Articles, book & CD reviews, videos, photographs and graphics about leading Jazz artists.
Monday, May 23, 2011
William "Count" Basie 1904-1984: A Tribute
We wanted visitors to JazzProfiles to be able to tap their toe, snap their fingers or shake their ... whatever ... while on the site and what better way to enable this than to have some Bill Basie and Neal Hefti available.
Much like the Universe, the miracle of Jazz lies in its variety. Hearing Jazz played by one musician or by one group is just that; hearing Jazz played once. Jazz is infinite and only falls into two, broad categories: good Jazz and bad Jazz. We only feature the former on JazzProfiles.
What little of value or interest it may contain, this blog is my gift to my friends.
“THE CELEBRATED FICKLENESS indulged in by admirers of the arts, most of whom resemble housewives selecting cantaloupes, reaches epic proportions among jazz audiences. Thus, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, flourishing in 1920, had been largely forgotten by 1930. In 1935, King Oliver, famous less than a decade earlier, was in total obscurity. The nouvelle vague of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Stan Kenton had, by the late forties, replaced almost completely such recent landmarks as Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Ben Webster, Art Tatum, and even Duke Ellington. This capriciousness increased in the fifties. Gillespie was abruptly set aside for Miles Davis. Basie reappeared and Ken-ton went under. Woody Herman, pumping furiously in the forties, became largely a memory, while a West Coast movement made up of musicians like Shorty Rogers, Shelly Manne, and Jimmy Giuffre rose and fell precipitously. Sonny Rollins burst briefly into view, then was overtaken by John Coltrane, and early in 1960 Ornette Coleman blanked everyone out. The reasons for these lightning love-hate cycles are fairly clear. Jazz thrives both artistically and socially on rebellion; indeed, it is the most liberal of musics. Until recently, its audiences have been composed mainly of the young, who relish such hot sauces. And these audiences, more unskilled than not, often train their ears only on what they are told is worthy by the jazz press, which tends to confuse newness with progress and progress with quality. One of the most striking victims of this fickleness has been the fifty-four-year-old alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges. Unlike many other swing musicians, Hodges was toppled by a double whammy. He suffered, along with his colleagues, from the rise of bebop, but he also suffered because the leader of that movement, Charlie Parker, played the same instrument. When Parker died, in 1955, Hodges had become an out-of-fashion leader of a small semi-rock-and-roll group. However, the tastemakers were at work, and by 1959 Parker's enormous ghost had been sufficiently laid to allow Hodges to win the Down Beat critics' poll, an award that paid a considerable compliment to Hodges' staying powers and none at all to the fitful perceptions of those who had voted it.
A short, taciturn man with a beak nose, heavily lidded eyes, and an impassive Oriental air, Hodges, who is incongruously known as Rabbit, has been almost perpetually bound up with Duke Ellington since 1928. (He left the Ellington band in 1951 but rejoined it, apparently for good, in 1955.) Unlike most Ellington musicians, who have unwittingly come to depend on Ellington for balance and inspiration and who generally head downward when they leave the band, Hodges functions well with and without Ellington. He is most comfortable in a small band, which became plain in the late thirties and early forties on those invaluable records made by chamber groups from the Ellington band. Nearly nonpareil among Ellingtonians, Hodges has become one of the big five among saxophonists, the rest of whom are Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Lester Young, and Parker. Even more important, he belongs in that small collection of jazz musicians who, lyric poets all, function closest to the heart of the music—such men as Webster, Herschel Evans, Sidney Bechet, Buck Clayton, Bill Coleman, Vic Dickenson, Red Allen, Pee Wee Russell, Charlie Mingus, and John Lewis. And within that collection, he has joined Bechet — who tutored him extensively on the soprano saxophone in the early thirties, and who had a good deal to do with his ultimate style — in bringing jazz perilously close to a sentimental music.
Hodges' bent toward sweetness did not emerge until the mid-thirties, when he began recording, with Ellington, a series of slow solos based on tunes like "In a Sentimental Mood" and "Passion Flower." On such occasions, which he still indulges in, Hodges employs a tone that falls between the country-cream sound of Tab Smith and the flutings of Willie Smith. It is a tone that seems to be draped over the notes like a lap robe. Hodges does little improvising in these ballads. Instead, he issues fulsome statements of the melody, languorous legato phrases, and long glissandi topped by an almost unctuous vibrato. Because of their richness and lack of melodic variation, they sometimes suggest that Hodges could easily be slipped into a Guy Lombardo saxophone section. Hodges' Edgar Guest strain is generally well concealed, though, and it is nowhere in sight when he plays the blues, which have long provided his basic materials. Here, Hodges moves up onto his toes and grows alternately oblique and goatlike. His tone shrinks, occasionally even becoming dry and sharp, he uses more notes, his vibrato steadies, and his impeccable sense of rhythmic placement—how long to tarry on this or that note, just where to break a pause, which notes (if any) should be emphasized in a run — is put to work. In a medium-tempo blues—the speed at which Hodges most often jells — the result is a mixture of lullaby delicacy and gentlemanly emotion.
Suggesting but never commanding, Hodges may start such a solo by sounding four descending notes, which are placed on successive beats and connected by an almost inaudible threadlike hum, as if he were two instrumentalists in one—the first playing the four notes and the second providing background choir chords. After a short pause, he will applaud his own natty lightness by repeating the pattern, adding a single offbeat note and increasing his volume. Then he will double his volume and deliver a soaring exclamation, which he will sustain only long enough to make it ring, and end it with an unexpectedly soft blue note. He may start this cry once more, break it off with a complex descending-ascending-descending run, and, all delicacy gone, launch into a second chorus with a short, heavy riff, which will either be repeated, with variations, or give way to several rapid staccato phrases. He will close his solo by returning to a whispered three-or-four-note passage, which floats serenely at one, slips past, and offhandedly disappears. Hodges' blues solos are child's play in comparison with Parker's. But they are also classic balancings of tone, dynamics, rhythm, and choice of notes. There is no extraneous matter, and no thinness. There is no opacity. It is mot-juste improvising, and because of its basic understatement it illuminates completely the elegance and purity of the blues. At faster tempos, Hodges relies almost entirely on his rhythmic capacities. The solos he thus achieves are often the quintessence of "jump" playing. They move on and sometimes ahead of the beat, and there is a good deal of tasteful repetition. At the same time, Hodges' rhythmic attack is mainly implied; he rolls rather than tramps toward his destination, which, in contrast to the majority of jazz soloists, he always reaches.
Hodges is in tonic condition in "Side by Side: Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges" and "Blues A-Plenty: Johnny Hodges and His Orchestra" (Verve). Of the nine titles on the first record (four blues, four standards, and an Ellington original), three were recorded by Hodges, Ellington, Harry Edison, and a rhythm section including Jo Jones. These three are notable for Hodges' strict jump choruses in "Stompy Jones" and for all Ellington's solos, which are given uncommon lift by Jones, particularly in "Stompy Jones." Edison, despite similar assists, remains Johnny-one-note throughout, and it is difficult to see why he was matched with Ellington and Hodges. On hand with Hodges on the rest of the record are Roy Eldridge, Ben Webster, Lawrence Brown, Wendell Marshall, Billy Strayhorn, and Jones. "Big Shoe" is similar to those attractive medium-tempo blues that made up most of Hodges' small-band recordings in the forties. Eldridge, in his Sunday-best, delivers two perfect choruses bracketed between exhilarating but controlled dashes into the upper register and deep-down growls. Hodges' second chorus is largely smears. "Just a Memory" and "Let's Fall in Love," which are done in medium tempo, include gentle statements from all the horns, who demonstrate precisely how to construct solos with a beginning, a middle, and a climactic end.
Four of the nine numbers in "Blue A-Plenty," which is played by the leader plus Eldridge, Webster, Vic Dickenson, Strayhorn, Jimmy Woode, and Sam Woodyard, are better-than-average Hodges rhapsodies. He neither weeps nor moans, and in "Satin Doll" he delivers much of the melody in a blunt lower-register manner that suggests Webster. (Hodges taught Webster much of what he knows.) The rest of the numbers are excellent blues. Most remarkable of all is the long medium-tempo "Reeling and Rocking/' which, after the ensemble, is given over to a succession of choruses by Hodges, Dickenson (followed by a restatement of the melody), Webster, Eldridge, and Hodges again that are consummate lyrical jazz improvisations. Each soloist, his cliches left at home, is in peak shape, and the results are five studies in the blues that are singular for Hodges' way of seemingly attacking his notes from behind (first solo) and then for his landing on them in an almost soundless slow motion (second solo); for Dickenson's jumble of smears, growls, knucklings, and swaggers at the outset of his second chorus; for Webster's sliding, hymnlike statement; and for Eldridge's reined-in fury. This is one of those rare jazz performances that defy all faddishness, fickleness, and foolishness.”
The following video tribute to Johnny has him performing "Big Shoe"[Jimmy Hamilton] with Roy Eldridge [trumpet], Lawrence Brown, trombone, Ben Webster, tenor saxophone, Billy Strayhorn, piano, Wendell Marshal, bass and "Papa" Jo Jones, drums.
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Doug Ramsey of Rifftides on JazzProfiles
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Writing About Jazz
Why is there so much written about Jazz? Why do writers - even blog writers, like me - feel compelled to weigh in on the subject? As with love, the topic is inexhaustible because it feels like personal property to everyone who holds the music dear. As with love, there is always something new - something original, something crucial - to add to the conversation. [With apologies and gratitude to Susan Perabo]
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Jazz Writers and Critics
Over the years, the "editorial staff" at JazzProfiles has benefited from the knowledge and opinions of a whole host of learned and informed Jazz writers and critics. Whenever possible, "we" attempt to repay this debt of gratitude by featuring their work on the blog. It’s our small way of thanking those whose writings have enriched our appreciation of the music and its makers.
A Note of Appreciation
"I am always amazed by the fact that intelligent people with better things to do offer me their time and expertise." Martin Cruz Smith, Three Stations, p. 243.
The "editorial staff" at JazzProfiles echoes this sentiment and wishes to express its gratitude to all those who assist with and contribute to its efforts in hosting this blog.
The Drums in Jazz
"The basis of Jazz has always been rhythmic. The development of jazz and its innovation from the early days of ragtime at the turn of the century to the many highly sophisticated, exciting and challenging styles of jazz that can be heard today, has always derived from that basis. In the European concert tradition, the drums serve as a noise-making device, aiming to create additional intensity or dramatic fortissimo effects. They do not effect the continuity of the music and could even be left out without creating the breakdown of a Beethoven or a Tchaikovsky symphony. In Jazz the drumbeat is the ordering principal which creates the space within which the music happens. The beat of a swinging drummer forms the basis of the musical continuity of a jazz performance." - Introduction to the Properbox set - THE ENGINE ROOM: A History of Jazz Drumming from Storyville to 52nd Street."
“Jazz musicians are their music … the music can’t be subtracted; it’s the defining essence which sets musicians apart and makes them special and ultimately mysterious.” – Richard Sudhalter
Scott DeVeaux - Some Thoughts on the Transitory Nature of Jazz
“… many individual lives in jazz—in American culture—are unsatisfying and incomplete, even tragic. For every Dizzy Gillespie, basking in later years in the autumnal glow of a life well led, there is a Charlie Parker, leaving behind a tangle of unfulfilled ambition. Coleman Hawkins's story reminds us that jazz itself is unfinished business, undergoing the painful process of outliving its own time and watching its social and aesthetic meanings drift into new, unfamiliar formations as the original context for its creation disappears. As Gary Taylor has recently argued [Cultural Selection, 1996], cultural memory begins with death: the death of the creator. The search for meaning is left to the survivors. It is up to us to decide how to tell the story, how best to represent the struggle and achievement of artists whose lives belong to the past but whose music continues to live in the present. In the process, we will decide what "jazz" will mean in the century ahead.” [p. 450]
"The thing you need most to play this music is concentration." - Bud Shank
"The hardest thing about this music is getting it from the head into the hands."
"Jazz is only what you are." - Pops
Here at JazzProfiles, we make every effort to memorialize or honor those who have given us pleasure in the music and those whose writings have taught us more about it
Gary Giddins - "Rhythm-a-ning"
"My intuition tells me that innovation isn't this generation's fate...the neoclassicists have a task no less valuable than innovation: sustenance. [M]usicians such as Marsalis are needed to restore order, replenish melody, revitalize the beat, loot the tradition for whatever works, and expand the audience. That way we'll be all the hungrier for the next incursion of genuine avant-gardists..." (161)
Alain Gerber - "Portraits En Jazz"
"En Jazz comme alleurs, le plus difficile ne se distingue pas du plus simple: c'est de jouer comme on respite." "With Jazz as with anything else, the most difficult and the easiest are one and the same; the whole thing is to play as your breath." [translation by F. Le Guilloux]
Remembering Gene Lees: 1928-2010
"In the past few years, I have been only too aware that primary sources of jazz history, and popular-music history, are being lost to us. The great masters, the men who were there, are slowly leaving us. I do not know who said, "Whenever anyone dies, a library burns." But it is true: almost anyone's experience is worth recording, even that of the most "ordinary" person. For the great unknown terrain of human history is not what the kings and famous men did — for much, though by no means all, of this was recorded, no matter how imperfectly — but how the "common" people lived. When Leonard Feather first came to the United States from England in the late 1930s, he was able to know most of his musical heroes, including Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton. By the end of the 1940s, Leonard knew everybody of significance in jazz from the founding figures to the young iconoclasts. And when I became actively involved in the jazz world in 1959, as editor of Down Beat, most of them were still there. I met most of them, and became friends with many, especially the young Turks more or less of my own age. I have lived to see them grow old (and sometimes not grow old), and die, their voices stilled forever. And so, in recent years, I have felt impelled to do what I can to get their memories down before they are lost, leading me to write what I think of as mini-biographies of these people. This has been the central task of the Jazzletter."
What Heaven Looks Like to a Drummer
Something To Think About
"Writers about jazz are often notable for an ill-concealed jealousy and a sullen conviction that they alone know anything about the subject, that it is or should be their exclusive domain." - Gene Lees
The Piano in Jazz
"At the turn of the century-before the age of radio, television, high-fidelity recording, and computerized video games-the piano was one of the focal points of American family life in the home. The image of Mother seated at the keyboard with the children gathered around her and Father in his pinstriped shirt and suspenders looking on proudly epitomized the American dream. White American families purchased moderately priced "uprights" at the rate of nearly 250,000 per year. In black family life the piano was one of the first major purchases made by those who could afford it. Although they were less likely than white families to own instruments, blacks frequently heard piano music in churches, which were the center of community life, or in the urban "tonks" and "juke" houses (the ancestors of the jukebox). Indeed, black pianists were largely responsible for the instrument's acceptance as "part of the family." The music they played and composed during the late 1890's, eventually known as ragtime, was a major source of the piano's popularity in the two decades that followed."
Noal Cohen - Jazz Historian and Discographer
Noal is the owner-operator of one of the best Jazz discographies out there and he's recently made some changes and additions to his website which you can checkout directly by clicking on the photo of him.
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“In a way, the entire act of music is mind put into sound. It has to go through some sort of physical medium in order to be heard. I chose the saxophone, but the whole issue is to have such control over the instrument and over what you hear that the instrument physically doesn't get in the way of visualizing sound. Technique to me means dealing with an instrument in the most efficient manner possible so that it's no more than peripheral to expression." – Ralph Bowen
I could claim that like the age-old Chinese newspaper trick, I include typos intentionally so that you will read more closely to find them.
The fact is that I edit the entire site myself and the years are rolling by.
Please excuse any mistakes that you find on the blog and just let me know about them so that they can be corrected.
I'd appreciate it.
The "Editorial Staff" at JazzProfiles
Victor Feldman with Louis Hayes and Sam Jones
Our five-part feature on Victor Feldman is archived on AllAboutJazz. Please click on the image to be redirected to the AAJ site.
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I started playing drums when I was 14 years old and was largely self-taught until I began taking lessons from Victor Feldman and Larry Bunker during my last year in high school. Through their connections, I ultimately found work in movie and TV soundtrack recording, doing jingles and commercials and subbing for both of them at jazz gigs in the greater L.A. area. I was a member of a quintet that won the 1962 Intercollegiate Jazz Festival held at The Lighthouse Cafe. Everyone in the group was also voted "best" on their instrument. Performed with the Ray and Leroy Anthony Big Bands and the Les and Larry Elgart Orchestras. I also worked with Anita O'Day at Ye Little Club in Beverly Hills, CA, with Juliet Prowse on a number of occasions in Las Vegas and with Frank Zappa on his 1963 film score for "The World's Greatest Sinner" which starred cult actor and director Timothy Carey.