"In retrospect, can you imagine the enormity of Tal’s accomplishment? Here’s someone who played a little hillbilly guitar and had no formal musical training who altered his work schedule as a sign painter so that he could listen to nightly radio broadcasts and transcribe by ear Charlie Christian guitar solos and who, after hearing pianist Art Tatum’s broadcasts, would later buy all the Art Tatum records he could lay his hands on to learn these note-by-note and play them on a guitar?! This latter feat involved a pianist whose solos were so brimming full of ideas and were played so speedily that when other pianists heard him on radio or via records for the first time, these pianists thought that they were listening to two pianists!! The scale of Tal’s achievements boggles the mind, and this from a guitarist who, shy to begin with, later became so embarrassed because he couldn’t read music that the magnitude of what he had achieved was self-effaced to a point that forced him to retire from playing music in public for long periods of time. What a way to treat genius." - The editorial staff at JazzProfiles.
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)
Doug Ramsey of Rifftides on JazzProfiles
"Steve Cerra is the proprietor of the endlessly informative and entertaining JazzProfiles. ... Cerra excels at creating a montage of portraits and constructing them into videos that serve as musical examples of his features."
York City. I heard somebody say once.
Yeah...if you can't make it
York City, man, you can't make
So where do people come to
scuffle? Right here.
Think you can lick it? Get to the wicket. Buy you a ticket. Go! New
a city so nice. They had to name it twice. It may seem like a cold town,
but man. let me tell you,
it's a soul town.
It ain't a bit hard to find
someone who's lonesome or forlorn here...
But it's like findin' a
needle in a haystack to find somebody who was born here.
New York, N.Y., a somethin'
else town, all right!
East side, west side, uptown,
There's one thing all New
York City has and that's Jazz.
A while ago, there were cats
readin' while cats played jazz behind them, but wasn't nothin' happening, so
the musicians cooked right on like they didn't even mind them.
I wrote the shortest jazz
poem ever heard.
Nothin' about lovin' and
- Jon Hendricks, vocalese introduction to Manhattan
With Milt Hinton’s
string bass and Charlie Persip playing brushes on snare drum in the background,
Jon speaks these poem-like lyrics on Manhattan, the opening track of George Russell’s album
Each time I listen
to Jon’s vocalese, the orchestral arrangement and the individual solos on this
track, I am enthralled anew by the way all of these “moving parts” fit together
It is a
magnificent piece of Jazz scoring.
Manhattanruns over 10 minutes and George uses the
space well allowing for generous solos by trombonists Bob Brookmeyer and Frank
Rehak, pianist Bill Evans, tenor saxophonist John Coltrane and trumpeter Art
Farmer to be interspersed throughout his consistently swinging arrangement.
George’s chart is
constructed in segments which serve to launch each soloist. The band then drops
out leaving the soloist accompanied only by the Milt Hinton’s walking bass line
for a chorus. The drummer joins in playing double time for the second chorus
with the band returning to provide a background until the next solo is propelled
Recorded in 1958,
the arrangements on New York, New
first extensive showcasing of George system of voicing instruments which he
termed – “The Lydian Concept of Tonal Organization.”
In his Visions
of Jazz: The First Century, Gary Giddins provides the following
background to, and description of, George Russell’s Lydian Concept of Tonal
“Cycles and cycles
within cycles are the meat of the matter. One could argue that jazz is a music
based on cyclical motion, a strictly defined chorus, usually twelve or
thirty-two measures, repeated until a musical statement has been made. Cycles
are fomented by radical evolutionary movements, each of which contains the
seeds of its own destruction. One example: during the ferment of jazz activity
in the '40s, when modern jazz, or bebop, was born, the intoxicating harmonic
ingenuity of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie blinded sympathetic fans from
recognizing the anti-harmonic implications of George Russell's modal composition,
Cubana Be/Cubana Bop written for
Gillespie's orchestra. In a day when Thelonious Monk's clattering minor seconds
and rhythmic displacements were dismissed as the fumblings of a charlatan,
Russell's work was appreciated as something of a sui generis novelty.
the modal approach to harmony (using scales instead of chords) in a theoretical
treatise that he says was inspired by a casual remark the eighteen-year-old Miles
Davis made to him in 1944: “Miles said that he wanted to learn all the changes
and I reasoned that he might try to find the closest scale for every chord.’
His concept, published as the Lydian
Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, is based on a perfect cycle of
fifths generated by the Lydian mode, which sounds more complicated than it is.
Russell was exploring relationships between chords and scales that would foster
a fresh approach to harmony. Davis popularized those liberating ideas in
recordings like Kind of Blue, undermining the entire harmonic foundation of
bop that had inspired him and Russell in the first place.” [pp.5-6]
Richard Cook and
Brian Morton explain Russell’s achievement this way in their Penguin
Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.:
Russell's theories are, they are even now not securely understood. Sometimes
falsely identified with the original Greek Lydian mode, The Lydian Chromatic Concept is not the same at all. In diatonic
terms, it represents the progression F to F on the piano's white keys; it also
confronts the diabolic tritone, the diabolus
in musica, which had haunted Western composers from Bach to Beethoven.
conception assimilated modal writing to the extreme chromaticism of modern
music. By converting chords into scales and overlaying one scale on another, it
allowed improvisers to work in the hard-to-define area between non-tonality and
polytonality. Like all great theoreticians, Russell worked analytically rather
than synthetically, basing his ideas on how jazz actually was, not on how it
could be made to conform with traditional principles of Western harmony. Working
from within jazz's often tacit organizational principles, Russell's fundamental
concern was the relationship between formal scoring and improvisation, giving
the first the freedom of the second and, freeing the second from being
literally esoteric, 'outside' some supposed norm. [pp 1282-83].
In his Jazz
Retrospect, Max Harrison offers the following insights into Russell’s
examined the entire harmonic resources of Western music, saw and systematized
an entirely fresh set of relationships that had always been present within the
traditional framework and which, as it were, only awaited discovery. Far from
being a constricting set of regulations, Russell's precepts made available
resources whose full possibilities, in the composer John Benson Brooks's words,
‘may take as much as a century to work out’. And according to Art Farmer,
trumpeter on many of these discs, the Lydian Concept ‘opens the doors to
countless means of melodic expression.
It also dispels
many of the don'ts and can'ts that, to various degrees, have been imposed on
the improviser through the study of traditional harmony.’ Of course, it is
necessary to remember Schoenberg's words, ‘ideas
can only be honored by one who has some of his own.’ [emphasis, mine]
That is to say
Russell offers no magic formula to transform mediocre soloists into good ones.
But the gifted improviser is not the only one to benefit. These investigations
led Russell to produce music that has strong individuality yet which is very
subtle, that teems with invention but is absolutely consistent stylistically.
And in the sheer variety of his thematic materials he surpasses all Jazz
composers except Duke Ellington. [pp. 58-59; paragraphing modified].
Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some Of Its Makers, Doug Ramsey
offers this essay on George’s work which he originally prepared in 1966 to air
on Jazz Review, a program that Doug
wrote, produced and broadcast on WDSU-FM and WDSU-AM in New Orleans:
“Over the next few
programs we're going to consider the recorded work of George Russell, not only
because his music is interesting, absorbing, listening, but because of his
influence on the development of jazz in the sixties. Russell's impact, I
believe, is more profound and widespread than is generally recognized, even by
many musicians. It may well develop that he is having as great an effect on the
course of jazz as any composer or arranger at work today, as important as that
of such imitated innovators as John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman.
that jazz must develop on its own terms, from within. He believes that to
borrow the concepts of classical music and force jazz into the mold of the
classical tradition results in something perhaps interesting, perhaps Third
Stream music, but not jazz. Faced with this conviction that jazz musicians must
look to jazz for their means of growth, Russell set about creating a framework
within which to work. In 1953 he completed his Lydian Concept of Tonal Organization.
The system is built on what he calls pan-tonality, bypassing the atonal ground
covered by modern classical composers and making great use of chromaticism.
Russell explains that pan-tonality allows the writer and the improviser to retain
the scale-based nature of the folk music in which jazz has its roots, yet have
the freedom of being in a number of tonalities at once. Hence, pan-tonality.
That's a brief and
far from complete summary of Russell's theory, on which he worked for ten
years. It's all in his book, The Lydian Chromatic Concept for Jazz
Improvisation, published by Concept Publishing Company.
restrictions, however broad.
Russell's way demands great technical skill. Listening to his recordings, one
is struck by the virtuoso nature of the players. …. All that talk about
concepts and theories and pan-tonality and chromaticism may have led you to
expect something dry and formidable. On the contrary, there's a sense of fun
and airiness in the music. The humor is subtle and, I should add, more evident
after several hearings. …
In 1959 there was
a good deal of thought being given to the directions jazz would take and strong
indications that one important departure would be along the path of freedom.
Russell was an
invaluable guide along that path, providing the player a means of achieving
greater freedom of expression without falling into licentiousness. The means
was his Lydian Concept of Tonal Organization. It gave the improviser a
theoretical base from which to play with fewer harmonic restrictions than in be
bop. Even musicians who have never studied the theory have been influenced by
it because it is a spirit that has moved through the music. In the close
community of jazz musicians, new ideas spread rapidly. So, in a tangible sense,
this was one of the first recordings of the so-called New Thing. It is a good
demonstration of Russell's theory. But, theories aside, it is delightful
music.” [pp. 266-267 and 269].
germane to New
following commentary by Burt Korall which served as the liner notes to the
“New York, N. Y.... the most fascinating address.
New York, N. Y. is a world unto itself, a world of tumult and
silence, love and hate, towering buildings and tenements, big people and
small... and the gradations between.
New York, N. Y. is
a look up and live town, or a sigh, cry, die town; the big juicy apple that
tempts and magnetizes, nourishes or consumes, but is never forgotten.
New York, N. Y. has a face of concrete that menaces those who have
not found the key to her heart. And she is a woman—fickle, sometimes cold, warm
to those who know her ways. It takes time to know and love her. She is not
New York, N. Y. is
always on the move; motion is native to her torso, and whether good or bad,
profitable or not, it's there, day and night, like the beat of a tom-tom or a
heart — faster by day, slower by night; pushing, easing time along.
New York, N. Y. has many moods. She broods and all her glitter is
but a well spring for sadness. She is just as frequently happy, even frivolous,
fresh and new, depending on your view.
New York, N. Y. is a blues/dues town. She can take and forsake ...
and without conscience. In no time, her beauty can become unforgivable to
those to whom she yields nothing.
New York, N. Y., a compound of all those that live within her arms,
is liberal and bigoted, probing and disinterested. She is affected, phony, and
unstintingly real. All these things and more ...
She is rich and
poor—Sutton Place and Harlem, Madison Avenue and "The Village", Park
Avenue and "Hell's Kitchen"; Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island,
too; all the boroughs and sections, streets and avenues, in sum, are New York,
N. Y. ... and contribute to her heart, body and soul.
In essence, New
York, N. Y. is people; each one important, each one in need of the other.
* * * *
New York, N. Y. is
filled with the sounds of jazz.
come pouring into New York, N. Y. ‘Let's go to the Apple, man, that's where it is,’
they cry, not realizing that the taste of it is reserved for only the equipped.
Many return to their home hamlets disappointed; some, more than a little
changed for being here.
New York, N. Y. is a cruel mistress. Bring her something new and she
is torn between a desire to understand and an inclination to resist change.
‘Prove it!’ she tauntingly says to those who come to her bearing the future in
‘New York, N. Y. is a challenge,’ claims composer-arranger
George Russell. ‘Youth comes here to accept the challenge.’
‘I've had a
running love affair with this town since I first saw her as a child,’ he
continued. "I'd rather sink here than swim anywhere else."
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on June 23, 1923, Russell's first manifestations of
interest in music occurred in early adolescence. At 15, he was earning his
living as a jazz drummer in a Cincinnati night club. At 17, on scholarship at WilberforceUniversity in Ohio, he was studying music and playing with The Collegians, the college dance/jazz
Shortly after his
twentieth birthday, Russell left school, joined the Benny Carter band on drums,
and came to New York.
‘I got to hear Max
Roach. He was too much,’ Russell explained. ‘Max had it all on drums. I decided
that writing was my field.’
Returning home to Cincinnati determined to learn all he could about
writing, Russell culled as much as he could from jazz writers around town. Proceeding
by the ‘trial and error’ method, the budding writer used the house band at the
old Cotton Club as a laboratory for
his work. The band would play his arrangements and compositions, allowing him
to err and correct, to progress.
Benny Carter was
the first person of significance to take an interest in Russell's writing. In
the course of one of his tours through Ohio, Carter passed through Cincinnati, heard one of Russell's compositions,
liked it. and made a request for an arrangement of it for his band.
‘It took me five
months and a trip to Chicago,’ Russell recalled in an interview with Down Beat Magazine, ‘but
I finally caught the band at a downtown theatre, and they rehearsed it. Benny
was very happy with it, and on top of that he paid me for it.’
the young writer then wrote for Earl Hines and shows at the Rhumboogie and El Grotto clubs in Chicago.
In 1945, the
height of the modern revolution in jazz, everybody was talking about Parker,
Gillespie, Powell and Monk etc. and 52nd Street, the center of it all. All who
could came to New York to see and hear. Some came to learn.
arrived in New York in 1945. He took a room on 48th Street and Sixth Avenue, four blocks from "Swing Street." He met and became closely
associated with many of the key figures creating the upheaval. Miles Davis,
Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Max Roach, among others, were frequent
visitors at his lodgings.
‘I began writing
for Dizzy's big band,’ Russell reports. ‘I was learning. Just being on the scene
and listening helped so much.’
illness interfered as the composer-arranger was getting his start with Dizzy's
band, and he entered the hospital. Unfortunate as illnesses are, this one
cannot be considered in a completely negative fashion. During the 16 months
spent in a hospital in the Bronx,
Russell evaluated his position, found himself in need of further education, and
began an intensive research into tonality. This resulted in the coming into
existence of elements of his Lydian
Concept of Tonal Organization, a thesis that would eventually free him,
lend the facility for full expression.
from the hospital, Russell accepted an invitation to live at the home of Max
Roach. He continued his investigations, staying on nearly a year.
‘While working on
my theory,’ says Russell, ‘I lived all 'round town—East Side, West Side. John
Lewis and I roomed together for a time. He helped me to truly appreciate
traditional classical music.’
Until the Lydian
thesis was completed, Russell composed infrequently, and for short periods, at that.
He would run into problems while working within his concept that had to be
ironed out before he could proceed further. As progression was made toward his
ultimate goal of freedom within his own set of disciplines, he became more and
more the master of his materials.
Today, Russell is
not bothered by composing problems for long; he is able to make any needed
adjustments within his concept. Through extended study of music and himself,
the composer has found his way into the open.
'My Lydian concept
has changed my whole mode of life,’ Russell explained. "It took years, but
I now feel that I function logically. At last, I'm organized and ready. I
realize that music, like life, must have an inner logic. George Endrey, a
scientist friend of mine, taught me how mathematics relates to life and music.
Without him, I would never have understood logic for what it is.’
‘There are many
others to whom I owe a great deal. The Gil Evans composer conclave of 1949-50,
composed of Gil, Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis, John Carisi and myself, opened my
eyes to many things. Gil and John are special friends and have exercised more
than their share of influence upon me. Composers Alban Berg, Bela Bartok, Igor
Stravinsky and Stefan Wolpe are just a few of the others who have helped shape
output before completion of the Lydian
Concept of Tonal Organization in 1953, we realize that the composer had a
few fruitful periods. The results are memorable.
In 1947, he penned
Cubano Be and Cubano Bop, a two part composition that successfully combined
modern jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms, for the Dizzy Gillespie orchestra. Bird In
Igor's Yard came off his writing desk in 1949. It was performed and recorded by
the Buddy DeFranco big band. Ezzthetic
and Odjenar were created for Lee
Konitz around the same time.
‘I was hardly
prolific,’ commented the composer. ‘Four compositions and a few arrangements
for dance bands — Shaw, Thornhill and Charlie Ventura — is not much to show for
six years, but I felt that I had to finish my thesis before I could say what I
Keeping body and
soul together by working a variety of jobs in New York, N. Y., an ever evolving knowledge of self
and the importance of his work, coated his senses and dulled extraneous
pressures and annoyances.
In 1955, after two
years of experimental writing employing all the facilities of his concept,
Russell felt ready to make a statement. Jack Lewis, a jazz adventurer, provided
the recording circumstance. Reception for the composer's first statement of
policy was tremendously encouraging. Ground, at last, had been broken.
A commission to
write an original composition for the Brandeis Music Festival, which garnered
kudos for its author, followed. Offers to score albums for important jazz
artists began to trickle in. An invitation to teach at the School of Jazz in Lenox, Massachusetts was extended and accepted.
presence on the American musical scene is being felt; the avenues for his
talent, only beginning to present themselves.
* * * *
musical statement herein is New York, N. Y. as George Russell sees, hears and
feels it. In a sense, it is an expression of this composer's belief in the
city, the city he feels is symbolic of life and culture.
The city is drawn
in terms native to Russell's basic orientation. He is a jazz writer. His
concept was born of jazz and its needs.
It was his
intention to showcase many of the important jazz soloists on the New York scene in this program. He did so, pulling
no punches in his writing, providing an intelligent, functional, dramatic frame
for the soloists. The framework is not arbitrary, but a thematically controlled
entity from beginning to end.
New York, N. Y. is important in that a statement of depth
and scope is made. Never self conscious, though often quite impressionistic, it
is challenging to the senses, yet has the feeling of emotional completeness.
project notable for the love and enthusiasm of all the participants, New
York, N. Y. moves from old jazz territories to new and back again,
breaking the barriers of tonality, presenting the jazz orchestra in a truly
modern, linear sense, yet retains the earthy taste basic to the idiom.
composer, only beginning to tap his resources, is revealed.”
In order to afford
you with an interesting vehicle to watch while listening to Manhattan, the opening track on George
Russell’s New York, New York, with the help of the ace graphics team at
CerraJazz LTD and the production facilities at
StudioCerra, I have created a montage of the cover art from nearly all of the
Jazz LP’s that Decca Records released, primarily in the 1950s.
Although it had
been a major label for Jazz during The Swing Era [circa 1930-1945], Decca was
never a “major player” on the modern Jazz scene in the USA. Therefore, many of the album covers in
the video may be relatively unknown to you.
What little of value or interest it may contain, this blog is my gift to my friends.
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.
George Wallington Quintet - "In Sallah" [Mose Allison]
"Gracias" by Frank Foster
John Lewis/Grand Encounter - "2 Degrees East, Three Degrees West"
Grant Green - "The Kicker"
Mulgrew Miller - "Comes Sunday"
JazzProfiles Mission Statment
A celebration of Jazz in its myriad manifestations.
that Orrin Keepnews and Gene Lees have made to Jazz over the past fifty years are immense and go
well beyond anything that can be described in this brief introduction. Orrin’s work in recording and reissuing the
music and Gene’s in writing about it have made the world of Jazz a far richer
place because they devoted so much of their talent and creative genius to it.
Teaming up to
develop and describe this retrospective of Jeri Southern’s early recordings at
Decca is certainly an indication of the respect and admiration that Orrin and
Gene have for this member of the Jazz family, a female vocalist who was not
accorded enough of either in her lifetime.
When the likes of
Orrin Keepnews and Gene Lees have so much praise to offer about the song stylings of Jeri
Southern, the least I can do is to listen to them and to recommend that you do
so as well.
The Very Thought of You: The Decca Years, 1951-1957 [Decca GRP – 671]
“Here is a good
clear look at one of the very best singers to emerge from the Pop/Jazz/Show-tune musical world that flourished in the mid-century years. By now this era can
seem incredibly long ago and far away, but at its strongest it still retains
all of its power to charm us and move us - and to demonstrate that, in the best
of hands, this area of popular music is a true art form.
It has been my
pleasure to work on this project with Kathryn King - a long-time friend with a
solid track record of her own as a record producer, who has the considerable
added incentive of being the daughter of the artist who is heard here in
retrospect. Jeri Southern began her significant recording career with the half-dozen
years at Decca from which this CD is drawn, As we picked our way through an
extensive body of music, finding that our individual lists of preferred songs
were looking remarkably similar, it did seem best to follow chronology in a
general way, but without being excessive about it. As a result, tempo and
instrumentation and the emotional content of these songs have led to a program
that seems to pretty much set is own pace.
I knew Jeri
Southern hardly at all; I only met her after she had ended her singing career.
But I first heard her a long time ago, and have been fascinated over the years
by what I consider to be a striking example of one of the major show-business
paradoxes. This woman, a warm-voiced, sensitive, intelligent interpreter of the wonderful repertoire that a lot of
us insist on capitalizing as The Great American Song Book, had all the
qualities that I associate with two closely allied, important and consistently
undervalued fields: being a jazz singer and being what for want of a better name
is often called a cabaret singer. In Jeri's case this included the helpful fact
that she was an excellent musician [among some attributes that in my view she
shares with Carmen McRae is that she may well have been her own best
accompanist]. But like so many of the best qualified female singers of the
pre-rock days of the Fifties and early Sixties, she was typecast into a ‘pop
vocalist’ category and as a result suffered through deliberate (although
presumably quite well-intentioned) efforts to make her sound like everyone else
and concentrate on the kind of lower-level Tin Pan Alley music that only a
song-plugger or a music publisher could love.
The only two women
I can think of who entirely fought their way through that mess and emerged as
universally acknowledged major artists were obviously very strong, very tough,
and supported by even tougher friends and associates. Ella Fitzgerald, who of
course had Norman Granz as her all-American blocking back; and the totally
indomitable Peggy Lee [who was a good friend of Jeri’s and, I’m inclined to
suspect, would have been her role model if Ms. Southern had by nature been a
more hard-shelled personality]. But that was not the way it worked out for
Jeri; it should realty not be surprising to learn that her relatively early
retreat from the show biz battlefront was basically the result of her being -
to apply a phrase usually used to describe a jazz musician whose work goes
sailing way over the heads of his audience – “too hip for the room.”
Way back when I first
heard this voice, I was in Chicago visiting a World War II army buddy - it
couldn’t have been past the very beginning of the Fifties, maybe earlier. He
and his wife insisted on my listening to the laidback late night disc jockey
who was The Man of the moment, Dave Garroway, soon to become one of the very first of the star night
time (and subsequently early morning) casual television hosts. But all that lay
ahead. What Garroway was doing at that particular time was shouting the praises
of a great young locally-based singer by the name of Jeri Southern.
I became a fan at
first hearing, then admittedly cooled off as her career seemed to be going in
directions that I didn’t care for – you’ll note that we have not included one
of her most popular recordings, a folksong tear-jerker called "Scarlet
Ribbons.” Consequently, it took me much too long to become aware of some
important factors. One was that her voice remained a great instrument, and
another that she was singing a very high percentage of the right kind of songs
- merely note in passing that the
writers represented here include Rodgers and Hart [four times], Cafe Porter
[twice], Jerome Kerr [two more] and Kurt Weill.
It also seems
apparent that she was doing battle energetically and in two ways against the
kind of arrangements that were all too often in deadly vogue in those days. For
one, in a period when a singer’s worth seemed to be measured by the size of the
accompanying orchestra, she nevertheless succeeded fairly often in working on
records in much the same setting as she would appear in clubs: backed only by a
rhythm section, which on five of these numbers is led by guitarist/arranger Dave Barbour [long and closely a collaborator
with Peggy Lee). It’s a formula that at times even allows her to be the piano
player - check out the Southern solos on
Ray Noble's I HADN'T ANYONE ‘TILL YOU and her own I DON T KNOW WHERE TO TURN. And secondly, even
when the writing behind her was lush and potentially overbearing, someone --
perhaps the artist herself, or a properly- motivated manager or other
colleague - often was able to keep the
background writing under control. Or, when necessary, she seems to have been
able simply to overcome it. I refer to my own listening notes on possibly my
personal favorite in this collection, the magnificent Kurt Weill/Ira Gershwin
MY SHIP. It was a specific and private comment, not intended for publication,
but it now strikes me as quiet generally applicable to this compilation, and
indeed as a summation of the artistry of Jeri Southern. “The strings are a
matter of taste I wrote, "but it is
such a great performance of a great song.”
Remembering Jeri – Gene
"Once upon a time, America was blessed with any number of small
nightclubs that featured excellent singers singing excellent songs, and even
the' big record companies were interested in recording them. Some of the best
of them played piano, ranging from the competent to the excellent, Most of them
were women, and there was a glamour about them, superb singers such as Betty
Bennett, Irene Kral, Ethel Ennis, Marge Dodson, Lurlean Hunter, Audrey Morris,
Shirley Horn, and even regional singers, such as Kiz Harp of Dallas. Many of
them are forgotten now; Shirley Horn alone has enjoyed a resurgence.
sometimes called jazz singers, although they were no such thing, or torch
singers a term I found demeaning, not to mention horrendously inaccurate. Male
singers were with equal condescension from an ignorant lay press called
The songs they sang
were drawn from that superb classic repertoire that grew up in the United
States between roughly 1920 and the 1950s, and had any of us been equipped with
foresight, we’d have known that the era was ending, doomed by “How Much is that
Doggie in the Window?” and “Papa Loves Mambo” and “Music Music Music “even
before the rise of Bill Haley and His Comets, Elvis Presley, arid the Rolling
Of all these
singers, one of the greatest was Jeri Southern, born Genevieve Lillian Hering
near Royal, Nebraska on August 5, 1926, the baby in a family of two boys and
three girls. Her grandfather had come from Germany in 1868, and in 1879 built a water-powered
mill on Verdigris Creek. His sons and grandsons, including Jeri’s father,
worked there. I am indebted to Jeri’s sister, Helen Meuwissen), for this
information about Jeri’s early life.
“She could play
the piano by ear when she was three, Helen said. She started studying at six. I
don t think she ever quit taking lessons. (I car confirm this Jeri was doing
some formal study of piano to the end of her life.) She went to Notre DameAcademy in Omaha, and always credited the nuns there for
her background. She took voice lessons in Omaha with Harry Cooper. It was her desire to be
a classical singer.”
Jeri also studied
classical piano in Omaha with a much beloved teacher, Karl Tunberg. But her ambitions in
the classical world evaporated one evening when she walked into a nightclub and
heard a pianist playing jazz. She loved this music, and the experience changed
her life. After high school graduation, she moved to Chicago.
playing standards in clubs, and got more experience as a pianist in local Chicago big bands. Eventually, as her reputation
grew, she was advised that she could make more money if she would sing, a
standard casting for women pianists in those days: women were not supposed to
be instrumentalists, they were supposed to sing, or, just maybe, play the harp.
So she did start to sing, and accompanied herself at the piano. She abandoned
her trained operatic voice and began singing in her speaking voice, which had a
smoky sound, with a very soft enunciation and a haunting intimacy. And her
career took off.
popularity was in the 1950s. The first of her records I heard was YOU BETTER GO
NOW, the oldest track on this CD. I was blown
away by it: the simplicity, the exquisite lack of affectation or mannerism. She
recorded it for Decca in late 1951, just after she turned 25. She then turned
out a series of superb performances for Decca, through to the Rodgers and Hart
gems she recorded November 26, 1957: YOU'RE NEARER and NOBODY’S HEART. I met
Jeri probably two years later, in 1959. She eventually left Decca and went on
to record for other labels.
performers, her stage career represented a great struggle for Jeri. First, she
was extremely shy. I remember her telling me during our Chicago friendship that the first time she arrived
at a nightclub and saw her name on the marquee, it terrified her. She deeply
felt the responsibility of drawing and pleasing an audience – she was
intimidated by the look of expectation in their eyes.
performers who passionately crave the audience. They will climb over
footlights, climb over the tables, do anything to claim the audience’s attention
and, I suppose, love – or the illusion of love. Jeri wasn’t like that. She
simply loved the music. The music was everything, She was almost too much a
musician, and certainty a perfectionist. Her philosophy of performing was the
diametrical opposite of Carmen McRae's, who not only wouldn't do a song the
same way twice, but probably couldn’t remember how she did it the last time.
Jeri worked on interpretation until she got it ‘right,' which is to say the way
she wanted it. She would then stick with her chosen interpretation. She was
also disinterested in scat singing. I have noticed an interesting thing about
those with the harmonic and instrumental skills to scat-sing - they often don’t
and won’t do it. Nat Cole was a classic example of this fidelity to the
original melody; so was Jeri.
As her reputation
grew, her handlers – the managers, agents, publicists, record company
executives - set out to make her into a pop star. Certainty with her Germanic
beauty, she had the basic material for it. They dressed her in fancy
gowns. They took her away from her
beloved piano and stood her in front of a microphone with some else to play for
her. Nothing could have been more diabolically designed to send her fleeing
from the spotlight. And so, like Jo
Stafford [and for the record, Greta Garbo, Doris Day, and others], she simply
quit. She walked away from the business and the discomfort it brought her.
musicianship was always there, and she took to teaching. She wrote a textbook, Interpreting
Popular Music at the Keyboard. She enjoyed composing, and over the years
wrote pop songs with various partners [one of which, I Don’t Know Where to Turn is included here], and even ventured
into other genres like orchestrating film scores and writing classical songs.
I used to drop by
to visit her every once in a white at her apartment in Hollywood. Illustrating some point in a discussion
of this song or that, she would go to the piano and play and sing for me. She
simply got better throughout her life, and during these occasional private
performances, I could only shake my head and think what the world was missing.
Her piano playing in those last years was remarkable. It had grown richer
harmonically, and the tone had evolved into a dark golden sound.
She was working on
a book of piano arrangements of songs by her friend Peggy Lee, also a friend of
mine. One sunny afternoon a few years age, I telephoned Peggy. How re you
doing? I began.
‘I’m very sad,’
she said. ‘Jeri Southern died this morning.’
As I learned later,
she succumbed to double pneumonia. The date was August 4, 1991. The next day, August 5, she would have
Once she told me
that during those Chicago years, she considered me her closest friend in the world. It is an
honor I will not forget. I truly loved Jeri, not only the singer but the person
inside who through music so diffidently allowed us glimpses into her
Jeri Southern at
"Jeri Southern was
essentially an intensely private person whose talent for music thrust her into
a public career. Since Gene Lees and Orrin Keepnews have done such a fine job of describing my
mother's public life, I thought it would be of interest to her still devoted
audience to learn something of her private life. as I knew it.
My mothers life
was unusual in a number of respects, not the least of which was the fact that a
great deal happened to her at a very early age. She started performing as a
pianist while still in her teens, moved from Nebraska to Chicago, developed a
following there, married, signed a record deal, had a baby, and had her first
great commercial success as a recording artist, all by the time she was 25. At
36 she retired from her public career. For the next 30 years her time was as
much taken up with music as it had been before, but as a teacher, a writer and
a composer - she never went back to performing.
recording YOU BETTER GO NOW, my mother moved from Chicago to Los Angeles, where she lived for the rest of her life.
Taking the title of one of the songs she recorded perhaps a little too closely
to heart ( Married I Can Always Get"), she married four times; three of
her husbands were musicians, one a radio der5onatity. My earliest memories are
from the house we had in Malibu, a wonderful place right on the water,
where she and I would take daily "walks' with our hyperactive Irish
Setter. The intellectual pursuits, the preoccupation, the pleasures my mother
enjoyed at the Malibu house were the ones she carried with her throughout her Life – she
loved reading, exploring the whole dimension of the mind, summoning the
restorative powers of the sun, and most of all, playing the piano.
practiced classical pieces, although she never performed them. Some of her
favorite things to play were Beethoven sonatas, Grieg’s HolbergSuite, Debussy’s Images, and in later years the Brahms Intermezzi. She would also compose and improvise
at the piano. Because she suffered from what could only be described as a
crippling case of performance anxiety, she hated to be observed while she
played, and only really enjoyed herself when she thought that no one was
listening. So it was that I got in the habit of sneaking
She had the most
exquisite command of harmony, so that
when she played a tune, she would basically use it as a launching pad for an
extended improvisation which often went very far afield harmonically. Sometimes, as I sat surreptitiously
listening to these explorations of hers, I would be certain she could never
figure out how to get back to the
original key of the piece, but she
always did, and in the most spectacular way, with subtle and elegant voice
leading and chord progressions that were simply stunning. For a period of years
she also studied guitar with a fuzzy-voiced Italian whose greatest contribution
to our lives, notwithstanding the guitar lessons was probably the killer
spaghetti sauce recipe she induced him, after much cajoling, to surrender.
When she was at
home she spent a lot of time reading. She was fascinated by the work of Carl
Jung, whose ideas became an essential part of her world view. She was also very
taken with Gurdjieff, and even got interested in numerology toward the end of
her life. She found it exciting to contemplate both the innumerable possibilities
of inner space, so to speak, and the complexities of the physical world.
Another pursuit of
her life at home was listening to the work of other singers. Her perfectionism
made her a tough audience, but there were a few to whom she would return again
and again. As one can immediately discern from listening to her recordings, she
felt that the most important criterion for a great singer was a reverence for
and communication of the lyric. She was not swayed by technical brilliance; the
only singer with astonishing vocal technique whose work she enjoyed was Mel
Torme, and that was because he delivers a lyric so well. She also loved Frank
Sinatra, Nat Cole, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Lucy Reed, Jackie & Roy, and the Hi-Los.
Music was really
the playing field for her entire life. And with a few important exceptions, all
of her most important relationships were with musicians, with whom she could
share her opinions, her discoveries, her delights. Though she lived in Hollywood most of her adult life, she was not involved
in that world. To say that she was reticent socially would be a mammoth
She hated parties
and social gatherings, and had the same small circle of friends the day she
died that she’d had for decades before. But for those of us who were privileged
to be close to her, she had that rarest of gifts - acceptance. She was a
loving, supportive, non-judgmental friend and mother. She loved her family and,
in an important part of her mind and heart, she never really left Nebraska.
I still miss her
so much, but it fulfills the dream of a Lifetime to be able to put this package together, to remind the world of what a wonderful singer she was."
- Kathryn King
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.
Big Band Jazz from St. Petersburg, Russia
The Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra's CD is now available for order through CD Baby. Just click on the image above to be redirected to the CD Baby order information.
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
"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
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]
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.
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 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."
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.
"The hardest thing about this music is getting it from the head into the hands."
"The thing you need most to play this music is concentration." - Bud Shank
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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
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Typographical Mistakes [aka "typos"]
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
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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.