Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Outrageous Frances Faye- Gordon Jack

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

Gordon Jack is a frequent contributor to the Jazz Journal and a very generous friend in allowing JazzProfiles to re-publish some of his insightful and discerning writings on these pages.

Gordon is the author of Fifties Jazz Talk An Oral Retrospective and he also developed the Gerry Mulligan discography in Raymond Horricks’ book Gerry Mulligan’s Ark.

The following article was published in the February 17 2020 edition of Jazz Journal. 

For more information and subscriptions please visit

© -Gordon Jack/JazzJournal, copyright protected; all rights reserved; used with the author’s permission.

Frances Faye left school in Brooklyn at 15 and fell into show business when she agreed to be a last minute substitute for a piano player who did not show up to accompany a singer. Thrown together, the two formed Faye's first act and a theatrical agent signed them. In just two months, as part of that duo, Frances was making $200 a week in a Chicago nightclub. Just as quickly, Frances became a solo act, as she recounted in 1978 to John Wilson of The New York Times:
We were playing a big nightclub in Detroit, and the singer said to me, "What would you do if I left you here alone?" I started to cry. Just then the boss came in and said to the singer, "You're fired, but the kid stays." "What am I going to do?" I asked him. "Just play the piano and sing," he told me, "You've got no figure, you're not pretty, but everybody likes you." It just happened right away, like God said, "You're Frances Faye, and this is it."

“Leonard Feather once called Frances Faye, “A consummate night-club performer” and comedian Joe E. Lewis nominated her as the “Queen of the super-clubs”. A jazz-influenced rather than an out and out jazz singer, she regularly performed at the Famous Door, Basin Street East and the Hickory House with an act that both entertained and scandalised audiences during her 50 year career in show-business. She became something of an icon making it clear on stage with sly and witty innuendos that she was gay , often incorporating her current girl-friend’s name into her lyrics. She was in the grand tradition of singers like Mae West and Ethel Merman with an attractive, earthy charm and a throw-away, take it or leave it delivery reminiscent of Louis Prima. A legendary performer, she was definitely one of a kind.

Frances Cohen (she changed her name later) was born in Brownsville, Brooklyn on 4 November 1912. She was part of a large extended family that included her cousin Danny Kaminsky who became better known as Danny Kaye. She learnt to play the piano by ear and boasted that she taught him Minnie The Moocher which he later recorded. Her professional career began in 1927 when she earned $200.00 a week in a Chicago night-club as an accompanist. A little later a Detroit club-owner wanted her to sing as well as play –“You’ve no figure, you’re not pretty but everybody loves you”. That is when she became Frances Faye.

She paid her dues on the New York speakeasy scene as well as larger venues like the Cotton Club and Le Martinique. For most of 1931 she was resident at the Club Calais attracting a loyal following where she apparently, “Pounded the piano so hard it had to be tuned every week”. Love For Sale was already part of her act which the BBC at the time had banned because of its suggestive lyric. She later said, “Prohibition was so exciting. All the gangsters including Al Capone’s mob were my friends and those that lived are still my friends. Guys like Louis Buchalter and Jack “Legs” Diamond came in all the time then they disappeared one by one.” The following year she appeared with Bing Crosby at the Paramount Theatre and for most of the thirties she was a fixture on 52nd. Street. The clubs there were packed nightly with celebrities and newspaper columnists enjoying performances that were broadcast from coast to coast. She did three shows a night at 9 pm, midnight and 3.15 am and became so popular that Walter Winchell called her “The syncopating cyclone”. In 1936 she made one of her very few films – Double Or Nothing – with Martha Raye and her friend Bing Crosby.

In 1941 ”The atomic bombshell of Rhythm” toured South America. The following year she appeared in a musical short or “Soundie” singing I Ain’t Got Nobody and Well All Right a hit song she had co-written for the Andrews Sisters. In the early forties she had two very brief marriages and years later she said, “I think a husband has to be the boss. He can’t be the boss when he’s making less in a year than his wife is making in a week”. In 1943 she played in the Broadway production of Artists & Models with Jane Froman and Jackie Gleason. She had long out-of-town bookings in Baltimore, Chicago and Buffalo and around that time Irving Berlin said, “Frances is one of those rare mortals who has rhythm in her body and soul”. In 1946 she recorded her signature song Drunk With Love for the first time. She recorded it on three occasions over the years and it became a regular part of her stage act. Later on in the forties she retired, “I gave up the whole business for a while. I had enough invested not to worry about where the next dollar was coming from”.

In the early fifties she left the Manhattan club scene and relocated to California where her career was given a new lift when she started recording for Capitol Records. In a 1952 Downbeat article Leonard Feather said, “Frances found she didn’t need records to play the smart spots in Florida, Chicago and Los Angeles that have supported her for many years. But she has found that (Capitol) record fame has opened up a new market for her”. In that same issue an anonymous reviewer felt one of her early Capitol recordings of She Looks and I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate  would probably be banned by some radio censors. That said, they both seem pretty tame today. Just prior to her Capitol contract she performed a number of songs at an audition including The Man I Love but hinting at her sexual orientation she sang “The Man, The Man, THE MAN??? What am I saying that for?”  She also changed her image at this time discarding the ball-gowns and wigs that were her signature style in the forties. Trousers and a rather severe crew-cut were now the order of the day. “When you’re pretty it doesn’t matter how you wear your hair” she joked to her audiences who were shocked at her new and rather dramatic appearance. The witty Milt Bernhart in a reference to her often outrageous behaviour summed her up best, “You wouldn’t call her a raving beauty – just raving!” She herself aptly summed up her philosophy as a performer, “I love to make people happy. As long as they accept me for what I am, it makes me happy too”. 

Around 1955 she switched to Bethlehem and one of her first albums for the label was I’m Wild Again with Russ Garcia’s Four Trombone band which featured her good friend Frank Rosolino along with Maynard Ferguson, Herbie Harper and Tommy Pederson. A highlight is her tender ballad medley which included Little Girl Blue, Where Or When, Embraceable You, I Don’t Know Why and My Funny Valentine all performed with her customary crystal clear diction. The following year Bethlehem released the ambitious Complete Porgy and Bess on a three LP set featuring the Duke Ellington Orchestra, a thirteen piece string section and a huge cast of top studio players from New York and Los Angeles backing Frances Faye, Betty Roche, Mel Torme’ and Johnny Hartman. Frances and Mel sang Bess You Is My Woman Now and Porgy I Hates To Go but according to Torme’s autobiography the project was not entirely successful although it became a cult favourite. In 1956 she and Torme’ appeared on Steve Allen’s TV Show and that year she recorded Relaxin’ With Frances Faye which featured that dilettante of the tenor Allen Eager on Don’t Blame Me, Ain’t Misbehavin’ and My Baby Just Cares For Me. Such a pity that he dropped out of the jazz scene in the late fifties.

By now she could command about $4000 a week performing at the Crescendo and the Interlude In Los Angeles as well as some of the top rooms in Las Vegas usually with Jack Constanzo (Mr. Bongo) who started working with her at this time. Stars like Bob Hope, Donald O’Connor, Mitzi Gaynor, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich and Frank Sinatra all came to see her. Columnist Rex Reed accurately described her act as, “Pure dazzling show-business, part jazz, part comedy all energy and heart. Once she signals her musicians for the downbeat it’s every man for himself”. Hal Blaine one of the top session drummers of the time worked with her and Vido Musso in San Francisco for a while. He thought she was a very hip entertainer but after rehearsing at her palatial mansion in the Hollywood Hills he found that everything, especially the tempos, had changed by opening night. In the late fifties she appeared on a couple of Ed Sullivan TV shows.

In 1958 while working at the Hotel Rivera she had a fall and broke her hip and for the next few years she was unable to walk properly. This did not stop her performing which she did while sitting at the piano and her early sixties Caught In The Act CD finds her in typically uninhibited form on a recording that includes a generous selection of witty ad-libs. She was usually on her best behaviour for studio dates but on these performances taken from her act at The Crescendo and The Thunderbird in Las Vegas she really lets her hair down and throws the kitchen sink at an enthusiastic audience that clearly could not get enough of her. Introduced by the dulcet tones of Gene Norman (Crescendo’s owner) she opens with a super-charged Man I Love taken at a break-neck tempo with copious references to Teri Shepherd. (Teri was a glamorous lady who was her manager and partner for more than 30 years). She dedicates Just In Time to “Angelo, the head waiter who’s been trying to make me since I opened here”. The next number is announced as “A feature for my ex-husband on saxophone – what’s your name again?” Jay Goldbar on tenor immediately goes into a Birks Works routine leading nicely into Faye’s version of Fever. Frances And Her Friends is about the gay couplings of a number of individuals, all done as they say in the best possible taste. (Mark Murphy on his 2001 Lucky To Be Me CD quotes from this song during a tribute he calls Blues For Frances Faye). Before launching into a foot tapping I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate, she asks “Do you think my type will ever come back?”  The entire album is full of gems and a delightful reminder of how she could sell a song, working the room with a larger-than-life personality that might well have influenced Bette Midler. 

For the rest of the sixties and until she retired she maintained a punishing touring schedule regularly performing in Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Chicago. She broke Peggy Lee’s record run at Basin Street East prompting one reviewer to say, “Frances Faye hit the New York scene last night with the impact of a ten ton truck smashing through a concrete wall”. She occasionally worked with Dick Gregory, Don Rickles and Lenny Bruce and in 1961 she played London’s Talk of the Town. She had bookings in Australia which became an annual destination over the years. In 1969 she was at London’s Playboy Club then the following year she was at the Talk of the Town again. She was no longer recording but she added fresh material to her act from Lennon & McCartney and Burt Bacharach as well as selections from Hair. New songs like Shadow Of Your Smile, That’s Life, Watermelon Man and Going Out Of My Head were also given the Frances Faye treatment.

In 1976 she was at the London Palladium with Johnnie Ray, Billy Daniels and the Ink Spots. The following year she had an extended run at Studio One in Los Angeles which is where Louis Malle caught her act. He thought she was “An extraordinary comedian and singer” so he cast her as a madam in Pretty Baby opposite Susan Sarandon and Brooke Shields. She retired from performing in 1981 and after several years of poor health, the lady Leonard Feather once called “The hippest entertainer in the squarest circles” died in Los Angeles on 8 November 1991.””

Selected Discography

I’m Wild Again (Fresh Sound Records FSR 2208CD).
George Gershwin The Complete Porgy and Bess (Definitive DRCD 11271).
Four Classic Albums (Avid Jazz AMSC 117).
Caught In The Act (GNP/Crescendo (GNPD 41).
Frenzy and Swinging All The Way (Fresh Sound Records FSR-CD778)

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Up With The Lark - Bill Evans

The Oxford Companion to Jazz, Bill Kirchner [editor]

"Putting together this book must have been like being the contractor for the Ellington band."
- Composer-arranger Johnny Mandel to editor Bill Kirchner

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

There’s no book on Jazz that’s more deserving of further comment and greater exposure than The Oxford Companion to Jazz, developed under the editorial guidance of Bill Kirchner.

As Bill explains: “[In taking on the assignment at the request of the legendary book editor, Sheldon Mayer,] deciding on whom to ask to write the essays, I’ve been involved in Jazz most of my life, and if I might flatter myself, I have a pretty good idea of who the movers and shakers in the field are: musicians, writers, producers, educators, broadcasters, record-industry people and others. And when I don’t know something, I generally know somebody who can tell me what I need to learn. [Italics mine]”

The result of Bill’s knowledge and experience at the “editorial controls” is best summed up in the following description of The Oxford Companion to Jazz by George Avakian, who for years served as a record-producer and impresario of all things Jazz:

“No book on Jazz has ever attempted the scope of this monumental collection of 60 studies by 59 writers.  Commissioned and organized by editor Bill Kirchner into an interlocking mosaic, its 800 pages examine and evaluate every aspect f the origins, ongoing development, and offshoots of Jazz – and its myriad personalities – to a degree which makes this the one indispensable publication in the field.  The Oxford Companion to Jazz is both a reference work for the serious scholar and a rewarding book to be dipped into by the casual reader.”

The operative terms to focus on in George Avakian’s excellent assessment of Bill’s book are “every aspect” and “indispensable.”  But it is the manner in which “every aspect” is treated that makes it “indispensable” primarily because, as Benny Carter asserts, “… this compilation of articles on all phases of the music [is put together] by musicians and professional writers who speak for the art firsthand.”

Bill has assembled an All-Star team; musicians and writers who are the very best at describing and discussing Jazz from a narrative standpoint and in terms of how it works both artistically and technically.

Given the various familial and professional demands on our time over the years, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles has always been partial to anthologies. Anthologies are a perfect format for those who have little discretionary time to read or prefer to do their reading in measured amounts.

There are many good collections on the subject of Jazz, but few have the scope and authoritative writing that are the hallmarks of The Oxford Companion to Jazz.

In his Introduction, Bill sets his own tone for how he approached the book’s development as well as how his work should be perceived. Of particular importance is his explanation of “who” this book is intended for which appears in the last paragraph of the intro.

“I think there are only three things that America will be known for two thousand years from now: the Constitution, Jazz music, and baseball, the three most beautifully designed things this country ever produced.”
- Gerald Early, author and cultural historian

“Jazz is not a ‘what.’ It is a ‘how,’ and if you do things according to the ‘how’ of Jazz, it’s Jazz.”
- Bill Evans, pianist and composer

“The word ‘Jazz’ means ‘no category.’
- Wayne Shorter, saxophonist and composer

“The above quotations – the first from one of this volume’s fifty-nine contributors, and the others from two of the most important Jazz musicians of the past half century – tell us a great deal about why this book exists, and what makes Jazz the unique and vitally important music that it is.

Throughout the—roughly speaking—century-old history of jazz, there have been numerous attempts to "define" what the music is or isn't. None of these has ever proven successful or widely accepted, and invariably they tell us much more about the tastes, prejudices, and limitations of the formulators than they do about the music. You'll find no such attempts here.

Jazz has also been called "America's classical music"—a description that I disagree with. America's classical music is classical music: the works of Ives, Copland, Barber, Schuman, et al. Western classical music comes from an aesthetic with its own set of ground rules, and America's contributions to it have, for the most part, been created within that framework. One of the glories of jazz is that it has become an art music with its own rules and aesthetic, and as Wayne Shorter implies, even those rules are meant to be challenged, and often bro­ken, rather than reverently adhered to. As is typical of the black American culture from which it emerged, jazz is a music of healthy defiance.

Jazz is also a music of inclusion, rather than exclusion. From its inception, jazz has been a melting pot of influences and techniques that have come from an immense variety of sources. Multicultural long before that term became fashionable, it has never been more so than now, played and listened to in most parts of the world. Though some might argue with Gerald Early's contention that jazz, the Con­stitution, and baseball are the only things for which America ulti­mately will be remembered, he does have an indisputable point about the vast influence of the three. Moreover, one could make a case that jazz has had a stronger worldwide impact than either the Constitution or baseball. Jazz is a force in numerous parts of the world where baseball is ignored, and as Mike Zwerin points out in his essay on European jazz, it often has endured in defiance—that term, once again—of totalitarian governments that were anything but sympa­thetic to the ideals of the U.S. Constitution.

If, as Bill Evans asserted, jazz is a ‘how’ rather than a ‘what,’ then perhaps this book can be best described as a ‘book of hows.’ Specifically, how the music came into being, how it grew by leaps and bounds, how its greatest practitioners have made it what it is today, how it flourishes in a multiplicity of styles, how it has had a vital impact on other aspects of twentieth-century culture, how it continues to evolve, and more. That isn't to say that our contributors always agree on all of these issues. For example, you need examine only the first two essays to discover that two eminent scholars, Samuel A. Floyd Jr. and William H. Youngren, have often differing view­points on the roots of the music. For me, such differences are part of the stimulation of this book.

About the contributors. As I mentioned, there are fifty-nine of them, and they are among the finest musicians, scholars, and critics in jazz at the end of the twentieth century. Fully half are musicians who are currently (or in a few cases, formerly) working professionals. Without in the least intending to slight the expertise of the non-musicians among our contributors, I view the high percentage of musician-authors here as a definite coup. It gives a "view from the inside" that makes this book all the more valuable. In fact, four of the essayists—Bill Crow, Dick Katz, Max Morath, and Randy Sandke—deserve to be mentioned in the pieces they wrote.

When I commissioned these essays, many of the writers asked, ‘Who is the intended audience for this book?’ ‘Anyone,’ I replied, ‘from novices just coming to the music for the first time to seasoned listeners who know a great deal.’ This provided the authors with an additional challenge—aside from that of severely disciplining them­selves in order to fit as much information as comfortably possible into a short format. A number complained mightily, and I was not un­sympathetic, but I believe that all of our contributors have emerged triumphant from their ordeals. You, the reader, are the beneficiary. Whether you know a little or a lot about jazz, you'll know a great deal more after reading The Oxford Companion to Jazz. Read it from beginning to end, or dip into it at any point. But most of all, enjoy it. And the music.

The Oxford Companion to Jazz’s comprehensive and commanding authorship make it very difficult to review. Where does one begins and what does one leave out?

And here are some selections from the book’s various entries which may serve as examples of the wonderful qualities on display in this compendium:

The Bass in Jazz – Bill Crow

“The string bass has been called the "heartbeat of jazz" for good reason. It provides a deep pulse, sometimes felt as much as it is heard, giving the music both a harmonic and a rhythmic foundation. As in many other forms of music, the role of the bass in jazz is mainly supportive. Bass players certainly have developed marvelous techniques for so­loing, especially in recent years. But a bassist doesn't have to be a great soloist to be in demand. The main thing other jazz musicians want from a bass player is  "good notes," bass notes that thread through the harmony in an interesting way, and "good time," a steady rhythmic feeling that helps bring the music to life.
Bass notes are stepping-stones for the rest of the band. They form a path that provides support and direction. To be able to consistently select good notes and drop them into exactly the right places in the music, a bass player needs a strong sense of harmony and rhythm and an empathetic connection with the other members of the rhythm section. In small groups, the bassist chooses his line as the music goes along. Even when playing written music in larger ensembles, jazz bass players usually recompose their lines, using what the arranger has written as a guide but relying on their experience and their "sixth sense" to choose the particular notes and figures to be played.” [p. 668]

Big Bands and Jazz Composing and Arranging After World War II
– Doug Ramsey

“Just as often as Stan Kenton's jazz instincts were overridden by his dedication to weight and volume, his importance is underestimated. Beginning in 1945, when he made Pete Rugolo his chief arranger, Kenton's band provided a workshop and outlet for some of the music's most inventive writers and best players. Anita O'Day, Art Pepper, Conte Candoli, Lee Konitz, Shelly Manne, Maynard Ferguson, Kai Winding, and Zoot Sims were among the soloists who developed or were featured with Kenton. Although Rugolo was capable of bombast that met Kenton's specifications, he also produced arrangements of sensitivity and complexity that reflected his apprenticeship with Da­rius Milhaud. Kenton encouraged Bob Graettinger, Shorty Rogers, Gerry Mulligan, Bill Russo, Bill Holman, and Johnny Richards, among others. The broad range represented by those composer-arrangers—from Holman's and Mulligan's centrism to Graettinger's monumental density—resulted over the years in a repertoire whose richness was exceeded only by Ellington's. The band's Capitol re­cordings include Graettinger's City of Glass, Richards's Cuban Fire, and the influential Contemporary Concepts album. Many of the best works of the Kenton band of the fifties are reissued in Stan Kenton: The Holman and Russo Charts (Mosaic).” [P. 412]

… “The Thad Jones—Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra was a part-time band that developed into an institution and a pervasive influence because it had great players, a spirited collective personality, and writing by Jones. He was a trumpet, cornet, and flugelhorn artist with an ear for harmony that led him to distinctiveness as a soloist and a composer-arranger. Almost from the moment it debuted at New York's Village Vanguard on a Monday night in February 1966, the Jones-Lewis band was the talk of the jazz world. A generation of aspiring jazz writers found new heights to try for when they heard Jones arrangements like "Cherry Juice" (A&M Horizon), "A Child Is Born," and "A-That's Freedom" and Brookmeyer's arrangements on "ABC Blues" and Fats Waller's "Willow Tree" (all Solid State, reis­sued on Mosaic). Many of the big bands that followed after the deaths of the leaders (Jones in 1986, Lewis in 1990) emulated Jones-Lewis and used its aesthetic for their own departures. The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra continues to this day.” [PP. 415-16]

The Advent of BeBop – Scott DeVeaux

“‘Bebop’ was a label that certain journalists later gave it, but we never labeled the music. It was just modern music, we would call it. We wouldn't call it anything, really, just music.”
••• Kenny Clarke, quoted in Dizzy Gillespie, To Be or Not to Bop (1979)

“The word bebop (or rebop) first surfaced in musicians' argot some time during the last two years of the Second World War. Originally, it was a scat syllable, an onomatopoeic shorthand for a certain kind of off-balance rhythmic ges­ture favored by musicians like drummer Kenny Clarke. Within a few years, however, it had become synonymous with a revolutionary new way of playing jazz associated with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Thelonious Monk. Bebop was a brief, explosive moment in American culture, greeted in the mid- to late 1940s by as much controversy and misunderstanding as genuine acceptance. Only much later would it be clear how profoundly and irrevocably bebop had transformed the art of jazz improvisation. Indeed, it is safe to say that jazz as we know it today is shaped in bebop's image.” [p. 292]

Hot Music in the 1920’s: The “Jazz Age,” Appearances and Realities
- Richard M. Sudhalter

“Perhaps the most difficult white ensemble of the time to evaluate is that of Paul Whiteman. From 1920, the year of its first successes, this large group, as outsized as its leader, dominated the public face of the "Jazz Age"; its early records, if well arranged and played, sel­dom approached any hot music ideal. But Whiteman, a man of shrewd instincts, came to realize that a significant part of his "King of Jazz" image sooner or later would have to include the real thing. He made his first move in early 1927, attempting to sign up Red Nichols's Five Pennies entire; though Nichols, Jimmy Dorsey, and percussionist Vic Berton came aboard, only Dorsey was still present by autumn. Whiteman, undeterred, watched the Jean Goldkette Or­chestra collapse, then snapped up Trumbauer, Beiderbecke, Brown, trombonist Bill Rank, and arranger Bill Challis.”

Jazz in Europe: The Real World Music … Or The Full Circle – Mike Zwerin

“The saying goes, ‘There is only one inch of difference between New York and Paris, but it's the inch I live in.’ Paris functions; public transportation works, you don't need a car, and you can still walk for hours and not see anything seriously ugly. The intercity trains are fast, clean, inexpensive, and on time in Europe in general, and the cities are closer together; touring is more efficient and comfortable. Europeans consider jazz musicians to be artists, and even poor artists earn respect over here if they are honest and happy. That's good for at least half an inch right there.”

Jazz Singing Since the 1940s – Will Friedwald

“Singing is the key area in which jazz interacts with the bigger, broader world of popular culture just beyond its boundaries. Although not a hyphenated term, jazz singing is in fact a hyphenated concept. In its narrowest definition, the phrase refers only to vocalists who do exactly what musicians do: improvise choruses of wordless melody on top of chord changes. At its broadest, the term stretches to the furthest reaches of classic American pop. This was particularly true in the '30s and '40s, when the swing era was so embedded in the collective mindset that even pop stars like Perry Como and Dinah Shore recorded credible jazz performances. Similarly, without exception, all of the major fig­ures of jazz singing, from Louis Armstrong to Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Anita O'Day, Dinah Washington, and Mel Torme, also have at least one foot in pop. Even Betty Carter, who was as "pure" a jazz singer as it's possible to be, had a firm footing in standard song form and the popular repertory.”

By way of conclusion, the following video tribute offers a visual overview of more of the book’s subjects.

The audio track is Bill Holman’s big band arrangement of Just Friends. We have always thought of this chart as Bill’s extended solo on the tune scored in unison and in harmony for the band’s various sections with the trumpets primarily on display[Carl Saunders, Frank Szabo, Don Rader and Bob Summers].

Bruce Lett’s excellent bass solo is interspersed around the middle of the piece to give the trumpet players a chance to rest their “chops” before he turns them loose again in the second half of his 5.51 minute arrangement.

Given the fact that both Kirchner and Holman have “Bill” as a first name in common, are both saxophonists and the titles of the book and the big band arrangement have a  “friends” and “companion” relationship … I know, I’m pushing it a bit, here … .

So let’s have Bill conclude this piece for us with his explanation of what it was like to have the editorial responsibility for bringing such a Magnus Opus to fruition:

“So, you may be wondering, what's it like to deal with fifty-nine experts with fifty-nine sets of work habits? Most interesting and var­ied, I reply diplomatically. Suffice it to say that I didn't, to the best of my knowledge, lose any friends in the course of this work, and I made quite a few new ones. My job encompassed a variety of roles: editor, friend, cheerleader, psychologist, and occasionally, pain-in-the-derriere. There were times when I internalized the late cartoonist-pundit Al Capp's self-description: an expert on nothing with opinions on everything. But I persevered.” 

Thank you for “persevering,” Bill, but you did a great deal more than that in bringing into existence The Oxford Companion to Jazz – you’ve created something for which there is no equal in the Jazz world.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Hank Jones: Urbane, Suave and Debonair

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

“Urbanity, one will concede, is a most fitting term to describe the aura of Hank Jones's piano, which conjures to mind the sophisti­cation of the city. It is a late-at-night aura, generous in understatement, deploring the obvious, suggesting rather than declaring.

Actually, Henry "Hank" Jones and his piano do recall all of this. But the point should be noted that Hank Jones is not a Manhattan cocktail lounge-type pianist. Far from it. Not only is his musical sophistication much more genuine, but Jones himself is a schooled musician of great inven­tiveness and fertility of expression. In a word, the sophistication is no veneer, the urbanity no pose.

Hank Jones plays an awful lot of piano. His music is sensitive, pretty (but not just pretty), abundant in ideas and through it all there is a jazz beat - he uses both hands equally well, inci­dentally, this being a habit which seems to have eluded so many modern young pianists. One of the more interesting facets to Hank Jones is his flair for saying something new with an old song - ….”
- Original liner notes to Urbanity [Clef MGC 707; Verve 314 537 747-2]

“Never much of a composer,…, Jones is not given to wholesale reassessment of standard progressions but prefers to concentrate on the sound of a tune. … Jones colors every chord …. His delicacy and balance, that tiptoeing, tap-dancing feel, are among the qualities which have enhanced and prolonged his reputation as a great accompanist….”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“Hank Jones has been a central piano figure on the world scene for close to a half century; I had the pleasure of introducing him on records, as a sideman in a 1944 Hot Lips Page date. He was the eldest of three brothers: Thad Jones followed him on the path to fame, as a Count Basie sideman, from 1954. Two years later Elvin Jones moved from Pontiac, Michigan, the brothers' home, to New York, where he became a member of the Bud Powell Trio.

Hank, like most other pianists of the day, was strongly impressed by Bud Powell, but like Tommy Flanagan and others from the Detroit area, he transcended the bop idiom to become an eclectic interpreter of everything from time-proof ballads to swing and bop standards. …

Over the decades Hank Jones has recorded in a multitude of settings, from small combo dates to big bands to accompanying Ella Fitzgerald and other singers.

However, all that is needed for a complete demonstration of his singular artistry is a well conceived repertoire, fine acoustic conditions, and a piano worthy of him. On this occasion Hank blended these three elements into what is undoubtedly a highlight in the fast-growing and invaluable Maybeck Hall series.”
- Leonard Feather, notes to Hank Jones: Live at Maybeck Recital Hall #16 [Concord CCD-4502]

“Hank believes that the melody should be stated pretty clearly initially and recapped at the end - of course, the improvisation occurs in the middle sections. He adds that, for variety's sake, an artist can re-harmonize parts of the melody - that is, use a different chord or set of chords under the melody note or notes. (Some overdo this treating re-harmonization as an intellectual exercise; Hank never overdoes it.) …

The influence of pianist Art Tatum is certainly evident in these solo pieces. Hank remembers when he heard Tatum on a record for the first time. He thought it was a trick recording that used two pianists at once. (When discovering that it was a single pianist, Hank was amazed - and delighted.)

Tatum epitomized swing, harmonic sophistication, and technique, not for its own sake, but for the sake of music. Hank's [playing often] … reflects Tatum's presence - the touch, the arpeggiated runs, and the harmony.

Key selections are vital in determining the col­ors of the music. [For example], The standard key for “Little Girl Blue”  is F major; Hank chooses D- flat, which gives the tune a more somber cast. Certain songs sound better in certain keys - ideally, the artist should experiment by playing the song in all keys, then choosing which key fits best. (If a pianist and a bassist are playing a ballad together, they should consider the sharp keys - G, D, A, and E - as the bass has the same open strings. The harmonic and acoustic sound is more sonorous and profound than when the other keys are used.)

Hank’s harmonies are very sophisticated. Like Tatum, he places notes within a given chord in a pleasing way. His extensions of the chord, such as altered ninths or elevenths, never sound muddy.

He has, as a trademark, a light, delicate touch. Like a Ping-Pong ball bouncing over keys.

Hank’s knowledge of tunes is certainly reflected in his playing. His approach reveals his assimilation of the repertoire, his technical command of the piano, his taste and understatement… and his overall superb musicianship.”
- Steve Kuhn, Jazz pianist, notes to the CD version of Urbanity  [Verve 314 537 747-2]

Hank Jones has to be considered one of the smoothest and versatile pianists in Jazz history.

I met Hank Jones on a number of occasions. Always amiable and polite, it was difficult to get him to talk very much about himself or his music. “I prefer to let the music speak for itself,” he said.

Hank continued: “It is hard to look back or to analyze. I’m always looking forward to what I’m going to play next. It keeps the mind focused.”

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles wanted to remember Hank on these pages with this brief piece.

Hank’s music has a consistently melodic quality about it and is played with impeccable taste and subtlety.  It’s accessible, always swings and creates a lightness of spirit in me that makes me feel happy, joyous and free.

No furrowed brows; no looks of consternation trying to figure out what he’s playing. His music just washes over you and helps clear away the cares of the day.

Here’s what Gene Lees had to say about Hank and his music.

© -Gene Lees, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Two major pianists, Oscar Peterson and Andre Previn, have told me that Hank Jones is their favorite pianist, and to make the statement more forceful, Andre added, ‘Regardless of idiom.’

Like many another major jazz musician, Hank Jones might have become a ‘classi­cal’ musician had he not been black. I once heard Hank warming up on Chopin for a recording session, and was deeply impressed by his approach to that music. But black musicians did not aspire to con­cert careers when Hank was coming up — this was long before Andre Watts — and Hank became a jazz pianist, leading the way for two other musicians in the Jones family: the late Thad Jones, trumpeter and brilliant composer and arranger, and the remarkable drummer Elvin Jones.

Though he was born deep in the South, he grew up in Pontiac, Michigan, and seems to consider Michigan his home state. He was given solid musical training, but his father did not have it in mind that Hank should or would be a jazz musician. He gained his first experience in a church choir, and later played with regional bands, particularly in the Detroit area. When he went to New York in 1944, Hank heard the new music of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, which he assimilated into his own playing. He was on a number of historic Charlie Parker recording dates.

Hank Jones is a particular favorite of other pianists, who admire his enormous but unprepossessing facility, his harmonic subtlety and sophistication, and his unfail­ing taste. He is a rich and sympathetic accompanist—he was Ella Fitzgerald's for several years — and an elegant soloist. He has played and recorded with almost eve­ryone in jazz, including artists as varied as Milt Jackson, John Kirby, Howard McGhee, Coleman Hawkins, Julian (Cannonball) Adderley, Benny Goodman, and Artie Shaw. Indeed, he was a member of Shaw's last Gramercy Five group, and took part in Shaw's last recording session in 1954.

He tours the world constantly, though he has cut back on his New York studio work, preferring to spend his off time on his four-hundred-acre farm in upstate New York, not far from Cooperstown — always the impeccable jazz player, always in demand, admired and liked by everyone who has come into contact with his gentle humor and considerate warmth.

Hank wanted to farm that land, but his wife, Teddy, ever the realist, gave him a choice: ‘Do you want to be a farmer or a musician?’

Music won. But the farm remains his refuge.”

Thursday, February 20, 2020


A Tribute to Guitarist John Scofield who performs his own composition "Carlos" with Holland's Metropole Orchestra.

Nueva Manteca - 25 Years

Victor’s Vibes

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

For many years, the late Milt Jackson, affectionately known as “Bags,” was heralded as the undisputed king of the vibraphone and most vibists accorded him their highest esteem and pointed to him as a major influence.

I, too, love his playing, especially in the context of the Modern Jazz Quartet.

But I’ve always had trouble with the notion of ranking Jazz musicians, voting for them in polls and comparing them as artists. I think it’s an absolute waste of time; a meaningless exercise.

Jazz artists work very hard to establish their own approach to the music and I would imagine that, as is the case with actors, writers and painters, they have a tendency to gravitate toward those artists whose work “speaks” to them.

What, then, are the standards that one has to meet to be rated as “better” than another artist?

As Aristotle once said: “Each of us is different with regard to those things we have in common.”

And so it is with Jazz musicians in general and, for the purpose of this feature, Jazz vibraphonists in particular. Everyone imitates and emulates while trying to establish their own voice on an instrument.

Vibes are particularly challenging to play uniquely because of the limitations inherent in how the sound is produced on them.

Bags’ influence was pervasive when it came to Jazz vibes. I’ve played the instrument a bit and I recognize the truth in this assertion because I, too, found myself playing Milt’s “licks” and “phrases.” They lay so easily on the axe. You drop you hands [mallets] on the bars and out they come.

Another reason why so many vibist sound like Bags may be because he played a lot of the same “licks” [musical expressions] or phrases over and over again.

A lot of Jazz musicians do this [some call them “resting points”], but one has to be careful with repetitive phrases because employing the same licks too often can become an excuse for not thinking [in other words, not being inventive].

The expression that is sometimes used when this happens is that the musician “mailed in” the solo.

Bags was one of the “Founding Fathers” of Bebop, he toured all over the United States and Europe with the MJQ and he made a slew of recordings with the group, with other artists as well as under his own name.

As a result, his style of vibes had a lot of exposure.

This exposure helped make Milt Jackson instantly recognizable as a major exponent of the bebop, blues-inflected style of playing Jazz vibes.

But for my money, no one has ever played the instrument more musically than Victor Feldman.

Bags’ influence is there in Victor’s style, but Victor is his own man and takes the instrument in a completely different direction than Milt.

There isn’t the repetitiveness nor for that matter the constant bebop and blues phrases, but rather, a more pianistic and imaginative approach, one that emphasizes longer inventions and a constant flow of new melodies superimposed over the chord changes.

Victor also emphasizes rhythm differently than the dotted eighth note spacing favored by Bags. As a result, Victor, begins and ends his phrases in a more angular fashion which creates more surprises in where he is going in his solos.

The starting points and pick-ups for Victors solos vary greatly because he is not just looking for places in the music to put tried-and-tested licks, he’s actually attempting to create musical ideas that he hasn’t expressed before.

Is what Victor is doing “better” than Bags? Of course not.  Is it different? Is it ever.

Fresh and adventurous. And exhilarating, too.

Jazz improvisation is the ultimate creative experience.

One doesn’t need any awards. You just can’t wait for the next time you solo so you can try soaring again.

To help give you the “flavor” of Victor Feldman’s marvelous creative powers as a Jazz vibist, we'll close this piece with a track that has him performing his original composition Too Blue with Rick Laird on bass and Ronnie Stephenson on drums from his triumphant 1965 return to Ronnie Scott’s Club in his hometown of London [Jazz Archives JACD-053].

It runs a little over 8 minutes. You can hear the statement of the 12-bar blues theme from 0.00-0.22 minutes and again from 0.23-0.45 minutes. Each 12-bar theme closes with a bass “tag.”

Victor and Rick hook-up for a call-and-response interlude between 0:46-1:10 minutes before Victor launches into his first improvised chorus at 1:11 minutes.

He improvises seven choruses from 1:11-4:14 minutes before bassist Rick Laird takes four choruses from 4:14-5:46 minutes.

None of Victor’s choruses contains a repeated phrase or a recognizable Milt Jackson lick [phrase].

When Victor comes-back-in [resumes playing] at 5:46 minutes following Rick’s bass solo, if you listen carefully you can hear him using two mallets in his left hand to play 4-beats-to-the-bar intervals while soloing against this with the two mallets held in his right-hand.

He even throws in the equivalent of a big band-like “shout” chorus while trading fills with drummer Ronnie Stephenson beginning at 6:56 minutes.

The closing statement of the theme can be heard at 7:19 minutes ending with an “Amen” at 8:06 minutes.

When listening to Victor Feldman play Jazz on the vibraphone, one is hearing a true innovator at work. For him, making the next improvised chorus as original and as musically satisfying as possible was always the ultimate goal. 

It’s a shame that Jazz fans are not more familiar with his work on vibes. Having heard it on a regular basis for over twenty-five years, I can attest to the fact that it was something special. The only thing that Victor Feldman ever mailed in was a letter.