Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Karel Boehlee – Soft Touch


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


Piano is such an intriguing instrument. Not only can one pound the hell out of it, but it can also be played softly, almost caressingly, to a point that one wonders if it’s the same instrument.

Gene Lees, the eminent Jazz story-teller, recounts a time when he and pianist Bill Evans walked into a club to catch a set by Oscar Peterson who could, and often did, play the piano very aggressively.  During a lull in the performance, Gene turned to Bill and asked him why Oscar didn’t employ Bill’s method of understated and implied chords voicings. Bill replied: “It wouldn’t fit with what he was doing.”

Since the piano doesn’t have a personality, one’s approach to the instrument may have more to do with a player’s own personality than the instrument itself.

Although Oscar Peterson could certainly play quiet ballads on the piano, he preferred to play it in a percussive manner often employing riotous tempos and the full orchestral range of the instrument through the use of highly accented and syncopated rhythmic riffs. At times it seemed that his style of piano trio Jazz could generate the intensity of an entire big band.

Indeed, there are a couple of example of recordings featuring Oscar with big bands in which Peterson gave the entire band a run for its money!  Oscar, who at times could seem as big [both physically and in terms of his aura] as the piano itself, appeared to have a personality that sought out the instrument’s more percussive qualities, not to mention that, in Oscar’s case at least, employing 10 ‘fingers’ onto eighty-eight keys could generate many notes flying by at a very rapid pace. 

When I’m in the mood for it, there’s nothing I like better than fastening my seat belt and letting Oscar transport me into a world of foot-stompin, finger-poppin’ and heart-pounding percussive piano trio Jazz excitement. 

But there are times when I like to enjoy Jazz that unfolds slowly, quietly and very introspectively; the quiet moments made possible by a pianist who display a softer touch. This does not necessarily imply slower tempos and ballads, but a softer touch does connote a more controlled expression and one in which notes and phrased are doled out more selectively and with more spacing.

Recently, I was in a pensive mood and the pianism of Karl Boehlee of The Netherlands formed a perfect complement to it.

Boehlee’s penchant for sensitively played piano offers plenty of room for him to display his quite exquisite touch on the instrument. If you love the ringing sounds of the piano keys with all of their stated and implied overtones, Karel creates a piano sounds that is simply gorgeous.

Even on medium and the up-tempo tunes, Boehlee is very much a minimalist,. He is able to express a variety of emotions with what always seems like just enough notes.


Although he has been playing professional for about twenty-five years, Karel Boehlee is perhaps Holland's best-kept Jazz secret. The following comments about him were offered in an interview with Karel’s bassist, Hein van de Geyn, who is also the owner of Challenge Records:

I remember hearing him play in the early eighties, when I just returned from the United States. He was the first pianist of this kind of modern class I had ever heard in Holland. And on what level! Over the years Karel has improved and improved. The lines became more thoughtful, the harmony more precise; the rhythm was always very strong, but became larger, more in the pocket. Yet underneath all these ingredients there was always something more powerful: the sound! Karel's sound is unique; his touch just seems to reach you right in the centre of where music enters the soul. With impeccable taste Karel will always come up with something fresh, something his own and makes it sound so good.

Hein had this to say when asked why Karel is such a well kept secret or why is it that so few people in the Jazz world know about him.

Karel is a real player; he simply loves to go out and play. He will play with his old pals in little cafés, he will play with young and upcoming musicians, he will play with the best pop singers. Karel is a musician at heart. And the business doesn't know how to deal with this. The business wants exclusivity, wants to put a label on someone, wants an image. And somehow Karel is not playing that game. He is not chasing record deals; he is not showing his face at the right spots at the right time, he doesn't search for journalists to do interviews with him. He is busy doing what a musician should do: play music!


“On top of being a pianist, Karel is a very original composer as well. Over the years he has written quite a large repertoire of strongly individual originals. And I must say that it is through his original compositions that I hear most clearly what Karel wants to portray. To put it in words is not easy, so it seemed best to me to record it on my label, and share my enthusiasm with the listeners in this way

Perhaps it takes people with a broader outlook to recognize Karel's sublimity. People like Mikoto Kimata, the owner of M&I records based in Tokyo who has recorded ten CD's by Karel for his Japanese label; roughly at a pace of one album a year,
 
And while Karel Boehlee is largely unknown outside The Netherlands, he is well-known and very popular in Japan and his CDs continue to captivate Japanese fans.  Perhaps one of the reason for his popularity there is that he was the founding member of the anonymous-sounding European Jazz Trio, which helped ignite the "European jazz boom" in Japan nearly two decades ago.

Aristotle once noted: “How different we all are with regard to those things we hold in common.”

The wonderful thing about Jazz is that it communicates itself to us in so many different ways.

And the wonderful thing about the Jazz pianism of Karel Boehlee is how quietly and almost unsuspectingly his music can overwhelm us with its beauty and its majesty.

See [and listen] for yourself as Karel performs Gato Barbieri’s theme from the movie, Last Tango in Paris, with Hein van de Geyn on bass and Hans van Oosterhout on drums on the following video.

   

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Ed Bickert and Lorne Lofsky – Ah-Leu-Cha


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


“I first heard Ed Bickert on a record with Paul Desmond and I immediately thought, ‘Wow! Who’s is that? It was such great harmonic playing.’”
- Lorne Lofsky, Jazz guitarist

“Edward Isaac Bickert in never one to blow his own horn – figuratively – he is one of the most modest and unassuming men in Jazz. But literally – he blows up a storm ….”
- Frank Rutter, The Vancouver Sun

“Bickert’s self effacing style masks a keen intelligence. His deceptively soft tone is the front for a shrewd, unexpectedly attacking style that treats bebop tempos with the same equanimity as a swing-styled ballad.”
-Richard Cook & Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“Lorne Lofsky is a talented cool-toned guitarist in the tradition of Jimmy Raney and his fellow Canadian Ed Bickert ….”
- Scott Yanow, allmusic.com

I have no idea why, but Charlie Parker’s Ah-Leu-Cha has always been among my favorite Bebop compositions.

With its theme stated as a staggered interaction between the two horns – what might be considered as countermelody phrasing – the tune is as much fun to play on as it is to listen to.

It’s a tune that is only rarely heard and not often recorded. Allmusic.com lists 89 versions of Ah-Leu-Cha many of which are alternate versions by Charlie “Bird” Parker and Miles Davis, who was a member of Bird’s group in 1948 when the tune was first recorded.

Jack Chambers, in his seminal work, Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis [NY: William Morrow, 1983/85] explains that Ah-Leu-Cha was included as one of four tunes recorded in October 1955 when the Miles Davis Quintet consisting of Miles, John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones made their recording debut for Columbia Records.

Jack goes on to explain:

“Ah-Leu-Cha is Parker's tune, recorded by Davis and Parker in the last days of the original Parker quintet, in 1948; it had hardly been played at all since then by anyone, and Davis seems to have removed it from his quintet's repertoire after the first few months. It deserved a better fate, probably, because it is an affecting up-tempo melody based on a counterpoint chase by the two horns. On this version, Philly Joe Jones plays the melody at the bridge, and Davis solos coolly while the rhythm blasts around him.” [p. 224]

The next time I heard Miles play Ah-Leu-Cha was on a recording that Columbia made in performance at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival with his famous sextet that included Julian “Cannonball” Adderley on alto sax, Coltrane on tenor, Bill Evans on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums.

Remarkably, this stellar group’s performance of Ah-Leu-Cha at the 1958 NJF was a disappointment mainly because Miles counted it out at a ridiculously fast tempo that made a hash of the intrinsic qualities of the tune.

As Jack Chambers describes it: “The sextet’s performance is substandard. Davis’ most conspicuous contribution comes in tapping out overzealous tempos on all tunes, including a breakneck tempo on Ah-Leu-Cha that reduces the ensemble to shambles.” [p. 288]

Miles would make a habit of such “overzealous tempos;” witness what he did over the years with the tempos he counted out to So What, first heard with a slow, lopping beat on the classic Kind of Blue album.

Ah-Leu-Cha needs room to breath. Although it is structured around a basic, 32-bar AABA format, with the “A’s” based on the changes to Honeysuckle Rose and the “B” using I Got Rhythm changes, the counterpoint manner in which the melody is fashioned has to have room for the countermelodies to be expressed.

Over the years, I heard a few other versions of Ah-Leu-Cha, most notably one which has Art Farmer on trumpet on Italian pianist Enrico Pieranunzi’s Isis CD, but I pretty much left the tune alone after Miles trashed it at the 1958 NJF.

Much to my delight, I recently rediscovered its allure while revisiting Ed Bickert’s playing of it with fellow guitarist Lorne Lofsky on their This is New Concord Jazz CD [4414] with Neil Swainson on bass and Jerry Fuller on drums.

Ed and Lorne play Ah-Leu-Cha at a medium tempo that allows its intricacies to nicely come together while, at the same time, setting up a platform for some interesting improvisations on the tune’s familiar changes.

Have a listen and see what you think of Ah-Leu-Cha as I’ve included Ed and Lorne’s interpretation of this all-too-infrequently heard bebop tune as the audio track on the following video [Ed takes the first solo each time around].

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Francesco Guardi’s Venice with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra



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


As frequent visitors to the blog are aware, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles has a penchant for viewing great art while listening to Jazz.

This usually takes the form of developing a slide montage of the works of a particular artist, adding a favorite Jazz recording as an audio track and then posting this “video” to YouTube via the dadocerra YouTube channel.

So when we became aware that this year Musée Jacquemart-André was offering an exhibit commemorating the 300th anniversary of the birth of Francesco Guardi [1712-1793], whose paintings of the city of Venice are unsurpassed, despite the fact that Canaletto [Giovanni Antonio Canal 1697-1768] is more famous for his depictions of the city, we thought that Guardi’s paintings of Venice would afford us with the theme for our next Jazz and Art audio-visual compilation

“If Venice’s best-known painter, Canaletto, created imposing framed memories for Grand Tourists to enjoy back home, Guardi captured the city’s moods; its damp and heat; it’s evening sky, a dirty blue, the wispy clouds a pinkish color and the gondolas lit up by the fading sun.”

Because of its intimacy, the Musée Jacquemart-André is a special place to view art exhibits in Paris, a city that abounds with large museums that exhaust you from the exhilarating energy it takes to traverse them and to take in all of their treasures.


Like the Frick Collection in New York, the Musée Jacquemart-André presents collections worthy of the great museums in a magnificent private mansion that was built at the end of the 19th century. It is located on the Boulevard Haussmann, one of Paris’ great thoroughfares, and it is but a short Metro or bus ride away from the Arc de Triomphe.

Exhibited in rooms graced with good lighting and plenty of places to sit and savor, the Musée Jacquemart-André’s “Canaletto and Guardi” [now until January 14, 2013] is “a joyous eye opener.”

In their review of this exhibit, the editors of The Economist went on to explain and to discuss Guardi’s significance and artistic appeal.

© -The Economist, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Francesco Guardi is unsurpassed as Venice’s poet in paint.  Last year a large view of the Rialto bridge sold for £26.7111 ($42.7) at Sotheby's, the second-highest auction price for an Old Master painting. Now, to celebrate the 3OOth anniversary of his birth, Guardi is the subject of two important exhibitions - a retrospective in Venice [Francesco Guardi, 1712—1793" is at the Museo Correr in Venice until January 6th] and a Paris show pairing and comparing him with Canaletto.  Guardi has emerged from the shadows and his achievements glow.

Francesco Guardi was born and died in Venice. His father was a painter, as was his brother Giovanni Antonio. (Their sister Maria-Cecilia married another Venetian artist, Giambattista Tiepolo.) Guardi strug­gled financially. He was middle-aged be­fore he achieved any recognition and old before he was sought after. Fame came only after his death. In the 19th century he was feted as the bridge to Impressionism; some called him the first modern artist.

Archival information about Guardi's life is scarce and his pictures are difficult to date. Controversies about attribution dogged his last retrospective in 1965. Subse­quent scholarship has made authorship more certain.

The retrospective … [‘Canaletto and Guardi: Two Masters of Venice’ at the Musee Jacquemart-Andre until January 14th] in Paris is a joyous eye-opener.

This is a tightly focused show of 50 paintings, all Venetian views and capric­cios. The freshness of Canaletto's early works points to why his pictures were so prized. Guardi saw these paintings and was clearly influenced by them. As the exhibition unfolds the older artist's vision hardens. Canaletto's people are there not as individuals but to provide scale for the architecture. His buyers wanted to recol­lect the city's beauty, not the life of its peo­ple.  Guardi the artist, if not the family man with bills to pay, benefited from having few clients and therefore only himself to please. Canaletto's Venice is a cold beauty, Guardi's city a living dream. The visitor leaves the Paris show smiling, full of admiration for his painterly spirit.”


We have no idea why this exposition of Guardi’s paintings called to mind a pairing with The Blues Goose as performed by the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, but it did.

Maybe it was all that blue in the Venetian skies of Guardi’s painting? Or maybe it was the fact of coincidence in that we were hard-at-work on two previous features about trumpeter, Bert Joris, who served as a principal composer and arranger for the Brussels Jazz Orchestra for many years? Or perhaps we were just looking for an excuse to look at the grandeur of Francesco Guardi’s art while listening to the 1995 BJO track from their Countermove CD entitled The Blues Goose?

Whatever the motivation, subjectively or otherwise, here’s the final result.

Solos are by pianist Nathalie Loriens, alto saxophonist Frank Vaganee [who also composed the tune] and Nico Schepers on trumpet. [You may wish to view the video at full screen by clicking on the directional arrows on the bottom right.]




Tuesday, October 23, 2012

NORMA WINSTONE: A Musician Who Sings


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


“Norma Winstone is one of the great jazz vocalists not simply because she is so obviously accomplished in what she does, but the sheer range of her singing embraces everything the jazz vocalist can be called upon to do. Yet no single aspect of jazz singing can be said to be central to her style; she is an interpreter of the American Popular Song par excellence, but she is not a standards singer; she can scat masterfully but she is not a scat singer and she is a brilliantly imaginative free jazz singer but she is not a free jazz musician. Her sight-reading skills have frequently been harnessed to provide a wordless tone color in both small groups and large ensembles; she has explored vocalese; she has worked with electronics and she has explored abstraction and collective improvisation with singers Urzula Dudziak and Jay Clayton (and later Michele Hendricks) in Vocal Summit. She has sung with unusual combinations of instruments and she has sung with orchestras and big bands and she has sung a cappella. Whatever the context, her performances have been both distinguished and distinctive.

Much has been written about the voice-as-an-instrument, but in Norma Winstone’s case, it is fair to say she is a brilliantly imaginative jazz musician whose instrument is her voice. Her style represents one of the first independent developments of jazz vocal technique beyond the borders of the United States.”
- Stuart Nicholson for Jazz.com

“Norma Winstone’s voice is one of the great glories of contemporary Jazz.”
- The Jazz Journal


Had it not been for a mate in England’s response to my request for information about recordings featuring a version of Dave Brubeck’s In Your Own Sweet Way, I might never have known about Norma Winstone.

What a real tragedy that would have been. As it was, I had over thirty plus years of catching up to do, but mercifully, Norma has her own website – www.normawinstone.com – and the details of her Jazz journey are all laid out there for others to follow.

And to add to my blessings, not only did this internet friend point out that Norma had sung – sung, mind you! – an adaptation of Dave’s Jazz classic In Your Own Sweet Way, he generously sent me a copy of the long since out-of-print album that this music appeared on – Norma Winstone in Concert With John Taylor [ENO 1].

Recorded in performance before a musically discerning audience at the Guildhall School of Music in August, 1988, the album is an incredible tour de force by both artists.

“She has her own way with a song;” “she is a song stylist;” “she is in the traditional of the great, female Jazz vocalists:” somehow none of these descriptive phrases seem apt when applied to Norma.

Perhaps a better way to state it would be that Norma is an excellent musician who just happens to express herself with voice as her instrument.

Excellence as a musician is not unique to Norma, Carmen [McCrae], Sassy [Sarah Vaughan] and Blossom [Dearie], among others, were all first-rate pianists as well as vocalists.

But Norma’s singing doesn’t come from the piano, it seems to reflect all of the major elements of music: melody, harmony, rhythm and texture with a primary emphasis on the latter.

Norma uses the human voice to bring a variety of sonorities to her Jazz vocals.

She sings as thought she was an arranger: one minute bringing the timbre of the brass section into play and, with the next phrase, emphasizing the sounds that reeds and woodwinds might make.

Norma reconstructs a song by altering the “feel” of the tune through her use of multifarious sounds.

“One of the things that makes Winstone so exceptional as a singer is her equal confidence with pure abstraction as with the most straight-forward vocal line. … Like Karin Krog in Norway, she is a fine musician in her own right, a sensitive lyricist as well as an imaginative standards singer.” [Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.].

To afford you an opportunity to listen to this “magisterial singer” with pianist John Taylor’s thoughtful accompaniment, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles developed the following video tribute to Norma on which, you may not be surprised to learn, she and John perform Dave Brubeck’s In Your Own Sweet Way.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Lou Blackburn and Freddie Hill Quintet – Fire and Heat in L.A.


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


It is not uncommon to associate the words “fire” and “heat” with Los Angeles.

The point-of-view that many non-Californians have of the City of Angeles is that, when it is not undergoing horrendous earthquakes, it and its environs are threatened by raging wildfires often sparked by hot winds, blowing through the canyons that ring the city.

The persistent heat also conjures up the laidback, backyard living and beach culture that has become almost synonymous with Los Angeles’ lifestyle.

This being said, the words “fire” and “heat” were rarely used with the style of modern Jazz that emanated from the sprawling city that constitutes Los Angeles, since the inception of that movement after WW II. 

To state the obvious, such judgments are all subjective, but every now and then a series of recordings came along that belied the perception of Los Angeles Jazz as languid, laidback and lethargic.

Such was the case with the albums made by trombonist Lou Blackburn’s quintet which he co-fronted with trumpeter Freddie Hill.

The group just seemed to “happen” on the LA Jazz scene in the early 1960s and hearing them in person at one of the many small clubs that populated the Watts area of L.A. was always an exciting experience.

Although Lou subsequently went to Europe – where as Mike Zwerin puts it – “Jazz went to live” - and formed a unique Jazz-fusion group before his death in Berlin in 1990, Freddie faded from the Jazz scene and died in relative obscurity in the late 1970's.

Fortunately, Michael Cuscuna, who heads up Mosaic Records and does reissues for Blue Note/EMI, gathered the recordings made by Lou and Freddie’s quintet and put them out on a single CD entitled Lou Blackburn: The Complete Imperial Sessions [0946 3 58294 2 6].

Here’s what Michael had to say about the musicians and the music on these recordings in his insert notes for the CD reissue.

© -Michael Cuscuna, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“THE COMPLETE IMPERIAL SESSIONS LOU BLACKBURN


This disc contains the complete output of the Lou Blackburn-Freddie Hill Quintet. Like Curtis Amy, Teddy Edwards, Jack Wilson, and so many others in Los Angeles at the time, Hill and Blackburn were making their living in the recording studios and film soundstages. Their creative efforts were confined to low-paying club dates and the occasional album, which was usually met with nice reviews and poor sales.

Big bands were another creative salvation and the L.A. scene. Hill and Blackburn were, at various times, members of the Gerald Wilson, Onzy Matthews, and Oliver Nelson orchestras, which enjoyed some joyous live gigs and the hipper studio dates.
Together, they appeared on Wilson's Moment Of Truth, Matthews's Blues with a Touch Of Elegance, Lou Rawls's two Matthews-arranged albums Black and Blue and Tobacco Road, Oliver Nelson's Live From Los Angeles, and Nelson-arranged projects by Carmen McRae, The Three Sounds, and Thelonious Monk

Lou Blackburn was born in Rankin, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh, on November 22, 1922. His first instrument was piano, but during his final two years at Roosevelt University in Chicago, he switched to trombone, an instrument he felt to be mare natural for expressing himself.

He was drafted into the army in 1945 for two years. After discharge and a couple of years of civilian life as a musician, he rejoined the military and gained incredible experience while stationed in Japan and Germany, performing with David Amram, Don Ellis, Walt Dickerson, John Wright, and Jesse Belvin, and other artists who toured where he was stationed. In 1956, he left the service and gigged around Philadelphia and Atlantic City with Charlie Ventura, among others.

In 1958, he started a two-year stint with Lionel Hampton's big band, and then worked with Cat Anderson's group. An offer came from Duke Ellington in 1961 and Lou joined in time to participate in the Paris Blues and First Time/The Count Meets the Duke projects. It's easy to see why Ellington would be attracted to such an expressive and versatile trombonist, but the gig lasted only nine months.
Blackburn decided to settle in Los Angeles and, with his abilities, he had no problem breaking into the jazz, studio, and film scenes.

Freddie Hill was born in Jacksonville, Florida on April 18, 1932. He studied cello and piano as well as trumpet. After four years at Florida A & M on a music scholarship and two years in the army that brought him into contact with the Adderley brothers, among others, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue graduate studies at Los Angeles State College. Gigs with many artists, including Gerald Wilson and Earl Bostic, followed.

Hill eventually had the security Of steady studio work thanks to Wilson, Matthews, Nelson, and H. B. Barnum, but his opportunities to record as a jazz soloist were few. Besides Gerald Wilson's Pacific Jazz sessions on which he had to share space with a lot of outstanding soloists, he is heard to great advantage on Leroy Vinnegar's Leroy Walks Again!! and Buddy DeFranco's Blues Bag, which also included Curtis Fuller and Art Blakey.

Trumpeter Charles Tolliver remembers, "In 1966,I met Freddie Hill while he was working with Gerald Wilson. We discovered that we were both from Jacksonville and, it turned out, he knew my mother. He got me into Gerald's band and let me live in one of the houses he owned, which was around the corner from where Lou Blackburn lived and near where Andrew and Laverne Hill were staying at the time. Freddie and Lou were working studio dates around the clock. Earl Palmer was contracting a lot of sessions at that time."

Like Blackburn, Horace Tapscott,  born in Houston, Texas on April 6, 1934 but raised in Los Angeles from the age of nine, started on piano and switched to trombone. He worked in the bands of Wilson, Hampton, and Matthews on that instrument; he had begun to shift his emphasis back to the piano by the time of these sessions. He remained one of L.A's best kept secrets although there were glimmers of hope when he wrote and arranged the music for Sonny Criss's Sonny's Dream (Birth Of The New Cool) in 1968 and made his debut as leader the following year with The Giant Is Awakened, an album that also introduced Arthur Blythe, on the newly formed Flying Dutchman label. From the early 1970’ss until his death in 1999, Tapscott would record a series of albums, either solo or trio or with his Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra on Nimbus and a variety of independent labels, that revealed a distinctive pianist/composer with a conception all his own.

Bassist John Duke, who had already worked with Horace Henderson, gigged with Bobby Bryant and Louis Jordan among others after the dissolution of this quintet. He joined the Basie band in the 70s, frequently working side jobs with Al Grey when the band was off. Drummer Leroy Henderson is best known for his 1961-62 stint with Richard "Groove" Holmes's trio, which gave him the opportunity to record with Gene Ammons and Lou Rawls. Beyond gigs with Vi Redd and Charles Kynard, little is known about him after 1963.

In a feature article on the group in the February 13, 1964 issue of Down Beat, Blackburn told John Tynan that the idea for the group came shortly after he'd arrived in L.A.: "One night back in 1961, not long after I arrived in Los Angeles, I was playing with some fellows at the Rubaiyat Room in the Watkins Hotel. Freddie was one of them. Well, we seemed to get such a good blend with his trumpet and my trombone; he suggested we try to make it permanent. So we did."

The group was formed in November 1962 and quickly secured a contract with Imperial, a label not known for much jazz recording. The front-line instrumentation is rather rare. There was a 1957 Blue Note album by Curtis Fuller with Art Farmer, J. J. Johnson's 1958 quintet with Nat Adderley, the Clark Terry-Bob Brookmeyer Quintet of 1964-65, and, much later, Woody Show's 1980 quintet with Steve Turre. Rather surprising given that the combination has a lovely sonority all its own.

In Blackburn and Hill, one can hear all the qualities that made them in demand for studio work: their clarion tones, their accurate pitch and clean articulation, their breadth Of idioms, and their blend. But unlike many studio musicians, they were both expressive, first-rate soloists. Horace Tapscott, the other soloist here, had only recently returned to the piano; these were his first recordings on the instrument. He had yet to find his own personal voice on the piano, but elements of his style, like his percussive approach, were already in place.

The aforementioned Down Beat article, by which time Varney Barlow was the drummer, mentions plans for a third album that would include Blackburn's recently composed "Afro-Eurasian Suite," but it never materialized. There was also talk of a European tour, but, in all likelihood, aside from one gig in Denver, this quintet never played anywhere but in L.A. - and even then only infrequently. Blackburn's ten years in Los Angeles was not without its many rewording moments (including performing "Meditations on Integration" with Charles Mingus at Monterey), but in 1971, he moved to Berlin and soon formed a unique band, Mombasa, that forged its own fusion of jazz, blues, and African music, which he led into the '80s. He died in Berlin on June 7, 1990.

Freddie Hill also left the L.A. scene in 1971. He had married the sister of skater Peggy Fleming and moved out to the desert. Studio work was dying up and Hill died a forgotten man before the end of the decade.

- Michael Cuscuna, 2006”

The following audio-only Sound Cloud track provides an example of the – shall we say – fiery sounds of the Lou Blackburn-Freddie Hill quintet.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Big Band Bert … Joris and The Brussels Jazz Orchestra



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


Until quite recently, trumpeter Bert Joris had a long and enduring relationship with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra [BJO] as its principle composer.

Bert recorded a number of albums with the BJO many of which featured originals compositions that he authored expressly for it.

Bert’s writing and arranging efforts on behalf of the orchestra culminated when it combined with the Royal Flemish Philharmonic under the direction of Danielle Callegari to perform a series of Joris’ compositions at deSingel in Antwerp, Belgium on May 27, 2006, two of which were commissioned as extended, original works.

A live recording of this performance was subsequently issued as a CD entitled Dangerous Liaisons: The Compositions of Bert Joris as Performed by the Brussels Jazz Orchestra and The Royal Flemish Philharmonic [Talent – Do Music DOM 2910 900 SP].

In his insert notes for the recording, Tom Janssens wrote the following about the commissioning of Dangerous Liaisons, the highlights of Bert’s career and the history of the BJO.

Given their comprehensive scope, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles did not attempt to improve on them, but thought it more appropriate to bring Mr. Janssens writings to you “as is.”

© -Tom Janssens, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Dangerous Liaisons

Bert Joris was commissioned by deFilharmonie (the Royal Flemish Philharmonic) and the Brussels Jazz Orchestra to write two compositions for large symphony orchestra and big band. The suggestive titles of these two works (Dangerous Liaison and Between Hope and Despair) already say a lot about the 'dangers' identified by Joris in the relationship between fixed note values and solo improvisations and the pitfalls of the creative process, in which artistic choices were weighed and reweighed and stylistic principles had to be thrown overboard.

Dangerous Liaison was Joris's first composition for large symphony orchestra and big band, and it strongly emphasizes the contrasts between the two ensembles: 'The colour palette offered by this combination is practically inexhaustible. Therefore I thought the most suitable starting point would be a long melody that returns in different settings. At the start, the symphony orchestra plays the female role and the big band the male role, but towards the end, they two become completely fused toge­ther. The structure bears the closest resemblance to the classic variation form we use so often in jazz music. Here, it is only interrupted once, by a modal passage.'

Between Hope and Despair has much less contrast than Dangerous Liaison. In this composition, Joris took the opposite approach and sought to achieve a uniform sound for a story about the caprices of human emotions. 'So as to make the orchestras blend as much as possible, I sought a tempo in which ternary and binary interpretation are compatible', explains Joris.

In Anna and Alone at Last, the two orchestras are both individually in­troduced and then completely fused. Once again, Joris creates a unique interaction between soloists, improvisers and sections. Anna was written imme­diately after the composer had met 'an extraordi­nary six-year-old girl' at a garden party. Its music was later used in the score Joris wrote for the film Dennis van Rita (by Hilde Van Mieghem). Alone at Last is a simple blues in C. This form has inspired me all my musical life and it keeps on turning up in my work. However, my own roots aren't the blues, and that's why I left out the C, which is the "root" of this blues, from the bass line, as a kind of joke.'


Bert Joris composer

Bert Joris started studying music at an early age. At first, he studied piano and violin, but eventually, at the age of fourteen, he settled on the trumpet. He had a classic education at the Antwerp music con­servatory, even though jazz held a greater attraction for him, being a style that was better suited to de­veloping his creative talents. From 1978 to 1987, he worked with the BRT Jazz Orchestra, which was led by Etienne Verscheuren. Initially, he played the trumpet there, but he also attracted notice as a composer and arranger and eventually became a guest conductor.

Meanwhile, Bert Joris continued to build on his reputation as a teacher. In 1987, this led to a teaching position at the famous Swiss Jazz School in Bern. At about the same time, he launched a jazz course at the Leuven Lemmensinstituut, which gradually developed into what is now the school's jazz department. From 1990 till 1992, he was a trumpet teacher at the Hilversum Conservatory.

In 1992, Bert Joris started up an intense colla­boration with the Belgian guitarist Philip Catherine. He has also performed with many other musicians and ensembles. He has toured Europe with the en­sembles of Rob van Bavel, Robert Jan Vermeulen,

Wolfgang Haffner, Ricardo del Fra, Michel Herr, Enrico Pieranunzi, Joe Haider and Act Big Band. In addition, he formed the Bert Joris Quartet (with pianist Dado Moroni, drummer Ore Pallemaerts and bassist Philippe Aerts). He is often invited as a soloist and/or as a composer-conductor by larger European formations and big hands like those of Klaus Weiss, Al Porcino, the Concertgebouw Jazz Orchestra, the Metropoolorkest and many others.

In 1986, he toured Europe together with the renowned drummer and band leader Mel Lewis, which led to an invitation to conduct Lewis's big band at the New York club The Village Vanguard, in a project with his own music. The sudden death of Mel Lewis put an end to this project. In 1998, he traveled to the US, where he scored a great suc­cess with the SJS Big Band, with which he con­ducted work of his own, e.g. in the famous Birdland jazz club, with Clark Terry as guest soloist. This success was confirmed in 2003 when he was in­vited to come and present his music, together with the BJO, at the most prestigious and international meeting of jazz musicians from all over the world: IJAJE in New York.

In 1998, Bert Joris received the Django d'Or Award and in 1998, he was voted the best Belgian jazz trumpet player by the listeners of RTBF and VRT and the French-language Belgian music press. As the house composer of the BJO, he has pro­duced three CDs: September Sessions, The Mu­sic of Bert Joris, and Meeting Colours with Philip Catherine.



Brussels Jazz Orchestra

The pianist-composer Kenny Werner is a big fan. The composer Maria Schneider calls them her favourite orchestra. The reviewers of the profes­sional magazine Down Beat voted it the eighth-best big band in the world and the best European big band.

In 1993, Frank Vaganee, Serge Plume and Marc Godfroid decided to set up a new professional big band. Shortly before that, the BRT big band had disappeared, and with it, the possibility for com­posers and musicians to perform big band music at a high quality level. The new ensemble was given the name of Brussels Jazz Orchestra (BJO), be­cause its first performances took place in the Brus­sels jazz club The Sounds, where the ensemble organized a weekly session. The core strength of the BJO consists of a traditional big-band line-up (five saxophones, four trombones, four trumpets, piano, bass and drums), to which more musicians can be added as required for different projects
.
Most of the repertoire of the BJO consists of productions of their own creation, ranging from concertante productions to soloist and multimedia projects. This has earned them concerts with many leading musicians, including Philip Catherine, Toots Thielemans, Chris Joris, Kenny Werner, Maria Schneider, Wallace Roney, Tom Harrell, Gianluigi Trovesi, David Liebman, Bob Mintzer, McCoy Tyner, Kenny Wheeler, Phil Woods, Gustavo Bergalli and deFilharmonie. The BJO works in close collaboration with the composers Bert Joris and Frank Vaganee, who are the house composers of the ensemble, but they also work with other Flemish and Belgian big band arrangers/ composers such as Michel Herr, Erwin Vann, Bob Porter and Gyuri Spies.

Meanwhile, the BJO has built itself a solid repu­tation at home and abroad. In Belgium, the band has played every significant jazz venue. Internationally, the BJO has been invited to the Netherlands, Lux­embourg, France, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Austria, Croatia, Italy, Sweden and the USA, invariably to great press acclaim.

BJO is also the driving force behind various educational projects, including the biannual BJO International Composition Contest, big-band work­shops for amateur musicians, and a big-band tour with the orchestras of the conservatories of Antwerp and Ghent and the Lemmensinstituut of Leuven.

The discography of the BJO currently comprises six titles: Live (VRT Radio 3), The September Sessions (W.E.R.F.), The Music of Bert Joris (W.E.R.F.), Naked in the Cosmos - the BJO Plays the Music of Kenny Werner (Jazzimpulz), Meeting Colours (Dreyfuss) and Countermove (W.E.R.F.). All these recordings were warmly received by the Belgian and international press.

More info, video and sound clips on www.brusselsjazzorchestra.com.

With the help of the ace graphics team at CerraJazz LTD and the assistance of the StudioCerra production facilities, we have put together the following video which uses as its audio track – Alone At Last -  the final selection from Bert’s performance with the Royal Flemish Philharmonic under the direction of Danielle Callegari in conjunction with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra at deSingel in Antwerp, Belgium on May 27, 2006.

Bert solos on trumpet followed by Dieter Limbourg on alto sax.


And here is a video from an earlier feature on JazzProfiles that features Bert’s playing on Happy Tears from the Meeting Colours collaboration between guitarist Philipe Catherine and the Brussels Jazz Orchestra.


After listening to these performances, you might agree with us when we assert that Bert Joris is one of the brightest and best musicians on today’s Jazz scene in either a small group setting [as noted in our previous feature] or when writing for and performing with a big band.

It’s nice to have him around.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Day Four - Groovin’ Hard with the Los Angeles Jazz Institute


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


The four-day Groovin’ Hard: Celebrating the Big Band Renaissance event under the auspices of the Los Angeles Jazz Institute and its Director, Ken Poston, concluded on, Sunday, October 12, 2012

Gordon Sapsed, a regular attendee at LAJI events, developed this overview of  the final day’s events and, with continued thanks to him for his generosity, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles is privileged to bring you the last of his daily annotations as noted below.

The illustrations we have been using to populate these features are drawn from the event brochure as designed by Kurt Reichenbach.

You can locate more information on the Los Angeles Jazz Institute including their future concerts by visiting www.lajazzinstitute.org

© -Gordon Sapsed.  Used with the author’s permission; copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“The final Day of "Groovin' Hard', the LA Jazz Institute's October 2012 Festival opened as usual with a film show. However this time the show drew on the HUGE Library, recently established, of some 4,500 editions of the 'Tonight' Show, with Johnny Carson, thousands of guests and the Tonight Show Band, both in its New York days and in its 'West Coast' days - some of which were in the 'New York' era.


Early clips showed a young Clark Terry, with Doc Severinson simply a member of the trumpet section and a young 'Snooky'. Later clips showed a young Pete Christlieb, guesting with the band on a California trip, and guests such as Benny Goodman and John McLaughlin from early shows. Johnny Carson demonstrated how he was always a Big Band enthusiast and a great supporter of the musicians in their roles outside the show - and even 'drums', with brushes on the bottom of a pail, in a sequence with Benny Goodman. Later film clips had features with full band numbers for Snooky Young and Bill Perkins.

That hour-long film show set the scene for the Sunday morning 'Brunch session - at banqueting tables in the main room with a reconstruction of the Tonight Show Band led, on this occasion by Chuck Findley. Players included John Bambridge - who played lead alto, wrote arrangements and appeared on the screen when the band was shown live, as well as in later years, when the band was not shown live but only heard (with, as John said, a disappointing drop in income), Ernie Watts, plus Gene Cipriano , Doug Webb and Lee Callet on saxes. John Fedchock, Alan Kaplan and Kenny Shroyer on trombones and a trumpet section of Bobby Shew, Lee Thornburg, Kyle Palmer and Carl Saunders - with Chuck Findley playing the Doc's parts. Bob Bain, a key figure on guitar in the band, especially in live improvised moments, was still there on this occasion. At the piano Rich Eames, Chuck Berghofer on bass and Jeff Hamilton standing in for Ed Shaughnessy on drums. Most of the 'irregulars' had depped in the band during its long tenure in LA, although Bobby Shew said 'they never called me'.


'Tonight Show Live' stories abounded - just as they did later in the Panel. Jeff Hamilton told a very long tale of depping, having to play behind a screen and being signaled by Doc to play louder - and louder and so on.

Tipped off in a break, he changed to heavier sticks and beat hell out of the kit in the second half. Doc, as it ended, said "which of you a A**holes tipped off the drummer that I'm losing my hearing?"

I, as someone from England who never, in all those years, saw the Tonight Show band live on TV, loved the refreshing take on standards that made up most the book apparently. With charts by Bill Holman, Mike Barone, Bill Potts , John Bambridge and so many others it was a delight. There are at least two CD albums by the band easily to be found and charts played, on the day, with some from those albums included 'A Train', Bill Holman's 'April in Paris' and 'Honeysuckle Rose', Body & Soul (a wonderful Ernie Watts feature), Poor Butterfly, Just Friends, and, of course, the Theme.

In the Panel Session that followed Chuck Findley challenged the audience to remember the theme - many could. He then challenged them to recall the Theme of the current Jay Leno version of the show - none could ! The panel session included five former players plus the Tonight Show archivist, himself also a bandleader, Don Freeman, with the Show's producer Jeff Carson (?). Too many stories to share but some also appear in a book "Backstage at the Tonight Show" from Don , available on Amazon.

Back in the main room Ernie Watts then led his own quartet of David Witham, Bruce Letts and Bob Leatherbarrow through a 60 minute set of music , much of which is on their 'Oasis' album. I especially enjoyed an evocative version of Round Midnight, but others included classics like Shaw Nuff and 'Five Steps' and Ernie's originals such as 'Oasis' - which made your mouth feel dry and you could almost taste the dates ....


And so to what Jim Oatts called 'The misfit section of the weekend'. The recipe was simple - take 4 top class high note trumpeters (with Herman, Buddy Rich or Kenton background and preferably a Berklee education), add an extra-high note specialist leader (originally Bill Chase), an organ for sax section and other 'width and fill' then a rock guitar a rock bassist and a rock drummer. On some tracks add a rock vocalist. Arrangements can draw on any genre, be it classical jazz, rock fusion or 'outer space'. The band's name was 'Chase', which the leader said was convenient for him. They made three albums. 

This LAJI afternoon was the fifth, or so, reunion for members of the three different bands which Bill Chase assembled before his tragic plane crash about 35 years ago. The former band members played musical chairs throughout and the couple of fast-learner 'deps' were grateful for the hour's rehearsal.

The one hour set and the one hour panel discussion which preceded it taught me a lot about Chase's music and philosophy and showed a very visible unity between the members of the band in their music and their relationships. A group ( perhaps 30 people) had come into the Festival especially to support Chase and it was something that Ken Poston had wanted to do for some time. This 70's Theme gave Ken Poston the opportunity to include them. My view is that they were no more or less 'legitimate' in a 4 day '1970's' jazz program than, say, Don Ellis, and had a lot to offer with their originality and commitment. 

Ace high-note trumpet specialist Eric Miyashiro had flown in overnight from
Japan to be a guest with "Chase" and also to direct what he described as his "25th Maynard Ferguson Tribute Concert.”

Eric said 'I regret that tributes are necessary and dearly wish Maynard was still with us, but feel honored to be able to play with and present again - his music and his musicians'.

Most of the Ferguson alumni had been playing during the weekend in other bands - of which they were also alumni, and for this set Brandon Fields ( sax) , Nick Lane (tmb) Serafin Aguilar, Kevin Richardson and Pete de Siena joined the band, with Rich Eames at the (electric) piano, Kevin Axt at the (electric) bass and at the (acoustic) drum kit - living up to a huge audience expectation and huge applause - Peter Erskine.

Eric Miyashiro made a big point of choosing items from the book which featured band members, although himself playing two or three of Maynard's best known features. He also brought up 'the greatest trumpet player in the world,’ (in this case Bobby Shew). Bobby modestly told of the joy he feels as 'his pupils develop and go by' recalling times with Eric in Buddy Rich's band - he then went on to justify that extreme title with a memorable version of 'Just Friends' (and real blood from that split lip as it opened up again).

Other notables for me were Bob Summers on 'Fox Hunt' and Eric himself recalling 'Maria' which attracted a standing ovation. Titles played included Winter Games, Knee Deep in ?, Dance To Your Heart, Birdland (not the same chart as Buddy Rich) and MacArthur Park (not the same chart as Kenton). Nick Lane and Bruce Johnstone had a lot of fun with 'Superbone Meets The Bad Man'. The band, after two standing ovations, played an encore to close the whole event "Go Fly Now" (?)

I'll have to ponder some overall remembrances but my major thought is that we enjoyed this event even more than we expected and are already signed up for next May. …

I'll hope to have some of my 300 photos up on www.gordonsapsed.com in the nest few days.

Gordon Sapsed