The editorial staff at JazzProfiles is moving as quickly as it can to bring you more about the future features described in the sidebar and asks you to bear with us in this regard as the holidays are upon us.
“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.
He sang as though he had just
half a voice. No volume, it was all about confiding. Sometimes he croaked out
a line, next minute he'd released a word as though he was doubtful about
delivering it to the world at large. Bobby Troup never played to the gallery,
never went for the big one. Yet, despite - or rather because of - such
reluctance, allied to a lemon-twist quality that fell oddly on unaccustomed
ears, the man from Harrisburg,
still qualified as Mr. Cool, the vocal equivalent of a Paul Desmond alto solo
maybe. He sounded like no one else. And no one else has ever sounded like him.”
- Fred Dellar, Mojo Magazine
We wrote about composer,
pianist and vocalist Bobby Troup in an earlier feature about him and Julie
London which you can locate in the blog archives by going here.
Many of us first
“met” Bobby in the 1950s when he hosted the Emmy award wining ABC television
series, Stars of Jazz.
Can you imagine -
a regular, weekly series on a major television network devoted to Jazz?
It was cool and so
Since it was based
Angeles, most of the groups that appeared on the show were associated with
was then labeled the “West Coast” school of Jazz.
There are two
wonderful books on this subject: Ted Gioia, West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960 and Robert Gordon, Jazz West Coast, The Los Angeles Jazz Scene of the 1950s.
A number of years
ago, The California Institute of Jazz made available to those in attendance at
its Spring 1999 4-day festival celebrating West Coast Jazz , a wonderful CD of
the music from the Stars of Jazz series.
Ken Poston, the
director of the institute, wrote the following in the insert booklet which
accompanied the compendium:
“This anthology has been
assembled exclusively for JAZZ
WEST COAST II, presented by the California Institute for the Preservation of
Jazz. All of the material comes from various Bobby Troup Stars of Jazz television
broadcasts. Stars of Jazz debuted in the summer of 1956 on KABC, Los
Angeles. It was unheard of in the mid 1950s to
televise jazz on a regular basis, but because of the dedication of producer
Jimmie Baker, program director Pete Robinson and host Bobby Troup the program
aired for over two years. It was sponsored by Budweiser and eventually went
from a local to network broadcast. The selections on this disc represent the
incredible range of artists that were beamed into your living room every night.”
Ken’s organization, which now carries the name – The Los Angeles Jazz Institute
[LAJI] – continues to sponsor semi-annual, four day festivals, as well as,
one-day commemorative events. You can find out more about these programs by visiting
In addition to the
LAJI’s repository of goodies, Ray Avery, the late photographer and Jazz
recordings maven, was allowed to photograph the Stars of Jazz.
A compilation of
Ray photographs from these shows was published in 1998.
Cynthia T. Sesso,
who in her own right is a major authority on Jazz photography, licenses Ray’s
work along with the images of a number of other photographers who specialized
Cynthia has been a
great friend to JazzProfiles over the years in allowing us to use photographs
by her clients on these pages.
You can find out
more about Cynthia and her work at her website.
She may also have copies of Ray’s book about Stars of Jazz still
available for sale.
Her are some
excerpts from the book’s introduction regarding how Ray came to be involved
with the show and Bobby Troup’s role as contained in an interviewthat
Ray gave to Will Thornbury.
“…, my photography
flowed naturally out of my involvement in my record store. At that time I
wasn't well known as a photographer. I just happened to be there and I had an
entrée because I was in the record business. Most of the small record companies
knew about me because I was carrying their product in my store, they would
invite me to record sessions. I was very seldom paid for a session, except if
they bought some photos. …
One day a friend
of mine asked if I'd seen "Stars Of Jazz" and I said I hadn't, so I
checked the newspaper and found out when it was going to be on. I just went
down, I think it was the second or third show, and I asked them if I could
photograph it. They were very friendly and said yes, of course, just be careful
and don't fall over any cords or walk in front of any cameras."
The host for all
but two Stars of Jazz episodes was Bobby Troup. He embodied the essence of the
show - straightforward, genuine and creative. Perhaps some of the show's
viewers from outside the jazz world were pulled in through Troup's
accessibility. He wore a crew cut. He was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in business and had written
many of the nation's favorite songs "Route 66", "Daddy",
"Lemon Twist", songs that crossed over from the jazz to the popular
charts. In addition to writing songs, he was also an active musician and would
perform often on the show.
the perfect man", notes Jimmie Baker. 'There were some people who wanted
to have a bigger name, but nobody else could do it. Nobody else had the appeal
that Bobby had." Avery adds, "Bobby was a good musician, had written
great songs and he could be a great master of ceremonies. That's a combination
they couldn't find in anyone else. He spoke really well - he didn't want any of
those corny jazz lines in the script, which was good. He was a really good
interviewer. He made people feel so comfortable when they were there. And of course
they respected him as a musician, many of the sets featured Bobby at the
musicians had so much faith in the presentation of "Stars of
Jazz"," Troup says. "They thought it was the best jazz show
they'd ever seen. Did you know the story of how "Stars of Jazz" got
started? Pete Robinson, Jimmie Baker, and Bob Arbogast were all jazz buffs. I
mean they really loved jazz, and there was this executive, Seligman, graduated
from Harvard, Phi Beta Kappa, and they were on him constantly to let them do
this jazz show. Finally just to get them out of his hair, he said 'OK, I'll
give you a studio, a camera, you have to write it, you have to arrange every
musician, no more than scale, and I'll give you three weeks to run the show.' The
first show was Stan Getz. And they screened quite a few people and for some
reason or another they picked me to be the host. I'm sure glad they did. Every
night was a highlight, every night. I did the show for scale, it amounted to
$60 maybe $70 a night. When we went network I got scale for network, which was
Avery adds, "in
those days there weren't the camera men that there are today. Now you go to a
concert and there's fifty people with cameras, but before, maybe half a dozen
of us would show up. Consequently, the photos taken in my early period are the
ones that are in demand now because not many people have them."”
who authorized Stars of Jazz and was very boastful of the program when it won
an Emmy Award, never supported the show for a regular timeslot when it went
national on ABC.
critical acclaim it received, the show was cancelled of January, 1959 due to
“low ratings.” Seligman was also responsible for ordering that the tapes of the
130 episodes of Stars of Jazz be erased so that they could be reused. After
all, each tape cost $400. Of course, what was recorded on them was priceless!
I guess “Those
whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad?”
Baker of the show’s production team was able to save 35mm’s and 81 of the early
kinescopes, all of which now reside for posterity in the UCLA Film Library.
More of the music
from the series is available on a commercial RCA CD - Bobby Troup Stars of Jazz
 - from which we’ve drawn the music for the following tribute.
In his insert
notes to the recording, Pete Robinson, one of the show’s producers, wrote the
“It has been
observed that People Who Live in Glass Houses Shouldn't Throw Stones, and since
Bobby Troup's particular glass house is a collective one, consisting of 17- and
24-inch television screens the country over, it is most important that his
participation in the realm of jazz be exemplary. It is.
As one playing of
the enclosed collection will attest, Mister Troup's qualities of tempo,
intonation, taste and interpretation place him in good stead as a jazz singer
of considerable merit. Nominations in the Down
Beat and Playboy polls add
further to his vocal status.
however, will come as no surprise to the initiated. Bobby's work has had more
than a little exposure on records. What IS new is the extraordinary group of
jazz musicians who herewith are represented in tandem with Troup. Bobby's
presence as narrator of ABC-TV's "Stars of Jazz" for the past three
years has found him rubbing elbows with players from every corner of jazz. (A
total of 714 of them at this writing, for those who find security in
It was, then, only
a matter of time until an elite group of these jazzmen should come together
with Troup for the purpose of recording. When Shorty Rogers and Jimmy Rowles became available to
provide arrangements, the time was ripe.”
The audio track on
the video is Bobby singing Free and Easy which
he co-wrote with Henry Mancini. The trumpet solos are by Pete and Conte Candoli
and Jimmy Rowles wrote the arrangement.
“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,
For many years,
the late Milt Jackson, affectionately known as “Bags,” was heralded as the undisputed
king of the vibraphone and most vibists accorded him their highest esteem and
pointed to him as a major influence.
I, too, love his
playing, especially in the context of the Modern Jazz Quartet.
But I’ve always
had trouble with the notion of ranking Jazz musicians, voting for them in polls
and comparing them as artists. I think it’s an absolute waste of time; a
Jazz artists work
very hard to establish their own approach to the music and I would imagine
that, as is the case with actors, writers and painters, they have a tendency to
gravitate toward those artists whose work “speaks” to them.
What, then, are
the standards that one has to meet to be rated as “better” than another artist?
As Aristotle once
said: “Each of us is different with regard to those things we have in common.”
And so it is with
Jazz musicians in general and, for the purpose of this feature, Jazz
vibraphonists in particular. Everyone imitates and emulates while trying to
establish their own voice on an instrument.
Vibes are particularly
challenging to play uniquely because of the limitations inherent in how the
sound is produced on them.
was pervasive when it came to Jazz vibes. I’ve played the instrument a bit and
I recognize the truth in this assertion because I, too, found myself playing
Milt’s “licks” and “phrases.” They lay so easily on the axe. You drop you hands
[mallets] on the bars and out they come.
Another reason why
so many vibist sound like Bags may be because he played a lot of the same “licks”
[musical expressions] or phrases over and over again.
A lot of Jazz
musicians do this [some call them “resting points”], but one has to be careful
with repetitive phrases because employing the same licks too often can become
an excuse for not thinking [in other words, not being inventive].
that is sometimes used when this happens is that the musician “mailed in” the
Bags was one of
the “Founding Fathers” of Bebop, he toured all over the United States and Europe with the MJQ and he made a slew of
recordings with the group, with other artists as well as under his own name.
As a result, his
style of vibes had a lot of exposure.
helped make Milt Jackson instantly recognizable as a major exponent of the
bebop, blues-inflected style of playing Jazz vibes.
But for my money,
no one has ever played the instrument more musically than Victor Feldman.
Bags’ influence is
there in Victor’s style, but Victor is his own man and takes the instrument in
a completely different direction than Milt.
There isn’t the
repetitiveness nor for that matter the constant bebop and blues phrases, but
rather, a more pianistic and imaginative approach, one that emphasizes longer
inventions and a constant flow of new melodies superimposed over the chord
emphasizes rhythm differently than the dotted eighth note spacing favored by
Bags. As a result, Victor, begins and ends his phrases in a more angular
fashion which creates more surprises in where he is going in his solos.
points and pick-ups for Victors solos vary greatly because he is not just
looking for places in the music to put tried-and-tested licks, he’s actually
attempting to create musical ideas that he hasn’t expressed before.
Is what Victor is
doing “better” than Bags? Of course not.
Is it different? Is it ever.
adventurous. And exhilarating, too.
is the ultimate creative experience.
One doesn’t need
any awards. You just can’t wait for the next time you solo so you can try
To help give you
the “flavor” of Victor Feldman’s marvelous creative powers as a Jazz vibist,
we’ve stripped things down to their bare essentials with an audio-only track
that I think features him at his imaginative best.
No more words; no
photographs or moving images; just the music.
This track has him
performing his original composition Too
Blue with Rick Laird on bass and Ronnie Stephenson on drums from his
triumphant 1965 return to Ronnie Scott’s Club in his hometown of London [Jazz Archives JACD-053].
It runs a little
over 8 minutes. You can hear the statement of the 12-bar blues theme from
0.00-0.22 minutes and again from 0.23-0.45 minutes. Each 12-bar theme closes
with a bass “tag.”
Victor and Rick
hook-up for a call-and-response interlude between 0:46-1:10 minutes before
Victor launches into his first improvised chorus at minutes.
seven choruses from minutes before bassist Rick Laird takes
four choruses from minutes.
None of Victor’s
choruses contains a repeated phrase or a recognizable Milt Jackson lick
comes-back-in [resumes playing] at 5:46 minutes following Rick’s bass solo, if
you listen carefully you can hear him using two mallets in his left hand to
play 4-beats-to-the-bar intervals while soloing against this with the two
mallets held in his right-hand.
He even throws in
the equivalent of a big band-like “shout” chorus while trading fills with
drummer Ronnie Stephenson beginning at 6:56 minutes.
statement of the theme can be heard at minutes ending with an “Amen” at minutes.
When listening to
Victor Feldman play Jazz on the vibraphone, one is hearing a true innovator at
work. For him, making the next improvised chorus as original and as musically
satisfying as possible was always the ultimate goal.
It’s a shame that Jazz
fans are not more familiar with his work on vibes. Having heard it on a regular
basis for over twenty-five years, I can attest to the fact that it was
something special. The only thing that Victor Feldman ever mailed in was a