Monk moves!

Monk moves!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Marian McPartland: “The Key of D is Daffodil Yellow”

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

“I went into the Hickory House in nineteen fifty-two, and I was there most of the next eight years. The best trio I had was Bill Crow on bass and Joe Morello on drums. Sal Salvador introduced me to Joe one night. He was at the bar, a skinny bean pole in a raincoat, and he looked like a studious young chemist. I asked him to sit in, and I was flabbergasted. I'd never heard anyone play drums like that. When Mousie Alexander, who was with me then, left, Joe joined us, and I was so enamored of his play­ing that I let him play a lot of solos."

Marian McPartland looks up at the ceiling and laughs. "Whenever I think of Joe, I think of swinging. It was im­possible not to swing with him.”

There are two things I like best regarding the following essay.

The first is that it is about Marian McPartland, one of my all-time favorite Jazz pianists.

The second is that it was penned by Whitney Balliett, one of my all-time favorite writers.

Whitney’s essay was originally published in the early 1970’s in The New Yorker Magazine, a learned publication for which he wrote on the subject of Jazz for many years.

The piece antedates Marian’s Piano Jazz, an NPR program that would bring her well-deserved acclaim and more than likely a lot of enjoyment as her program consisted of interviews with just about every exponent of Jazz piano on the planet.

A marvelously talent Jazz pianist and often overlooked, I will always be grateful to Marian for bringing drummer Joe Morello into my life by way of her Marian McPartland at the Hickory House, a 10” Capitol LP [574] which was recorded in Septembe5, 1954.

In his piece, Whitney talks about New York and Jazz in New York as though they were the center of the civilized world. Of course, each was at the time.

This is a lengthy piece that for all intents and purposes reflects on a world gone by.

It’s a fascinating story about a singularly talented woman who has contributed so much to Jazz over the years.

Amazingly, at it’s conclusion, Marian would add another forty years to its telling!

Although Marian is in retirement today [Whitney died in 2007], the editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought you might like to share in a revisit with Whitney and Marian, chatting away in her cozy flat – one day, when the world was young.

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

“Four scenes from the life of Marian McPartland, the unique and graceful English-born jazz pianist. The first scene takes place early in the spring.

She is seated at a small upright piano in a corner of an ele­mentary-school classroom on Long Island. She has the polished, easy, expectant air that she has when she is about to start a set in a nightclub. Her back is ruler-straight, she is smiling, and her hands rest lightly on the keyboard. And, as always, she is impeccably got up. Her blond hair, shaded by pale grays, is carefully arranged, and she is wearing a faultlessly tailored pants suit. Twenty or so six-year-olds, led into the classroom a few moments before by a pair of teachers, are seated at her feet in a semicircle. She looks at a list of kinds of weather the children have prepared. "All right, dears, what have we here?" she says in a musical English alto. "Did all of you do this?"

There is a gabble of "yes"es.

"Hail, snow, hurricane, cloudy day, rain, twister, fog, wind, the whole lot. Now, I'm going to pick one out and play some­thing, and I want you to tell me what kind of weather I'm play­ing about." She bends over the keyboard and, dropping her left hand into her lap, constructs floating, gentle, Debussy chords with her right hand. A girl with a budlike face and orange hair shoots a hand directly at her and says, "Rain, gentle rain."

"That's very good. It is rain, and gentle rain, too. Now what's this?" She crooks her arms and pads lazily up and down the keyboard on her forearms. She stops and smiles and gazes around the faces. There is a puzzled silence. A boy with porcupine hair and huge eyes raises a hand, falters, and pulls it down with his other hand. "Fog," says the little girl.

Marian McPartland laughs. "That's very close, dear, but it's not exactly right." She pads around on the keyboard again. "What's like a blanket on the ground, a big blanket that goes as far as you can see?" The large-eyed boy shoots his hand all the way up. "Snow! Snow! Snow!"

"Right! But what have we now?" Dropping her left hand again, she plays a quick, light, intricate melody in the upper registers. "Twister!" a pie-faced boy shouts. "No, hurricane," a boy next to him says.

"Could you play it again?" one of the teachers asks.

"Well, I'll try." She plays the melody, but it is not the same. It is a delightful improvisation. There are more notes this time, and she plays with greater intensity. "I think it's wind'' the orange-haired girl says.

"It is wind, and wind is what we get when we have one of these." She launches into loud, stabbing chords that rush up and down the keyboard and are broken by descending glissan-dos. She ends on a crash. "Twister! Twister!" the pie-faced boy cries again.

She shakes her head. "Now, listen, listen more closely." Again she improvises on her invention, and before she is finished there are shouts of "Thunder!" "Lightning!" "Twister!"

"I don't think I'd even know what a twister sounds like," she says, laughing. "But the rest of you are very close. Which is it —thunder or lightning?" She plays two flashing glisses. "Lightning!" a tiny, almond-eyed girl yells.

"Very, very good. Now this one is hard, but it's what we have a lot of in the summer." She plays groups of crystalline chords in a medium tempo. It is sunlight. A cloudy day and a breeze and a hurricane follow, and when the children's atten­tion begins to wane, she starts "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head." The children get up and stand around the piano and sing, Two of them lean against her. She finishes one chorus and starts another, and at her behest the children clap in time. She gradually speeds up the tempo until the clapping is con­tinuous and the children, hopping around as if they were on pogo sticks, are roaring with laughter. She finishes with a loose, ringing tremolo. The teachers thank her and sweep the children out of the room. She takes a lipstick out of an enor­mous handbag and fixes her mouth. Then, in the empty room, she starts noodling a medium-tempo blues. But soon it is all
there: the long, tight, flowing single-note lines and the rich, sparring chords; the flawless time; the far-out, searching har­monies; the emotional content, passed so carefully from genera­tion to generation of jazz musicians; and the balancing, smooth­ing taste. She plays three or four minutes, and then, as a group of ten-year-olds comes billowing through the classroom door, she switches to the Beatles' "Hey Jude."

Marian McPartland lives in an apartment on East Eighty-sixth Street. It is on the seventeenth floor, and it faces south. From the windows of her compact living room, the Empire State and the Chrysler Building and New York Hospital are knee-deep in an endless wash of brownstones. There is a small terrace, with chairs and a couple of boxes of geraniums. A grand piano, which faces away from the view, dominates the living room. Paintings hang on two walls, and the third is covered with photographs, most of which she is in. The business end of the piano is covered with sheet music and musical manuscript, and there are careful stacks of records on the floor below the photographs. She is wearing a flowered top and pants and a big leather belt, and she looks mint-fresh. She makes tea and sits down facing the panorama. She is extremely handsome. Her face, with its long, well-shaped nose, high forehead, wide mouth, and full chin, is classically English. She smiles a great deal and keeps her chin pointed several degrees above the horizon. She has the figure of a well-proportioned twenty-year-old.

"I've been teaching four or five years," she says, crossing her legs and taking a sip of tea. "Clem De Rosa, a drummer and the musical director of the Cold Spring Harbor High School, got me going. I teach about six weeks out in that area every year. I started out doing assemblies with a quartet and then with a trio, but I didn't think we were getting across to the kids. Last year, I went into the classrooms with just a bass player, and this year I'm doing it by myself. I love to work with the little ones — especially the slower ones. I guess it has to do with listening. I'm trying to make them shed their fidgeting and their fears and make them listen. Very few of us ever learn how. I think I was first made conscious of it when I was in kindergarten in England and we had a teacher who used to take us on long walks in the woods and fields and make us listen to the birds and the wind and the water lapping in brooks. During the summer, I teach and play at college clinics, and it's terrific fun. Musicians like Clark Terry and Billy Taylor and Gary Burton do a lot of it, too, so there are always wonderful people to play with, to say nothing of the kids themselves. I wish there had been clinics and such when I was growing up. Becoming a jazz musician in those days, with my background and my sex, was like pulling teeth. It just 'wasn't done,' as my father used to say. I was born in Slough, near Windsor. But we moved to Woolwich a few months later, and then to Brom­ley, Kent, when I was about four. Bromley was much nicer than Woolwich, which resembled Astoria, New York.”

“My family was upper-middle-class and conservative. All my mother's side lived around Slough and Eton and Windsor. My great-uncle sang at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle, and my grandmother lived in The Cloisters, on the grounds. Queen Elizabeth knighted another great-uncle, and now he's Sir Cyril. He and Aunt Sylvia came over when I was working in New York at the original Hickory House in the fifties, and they were shocked and mystified by the whole scene. Uncle Cyril took me aside, between sets at the club, and said, 'Mar­garet' — I was born Margaret Marian Turner — 'Margaret, does your father know what you're doing?' My father was a civil engineer who was involved with machine tools. He was an avid gardener, and clever at everything he did. When I was quite little, he made a goldfish pond with all sorts of pretty rocks on the bottom. He let me help him, and it was a great source of pride. I was Daddy's girl, in spite of the fact that I think he would have liked me to be a boy. My mother always used to say to me when she was annoyed, 'You're just like your father, Margaret — pigheaded!' I think they did quite a lot of bickering and carrying on. My mother was rather a critical person, but I suppose it was her upbringing. It was forever 'Do this, do that, pick up behind you, don't be late.' I was harassed by it, and it took me years to grow out of it.”

“My schooling was of the times. I started in at a one-room school, where I drew pictures of little houses with snow falling. Then, for less than a year, I went to Avon Cliffe, a private school run by two well-meaning women. I was a frog in the school play, and I was not pleased by that. There was a nursing home, next to the school, where my grandmother spent her last days, and she'd wave to me out of the window every afternoon when I left. After that, I was sent to a convent school. My sister, Joyce — there were just the two of us — was always ailing with bronchitis, and I think my mother enjoyed hovering over her. But I was the strong, healthy ox. Even so, I was scared of some of the nuns. I was hopeless in some subjects, and they were always grabbing me by the neck and locking me in the laundry room. My mother said I'd have to go to boarding school if I didn't shape up. I didn't, so they put me in Stratford House, in a neighboring town. It was a nice school for nice girls from nice families. We had a matron with a starched headdress and we were told when it was our turn to take a bath and we were taught how to make a bed with hospital corners. I couldn't stand the school food or the smell of cooking, and I got sick headaches. But there were good things. I think I learned how to string letters and words and sentences together on paper. And I designed the school emblem — three sweet peas, en­twined. It was quite beautiful. And I wrote the school song. "

“I had started playing the piano when I was three or four. It was at my great-uncle Harry's, and the keyboard was all yellow. And I remember playing, sitting up high on a stool, at kindergarten with children all gathered around. My mother would make me play for her friends, and while I played they all talked. When I finished, she'd say, 'Oh, that was very nice, dear.' I was angry, but I wouldn't have dared pop out with 'You weren't listening!' I didn't realize that the pattern of my life was already set. I still play while people talk and then applaud. When I was nine, I asked my mother if I could take piano lessons. She said, 'Margaret, you already play the piano very well. I think you should take up the violin.' We went up to London and bought a violin, and I took lessons, but I never enjoyed the instrument.”

“I played in concerts and competitions, but then my teacher died, and that put an end to it. I was studying elocution with Miss Mackie, at Stratford House, around this time, and I had a crush on her. I used to ask my mother if she'd invite her over for tea or dinner. Mummy was a nervous hostess, but finally Miss Mackie came, and it was she who advised my parents to send me up to the Guildhall School of Music, in London. My parents were always saying, 'You better think of what you're going to do after school; we aren't going to keep you forever,' which made me feel like a bit of aging merchandise. I went up to London and played for Sir Landon Ronald, who was the head of the Guildhall, and I got in. I commuted every day from Bromley, and I really worked. I studied composition and theory and piano, and I won a scholarship in composition. I took up violin again, be­cause we students had to have a second instrument, and I studied singing with Carrie Tubb, a retired opera singer. The other day, I came across six pieces I wrote then. They have titles like Tas Seul' and 'Reverie,' and actually they are pretty well put together. But I'd never claim then that anything I'd done was good. The reaction would have been immediate: 'How can you be so immodest, Margaret!''

The telephone rings, and Marian McPartland talks for a minute. "That was Sam Goody's. They want more of my records. Some women buy fur coats; I have my own record company. It's called Halcyon, and I've put out four albums to date — three with myself and rhythm, and some duets with Teddy Wilson, which turned out surprisingly well. Sherman Fairchild helped me get it going. He died two years ago, and he was a great jazz buff and a friend for twenty years. Bill Weilbacher, who has his own label, Master Jazz Recordings, gives me advice, and a small packaging firm handles the dis­tribution and such. A printing of five thousand LPs costs around fifteen hundred dollars. Whatever I make I put right back into the next record. The big companies are impossible, and a lot of musicians have their own labels. Stan Kenton has his, George Shearing has his, Clark Terry has his, and Bobby Hackett has started one. I think this do-it-yourself movement is terribly important, particularly in the area of reissues. What with all the mergers among recording companies, I'm afraid of valuable records being lost. Not long ago, I wrote the company that recorded me at the Hickory House in the fifties and asked if they intended reissuing any of the albums. I think they'd have some value now. But I got the vaguest letter back. So they won't reissue the records, nor will they let me. It's not right. I think that musicians should get together catalogues of everything they've recorded and perhaps form some sort of cooperative for reissuing valuable stuff. Anyway . . ."
Marian McPartland laughs, and says she is going to make lunch.

She sets a small table and puts out pumpernickel and a fresh fruit salad. "I was listening to everything indiscriminately at the Guildhall, and I was beginning to learn all sorts of tunes. I have fantastic recall, but I don't know where half the music that is stored in my head has come from. I also started listen­ing to jazz — the Hot Club of France, Duke Ellington's 'Blue Goose,' Sidney Bechet, Teddy Wilson, Bob Zurke, Art Tatum, and the wonderful Alec Wilder octets. I was playing a sort of cocktail piano outside of the classroom, and once, when my piano professor at the Guildhall, a solemn little white-haired man named Orlando Morgan, heard me, he said, 'Don't let me catch you playing that rubbish again.' Well, he never got the chance. One day I sneaked over to the West End, where Billy Mayerl had a studio. He played a lot on the BBC, and he was like Frankie Carle or Eddy Duchin. I played 'Where Are You?' for him, and a little later he asked me to join a piano quartet he was putting together — Billy Mayerl and His Claviers. I was twenty, and I was tremendously excited. The family were horrified, but I said I'd go back to the Guildhall when the tour was over. My father charged up to London to see 'this Billy Mayerl/ He didn't want any daughter of his being preyed on, and he wanted to know what I'd be paid — ten pounds a week, it turned out. So my parents agreed. The quartet included Billy and George Myddelton and Dorothy Carless and myself. She and I were outfitted in glamorous gowns, and we played music-hall stuff. We played variety theaters — a week in each town. We lived in rented digs in somebody's house. If it was 'all in,' it included food. Some of the places were great, and they'd even bring you up a cup of tea in the morning. Mean­while, my family had moved to Eastbourne.”

“The tour with Billy lasted almost a year, and then I joined Carroll Levis's Discoveries, a vaudeville show, and I was with them until the early years of the war. By this time, my family had given up on me. But my father would catch me on his business trips, and he'd come backstage and wow all the girls in the cast. I was going around with the manager of the show. He was a come­dian, and he was also Jewish. My father would take us out to dinner and he would manfully try not to be patronizing. But it was beyond him. He would have liked me to work in a bank or be a teacher, and here I was playing popular music and going around with someone who was not 'top drawer.' I don't think it was real anti-Semitism; you just didn't go around with Jews and tradespeople. When I was five or six, and my mother found out that one of my friends was the daughter of a liquor-store owner, I wasn't allowed to see her anymore."

The phone rings again, and Marian McPartland talks with animation. "That was my dear friend Alec Wilder. He wanted to know if I'd done any writing today. He's incessant, but he's right. For a long time I procrastinated and procrastinated. I'd start things and let them sit around forever before finishing them. Alec gave me a set of notebooks, and I jot ideas down in them in cabs and at the hairdresser. Tony Bennett recorded my 'Twilight World,' which Johnny Mercer wrote the lyrics for, and it's just come out on Tony's new LP. Johnny is another great friend. One evening, he and Ginger, his wife, and his mother came up here, and Johnny sat right over there by the piano and sang about fifteen songs. It was a marvelous ex­perience." Marian McPartland clears the table, and sits down in the living room with a fresh cup of tea.
"In nineteen forty-three, I volunteered for ENSA, which was the English equivalent of the USO. I traveled all over England with the same sort of groups I'd been with, and then I switched to the USO, which paid better and which meant working with the Americans! Boy, the Americans! The fall of nineteen forty-four, we were sent to France. We were given fatigues and hel­mets and mess kits, and we lived in tents and ate in orchards and jumped into hedgerows when the Germans came over. At first I played accordion because there weren't any pianos around. I met Fred Astaire and Dinah Shore and Edward G. Robinson, and I worked with Astaire in a show that we gave for Eisenhower. We moved up through Caen, which was all rubble, and into Belgium, where I met Jimmy McPartland. A jam session was going on in a big tent, and I was playing, and in walked Jimmy and saw me — a female white English musician — and the my-God, what-could-be-worse expression on his face was clear right across the room. But it was a case of propinquity, and in the weeks to come it was Jimmy on cornet and me and a bass player and whatever drummer we could find. We'd go up near the front and play in tents or outside, and it was cold. He annoyed me at first because he almost always had this silly grin on his face, but I found out that it was be­cause he was drinking a great deal. Somewhere along the line he said, 'Let's get married.' I didn't believe him, so one morn­ing I went over to his place very early, when I knew he'd be hung over and close to reality, and asked him if he really meant it, and he said sure and took a drink of armagnac. I guess I was madly in love with him. We were married in February, in Aachen, and we played at our own wedding.

"When we got to New York, early in nineteen forty-six, we went straight to Eddie Condon's, in the Village. I was so ex­cited I couldn't stand it. Jimmy sat in and so did I, even though my left wrist, which I'd broken in a jeep in Germany, was still in a cast. We stayed for a while with Gene Krupa, then we went to Chicago to stay with Jimmy's family. A colonel with our outfit had given the news of my marriage to my parents when he was on leave in England. My father was stiff-upper-lip, but Mummy told me she cried a whole day. I guess my not telling them first was a rotten thing to do, but we were so isolated. You couldn't just pick up a phone at the front and tell them you were going to get married. But when Jimmy finally met them, he charmed them completely. My mother was really crippled with arthritis by then, and he made her laugh, and Jimmy took my father to the movies. They told me, 'He's not like an American. He's so polite/ In Chicago, I became greatest of friends with Jimmy's daughter, Dorothy, who was very beautiful and just fifteen. Jimmy had been married before, and Dorothy had been their only child. Jimmy had sent a lot of money back from Europe, and the first six months in Chicago were spent hanging out and treating people. All anybody seemed to do was drink, including Jimmy, and eventually it got to be one crisis after another. I left him a couple of times, and once I even booked passage on the Queen Elizabeth. But it was all done without much thought; I seemed such a brain­less person then. And I think I must have been quite awful to Jimmy. One of Mummy's dire predictions was If you become a musician, Margaret, you'll marry a musician and live in an attic.' And that's exactly what happened; our first place in Chicago was a furnished room in an attic. But there were a lot of nice times, too. Jimmy and I started working together, and Jimmy was always marvelous in that he was proud of me, he wanted to show me off. We worked with Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan and Anita O'Day, and I met Duke Ellington and Count Basie. And we'd go fishing up in Wisconsin and sit there by some lake and cook fish and eat them and watch the sun rise. I had learned all the good old Dixieland tunes from Jimmy, but I was also listening to the new sounds — Charlie Ventura and Lennie Tristano and Charlie Parker.

"Jimmy and I had split up, musically, by the early fifties, and my first gig all by myself in America was at the St. Charles Hotel, in St. Charles, Illinois, and not long after that I left for New York. I played solo piano at Condon's and then I went into the Embers, with Eddie Safranski on bass and Don Lamond on drums. Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge were brought in as guest stars, and we backed them. I was so nervous I had to write down what I was supposed to say at the close of each set. I played Storyville, in Boston, and then I went into the Hickory House in nineteen fifty-two, and I was there most of the next eight years. The best trio I had was Bill Crow on bass and Joe Morello on drums. Sal Salvador introduced me to Joe one night. He was at the bar, a skinny bean pole in a raincoat, and he looked like a studious young chemist. I asked him to sit in, and I was flabbergasted. I'd never heard anyone play drums like that. When Mousie Alexander, who was with me then, left, Joe joined us, and I was so enamored of his play­ing that I let him play a lot of solos."

Marian McPartland looks up at the ceiling and laughs. "Whenever I think of Joe, I think of swinging. It was im­possible not to swing with him. And whenever I think of swinging, I think metaphorically. Swinging is like being on a tightrope or a roller coaster. It's like walking in space. It's like a souffle: it rises and rises and rises. The fingers and the mind are welded together. But it's dangerous. You have to leave spaces in your playing. You can't go on like a typewriter. Sometimes I do, though, and I leave no note unplayed. It's hard to say what goes on in your head when you're swinging, when you're really improvising. I do know I see the different keys in colors — the key of D is daffodil yellow, B major is maroon, and B flat is blue. Different musicians spark you into different ideas, which is why I like to play with new people all the time. Especially the younger musicians. They're fearless. Joe used to play enormously complicated rhythmic patterns once in a while and confuse me, and I'd get mad. Now I'd just laugh. Playing with lots and lots of different people is like feeding the computer: what they teach you may not come out right away, but it will eventually. Unless you have a row with someone just before you play, your state of mind doesn't affect you. You can feel gloomy, and it will turn out a marvelous night. Or you can feel beautiful, and it will be a terrible night. When I started out, I had the wish, the need, to compete with men. If somebody said I sounded like a man, I was pleased. But I don't feel that way anymore. I take pride in being a woman. Of course, I have been a leader most of my career, and that helps. I don't feel I've ever been discriminated against job-wise. I have always been paid what I was worth as a musician. So I feel I've been practicing women's lib for years.”

"The Hickory House was a good period for Jimmy and me. He was on the wagon and we were both working, and we lived on the West Side. For the first time in my life, I began spend­ing all my waking hours doing things that had to do with just me, and one of them was a big romance that went on, or off and on, for years. But I wanted to keep things together with Jimmy, and we bought a little house out in Merrick, Long Island, and Jimmy's daughter came and lived with us. Joe Morello left in nineteen fifty-six to join Dave Brubeck, and it was terrible, but he had to move on. In nineteen sixty-three, after the Hickory House gig was over and I'd worked at the Strollers Club, in the old East Side music hall called The Establishment, I went with Benny Goodman. I thought I'd be perfect for Benny, because I had worked so long as a sideman with Jimmy, and of course Jimmy and Benny played together in Chicago as kids. But I had the feeling I wasn't fitting in. Bobby Hackett was in the band, and he'd tell me, 'Marian, don't play such far-out chords behind Benny,' and I'd say, 'Well, why doesn't Benny say something to me?' One night, Benny and I had a couple of drinks, and I told him I knew he wasn't happy with me and to get someone else. All he said was 'Oh really, you don't mind?' and he got John Bunch. So all of a sudden, nothing seemed right — my work, my marriage, my romance. When I got back to New York, I started going to a psychiatrist, and I stayed with him six years. He was tough but very good. He indirectly precipitated a lot of things. The romance finally broke up, and I cried for a week. Jimmy and I got divorced. I didn't really want to do it, and neither did he, but it turned out we were right. Jimmy hasn't had a drink in five years, and I'm twice as productive. We've never lost touch with each other. We still talk on the phone almost every day, and he stops by all the time. In fact, he said he'd come by today."

The doorbell rings, and Marian McPartland jumps up. "Speak­ing of the devil! That'll be the old man now." Jimmy McPart­land comes into the living room at ninety miles an hour, gives her a peck on the cheek, plumps a big attaché case down on the coffee table, takes off his blazer, and sits down. McPartland is sixty-five, but he doesn't look over fifty. His handsome Irish face glows, and he is salty and dapper. He is wearing a striped button-down shirt and a foulard tie and blue checked pants.

He carries his considerable girth the way Sydney Greenstreet did — as a badge rather than a burden. His credentials are all in order — the founder, along with Bud Freeman and Dave Tough and Eddie Condon, of the Chicago school of jazz; the first and foremost of Bix Beiderbecke's admirers ("I like you, kid," Beiderbecke told him. "You sound like me, but you don't copy me"); and a still lyrical and inventive cornetist — and he wears them well. He opens the attaché case. It has a cornet in it, and several hundred photographs. He puts the cornet be­side him on the sofa and dumps the pictures on the coffee table. "My God, will you look at these, Marian," he says, in a booming voice. "I found them the other day out at the house, and some of them go back thirty or forty years. There's your father, and there we are, with Sarah Vaughan and Charlie Shavers and Louis Bellson. And here we are on the ship coming over. Look at you in the GI togs and look at me. Thinsville."

She leans over his shoulder and giggles.

"Here we are playing in that pub in Eastbourne when we went to visit your family.
And here you are holding a fish we caught in Wisconsin."

"They should be put in a book, Jimmy. They'll just get lost." McPartland pulls a tape out of the attaché case.

"A guy gave me this on my South African trip, a couple of weeks ago. I'd never heard it before. We made it in England in nineteen forty-nine. You were on piano and you wrote the arrangements. It'll surprise you."

She puts the tape on a machine, and Bix Beiderbecke's "In a Mist" starts. A complex ensemble passage introduces a Jimmy McPartland solo. "Listen to that intro," she says. "How awful."

"It's not, it's not. The clarinet player is out of tune. You know, I don't sound bad. Not bad at all." The tape finishes, and McPartland opens his mouth and points at one of his upper front teeth. "Look at thiff," he says to her through his finger. "The damn toof if moving back. Walking right back into my mouf."

She stares at the tooth, frowns, and straightens up. "You should go to Dr. Whitehorn, Jimmy."

"I don't know. I think I'll have to move my embouchure. I've already started, and it's a bitch of a job — changing an embouchure youVe had almost fifty years." He walks over to the window and puts his cornet to his mouth. He makes a little sound halfway between a puff and a grunt, takes the mouth­piece away, makes the sound again, takes the mouthpiece away again, and so on for two or three minutes. The room is silent except for the mysterious little sounds, but suddenly three or four full notes come out. "There. That's better. But it's going to take a hell of a lot more work."

"Jimmy, are we still going out to dinner?"

"Sure, babe. That Brazilian place around the corner you like so much."

"I'll go get dressed."

McPartland goes through his embouchure priming process once more. Then he shuffles through the photographs. "Marian is amazing. There's no one I'd rather be with as a person, as an all-around human being. I have terrific respect for her as a musician and as a person. She's talent personified. Musically, she has that basic classical training, and she's meshed that and her jazz talent. She's just begun to do it really successfully in the past two or three years.   And she's a great accompanist.  She flows with horns and singers like a conversation. Marian didn't have good time when I first heard her.   Her enthusiasm was overwhelming, and she'd rush the beat. I'd tell her to go along with the rhythm, to take it easy. She sounded like Fats Waller, and, in fact, the first tune I ever heard her play was his 'Honeysuckle Rose.' It was in this tent in Belgium.   I go in and there's a girl playing piano and she looks English.  I thought, God, this is awful.   I wouldn't play with her until I'd had a couple of drinks.  I proposed after six or seven weeks. Real offhand. If it doesn't work out,' I'd say, 'you can just go back to England.'   She tried to act real GI, but I could see she was a fine, well-bred person and not a Chicago juvenile delinquent like me.”  

“My father was a boxer and a musician and a professional baseball player with Anson's Colts, which were the forerunners of the Chicago Cubs.   He didn't take a drink until he was twenty-one, and then he never stopped.  My brother Dick and I built a reputation as tough little punks, and we were almost sent to reform school, but my mother saved us.  She was a schoolteacher from Glasgow, and she knew German and worked as a translator in court for all the Jewish people.  We were hauled up before the judge, but he knew my mother and told her he'd let us off if she moved us to another neighborhood, and she did.   She was a wonderful woman, and she always treated me like King James himself. She had seven sisters, and her name was Jeanne Munn.   I'd go to her father's house every Sunday — his name was Dugald Munn, and he was an inventor — and I'd get fifteen cents for listening to him read from the Bible.  He had a wee bit of a brogue, and I couldn't understand a word he said. So visiting Marian's parents was like being in an English movie to me. They were mid-Victorian in style. Her mother was in a wheel­chair and very well-dressed and very particular. Everything at a certain time, everything regulated. Tea at four, dinner at eight. If I was late coming back from fishing or golf, Marian's mother would say, 'James, you're late. We've started our tea/ Her father, who was a great engineer, used to knock his brains out in his garden, and I'd help him until the pull of golf or fishing got too strong. He was a nice, conservative gent."

Marian McPartland has been standing for some moments in front of the sofa. She is in a Pucci-type dress and white boots, and she has a fur coat over one arm. "Daddy once slapped my hand for saying 'Blast it!''

McPartland digs a frayed envelope out from under the photo­graphs and pours out a lot of German currency. "We used to go into people's houses over there and rifle them. That's where all this came from. Some of it is inflation money from after the First War. It was a terrible thing to steal like that, but every­body did it."

"You used to appear with bagfuls of old cobwebby wine bottles."

"I was just well-organized. Once, you needed a piano for a special show, and the colonel gave me the name of this collabo­rator in the town. I got eight guys together and a truck, and we went to his house and there was a beautiful piano. Brand-new. I told him he'd get paid for it, and we brought it back to the theater."

"I was really impressed," she says. "You said you were going out to find me a new piano and you did. It was one of your finest moments. Let's go and eat, Jimmy."

It is Marian McPartland's opening night at the Cafe Carlyle. It is her fourth long nightclub gig of the past year, the three others having been at the Cookery, in the Village, and at the Rowntowner Motel, in Rochester. It is in some ways an odd engagement, and it suggests the country mouse's visit to the town mouse. The Cafe houses, for eight months of the year, the elegant and fashionable supper-club singer and pianist Bobby Short, and it is not the sort of room one associates with jazz; indeed, no out-and-out jazz group has ever played there. By nine-forty-five this evening, when the first set is scheduled to begin, the room is filled, largely with friends and well-wishers. There is a table of business acquaintances, most of whom are amateur musicians. Barney Josephson, the owner of the Cookery, is at ringside with his wife. At the back of the room are Alec Wilder and Jim Maher, the writer. Jimmy McPartland and Clark Terry are at another table, and nearby are Clem De Rosa and pastor John Gensel, of the Lutheran Church. Marian McPartland sits down at the piano, and she is a winsome sight. The room, with its fey, old-fashioned murals and rather dowdy trappings, is out of the late thirties, and she brings it brightly and instantly up to date. In the light, her hair is golden and bouffant, and she is wearing an ensemble that has clearly been thought out to the last fold: a close-fitting cranberry turtleneck, a gold belt, brocaded cranberry and gold palazzo pants, and a gold pocketbook, which she plunks down on the piano. She looks calm and collected, and, smiling slightly to herself, she goes immediately into a pleasant, warming-up ver­sion of "It's a Wonderful World." (Her accompanists are Rusty Gilder on bass and Joe Corsello on drums.) Despite her out­ward cool, she sounds jumpy. Her chords blare a little, an arpeggio stumbles, her time is a second or two off. In the next number, a long, medium-tempo "Gypsy in My Soul," which she introduces as a carry-over from the days at the Hickory House, she begins to relax, and the glories of her style come into full view. Marian McPartland came of age when pianistic giants roamed the earth — Earl Hines, Fats Waller, Art Tatum, Bud Powell — and their footsteps still echo dimly in her work.

But in the past five years she has moved beyond adroit adula­tion into her own, special realm. It is, in the way of Johnny Hodges and Sidney Bechet and Tatum, an emotional, romantic, and highly inventive one. (Her sheer inventiveness is frighten­ing; her ceaseless ideas sometimes trample one another.) Her slow ballads suggest rain forests. The chords are massed and dark and overhanging, the harmonies thick and new and al­most impenetrable. And her slow blues are much the same: the tremolos are mountainous, the arpeggios cascades, the blue notes heavy and keening. But her slow blues also have a singular Celtic bagpipe quality. Her foliage is thinner at faster tempos. There are pauses between the stunning, whipping single-note melodic lines, and her chords, often played off beat, are used as recharging way stations. Her notes have room to breathe, and her chordal passages are copses rather than jungles. "Gypsy in My Soul" is sumptuous and crowded, and so is the theme from "Summer of '42." But then she moves lightly and swiftly through medium-fast renditions of "All the Things You Are," part of which is translated into contrapuntal, Bach-like lines, and "Stompin' at the Savoy," which is full of laughing, winding arpeggios. The room is swaying and rocking, and before it can subside she drops abruptly into a delicate, veiled ad-lib reading of "Little Girl Blue." It is a hymn, a lullaby, a crooning.

A bushy, luxuriant slow blues goes by, and then she pays Alec Wilder tribute with a gentle blending of his three best-known tunes — "I'll Be Around," "While We're Young," and "It's So Peaceful in the Country." They are fresh, mindful versions, and Wilder, listening intently, looks pleased. She closes the set with a rambunctious, homestretch "Royal Garden Blues," and after the applause, which is long and cheerful, she stops briefly at Wilder's table. He asks her how she feels. "I was flipping at first," she replies. "But then the marvelous vibes from all these dear people got to me, and it began to feel very good. Very, very good, in fact. I think it's going to be a nice date."

The closing video montage features Marian, Bill Crow on bass and Joe Morello on drums performing a 1954 version of “Tickle Toe,” Lester Young’s famous hit with the Count Basie Band.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Art of Jazz Guitar

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

There’s a reason why the name for the long part of a guitar is “the neck.”

For there are times when one becomes so frustrated trying to play such an unforgiving instrument that one is tempted to strangle it by grabbing it by – you guessed it - “the neck.”

Those who play Jazz guitar seem destined to play it for how else would you explain the choice of an instrument whose sound is difficult to sustain and whose volume can rarely be heard above other instruments unless it is electrically amplified?

It’s also an instrument that can easily get in the way by clashing with the piano as both serve the function of feeding chords and “comping” [accompanying] in most Jazz groups. Unless it is lightly “feathered” to the point of being more felt than audible, many drummers dislike its intrusion as part of the rhythm section because it makes the time sound chunky and/or feel stiff.

As a lead instrument, it doesn’t phrase easily with other instruments such as the trumpet, trombone or one of the saxes.

When it does find a natural category for expression, for example, in combination with a Hammond B-3 organ and drums, it risks disapproval due to the dislike that many have for the organ in Jazz [“sounds comical;” “belongs at an ice show or a circus;” “overbearing or domineering;” “Why doesn’t someone just pull the plug?”]

So what’s a self-respecting Jazz guitarist to do in order to have a place in the music?

One avenue of expression is to quietly and unobtrusively add a “light touch” to the rhythm section as guitarist Eddie Condon did for many years in Chicago-style and Dixieland Jazz groups or guitarist Freddie Green did as part of the Count Basie Big Band.

Another is to match up with other string instruments as did Eddie Lang with violinist Joe Venuti or the legendary Django Reinhardt with violinist Stephane Grappelli and the Hot Club of Paris.

In his essay The Electric Guitar and Vibraphone in Jazz: Batteries Not Included [Bill Kirchner, ed., The Oxford Companion to Jazz [London/New York, OUP, 2000], Neil Tesser observed of Django:

“Acoustic Jazz guitar reached an apotheosis with Django Reinhardt [whose French guitar had an extra internal sound chamber, which helped boost the volume]. Reinhardt founded his vibrant melodies upon fervid folk rhythms and unexpected chord voicings, the latter being inventions of necessity: a fire that damaged two fingers on his left (chord-making) hand forced him to reimagine his approach to har­mony. Reinhardt belied the then prevalent opinion that "Europeans can't play jazz"; tapping his experiences as a minority "outsider" (he was a Gypsy), he achieved an emotional power commensurate with that of jazz's African-American inventors, and his finger-picking tech­nique continued to stun jazz and even rock guitarists into the 1960s. Souvenirs (London) remains the best single-disc collection of his work with the Quintette du Hot Club de France, costarring Reinhardt's brilliant alter ego, violinist Stephane Grappelli.”

Elsewhere in his essay, Neil points out that “Before amplification, the guitar had little impact on Jazz, with a dozen or so important objections. … not until the mid-1930’s – when Gibson and others began fitting Spanish-style guitars with electromagnetic pickups, to amplify the strings themselves did Jazz guitarists have what they needed [to sustain sound and to increase volume on the instrument]. …

Pound for pound, no instrument has been more profoundly affected by twentieth-century technology than the guitar ….”

The Jazz electric guitar was pioneered by Charlie Christian who performed in Benny Goodman’s Swing era small groups as well as with the early beboppers at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem before his death at a tragically early age.

Oscar Moore with Nat King Cole’s trio helped make the piano-bass-guitar trio a viable Jazz unit - a tradition that was continued first by Barney Kessel and then by Herb Ellis with pianist Oscar Peterson’s trio which included bassist Ray Brown. Pianist Ahmad Jamal’s earliest trio also included a guitarist, Ray Crawford.

Pianist George Shearing unique sound in the 1950s was made possible by the way in which the now-amplified electric guitar was voiced in unison, but octaves apart, with the piano and the vibraphone.

Tal Farlow with Red Norvo’s trio, Jimmy Raney with valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer’s quartet, Johnny Smith with tenor saxophonist Stan Getz’s quartet and Jim Hall with clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre’s trio used “a softer tone and a less pronounced attack to mold the guitar into a cool Jazz voice….” [Tesser]

Hall could also heat it up a bit as he demonstrated with Sonny Rollins’ quartet in the 1960’s and Kenny Burrell used his “exceptionally mellow tone” [Tesser] to raise the temperature in a variety of hard bop settings, including Hammond B-3 organist Jimmy Smith’s trio. Kenny’s work may also have influenced that of guitarist Grant  Green “… whose soulful tone and ringing lyricism distilled the bluesy essence of 1960’s hard bop.” [Tesser]

Wes Montgomery also came along in the 1960’s and blew everybody away with his propulsive melodies and his startlingly effective technique based on improvising in octaves.

As Wes explained in a 1961 Downbeat interview with Ralph J. Gleason:

”I’m so limited. I have a lot of ideas - well, a lot of thoughts—that I'd like to see done with the guitar. With the octaves, that was just a coincidence, going into octaves. It's such a challenge yet, you know, and there's a lot that can be done with it and with chord versions like block chords on piano. But each of these things has a feeling of its own, and it takes so much time to develop all your technique.

"I don't use a pick at all, and that's one of the downfalls, too. In order to get a certain amount of speed, you should use a pick, I think. You don't have to play fast, but being able to play fast can cause you to phrase better. If you had the technique you could phrase better, even if you don't play fast. I think you'd have more control of the instrument.

"I didn't like the sound of a pick. I tried it for, I guess, about two months. I didn't even use my thumb at all. But after two months time, I still couldn't use the pick. So I said, 'Well, which are you going to do?' I liked the tone better with thumb, but I liked the technique with the pick. I couldn't have them both, so I just have to cool.

"I think every instrument should have a certain amount of tone quality within the instrument, but I can't seem to get the right amplifiers and things to get this thing out. I like to hear good phrasing. I'd like to hear a guitar play parts like instead of playing melodic lines, leave that and play chord versions of lines. Now, that's an awful hard thing to do, but it would be different. But I think in those terms, or if a cat could use octaves for a line instead of one note. Give you a double sound with a good tone to it. Should sound pretty good if you got anoth­er blending instrument with it.”

Following its pronounced appearance in organ trios and on ‘funky Jazz’ records in the 1960s,  Jazz guitar seemed to veer off into an area of music that came into existence with the rising popularity of Rock ‘n Roll during the same period.

As Neil Tesser goes on to explain in his essay: “It’s no surprise that the spread of Jazz guitar paralleled the rise of rock. Funk Jazz had dipped into the blues, a guitar-driven music and the primary precursor of Rock-and-Roll. As Rock ascended in the 1960’s, the guitar came to dominate American music; as Rock and Jazz converged, the guitar symbolized the evolving musical fusion.”

The Jazz guitar also fused with other styles of music as well including Indian ragas, country and western music and folk music. These myriad, hybrid styles can he heard in the guitar playing of George Benson, Larry Coryell, John McLaughlin, Lenny Breau, John Abercrombie, John Scofield, Bill Frisell, and Pat Metheny.

Of course, there continue to be those Jazz guitarists who play in a more straight-ahead manner such as Joe Pass, Pat Martino, Ed Bickert and Lorne Lofsky, Peter Bernstein, Jake Langley and two, young Dutch guitarists based in Holland – Jesse van Ruller and Martin van Iterson.

Fortunately, when these plectarists grab the instrument by “the neck,” the result is one of the loveliest and liveliest sounds in all of Jazz and one that’s easy for most of us to identify with.

The guitar is rivaled by only the human voice in its universality.

The following video montage pays tribute to some of the many Jazz guitarists who have put a smile on our face and a song in our heart over the years.

The tune is a smokin’ version Freddie Hubbard’s Gibraltar as performed by Jake Langley on guitar, Joey DeFrancesco on Hammond B-3 organ and drummer Terry Clarke.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Fabergé, Easter Eggs, Bobby Shew and “Joy Spring”

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

Making Jazz and making Art require infinite dedication, skill and love. Thank goodness for the dedication of those few who bring it all to a level of genius for the rest of us to marvel at.
- the editorial staff at JazzProfiles

Some of our Jazz and Art features may be inspired, while others are somewhat of a stretch. You be the judge.

I see the world this way from time-to-time and obviously have fun developing video montages of great works of Art set to great Jazz.

Bassist, author and all-around good guy, Bill Crow is always saying that “Jazz is fun” and I am having fun combining these mysterious and magical worlds of artistic and musical creation.

I never know when The Muse is going to strike, but when it does, I run with it – hence the title of this piece which came about after a recent viewing of a museum exhibit of the work of the famous jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé, maker of the sumptuous Easter Eggs for the Russian Imperial Family.

And since I am not a believer in coincidence, the fact that Bobby Shew’s version of Joy Spring was next up when on turned on my car’s CD player after visiting the Fabergé museum exhibit pretty much decided the matter for me.

For Spring is the season for Easter, a holiday whose importance rivals that of Christmas in the Russian Orthodox Church, and the joyous celebration of this festive season gave birth to the fabeled Fabergé jeweled eggs. How’s that for a stretch?

All of this is explained in detailed below in an annotation excerpted from the current House of Fabergé website.

In his insert notes to the 1988 CD he recorded with Holland’s famed and illustrious  Metropole Orchestra, trumpeter Bobby Shew described himself this way:

"I've been referred to as an 'incurable romantic." I don't know ... MAYBE! I can tell you that there is a part of me that does, in fact, seek out moments of romance in the music ... no matter what tunes, where or with whom. When I was a child first being exposed to Jazz, I loved the 'feel' of it. I loved the energy of it ... the beauty of it. I wore out copies of Clifford Brown with strings, Stan Getz's COOL VELVET, the soundtrack album to the movie THE SANDPIPER with Jack Sheldon playing those gorgeous Johnny Mandel charts. I guess if I am an incurable romantic, it's because I dreamt, as I think most horn players have, of doing a string album someday before we leave this earth. This recording with the outstanding Metropole Orchestra under the direction of Rob Pronk exceeds my wildest dreams. The real bulk of the credit here go to Lex Jasper whose arranging is absolutely magical."

Bobby is a great soloist but he is also an excellent lead trumpet player; a rare combination in Jazz.

He has appeared on numerous recording dates and has a number of albums out under his own name, none better, in our opinion, than his 1988 Mons CD with The Metropole Orchestra under the direction of Rob Pronk with its finely orchestrated arrangements by Lex Jasper.

We located the following overview of Bobby’s career on

“Bobby Shew, (born March 4th, 1941, Albuquerque, New Mexico) began playing the guitar at the age of eight and switched to the trumpet at ten. By the time he was thirteen he was playing at local dances with a number of bands and by fifteen had put together his own group to play at dances, occasional concerts and in jazz coffee houses. He spent most of his high school days playing as many as six nights a week in a dinner club, giving him an early start to his professional career. During his 3 year tenure as jazz soloist for the famed NORAD band, he decided to make music his career. In 1964, soon after his discharge, he became a member of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.

After his stint with Tommy Dorsey, Bobby was asked to play with Woody Herman's band upon Bill Chase's recommendation. He then spent some time playing for Della Reese and Buddy Rich, who's big band had just been formed.  Many other similar situations followed and Bobby played lead trumpet for a number of pop stars. This brought Bobby to live in Las Vegas where he became prominent in various hotels and casinos.

By this time Bobby was widely known for his strong lead playing rather than as a jazz soloist. So late in 1972 he decided to make a move to the Los Angeles area in order to get re-involved in developing as a jazz player. He landed a lot of studio work and many jazz gigs, working with Bill Holman, Louie Bellson, Maynard Ferguson, and a sustained period with the Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin big band. His spell with the band produced many fine albums, notably Kogun (1974), Tales Of A Courtesan (1975) and Insights (1976).  During that time he played in many Los Angeles-based rehearsal bands as well, including Don Menza's and the Capp-Pierce Juggernaut.

In the late 70s, Bobby toured Europe and the UK with Louie Bellson's big band, appearing on some of the live recordings, including Dynamite! (1979) and London Scene (1980). In the 80s Shew's playing was mostly in small groups, as both sideman and leader. Shew has also recorded many of his own albums. Several of these received very high accolades including his albums "Outstanding In His Field" which was nominated for a Grammy in 1980, and "Heavy Company" which was awarded the Grammy for Jazz Album Of The Year in 1983.

Shew has become one of the jazz community's most in-demand clinicians and concert soloists. Bobby is well known for his fiery bebop trumpet and for over three decades has performed and recorded with the elite of the jazz world.

As an educator, he's made his mark as Trumpet Chairman of the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) and as the author of numerous articles and books on trumpet performance and technique. Bobby is also on the Board of Directors of the International Trumpet Guild. An important influence through his teaching activities, Shew is ensuring that, in a period when dazzling technical proficiency is becoming almost commonplace, the emotional qualities of jazz are not forgotten.

As for Joy Spring, Ted Gioia’s wonderful new book The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire [New York/London: Oxford University Press, 2012, p. 213] offers this background information on the tune.

© -The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire
by Ted Gioia with permission from Oxford University Press USA. Copyright © 2012 by Ted Gioia.”

 “Now that more than a half century has passed since his tragic death in an automobile accident at age 25, Clifford Brown has fallen into the unfortunate obscurity that seems to afflict many great jazz artists who never lived long enough to make stereo recordings. Jazz fans today do not enjoy listening to tracks that lack clean, crisp, seems-like-you're-in-the-same-room sound quality. The cut-off-point is around 1957.  If artists recorded fine music in 1958 or 1959—as did Mingus, Miles, and Monk— they are widely celebrated today, but if they left the scene in 1956, as did Clifford Brown, they risk becoming a forgotten footnote in the music's history.

Yet the new millennium jazz fans who don't know about Brownie really must acquaint themselves with this artist, who was the most breathtaking trumpeter of the mid-1950's. There's no better place to begin than with "Joy Spring," his most famous and oft-played composition. Brown left behind two studio recordings, and both are worth hearing, although I have a slight preference for the version made with Max Roach at the August 1954 sessions that did much to establish the new hard bop sound of the period.

The song is aptly named. Brown's music captures a more jubilant and optimistic worldview than one encounters with many of the later hard bop players, who aimed for an edgier and grittier sound. His trumpet technique furthered this sense of positive energy: he had a full and beautiful tone, and even at the fastest tempos hit each note cleanly and with what my old philosophy professor would call "intentionality." But not antiseptically, as with so many virtuosos: his playing is as notable for its warmth as it is for its flawless execution. The melody line of "Joy Spring" furthers this life-embracing vibe, with its phrases that constantly return to declamatory chord tones, and the modulation up a half step for the second eight bars—a common arranger's device for making a chart seem brighter and more insistent, but one that is rarely written into the lead sheet of a modern jazz combo tune. …”

And we located this synopsis of Fabergé’s career on the current House of Fabergé website.

© -Excerpted from, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“The series of lavish Easter eggs created by Fabergé for the Russian Imperial family, between 1885 and 1916, against an extraordinary historical backdrop, is regarded as the artist-goldsmith’s greatest and most enduring achievement.

The Imperial Easter eggs are certainly the most celebrated and awe-inspiring of all Fabergé works of art, inextricably bound to the Fabergé name and legend. They are also considered as some of the last great commissions of objets d’art.

The story began when Tsar Alexander III decided to give a jewelled Easter egg to his wife the Empress Marie Fedorovna, in 1885, possibly to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their betrothal.

It is believed that the Tsar, who had first become acquainted with Fabergé’s virtuoso work at the Moscow Pan-Russian Exhibition in 1882, was inspired by an 18th century egg owned by the Empress’s aunt, Princess Wilhelmine Marie of Denmark.

The object was said to have captivated the imagination of the young Maria during her childhood in Denmark. Tsar Alexander was apparently involved in the design and execution of the egg, making suggestions to Fabergé as the project went along.

Easter was the most important occasion of the year in the Russian Orthodox Church, equivalent to Christmas in the West. A centuries-old tradition of bringing hand-coloured eggs to Church to be blessed and then presented to friends and family, had evolved through the years and, amongst the highest echelons of St Petersburg society, the custom developed of presenting valuably bejewelled Easter gifts.

So it was that Tsar Alexander III had the idea of commissioning Fabergé to create a precious Easter egg as a surprise for the Empress, and thus the first Imperial Easter egg was born.

Known as the Hen Egg, it is crafted from gold, its opaque white enamelled ‘shell’ opening to reveal its first surprise, a matt yellow gold yolk. This in turn opens to reveal a multi-coloured, superbly chased gold hen that also opens. Originally, this contained a minute diamond replica of the Imperial Crown from which a small ruby pendant egg was suspended. Unfortunately these last two surprises have been lost.

The Empress’s delight at this intriguing gift with its hidden jewelled surprises was the starting point for the yearly Imperial tradition that continued for 32 years until 1917 and produced the most opulent and captivating Easter gifts the world has ever seen. The eggs were private and personal gifts, and the whole spectacular series charted the romantic and tragic story leading up to the end of the mighty Romanovs.

Each egg, an artistic tour de force, took a year or more to make, involving a team of highly skilled craftsmen, who worked in the greatest secrecy. Fabergé was given complete freedom in the design and execution, with the only prerequisite being that there had to be surprise within each creation. Dreaming up each complex concept, Fabergé often drew on family ties, events in Imperial Court life, or the milestones and achievements of the Romanov dynasty, as in the Fifteenth Anniversary Egg of 1911, commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of Nicholas II’s accession to the throne, or the Romanov Tercentenary Egg of 1913 that celebrated 300 years of the House of Romanov, showing portrait miniatures of the Russian dynastic rulers.

Although the theme of the Easter eggs changed annually, the element of surprise remained a constant link between them. The surprises ranged from a perfect miniature replica of the Coronation carriage - that took 15 months to make working 16-hour days - through a mechanical swan and an ivory elephant, to a heart-shaped frame on an easel with 11 miniature portraits of members of the Imperial family.

Alexander III presented an egg each year to his wife the Empress Marie Fedorovna and the tradition was continued, from 1895, by his son Nicholas II who presented an egg annually to both his wife the Empress Alexandra Fedorovna and to his mother the Dowager Empress Marie Fedorovna. However, there were no presentations during 1904 and 1905 because of political unrest and the Russo-Japanese War.

The most expensive was the 1913 Winter Egg, which was invoiced at 24,600 roubles (then £2,460). Prior to the Great War, a room at Claridges was 10 shillings (50 pence) a night compared to approximately £380 today. Using this yardstick, the egg would have cost £1.87 million in today’s money.

The Winter Egg, designed by Alma Pihl, famed for her series of diamond snowflakes, is made of carved rock crystal as thin as glass. This is embellished with engraving, and ornamented with platinum and diamonds, to resemble frost. The egg rests on a rock-crystal base designed as a block of melting ice. Its surprise is a magnificent and platinum basket of exuberant wood anemones. The flowers are made from white quartz, nephrite, gold and demantoid garnets and they emerge from moss made of green gold. Its overall height is 14.2cm. It is set with 3,246 diamonds. The egg sold at Christie’s in New York in 2002 for US$9.6 million.

Of the 50 eggs Fabergé made for the Imperial family from 1885 through to 1916, 42 have survived.”

Bobby’s brilliant trumpet playing and the stunning Fabergé jeweled eggs along with other works of art by his studio are all on display in the following video tribute to both of them.

Making Jazz and making Art require infinite dedication, skill and love.

Thank goodness for the dedication of those few who bring it all to a level of genius for the rest of us to marvel at.