Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Art Tatum - "Too Marvelous for Words" - James Lester

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

“By all the criteria of the nineteenth-century piano tradition, Art Tatum made himself into a piano virtuoso worthy to be compared to the best who have ever played. This achievement certainly did not come from years of hard labor under European-trained teachers, which is the usual route for concert pianists. It seems instead to have come from a very fine match between the opportunities the piano offers, on the one hand, and Tatum's innate sensitivities and gifts of coordination, on the other. Once he had been exposed to it and his mind had gotten its teeth into it, he was launched into a search for higher and higher levels of achievement, in the same way the great European artists had been.

He responded sensitively to the nature of the piano, as they had, and he arrived, probably independently, at many of the same ways of dealing with it as they had. His basic gifts, in other words, were world-class, and his gifts drove him to be the pianist he was. Tatum wove the virtuoso tradition and the jazz idiom together in his playing, from the early days of his development, and brought a previously unimagined level of playing into jazz.”
- James Lester, Too Marvelous for Words: The Life and Genius of Art Tatum

"The true genius is not helpfully communicative. … In reality, he lacks the key to verbal communication of his inner motivations, except within his art.   .   .   .  He does not seek self-knowledge, gives no account of himself, neglects and consumes himself.   .   .   .   He burns up, but does not defy the burning: rather, he ignores it. He does not see himself in relation to the world. He doesn't see himself at all."
- HILDESHEIMER, Mozart (on the difference between the true genius and the would-be genius)

“And so will someone when I am dead and gone write my life? (As if any man really knew aught of my life, Why even I myself I often think know little or nothing of my real life….)"                               

“This book is dedicated to the hundreds of jazz musicians whose lives and contributions also deserve books but will probably never get them.”
- James Lester, Too Marvelous for Words: The Life and Genius of Art Tatum

Much of what Jazz musicians do goes up into the air, or, in today’s parlance, the ether. To say that their art is ephemeral would be an understatement in the extreme. The music is here one moment and gone the next. It seems sometimes that this is also the case with the Jazz musicians, too: here today gone tomorrow.

Mercifully, there are some book-length treatments of their music and careers; more and more it seems as Jazz moves more closely into the academic world. There are articles and interviews in the major music magazine that have focused on Jazz over the years, both at home and abroad:  Jazz Journal, Melody Maker, DownBeat, Metronome, Esquire, Playboy, JazzTimes, and a few others, come to mind.

I suppose, many Jazz musicians would prefer it this way: let the music speak for itself; it’s not about me.

But it’s hard not to wonder how they came to develop their marvelous talents and skills; to know more about the musician behind the music.

Phineas Newborn, Jr., who the eminent Jazz author Leonard Feather called one of the three greatest Jazz pianists of all time along with Art Tatum and Bud Powell, died a virtual unknown and was buried in a pauper’s grave in Memphis, Tennessee.  And, there is as yet, to my knowledge, no full length biography of Phineas [pronounced “Fine As”] and one wonders if there ever will be.

One of the main reasons that I started this blog was to do my part to provide some in-depth profiles to help remedy what James Lester underscores in his dedicatory statement to his biography of Art Tatum: “This book is dedicated to the hundreds of jazz musicians whose lives and contributions also deserve books but will probably never get them.”

Thank goodness for the tenacity [and temerity?] of James Lester for when he went looking for a biography of Art Tatum, who many consider to me the greatest Jazz pianist of all time, he couldn’t find one.

So, he decided to write one himself.

He explains how it all came to be in the following Introduction to Too Marvelous for Words: The Life and Genius of Art Tatum.

[Should you be in the mood to enhance your reading experience of this piece, rack up the 8 volumes of Art Tatum’s Solo Masterpieces [Pablo], set the controls on your CD changer for random play, pour yourself a glass of your favorite red plonk and sit back to enjoy what at some point in the process should be an out-of-body experience as all of your senses engage in the World of Art Tatum. There’s never been a “world” quite like it and I doubt that there ever will be one again.]


“... a creature who, for all his fame. still stands in need of a tittle understanding." - LYTTON STRACHEY (referring to Shelley)

ART TATUM'S NAME is now a secure part of American popular culture, and almost everyone understands that to put someone on Tatum's level is to bestow the highest praise. A play reviewer can write: "Stoppard handles words the way that Art Tatum used to handle a keyboard," and the compliment is widely understood, even by people who never heard Art play the piano. More than thirty-five years after his death, his name is still a metaphor for excellence, and not just in America but the world over. I recently met a young jazz pianist and her mother, both from Azerbaijan in the former Soviet Union, and they were offended that I thought they might not know who Art Tatum was.

But who was Art Tatum?

In 1988 I set out to find a good biography of Tatum. I wanted to learn something about where such a giant had come from, who his own idols had been, what experiences had made him the figure I knew, what sort of a person he was, what sort of life he had when he wasn't playing. It astonished me to discover that no biography of Tatum has yet been published. No fellow pianist, no Jazz writer, no family member, in the thirty-seven years since his death, has yet undertaken a written record of his life. No wonder that if he exists at all for lovers of jazz he exists as a distant, an almost abstract figure, a black eminence waving his hands over the keyboard and thundering through the jazz world.
Art Tatum has not been forgotten, certainly not by the experts. Billv Taylor's 1983 book, Jazz Piano, has more entries in the index for Art Tatum than for any other name, and Gunther Schuller, in his 1989 hook, The Swing Era, Volume 2, gives more pages to Tatum than to any other soloist. The Smithsonian collection of recordings Jazz Piano, released in 1989, has more tracks of TatuirTs playing than of any other pianist. There are currently several concert pianists (for example, Steven Mayer) who pay their respects to Tatum by frequently playing transcriptions of his recordings in their programs, along with the standard classical piano repertoire. I recently attended a performance by Stanley Cowell, a significant post-Tatum jazz pianist, who devoted his whole concert to playing Art Tatum arrangements. Unfortunately there were far more of us in the audience over fifty than under forty; Cowell was preaching to the converted. (Cowell has gone on, incidentally, to compose a piano concerto dedicated to the memory of Art.)

But nothing has come along to tell us who he was. My aim has been to write the book I was unable to find in 1988, to do my best to answer the question of where he came from, and to put into a coherent narrative all the fragments of information about his life that now exist only in isolated sources and in personal memories.

My intent has not been to provide a reference work, documenting his career, the chronology of his public appearances, the dates and places of his recordings. I wanted to get the musician into focus as a person.

I regret that I didn't start sooner. There is some excellent material about Tatum, the musician, already in print. There is an admirable discography (Laubich and Spencer) and three technical analyses of his performance style (Howard, Howlett, and Schuller). Even the dedicated searcher, however, will turn up little about the people and events in Tatum's life. Several brief biographical sketches, most of which cover the same ground, can be found in chapter or magazine article form, and there are short paragraphs buried in other narratives. But each of these comprises only a few fragments of his story, and when I had read through them all I longed to find out how they
really fit together.

Tatum, I soon realized, was more a worthy than a promising subject for a biography - I was particularly interested in personal interviews with people who had known him or worked with him, of course, but 1988 was a very late date on which to start collecting living memories about Art Tatum. His contemporaries, those who were still with us, were in the general vicinity of eighty years old and were showing a marked tendency to shuffle off this mortal coil, all too often before I could reach them. One of his two living relatives and his widow, for reasons which I could never persuade them to reveal to me, were uncooperative.

Getting acquainted with people who knew Art personally, from early schoolmates to those who spent his last days with him, has been far and away the most enjoyable part of writing this book. Of course, there is often no hard evidence against which to evaluate personal accounts of incidents, and one either finds the account plausible or one does not. As an audience for many stories, I've found myself involved in a lot of what may be sifting fiction from fiction. If they were good stories, and not outrageously improbable, I have included them.

It is especially frustrating that there is no almost no record of the man's own report of himself, in his own words. No one I've talked to ever received a letter from Tatum, and his very limited vision makes it plausible that there may be no letters (although I can't be sure that his relatives don't possess some). Many potential interviewers saw him as a bit aloof and unapproachable  —and never approached him. Barry Ulanov knew and interviewed a large proportion of top Jazz figures in Tatum's era, but told me that he "gave up as fruitless any attempt to get a long narrative from him," as he would have liked to. The 1930s and '40s abounded with jazz greats who were more than willing to talk, and the reluctant or retiring ones got passed over. The few published interviews with Tatum have a curious quality; in them, he sounds genial and cooperative but gives almost no information in reply to the interviewer's questions. Without some expression of his own attitudes it is almost impossible to imagine his inner world, the place from which he emerged from time to time to astound us.

Musically, we don't need to know about that, but having it would let us feel much closer to the man. When I spoke about Art with Ellis Marsalis, a jazz pianist and teacher, and father of (among others) Wynton and Branford Marsalis, he remarked that no one could write about Tatum properly who hadn't "gigged," or worked as a jazz musician himself. I want to say here, at the beginning, something about my credentials for writing a biography of a jazz pianist.

The last time I wrote about jazz was in 1941. I was in the eighth grade and wrote a prize-winning essay on the "comeback" of Louis Armstrong. (Little did I realize that the comeback of which I wrote was to be onlv the first of several—it was in fact impossible to keep Louis down.) For my prize I chose a biography of W. C. Handy, composer of, among other things, the "St. Louis Blues" (St. Louis is my home town). I tell you this to make it clear that I am not a Jazz academic, not a jazz critic, not even an occasional contributor of articles on jazz in any form. My connection with jazz has been as an avid listener and as a moonlighting performer, on both piano and trombone.

Music in our household was determined by my mother's taste which ran to Wayne King and Guy Lombardo, the simplest and most pre-digested music of its time. I was a child during the Depression, and the radio in our house was generally tuned to those "sweet bands" that seemed to console America in that often sad era. Somehow I found my way to the right stuff by the time I was on the brink of being a teenager. I was buying (and I now confess to the world occasionally stealing) 78 rpm recordings of the Jazz bands of Will Hudson, Jimmie Lunceford, Count Basie, and other hot bands of the late 1930s, and listening secretly after bedtime to radio station WIL for the best jazz program on the air in St. Louis. Having started piano lessons at around age eight or nine, at my own instigation, I had found the world of "Pine Top" Smith, Meade Lux Lewis, Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson, and of course Tatum, by the time I was thirteen (not, I admit, without pausing briefly to pay attention to such society pianists as Eddy Duchin and Carmen Cavallero — blame it on my youth).

I have been playing semi-professionally since 1941. I think my first paid appearance as a performer was at a block party in the Italian section of St. Louis. I was on piano and the band was on a six-foot high platform in the middle of the street. We played with such vigor that my ringers bled under the nails (not for the last time). I learned boogie-woogie and it made me very popular at parties, but as time went on it was Teddy Wilson whom I tried more and more to sound like. I loved Wilson's crisp and polished style, the clarity and sparkle of his melodic lines, the variety and interest of his left hand, the tenths constantly in motion, and those crystalline runs that sounded so spontaneous and yet inevitable at the same time. His sophistication and rich musicality, and maybe also his introverted character, appealed to my own personality much more than did "getting into the gorilla bag" (the phrase is Oscar Peterson's) with boogie-woogie. Finally, there was the fact that Wilson sounded accessible to me. I could hear what he was doing, and with enough work it seemed it might just be within reach. Tatum, of course, never was within reach, and I turned to him purely for musical experiences and not for a model. Tatum was there to define the limits of the possible, as he still is.

Since then I have held union cards in six major cities, as a pianist and a trombonist. In an Army Special Services unit in 1946 I played lead trombone in the big band, piano in a small group featuring the tenor player Warne Marsh, and wrote the book of arrangements for the band. I did several arrangements for the George Hudson band in St. Louis, the pride of the black community there, and was introduced by Hudson as a potential arranger to Lionel Hampton. In more recent years I've played hundreds of dances and private parties, in big bands and in smaller groups. My unknowing mentor Teddy Wilson once heard me play and commented (so I'm told), "He really seems to know what he's doing"—faint praise, perhaps, but from such a source it meant worlds to me. (There is a line in a novel that describes how I sometimes feel about my own playing, in which one of the characters says about another: "He seems to know what he's doing even if he can't do it.")

My vocation has been elsewhere, as a psychologist, but I have gigged. Those are my "credentials" and combined with my interest in Tatum they have given me the brashness to pursue the writing of this book. At least it seems brash to me; as an editor of DownBeat once remarked to a feature writer, "Tatum is a really big subject."

ART TATUM, COMING from out of nowhere (this is not a slight on Toledo, Ohio, but a comment on the disparity between his background and his accomplishment), set a precedent and a standard by which generations of Jazz pianists could not escape judging themselves — even though by such a standard failure was almost guaranteed. Jimmy Knepper, the New York-based jazz trombonist, put this idea simply: "Tatum, Parker, and a few others got Jazz out of the simple stage and now it's imperative to be a virtuoso."

Tatum was indeed a virtuoso, on several levels, and there is absolutely no dispute about his technical brilliance. It is the element or his playing that is easiest to assess, since his playing practically demands to be measured against the standards of the whole Western tradition of the concert piano, and to my mind at least Tatum is best understood in the light of that tradition. Consider some educated descriptions of his playing:

“. . . almost every one of Tatum's performances is from a pianistic-technical point of view a marvel of perfection ... his playing must be heard to be believed, and in its technical perfection it is something beyond verbal description, at least this author's verbal capacities. The note-perfect clarity of Tatum's runs, the hardly believable leaps to the outer registers of the piano (he is not known ever to have missed one), his deep-in-the-keys full piano sonority, the tone and touch control in pyrotechnical passages clearly beyond the abilities of the vast majority of pianists to merely render the notes in some nominal way — these are miracles of performance which must be appreciated aurally." [Schuller, Swing Era, 482)

“Tatum's style was notable for its touch, its speed and accuracy, and its harmonic and rhythmic imagination. No pianist has ever hit notes more beautifully. Each one — no matter how fast the tempo — was light and complete and resonant, like the letters on a finely printed page. Vast lower-register chords were unblurred, and his highest notes were polished silver. . . . His speed and precision were almost shocking. Flawless sixteenth-note runs poured up and down the keyboard, each note perfectly accented, and the chords and figures in the left hand sometimes sounded two-handed. Such virtuosity can he an end in itself, and Tatum was delighted to let it be in his up-tempo flag-wavers, when he spectacularly became a high-wire artist, a scaler of Everests. Tatum's bedrock sense of rhythm enabled him to play out-of-tempo interludes or whole choruses that doubled the impact of the implied beat, and his harmonic sense — his strange, multiplied chords, still largely unmatched by his followers, his laving on of two and three and four melodic levels at once — was orchestral and even symphonic. [Whitney Balliett, Ecstasy, 113]

Listening to a really good pianist one might say, "I could never do that." But confronted with Tatum most musicians have said to themselves, "Nobody can do that!" "To have heard him play," one pianist wrote, "was as awe-inspiring as to have seen the Grand Canyon or Halley's comet. . . ." It seems to me, however, that Teddy Wilson, a contemporary, close friend, and first-class player himself, put the paean to Tatum in its clearest form:

“Maybe this will explain Art Tatum. If you put a piano in a room, just a bare piano. Then you get all the finest Jazz pianists in the world and let them play in the presence of Art Tatum. Then let Art Tatum play . . . everyone there will sound like an amateur. Pianists with regular styles will sound like beginners. Art Tatum played with such superiority that he was above style. It is almost like a golfer who can hit a hole in one every time he picks up the iron. It was a special kind of ability he had. If I had to choose an all-'round instrumentalist, in a classical vein, or in a more modem vein, I'd choose Art Tatum.”

The famous Tatum runs are certainly what first jump out at you; they are, someone said, like the arc left against the night sky by a Fourth of July sparkler. They can dominate your attention, and they have given generations of pianists a sense of inferiority. But it has to be said, and then underlined, that to stop there is to miss most of what is significant about Tatum. As one record reviewer put it: "Art Tatum's performances demand much of the listener. He is not easy and cannot be fully discovered with one or two surface listenings. Of course, you get the gloss, the flash, his elegant sound. But there is so much more." What can be missed by a casual listener is the tremendous structural complexity in what he did, and the very advanced (for Jazz) harmonies that he used. (Chapter 7 includes a discussion of Tatum's performance style.)

Tatum's virtuosity is not for everybody, however. His dazzling command of the keyboard has been a wedge that has divided opinion about him. There has been a minority of critics who find in him an unnecessary ornateness or even floridity, a shallowness, "an excess of hyperbole." One of the most polite expressions of this point of view was that "his tendency to display his accomplishments sometimes gets in the way of a performance." The cultivation of virtuoso skill has always exposed players to the same criticism: NO SOUL. Performers back to Franz Liszt and beyond have suffered this criticism: decoration, not substance; effect, not content. In the case of Jazz musicians the complaint is that showy displays of musical athleticism take the place of musical thought and usurp the place of more significant improvisation. Jazz criticism is a murky, subjective thing, but one important criterion has always been originality; whenever skill seems to have replaced imagination, or prepared devices take the place of creativity, a reputation suffers. Because of his virtuosity, it has never been easy to judge Tatum by this particular criterion.

It is clear, though, that what Tatum did, as Knepper suggested, was considerably more than add one more to the variety of Jazz piano styles. His harmonic and rhythmic innovations affected the whole context for jazz playing, and not just for pianists. In the scope of his influence he is comparable to Louis Armstrong before him, and to Charlie Parker who came after. He is, however, impossible to categorize as to style — he seemed to develop along a track of his own even though he was thoroughly aware of the action on all the adjacent tracks. And he is difficult to assess clearly because it's hard to know what standards to apply. Whitney Balliett with his reliable deftness of language summed him up in 1968, and captured a central truth about Tatum's career : "No one ever knew exactly what he was or what to do with him. He was said to be the greatest Jazz pianist who ever lived and he was said to be not a Jazz pianist at all. He was admired by classical pianists ... by Jazz musicians, and by dazzled, tin-eared laymen. People poked fun at his ornate style . . . and then wept at his next brilliance . . . nobody has decided yet what kind of a pianist he was" [Balliett, Ecstasy, III). The clearest light can be thrown on Tatum, I think, if we see him as a displaced person, a kind of outsider, keeping alive an old tradition (piano virtuosity) in an alien country (Jazz).

In the descriptions of many listeners, hearing Art Tatum for the first time was somewhat like living through an earthquake — it astonished, it alarmed, it could shake one's foundations. Inflated as that may sound in the 1990s, when performance expectations are vastly different from what they were in Tatum's era, it was overwhelmingly true in the 1930s and 40s. Musicians traveling from city to city were already telling each other in the late 1920s about the unbelievable piano playing they had heard in Toledo, and he was well on his way to becoming a living legend before he made his first solo recordings in 1933. The impact on his listeners was made all the greater by the knowledge that Art Tatum was nearly blind.

I liken Tatum to an earthquake advisedly. Earthquakes are not only impressive but they can be destructive. I never heard anyone say that Tatum inspired him or her to play the piano. A really accomplished musician might find encouragement. Mel Powell, who had intensive classical training as a child and later won rave reviews as a teen-age pianist and arranger with Benny Goodman, told me his first experience with Tatum's playing was positive: "What it probably did was to encourage me to see that that kind of sheer instrumental virtuosity that I'd been cultivating in the other world of music not only had a place [in Jazz] but was the summit."  More than a few-musicians, however, were anything but encouraged by him; Rex Stewart, who is best known for having become a star in Duke Ellington's trumpet section, reports that after his first encounter with Art Tatum he somehow felt he was inadequate at filling Louis Armstrong's shoes (with the Fletcher Henderson band of 1928), and he "toyed with the idea of giving up the horn and going back to school" (Stewart). Bobby Short, who is best known as an entertainer rather than a Jazz pianist but who is none the less talented for that, was once "stopped in his tracks" by Tatum:

“. . . one day Len [Short's manager] took me into Lyon and Healey's music store to listen to a Tatum record. His technique was like Horowitz's. He was a wizard, I listened to the recording and I was shocked to hell! When it was finished, the salesman said, "Do you play the piano, son?" Yes, I did. "Would you play for us?" I crossed over to the piano and sat down, and because I was so impressionable and depended on my ear for so much, found that I couldn't play the piano at all. Not a note. Tatum had undone me to that extent. I could not get my ringers to react to my mind, because mv mind was suddenly overflowing. I'd been stopped in my tracks.”  [Black and White Baby, 157-58]

The pianist Lennie Tristano noticed this phenomenon in some of his listeners and called it "kinesthetic paralysis." Even Oscar Peterson had to go through this experience. In an interview (with Andre Previn) Peterson described his very first encounter with the Tatum technique. In his teens his father — perhaps thinking that Oscar was getting too big a head about his playing ("I thought I was pretty heavy at school, you know—I'd play in all the lunch hours with allthe chicks around the auditorium.")—sat him down to listen to the Tatum recording of "Tiger Rag," one of Art's early recordings which simply blew everyone away, including the ascendant Oscar: "And, truthfully, I gave up the piano for two solid months; and I had crying fits at night." Oscar Peterson!? (In a different interview, with a Time researcher, Peterson said he gave up playing for three weeks. Whichever it was, Oscar was clearly shaken up.)

Some people who thought they were becoming piano players gave up the instrument for another; for example, Les Paul, the renowned guitarist, told me: "When I saw Tatum, and heard Art Tatum, I quit playing the piano. . . . I just sez, that's not for me. 'Cause this guy, I'll never be able to beat a blind black man playing piano like that. . . . This guy is just way, way too good, and he's got so much going." Everett Barksdale, who later had the little-envied job of playing guitar in Tatum's Trio in the '50s, heard him in Detroit in 1926 when he still considered himself a piano player: "This is unbelievable, I don't believe anybody can do that thing on the instrument," he remembered thinking, and "so that was the end of my piano career." And many of the pianists who kept going carried the scars for years; I have heard Johnny Guarnieri, who had an entirely respectable career as a jazz pianist, first in a small Artie Shaw group and later as a solo performer, say that he was fifty-five years old before he realized he didn't have to play like Tatum. Many pianists spent years of their careers "chasing after him," trying to reach his level of accomplishment, even trying to play exactly like him, to the detriment of tapping their own creativity or finding their own style.

Tatum's astonishing technique not only stunned jazz musicians (and paralyzed a few) but also won the admiration of some of the prominent concert artists, conductors, and composers of the day— such artists as Gershwin, Leopold Godowsky, Paderewski, and Rachmaninoff. Most important to Tatum, Vladimir Horowitz admired and praised him, often extravagantly. Itzhak Perlman, the violinist, said in a television interview that from the moment he first heard Tatum on record he "absolutely fell in love with him." When the great Soviet violinist David Oistrakh arrived in America, one of the first things he wanted to do was shop the record stores for Tatum recordings.

Gershwin "listened with rapture" to Tatum, especially when the songs were Gershwin's own, such as "Liza" and “I’ve Got Rhythm." He once gave a party especially for Tatum at his 72nd Street apartment in New York. One of the guests was the famous concert pianist Leopold Godowsky (from whom Fats Waller is alleged to have taken some lessons), and one who was there reported that "Godowsky listened with amazement for twenty minutes to Tatum's remarkable runs, embroideries, counter-figures and passage playing" (Oscar Levant, A Smattering of Ignorance, 195).

With the technical ability to make concert musicians pav attention, and with the improvisational creativity to make jazz musicians go anywhere to hear him (John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet once spent $1000 in a week listening to Tatum on 52nd Street), he had the potential for being a giant in either world. What did he really want? How did he really see himself? There was no question in which world he would have to make his career. Partly because of his blindness (although we don't really know how much that handicapped him in learning composed pieces), but mainly because of the barriers a black musician faced in his time, Jazz offered Tatum the only viable way forward in music. He took it and ran.”

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Grant Green - Two New Recordings from Resonance Records

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

“But it wasn't just this astonishing fecundity that set him apart; Green's guitar playing was decidedly one-of-a-kind. His playing had a dark, horn-like tone and rich, blued-tinged lyricism that made his single-note solos instantly identifiable. His playing could be edgy and aggressive enough to hold its own against the toughest tenors, but it also had a remarkable delicacy, a finesse that made his style akin to a form of speech.”
J.D. Considine

George Klabin, Zev Feldman, Heidi Kalison and the other members of the team at Resonance Records are proudly carrying on the tradition of small, independent Jazz record companies, a list that includes, among many other  
owner-operators:Milt Gabler of Commodore Records, Bob Weinstock of Prestige, Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff of Blue Note Records, Les Koenig of Contemporary Records, Richard Bock of Pacific Jazz, Max and Sol Weiss of Fantasy Records, Joe Fields and Don Schlitten of Cobblestone and Muse Records, Orrin Keepnews of Riverside, Jazzland, Milestone and Landmark, and Carl Jefferson of Concord Records.

One can’t help wondering what the state of recorded Jazz would have been through the years without the efforts and resources of such courageous [crazy?] individuals?

In recognition for all they do for the music, Resonance Records was recently voted best Jazz Recording Company by the Jazz Journalist Association, the second year-in-a-row that it has been accorded this distinction.

George brings some unique qualities to the recordings that Resonance issues having been a recording engineer himself, as well as, a producer of Jazz concerts and a manager of Jazz musicians and vocalists.

And while the number of recordings that Resonance releases each year is perhaps not on a scale as many of its esteemed predecessors, very few Jazz records are of the quality of those issued by George’s company in terms of a spectacular format made up of beautiful color graphics, superb black and white photographs of the represented artists as taken by leading Jazz photographers, thick insert note booklets jammed package with information, interviews, annotations and observations by some of the leading writers on a variety of Jazz subjects and topics, and, of course, the music itself rendered in the highest audio quality available.

Put another way, George’s spares no expense - including compensating the surviving family or estate of the artist, paying the musicians who appear on these dates and banking the necessary royalties - in putting together a final product that he can be proud of and that you can enjoy from a number of audio-visual perspectives.

Two new releases by guitarist Grant Green [1935-1979] continue this Resonance Records tradition of excellence: Funk In France: Paris And Antibes (1969-1970) [HCD-2033] and Slick! Live At Oil Can Harry's [HCD-2034].

J.D. Considine provides an interesting examination of the place of these recordings in Grant’s career in his essay Grant Green ‘Taking It’ to a Climax which appears in the July 2018 edition of Downbeat. Following the Considine piece, you’ll find a Resonance Records produced video entitled: The Evolution of Grant Green's Funk (Funk in France/Slick! Live at Oil Can Harry's)

© -J.D. Considine and Downbeat, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“In the decades since Grant Green's music was rediscovered by DJs like Gilles Peterson and acid jazz groups such as US3, and sampled by hip-hop pioneers like A Tribe Called Quest and Public Enemy, there has been a tendency to view the guitarist's career as two distinct eras.

Act One started in 1959, when he first recorded with tenor saxophonist Jimmy Forrest, and continued through the mid-'6Qs. At the time. Green (1935-'79) was a stalwart of the soulful straight ahead jazz scene, a worthy foil to such big-voiced tenor men as Ike Quebec, Stanley Turrentine and Hank Mobley, and had proven himself especially adept in the organ trio setting, having done epic work with the likes of Jimmy Smith, "Brother" Jack McDuff, Big John Patton and Larry Young.

But a decade later, when the curtain came up for Act Two, consensus on Green's output was deeply divided. Mainstream partisans largely turned up their noses at what The Penguin Guide to Jazz described as "the bland funk he chugged out." But a generation along, Green was dubbed the "Father of Acid Jazz," as DJs and funk fans scoured used record bins for copies of his long-out-of-print '70s albums, thanks to the popularity of such rare groove classics as "Maybe Tomorrow," "Down Here On The Ground," "Ain't It Funky Now" and "Sookie Sookie."

For some, this split represents the evolution of a courageous and creative artist who wasn't afraid to plug into the energy of the funk era; to others. Green's change in direction amounted to little more than pandering, as a once-great jazz musician watered down his music in the hopes of attracting a wider audience.

But with the release of two new live albums from Resonance Records — Funk In France: Paris And Antibes (1969-1970) and Slick! Live At Oil Can Harry's — that bifurcated view of Green's career now feels like an oversimplification. Although there definitely was a change in the kind of music he made, it wasn't as cut-and-dried as dropping swing in favor of funk. Nor, if the audience response on these albums is any indication, did it involve abandoning jazz fans in favor of funk kids.

Grant told Vancouver DJ Gary Barclay, "Our audiences did get younger" after the band had funked things up, but the fact was he hadn't stopped playing standards; he'd simply augmented the old tunes with new ones. As his son Greg, who performs and records as Grant Green Jr., put it, "He lived all types of music. He loved James Brown, he loved the Isley Brothers, but he loved the Beatles, you know? One thing that most people — especially jazz cats — don't realize is that all of your jazz standards were once pop standards. So, saying that it's not jazz is not true. It's your interpretation of the tune that makes it jazz."

Still, if you wanted to mark a turning point in Green's career, Feb. 17, 1969, would be as good a date as any.

Green was in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, that day, sitting with his guitar and amp in Rudy Van Gelder's studio, where he was about to record a date for Prestige with saxophonist Rusty Bryant. What they cut that day — six tracks for the album Rusty Bryant Returns, including the groover "Zoo Boogaloo," which was released as a single — doesn't matter to our story so much as the fact that the date marked Green's first recording session in almost two years.

That would have been inconceivable just a few years earlier. After he was introduced to Blue Note chief Alfred Lion by alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson in 1960, Green quickly became one of the label's most prolific players. Either as leader or sideman, Green did more than 100 sessions for the label, a feat made all the more awesome by the fact that the vast majority of those dates occurred between 1960 and 1966.

But it wasn't just this astonishing fecundity that set him apart; Green's guitar playing was decidedly one-of-a-kind. His playing had a dark, horn-like tone and rich, blued-tinged lyricism that made his single-note solos instantly identifiable. His playing could be edgy and aggressive enough to hold its own against the toughest tenors, but it also had a remarkable delicacy, a finesse that made his style akin to a form of speech.

But at the tail end of the '60s, Green wasn't saying much. Before the session with Bryant, his last recording had been a session with organist Big John Patton and drummer Ben Dixon for Cobblestone — his only studio time in all of 1967. It wasn't that he'd suddenly gone out of fashion or suffered some horrible accident that made him unable to use his hands. No, Green had a drug problem, a heroin addiction that, as it got worse, increasingly left him short on money and musicians willing to work with him. The 1999 book Grant Green: Rediscovering The Forgotten Genius Of Jazz Guitar — by Sharony Andrews Green, the guitarist's daughter-in-law — quotes clarinetist Wendell Harrison describing what it was like. "See, you'd go on the road with Grant, and you might not get but half your money," he said. "He was sick. All the money he would get would go for drugs."

In 1968, Green was busted for possession in New York. It was a minor conviction, but the guitarist made it worse by heading to California for a gig, instead of reporting to prison. U.S. Marshals arrested him and flew him back. Green's sentence was extended, and he spent most of 1968 behind bars. No wonder some saw this as the moment the curtain came down on Act One.

Once he was released from jail, Green made it plain that he hadn't lost his chops. But things had changed in the interim. Alfred Lion had relinquished his control of Blue Note, selling the label to Liberty Records and retiring to Mexico. Closer to Green's heart, Wes Montgomery —  who, along with Kenny Burrell, Green had considered the only guitarists of consequence since Charlie Christian — died. The landscape had changed, but so had Grant Green.

The first important recording date he had after Rusty Bryant was with organist Reuben Wilson, for an album called Love Bug. This session was significant for two reasons. First, it placed Green alongside a young drummer from New Orleans named Leo Morris, although he would reach more listeners under the name Idris Muhammad. Second, it was built around jazz treatments of contemporaneous pop tunes, among them the Supremes hit "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me," Sam & Dave's soul anthem "Hold On, I'm Coming" and the Burl Bacharach classic "I Say A Little Prayer."

"I came up with this idea of playing pop music with jazz," Wilson said in the book. "They used a lot of jazz musicians in Motown. They were background players. So instead of having them in the background, it was just a matter of bringing [them] to the forefront."

Green definitely dug the concept, and in October he was back at Van Gelder's studio for his first Blue Note session as a leader since 1965. Not only was he embracing Wilson's concept-there were covers of tunes by James Brown ("I Don't Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing"), the Meters ("Ease Back") and Little Anthony & The Imperials ("Hurt So Bad") — but he made sure to bring in Morris on drums again, along with Claude Bartee on tenor saxophone and Clarence Palmer on electric piano. Titled Carryin On, the album was full of enduringly funky grooves, some of which later were sampled by rap visionaries Eric B. & Rakim on their final album as a duo, 1992's Don't Sweat The Technique.

Three weeks later, Green was in France. The Office de Radiodiffusion Television Francaise had planned to shoot a "Guitar Workshop" at its Round House studio in Paris. Originally, the lineup was to have been Barney Kessel, Kenny Burrell and Tal Farlow, but Farlow was suffering from asthma and had to cancel, so the organizers brought in Green to replace him.

There was little budget for the taping, which meant Green wound up working with bassist Larry Ridley and drummer Don Lamond instead of the ensemble used to record Carryin' On. As evidenced on Funk In France, Green delivered a rousing rendition of Brown's "I Don't Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing," deftly playing off the skeletal funk groove of upright bass and drums. The interplay between Green and Ridley is wonderfully contrapuntal, as they sketch blues variations against

Lamond's lightly simmering pulse. There's even deeper interplay between Green and Ridley on an untitled, eight-minute blues number that gives the bassist tremendous room to stretch. "A lot of that funky stuff really sits well when the bass is just a tad behind the beat," said Green ]r. "When you play right on top of it, it's fine. But when you're a tad behind, it just sits better. Larry had that approach on bass, so [he] had that real grooving, laid-back feel. And it's a great thing, because not everybody can do it."

ORTF never aired the video of Green's performance, and it remained unseen until last year, when it turned up on YouTube. One of the people who saw it there was Resonance producer Zev Feldman, who tracked down and licensed the audio for legitimate release. (The music had been bootlegged before, but from low-quality copies and not the 96kHz master Feldman used.) During a search through the archives, Feldman's contacts at France's Institut national de l'audiovisuel also found a second Grant Green live recording from nine months later at the Festival International de Jazz d'Antibes Juan-les-Pins. Green's touring band with Bartee on tenor, Palmer on organ and Billy Wilson on drums played twice — for about 30 minutes on July 18 and about 45 minutes on July 20.

By that time Green had moved from his Brooklyn apartment to Detroit, where he bought a house. He continued to release studio albums of funk-infused jazz, and slowly built a bigger audience. His 1971 album Visions made it onto Billboard's pop albums chart, which is impressive given that its track listing ran the gamut from the Jackson 5 hit "Never Can Say Goodbye" to the first movement from Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G minor.

But it would be his concert recordings that were the most enduring. Alive!, cut on Aug. 15, 1970, at the Cliche Lounge in Newark, New Jersey, used much of the Carryin' On crew, and is particularly celebrated for the generous New Orleans funk that Green and Muhammad generated on the 11-minute version of "Sookie Sookie." Then in 1972, there was Live At The Lighthouse, recorded at the Hermosa Beach, California, landmark. Again, the emphasis was on extending the groove, not simply so the players could stretch out, but also to give the audience something to react to. And react they did. On the Lighthouse track "Jan Jan," fans can be heard yelling "Go, go!" at various points during Green's solo, urging the guitarist on as he further excites the crowd.

"That thing is all about energy," Green Jr. said. "When you play like that, everybody is listening, and they're all working together to build this energy thing. And when everybody is building a groove — you know, taking it to a climax — you gotta take the audience there, too."

Slick! Live At Oil Can Harry's is Green's last known live recording, and a perfect example of that dynamic. Taken from a Sept. 5, 1975, recording made by radio station CHQM at a Vancouver night club, the one-hour performance consists of just three tracks: Charlie Parker's jump blues "Now's The Time," Antonio Carlos Jobim's melancholy bossa nova "How Insensitive (Insensatez)," and an epic jazz-funk medley that over the course of 32 minutes careens through Stanley Clarke's "Vulcan Princess," the Ohio Players' "Skin Tight," Bobby Womack's "Woman's Gotta Have It," Stevie Wonder's "Boogie On Reggae Woman" and the O'Jays' "For The Love Of Money."

After the show, Green was interviewed by CHQM's Gary Barclay, who asked the guitarist about the challenges of balancing his crossover material with jazz standards. Green acknowledged the distance between "Now's The Time" and "Skin Tight," but he viewed such eclecticism as a matter of inclusivity. "We don't want to set up some type of limitations to what we do," he said. "We want to try to get everybody .... We don't want to say we're playing 'ghetto music,' or we don't want to say we're playing 'white music' or 'black music.' We're just playing music. Because we're playing all music." DB