Friday, April 27, 2012

Nancy Wilson: In The Beginning


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


There was a time when the following story as retold by Ron Grevatt was commonplace.

“One night about four years ago in Columbus, Ohio, a willowy young singer took a busman's holiday from her job as vocalist with Rusty Bryant's band to join friends for an evening at the 502 Club - a local jazz emporium where a rather remarkable, up-and-coming alto saxophone player and his swinging combo were appearing.

The girl was Nancy Wilson, and the young man with the horn was Julian "Cannonball" Adderley. Their chance meeting that night will always be well-remem­bered by both of them.

"Nancy did some tunes with the band that night," Cannonball reflects, "unre­hearsed, off-the-top-of-the-head stuff. Even then, this young kid had so much to offer - tone, style, confidence -1 felt she just had to go a long way."

Adderley's prophecy of stardom for Nancy has certainly been fulfilled since that first casual get-together just a few short years ago. For today Nancy Wilson is in every way a big-leaguer, a fast-rising young singing star who is just beginning to realize her full potential as an in-person performer as well as a top recording artist for Capitol Records.

"Cannonball has helped me so many times," Nancy remembers. "When I first came to New York, the first person I called when I got off the bus was Cannon."

In New York, Nancy pounded an office typewriter by day and sang by night, the latter in a Bronx jazz spot known as the Blue Morocco. It was here (at Cannonball's urging) that John Levy, former bassist with the famed George Shearing Quintet and now the manager of Shearing, Adderley, and many other stars of jazz, first heard Miss Wilson. One listening was the clincher, and from that evening on Levy took the new singer in tow.

This was the start of many exciting developments for the girl from Columbus, not the least of which was the enthused reaction to her singing by Capitol Records' exec­utive producer, Dave Cavanaugh. Frankly, Cavanaugh simply flipped and signed her right away.

Her albums to date have won her a throng of new friends. Critics, their tastes often jaded by an endless parade of new jazz singers, have been unanimous in their praise of Nancy's remarkable phrasing, tone, control and dynamics….”

The decades following the close of World War II were chock-a-bloc with major and minor record labels all looking for talent and the next, big hit record.

It was a fun time with neighborhood cocktail lounges, clubs and even bowling alley, Moose Hall and American Legion bars everywhere featuring “live music” in the form of duos, trios and quartets, many of which fronted a vocalist for a few tunes each set.

The story that Ron relates of Nancy Wilson’s “coming-of-age,” while certainly exceptional in terms of Nancy’s talent and subsequent national recognition, was also fairly routine for many other singers and entertainers who developed local, dedicated followings.

The first time I heard Nancy perform with Cannonball, I was driving north along the Pacific Coast Highway with the late afternoon sun beginning to set in the west.

A friend had recently installed an FM radio in his car [a big deal at the time] and we were heading up the California coast from Santa Monica to Malibu for a gig.

Suddenly, Nancy and Cannonball Adderley’s quintet filled our world with the sound of Never Will I Marry - two minutes and sixteen seconds of pure enchantment.

It was over almost as soon as it started.

We looked at the radio in the car dashboard and then at one another with startled expressions on our faces and my buddy said: “Who was that?” I said: “I dunno, but I sure want to hear that again.”

Never Will I Marry forms the audio track to the video tribute to Nancy. Perhaps, if you’re like me, you’ll want to hear it again, too.  If so, go ahead and treat yourself as it is only 2:16 of …  pure bliss!



Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Paolo Recchia: Jazz in Italy


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


"I listen to this music with a smile on my face. I've know Paolo for a while now. When he came to me for a lesson or two, I recognized his talent at once... a diamond in the rough. Since then, we've crossed paths several times. Usually at a festival or club where we were able to catch up with each other between sets. But it had been a while since I'd actually heard him play. 

Last summer I had the good fortune to finally hear him a couple of times at the Tuscia in Jazz festival and was astounded by how much he had grown. When teaching, I always talk about how learning jazz is like learning a new language... a lot of memorizing and imitating. I also talk about the difference between being an artist or a craftsman. Most musicians reach a level where they are good imitators and craftsman... this is not an easy task, it requires a lot of patience, discipline and dedication. There are a few however, who take it to the next level by transforming the information they've assimilated into a language and sound of their own. Paolo belongs to the second category. 

When I heard him last summer, I found myself asking myself "what was that?" over and over again; wishing I had a tape recorder so I could go back and transcribe and analyze what he had played. I loved the fact that I heard the tradition... blues, swing, humor... along side of the modern language that any saxophone player since Coltrane, Ornette, Wayne etc... has had to address. I was also flattered because I heard a little of me in him... not a copy but an influence. He had taken what I had taught him and then digested and transformed it. The music on this recording is a beautiful example of Paolo's play­ing and writing. 

I know by experience how difficult it is to go into a recording studio for one solo recording. It is a very unnatural and surreal situation. When listening, I was impressed by how relaxed and natural he sounded. I kept asking myself the question "if this is what he can do now, what will he come up with next?" I look forward to listening to him grow and develop. I invite you to do the same.""     
- RICK MARGITZA, Jazz saxophonist

In addition to being the country whose food everyone loves to eat, whose cars everyone loves to drive and whose clothes everyone loves to wear, Italy is also fast becoming the home of talented alto saxophonists listened to by Jazz fans everywhere.

I’ve talked previously on these pages about Gianluigi Trovesi, Rosario Giuliani, Stefano di Battista and Francesco Cafiso – all excellent performers on the smaller saxophone.

Now the name – Paolo Recchia – can be added to the list of elite also saxophonists from Italia.

Like his compatriots, Giuliani and di Battista, Recchia doubles on soprano saxophone [Trovesi doubles on bass clarinet; Francesco doesn’t double].

And while Paolo’s style is rooted in the Bebop idioms first introduced on the alto by Charlie Parker, he incorporates elements of Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman from what was to later become categorized as “Free Jazz.”

Somewhat amazingly, however, in Recchia’s approach to alto, one can also hear elements of the Early Jazz,  “sweet” sound of Benny Carter, Jimmy Dorsey, Woody Herman, Charlie Barnet and Les Brown – all alto saxophonists who played the instrument with more vibrato rather than the straight, vibrato-less tone preferred by Parker and the “modernists.”

Hip bebop phrasing, coupled with a full, rich vibrato tone that’s occasionally spiced with the explorative concepts of Free Jazz combine to create the original alto sax stylings of Paolo Recchia.

Put another way; you’ve never heard this before.  It’s familiar and different at the same time.

These characteristics of Paolo’s style are particularly noticeable in the following video on which Paolo plays Rodgers & Hart’s Everything I’ve Got accompanied only by Nicola Muresu on bass and Nicola Angelucci on drums.

The track is from Paolo’s latest CD on Matteo Pagano’s Via Veneto Jazz label entitled Ari’s Desire [VVJ 071].


Trumpeter Alex “Sasha” Sipiagin joins Paolo on all the other selections on Ari’s Desire. With Recchia moving to soprano, here’s a sample of Paolo and Sasha together on Coltrane’s Lazy Bird.


Both Ari’s Desire [VVJ 071] and his earlier Introducing Paolo Recchia [featuring Dado Moroni VVJ 061] can be located on the Via Veneto Jazz website as well as on Amazon.com as mp3 downloads.

Perhaps Paolo’s music is something else that you may want to consider “importing” from Italy besides it foods, cars and clothes?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Gene Lees on Melody, Harmony and Rhythm


© -  Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved

Gene Lees, an informed and informative Jazz author and critic from whom I learned so much about the music and its makers over the years, passed away on April 22, 2010.

On the second anniversary of his death, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles wanted to remember Gene on these pages with the following example of his insightful and instructive writing.

It’s always food-for-thought when reading Gene Lees on the subject of Jazz.

© -  Gene Lees, copyright protected; all rights reserved.



“Melody, harmony, and rhythm are all to be found within a single sound. Music is what the brain makes of the ordered processing of vibrations, i.e. rhythms. When you strike a guitar or bass or violin string, you seemingly hear one sound. But you hear many. The basic tone, the fundamental, is caused by the vibration of the string along its whole length. But that vibration subdivides, and in fast action photography, you can detect this phenomenon. There is a second vibration that is half the length of the string. It produces the first overtone. The next vibration divides the string into three parts, a sort of long S shape, giving the second overtone.

It is almost impossible not to know the do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do scale, that is to say the major scale. If you look at a piano, and start at middle C, which is the white note immediately below the grouping of two black keys, and go up the scale until you get to the C above it, you've played the do-re-mi scale in the key of C. In western harmony, chords are traditionally built by playing every other note, skipping the one in between: do-mi-so gives you a chord called the major triad. But re-fa-la gives you a minor triad. The major scale contains two major and three minor triads. Musicians think of the tones of a scale not as do-re-mi but in numbers, 1-2-3. So a simple C triad is made up of the 1, 3, and 5 of the scale. The two tones C and E constitute a major third. The interval 1 to 5 is called a perfect fifth.

It is the overtone series that determines our scale and harmonic system, and the timbre of our musical instruments. The overtones contained in a low C pile up in this series: C C1 G (the fifth of the scale) C2 E (the third), G2, B-flat C3, D, E, and an "out of tune" F-sharp (the raised eleventh — and also the flatted fifth), and more above that. Many musicians can actually hear a long way up the overtone series. If you analyze the lower tones in the series, you will see that they give you a dominant-seventh chord, the most gravitational in western music. Its natural tendency is to go to the chord built on the I of the scale, called the tonic triad.

Harmonic development in the vocabulary of Western music proceeded up the overtone series. Early music was triadic, and conventional country-and-western music still is. But composers began using more complex harmonies as time went on, and often they were considered crazy for doing so: the Fifth Symphony was called by some the final proof that Beethoven was insane. A Paris critic wrote: "Beethoven took a liking to uneuphonious dissonances because his hearing was limited and confused. Accumulations of notes of the most monstrous kind sounded in his head as acceptable and well-balanced combinations." Similar things would be said of Parker and Gillespie.

By the time of Richard Strauss, composers were using the harmonic extensions implicit in the overtone series. Debussy refined the method, arriving at the view that a chord didn't have to be "going" anywhere, as in Germanic music, but had meaning in and of itself. This produced a floating quality, which passed in time into the Claude Thornhill band, the writing of Gil Evans, the work of Miles Davis at his greatest period, and more.”

- Gene Lees, Jazzletter, March, 1999, Vol. 18, No. 3

Friday, April 20, 2012

Tony Bennett: “A Quality That Let’s You In”


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


“Jazz has always drawn on popular music for material, while at the same time influ­encing it. George Gershwin, Harold Arlen, and many other composers for Broadway and Tin Pan Alley have reflected that influence, along with many of the singers of their songs, among them Lee Wiley and Frank Sinatra. None has been more deeply affected by jazz than Tony Bennett, whose reverence for Louis Armstrong is manifest even in his vibrato.

Tony doesn't consider himself a jazz art­ist. Many of the jazz musicians who have worked with him would disagree, and the way he phrases, the way he feels time, the passion, the intensity of his work all reflect his love of jazz and commitment to the music. …

Tony considers that his finishing school was the Count Basie band, with which he toured. He always works with jazz musi­cians, and he recorded two exceptional albums with the late Bill Evans.

The creative passion often manifests itself in more than one art, and a number of jazz musicians—Miles Davis, Mel Pow­ell, George Wettling, John Heard — have been capable and, in some cases, excellent painters. Tony's oils sell for large sums.”
- Gene Lees

It is always cause for celebration when we feature more of Whitney Balliett’s beautifully crafted Jazz writings on these pages.

On this occasion, Whitney gives us a look at the early career of Tony Bennett who is still going strong over fifty years after this essay was published in Alec Wilder & His Friends, The Words and Sounds of … [Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1974].

The other artists whose “words and sounds” are the subject of Whitney’s pen in this book are Marian McPartland, Mabel Mercer, Bobby Hackett, Ruby Braff, [radio comedians] Bob and Ray, Blossom Dearie and Alec Wilder.

No one has ever written about Jazz more astutely and more eloquently than Mr. Balliett, nor has anyone written about it with more humility than Mr. Balliett who once said: “A critic is a bundle of biases held loosely together by a sense of taste, but intelligent readers soon discover how to allow for the windage of their own and a critic’s prejudices.”

© -  Whitney Balliett, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“As a child of radio and the Victrola, of the microphone and the recording, I have been listening most of my life to American popular singers, and their number and variety are astonishing and almost endless. Their names, which form an American mythology, come easily to mind: Russ Columbo, Whispering Jack Smith, Gene Austin, Jeanette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy, Sophie Tucker, Arthur Tracy, Al Jolson, Kate Smith, Rudy Vallee, Bessie Smith, Fred Astaire, Louis Armstrong, Mildred Bailey, Red McKenzie, Ivie Anderson, Ethel Waters, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Tony Martin, Ethel Merman, Johnny Mercer, Jack Teagarden, Dick Haymes, Josh White, Joe Turner, Jimmy Rushing, Mabel Mercer, the Boswell Sisters, the Andrews Sisters, the Mills Brothers, the Ink Spots, the Golden Gate Quartette, Helen Humes, Mary Martin, Ray Nance, Paul Robeson, Maxine Sullivan, Lee Wiley, Bob Eberly, Ray Eberle, Helen O'Connell, Woody Guthrie, Gene Autry, Pete Seeger, Johnny Cash, Eddy Arnold, Noble Sissle, Richard Dyer-Bennet, Helen Ward, Morton Downey, Martha Tilton, Helen Forrest, Frank Sinatra, Georgia Gibbs, Nat King Cole, Hoagy Carmichael, Anita O'Day, Kenny Baker, June Christy, Eddie Fisher, Frankie Laine, Vaughn Monroe, Frances Lang-ford, Sylvia Syms, Johnny Mathis, Rosemary Clooney, Lead-belly, Judy Garland, Dinah Shore, Billy Eckstine, Eartha Kitt, Buddy Greco, Peggy Lee, Harry Belafonte, Anita Ellis, Bo Diddley, Elvis Presley, Lena Home, Doris Day, Pearl Bailey, Perry Como, Margaret Whiting, Mel Torme, Jo Stafford, Tony Bennett, Blossom Dearie, Teddi King, Kay Starr, Patti Page, Carmen McRae, Jackie Cain and Roy Krai, Teresa Brewer, Dean Martin, Sarah Vaughan, Ray Charles, Mahalia Jackson, Bobby Short, Helen Merrill, Stella Brooks, Dinah Washington, Chris Connor, Andy Williams, Steve Lawrence, Eydie Gorme, Dionne Warwick, James Brown, B. B. King, Aretha Franklin, Joan Baez, Barbra Streisand, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Nina Simone, Glen Campbell, and Roberta Flack. They have, in the past forty years, become ubiquitous — on the radio, on records, on jukeboxes, in the movies, on the stage, in night­clubs, on television, and in concert halls. Indeed, they have created, as a huge, ceaselessly moving and changing body of troubadours, the most pervasive and familiar sounds in Ameri­can life. Many are famous, and some are among the most famous people of this century. Few adults in the western world are unaware of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra and Judy Gar­land and Nat King Cole and Tony Bennett and of the anthem status they have, respectively, given such songs as "White Christmas," "I'll Never Smile Again," "Over the Rainbow," "Nature Boy," and "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." One of the reasons for this unique, engulfing outpouring of song was the invention of the microphone, which, together with its handmaidens, radio and the recording, made two things pos­sible: omnipresent singing, and a successful singing career with­out a voice.   (Since then, a couple of generations of "micro­phone" singers have come along. 

Take away their mikes, and by and large their voices vanish.   Some notable examples: Blossom Dearie, Mel Torme, Mildred Bailey, and Chris Con­nor.)  

Another was the appearance in the tens and twenties and thirties of the first great American songwriters, such as Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Harold Arlen, Cole Porter, and George Gershwin; the lives of their countless marvelous songs were wholly dependent on being performed, and so a new and insatiable demand for more and better singers arose. Still another reason was our old habit of letting off excess emotional and romantic steam through singing.   (Never has there been more singing in this country than during the De­pression and the Second World War.)   Consider the minstrel singers, the cowboys,  the slaves who first sang blues  and spirituals, the young women who got off the latest Stephen Foster in the parlor of an evening, the hillbilly singers, the Irish and Neapolitan tenors, and the light classical singers such as John McCormack and Lawrence Tibbett. The first microphone singers were the crooners, who, with their patent-leather bari­tones and oily vibratos, evolved from the basically European singing of the McCormacks and Tibbetts in the twenties. And out of the crooners came Bing Crosby, who, cutting the silver cord to Europe, almost by himself invented American popular singing.

American popular singers range from the consummate to the regrettable.   Ella Fitzgerald can do anything with her voice, while Vaughn Monroe was bathetic. Most of them, though, share certain characteristics. Their voices tend to be home­made and friendly — the kind you feel like squeezing or shaking hands with. Their intonation is often weak and their breathing uncertain. Their phrases sometimes dangle. Their voices, which rarely have much coloration, are a complex mixture of cheerful intent, emotion, electronics, and bravado. But the popular singer's lack of technical aplomb is his great virtue, for it allows him to sing Kern and Porter and Gershwin as no highly trained singer can. Ezio Pinza oversang Richard Rodgers, while Tony Bennett undersings him in such a way that Rodgers' superb melodies seem to come to life on their own. Pinza inflated Rodgers' songs, but Bennett illuminates and aerates them.

Bing Crosby was the first popular singer to learn this trick, and he did it in large part by listening to jazz musicians. He listened to Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington (he recorded "St. Louis Blues" with Ellington in 1932), and he was tutored by Mildred Bailey when he was one of Paul Whiteman's Rhythm Boys. He hung out in Chicago with Bix Beiderbecke and Jimmy McPartland. He learned to sing legato, to phrase in a "lazy" fashion. He learned rubato and the orna­mental, open-glottal notes — the "aaums" and "oowoos" — that made every phrase he sang sound as if it started with a vowel. The great instrumentalists like Beiderbecke "sing" on their horns, and through them he was taught to flow melodically. He learned to make his comfortable, front-porch baritone appear capacious and important. In turn, he taught a generation of popular singers.

The best of them was Frank Sinatra. Sinatra had also listened to Armstrong and Mildred Bailey, but he had, as well, grown up on Billie Holiday and Mabel Mercer. (Popular singers such as Billie Holiday are in effect jazz singers, and are more like instrumentalists than vocalists. They use their materials not as harmonic and melodic maps but as departure points for elaborate, hornlike improvisations.) Sinatra was a more serious singer than Crosby, whose offhandedness some­times gave him an absentminded quality. At the outset of his career, Sinatra sang with Tommy Dorsey's band, and Dorsey, a lyrical player of the first order, taught him — in Dorsey's words — how to "drive a ballad." Sinatra's ballads, freed of Crosby's ornamentation and reverberative effects, took on an almost hymnlike dimension. He believed the lyrics he sang, and he delivered them with an intense, clean articulation. His voice was smaller and lighter than Crosby's, but his phrasing and immaculate sense of timing gave it a poise and stature Crosby's lacked.

Sinatra, in his turn, brought along another generation of popular singers, and the best of them is Tony Bennett. In­deed, Bennett has become the most widely admired American popular singer. Alec Wilder, who has known Bennett for twenty-five years, recently wrote, "The list of 'believers' isn't very long. But those who are on it are very special people. Among them, certainly, is Tony Bennett. But first I should say what I mean by a believer. He is one whose sights stay high, who makes as few concessions as he can, whose ideals will not permit him to follow false trails or fashions for notoriety's or security's sake, who takes chances, who seeks to convey, by whatever means, his affections and convictions, and who has faith in the power of beauty to survive, no matter how much squalor and ugliness seek to suppress it. I am close enough to him to know that his insistence on maintaining his musical con­victions has been far from easy. His effervescent delight in bringing to his audiences the best songs, the best musicians, the best of his singing and showmanship is apparent to anyone who has the good sense to listen to him in person or on records."

Wilder went on to ponder Bennett's singing: "There is a quality about it that lets you in. Frank Sinatra's singing mesmerizes you. In fact, it gets so symbolic sometimes that you can't make the relationship with him as a man, even though you may know him. Bennett's professionalism doesn't block you off. It even suggests that maybe you'll see him later at the beer parlor." For all that, Bennett, a ceaseless experimenter, is an elusive singer. He can be a belter who reaches rocking fortissimos. He drives a ballad as intensely and intimately as Sinatra. He can be a lilting, glancing jazz singer. He can be a low-key, searching supper-club performer. (He has gone through visual changes as well. He for a while affected a short haircut and was wont to come onstage with his shirt collar open and his jacket slung carefully over one shoulder. Now, with the disappearance of most of his hair — an occupational hazard that has likewise afflicted Crosby and Sinatra — he wears a variety of stunningly accomplished transformations. He also keeps his jacket on, and is often seen onstage in a necktie.)

But Bennett's voice binds all his vocal selves together. It is pitched slightly higher than Sinatra's (it was once a tenor, but it has deepened over the years), and it has a rich, expanding quality that is immediately identifiable. It has a joyous, jubilant quality, a pleased, shouting-within quality. It has, in a modest way, something of the hallelujah strain of Mahalia Jackson….

… Bennett is at the back table of the ground floor of the Amalfi, on East Forty-eight `Street. He has been eating at the Amalfi since the days, twenty and more years ago, when it was a one-room place on West Forty-seventh. Phil Rizzuto, the Yankee sportscaster and former Yankee shortstop, is a couple of tables away, and Bennett greets him and sends a drink to his table. Bennett is to sing a couple of songs at ten o'clock at a benefit, and he has ordered a light supper of macaroni shells stuffed with ricotta and a bottle of Chianti classico. Bennett has the sort of face that is easily sculptured by light.

In broad daytime, he tends to look jagged and awkwardly composed: his generous Roman nose booms and his pale green eyes become slits. But the subdued lighting in the Amalfi makes him handsome and compact. His eyes be­come melancholy and shine darkly, the deep lines that run past his mouth are stoical, and his nose is regal. His voice, though, never changes. It is a singer's voice — soft, slightly hoarse, and always on the verge of sliding into melody. Rizzuto calls over and thanks Bennett for the drink, and Bennett nods and raises his wineglass in Rizzuto's direction. "I'm not that crazy about singing at big benefits," Bennett says, "but Ed Sullivan, who's running this one, has been good to me and I like him. I like concert halls, and what I do now is pick the best halls here and abroad, and give just one concert on Friday night and one on Saturday. I do that about thirty weekends a year. It's much nicer working concert halls than nightclubs. The audience holds on to every inch of intonation and inflection. But night­clubs teach performers like me. They teach you spontaneity. They teach you to keep your sense of humor. They teach you to keep your cool. All of which I needed not long ago when I gave a concert in Buffalo and decided to experiment by not using a microphone. The hall isn't that big and they could hear me, but I guess without the microphone I just didn't sound like me. So people started shouting. But I remembered what Ben Webster —the great, late Ben Webster —once told me: ‘If I had it to do all over again, I'd leave my anger offstage.’ And I did. I went backstage and got a mike, and everything was all right. In addition to my concerts, I do television specials, like the one Lena Home and I did — just the two of us, no one else — a while back. It got very nice notices, which proves you just don't need all those trappings. I also work in Vegas, and at Bill Harrah's places in Lake Tahoe and Reno, for six weeks a year. Vegas is great, with all the performers on one strip, like a kind of super-Fifty-second Street. They can afford anything, and they treat performers marvelously. But Bill Harrah is fabulous. I think he started out with bingo parlors in Reno thirty-five years ago, and now he owns these big places in Tahoe and Reno and has a huge collection of classic cars. He meets you at the airport with a Rolls-Royce and gives you the keys to the car and a beautiful home with a pool. At the end of the engagement, he throws a party for you in his own home. It's like some kind of fantastic vacation."

Bennett takes a forkful of shells and a sip of wine. "It's beautiful not to compromise in what you sing, and yet I've done business since I had my first record hit for Columbia, in nine­teen fifty-one. I've always tried to do the cream of the popular repertoire and yet remain commercial. Hanging out with good songs is the secret. Songs like 'All the Things You Are' and 'East of the Sun' are just the opposite of singing down. And so are these lyrics, which Alec Wilder wrote and sent me a few days ago. He said if I liked them he'd set them to music. I think they're beautiful." Bennett pulled a sheet of onionskin letter paper out of his pocket. The lyrics read:

GIVE  ME  THAT  WARM  FEELING

Give me that warm feeling
That makes me believe again,
Give me that soft answer,
The kind you gave me way back when.
Give me some true kindness
That brightens the sky again.
Give me the best that's in you
And encouragement now and then.
Dust off those long-lost manners!
Bury ambition and guile!
Unfurl those lovely banners
Of virtue and laughter and style!
Give me that warm feeling,
Take off that impersonal glove.
Remember, remember, we're dealing
With that fair and that rare thing called love!

"I love singing too much to cheat the public. And I can't ever lose that spirit by listening to the money boys, the Broad­way wise guys who used to tell me, If you don't sing such-and-such, you'll end up with a classy reputation and no bread in the bank.' But if I lost that spirit, my feeling for music would run right out the window. It's this obsolescence thing in America, where cars are made to break down and songs written to last two weeks. But good songs last forever, and I've come to learn
that there's a whole group out there in the audience who's studying that with me. There's a greatness in an audience when it gets perfectly still. It becomes a beautiful tribal contact, a delicate, poetic thing. A great song does that. It also works two ways: the performer makes the song work, and the song inspires the performer.

"All kinds of things go through my head when I'm singing. I think of Joanna [his young daughter] a lot. I think of things from my past; I even see them. If I'm working in a beautiful place like Festival Hall, in London, I think of the great lighting, the great clusters of light, and they inspire me. If a song is truly believable, it be­comes a self-hypnosis thing. And when that happens I auto­matically start thinking a line ahead, like when I serve at tennis and am already thinking of the next shot. My concentration becomes heavy, so that if I forget the words I can do what Harold Arlen told me: 'Just make up new words in the right spirit and don't let anybody know, and you'll be all right.'

"I've always liked the Billie Holiday tradition of allowing the musicians you're working with to take charge and to solo, and my arrangements are always written that way. Jazz musicians create great warmth and feeling. When they play well, they make you sing, too. I've worked with Bobby Hackett and Woody Herman and Duke Ellington and Stan Kenton and Count Basie. And I've worked with Harry Edison and Jimmy Rowles and Tommy Flanagan and Zoot Sims and John Bunch and Billy Exiner. You can't beat the perfection of Basie. He even talks the way he plays: one or two words take care of conversation for the month. Like when he saw the distance he'd have to go to reach his piano on this tiny, miserable stage we were working on somewhere out West.  'Man, that's a long walk,' he said."

Bennett laughs, and tells the waiter, a diminutive carry-over from the old Amalfi, that he doesn't have time for espresso but that he will see him soon. He waves to Rizzuto. …


Bennett is due at three o'clock at a studio on Christopher Street, where he will rehearse with the Ruby Braff-George Barnes Quartet. The quartet is to ac­company him at Alice Tully Hall. Edith sets the table in the studio and brings in a chicken salad and a large glass of boysen-berry juice. "Man, tennis has nothing on that kiteflying," Ben­nett says. "But all that running around will make me sing better this afternoon. Maybe if I'd known about it a long time ago, it would have gotten my career going a lot faster. The way it was, I didn't become any sort of authoritative singer until I was twenty-seven. For seven years before that, I scuffled. After the war, I used the GI Bill to study at the American Theater Wing, where I worked on bel canto with Peter D'Andrea. And I studied voice with Miriam Speir. It was at her place I first met Alec Wilder. I never passed any auditions, and I worked as an elevator man at the Park Sheraton, in an uncle's grocery store, as a runner for the AP, and as a singing waiter out in Astoria, where I was born.

I was born in August of nineteen twenty-six, as Anthony Dominick Benedetto. I'm using Benedetto again to sign my paintings. We lived in a little two-story house in Astoria which is still there. My father came over from Italy in nineteen twenty-two, but I don't know much about him, because he died when I was nine. He had a grocery store on Fifty-second Street and Sixth Avenue, where the CBS Building is now. I remember he was a beautiful man, who was much loved by his family and friends. He had an open, warm voice, full of love and melody, and he sang beauti­fully. He'd always get the family out on Sundays to sing and dance. My mother, whose maiden name was Surace, was born down on Mott and Hester Streets, and she lives out in River Edge, New Jersey.

After my father died, she went to work in the garment district and put my brother and sister and me through school. She has spirit and that great gift of common sense. Judy Garland went crazy over her when she met her. I went to P.S. Seven and Junior High School One-forty-one, out in Astoria, and then I went to the High School of Industrial Arts, which used to be near the Waldorf-Astoria. It was way ahead of its time. I studied music and painting, and they'd work it so that you didn't have to be there every day, so long as you did your work. You could go over to the park and sketch trees. I had a music teacher named Sonberg, and he'd bring a Victrola into class and play Art Tatum records. Imagine that! It was around then I decided to be a singer.

Of course, I'd been singing all my life and in the shadow of show business. I had an uncle in Astoria who was a hoofer in vaudeville and worked for the Shuberts. He'd tell me about Harry Lauder and James Barton and how they were humble people who had their feet on the ground. He'd tell me about Bill Robinson and how he had to follow him once and it almost killed him. He'd tell me how the acts in those days honed their shows all the way across the country and back, so that when they finally got to the Palace in New York they were sharp and ready. I had my first professional job when I was thirteen, at one of those Saturday-night get-togethers at a Democratic club in Astoria, and later I sang at little clubs by myself when they'd let me."

(Harry Celentano, a bellman at the Algonquin, who went to school with Bennett, remembers those days: "He used to sing 'God Bless America' and The Star-Spangled Banner' in assemblies, and when he was a little older he'd go into places out there like the Horseshoe Bar and the Queen of Hearts — this quiet, shy little kid — and get up and sing all by himself. Some of us would go with him, and he'd stand there and sing 'Cottage for Sale' like a soft Billy Eckstine. We didn't take him seriously, and we'd shout and throw peanuts at him, but he never batted an eye. But he was also into art then. He would play hooky and draw these huge, beautiful murals right on the street, with chalk. Mothers and children would stop and watch, and they were amazed. Then we'd come along and play football over the mural, and that was that.")


The concert at Alice Tully the next evening is billed as "An Evening with Rodgers and Hart," and it is a smooth and en­gaging success. The hall is sold out, and the audience is hip. Bennett sings the verses of most of the songs, and by the time he gets a note or two into the chorus there is the applause of recognition. He is in a dinner jacket, and his stage manner is startlingly old-fashioned: he uses a hand mike, and he whips the cord around as though it were a lariat; he half-dances, half-falls across the stage during rhythm numbers; he salutes the audience and points at it. He is clumsy and at the same time delightful. He sings twenty-one Rodgers and Hart tunes, and many are memorable. He sings a soft, husky "Blue Moon," and then comes a marvelous, muted Ruby Braff solo. "There's a Small Hotel" is even softer, and Braff and George Barnes react with pianissimo statements. The group, indeed, is impeccable. The solos are beautiful, and the dynamics all anticipate Ben­nett's.

During Braff’s solo in "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," Bennett sits on a stool to the musicians' right, and near the end of "I Wish I Were in Love Again" he forgets his lyrics and soars over the wreckage with some good mumbo-jumbo and a fine crescendo. "Lover" is ingenious. Bennett sings it softly, at a medium tempo (it is usually done at top speed), then briefly takes the tempo up, and goes out sotto voce. He does "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" as an encore. The ovation is long and standing.

After a small backstage party, Bennett gets into his limousine and is driven home. He settles deep into a corner of the car. "It's what I used to dream of — a concert in a big hall like Alice Tully. But it hasn't all been smoothness since I started doing business. When I had my first record hits, in the early fifties, I suddenly found myself with an entourage, most of them takers. And I didn't like it. Maurice Chevalier was doing a one-man show here around then, and all he had was a piano and a hat, and that made me realize I was off on the wrong

foot. Then I've been through a divorce and done a little time on the psychiatrist's couch. But I don't think I need that. Most of the people who go to psychiatrists, their hearts and minds have never caught on to any one desire. I never had that problem. But I had a different one when Frank Sinatra came out in Life and said I was the greatest singer around. Sophie Tucker once told me, 'Make sure that helium doesn't hit your brain,' but it did, and for several years, to match up to his praise, I overblew, I oversang. But I've found my groove now. I'm solidifying everything, and working toward my own com­pany. You learn how to hang on to money after a while. I like to live well, but I'm not interested in yachts and fancy cars. There are things I'm searching for, but they won't take a day. I'd like to attain a good, keen intellect.

Alec Wilder set one of William Blake's poems to music for me, and I was reading Blake last night. Imagine being that talented and feeling so much at the same time! I'd like to make more movies. I played a press agent in The Oscar, and I loved the whole make-believe about it. I'd like my own regular TV show, which would be devoted to good music. None of that stuff with the musicians off camera and the shots full of dancers.

I like the funny things in this life that could only happen to me now. Once, when I was singing Kurt Weill's 'Lost in the Stars' in the Hollywood Bowl with Basic's band and Buddy Rich on drums, a shooting star went falling through the sky right over my head, and every­one was talking about it, and the next morning the phone rang and it was Ray Charles, who I'd never met, calling from New York. He said 'Hey, Tony, how'd you do that, man?' and hung up."”


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Stanley Turrentine is in "A Kettle of Fish"

Tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine takes on Oliver Nelson's arrangement of "A Kettle of Fish" with Herbie Hancock doing the honors on piano and Grady Tate booting things along in the drum chair. Checkout Oliver's marvelous "shout chorus" beginning at 3.27 minutes and repeated again at 3:44. Click on the "X" to close out of the advertisments.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Hal McKusick 1924-2012: A Tribute

Hal McKusick overdubbing all the saxes on Benny Golson's "Whisper Not" with Bill Evans on piano, Milt Hinton on bass and Osie Johnson on drums. Ernie Wilkins did the arrangement.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Review of Harlem Jazz Adventures: A European Baron’s Memoir, 1934-1969.


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


“This book is not a sociological or jazz-historical work; it is not a refer­ence book on the evolution of jazz over the ages. There are lots of those!

This is a book about my adventures during many, and sometimes long, visits to the jazz capital of New York; about the thrill it has been to meet the great and lesser jazz musicians and their friends. It had to be a happy book about happy people and their music, and it is written by a happy man who is happy because he has been lucky enough to get close to that world, even to live the life he had, so to say, chosen as his own.”
- Baron Timme Rosenkrantz

Every time I’m the least bit inclined to forget bassist and Jazz author Bill Crow’s admonition that “Jazz should be fun,” something comes along to remind me of the import of this remark.

Most recently, it came in the form of Fradley Garner’s superb English adaptation of Timme Rosenkrantz’s Harlem Jazz Adventures: A European Baron’s Memoir, 1934-1969.

As these dates denote, Mr. Rosenkrantz, a Danish baron, spent a good portion of his life in New York City when Jazz was first coming into existence and he offers exciting and enthusiastic glimpses of this time-gone-by in the thirty-six vignettes that comprises the chapters of his memoirs.

Each chapter is a short essay and collectively they form an episodic stroll through the Jazz clubs, theaters and gin joints of Harlem [and later 52nd Street] during its heyday as the “must visit destination” for any Jazz fan.

Mr. Rosenkrantz’s lovely stories are also a brilliant example of the power of one of William Zinsser’s key points in his On Writing Well when he enjoins us to “ … let the person speak to the reader in his own words.”

The very manageable chapters and the cozy manner in which the stories contained in them are told create a much welcomed first-person narrative at a time when many of the books being published on the subject of Jazz are overly analytic and coldly academic in nature.

Credit for the engaging “tone and tenor” of Mr. Rosenkrantz’s memoirs must be given to Mr. Fradley Garner for his brilliant English translation/adaptation which is replete with a number of explanatory footnotes that help make the book even more lucid.


And while Mr. Rosenkrantz’s commercial Jazz ventures [record producer, record shop owner, concert producer, Jazz club owner] ultimately failed causing him to comment – “You can say I was born under an unlucky star if you want to.” – he’s quick to also acknowledge: “But every so often that star shone brightly and made up for all the sunshine that I slept through.” [p. 186].

Mr. Rosenkrantz was to experience first-hand the old adage: “The best way to make a million dollars in Jazz is to start with two million!”

Yet, it’s difficult to feel too sorry for him, as based on the experiences he shares in his book, Mr. Rosenkrantz met everyone who was anybody in the world of Jazz during its formative years and had the time of his life while doing so.

If this book is a testimonial to anything, it is to the fact that Mr. Rosenkrantz definitely knew how to have fun with Jazz.

Judging from a reading of Mr. Rosenkrantz’s anecdotes, tales and yarns, perhaps the book might have been alternately subtitled: A Danish Baron’s Book of Enchantments, Revelations and Amusements in The Land of Jazz.”

Take for example the title of the work’s very first chapter: Get Off at 125th Street and God Be with You” which refers to the warning given by his midtown Manhattan hotel clerk when Mr. Rosenkrantz’s asked subway directions to uptown Harlem during his very first trip to New York in 1934.

“God certainly was with” Mr. Rosenkrantz for over the next thirty-five years he was to meet and, in many cases, become personal friends with Jazz luminaries such as Don Redman, Chick Webb, John Hammond, Benny Carter, Billie Holiday, Adrian Rollini, Benny Goodman, Willie “The Lion” Smith, Art Tatum, Fats Waller, Mezz Mezzrow, Eddie Condon, James P. Johnson, Slim Gailliard and Slam Stewart, W.C. Handy, Stuff Smith, Erroll Garner, Mildred Bailey, Bud Powell, and most especially – Duke Ellington – whom he [I think] correctly refers to as “The King of Jazz.”


Among the book’s many, other enchantments are the following stories from Mr. Rosenkrantz:

- “I'll never forget that first 1934 visit to Harlem!

I walked upstairs from the subway platform at the corner of 125th Street and Lenox Avenue and blinked twice as I stepped out on the sidewalk. I felt as if I had entered another world. Huge neon signs blinked around me and over me. Beckoning shop windows caught my eye. The traffic was frightening. Music blared from every open shop door. You might think you were standing on Times Square, Piccadilly Circus, or—stretching the imagi­nation—Vesterbrogade, Copenhagen's main street, except for the people around you. They were all people of color. A solid mass of blacks, browns, yellows, grays moved along the broad avenue with a swinging, rhythmic gait that held this Nordic visitor in a trance. Their clothing was gay, their faces animated, their voices rang in the February evening air, as they fairly skipped along under the trees (now uprooted) on Lenox Avenue.

Following the crowd, I walked up the street, past several big movie houses, and suddenly, there I was standing in front of the Apollo Theater.

The Apollo was the last variety theater in New York City. Here the colossal show goes on at ten in the morning and runs nonstop until two the next morning—and to think I had wasted nearly my whole first day in con­versations, cafeterias, and clouds!

In the lineup were the greatest black artists in the world—singers, danc­ers, comedians, strong men and weak women, balancing acts, jugglers, and magicians. And the best Negro bands of the day—plus, of course, a line of the prettiest and darkest chorus girls this white man has ever seen.

And there was nearly always a full house. The program ran over two hours and changed every Friday. In between performances, they showed some Mickey Mouse films and newsreels and a feature film, something with lots of action. The black audience—and it's almost entirely black—demands action. Something has to happen!

Still and all, the films were so bad, I still believe they were chosen to empty the house. They usually succeeded.

My first night, there was a big revue with Don Redman's Orchestra as the main attraction, costarring with the Mills Brothers, those fantastic tap dancers the Step Brothers, and a funny, blues-singing comedian, Pigmeat Markham. He later gained TV fame on the Ed Sullivan Show….” [pp. 14-15] …


- “And then Billie Holiday came on. I shall never forget her, standing there in the dim spotlight. Young and beautiful as a dream, her sensitive, full lips half open; those almond eyes almost closed, as if she were having a blissful dream. Her voice wasn't big, but it crept under your skin and stayed there. She sang like an instrument—sometimes like the softest plea of a saxophone, sometimes like the shrill command of a trumpet. Never had I heard anybody sing like this. You sat there, almost clenching your fists in ecstasy. Her way of phrasing the words was so different, yet so right. You instantly knew that this was the way a jazz lyric should be treated. That voice clutched you like coiled fingers.” [pp. 43-44]


- “Anyone who knew Fats loved him. He had a heart of gold. No one came to him in vain when they were needy. No one could resist his always buoyant and contagious spirit. His laugh could be heard for miles around.

I remember one of our mutual friends, Adrian, a young Dutch composer of whom Fats was very fond. Adrian had come over to New York to try to make it as a composer and arranger, but nothing was happening. To make ends meet, he had taken a job as a wastepaper basket emptier in an office. One night, when the three of us were together, Adrian started dreaming out loud. "If only I could afford to rent a little piano, I could really start writing some tunes and working on arrangements, and get out of that office. It's killing me!"

The very next morning two moving men showed up at Adrian's doorstep bearing a new grand piano. With love from Fats. It had a great sound. I'm sure Fats had taken the time to choose it personally. In fact, he came by often to play it himself, much to the joy of everyone within hearing range on West 87th Street. At least Fats wasn't to blame for our European friend never mak­ing it. "The Flying Dutchman" managed to do a few arrangements and place them, but at last hearing, Adrian was still trying to get paid.” [p. 75]

And here are some of the book’s revelations as recounted by Mr. Rosenkrantz:

- “C-R-R-R-R-R-R-ASH! An ear-splitting drumroll unfolded into a cymbal crash at the other end of the ballroom. Then the orchestra fell in, heralding the arrival of a little hunchback drummer, the greatest in the world, Chick Webb. Something happened to me I shall never forget, impossible to put into words. Only to be felt. And I’ve learned a great drummer is to be felt before he is heard. Chick seemed to turn a light on in me.” [p. 19]


- “Young Garner's father was a singer who played several instruments, as did his older brother, Linton. Erroll was an entirely self-taught musician who hit the keys when he was three years old and never did learn how to read mu­sic. But he played like no other pianist, and his flamboyant style was a delight to the ears. He would start a ballad with a long, discordant introduction that didn't even hint at the melody to come. At last when he swung into it, his left hand lay down chords like a guitar, keeping up a steady pulse, while his right hand never seemed to catch up, improvising chords or playing octaves that lagged way behind the beat for the rest of the number. Just a pinch of Fats Waller added spice.

I was fascinated by this fellow's joyously swinging piano, and I sought him out while Louis Prima was on. Erroll was anything but happy. He didn't know many people in New York and was downhearted. No one was inter­ested in listening to him—Louis Prima was the showman attraction. And Erroll was only making forty dollars a week!

He told me he thought he'd go home soon, as it seemed nothing was going to happen for him in New York. Somehow, I had to stop him. I invited him home to 7 West 46th Street, showed him my rented Krakaur grand, and once he got started, it was impossible to pry him off the bench. Little did I know at the outset that he had a bad case of asthma and couldn't sleep lying down!” [p. 176]


- “An odd commentary on the vicissitudes of life is the fact that Ellington does not like the business of getting from one place to another. He cannot sleep on trains, ships, or in cars, and he especially dislikes flying. Constant traveling for forty years has not changed him at all. Approximately 14,650 sleepless nights account for those heavy bags under his eyes. Come to think of it, he doesn't like to go to bed at home, either. Life fascinates him so much, it seems a terrible waste of time. He just seems to thrive on not sleeping!

On the road, he prefers to play cards with the bandsmen, very often winning all their loot—but he is a gracious loser, too. Until recently, when he bought an apartment in a skyscraper on New York's Central Park West, Duke had a modest little flat on Harlem's Sugar Hill. He fell for New York the first time he glimpsed the bright lights—which, to his imaginative soul, were an Arabian Night's dream.

A born big-city man, he has a deep-seated dislike for expanses of green grass, saying they remind him of cemeteries. Can't bear any kind of outdoor sports; regarded the walk down three flights of stairs in his old Harlem apart­ment as his daily constitutional; laughingly describes himself as "a hot-house flower."

"You have to be careful, Timme," he once told me. "There's nothing more dangerous than fresh-air poisoning!"”[pp. 158-59]

The following excerpts are examples of the book’s many amusements:

- “Pod's and Jerry's, also known as the Log Cabin, at 133rd Street near the corner of Seventh Avenue, was usually the last stop for uptowners and down­towners alike. Here you could bump into celebrities like Tallulah Bankhead, Frederick March, Franchot Tone (or his mother, playing drums), and other New York theater people and Tin Pan Alley types. Many had been slumming at the Cotton Club, where they watched floorshows featuring the Duke El­lington, Cab Galloway, or Jimmie Lunceford orchestras. They'd show up in top hats and tails or dripping in ermines. As a rule, they circulated incognito, wearing oversize sunglasses to make themselves unrecognizable, which never worked nor was it intended to.

This scene inspired Don Redman to write a tune, "Take Off Those Dark Glasses, We Know Who You Are!" Confronted by one of those notables, Harlemites would chant the melody.”[p. 27]


- “A few years ago, Eddie Condon made a tour of the British Isles that is still remembered. With him he had his jug buddies Wild Bill Davison and George Wettling. The tour turned into a contest of how much liquor can be consumed while playing trad jazz. Who won I don't have to guess: Eddie had no peers. But nobody seemed to mind, for this was a very special occa­sion—the very first time the Brits had heard a stomp-down, sure-enough, live Dixieland band….

Arriving in a principal city, they were met early in the morning by the I press, who tracked them to their hotel. They found Eddie in bed with the hangover of all time. He could hardly move, but the interview was important, and the road manager let the scribes in. Eddie lay flat on his back with his hat on. "Go on, shoot!" he growled. Anything else he mumbled was lost as he faded away.

"Mr. Condon, wouldn't it be better if you sat up a wee bit in bed, so we can hear what you are saying?" ventured one of the chaps.

Condon's eyelids stayed at half-mast as he cracked open his lips and croaked, "What the hell do you think I am, man, an athlete?" [pp. 153-54]


- “The New York Herald Tribune [subsequently, The International Herald Tribune] once gave a luncheon in honor of Louis Armstrong at one of the fashionable Paris restaurants. Many prominent people from the literary world and theater were there, as well as music critics and reporters from all over the continent. Louis had asked me to come along.

It was a typical American luncheon with hamburger steaks and three different kinds of ice water. I think Louis had a side order of red beans and rice, his favorite fruits.

There were many speeches, and Armstrong was praised in as many dif­ferent accents.

Then it was Louis's turn to say a few words. Somebody had asked him what his greatest thrill had been on this latest European tour. Louis answered:
"Last week we were playing in Rome. We gave a great concert and those Italian cats went crazy. We could’ve filled the Forum, no question about that, if they had repaired it! Well, the next day my wife, Lucille, and I had a private audience with the Pope. And it knocked us out, man! I told His Holi­ness about my music and about my Swiss Kriss (a laxative), which moves me almost as much as the music, and he was real great, you know?

"'What a beautiful wife you have!' the Pope says. 'Do you have any children?'

"'No, Pops,' I told him. 'But we're still working on it.' And do you know, the Pope fell o-u-t!

And so did everybody at the luncheon party.” [pp. 127-28]

Socrates once said that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” to which, an acceptable corollary might be: the unlived life is not worth examining.

No words could form a better description of the “Jazz Life” lived by Baron Timme Rosenkrantz as depicted in Harlem Jazz Adventures: A European Baron’s Memoir, 1934-1969.

As Jazz approaches the beginning of its second century, don’t miss you chance to read about what it was like soon after it all began.

For information on ordering the book, go here.