba) was written by Antonio Carlos Jobim, a composer-arranger who works with Gilberto on most of his albums. I have a lot of respect for Jobim's work. This is a song I heard Gilberto sing, and I thought it would be a good ensemble piece.

BIM BOM, by Joao Gilberto, is a lilting melody in the lighter spirit of bossa nova. Solos by Stan and Jim sustain this happy feeling.

I am indebted to the whole band for making the always difficult task of recording much easier. Drummer Johnny Rae did a wonderful job of heading the rhythm section; his experience in Latin music made him an invaluable asset to the band.

About Stan - well, his is a unique talent. In the strong romantic quality of his playing, in his regard for the melody and the spirit of a song, he is perfectly in tune with bossa nova.”


DOWNBEAT 1962  Rating:*****

This is one of the most musical albums I've ever heard. And, please, let's drop the pigeonhole bit- it doesn't make a great deal of difference if this music is called jazz, bossa nova, or what.

And Getz. . . . His playing is flowing, lyrical, inventive, beautifully songlike -commonplace words all, and none describe adequately or even come close. Those words don't capture that sad-glad feeling he achieves on Melancolico or Entre Amigos. Nor can they substitute for hearing his tenor line rise like a dove from a descending trumpet figure on Melancolico; it lasts but a moment, but it's just one of many little diamonds strewn through this record.

Getz’s melodic gift was never more evident; even the way he plays "straight" melody is masterful. Few jazzmen have had this gift - Lester Young did - and it has to do with singing by means of an instrument, for Getz doesn't just play a solo, he sings it, as can be heard on any of these tracks, most evidently on Noite Triste and Chega De Saudade.

The most remarkable performance in the album is Chega De Saudade, a lovely tune by Antonio Carlos Jobim. It begins with Severinsen's unaccompanied trumpet and gradually builds, like a flower unfolding its beauty. Following Getz1 first solo, he and Brookmeyer engage in a twining duet, as if they were dancing around each other's phrases- it's a wonderful moment.

McFarland shares in the artistic success of the album. His writing is peerless. With what he's shown on this effort and his own adaptation of 'How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying' released earlier this year, he looms large as an outstanding writer. He knows the proper combination of instruments to achieve certain sounds, and he has the taste not to use all the instruments at hand all the time. His sparing use of the ensemble allows the beauty of the soloist and the material to shine through.

Perhaps McFarland's mastery of writing in song form explains his taste in orchestration, for the four songs he contributed (Balanco No Samba, Melancolico, Entre Amigos, and Noite Triste ) are much, much more than record-date lines. Others deserving credit for their work on the album are Jim Hall, for his sensitive unamplified accompaniment and for his solos on Manha De Carnival and Bim Bom; Hank Jones, whose taste matches that of Getz and McFarland. as can be heard on his out-of-tempo Noite Triste theme statement; and Johnny Rae, for general excellence (his use of finger cymbals behind Getz on Noite Triste is a perfect touch).

But it's still Getz who is most responsible for the beauty of the album. This record, 'Focus', and 'Jazz Samba', all issued this year, plus the quality of his 1962 in-person performances - well, most of them - lead me to believe Getz is at the height of his creative powers. And he sure wasn't a slouch before.”

Don DeMichael


“Gary McFarland, who arranged all the numbers here and conducted the band, wrote Balanco No Samba, Melancolico, Entre Amigos, and Noite Triste in the style of such native Brazilian bossa nova composers as Antonio Carlos Jobim and Louis Bonfa. In recent months McFarland has been the arranger on a number of records and has contributed several pleasant melodic themes, but it is still too early to detect any very clear personality in his work.

The bossa nova is, to all intents and purposes, a samba played with jazz overtones, the themes using more 'modern' chord progressions and the rhythm being more subtle than is the case with most of the older sambas. I find the work of Bonfa in particular very interesting in the compositional field but while the idiom provides an attractive means of varying the content of a jazz LP I suspect that too many records solely devoted to it will prove a little wearisome. This is by the way, of course, for this present release is the best of its kind that I have heard to date.

Stan Getz is a particularly good choice to carry the main solo role, for his style, although it has developed more strength over the past few years, is notable for a melodic awareness that fits aptly with the thematic content to be heard in the best of bossa nova. The lightness and grace of his work on Chega de Saudade and Bim Bom is immensely attractive - these are perhaps the best tracks on the LP- but one must not overlook the fact that graceful as the outlines of his solos may be they do not lack, as was sometimes the case in his earliest records, the necessary swing. Throughout this LP the impressive aspect of Getz's playing is the balance between refinement and rhythmic strength, illustrated very well on his finely constructed solos on the two tracks already mentioned and on Manha De Carnival and Balanco No Samba. The only other soloist to be heard at length is Jim Hall who is also playing better than before, with a continuity previously lacking, and he is heard to best advantage on Manha De Carnival and Bim Bom.

Two points which bossa nova can claim credit for is far superior themes than one hears in the case of the average jazz 'original' and the guiding of guitarists to the potentialities of their instrument in its unamplified form. Bossa nova may be something in the nature of a gimmick in its exploitation by the record companies but when a musician of Getz's talent uses it this LP proves that it can be stimulating and melodically attractive. I think that most readers will find this a very worthwhile LP, the playing time being rather short at 33 1/2 minutes, and the recording excellent.”

Albert McCarthy

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Lennie Tristano On Multi-Taping, Competition, Recording Echo, Rhythm Sections and Playing Together

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Nat Hentoff is right about one thing, when you talk with Lennie Tristano as he did in the following interview which appeared in the May 16, 1956 edition of Downbeat, Lennie certainly stimulates the way you think about and listen to Jazz.

Five areas are of particular concern to Lennie as he talks to Nat about the Jazz scene in mid-20th century New York City: the legitimacy of multi-taping, the onerous presence of competition amongst musicians, the overuse of echo in recordings, rhythm sections that impede the flow of the music and growing inability of musicians to play together.

Given our recent feature on overdubbing and superimposition involving the pianist Bill Evans and the photographer Erwin Blumenfeld, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it might be interesting to pursue some aspects of that thread from the vantage point of Lennie Tristano’s talk with Nat Hentoff.

An implied assumption in Lennie’s chat with Nat is how central Jazz was in the popular culture of the time as Rock ‘n Roll had not as yet become a factor and Country and Western and Folk Music were still regionalized phenomena at best.

At the time of this interview in 1956, Jazz still mattered.

© -  Nat Hentoff/Downbeat, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“After he made coffee, Lennie Tristano sat and talked in his studio late one afternoon. Except for a small lamp that gave a bare minimum of light by which to scrawl notes, the studio was dark. The room was also curiously peaceful as if it were used to long periods of silence as well as music, and relatively unused to loud, hurried anxiety.

Usually after an interview, I piece together a mosaic of quotes into a monologue that has more continuity than any real conversation short of a visiting clergyman's can really have. This time I decided not to splice the talk as much as usual, and to record instead what an actual conversation with Tristano is like.

I've talked with many people in line of assignments and after hours, and I am rarely as stimulated as by a talk with Tristano. Like the writings of Andre Hodeir, the ideas of Tristano awaken the kind of attention that moves a mind to think for itself. Whether one agrees with all of Lennie's points or not, one is always aware that unusually probing points are being made.

Lennie's Atlantic LP [#1224 entitled Tristano] had recently been released, his first recording in some four years. It had immediately detonated controversy, a phenomenon hardly new to Tristano activities. While there was nearly unanimous agreement that the music was absorbing, there were strong objections in some quarters to Lennie's use of multiple taping on several of the tracks, and some suspected that in two of the numbers, the piano tape had also been speeded up. A similar multi-track controversy had been ignited by a Tristano single record a few years before.

"I remember," Lennie said, "that around 1952, when that last record came out—"Juju" and "Pass-Time"—there wasn't one review out of the five or so that the record received that mentioned that those two sides could possibly have been a result of multiple track recording. It was only six months or a year later that somebody got the idea it might be, and then the talk started. I never really told anybody whether it was or not.

"One of the people who got so hung up on the subject," Lennie continued with amused calm, "was Leonard Bernstein. He and Willie Kapell were over here one night, and Bernstein finally decided it was a multiple track recording. He couldn't stand to believe it wasn't. And then Kapell sat down at the piano and started playing Mozart 16 times faster than normal. Lee Konitz tried to save the situation earlier by telling them it was multi-track. But he didn't know for sure, either.

"The reason I mention this background for the present controversy"— Lennie became more animated—"is to illustrate one of the most surprising things prevalent in music today—the element of competition. It's true of the musicians and non-musicians. They can't just listen to the music. They have to compete with it. If it's not in terms of speed—whether they can play as fast as the record—then it's in terms of finding out what the tune is. It's ridiculous. You can't hear music if you're not able to sit back and listen a few times, just listen. Then, if you can do that, maybe the fourth or the 10th time, you can figure out what the tune is if you want to. It doesn't really matter, anyway. The music does.

"Getting back to an example of competition by speed," Lennie said, "there was a night I was playing at Birdland, and I was playing something pretty frantic. A boy was standing at the bar—he was a pianist—and as he watched me, his hand got paralyzed. He dropped the glass he was holding, and his hand was still paralyzed a half hour later. That's kinesthetic competition, and it's a pitiful commentary on this urge to compete. Some people are affected physically another way. I've seen them get sick and have to leave the room. It gets them in the stomach. They get scared and have to cut out. They can't just enjoy the music; they listen to see if they can do it.

"It's not just me that some people react to that way," Tristano emphasized. "Many piano players, when Bud was playing great, couldn't stand to listen. They gave up, some of them, and became like slaves, like worshippers. That's why the worshipper has to elevate the artist he worships to such a height. If they remove this particular artist from any type of human contact, they feel they no longer have to compete with him. You don't have to compare yourself with God. It's not as if they had kept him on earth, which is where he belongs.

"Another aspect of this whole thing," Lennie reflected, "is the reaction of a lot of people who have played with me. They can't stand to have me pause in my line. The longer I pause, the tenser they get. Once at a concert in Toronto, I'd stopped for 16 bars. The time was going on and I could feel the drummer get tenser and tenser. Finally I hit one chord, and it was as if I'd set off an explosion. He hit everything on that drum set he could, all at once. The drums were all over the stage. It's like he was waiting for me to pounce on him.

"My audience sometimes reacts the same way when I pause. They get tense. What's Lennie going to do now? What's Lennie going to hit us with next? Instead of listening, they're worrying."

The conversation returned to the new LP. According to Barry Ulanov's notes on the set, "Lennie has fooled with the tapes of 'East Thirty-Second' and 'Line Up,' adjusting the bass lines Peter Ind (on bass) and Jeff Morton (on drums) prepared for him to the piano lines he has superimposed on them." Barry went on to mention the paired piano lines in "Requiem" and "the three lines played—and recorded—one on top of the other in the 'Turkish Mambo'... one track proceeds from 7/8 to 7/4, another from 5/8 to 5/4, the last from 3/8 to 4/4."

"If I do a multiple-tape," Lennie said slowly with determination, "I don't feel I'm a phony thereby. Take the 'Turkish Mambo.' There is no way I could do it so that I could get the rhythms to go together the way I feel them. And as for playing on top of a tape of a rhythm section, that is only second-best admittedly. I'd rather do it 'live,' but this was the best substitute for what I wanted.

"If people want to think I speeded up the piano on 'East Thirty-Second' and 'Line Up,' I don't care. What I care about is that the result sounded good to me. I can't otherwise get that kind of balance on my piano because the section of the piano I was playing on is too similar to the bass sound. That's especially so on the piano I use because it's a big piano and the bass sound is very heavy. But, again, my point is that it's the music that matters."

One of the objections voiced to these particular tracks was that whatever Lennie did to the tape made his playing very fast. "It's really not that fast, though," Lennie said. "There are lots of recordings out there that are much faster. I understand some people say that making a record like the one I made isn't fair because I couldn't play the numbers that fast in a club. Well, I'll learn the record so I can play it at that tempo 'live.' But even as is, it's not that fast. Some people are being misled by the nature of what it feels and sounds like rather than by the tempo itself. The tempo, in most jazz joints, in fact, is faster than on the record. And the record was a little above A-flat. That may account for a little of the speed, too.

"Actually," Lennie said, "we manipulated other things electronically. Am I to be put down for adding a tape echo on the blues and adding a tremolo on the last chorus of that number? In essence, I feel exactly this. When I sit down to do something, I can hear and feel what I want. Instead of trying to have three or four people on hand so I don't have the 'stigma' of multi-track recording, there are some things I'd rather do myself because there are some things I want to do that others are not capable of doing with me.

"If someone objects," Lennie pointed out, "to, let's say, the sound on 'Line Up,' that's a matter of taste. But why not hear what's happening in the line to see if that's of any value, and why not hear what kind of feeling the performance has? I have absolutely no qualms about multi-tracking. This kind of thing happens all the time in the recording of classical music, for one example. Are we supposed to give up the typewriter because we've had the pencil so long? Or am I not to use the Telefunken mike and rely instead on a dirt old crystal mike? I'm sure other people have done a lot more multi-tracking than I have. There's nothing at all wrong, for another example, in a pianist recording both parts of a two-piano classical work. Why is it wrong when I do it?"

I mentioned at this point that a recorded case in point is the Heifetz recording on both parts of the Bach Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins (Victor LM 1051).

"Anyway," Lennie said, "I will continue to do anything that will produce on a record what I hear and feel."

The conversation then veered to the problem of recording itself. "Right now in jazz," Tristano came on strongly, "everything is being recorded with a lot of echo, with the illusion of a big room. Even if the recording is done close, the full impact doesn't come through. It may be that people don't want that direct an impact, maybe they prefer to have everything softened by the added echo and want to hear their music in a sweet, mushy context like Muzak. I'm not against reverberation as such, but this excess use of echo points to the fact that a lot of people can't really take jazz in its straight, natural form.

"A little echo is all right, but now it's no longer being used as an effect," Lennie went on. "Now it's the whole thing.

"As for the Atlantic LP, except for the tracks made at the Confucius, where you really couldn't get a good balance—the engineers did a good job considering everything—the rest of the LP I made here at the studio without an engineer. And those tracks came out pretty good.

"I used a Telefunken, a great mike, maybe a foot or a foot and a half over the strings. On the blues I added a little tape echo. There was no echo, I think, on the
others here. I was trying to get a kind of cathedral sound, and I think I made it. There's quite a difference, incidentally, between a tape echo and echo chambers or reverberation generators. Tape echo, I feel, is a little more pronounced and more natural. With tape echo you can actually hear the echo coming through the second time instead of a big hollow, open sound as with an echo chamber."

Since various aspects of recording had dominated the talk up to this point, I asked Lennie why he had waiting so long to record again, even though he had received offers from almost every label in the field. "For one thing," Lennie explained, "I wasn't able to find a rhythm section. I don't mean, let me make clear, that there aren't any good rhythm section men. I just couldn't find one for myself, and I still can't."

Asked what he wanted in a rhythm section, Lennie detailed his requirements: "I want time that flows. I want people who don't break the rhythm section with figures that are really out of context. What figures are used should be in the context of what's happening, so as not to break continuity. A lot of drummers interpolate figures that break the line. All of a sudden, the line stops, and he plays a cute figure on a snare drum or a tom-tom. Some bass players do that, too. They break time to play a figure that doesn't fit with what's already happened and is happening. With rhythm sections I've played with, I don't have the feeling of a constantly flowing pulse no matter what happens. As soon as I feel the pulse being interrupted, my flow is interrupted whether I'm playing or resting, because it's all the same thing.

"I also need in a rhythm section people with feeling for simultaneous combinations of time—people who are able to perceive 5/4 and 4/4 at the same time. I'll probably be doing more and more of that. Working with 7/4 and 6/4 and the double times of those—5/8, 6/8, 7/8, and maybe sometimes 9/8. Occasionally, I've played something and tried to figure it out afterward, and have maybe done some 13/8."

Lennie continued his description of the rhythm section he's seeking: "I'd like to have a rhythm section with a feeling for dynamics. One of the faults of most jazz today is that it proceeds at one dynamic level.

"What I'm after is not an up and down kind of thing but something pretty subtle. Parenthetically, I think that drummers today are doing too much. They play the bass drums, sock cymbal, snare drum, top cymbal—four basic instruments right there. Add to that tom-toms, other accessories, and funny noises like tapping on top of the snare, and it's all much more than one man should be doing.

"Then there's the matter of tempo," Lennie said. "Rhythm sections today like to play a real fast tempo—'cooking' as some people call it. A real fast 2/4. As a result, everything is pat and things go by so fast with generally a good feeling that they don't miss the subtleties, subtleties that ought to be there. Another thing is the ridiculous ballad tempo that's prevalent. They try to get it just right so they can play double time on that, too, so they really wind up in the same place. And the in-between tempos are generally very crude.

"I want to play a lot of different tempos and more of the in-between. For example, many of the early Bird records and the early Pres sides with Basic were played at these in-between tempos. A couple of the Pres records—like 'Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie'—were fast, but he made it. Now 'Ko-Ko' was one of Bird's fastest records, and it wasn't as good as the more in-between 'Warming Up a Riff,' also based on 'Cherokee,' which had more creative Bird.

"Another thing I've missed," Lennie said, "is that people don't seem to have a feeling of playing together. That's a general comment, of course. Some people play together better than others. But a lot of people give the impression of everybody manning his particular gun and shooting wherever he wants to. Remember the old Billie records with Teddy Wilson, Roy and sometimes Pres? The rhythm section on those is sort of old-fashioned now, but they really played together. This is probably true of jazz in general right now. You don't hear the kind of togetherness in the groups that are playing. There's either a neat, commercial jazz sound, or they're trying to improvise and it's a little ragged."

Lennie came back to his specific problems with rhythm sections. "I have trouble with bass players and chord progressions. I've pointed out to them that instead of trying to find out where I'm going, they'd do a lot better and get a better sound by playing the foundation chord instead of trying to get to where I am at the moment. If they're on the fundamental chord, they'll get to relate to what I'm doing and eventually get to where I am sometimes.

"To make another general statement," Lennie said, "everybody's a soloist now.
There are no more sidemen in the world. Everybody is a star. I can't imagine anything more monotonous, for example, than a bass playing two or three choruses on a ballad unless it's a good bass player like Oscar Pettiford who can solo."

"What about the charge," I interjected, "concerning the long time you didn't record, the charge that you didn't want to set down your ideas so people could have them that accessible for copying?"

"I don't think anyone would want to copy me to start with," Lennie answered. "And what I do isn't pat or that perfect anyway. Now the way Bird played his ideas, they were perfect the way they were. Changing some of the notes would have spoiled them. What you can do is mix them up or play them in different sequences but the essential idea was perfect. Another thing you can do with Bird's ideas is play them on a different part of the bar. Instead of one, start the idea on two. Or you can stretch a 4/4 idea into 5/4 or 7/4, lengthen the phrase. I feel that if Bird's situation had been conducive to this sort of thing, he would have done that kind of thing himself. I remember doing a concert with him and we were warming up without a rhythm section. I was playing some chords and he was really stretching out.

"Another factor in my not having recorded in so long a time is that I'm not ambitious. If I don't think I have something to record that means something to me, I don't feel the necessity to release it. At least half the records of mine that are out are rejects from my point of view. A couple of the Capitol sides, for instance, and most of the Prestige, a couple on Disc, and the four on Royale. It's really pretty silly because it means part of my audience likes me because of my bad records. That's why I've felt that as soon as I learned how to play I'd lose a big part of my audience, an audience that's not too big to start with.

"I don't think, by the way," Lennie said, "that I'm the next jazz messiah. The way some people have spoken or written of me pro and con may have created the impression I thought that, but that isn't the way I think, and I've never said it Maybe that impression is also due to the antagonism against me in some quarters. If enough people put somebody down, he assumes a large proportion in some eyes.

"What I am doing is trying within the limits of my ability to develop my capacity to improvise so that I'm really improvising as much of the time as I can. I think I've

done a few things that haven't been done, at least to the extent that I'm doing them, but I don't feel there's anything 'great' about them. It took me a long time, for example, to feel 5/4 and 10/4 on top of 4/4. It's something that can't be done intellectually. It's something you have to get the feel. I am not running some kind of weird laboratory and manipulating scientific gadgets. It's been hard learning how to play what I feel on the piano because the piano is a difficult instrument. There are fingering problems we all have. Other instrumentalists, for example, generally can make the same note with the same finger. With the piano, there are spatial problems..."

There was a visitor downstairs, and this next turn in the conversation had to be postponed. As I was leaving, Lennie said, "There is one other thing I'm looking for, and perhaps the magazine's readers can help. We'll have to be leaving this building soon since they're tearing it down. I haven't found a new location yet. Anybody with an idea can write me at the studio, 317 E. 32nd St.

"I also am thinking of starting a club again. As for working in other clubs, I have offers, but I'm not sure yet what I'll be doing in that regard. Jazz musicians are expected to be entertainers. I'm not. Although I feel I can be very entertaining sometimes among friends."

The following video montage features Lennie's overdubbed version of Turkish Mambo.