Thursday, May 28, 2020

J.J. Johnson Quintet - I Should Care

J.J. Johnson on trombone with Bobby Jaspar on tenor sax, Tommy Flanagan on piano, Wilbur Little on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. What a band!! Preview of coming attraction.

Lionel Hampton: A Founding Father of the Jazz Vibraphone

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

“When he joined Benny Goodman’s orchestra in 1936, Lionel Hampton’s principal instrument, the vibraphone, was relatively unknown in the jazz world as a whole.
Hampton, more than anyone, is largely responsible for taking what was a quasi-novelty sound—essentially a "souped up" xylophone with added vibrato effect— and transforming it into a mainstream jazz instrument. …

Hampton's work in the context of the Goodman combo gave the "vibes" (as it eventually came to be known) a new level of legiti­macy. Of course, Hampton's energy, inventiveness, enthusiasm, and sheer sense of swing also had much to do with this. His was a style built on abundance: long loping lines, blistering runs of sixteenth notes, baroque ornamentations, all accompanied by an undercurrent of grunting and humming from above.

Few figures of the be-bop era, with the obvious exception of Tatum (with whom the vibraphonist later jousted in a session of note-filled excesses), could squeeze more into a sixteen-bar solo than Hampton. In the battle of form versus content, the latter always won when this seminal figure was on stage.”

- Ted Gioia, The History of Jazz, [p.151, paraphrased]

“Hampton’s exuberant improvising, always full of high spirits, heady emotion and finger-poppin’ excitement, marvelously complemented [pianist] Teddy Wilson’s cooler, more controlled virtuosity. Between the two of them, they suggested the full range of expressive possibilities in Benny Goodman’s own playing.”

- Ross Firestone, Swing, Swing, Swing: The Life and Times of Benny Goodman

“The exuberance and excitement and feeling of exultation that Lionel Hampton contributes to any musical occasion with which he is associated are absolutely amazing. No other single performer in American jazz—and in American big bands, too—has so consistently and joyously incited and inspired his fellow musicians and his listening audiences. For Hamp invariably projects a wonderful, uninhibited aura of spontaneity that brightens every place in which he performs and that assures everyone within earshot that music, fast or slow, screaming or sentimental, can be a joy forever—or at least as long as Lionel happens to be playing it.…

The band that Hamp eventually led, and continued to lead for many years thereafter, was primarily a swinging one, a high-flying swinging one, com­plete with brilliant showmanship and musicianship from Hampton and a whole series of talented musicians whom he discovered and inserted into his lineups.

Hamp always surrounded himself with outstanding musicians, …. [He]had a good ear and a good eye for new talent, and the list of musi­cians he has discovered is truly an amazing one. "We've been the breeding place of some fine jazz musicians," he told me one day, as he reeled off, with obvious pride, such names as Charles Mingus, Quincy Jones, Illinois Jacquet, Lucky Thompson, Joe Newman, Ernie Royal, Cat Anderson, Kenny Dorham, Art Farmer and many more, as well as singers Dinah Washington and Joe Williams.”

- George T. Simon, The Big Bands, 4th Ed.

In looking back, Lionel Hampton was there at the beginning of my Jazz “Life.”

He holds a special place in my coming-of-age in the music as he was the vibraphonist in the very first small Jazz group I ever heard.

Lionel was a member of clarinetist Benny Goodman’s quartet which also featured Teddy Wilson on piano and Gene Krupa on drums.

The irrepressible swing of this combo made an indelible mark on me and I’ve always held the music played Benny’s quartet as the standard by which to evaluate other combos.

Cohesiveness, listening closely to one another, sharing the solo spotlight but, above all, swinging with a sense of a firm rhythmic propulsion.

These are the qualities that impressed me in Benny’s quartet and its what I want to experience when I listen to other small groups.

Benny’s quartet had so much energy and enthusiasm and to my ear, the spark that ignited these qualities was Lionel Hampton.

Following his time with Benny Goodman, Lionel moved on to lead his own small groups and big bands for over 60 years.

The Jazz world also moved on and away from the style of Jazz that Hampton represented until his death in 2002.

For many of the reasons described in the following excerpts from Günter Schuller’s monumental The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz 1930-1945, Lionel became less of an artistic Jazz performer and more of a commercially successful one, especially for those fans who prefer their Jazz expressed in a more discriminating manner.

When Universal Pictures made The Benny Goodman Story in 1955, it reassembled the Goodman quartet to appear as themselves in the movie.

While they were in town for the filming of the movie,  the Jazz impresario Norman Granz had his usual excellent presence-of-mind to bring Lionel, Teddy Wilson and Gene Krupa together to record a album for his then recently formed Verve Records label.

I coupled some schimolies together from my newspaper delivery route savings and bought a copy which I virtually wore-out while practicing to it.

Airmail Special from this Verve album is the audio track on the video tribute to Lionel Hampton at the conclusion of this profile about one of Jazz’s Founding Fathers. Teddy, Lionel and Gene all play exceptional solos. Have a look and a listen and see what you think.

© -  Günter Schuller/Oxford University Press , copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Hampton has been one of the most successful and enduring multi-instrumentalists in jazz, obviously one of the few outstanding vibraphone solo­ists, but a drummer and (mostly two-fingered) pianist and talented singer as well. …

In any period of its history, one is tempted to apply the word unique to Lionel Hampton. Certainly no one has outrivaled Hampton in sheer exuberance, phys­ical as well as emotional. Motored by a seemingly limitless supply of energy and stamina, Hampton's playing is known the world over for its relentless physicality, unhampered technical facility (especially on vibraphone), and a seemingly im­perturbable inventiveness. Limitless outpourings of rhythmic energy being al­ways more admired in the popular arena than subtlety or refinement of thought, Hampton's image as the unremitting hard swingster has far outstripped an aware­ness of his considerable lyric and melodic talents.

To be sure, Hampton's approach to music is often unsubtle, uncritical, at times even tasteless. In truth, when he assaults his drums, brutalizes the piano keyboard in his hammered two-finger style, pounds the vibraphone into submis­sion, the perspiration quotient is high indeed, its inspiration equivalent often considerably lower. Both in his ability to generate audience frenzy and in his own susceptibility to it, Hampton foreshadowed the empty-minded hysteria of today's more outrageous rock singers. Nor is the distance between rock and Hampton's 1940s' early form of rhythm-and-blues all that great, certainly not in respect to its rhythmic, dynamic, and energy levels.

What all this unfortunately obscures is Hampton's talents as a balladeer, both as a vibraharpist and a singer, and his equally innate ability to express himself in gentler, more subtle ways.

Hampton's is a natural, uncomplicated musical talent—almost casually inven­tive—in which the sheer joy of performing, the direct unfurrowed communica­tion to an audience, is more important than any critical or intellectual assess­ment of it. He is in this sense also not a leader, the way Ellington and Lunceford, for example, were.

Stylistic identity and the creation of a recognizable individual orchestral style have never been uppermost in Hampton's thoughts, succumbing instead to a randomness of approach that accounts for much of the inconsistency of quality in both of his own playing and that of his accompanying groups, large or small. Indeed, his ambivalence in these matters caused him, when he contemplated forming a large band, to consider seriously any number of orchestral options, ranging from hot to sweet, from frantic jump to sedate dance, including the use of a large string section.

Fortunately Hampton did in the end opt for a more orthodox jazz instrumentation, one which in due course became pre-eminent as a dynamic hard-driving swinging ensemble.” [excerpted, pp. 393-394] …

“Great originality and well-conceived solos are, however, not Hampton's forte. He is not so much a creator as he is a compiler. His solos tend to consist of a series of remembered or "common practice" motives, which he infuses with his own brand of energy and strings together into a musical discourse. While this method ensures that Hampton is never at a loss for ideas, the solos tend to be based too much on patterns and repetitions, rather than development of ideas. Hampton improvisations are more apt to be a collection of riffs. This is espe­cially true in faster temps, whereas in more relaxed contexts his melodic and ornamental gifts are given freer rein. More disturbing even than the reliance on patterns, however, is Hampton's fatal compulsion for musical quotations. Un­critical audiences, of course, love these diversions, delighted to recognize some snippet from the musical public domain and enjoying the improviser's challenge of fitting it into, say, a 2-bar break, a challenge Hampton never fails to meet. The liability of these tactics, however, on a serious level is that they inevitably interrupt the musical argument, rather than extend or develop it. For all of Hampton's inordinate facility, his music-making is often indiscriminate and un­critical.

Hampton is also rarely adventurous harmonically. He may appreciate the "modern" orchestral settings provided by many of his arrangers, but he himself rarely contributes significantly in the way of harmonic/melodic explorations, being generally content to maintain a more conservative stance, well-rooted in the swing language of the thirties.” [excerpted p. 397]

Hampton is what he is, and no amount of latter-day analyzing can—or should— make him into anything else. He is, like Armstrong, one of the old school, where the entertainer role is always prominent, perhaps even primary. And like Armstrong—though certainly not on his creative level—Hampton is a dedicated artist-musician and craftsman, his flamboyance and exhibitionism not withstand­ing. And perhaps most significantly, Hampton has been the keeper of a venera­ble tradition which, though it stands apart from all recent developments in jazz, is nevertheless a respectable one and one which Hampton, given his age and stature, is well entitled to preserve.” [excerpted, p. 402]

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Louis Prima – Show Time!

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

“In 1954, after a few years of scuffling, he and his new vocalist Keely Smith (by this time his wife) joined together with saxophonist Sam Butera to form an act that set Las Vegas on fire. Prima did for Vegas what he had done almost 20 years earlier for 52nd Street [at the Famous Door] — opened the door to a whole new era of entertainment. Every hotel in Vegas began to book big name acts for their casino lounges in the wake of Prima and Smith's success.”
- Lloyd Rausch

“Though Louis Prima recorded widely and well throughout the '30s, achieving great popularity and visibility, his name is often conspicuous by its absence from standard jazz histories. Dealing with him seriously means confronting one aspect of New Orleans jazz which chroniclers, almost as a point of honor, seem to find distasteful.

That, of course, is the matter of showmanship. The flamboyance of Prima's latter career, in which his identity as a trumpeter became almost totally subor­dinate to his role as a high-energy showman, seems to offend those who would represent jazz as an art music of solemnity and unstinting high purpose. The Las Vegas image, the raucous sound of Sam Butera and the Witnesses, the risque badinage with singer Keely Smith—such make it all too easy to mistake this showbiz aspect of Prima for the creative substance, ignoring his past achievements and core musicianship.

Far from being exclusive to such as Prima, the idea of hot music as an arm of highly commercialized show business runs throughout the early years. It's present in the singing, dancing, and impromptu comedy skits of the dance bands, including those that prided themselves on their dedication to jazz. Its absence is a root cause of the failure of the great Jean Goldkette orchestra, an ensemble which either stubbornly resisted advice to "put on a show" or acquiesced in a manner landing somewhere between perfunctory and downright hostile.

For New Orleans musicians, especially, showmanship was—and remains—a fact of life. Was it not Louis Armstrong, above all, who understood the relation­ship between music and entertainment, and never wavered in his application of it, even in the face of critical hostility? "You'll always get critics of showman­ship," he told British critic Max Jones. ‘Critics in England say I was a clown, but a clown—that's hard. If you can make people chuckle a little; it's happiness to me to see people happy, and most of the people who criticize don't know one note from another.’

Prima, in common with his two hometown friends Wingy Manone and Sharkey Bonano, accepted—as had Nick LaRocca before them—that they were, above all, entertainers; they might now and then get together for their own enjoyment, and even (as in the case of the 1928 Monk Hazel titles) make music to suit themselves. But where the public was concerned, the paying customers always came first. By his own lights, and by the laws of the box office, Prima was doing what he properly should be doing, and with resounding success. It is only re­grettable that the nature of his fame in later years has drawn attention away from his skills as one of the most accomplished, often thrilling, of New Orleans trumpet men.”

- Richard Sudhalter, Lost Chords:White Musicians and Their Contributions to Jazz, 1915-1945 [p. 80, emphasis mine]
A-zoom, a-zoom, a-zoom, a-zooma or some such onomatopoeia.

Shuffle beats; rim shots; plenty of triplets and cymbal crashes.

Boogie woogie piano rumblings; bar-walking tenor saxophone licks; trumpet, trombone and sax unison, “shout choruses” to close out the tunes.

False song endings; surprise endings; stop-and-start endings.

Hand-clapping, finger-poppin’ and foot-stompin;” sometimes even sing-a-longs if the melody was a familiar one [most were].

Laughter, smiles-all around and much joy and happiness in listening to the music all served up in an atmosphere of watered-down cocktails, stale smoke with not a clock in sight - anywhere.

A good time was had by all despite the fact that the “3 Shows Nightly” generally took place at 11:00 PM, 2:00 AM and 4:00 AM, respectively.

Pack away the cymbals, put a cover over the drums and join the other members of the band for a breakfast of steak and eggs before going “home” to sleep all day, which was just as well given the torrid, daytime heat of the desert sun.

This is a brief description of what it was like to play in one of the Show Bands that were everywhere apparent on the Las Vegas strip before the town gave itself over to the bigness and big business wrought by corporate America and “live” music virtually disappeared as one casualty of profitability.

The Sands, the Flamingo, the Tropicana, the Sahara, the Desert Inn, Harrah’s, The Barbary Coast and a host of other casinos featured show bands in one or more of their lounges as free entertainment for those punters who wanted a break in the action. Some came by with a date or to have one-more-for-the-road.

The entertainment in these lounges was generally free and it was often of the highest quality.

The King of the Show Band leaders was Louis Prima who re-made his career in music at The Casbar Lounge of the Sahara beginning in 1954.  Along with vocalist Keely Smith and tenor saxophonist Sam Butera and The Witnesses, Louis Prima’s act was the act that all of the other acts caught when they performed in Las Vegas.

On any given evening [morning?], one could find Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peggy Lee, Dinah Shore, and many of the major comedians who played Las Vegas taking in one of Louis, Kelly and Sam’s sets.

For the next ten years or so, Louis’ lounge act was the talk of Las Vegas and was responsible for spawning a generation of show bands that employed a similar style in supper clubs, night clubs and restaurants all over the country.

Twenty-six tracks from the heyday of Louis’ time in the Las Vegas lounges have been issued as a Louis Prima Collectors Series Capitol Records CD [CDP 794072 2] and they are a treat.

Scott Shea’s insert notes offer a nice recap of the details of Louis’ career as well as a broad overview of the music on the CD.

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

"To think that these notes could possibly cover the musical career (let alone life) of Louis Prima would be to believe the impossible. There could never be enough space, enough pages, to do either of those topics full justice with anything less than a fairly large sized book. When that book gets written it will be a terrific read, for Louis Prima was truly one or a kind: trumpeter. singer, composer, humorist; band leader, husband (several times), father (ditto), sportsman, son of Italy, and entertainer par excel­lence, besides many other things, which separately could never describe him, but togeth­er come close.

His musical career spanned from the 1920s to the 1970s. His time at Capitol Records came at the height of his glory in the mid 1950s to early 1960s, when he, along with singer and then-wife Keely Smith and Sam Butera and the Witnesses, was the hottest lounge entertainer in Las Vegas. That heady plateau came in a later incarnation of Prima's career; the road he traveled to get there was a long one.

Louis Leo Prima was born on December 7, 1910 on St. Peter Street, at the edge of New Orleans' notorious Storyville dis­trict. His parents, Anthony and Angelina, were second-genera­tion Sicilians who encouraged Louis and his older brother Leon to learn music. Louis and Leon started with violin and piano respectively, but soon Leon switched to trumpet, the better to emulate the new sound being formed by the local musicians (among them Joe "King" Oliver and Louis Armstrong), later to be known as Dixieland Jazz.

Leon took to the road for touring gigs and left Louis a trumpet: by the time Leon returned Louis had switched instruments and was fronting his own band. He dropped out of high school to become a musician full-time.

An early stint with the house band of a Jefferson Parish gam­bling club ended when the band leader, piqued with Prima's bur­geoning trumpet style, fired him. Louis soon had another job play­ing in the pit band at New Orleans' Saenger Theater. Band leader Lou Forbes recognized Prima's talent and ambition, and drafted arrangements to feature Prima's playing as well as his singing. Always restless, Prima formed his own jazz combo to play New Orleans clubs and speakeasies,

In 1934 (following a stint in Red Nichols' Orchestra), Guy Lombardo caught Louis' performance, and encouraged him to venture to New York City. He auditioned at a 52nd Street club. Leon and Eddie's, which turned him down. Undaunted, he soon found work at another club on 52nd Street with his newly formed group, The New Orleans Gang.

He scored a huge hit at the open­ing of New York's Famous Door club in 1935. and took his Gang to Hollywood the following year to open the west coast version of the club. While there, he per­formed with Martha Raye and appeared in several shorts and musicals, among them Rhythm On the Range, with Bing Crosby, and Rose of Washington Square, with Tyrone Power and Alice Faye.

During this period Prima had sev­eral hits on the Brunswick label, including "The Lady In Red" and "In a Little Gypsy Tearoom". His biggest success in the thirties came when Benny Goodman recorded his composition "Sing, Sing, Sing", giving Goodman a hit and turning the song (and Goodman version of it) into a classic.

In 1939 Prima followed the trend, broke up his Gang, and formed a big band, which he kept into the late 1940s. By now Prima's repertoire had turned away from jazz, and moved towards pop and dance numbers, with a decidedly Neopolitan tilt: "Angelina (which he wrote for his mother), Felicia No Capicia", and "Bacciagaloop (Makes Love On the Stoop)". Needless to write, Prima had no problem with humor.

Louis kept the band going in World War II, but had some difficulties replacing musicians who enlisted. In this period he scored modest hits with "Robin Hood" "Civilization", and "I'll Walk Alone", and composed the hit "A Sunday Kind of Love" for Jo Stafford and Fran Warren. Major success, however, contin­ued to elude him.

In August, 1948. Prima replaced his singer, Lily Ann Carol, with a 16-year old from Norfolk, Vir­ginia, (Dorothy) Keely Smith. Her smooth phrasing and clear tones could not have contrasted more with Louis' heavy, bellowing delivery.

They developed a rou­tine in which Louis would attempt to break down Keely's deadpan stage persona with ad libs, jokes and distractions. When they sang together, improb­ably, they blended.

Louis and Keely remained as a performing duo after Prima ended his big band in 1949. In 1952, Keely became Prima's fourth wife. The couple called attention to the large disparity in their ages for comedic effect on stage. They continued to perform on the club circuit until the fall of 1954, when the gigs started to dry up.

In desperation, Prima phoned Bill Miller, an old friend, who was then running the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas. Prima plead­ed with Miller for a booking, and Miller gave them a two-week engagement in the hotel's lounge, starting on November 24, 1954.

Before heading for Vegas. Louis and Keely had shared the bill at Perez's Oasis Club in Metairie, Louisiana with tenor saxophonist Sam Butera and his band, The Night Trainers. Butera, a skilled jazz player and arranger, had been packing in crowds in New Orleans area clubs, and had had some local hit records.

Prima told Butera of his Vegas plans, and promised Sam that if anything happened in Vegas, he would get back in touch. "About three months later I was working at the Monteleone Hotel, and he called me and said. 'You better come out here, ana bring three guys (musicians)'," says Butera. ‘He wanted me to join him on Christmas Day, but I told him I'd join him the day after Christ­mas.’

The group that took the stage with Prima at the Sahara on December 26, 1954 had not even had a chance to be introduced to him. When it came time in the show to introduce the sidemen, Louis asked Sam who they were. Sam hollered, "The Witnesses!" Thus are legends born.

The combination of Louis Prima with Keely Smith, and Sam Butera and the Witnesses, was a smash hit in Las Vegas. They became a fixture in the Sahara's Casbar Lounge, performing five shows a night. They would be soaking in sweat when they final­ly left the stage at dawn.

For its era, the Prima-Smith-Butera show was considered risqué (Time called it "doggedly vulgar"). The banter between Louis and Keely was not without its share of innuendo and off-color references (Sonny and Cher later borrowed much of it to re­establish their career on televi­sion in the 1970s).

Surrounding the jokes and gags, and keeping everything jumping, were Butera and the Witnesses, supplying a wild, relentless, driving beat that punched through the lounge's smoke and chatter and left crowds in awe. There was noth­ing like it, which was why it ' became known as "The Wildest Show in Vegas".

"Everything sounded sponta­neous," says Butera. "but we were well rehearsed, with Louis' laughter and Keely's presence and great singing, the group always looked like we were hav­ing fun, and we were, really."

It was at this point that Prima signed with Capitol in 1956. Pro­ducer Voyle Gilmore's intent from the start was to capture as much as possible the live feel of Prima's group. The liner notes for Prima's first Capitol album, The Wildest, claim that Prima remarked, "That's us, man! That's us!" upon hearing the tapes (Capitol recorded Prima live on many subsequent occasions, as is evidenced by some of the selec­tions on this disc). Much of the material had been performed by Louis and Keely for years previ­ous, but Butera re-arranged all the selections to make them swing, and they do.
The selections on this disc abound with Prima trademarks: sudden tempo shifts into and out of Prima's patented "shuffle beat"; tarantellas interwoven with Dixieland jazz; medleys of re-worked standards; altered lyrics befitting Prima's dialect, and numerous passages of Louis own inimitable scat talk.

Keely shows she can hold her own with Louis in the jive talk department on "The Lip,” and displays her skills as a fine ballad singer (or tries to) on "Embraceable You"/"I Got It Bad".

Sam takes the lead vocal on one of the group's classic numbers. "There'll Be No Next Time": "I heard it on a 45, and brought it to Louis... he listened to it and said we had to change some lyrics and make it longer so we could do it on stage. Louis wrote about 80 percent of the lyrics we used on that."

Louis also re-wrote other lyrics when certain numbers were recorded because he thought the live versions were too suggestive. For example, the recorded ver­sion of "The Sheik of Araby" sub­stitutes the words "turban" and "jumpin’" for "pants" and "naked" in the live version. A switch of two words gives the song an entirely different meaning!

This disc also features re-record­ings of earlier Prima hits ("Oh Marie", "Buona Sera", "Angelina"/"Zooma Zooma"), songs from movie appearances ("Hey Boy, Hey Girl* "Banana Split For My Baby", "Twist All Night"), and Louis and Keely's two most mem­orable hits, “That Old Black Magic", and "I've Got You Under My Skin".

Probably the oddest selection on this disc is "Beep! Beep!", from a 1957 single which Louis recorded in recognition of the Sputnik launch earlier in the year. It is the only selection on this disc to contain an overdub, made neces­sary for the sound effect.

By 1961 Louis and Keely had moved from the Sahara's lounge to the main showroom at the Desert Inn. Prima also moved from Capitol to Dot Records, for an extremely lucrative recording deal. Later that year problems in the marriage caused Keely to file for divorce, thus also ending her professional affiliation with Prima. Louis later replaced her with his fifth wife and singing partner, Gia Maione.

Prima enjoyed his last hit at Dot with a version of "Wonderland By Night", then moved back to Capi­tol in 1962 for one further album, The Wildest Comes Home. Louis and Sam's no-holds-barred ver­sion of "St. Louis Blues", taken from that album, rounds out this collection.

After his final departure from Capitol Prima continued per­forming in Vegas and elsewhere (but always on the mainland; a strong fear of flying precluded overseas performances), and recording. In 1967 he made an acclaimed cameo in Walt Dis­ney's animated film, The Jungle Book, providing the voice of King Louie the Orangutan, and a duet with Phil Harris on "I Wanna Walk Like You".

In the early 1970s Prima, along with Butera, moved the band to residency at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in New Orleans' French Quarter. In November 1975, Prima underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor. He never regained consciousness after the operation, and remained in a coma until his death on August 24. 1978 at New Orleans' Touro Infirmary.

Keely Smith also returned to Capitol to record several albums (perhaps Capitol will release a Keely Smith Collector's Edition CD: she certainly deserves it), and continues performing to date.

Sam Butera regularly performs worldwide and records with his band, The Wildest ‘’’’ Though he has drifted more to jazz in recent years, he still performs some Prima favorites in his sets.

Says Sam of Prima: "He was one of the greatest entertainers who ever lived - he was an entertain­er's entertainer." Anyone who lis­tens to this CD will have to agree.

Liner notes by Scott Shea”

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Steve Fidyk - "Battle Lines"

© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Since the inception of the music over 100 years ago, how to resolve the issue of striking a balance between exhibiting drum technique and playing the drums as a part of the music has always been a real challenge for Jazz drummers. The former is in the service of Ego while the latter is in the service of Jazz.

Every so often a drummer comes along with exceptional facility on the instrument who subordinates it to become a more integral part of the music.

Steve Fidyk is just such a drummer as I found out much to my delight when I listened to his previously released CDs Heads Up! [Posi-tone Label PR 8119] and Allied Forces. [Posi-tone Label PR 8157]

It’s all here - precision, blistering speed, power -  but you hear this through drums that emphasize bouncing bebop beats, New Orleans street beats, boogie beats, rock beats, straight-ahead jazz beats, organ-tenor-guitar beats, and the like - not just the drums. He has chops to spare but Steve is all about the music

The drums, as sensitively played by Steve, take on a controlled creativity that compliments and complements his performances and his recordings.

I suppose one of the biggest accolades you could offer about his recordings is that you would never know that the band on them is headed-up by a drummer. The drums don’t dominate the music. They are a part of it.

Battle Lines provides another opportunity to revel in Steve’s skills and talents and to appreciate him for what he is - a positive force for Jazz in so many ways - as a musician, a bandleader, composer and as an educator.

His entire musical evolution is characterized by achievements of the highest order: as a student, as a teacher and as a performer. And if, as Louis Armstrong [affectionately known in the Jazz World as “Pops.”] once declared - “Jazz is what you are.” - then the music on Battle Lines is a reflection of all the musical settings Steve has participated in his career: from a 21 year stint as the drummer and featured soloist with the Army Blues Big Band based in Washington, D.C., to the small groups led by tenor saxophonist Walt Weiskopf and guitarist Jack Wilkins, respectively, and, more recently, the Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia led by trumpeter Terell Stafford and the leader of his own quintets on this and two previous recordings.
The current version of Steve’s group is made up of Joe Magnarelli, trumpet, Xavier Perez, tenor sax, Peter Zak and Michael Karn, bassist, all of whom feature brilliantly on this recording. The media release for Battle Lines noted: “Each member is an active participant that pushes Fidyk’s hard-hitting rhythmic and melodic message direct to the theater of operations.”
Academically, Steve is on the Jazz faculty at Temple University, the Philadelphia University of the Arts and serves as the educational consultant for the Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington Program. [You can view his complete curriculum vitae on his website].

Given Steve’s many talents as a musician, bandleader and academician, it’s easy to overlook his accomplishments as a composer of tunes that are interesting to listen to and fun to play on. In his original compositions, his knowledge of theory and harmony is on display and helps make them melodically interesting vehicles on which to improvise.

Steve has provided these artist notes to help you better understand what’s going on with the music in this recording. CD order information can be found at and it will be available for streaming and dowload through that URL on June 26, 2020.

Ignominy -  A composition by the great tenor saxophonist and composer Eddie Harris. My friend Joseph Henson, who was featured on alto on my last recording, introduced me to this piece several years ago. It's a simple tune with two themes — the first toggles between two chord changes and is 16-measures long, and the second is a 4-measure phrase that caps the melody with plenty of impact. Like many Eddie Harris compositions, it is funky, rooted in the blues tradition and fun to improvise over. The meaning of the term ignominy is "public shame or disgrace." This 20-measure song features solos by Xavier Perez, Joe Magnarelli and Peter Zak.

Battle Lines - This original is a burning up-tempo piece with an (A-B) melody, coupled with a 32-measure solo section. Each (A) melody section is 12-bars long and the (B) section is 8-measures. The piece opens with a 6-measure 5:2 polyrhythm introduction and doses in the same manner. The solo section features Peter Zak, Xavier Perez and one chorus of drums before returning to a recapitulation of the melody.

Loopholes - I set out to write a "groove tune" for this project. Something that felt good and had a dance sensibility to it. I came up with the title idea as an extension from previous compositions I wrote for other solo recordings: The Flip Flopper (from Heads Up!) and Gaffe (from Allied Forces). Loopholes follows suit and was conceived with a similar approach. I've lived and worked in the Washington DC area for over 25 years, and recently retired from the U.S. Army Band, "Pershing's Own." During my tenure as drummer for the U.S. Army Blues Jazz Ensemble, a 17-piece big band, I performed in many unique environments to include concerts at the White House and Vice Presidents Quarters. In my 25+ years as a band member, I've witnessed my share of politicians and many loopholes. As we approach another election, I'm certain we'll encounter even more from our present and future elected officials... This tune features a funky swing feel with a 16-bar (A) and (B) section with solos by Joe Magnarelli, Xavier Perez and Peter Zak.

Thank You (Dziekuje) - A Chopin inspired piece entitled Dziekuje, meaning thank you — an expression of gratitude for the fans of Brubeck during his 1958 visit to Poland. A trio version was featured on the recording Jazz Impressions of Eurasia, a studio album recorded following that 1958 State Department tour, where the Quartet played 80 concerts in 14 countries throughout Europe and Asia. A more varied treatment at a medium tempo is featured on the live recording Bennet/Brubeck, The White House Sessions, Live 1962. When I first heard this piece, I was attracted to the beautifully haunting melody. I was also intrigued by the flexibility of both arrangements that are prominently displayed on both the studio and live versions. 

I wanted to include a Brubeck composition for many reasons. The first being that he, in my opinion, is often overlooked as a composer and pianist—one of the finest of his generation and in 2020, we celebrate the centennial of his birth. Secondly, I wanted to acknowledge and thank my drum teacher, Joe Morello, a seminal member of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, who helped me a great deal musically and professionally. 

I first met Joe when I was an 18-year-old student at Wilkes College. The college jazz ensemble was performing at the Mansfield State Jazz Festival in Mansfield, PA the fall of my freshman year. My jazz band director Tom Heinze knew Joe Morello well and suggested I contact him for lessons. Morello did a clinic at the festival and afterwards, I sheepishly asked if he would have time in his schedule to teach me. He gave me his number and said to call his wife, Jean to schedule. It took six months for me to have the courage to call and schedule, and I'm so thankful I did. This was back in 1987, long before the distractions of cell phones, computers and iPhones. I would take a two-hour lesson every two weeks with Joe throughout my college years. After joining the military and being stationed in DC, I would drive up to see him for periodic "checkups" to make sure my form, technique and coordination were on track. Joe is responsible for developing my sound and reflex for music. My teaching at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA is based in part on his teaching and his style of presenting information. The arrangement of the tune as featured on Battle Lines is in 3/4 time and features Xavier Perez and Peter Zak.

Bebop Operations - is based on a 32-measure (A-A-B-A) bebop melody, with an 8-measure drum solo introduction. The melody has a playful-like bridge, with A sections featuring some tricky syncopations. The solo section follows the same form, and showcases Joe Magnarelli, Xavier Perez and Peter Zak.

Bootlickers Blues - A strange blues with a strange title. A "bootlicker" is a person who tries to gain influence or favor through a servile, obsequious or brown-nosing manner. The tune features a standard 12-measure blues form with a few measures of "3/4 time" mixed in to keep things interesting. The first chorus of piano and tenor follow the form of the melody, before breaking into a hard driving swing feel in 4/4 time over the blues form. The drum solo that follows the tenor is two choruses, accompanied by the bass and piano, over the form of the melody.

Lullaby for Lori and John - is a ballad composed for my parents. I lost my mom this past year from congestive heart failure, and my dad in July 2017 from the same condition. After my father passed, my mom moved in with my family. My wife and kids were incredible with keeping her as comfortable as possible. My folks had a traditional, "old school" relationship for 60 years. My father worked 40+ hour weeks as a machinist at TOPPS Chewing Gum Factory, and my mom stayed home, raising myself and three siblings. She cooked, cleaned, read to us, shopped for clothes, groceries, paid bills and kept the family unit together with love and respect-- never complaining once. They both selflessly wanted their children to do better in life then they did. When I was young, my father would also play gigs with his trio (6 nights a week) on tenor saxophone. On occasion, he would take me out with him on a Saturday night to hear his group play, and the drummer would let me sit in on a tune or two as the night came to a close. Lullaby for Lori and John was recorded in one take and I was in tears by the end of it. It features the incredible fluegelhorn sound of Joe Magnarelli. After we recorded it, Joe Magnarelli mentioned to me that you never really get over the loss of your parents. You're an orphan now for the first time in your life.

Churn - An up tempo original in 6/8 that features an (A-B-A) melody form with solos featuring Xavier Perez and Peter Zak. Following the piano solo is an accompanied drum solo over the introduction vamp played by Michael Karn on bass, before a recapitulation of the theme.

Steeplechase - Charlie Parker!!! He helped invent the be-bop vernacular, and we pay homage to his contributions with this spirited rendition. He changed the way jazz musicians conceive and approach improvisational music and in 2020, we celebrate the centennial of his birth. Almost every alto saxophonist since has been influenced by his sound developments and contributions.

#Social Loafing - A piece dedicated to those who spend an excessive amount of time on social media. The melody and solo form are A-A-B-C and based on (2) themes. #Social Loafing is a medium swinger with a progression that's fun to solo over. It features Xavier Perez, Joe Magnarelli, Peter Zak and a 1/2 chorus of drums on the first two (A) sections of the melody of the out head.

Sir John - A composition composed and recorded by trumpet legend Blue Mitchell on his 1960 LP Blue's Moods. The original recording features Wynton Kelly on piano, Sam Jones on bass and Roy Brooks on drums. Sir John is a cool blues with a bounce that fits like a glove with this combination of musicians that are featured on Battle Lines. It's the sole selection that showcases solos by each member, and oddly enough, runs approximately the same length of time as the original Blue Mitchell version done 60 years ago.

Jazz for Steve Fidyk is a “do” word - a verb, and he continues to do his part to play an active role in keeping the music alive; full of the energy and spontaneity for which it is acclaimed.
For skilled musicianship that generates power, pulse and propulsion in the finest traditions of Jazz drumming, you can’t do better than The Fidyk Force. 
The music on this recording is the first on Steve’s newly organized Blue Canteen label. Hopefully, there will be more to follow and soon.
- Steven A. Cerra