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“Almost the first sounds to
be heard on the classic Jazz on a Summer's
Day soundtrack are the mellow tones of Bob Brookmeyer's valve trombone
interweaving with Jimmy Giuffre's clarinet on The Train And The River. It's a curiously formal sound, almost
academic, and initially difficult to place. Valve trombone has a more clipped,
drier sound than the slide variety, and Brookmeyer is probably its leading
exponent, though Maynard Ferguson, Stu Williamson and Bob Enevoldsen have all
made effective use of it.”
- Richard Cook & Brian Morton, The
Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.
“Getting to the core could
well be the Brookmeyer credo. As a jazz soloist and writer, Bob wastes little
energy on unnecessary curlicues and affected sounds for the sake of an
artificial eloquence... This is a signpost of basic musical honesty. At the
same time, Bob is dedicated to emotion and the investigation of every nuance
beneath the surface of a selection. The result of this approach is a forceful
personalized transmission of the emotional content of the musical material to
the listening audience...”
- Burt Korall, Jazz writer and critic
“I've loved Bob's
compositions and arrangements and his playing since the moment I first heard
his music in the '70s. It turned my life around. Bob became a
wonderful teacher, mentor and dear friend. And he was enormously generous
to those lucky enough to be his friend.”
- Maria Schneider, Jazz composer-arranger
“Bob has added an amazing
amount to Jazz. He was in the thick of the New
York scene in the 50s and 60s and even hung out
at "The Loft." To the average listener he probably is not that we'll
known. But to me he'll remain one of those fundamental sounds [of Jazz].”
- Dr. Ken Koenig, Jazz musician
“Wherever he goes Bob's bound
to make further contributions and stir up emotions with his "thinking
- Brian Hope, Jazz Fan
“Bob studied at the Kansas
City Conservatory and originally played piano; he took up the valve trombone
when he was twenty-three, and almost immediately became a major figure in jazz.
Most of Bob's career has been
in New York,
working with almost every major jazzman there, but most significantly Clark
Terry, with whom he co-led a quintet. His association with Mulligan continued,
and when Mulligan formed his concert band, Brookmeyer played in it along with
Zoot Sims, Bill Crow,
Mel Lewis, and Clark Terry, and did a great deal of its writing. The band's
haunting arrangement of Django Reinhardt's "Manoir de mes reves" is
Bob is a classic illustration
of the dictum that jazzmen tend to play pretty much as they speak, which is
perhaps inevitable in music that is so extensively improvisatory. He is low-key
and quietly ironic in speech, and he plays that way.”
- Gene Lees
Bob Brookmeyer was
born on December 19, 1929. He died on December 16,
2011, three days
before what would have been his 82nd birthday.
I will miss his
magnificent musicianship, both as an instrumentalist, he played both valve
trombone and piano, and as a composer-arranger.
It seems that Bob
has been a part of my Jazz scene ever since I can remember. Although he
replaced trumpeter Chet Baker with Gerry Mulligan’s quartet in 1953, I first
heard him a few years later on the Emarcy recordings made by Gerry’s sextet.
What a group:
Gerry on baritone sax, Bob on valve trombone, joined on the “front line” by
trumpeter Jon Eardley and tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims, with bassist Bill Crow and drummer Dave Bailey cooking along in the rhythm
What struck me
most about Bob’s playing was its humor. Lighthearted and unexpected phrases
just flowed in and out of his solos and he always seemed to swing, effortlessly.
Bob had fun with
the music while not taking himself too seriously. I mean, anyone who names an
original composition “Jive Hoot” must certainly smile a lot.
Bob knew what he
was doing musically, but he never put on any airs about it.
He had great
reverence and respect for those who came before him in the Jazz tradition and
he even made it a point to “revisit” some of what he referred to as Jazz
“traditionalism” in a few of the earliest recordings that he made as a leader.
Another of Bob’s
virtues was his honesty and his directness. You never had to guess what he was
thinking on subjects that were near-and-dear to his heart. In interview after
interview, reading Bob’s stated opinions was akin to being “hit” by both
barrels of a shotgun loaded with the truth-according-to-Brookmeyer.
If as Louis
Armstrong once said, “Jazz is Who You Are,” then you always knew where Bob
stood. Musically, his playing and his compositions radiated with candor and
clarity; his big band arrangements, in particular, just sparkled with lucidity
and precision. I would imagine that no one performing Bob’s music was ever in
doubt as to what he wanted you to play.
implied or suggested in his writing; he told you what he wanted you to play.
For better or for worse, Bob just put it out there. No wonder he remained such
close friends with Gerry Mulligan throughout his life.
As described above
in the introductory quotation by Gene Lees, Bob was to work with many of the Jazz greats on the West
Coast Jazz scene of the 1950’s and both the New York Jazz and studio worlds of
the 1960’s. He returned to California in the 1970’s primarily to work in movie
and television composing and did some small group gigging at Jazz festivals and
concerts in the USA and abroad throughout the 1980’s.
Upon his return to
New York in the 1980’s, Bob would also become “the
de facto musical director for the orchestra that Mel Lewis led following the
death of Thad Jones.”
In an interview he
gave to Scott Yanow, Bob said: “Before my stay in California [1968-1978], I considered myself a player
first and a writer second. … In addition to Gerry Mulligan’s writing, my big
band arranging was inspired by Bill Finegan, Ralph Burns, Al Cohn, Eddie
Sauter, Gil Evans, Bill Holman and George Russell.”
From 1991 up until
his death, Bob spent much of his time in Northern Europe exploring new approaches to composing,
arranging and orchestrating for some of the resident, larger orchestras in Holland and Germany, including his own New Art Orchestra which
was based primarily in Cologne, Germany.
We hope this all-too-brief
remembrance will serve in some small measure as our celebrationof the musical life of Bob Brookmeyer.
“When all else fails, play
the snare drum. That’s where you learned it all in the first place.”
- Paul Motian
Most of the
drummers that I knew, didn’t like the way Paul Motian played drums with the
classic Bill Evans Trio during his association with the group from 1959-1962.
The constant stop
and starting in his playing drove them nuts: “Why doesn’t he just lay it down?” "What did he do, drop a stick?” “Did his drum kit run out of batteries?” “Why
doesn’t he just swing?”
everyone has nothing but praise for the way Paul made the drums “fit in to what
Evans and LaFaro were doing,” but, during its short-lived, year-and-a-half
existence, such criticisms of Paul’s halting approach to drums in pianist Bill
Evans’ now-classic trio were more commonplace than most Jazz fans will admit.
Paul was aware of
the criticisms of his work with Bill’s trio and remained very sensitive about
the entire topic whenever he was asked about it.
He was quoted as
saying: “Listen to my playing on the New Conceptions album” [Bill’s first
recording with Riverside Records with Teddy Kotick as the bassist]. We played
the music in a straight-ahead manner and I swung my a** off on that record, but
no one ever talks about that trio.”
played in the style of the pioneering, Bebop drum masters such as Kenny Clarke,
Max Roach and Art Blakey.
He played drums
professionally for over 60 years. During that span of time, he moved away from
the aggressive and accented-oriented playing so characteristic of modern Jazz
drumming of the 1940’s and 1950’s.
In a conversation
that I had with Paul in 1996 when he was appearing at the Village Vanguard in a
collaborative trio with tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano and guitarist Bill Frisell
he said: “I essentially flattened things out and took a lot of the busyness out
of my playing.”
Hoping to have it
autographed, I had brought along a copy of a “Tribute to the Music of Bill Evans”
CD that Paul had done a few years earlier with Joe and Bill along with bassist
Marc Johnson, who was in Bill Evans last trio before his death in 1981.
The recording was
produced in Germany by Stefan Winter in 1990 and when Paul saw it on my table
as he was leaving the bandstand at the Vanguard, he smiled and said: “You must
have one of the three copies that thing ever sold.”
After he attended
to a few personal matters, he made his way back to my table and we spent some
of his break together talking about music.
I mentioned that I
was a drummer, too, and the conversation went in that direction, that is to
say, we talked about tuning drums, muffling [or not] bass drums,
getting hi hat cymbals to be at exactly the right angle so they “bite” and
about ride cymbals that produce a “clicking” sound when struck by a drum stick.
We talked about
stuff that no one else in the world would be interested in except another
It was a
conversation. I wasn’t interviewing him, just two guys with something in common
– drums – hanging out for a few minutes between sets.
Paul said: “I want
to be musical when I solo and not play a bunch of drumming exercises.”
I mentioned that I
heard a number of pauses in his solos.
said. And then he looked at me and said: “It’s scary to.”
When I looked
confused about these remarks he continued: “Because I’m trying to be a complete
musician. I’m not just keeping the tune in my head while playing drum licks
over it, I’m really trying to make up melodies to express on the drums.
Sometimes it’s not always easy to hear what I want to say because all that
drumming stuff comes into my mind, first”
After a few
minutes, Paul excused himself to greet some friends that had arrived for the
next set. I gave him my business card and told him to give me a call the next
time he was in San Francisco.
When I got back to
my hotel room that evening, I realized that I didn’t have the CD that I’d
brought along for Paul to autograph.
A few days after I
returned to the LeftCoast, a small package arrived at my San Francisco office.
In it was the Paul
Motian/Bill Evans tribute CD and a hand-written note from Paul which said:
“Enjoyed our talk. Don’t forget the pauses. Best, Paul.”
Paul died on
November 22, 2011 and we wanted to remember him on these pages with some
writings about his career and audio-only Very Early track from the PaulMotian/Bill
Evans Tribute CD[JMT 834 445-2] with Joe Lovano on tenor sax, Bill
Frisell on bass and Marc Johnson on drums.
"Give Paul Motian a break for
deciding to cease touring in favor of occasional appearances in New York City. After all, the man has spent his adult life on the
road, lending his cascading and earthy tones to the likes of Bill Evans, Paul
Bley, George Russell, Keith Jarrett, Charlie Haden, The Electric Bebop Band,
and so many others.
Motian doesn’t keep everyday
time. Although he might lunge into the standard jazz ride rhythm, he’s more apt
to suggest the pulse in other ways, breaking it up between his ancient Zildjian
sizzle and his drumkit. Where others might fill, he’ll let one note linger.
Although he’s clearly in no hurry to fill up space, his latest ECM
release, Garden Of Eden, reveals that he can solo splendidly. He’s been
refining his wizardry since he took up with Bill Evans forty-five years ago. As
it turns out, Motian left the famous trio for fear it was becoming a cocktail
act. “I felt as if I was playing on pillows,” he quips. “It was
becoming that quiet.”
In March of this year, a week
before his seventy-fifth birthday, Motian appeared live with pianist Bobo
Stensen, with whom he recorded Goodbye (ECM). The lights at Birdland
dimmed and Paul began poking at his old Paiste 602 Dark ride, sometimes
extending his arm so that he could strike north of the bell. He’d find a sweet
spot and caress it. Occasionally he’d let out a wide grin. Maybe he was
delighted at discovering an elusive sound. Maybe he was happy at a direction
Stensen had taken. He’s not telling.
“A lot of people,” Motian
complains, “ask why I do something, as if there was a lot of forethought behind
it. No, man, this shit is an accident. Kenny Clarke didn’t plan on being
‘the father of bebop drums.’ It just happened because the tempo was so fast
that all he could do was play accents on the bass drum!”
Motian, who rarely works with
charts, relishes happy accidents. They keep him young, nimble–and edgy.”
“A masterfully subtle drummer
and a superb colorist, Paul Motian is also an advanced improviser and a
bandleader with a taste for challenging post-bop. Born Stephen Paul Motian in Philadelphia on March 25, 1931, he grew up in Providence and began playing the drums at age 12, eventually
touring New England in a swing band.
He moved to New York in 1955 and played with numerous musicians - including
Thelonious Monk, Lennie Tristano, Coleman Hawkins, Tony Scott, and George Russell
- before settling into a regular role as part of Bill Evans' most famous trio
(with bassist Scott LaFaro), appearing on his classics Sunday at the Village
Vanguard and Waltz for Debby.
In 1963, Motian left Evans'
group to join up with Paul Bley for a year or so, and began a long association
with Keith Jarrett in 1966, appearing with the pianist's American-based quartet
In addition, Motian freelanced for artists like Mose Allison, Charles Lloyd,
Carla Bley, and Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Ensemble, and turned down the
chance to be John Coltrane's second drummer.
In 1972, Motian recorded his
first session as a leader, Conception Vessel, for ECM; he followed in 1974 with
He formed a regular working group in 1977 (which featured tenor Joe Lovano) and
recorded several more dates for ECM, then revamped the ensemble to include
guitarist Bill Frisell in 1980. Additional dates for ECM and Soul Note
followed, and in 1988 Motian moved to JMT, where he recorded a long string of fine
albums beginning with Monk in Motian.
During the '90s, he also led an ensemble called the Electric Bebop Band, which
featured Joshua Redman. In 1998, Motian signed on with the Winter & Winter
label, where he began recording another steady stream of albums, including 2000
+ One in 1999, Europe in 2001, and Holiday for Strings in 2002. In 2005 Motian moved to the ECM label, releasing
I Have the Room Above Her that same year, followed by Garden of Eden in 2006
and Time and Time Again in 2007.
Paul Motian died on November 22, 2011 in Manhattan.
The cause was complications
of myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood and bone-marrow disorder.”
“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. …
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]
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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
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
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] …
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
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,
“Lucky Thompson was a vastly
under-acclaimed tenor saxophonist.”
- Doug Ramsey
Eli “Lucky” Thompson was born
on June 16, 1924
but grew up in Detroit.
From a very young age, Lucky was obsessed by music and long before he owned a
horn, he studied instruction books and practiced finger exercises on a
broomstick marked with saxophone key patterns. When he acquired his first
saxophone at the age of 25, he practiced eight hours a day and within a month
he played professionally with neighborhood bands.”
- Joop Visser
“… it seems likely that the
cross-pollination of ideas so prominent among bebop era saxophonists affected
Lucky less than anyone. Stylistically he has always been his own man.”
- Bob Porter
"Like Don Byas, whom he most
resembles in tone and in his development of solos, he has a slightly oblique
and uneasy stance on bop, cleaving to a kind of accelerated swing idiom with a
distinctive 'snap' to his softly enunciated phrases and an advanced harmonic
language that occasionally moves into areas of surprising freedom."
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, Penguin
Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.
“There is the history of the
saxophone in Lucky Thompson’s music.”
- David Himmelstein
“Music is the most
interesting thing in the world.”
- Lucky Thompson
“You know I lost my interest
in music. I had to run from place to place at the mercy of people who
manipulated me. I never rejected music; it constitutes a great part of my
- Lucky Thompson to Mike Hennessey in
from the jazz scene in the 1970's was only the latest (but apparently the last)
of a strangely contoured career. A highly philosophical, almost mystical man,
he reacted against the values of the music industry and in the end turned his
back on it without seeming regret. The beginning was garlanded with promise.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, Penguin
Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.
I lived and worked
in Seattle, WA for a while.
Given the city’s
notorious commuter traffic, fortunately for me, it was easy to access my office
at the downtown corner of Fourth and Pike Streets as it was a clear shot into
town on the Aurora Highway [Hwy 99] from my home in the GreenLake area of the city.
It was a point in
my work-life that often found me toiling late at the office.
Because of the manner in which one-way streets configured downtown traffic, I often exited the city along Second Street which is also the home of Tula’s, a great Jazz club that primarily
features the work of local Jazz artists.
One rainy night - now
there’s a surprise in Seattle! - I had worked so late that I decided to catch a set at the club
and treat myself to a dinner of its excellent dolmathes and souvlaki
before going home.
Jay Thomas, who
plays both superb trumpet and tenor
saxophone, was Tula’s headliner.
Besides the great
music and tasty Greek food, I also met up that night with a couple of Jazz
buddies who lived in the nearby Belltown part of the city [a downtown
waterfront neighborhood that overlooks a portion of ElliottBay].
We shared a bottle
of red plunk while thoroughly enjoying the music on offer by Jay’s quartet.
All of us still
smoked during those days and, as a result of the club’s ban on partaking of lit
nicotine within the walls of its premises, we found ourselves merrily chatting
and puffing away outside the club’s entrance during the first intermission.
rain had abated, or a least scaled down to a soft drizzle. While the three of
us were standing and smoking by the curbside, we were approached by a street
person who asked if he could bum a smoke.
After we obliged
him and he had continued on his way, one of my friends asked me if I’d
recognized the damp denizen of the night?
I thought I was
making a wisecrack when I answered that “… he looked vaguely familiar.” “He
should,” remarked one of my friends: “That was Lucky Thompson!”
Belltown buddies had met him before, under similar circumstances.
All of us became
very subdued after Lucky left.
puffed their cigarette which gave us time to adjust to the sense of sadness
that had come over us following the sight we had just witnessed.
Needless to say,
the evening wasn’t the same after that; no more frivolity and jocularity, only
a deep and abiding hurt.
When I returned
home with that chance meeting still on my mind, it occurred to that while I had
heard Lucky’s tenor saxophone sound with Count Basie’s band [my Dad had some
V-Discs by the band with Lucky], on Miles Davis’ famous Walkin’ LP and as part of Stan Kenton’s sterling Cuban Fire album [his solo beginning at
around the 4:00 minute mark of the opening track – Fuego Cubano - always touches my heart], most of his recorded music
reasons, I had missed much of Lucky’s discography when he was a force on the
Jazz scene, primarily from 1945-1965.
The following day,
I decided to put that omission right and I began seeking out Lucky’s recordings
which, to my surprise were plentiful, and still readily available.
As is often the
case with chance meetings, it was the beginning of a love affair as Lucky’s
music was engaging, full of marvelous twists and turns, and alive with an
almost effortless swing.
Although it is a later
recording in the Thompson canon, one of my first purchases of Lucky’s music
under his own name was Tricotism [Impulse/GRP GRD-135].
The insert notes
to this CD are by Bob Porter and they contained the following overview and
commentary of Thompson’s career which was very helpful to me as a guide for
further purchases of Lucky’s music.
If you are like me
and not a member of the Lucky cognoscenti, perhaps it can serve a similar
purpose for you.
“The career of Eli
Thompson (6/16/24), musician, is one of the most enigmatic
in all jazz. It is an odyssey involving four cities, two instruments, big
bands, small bands, popularity, poverty, stylistic changes, associations with
major names, (Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Stan Kenton), and long periods of
Detroit is his home town. A graduate of Cass Tech, Lucky was among a
number of remarkably talented saxophonists who were active in the MotorCity during the early '40s. Wardell Gray, Teddy
Edwards, Yusef Lateef, and Sonny Stitt would lead the list and it seems likely
that the cross-pollination of ideas so prominent among bebop era saxophonists
affected Lucky less than anyone. Stylistically he has always been his own man.
Lucky entered the
ranks of professional musicians when he left Detroit with the Treniers in 1943. An unhappy six
months with Lionel Hampton followed, ending in New York. Shortly thereafter Lucky went into the
brand new Billy Eckstine Band. The Eckstine association was brief, and Lucky
first began to achieve prominence during his year with Count Basic. The
war-time Basic band was a fine organization, and Lucky had considerable solo
space. The V-Disc of "High Tide" is especially impressive.
Lucky left Basic
in late 1945, settling in Los Angeles. One of his first gigs in L. A. was as a
member of the Dizzy Gillespie Rebop Six. Actually he was the odd man out in a
group that featured Milt Jackson, Al Haig, Ray Brown, Stan Levey, and the
leader. Lucky was hired because of the erratic habits of the co-star, Charlie Parker.
Yet that engagement acted as a springboard for Lucky.
During 1946 and
'47 Lucky was the most requested tenorman in the L. A. area. He worked
frequently with Boyd Raeburn, but he also made over 100 recordings as a sideman
during those years. He had recorded for Excelsior and Down Beat and in 1947 he
made four famous sides for RCA, including his masterpiece "Just One More
Chance." He won the Esquire New Star award in 1947. In 1948 Lucky migrated
across country. New York would be his home for the next eight years.
frequently at the Savoy Ballroom during the early '50s, but the recording slows
had set in.
A couple of
obscure small label sessions were Lucky's only recordings from 1947 to late
1953, when he did a date for Decca. Two dates in 1954 under his own name
presaged another masterpiece: his "Walkin"' solo with Miles Davis.
During the 1950s
Lucky was a close associate of light-heavyweight boxing champion, Archie Moore.
Moore liked to warm up and work out while Lucky
and company provided the music.
Lucky and Milt
Jackson have been close associates since their days in Detroit. In 1956, just prior to the recording of
the music heard on this CD, Jackson and Thompson recorded five LPs together,
under Milt's name for Savoy and Atlantic.
I suspect that it
was no accident that the trio session here included no drummer. If there has
been one aspect of Lucky's playing that has been criticized through the years
it is his relationship with drummers. The hard swinging sessions of the 1940s
and early '50s were giving way to an almost ascetic rhythmic approach. I also
suspect that some critics, in writing about the Jimmy Giuffre Three, (which had
the identical instrumentation as Lucky's group), may have forgotten these performances,
which predated Giuffre by 10 months.
Paris in the spring of 1956 was, for Lucky, a period of tremendous activity.
He recorded five LPs for various French labels. Also while in France, he sat in with Stan Ken ton. This led to
Lucky's participation in one of the most famous Kenton LPs of the' 50s, Cuban
Fire. Before returning to France for an extended stay, Lucky worked again
with Oscar Pettiford and recorded with him.
Lucky was the
first major jazzman since Sidney Bechet to adopt the soprano saxophone. He
predated John Coltrane by at least 18 months; but Lucky has never been given
any credit for ushering the return to popularity of the straight saxophone. In
the mid-'60s Lucky returned to the U.S.A., recording for Prestige and Rivoli. He had
been back and forth to Europe
several times since and did several interesting LPs for Groove Merchant in the
early '70s. He also taught at Dartmouth for a year[1973-74].
When Will Powers
interviewed him for Different Drummer,
Lucky was completing his academic work and thinking of a new city. This time it might be Toronto or Montreal. Always the drifter, ever the search.
It is not my
opinion, but consensus, that says the music on these LPs is the finest
extended playing that Lucky Thompson has produced on record. As noted earlier,
the sessions came at a period where Lucky had been recording frequently. He and
Pettiford were a mutual admiration society and the rapport, even intimacy,
they achieve in the trio tracks is nothing short of remarkable.
This is not to
take anything away from the quintet sides where Jimmy Cleveland shines so
brightly. The presence of Hank Jones reunites a close partnership dating to Detroit days. Yet it is Lucky, with the warmth,
the inner feeling, the depth, the mastery that permeates every groove on these
That this music is
able to appear again after years of neglect is cause for celebration. Let's
hope that this release is able to shed new light on the talent of Lucky Thompson.”
Bill Kirchner has
been a friend to Jazz in many ways and for many years.
For not only is he
a Jazz musician, composer, educator and writer, he is also the editor of the
esteemed – The Oxford Companion to Jazz  – one of the best compilations
ever assembled of knowledgeable essayists writing on the subject of Jazz.
Bill has two, new
recordings out and both are available for purchase as Mp3 downloads though www.jazzheads.com via the following links:
“At one point Bill
Kirchner played a good many of the reed and woodwind instruments with much
skill -- sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones, clarinet, bass
clarinet, flute, alto flute, and piccolo. But in recent years the soprano
saxophone has become his instrument of choice and eventually also of near
necessity, and it is on soprano that one will hear him solo on this duo concert
that Bill and one of his favorite musical partners, pianist Marc Copland, gave
on September 23, 2008, in New York City at The New School, where Bill also
The setting was a
compact, wood-paneled, lecture hall-recital room (l was there), with fine
acoustics (or it seemed to me) and a lovely piano for Copland to play. Full of
friends, many of them musicians, the audience was attentive to say the least,
and there was a great deal for us to pay attention to.
I said above that
Bill’s focus on the soprano was a matter both of affinity and “near necessity”
because of circumstances that he describes in the liner notes to his 1997 album
“Some Enchanted Evening” (A-Records): “In 1993, it was discovered that I had a
life-threatening spinal tumor. I underwent two operations to remove it, but as
a result was left largely paralyzed on my right side. I learned to walk again,
and have gradually regained most of the use of my right hand.... Happily, I
have begun playing the soprano saxophone in public, thanks in part to the
rebuilt my horn so that I can use alternative fingerings.”
That no allowances
need be made for Bill’s latter-day soprano playing is obvious from this
concert; these are among the most striking recorded improvisations on this
tricky instrument, which in the modern era is too often played so as to be thin
and piping in tone. There is, by contrast to this unfortunate norm, a top,
middle, and bottom to Bill’s sound, and he can vary its breadth and volume for
expressive purposes in virtually any register. Is his sheer facility, his
ability to place a great many notes in tight places, quite the same as it once
was? Probably not, though he always was a lyrical player, not a flashy one. In
any case, as I believe I said to him
a few years ago,
kidding on the square, “Now you get to play only the good notes.” Further,
there are the words of his former teacher Lee Konitz when they were playing
together not long ago: “You can always simplify." “One of the profoundest
things any improvising musician has ever said, to my knowledge,” Bill adds.
If only, but not
only, because of the duo format, Copland is quite prominent here. (The
Copland-Kirchner partnership goes back to 1976, when both men were living and
working in Washington, D.C. They both moved to New York in the early 1980s and have continued to
work together frequently.)
Originally an alto
saxophonist, talented enough to be hired by Chico Hamilton, Copland underwent a
quite unusual conversion in his mid-20s, from altoist to pianist. As he told Gene Lees in an interview: “When I was coming up as
a saxophonist, the ideal was to burn out -- to play really intense. All of a
sudden here was this Impressionist-lyrical thing going on inside me that I had
known nothing about.... It was so strong that it took me all the way over, not
so much because I wanted to play piano -- although I grew to love it -- but
because I had to do something with that feeling.”
What Copland has
done with that feeling is to become a simply ravishing and quite individual
jazz pianist -- technically, harmonically, in terms of both long-range
“orchestral” thinking and quick-witted response. He’s in the line of Bill
Evans, but speaking as someone who found Evans (and finds many of those he
influenced) to be rather formulaic at times, the sheer freshness of Copland’s
ideas, the unapologetic emotional openness of his
thing” is a delight. Another thing, and far from a little
thing -- he really
swings; does so, as does Kirchner here, even when the time feel is more or less
rubato. I think, in addition to the usual sources, that this has a lot to do
with Copland’s harmonic thinking -- “coloristic” though they may be, his
choices there always have clean, lucid rhythmic implications (those bass
lines!), and serve to guide the speed and “plane” with which the performance
advances through time.
Because there are
only two musicians involved, and their thinking is so clear, I won’t try to
verbally mirror that much of what I think is happening during these
seventy-seven-or-so minutes of music-making. But I do want to focus on some
passages that seem to me to be at once representative and remarkable.
On the first
piece, Bruno Martino’s “Estate,” note how fluid yet “right there” the time feel
is; the virtual outburst of lyricism that comes from Copland at the 7:19 mark
and then leaps back to life at 7:52; the delicacy of Bill’s thread-like
oscillation between two adjacent notes at about 11:29, and his almost fierce
power in the passage that follows.
“Autumn Leaves” is
a piece, says Bill, “that Marc and I have played every few years for over
thirty years; it's ‘our song.’ Funny story -- in 1981, we did a duo concert at
one of the Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C. [The late jazz critic] Martin
Williams was in the audience, and afterwards he complimented us on our
arrangement of ‘Autumn Leaves.’ I thanked him while resisting the temptation to
ask, ‘What arrangement?’ We were just playing the tune.”
literally, but also no. An arrangement for saxophone and piano that lasts for
more than fourteen minutes and hangs together as this performance does would be
difficult to envision. For instance, check out what happens at the mark, as Bill enters after Copland’s solo.
Holding a single note (a concert G-flat) for what seems an eternity while Copland
dances above and below him, highlighting the way that held note alternately
clashes and blends with the harmonic framework of the song, this to me is Bill
in excelsis, a sterling example of
Konitz’s dictum: “You can
Williams, in his book “Where’s the Melody?” he famously answered that
common-at-one-time question with something like, good jazz improvisers tend to
make up melodies that are better than those of the songs they started out from.
And better, longer melodies, too. Unless I’m imagining things, on “I Fall In
Love Too Easily,” the improvised melodic line that Bill begins at about the mark remains essentially unbroken until rolls around -- and that, believe me, is a
long time to sustain a meaningful melodic arc at this ballad tempo. And don’t
miss the child-like
of the coda that Bill and Marc devise.
“Agitation” is the most overtly swinging performance here – a virtual surf ride
-- while the misterioso reading of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” is a particularly
fine example of Copland’s aforementioned way of turning harmonic choices into
rhythmic ones. And Johnny Mandel's "Keester Parade" is here approached
by both players with a delicious, droll slyness--quite unlike the mini-big band
fervor, topped off by a hellacious shout chorus, of bass trumpeter Cy Touff's
original 1955 octet recording. (I should mention that “Keester Parade” is not
Mandel’s only venture into verbal trickery; he also gave us “London Derriere.”)
performance of this evening, though, if I had to chose one, would be the duo’s
version of Victor Young and Ned Washington’s “My Foolish Heart” -- a song that
I believe Bill Evans introduced to the jazz repertoire, and bless him for that.
From the tender hesitation that Bill introduces into the opening melodic line
to the final near unison pianosoprano restatement of the theme, this is,
indeed, music of the heart.
3) I Fall In Love Too Easily (Jule
EMI Feist Catalog
Inc./Music Publishing Co. of America, ASCAP
4) Footprints (Wayne Shorter)
Miyako Music, BMI
5) My Foolish Heart (Victor Young/Ned
Anne Rachel Music
Corp./Catharine Hinen/Patti Washington Music, ASCAP
6) Keester Parade (Johnny Mandel) 8:00
7) Agitation (Miles Davis) 6:16
East St. Louis
Music Inc./Jazz Horn Music Corp., BMI
Recorded at The
New School Jazz Performance Space,
New York City, September 23, 2008.
Engineer: Christopher Hoffman
Engineer: Malcolm Addey
Cover Photo: Ed
Javier Chacin and Judy Kahn
should become quite apparent as one listens to these performances is the sheer,
securely grounded intelligence of Bill Kirchner’s musical thought, his learned
though utterly natural and relaxed craftsmanship. Taught directly by such
celebrated arrangers as Rayburn Wright and Mike Crotty (who arranged “I Concentrate
On You” for the Nonet) and by example and assimilation by such figures as Thad
Jones and Bob Brookmeyer (Bill was a frequent sub with Mel Lewis and the Jazz Orchestra
at one time), Ellington, Strayhorn, Gil Evans, Eddie Sauter, Gary McFarland,
and Mike Abene, Bill simply (or not so simply) knows a great deal about
voicing, instrumental colors and blends, linear logic, long-range form,
contrapuntal possibilities, you name it. And he knows these things not only in
take-it-apart-and put-it-back-together analytic terms but also in the collective,
on-the-stand, “let’s get it done” sense that brings jazz, one of the quintessential
performance arts, to life.
example, the rather bright tempo chosen for the first piece of the Chicago concert, Sergio Mendes’ “So Many Stars.”
Right for the tune itself, it’s also perfect for the first tune of a set.
Pushed close to the limit, bass trombonist Douglas Purviance’s solo is truly
inspired, as is that of pianist Marc Copland (Cohen at that time); and the
from-the-first-note briskness of the performance “sells” the band as a whole
immediately, which is of the essence when one is leading a non-big-name
ensemble and facing an audience of 60,000.
“The chart,” Bill
adds, “is in a quasi-rondo form, and alternates between a vamp and the song
form with chord changes. Douglas solos on the vamp, Marc on the changes.”
Also, don’t miss
the purity of tone and agility of Bill’s piccolo work in the ensemble toward
the beginning of “So Many Stars,” with the flutes of Ralph Lalama and Glenn
Wilson. It’s one of those details that distinguishes his arranging, exquisite
in concept and execution but always in service of the piece’s storytelling
Bill’s chart on
Andy LaVerne’s aptly titled “Maximum Density” is another gem. Dig Copland’s
coat-of-many-colors comping behind Lalama’s probing, serpentine solo, Ron
Vincent’s intensely propulsive yet transparent drumming, and the way the
ensemble at first steals in toward the end of Lalama’s stint and then briefly,
kaleidoscopically erupts -- as J.R. Taylor once said of another Kirchner
arrangement, “The band seems to swell to twice its actual size.”
Years ago, I
mentioned to Bill how much I liked Lalama’s solo on “Brother Brown,” one of the
tracks from the Nonet’s 1982 album “What It Is To Be Frank” (Sea Breeze).
Agreeing that it was exceptional even by Lalama’s high standards, Bill said
something like, “Yes, I set it [the chart] up so Ralph would play that way.”
The tone with which this was said is tricky to convey, but in addition to some
wry pardonable pride, it basically was an expression of the genuine pleasure
Bill took in having showcased so effectively a fellow musician he deeply
admired. The bandleader’s genetic makeup at work. And another little, or not so
little, point about band-leading: Bill gives his soloists just the right amount
of solo room -- when they do play, they get to play.
To Sheila Jordan’s
portion of the program. Still quite active today, almost 25 years further on,
Jordan was in particularly exuberant form on this night -- stimulated by the
size and enthusiasm of the audience (she works it like a show-biz master) and
of course by the sounds of the Nonet behind her. Judd Woldin and Robert
Brittan’s “Whose Little Angry Man Are You?” from the musical “Raisin” (based on
the late Lorraine Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun”) is a seldom-heard
song that Jordan has made her own – dig her flowing, saxophone-like phrasing
and her unique scat-singing style, which seems akin to the sound of Native
American vocal chants, as though there were tuned drums in her chest and
throat. Some of Jordan's ancestors, in fact, were members of the
“Quasimodo,” Jordan’s expansive ode to her idol Charlie
Parker, with an initial glimpse of Parker’s version of “Embraceable You,” the
song on which his “Quasimodo” is based. There’s a remarkable, whip-like snap to
Jordan’s phrasing here, and Bill Warfield’s
cup-muted trumpet solo is drenched in the bebop ethos. Cole Porter’s “I
Concentrate On You” is a song that Jordan was born to sing, and it features a
brilliant trumpet solo by Brian Lynch. Kirchner emphasizes how important it was
for the band to get the rhythmic feel of this Mike Crotty chart just right for
Sheila. “If it wasn’t ‘in the pocket,’ it wouldn’t have worked for her.”
We finish with
another Porter song, “You’d Be So Nice to Come To,” which begins with Jordan's
Native American-like scatting -- here almost shocking in its emotional
immediacy, with bassist Mike Richmond virtually singing alongside her. Then
comes a pleading, preaching solo from baritone saxophonist Glenn Wilson,
propelled by Vincent’s cooking drums; more of Jordan’s scat-singing (hers is
essentially vocal invention, I think, not an attempt to imitate an
instrumentalist); and finally a glimpse of the leader’s soprano saxophone,
entwined with Jordan’s voice, the only solo spot that Bill affords himself. A
magical night -- I was there.”
Larry Kart, author
of “Jazz In Search of Itself” (Yale University Press)
BILL KIRCHNER, soprano saxophone, alto
saxophone, flute, clarinet, piccolo
tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet
baritone saxophone, flute
BILL WARFIELD, trumpet, flugelhorn
MIKE RICHMOND, bass
RON VINCENT, drums
1) Opening Announcements 0:44
2) So Many Stars (Sergio Mendes/Alan & Marilyn Bergman)
Spirit Two Music
Inc./Threesome Music Co./W B Music Corp., ASCAP
3) Maximum Density (Andy LaVerne) 6:23
4) Whose Little Angry Man (Judd
Music, Inc., BMI
5) Quasimodo (Charlie Parker/Sheila
Songs Of Universal
6) I Concentrate On You (Cole Porter) 8:11
7) You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To (Cole
8) Band Credits 0:19
So Many Stars and
Maximum Density arranged by Bill Kirchner.
Whose Little Angry
Man, Quasimodo, and You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To