Monday, April 30, 2012

“Norman’s Conquests:” Gene Lees on Norman Granz


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


Very few people have done as much for Jazz or have been as important to the music and its makers as Norman Granz.

Many of the reasons why this is so are explained and recounted in the following essay by Gene Lees which is excerpted from his biography Oscar Peterson: The Will To Swing [London: Macmillan, 1988]

It is a privilege and an honor to have Gene Lees and Norman Granz – two of our enduring heroes – features on these pages.

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

From the time they first met, Oscar Peterson … never made an important career decision without consulting Norman Granz. With the possible exception of the long association of Louis Armstrong with Joe Glaser, there has never been an instance in jazz of so long a relationship between an artist and manager, and certainly not one involving so close a personal friendship.

In 1955, noting that jazz had achieved in a short time a notable degree of acceptance as an art form, with a jazz course instituted at North Texas State University, the appearance of Oscar Peterson at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival in Canada, performances by Dizzy Gillespie in Yugoslavia and by Louis Armstrong in Africa's Gold Coast (later Ghana), Leonard Feather wrote in Esquire mag­azine:

"That jazz, which a decade ago was hardly ever heard in a con­cert hall, far less recognized by the U.S. government, could have reached this summit of prestige and propaganda value was aston­ishing to some, incomprehensible to others. To many observers, however, it may have seemed like nothing more or less than a logi­cal outgrowth of the efforts on the part of one man to launch jazz as an international commodity. The man in question is Norman Granz, an irascible, slangy, expensively-casually-dressed, impul­sive, epicurean, much-hated and much-loved man who, at 38, is not only the world's foremost jazz impresario, but also can claim to have made more money exclusively from jazz than anyone else in its relatively short and turbulent history.

"Granz, who has often stated that his objectives are, in the order of their importance, to make money, to combat racial prejudice and to present good jazz, is an enigma whose many-sided character is known only to a few friends, mostly musicians who have worked for him over an extended period."

He has been described as a tight man with a dollar and bearer of grudges. His relations with the press have sometimes been abra­sive. Ted Williams, the great jazz photographer who was then on staff at Ebony, recalls that once in Chicago, angry for some reason at press photographers, Granz imposed the ingenious punishment of covering the spotlights with red gels, knowing that black-and-white film will not register red light. So the cameramen were effec­tively barred from photographing the concert. Many people, how­ever, cite examples of Granz's generosity, particularly to musicians whose work he values.

Oscar once said, "Norman is shy. People mistake this for arro­gance."

Granz is tall - six feet - and good-looking. His hair had thinned by his thirties. His eyebrows, which have repeatedly been described as Mephistophelean, curl up at their outer ends. Leo­nard Feather, in his Esquire portrait, noted his expression of "aloof disdain" and the succession of "pouting blondes" in Granz's life.

Granz was born in Los Angeles August 6, 1918, which makes him, like Oscar, a Leo. His family at the time lived near the Central Avenue area. They moved down the coast to Long Beach, where his father owned a department store, and later to the Boyle Heights district of central Los Angeles, a lower-middle-class area, where the family knew straitened circumstances after his father lost the store in the Depression.

Granz reminisced about Long Beach to Feather, saying it was "predominantly a Midwestern community in its thinking. We were one of about half a dozen Jewish families in the whole city. I remember there used to be a gag about all the retired businessmen from Iowa settling in Long Beach. And I think I remember the Ku Klux Klan used to parade there in their nightshirts. But I don't recall that it had any influence on me at all at the time. I suppose that the reason I can mix so easily with minority members arose from my playing with the kids on Central Avenue, when it was a heterogeneous district with all minorities represented.'' Granz says of the later part of his youth, "Mickey Cohen and I came from the same area in Boyle Heights. Mickey Cohen became a gangster; I didn't. Nobody forced him to become what he became."

Granz was graduated from Roosevelt High in Boyle Heights in 1935. He went to work in a brokerage office to earn the money to study at UCLA. "There was never enough money for a car," he told Feather, "so I spent the better part of my life in buses and streetcars. During daylight-saving time, with a three-hour time difference (between Los Angeles and New York) and Wall Street opening at ten, I'd have to be at work at six a.m. to get the board clean for a seven a.m. opening. In those days the clerks worked with chalk and chamois; we had no automatic boards. And during that time I played basketball at UCLA and stayed up at nights studying." Granz picked up invaluable financial insights during his days in that brokerage house.

Granz joined the United States Army Air Corps some months prior to Pearl Harbor. "The war was already on in Europe," he told me in 1987. "And I felt we would be drawn into it. They were put­ting out notices on the campus that if you enlisted, you could choose your branch of service. So I enlisted. It was obvious in the days after Pearl Harbor that I wasn't going to become a pilot. They gave you a choice. You could become a bombardier or get out of the Air Corps and wait for your draft call.

"So I took my discharge. I went to New York and discovered 52nd Street."

At the time, 52nd Street was like some kind of incredible fer­mentation vat for jazz. It was possible for Granz to walk from one club to another to see one great jazz player after another - many of whom he would later produce on records.

"Then I came back to Los Angeles," he continued, "and began to book my jam sessions at the Trouville Club. I got drafted about May, and I got Basie and Nat Cole to play for the draftees. Then I got shipped to Texas. I applied for officer's training. They did an IQ test on you and another for mechanical aptitude. I proved to be not very mechanical, but I apparently got a good score on the IQ and it looked like I was going to go to officer's training. The army was very segregated in those days, and I had begun to mix with a lot of the black GIs. My reputation for that had already begun with the night-clubs. And I found out I wasn't going to officer's training.

"As a company clerk, I had access to a lot of literature. I came across a regulation that said if you had applied for officer's training and been rejected, you could apply for a discharge on the grounds that if you weren't good enough to be an officer you weren't good enough for the army, which I thought was extremely strange rea­soning. But I applied for it and got my discharge in 1943 and started my things in Los Angeles." He was twenty-four years old. Granz had been a big-band fan until he heard the famous Coleman Hawkins record of Body and Soul in 1939. This remarkable record­ing was one of the harbingers of the bebop revolution that would arrive within five years. In any case, it was Granz's introduction to small-group jazz at its most creative.

But his reason for becoming an impresario, he has repeatedly said, was less a love of music than a sense of social outrage. Though black jazz musicians were playing all over Los Angeles, they were doing so largely before white audiences - many places would not let blacks enter as customers. This condition existed in Chicago, Kansas City, and most American cities. In Los Angeles, the discrimination was as fully institutionalized as it was in the American South: it was the firm and simple policy of night-clubs not to admit black patrons. And, as we have noted, the same policy often applied in Canadian clubs and dance halls.

Granz had been presenting occasional jam sessions at the Trou­ville Club, in the Beverly-Fairfax area of Los Angeles. He was par­ticularly disturbed by the tears of Billie Holiday after its manage­ment refused to let some of her black friends come in to hear her.

Finally, Granz went to Billy Berg, a well-known night-club operator, with a proposal. Granz was aware that a new union ruling required that regularly employed musicians be given one night a week off. "Give me Sunday nights when the club is dark and the house band is off," he told Berg, "and I’ll give you a jam session and a crowd of paying customers." Berg expressed interest.

Granz attached three conditions to the deal. First, rather than use drop-in musicians playing for pleasure, he wanted the players to be employed and paid, which would allow him to advertise them in advance; second, tables were to be placed on the dance floor, which would make it impossible to do anything but listen; third, the club would be opened to black as well as white patrons, and not only on Sunday night but all week. Berg agreed.

"I think the cats got $6 each," Granz recalled. "And those were good days for getting musicians in Los Angeles. Duke Ellington's band was around town; Jimmie Lunceford's men were available; Nat Cole, who had the trio at the 331 Club, was my house pianist; Lester Young and his brother Lee were regulars."

Drummer Lee Young described Granz at that time as "a real Joe College type, with the brown-and-white shoes, the open collar, the sweater and the general Sloppy Joe style; he was just a guy that was always around, and at first we wondered what he did for a living. He was a lone wolf. We'd drink malteds together - neither of us ever drank liquor - and before long I'd be going over to his side of town and he'd be visiting mine, and we'd be playing tennis."

The late Nat Cole knew Granz as far back as 1941. "He'd bring a whole bunch of records over and we'd listen to them together and have dinner," Cole told Leonard Feather. Cole's stature as a singer has completely overshadowed his importance as a pianist. Cole was to have an enormous influence on Oscar Peterson, and on Bill Evans as well, which fact alone defines him as one of the substantial formative forces in jazz history. He had not begun to sing when Granz first knew him. Cole said: "He had that sloppy Harvard look, and even in those days he wouldn't knuckle down to anybody. A lot of people disliked him, but I understood his attitude; he just knew what he wanted and exactly how he was going to get it. I remember when the booking agents used to call him a capitalistic radical, which of course wasn't right."


Sunday became Billy Berg's most lucrative night of the week, a success that was not unnoticed by other club owners. Other clubs had different dark nights, and Granz set up a circuit of them for his musicians, putting himself in an advantageous situation with own­ers, for whom he made money, and with musicians, whom he was able to offer four or five nights of work a week.

In early 1944, Granz initiated a series of jazz concerts at a place called Music Town in South Los Angeles. He presented, along with his regulars, musicians from visiting bands, including the tenor saxophonist Illinois Jacquet, at that time known chiefly for his work with Lionel Hampton and Cab Galloway.

At this time, twenty-one young Chicanos had been arrested after what the press called the "Zoot Suit Riots," charged with murder, convicted, and imprisoned in San Quentin. The case became a cause celebre in southern California, and a defence fund was established. Granz remembered: "There were so many kids accused that it smacked of a prejudice case. Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth and a lot of other Hollywood people were involved in the thing, which was called the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee. I didn't even remember where Sleepy Lagoon was, and I didn't know what the hell was going on with the case, but it did seem to be a prejudice case, and this was a chance to try out one of my ideas, which was to put on a jazz concert at the Philharmonic."

The concert was held at Philharmonic Auditorium on a Sunday afternoon in July. The cast of musicians included Nat Cole, who was on the verge of enormous commercial success; Les Paul, then known as a jazz guitarist, who would later sell his highly commer­cial overdubbed guitar-and-vocal records in the millions; pianist Meade Lux Lewis, one of the great boogie-woogie masters; and saxophonist Jacquet, whose screaming high notes, according to Down Beat, sent the audience of young people wild. The concert raised $500 for the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Fund.

For the rest of that year Granz presented Jazz at the Philhar­monic as a monthly event. The following year, as World War Two approached its end, he took his company of players on a tour of the West Coast, which got as far as Victoria, British Columbia - and heard Oscar for the first time, on a juke-box. "But it broke me," Granz said. "I had to hock everything I owned to get the musicians back." It should be noted that other impresarios in similar condi­tions have been known to leave their artists stranded. It is also nota­ble that Granz by now had something to hock.

His reverses were temporary. He was about to become a significant factor in the record industry.

Granz had tried to sell various companies on releasing material recorded in his Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) concerts. Experi­enced record men thought the idea was ridiculous - you didn't put out "live" recordings of concerts complete with applause and other audience noises.

Granz went to New York carrying a stack of his JATP record­ings. This was before the general use of electromagnetic tape in the record industry, and the music was on bulky twelve-inch acetate discs. He opened the Yellow Pages of the telephone directory at record companies, the first one of which, in the alphabetical sequence, happened to be Asch Records, owned by the late Moses Asch. Granz telephoned him and made an appointment. He was trying to sell records from another session he had supervised, this one by singer Ella Logan. Asch had no interest in this material but, as Granz was about to leave his office, asked about the other batch of records he was carrying under his arm. Granz unwrapped and played How High the Moon from one of his JATP concerts. "Asch flipped," Granz recalled to Feather. "He put the records out as Volume One of Jazz at the Philharmonic, and it was incredibly pop­ular. I imagine it sold about 150,000 albums, but I never got an accounting, because Asch eventually not only lost the rights, he lost his whole company."

The record, which featured a long solo by Illinois Jacquet and the drumming of Gene Krupa - billed as "Chicago Flash" because he was under contract to another label, though most young jazz fans knew who it was - had an enormous impact. This was the first jazz-concert recording ever issued. (The recording of the famous Benny Goodman 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall was not released until 1950.) And How High the Moon became for a time a sort of national anthem of jazz.

The period saw the sundown of the big bands and rising interest in small-group jazz played by veterans of those bands. Granz was the right man at the right place at the right time to take advantage of the situation. One of the main causes of the decline of the big bands was the spreading business failure of the ballrooms and dance pavilions that operated on the outskirts of cities all over North America, which in turn was caused by the conspiracy of automotive, tire, and road-building interests to buy up and dis­mantle the superb interurban trolley systems that, among other things, carried young audiences to those locations. Jazz had to take to the night-clubs in small-group formats: there was nowhere else for it to go, excepting concert halls.

And it was Granz who opened their stage doors for jazz musicians. He was the first producer to present small-group jazz with the emphasis on improvisation, as opposed to the orchestrated big-band form of it, in a touring com­pany. After the success of How High the Moon, Granz's players began criss-crossing the continent.

In 1947, when he was twenty-nine, Granz met a tall blonde girl named Loretta Snyder Sullivan, who was passing out leaflets at a JATP concert in Saginaw, Michigan. Granz proposed to her the next night. They were married almost a year later, and in 1949, in Detroit, she became the mother of his daughter. They were divorced in 1952. Loretta later complained that he never took his mind off his business.

"Moreover," she told Feather, "I was ill-advised enough to tell him I disliked some of his records."

From the very beginning, Granz was criticized for appealing to the lowest level of jazz-audience taste, with emphasis on the high-note tenor of Illinois Jacquet and, later, drum battles between Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich.

"The critics used to review the audience as harshly as the musi­cians," Granz told writer John McDonough in an interview pub­lished in Down Beat in 1979. "They criticized them for cheering too loud, whistling too much and so on. And they accused the musicians and myself of soliciting this kind of behavior from the crowds.
I used to answer reviews like that, because they ignored so many other aspects of the presentation. They said Illinois Jacquet and Flip Phillips played differently in the jam sessions than they did with [Lionel] Hampton or Woody Herman. That was non­sense. Critics would ignore a set by Lennie Tristano, hardly a panderer to public tastes; a set by Ella Fitzgerald, who did mostly ballads; or a set by Oscar Peterson or the Modern Jazz Quartet."

Granz would sometimes stride angrily onstage and tell an audi­ence the concert would not continue until they became quiet. The jazz fans of Paris are notoriously unruly, and Granz had one of his most memorable confrontations with a crowd there, at the Theatre des Champs Elysees.

Clarinetist Buddy de Franco was performing with the Oscar Peterson Trio. "The French felt that no white man could play jazz anyway," Granz said as he recalled the incident. "Buddy got into a solo on Just One of Those Things" - Granz always remembers what tune was being played at the time of any given incident - "and just couldn't get out of it. That happens to people sometimes. It was a very fast tempo, and Buddy just kept going. The trio started to exchange glances. The audience began to get restless, then they started whistling and throwing coins. I don't know how they stopped it, I think Oscar just went clunk on the piano and ended it. Buddy came offstage just shaking, he was very hurt. And I got mad.

"I got out a chair and went out onstage and sat down. First of all, I told them I wasn't going to speak French to them. And then I said, 'Okay, and I'll tell you something else. You paid me a certain amount of money for two hours of music. I already have your money in my pocket, and I am not going to give it back. This con­cert ends at five o'clock. Whether you want to listen to this yelling or to music is up to you.' And gradually they began to shush each other up, which is the way it had to be done, and the concert went on.

"I had a number of friends at that concert. One of them was the screenplay writer Harry Kurnitz. He said to me afterwards, 'I've never seen anything like it. That's the first time anybody ever got the best of a French audience.'"

In 1955, Granz said, "I don't like to talk about exciting an audi­ence, because it always implies melting. Jazz has always been, to me, fundamentally the blues and all the happy and sad emotions it arouses. I dig the blues as a basic human emotion, and my concerts are primarily emotional music. I've never yet put on a concert that didn't have to please me, musically, first of all. I could put on as cerebral a concert as you like, but I'd rather go the emotional route. And do you know, the public's taste reflects mine - the biggest flop I've ever had in my life was the tour I put on with some of the cere­bral musicians like Dave Brubeck and Gerry Mulligan."

That statement takes on a certain irony when read today: not long thereafter the Dave Brubeck Quartet became so hugely suc­cessful that it made the cover of Time and fell under criticism for "being commercial." And Gerry Mulligan would become compar­ably popular; Granz would himself record Mulligan.

In earlier times, jazz was kept firmly segregated: white players never appeared onstage with black players, except in after-hours clubs where they could go to jam. The first integrated orchestra was organized in 1937 in Scheveningen, Holland, by Benny Car­ter, who used white European and black American and Caribbean jazz players. Within a few years, Benny Goodman was featuring Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson, and Charlie Christian with his band, Artie Shaw hired Hot Lips Page, and Tommy Dorsey hired Sy Oliver - all examples of black players joining white bands. Finally, Count Basic hired Buddy Rich, an early example of a white player in a black band, and Dizzy Gillespie from his early days as a leader manifested indifference to color in his hiring practices.

Granz perceived that integrating the performers was not enough: audiences had to be integrated as well. And he used the economic power that JATP gave him to do it. Promoters seeking to book his concerts were presented with contracts forbidding dis­crimination at the door. JATP played the first concert for an integrated audience in the history of Charleston, South Carolina. Granz cancelled a New Orleans concert when he learned that while blacks were being sold tickets, they would be segregated from the white audience. He put his artists up at the best hotels, often hotels that had previously been barred to blacks, and moved them from one engagement to another by airline, rather than the long dreary bus rides that are among the many ordeals of the jazz life, and on at least one known occasion he chartered a plane to get his company out of a southern city after a concert rather than let it spend a night under Jim Crow conditions.

In 1947, Granz set up the first of what would prove to be a series of record companies, Clef Records, which was distributed by Mer­cury Records, a Chicago company. He commissioned the brilliant graphic artist David Stone Martin to design the album covers of the new label. Martin turned in a memorable series of pen-and-brush drawings in his distinctive spidery line style, which had a curiously improvisatory quality that suited it well to the subject matter and made him as famous among jazz fans as the musicians he portrayed. Martin's vivid drawing of a trumpet player in the throes of creation, seen from a low left angle, became the logo of Clef Records. And Granz too became as famous as any of his art­ists.

This, then, was the formidable figure, a tall, good-looking, very famous self-made millionaire at thirty-one, who came to hear Oscar Peterson at the Alberta Lounge, and took him off to Carne­gie Hall in September 1949.

In the aftermath of the Carnegie concert, Granz, already Peterson's manager, had many offers for the pianist's services. He passed them up, urging Oscar to return for the time being to Can­ada.

He said, "I think you've done it now, but let's just cool it. Let's do this properly. I want to find out first what direction you want to go in. Then we'll sit down and talk sensibly about the things I think you should be thinking about doing. There's plenty of time. You've done it now, you've garnered the attention."

And Oscar went home to Canada - with a partner. Ray Brown.”

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cedar Walton - "That Old Feeling"

What is it about Cedar Walton piano playing that is so engaging? He 's not a technical marvel with dizzying displays of notes flying all over the place. Nor is he an introverted romantic whose playing forms deep and melancholy moods. His approach to the instrument is to play it in a straight-forward and swinging manner. He weaves in and out of a rich tapestry of melodies that leave a smile on your face and a feeling of light fascination in your heart. Cedar's music just feels good: nothing complicated, no overt pianism; just "That Old Feeling"- the one that made you fall in love with Jazz in the first place.


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?

Monday, April 23, 2012

You Stepped Out A Dream/Chick’s Tune


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

According to the musicologist K.J. McElrath, the songYou Stepped Out of A Dream, which was written by Nacio Herb Brown and Gus Kahn for the 1941 film, Ziegfeld Girl, … “has one of the most exotic and wandering harmonic progressions in the repertoire.  Although starting and ending on C major, this piece takes unusual twists and turns that seem to deliberately avoid settling on any one key for any length of time.”

Mr. McElrath goes on to say that “the movement within the tune is characterized by long, sustained tones and slow, harmonic rhythm. The melodic line gradually rises a third by step and then leaps up a sixth. The descent is by leaps.”

Maybe all of these unusual “twists and turns” is what makes the tune attractive to Jazz musicians, especially tenor saxophonists like Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Teddy Edwards, Warne Marsh and Brew Moore, all of whom recorded notable versions of it.

Jazz musicians often look for unusual tunes with interesting structures and chords so that they can alter the melody while retaining the song’s unique qualities as the basis for improvisation.

Such was the case when the young pianist, Chick Corea, encountered You Stepped Out of A Dream and superimposed a different melody while renaming it Chick Tune for its debut on trumpeter Blue Mitchell’s debut album for Blue Note entitled – The Thing To Do [BST-84178]

Jazz author and critic Bob Blumenthal explains it this way in his notes to The Complete Blue Note Blue Mitchell Sessions [1963-1969] [Mosaic Records MD4-178]

“Mitchell's first Blue Note release concluded with Corea's first recorded composition, a very creative take on the YOU STEPPED OUT OF A DREAM chord sequence with the decid­edly less imaginative title chick's tune. After [drummer Al] Foster's introduction, the complex theme is developed with a variety of supporting rhythmic feelings, including Latin, cut-time and stop-time.

The composer goes first here, buoyed by a ferocious [bassist Gene]Taylor - Foster groove. Corea sprinkles some [Horace] Silver-isms around his second chorus and sounds as if he was prepared to give way after chorus three before quickly extending his improvisation with a fourth chorus that alludes to another of his favorite pianists, Thelonious Monk.

[Tenor saxophonist Junior] Cook plays with great invention and continuity, reminding us that he relished a good set of chord changes and knew how to navigate his way through them while also sustaining a rhythmic dialogue with the drums.

Mitchell is more about singing and sound, though he, too, has a great hookup with Foster. Two choruses of eight-bar exchanges between the horns and the drummer help bring the track and the album to a rousing finale.”

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles in association with the crackerjack graphics team at CerraJazz LTD has put together two videos that will offer you a chance to compare and contrast the original tune - You Stepped Out of A Dream – as played by tenor saxophonist Brew Moore, along with Lars Gullin on baritone saxophone – and the Chick Corea version of as featured on the 1962 Blue Mitchell recording of Chick’s Tune.

Just click on the “X” to close out of the advertisements should they appear while you are viewing the videos.



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."”