Monday, April 30, 2012
© - 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 [ : Macmillan, 1988] London
It is a privilege and an honor to have
Gene Lees and Norman Granz – two of our enduring heroes – features on these
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
, 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. Chicago
Oscar once said, "
is shy. People mistake this for arrogance." Norman
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 , where his father owned a department
store, and later to the Long Beach district of central Boyle Heights , a lower-middle-class area, where the
family knew straitened circumstances after his father lost the store in the Depression. Los Angeles
Granz reminisced about
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 Long
Beach settling in Iowa . 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 Long Beach . Mickey Cohen became a gangster; I didn't.
Nobody forced him to become what he became." Boyle Heights
Granz was graduated from Roosevelt High in
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 Boyle Heights and Los Angeles ) and Wall Street opening at ten, I'd have
to be at work at to get the board clean for a 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. New York
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
"So I took my discharge. I went to
and discovered New York 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
"Then I came back to
," 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 Los
Angeles . 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. Texas
"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
." 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. Los Angeles
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
, they were doing so largely before white
audiences - many places would not let blacks enter as customers. This condition
existed in Los Angeles City, and most American cities. In Chicago, Kansas , 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. Los Angeles
Granz had been presenting occasional jam sessions at the Trouville Club, in the Beverly-Fairfax area of
. 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. Los Angeles
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
. 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." Los Angeles
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
in Music Town 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
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
, 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 California 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
- 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. Victoria, British Columbia
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
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." New York
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
. Granz proposed to her the next night.
They were married almost a year later, and in 1949, in Saginaw, Michigan , she became the mother of his daughter.
They were divorced in 1952. Loretta later complained that he never took his mind
off his business. Detroit
"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
are notoriously unruly, and Granz had one
of his most memorable confrontations with a crowd there, at the Theatre des Paris 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 . 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,
, by Benny Carter, who used white European
and black American and Holland 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
. Granz cancelled a Charleston, South
Carolina 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. New Orleans
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
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. Chicago
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
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
- with a partner. Ray Brown.” Canada
Sunday, April 29, 2012
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
© - 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.
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." Nancy
Adderley's prophecy of stardom for
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. Nancy
"Cannonball has helped me so many times,"
remembers. "When I first came to Nancy , the first person I called when I got off
the bus was Cannon." New York
, New York pounded an office typewriter by day and
sang by night, the latter in a Nancy 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
, not the least of which was the enthused
reaction to her singing by Capitol Records' executive producer, Columbus 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
's remarkable phrasing, tone, control and
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
’s talent and subsequent national
recognition, was also fairly routine for many other singers and entertainers
who developed local, dedicated followings. Nancy
The first time I heard
perform with Cannonball, I was driving
north along the Nancy 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
for a gig. Malibu
and Cannonball Adderley’s quintet filled
our world with the sound of Never Will I
Marry - two minutes and sixteen
seconds of pure enchantment. Nancy
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
. 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 of …
pure bliss! Nancy
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
© - 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.""
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,
is also fast becoming the home of talented
alto saxophonists listened to by Jazz fans everywhere. Italy
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
besides it foods, cars and clothes? Italy
Monday, April 23, 2012
© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
According to the musicologist K.J. McElrath, the song, You 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
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
Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved
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.
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
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. Paris
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,
Friday, April 20, 2012
© - 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.”
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
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
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. Chicago
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 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
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 Buffalo Lake
Tahoe and , 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." Reno
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
, in . 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: Columbia
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
, where cars are made to break down and
songs written to last two weeks. But good songs last forever, and I've come to
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
, 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.' London
"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 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 , where I was born. Astoria
I was born in August of , as Anthony Dominick Benedetto. I'm using Benedetto again to sign my paintings. We lived in a little two-story house in
which is still there. My father came over
from Astoria in , but I don't know much about him, because
he died when I was nine. He had a grocery store on Italy Fifty-second Street and Sixth Avenue, where the 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, CBS Building . 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
, and then I went to the Astoria , 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. High School of Industrial Arts
Of course, I'd been singing all my life and in the shadow of show business. I had an uncle in
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 Astoria 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 New York , and later I sang at little clubs by myself when they'd let
(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
' 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.") Sale
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
" as an encore. The ovation is long
and standing. San Francisco
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."”