Monk moves!

Monk moves!

Monday, April 29, 2013

A Re-posting -LATIN ESCAPADE - George Shearing

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

Sometimes I wonder if fans of Jazz who grew-up listening to the music in the 1940’s and 50’s realize how fortunate we are that so much of it has been re-issued in CD and Mp3 formats.

Since Jazz, in general, accounts for less than 5% of all recordings sold, it is amazing how much of it has been subsequently released in digital formats.

And yet, for a variety of reasons, more than occasionally we find that a favorite LP regrettably hasn’t been included in this transition.

One such album is Latin Escapade [Capitol T737] which features pianist George Shearing and his quintet. In addition to George, the quintet is made up of a guitarist, vibraphonist, bassist and drummer. Although these are all instruments that must be struck or plucked, George’s group has managed to achieve one of the more beautiful and easily identifiable sounds in Jazz.

The uniqueness of “the Shearing Sound” comes from the way the group states the melody of each tune. This is formed by Shearing playing blocked chords around the notes of the melody with each hand an octave apart and the vibes playing in unison up an octave from the piano’s right hand and the guitar playing in unison down and octave from the piano’s left hand.

When hearing "The Shearing Sound," essentially the listener is experiencing a melody that is harmonized into four-parts in which Shearing's upper melody note is doubled on vibes and the lower note is doubled on guitar.

You can hear this four octave span quite distinctly on every track of Latin Escapade.

The JazzProfiles editorial staff  has developed YouTubes featuring four [4] tracks from Latin Escapade and embed them throughout this feature to enable a Shearing Sound sampling of the music from the album.

The first of these uses Cuban Travel Poster Art with the Shearing Quintet’s version of “Yours.”

Along with vibraphonist, Cal Tjader, who had occupied the vibes chair in George’s quintet before forming his own combo, Shearing was one of the earliest adapters of Latin rhythms in a small group setting.  Many of his 1950’s album contained Latin Jazz tracks or were thematically based on Latin Jazz themes as was the case with Latin Escapade.

George developed such a deep interest in Latin rhythms that he went so far as to insert a segment in his club sets or concert performances that highlighted tunes with a Latin-flavor. During these Latin features, Shearing would augment his quintet with conga drums and timbales with the Jazz drummer in the group playing various Latin percussion instruments, thus creating the instrumentation for authentic Afro-Cuban rhythms.

Of course, George was always a very commercial-minded musician [in other words, he liked to eat regularly and pay his rent on time] and it certainly didn’t escape his attention that dancing to the [then, newly-introduced] Mambo rhythm was a craze that was sweeping the US in the 1950’s.

Hence, the following Mambo with Me cut from Latin Escapade which serves as the audio track to this YouTube tribute to the Mambo:

The long-playing record provided Jazz groups with room to “stretch-out” [i.e.:take longer solos] and it was not uncommon for Jazz LP’s to have 2 or 3 tracks that produced 18-20 minutes of music per side.

During his career, Shearing did make some LP’s with fewer cuts per side, especially with the quintet in performance, but he made many more with the more commercial or popular music format of 12 tracks per LP.

Although Latin Escapade belongs in the latter category, its finely crafted and well-executed arrangements, while easy on the ear, are anything but commercial.

With none lasting longer than 3:35 minutes, each of the album’s twelve tracks is a miniature musical masterpiece.

George is the only soloist and during his solos he reveals a thorough familiarity with Latin Jazz piano stylings; particularly the heavy use of riffs and “montuno” [repetitive refrains].

All of these qualities are reflected in this YouTube which uses vintage postcards of Cuba from the University of Miami’s collection and Mi Musica Es Para Ti [“My Music is For You”] from the album as its audio track.

George has always had an ear for pretty melodies. He can swing hard, too, but his affinity for appealing airs results in a healthy variety of ballads on all of his recordings. He always arranges his treatment of such tunes very artfully so as to further enhance their beauty and, in many cases, their romantic or alluring aura.

At a time in the 1950’s and 60’s when AM radio in Southern California still offered programs that specialized in “mood music,” it was not uncommon to hear a Shearing Sound ballad treatment during one of these late night broadcasts.

One such example of Shearing's charming way with a ballad can be found on his Latin Escapade interpretation of Ray Gilbert and Osvaldo Farres’ haunting Without You, the audio track to this You Tube commemorating The Shearing Sound.

Born in 1919, George Shearing is still with us although no longer performing. In 2007, he became Sir George Shearing when he was knighted by Her Royal Majesty, The Queen of England, for his services to music. Incidentally, I wonder if Sir George’s longevity is contagious as Latin Escapade guitarist Jean “Toots” Thielemans and vibraphonist Emil Richards are also still on board.

Over the years, in addition to leading his marvelous quintet, Sir George has performed with Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, Mel Torme and a host of other vocalists. More recently, he has appeared in concert with guitarist and vocalist, John Pizzarelli.

In addition to the recordings that he has made with these artists, George has a substantial discography under his own name – none better than Latin Escapade [1956].

After sampling the music on this album, we hope you will agree.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Daniele Scannapieco “…is good”

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

Italy has seen the development of a number of fine, Jazz saxophonists in recent years and sooner or later they all perform with Italian Jazz pianist, Dado Moroni.

Rosario Giuliani, Stefano di Battista, and Max Ionata, to name but a few, have all appeared in concert and in clubs and made recordings with Dado, who is still too young to be considered an Old Master, but experienced enough to rank as one of Italian Jazz’s senior statesmen.

Daniele Scannapieco is another of the fine tenor saxophonist to make the recent, Italian Jazz scene and, not surprisingly, he, too, has made an album with Dado – Never More [ViaVeneto Jazz VVJ 054].

When you are around Dado you can expect to play The Blues and such is the case on the closing track of Never More.

The tune is entitled “… is good” and you can hear it on the following video which features Daniele along with Dado and bassist Ira Coleman and drummer Gregory Hutchinson.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Jay D’Amico and Mark Weinstein – Tango Jazz

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

“If there is any one word that could describe this CD that word would be MUSICALITY. Jay D'Amico, who for many years was a student of mine studying jazz piano as well as composition and counterpoint, has matured into a superb musical entity in his own right. His writing as well as his playing here is as masterful and profound as it gets.

The musicians performing with him are of the highest order and particularly the marvelous trumpet work of Richie Vitale is outstanding. This is one of those rare occasions in which a group of musicians, through their collective talents, have provided us with a magical and mystical musical experience worthy of much repeated listening.

The depth of the contrapuntal interplay in D'Amico's writing is brilliant and will reveal profound nuances each and every time you listen to it. Bravo gentlemen and thank you for this superb work of art...”
- Mike Longo, Jazz pianist, composer and educator

“After years of exploring African, Brazilian and Caribbean music, Weinstein saw an opportunity in tango. Playing and recording drum and percussion heavy genres limits flute players to the high register and takes away the more nuanced, expressive possibilities of the instrument.

On the other hand, playing in a drum-less setting has its own challenges.

It’s not only that there’s a different way of setting the groove and driving the music but, in tango, the melodies and the dancing, true or implied, are often what sets the tempo and its variations.”
- Fernando Gonzalez, writer, critic, and translator

Chris Di Girolamo is the owner-operator of Two for The Show Media and represents a number of familiar and new faces on the Jazz and popular music scene.

Two of his artists – Jay D’Amico and Mark Weinstein – have recently made new CD’s with a rhythmic emphasis based on and around tango beats.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it might be fun to showcase some of the music from Jay and Mark’s recent efforts for those of you interested in moving your ears in some new directions.

In each case, we have reproduced the CD cover art, Chris’ Media Relations announcement followed by an audio track from the CDs.

You can locate more information about Chris and his artists at

Jay D’Amico: Tango Caliente-Jazz Under Glass [CAP/Consolidated Artists Productions/1034] – available 4.29.2013

About Jay D'Amico:

Tango Caliente represents Jay's latest efforts at composing and interpreting his own music. "In some ways I've been influenced by various forms found in classical music and they're evident here, but other compositions on the album go beyond that." In all his compositions, Jay insists, "I always want the melody to imitate the human voice and most importantly, it always has to swing." D'Amico's sound has evolved over the years, honed in performances with his own trio and a variety of other musicians, most notably bassist and lifelong friend Milt "the Judge'' Hinton, whom the pianist credits as one of the primary influences on his career.

"Several years back, I played a few of the tracks on my earlier release, Ponte Novello, for Milt  - he'd only performed on one track on the CD - and he just smiled at me and said, 'Man, you found your niche." That niche can be described as the melodious intersection of two very distinct musical roads, which D'Amico says are actually not that diverse to his thinking. "My music is somewhat comparable to opera, in that it's sing-able, even though my compositions are obviously all instrumental. Jazz starts from that same European harmonic tradition and incorporates African rhythms. I'm just finding my own way around that," he explains.

Born into a family where music was omnipresent, the young D'Amico began to play piano when he was eight years old. Coming of age in the 1960's, D'Amico says his earliest exposure was to American popular music, from the Cole Porter tunes his mother would sing around the house, to his first experience as a performer in a rock group. Under the auspices of Art Podell of the New Christie Minstrels, D'Amico, his brother and three cousins, recorded a single which enjoyed near hit status before the vagaries of the music industry derailed them. The drive to become a pianist took a firm hold when young D'Amico heard the music of Polish-born composer and pianist, Frederic Chopin. "Actually I saw the actor Cornell Wilde portray him in a movie," he remembers. Later in college, his piano teacher told D'Amico that the melodies of the Italian opera were the greatest influence on Chopin's music. "I remember being surprised at that, but then I saw that the lyricism of opera, combined with the Polish mazurka and polonaise, came to create his style. I thought, 'I want to be able to do the same thing, to play it all!'"

An early Oscar Peterson performance on television, during which his mother told him "This is jazz and they're making it up as they go along," also resonated strongly with the burgeoning young performer and composer. D'Amico first met Milt Hinton in 1974 in a jazz workshop, and the two immediately took to each other so strongly that within a short time D'Amico started teaching the workshop with Hinton. Their collaboration as educators would last for some 18 years, until 1992. Hinton joined his protégé on D'Amico's recording debut in 1982, Envisage, which also featured drummer Bob Rosengarden (it was re-released on CD in 2003.)

In addition to Milt Hinton, another musician whose influence D'Amico cites as key is Mike Longo, established pianist and musical director for many of Dizzy Gillespie's bands. Longo's CAP Records has released all four of D'Amico's CD releases. From 1984 through September 10, 2001, D'Amico performed as the Pianist in Residence at New York's Windows on the World. In 1990, he released the solo recording, From the Top. Recording with a trio comprised of bassist Ben Brown and drummer Ronnie Zito, he released Ponte Novello in 2001. The CD featured D'Amico's original compositions along side the pianist's arrangements of arias by Puccini, Verdi and Bellini. He has also appeared on Hinton's The Judge's Decision (1985) both as pianist and co-composer.

For bio, tour dates, and more information on Jay D'Amico go to:

"If you are one that thinks "delicate" when they hear 'flute,' forget that. Weinstein's approach is full-bodied and surging and loaded with swagger and swing."
- Mark Keresman, Jazz Improv

"Mark Weinstein has quietly established himself as one of the most wildly inventive flutists in modem memory."
- Raul d'Gama Rose,
"Flautist Mark Weinstein has always been a brave and cutting edge musician."
- Ken Dryden,

About Mark Weinstein:

Flutist, composer and arranger, Mark Weinstein began his study of music at age six with piano lessons from the neighborhood teacher in Fort Green Projects in Brooklyn where he was raised. Between then and age 14 when he started to play trombone in Erasmus Hall High School, he tried clarinet and drums. Playing his first professional gig on trombone at 15, he added string bass, a common double in NYC at that time.

Mark learned to play Latin bass from Salsa bandleader Larry Harlow. He experimented playing trombone with Harlow's band and three years later, along with Barry Rogers, formed Eddie Palmieri's first trombone section, changing the sound of salsa forever. With his heart in jazz, Weinstein was a major contributor to the development of the salsa trombone playing and arranging. He extended jazz attitudes and techniques in his playing with salsa bands. His arrangements broadened the harmonic base of salsa while introducing folkloric elements for authenticity and depth. The only horn in a Latin jazz quintet led by Larry Harlow at the jam session band at Schenks Paramount Hotel in the Catskills, soloist and arranger with Charlie Palmieri in the first trumpet and trombone salsa band in NYC, arranger and featured soloist along with the great Cuban trumpet player Alfredo Chocolate Armenteros in Orchestra Harlow, and with the Panamanian giant Victer Paz in the La Playa Sextet, and with the Alegre All Stars, Mark's playing and arranging was a major influence on Salsa trombone and brass writing in the 60s and 70s.

Mark continued to record with Eddie Palmieri, with Cal Tjader and with Tito Puente. He toured with Herbie Mann for years, played with Maynard Ferguson, and the big bands of Joe Henderson, Clark Terry, Jones and Lewis, Lionel Hampton, Duke Pearson and Kenny Dorham. In 1967 he wrote and recorded the Afro-Cuban jazz album, Cuban Roots for the legendary salsa producer Al Santiago. It revolutionized Latin jazz; combining authentic folkloric drum ensembles with harmonically complex extended jazz solos and arrangements. Chick Corea was on piano and the rhythm section included the finest and most knowledgeable Latin drummers: Julito Collazo, Tommy Lopez Sr. and Papaito (timbalero with La Sonora Matancera)

In the early 1970's Mark took time off from music to earn a Ph.D in Philosophy with a specialization in mathematical logic. He became a college professor and remains so until this day. When he returned to the music scene in 1978 playing the flute, he wrote produced and recorded the Orisha Suites with singer Olympia Alfara, the great Colombian jazz pianist Eddy Martinez and percussionists Steve Berrios, Julito Collazo, Papaito and Papiro along with an Afro-Cuban chorus. Unreleased until recently, music from the Orisha Suites became the theme for Roger Dawson's Sunday Salsa Show on WRVR.

Mark returned to jazz with a vengeance, working gigs and recording over a dozen CD's since 1997. Seasoning, his first flute CD experimented with different settings for the flute, including a quartet with vibist Bryan Carrott and Cecil Brooks III on drums and a trio of flute and two guitars with Vic Juris and Rob Reich. In 1998, Mark recorded Jazz World Trios with Brazilian master guitarist Romero Lubambo and award winning percussionist Cyro Baptista. Their exploration of Brazilian themes with classical guitar and percussion contrasted with a freebop trio with Santi Debriano on bass and Cindy Blackman on drums. Jean Paul Bourelly and Milton Cardone completed the set with music based on Santeria themes.  The release of Three Deuces in 2000, paired Mark with guitarists Vic Juris, Ed Cherry and Paul Meyers.

Because of limited distribution and more demand than albums available, Mark rerecorded the material from the original Cuban Roots with new arrangements and the help of such giants of Cuban music as pianist Omar Sosa, percussionists Francisco Aquabella, Lazaro Galarraga, John Santos, Jose De Leon, and Nengue Hernandez. It was co-produced with his nephew, trombonist, violinist and arranger Dan Weinstein for Michael McFadin and CuBop Records.

In 2002 Mark had the incredible opportunity to go to Kiev, Ukraine, where his father was born, to record the music of the Ukrainian composer Alexey Kharchenko. Milling Time, the record that they made, stretched his playing in a number of directions, from modern classical music to smooth jazz to Ukrainian folk music. He continued his exploration of his roots with a jazz album of Jewish music with Mike Richmond on bass, Brad Shepik on guitar and Jamey Haddad on drums and percussion. He then turned to Brazil and the music of Hermeto Pascoal's Calendario do Som, entitled Tudo e Som with guitarist and vocalist Richard Boukas, Nilson Matta on bass, Paulo Braga on drums and Vanderlei Pereira on percussion.

In 2005 he began his ongoing association with Jazzheads record recording another version of Cuban Roots called Algo Mas, with Jean Paul Bourelly playing electric guitar, Santi Debriano on bass, Thelonious Monk award winning percussionist and vocalist Pedrito Martinez, as well as Nani Santiago, Gene Golden and Skip Burney on congas and bata drums. His next release on Jazzheads was 0 Nosso Amor with Brazilian jazz masters Romero Lubambo, Nilson Matta and Paulo Braga along with percussionists Guilherme Franco and Jorge Silva. This was followed by Con Alma, a Latin Jazz album featuring Mark Levine on piano, Santi Debriano on bass, Pedrito Martinez playing conga and drummer Mauricio Hererra. Next a straight-ahead album, Straight No Chaser, with guitarist Dave Stryker, bassist Ron Howard and Victor Lewis on drums. A return to Brazilian music, Lua e Sol, saw Romero Lubambo and Nilson Mata joined by award winning percussionist Cyro Baptista.

Mark took time out from Jazzheads to record an album for Ota records in Berlin with Grammy nominated pianist Omar Sosa playing vibes, marimbas and piano along with AN Keita on balafon, Mathais Ogbukoa and Aho Luc Nicaise on African percussion, bassist Stanislou Michalou and Marque Gilmore on drums. Back to Jazzheads, Mark recorded Timbasa with the percussion team of Pedrito Martinez and Mauricio Hererra, joined by Ramon Diaz with the young giants Axel Laugart on piano and bassist Panagiotis Andreou. This was followed by Jazz Brasil with NEH Jazzmaster Kenny Barron on piano along with Nilson Matta and drummer Marcello Pellitteri. His most recent album, El Cumbanchero was recorded with a string ensemble and arranged by Cuban piano virtuoso Aruan Ortiz, along with Yunior Terry on bass and percussionists Mauricio Herrera and Yusnier Bustamante.

For more information on Mark Weinstein go to:

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in Europe with Victor Feldman, 1960 – 1961

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

It didn’t last long.

But the eighteen month association between the Adderley brothers and pianist and vibraphonist Victor Feldman was a mutual admiration society.

Older brother and alto saxophonist Julian Adderley, affectionately known as Cannonball, was quoted as saying of his time together with Victor: “I had a ball; the band just burned. Victor is one bad cat.” Victor, never one to use many words when a few would do, outdid himself in this regard by summing up his experience with Cannonball’s quintet in one word: “Brilliant!”

On the other hand, 18 months is a long time for a jazz group to be together.

And while touring with the quintet led by Cannonball and his younger brother Nat [who plays cornet], Victor was leaving a ton of "bread" on the table.

So for professional as well as some personal reasons, coming off the road and getting back into the then-vibrant Los Angeles studio scene seemed the prudent and wise thing for Victor to do.

As was always the case, wherever he went, Victor brought a lot of new music with him as he was constantly composing.

One of his tunes that Cannonball’s group played at almost every appearance while Victor was on the band was Lisa, a tune that Victor co-composed with Torrie Zito.

You can hear Lisa on the following video montage. It was recorded during the band’s April 15, 1961 appearance at the famous L’Olympia concert hall in Paris, France. Cannonball, Nat and Victor are accompanied by Sam Jones on bass and Louis Hayes on drums.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Stan Getz and Chet Baker – Just for a Moment

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

The association between baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and trumpeter Chet Baker didn’t last very long.

Less than year, from about August, 1952 until June, 1953.

During that relatively brief time, the recordings they made for Dick Bock’s Pacific Jazz label and the Mulligan/Baker quartet appearances at The Haig just outside of downtown Los Angeles on Wilshire Boulevard made them both internationally famous Jazz stars before each went their separate way.

After a hiatus, Gerry would reform his quartet with Bob Brookmeyer on valve trombone and Chet would form his own quartet featuring Russ Freeman on piano.

But Chet also made another stop along the way when he played for a short time with tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, once again in a piano-less quartet, with bassist Carson Smith and drummer Larry Bunker.

The occasion of Stan and Chet getting together resulted from Gerry Mulligan’s need to get his life back in order by overcoming some bad habits.

In his absence, Dick Bock suggested to John Bennett, the owner of The Haig, that Stan Getz fill in for a stint with Chet, Carson and Larry during June, 1953.

As Ken Poston, Director of the Los Angeles Jazz Institute has commented: “It is fascinating to hear how Getz interacts with Chet and the group applying backgrounds and counterpoint in the same manner as Mulligan.”

You can hear the musical magic Ken describes on the audio track to the following video tribute to Stan and Chet. The tune is Strike Up The Band with Carson Smith on bass and Larry Bunker on drums.

Fortunately, too, some of the music that resulted from the “moment in time” union of these two Jazz giants is available in a 2 CD set entitled Chet Baker and Stan Getz: West Coast Live.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Ken Nordine – Word Jazz

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

a ken nordine poem

hey... what are you up to ? and what's it about... this stuff you call Word Jazz, they say it's far out. just why do you do it and what's it good for? is that someone knocking? who's that at the door?

the something that makes it
whatever it is
is outside the main stream
of show busy biz
you do what you have to,
compulsively free,
and after you finish,
just where will you be?

and what if you get there and nobody's there, just you and the empty way up there somewhere, you look down the distance of all that has been to see if you see how you used to fit in

“Ken Nordine, yea I know that guy.

I heard his voice 1000 times, he’s the guy in the bus station that say ‘go ahead I’ll keep an eye on your stuff for you,’ and you see him the next day walking around town wearing your clothes.

He broadcasts from the boiler room of the Wilmot Hotel with 50,000 watts of power. I know that voice, he’s the guy with the pitchfork in your head saying go ahead and jump, and he’s the ambulance driver who tells you you’re going to pull thru.

He’s the guy in the control tower who talked you down in a storm with a hole in your fuselage and both engines on fire.

I heard him barking thru the Rose Alley Carnival strobe as samurai fireman were pulling hose.

Yea, he’s the dispatcher with the heart of gold, the only guy up this late on the suicide hotline.

Ken Nordine is the real angel sitting on the wire in the tangled matrix of cobwebs that holds the whole attic together..

Yea, Ken Nordine, he’s the switchboard operator at the Taft Hotel, the only place in town that you can get a drink at this hour.

You know Ken Nordine, he’s the lite in the icebox, he’s the blacksmith on the anvil in your ear.”
- Tom Waits, 1990

For many Jazz fans, the name “Ken Nordine” and the phrase “Word Jazz” are synonymous.

But you won’t find much written about him in Jazz literature.

Maybe it’s because Ken is an anomaly, a one-of-a-kind Jazz sound.

In a sense, he possessed the ultimate in Jazz – an instantly recognizable “Voice,” in his case, literally.

Ken does word associations, vignettes, absurd dialogues with a Jazz group playing in the background. Some of these word plays are hipper-than-hip verbal expositions, many of which have a mystical, Zen-like quality to them.

What makes them so mesmerizing is the way Ken speaks the words and the sound of his rich, deep and resonating voice. Put him in an echo chamber and Ken could instantly become the ultimate, Voice Of Doom!

Much of Ken’s earliest recorded work in the Word Jazz genre can be found on four recordings he did for the Dot label: [1] Word Jazz [Dot Jazz Horizons LP #3075, Spring, 1957]; [2] Son of Word Jazz [Dot Jazz Horizons #3096, Spring, 1958]; [3] Next! (Word Jazz) [Dot LP, #3196, Spring, 1959]; Word Jazz Vol. II [Dot LP #3301, Spring, 1960.

Eighteen tracks from these Dot LP’s have been issued on CD by WordBeat/Rhino CD reissue of Word Jazz [R2 70773].

Ken celebrated his 93rd birthday om April 13, 2013.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles wanted to remember him on these pages with he following Irwin Chusid insert notes from the CD reissue and with a video montage made up of the cover art and photographs of Ken from his four Dot LP’s set to Down The Drain which you’ll find at the conclusion of this piece.

Irwin’s writings provide a comprehensive overview of much of Ken’s career. You can also visit Ken’s website for his blog postings, podcasts and comprehensive discography at

Irwin Chusid continues to broadcast at WFMU which is based in East Orange, NJ and you can learn more about him and review his many interesting projects by visiting

© -Irwin Chusid/Rhino Records, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“You can hear Ken Nordine, but you can't see him. In a sense, he's everywhere.
As Jeff Lind pointed out in the Illinois Entertainer: ‘Nordine would make an excellent subject for one of those American Express commercials-millions have heard his voice on radio and TV...but virtually no one except his family and business associates would recognize him on the streets.’

He's hawked Taster's Choice, Chevrolet, Gallo wines—on an estimated 300-400 radio and TV spots a year. You heard him this week and didn't know it

Commercial voiceovers are what Nordine does for a living. But what does he do for fun? Word Jazz, which he describes as ‘a thought, followed by a thought, followed by a thought, ad infinitum, a kind of wonder-wandering.’

This Rhino collection offers a provocative sampling from Nordine's four volumes of Word Jazz released on Dot Records from 1957-60. With contemporaries like Kerouac, Miles, Lenny Bruce, and Ernie Kovacs, Word Jazz set the stage for the surrealistic mind expansion of the '60s.

Neither strictly jazz nor traditionally musical, Word Jazz explores the nether recesses of one man's whimsical thought processes, a sort of Kafkaesque CATscan. Conventional logic leaves the studio, while Absurdity and Humor commandeer the console. The Chicago Reader, in tribute to his ‘multichannel madness,’ referred to Nordine as ‘The Man With the 24-Track Mind.’

Plot a map of the Word Jazz kingdom and it would resemble a Candyland game board—if the Mad Hatter wrote the rulebook. There's Adult Kindergarten, where mayors and plastic-awning salesmen hold jam sessions on tabletops and wastebaskets - as therapy. Here's a man, obsessed with Reaching Into In: ‘...hope grips him by the neck, faith bear-hugs his middle, charity twists against him with toe­holds. Three to one isn't fair.’

Faces In The Jazzamatazz haunts the Second City's boulevards, ‘striking matches against the old Chicago midnight,’ exploring the expressions of hipsters, high rollers, and those ‘hiccupping home to hangover.’

Original Sin and What Time Is It? are fables about ‘regular guys,’ whose routines are disrupted, respectively, by mice and an anonymous, persistent 2 a.m. phone prankster. In Hunger Is From, Ken goes straight for the refrigerator and never leaves the kitchen; in Down The Drain, he begins with a ‘sitting down shower’ and ends up doing the backstroke in the Caribbean.

During a 1980 interview with Studs Terkel on WFMT in Chicago, Nordine demonstrated Word Jazz's spontaneous evolution: ‘Suppose I wanted to write a book, an extraordinary book, different from any book ever written. I'd call it Crumple. Each page would be complete in and of itself, and be crumpled and placed in a large cylinder. To read the book, you'd reach in, take out a page, un-crumple and read it, crumple it up, put it back, and take out another. Pages could be read in random order. There could even be suicide notes in it.’ Add a flute to this scenario, along with some offbeat trap drums, and – Voila! - a Word Jazz is born
The inventor of this art form was born in Cherokee, Iowa, to Swedish immigrant parents, but his family moved to Chicago when he was four. He remembers that ‘in my teens, I would talk to people on the phone, and they would tell me I should get into radio because I had a good voice.’ He enrolled at Northwestern School of Speech, but quit after two weeks (‘It was too dull.’). Nordine then infiltrated Chicago's WBEZ radio in the '40s; from there, he moved to WBBM (CBS), where he did staff announcing for two years (‘under four different names,’ he admits). When TV became king, Nordine hosted a late-night, one-camera series called Faces In The Window, featuring Gothic readings of Poe, de Maupassant, and Balzac (on commercial television, years before PBS existed).

During the early '50s, he hung out with sidemen Johnny Frigo and Dick Marx (singer Richard's father) at a North Side joint called the Leia Aloha, telling stories and reciting poetry with improvisational jazz accompaniment, ‘I wasn't a beatnik, though,’ he stresses. ‘I was totally isolated from what was happening in San Francisco.’

In 1955, he was asked by Randy Wood at Dot Records to narrate the orchestra/chorus rendition of bandleader Billy Vaughn's The Shifting, Whispering Sands. (‘It was written by a southern Illinois minister," Ken notes, "and I wanted to correct the grammar.’) The single became a Top 5 hit. Impressed with Nordine's thunderous delivery, Wood signed him to a contract. Ken's first Dot LP, Love Words, featured melodramatic recitations of standard love songs. ‘The nicest thing I can say about it,’ he now recalls, ‘is that it was a very weak idea.’ If you happen across a rare copy, Nordine invites you to ‘sit on it.’

Thereafter, he hit a groove: The premier Word Jazz album was followed by Son Of Word Jazz, Next!, and Volume II, released over a four-year span. The vignettes, he explains, were ‘orally rehearsed, based on an idea, although some were thoroughly scripted.’ There was, moreover, always room for ad-lib, ‘the jazz aspect, so you had freedom within the literary changes.’ Accompaniment was provided by session boppers like Frigo and Marx, Fred Katz, Paul Horn, Red Holt, and John Pisano. Equally important was engineer Jim Cunningham, who employed imaginative (often electronic) sound effects drawn on the musique concrete of Cage and Stockhausen (check out The Sound Museum).

Though artistically acclaimed and selling respectably, the LPs weren't big moneymakers (it's doubtful Dot expected them to be), and Nordine continued doing commercials for clients such as Miller Beer and Motorola. Word Jazz made friends in odd places: Fred Astaire and Barrie Chase choreographed a routine to My Baby. Ever the cult figure, Nordine was invited to cameo on Chicago psychedelic band H.P. Lovecraft's second LP ('68), improvising the track Nothing's Boy.

He made two marginal albums for Phillips: Colors ('68), featuring two dozen 90-second impressionistic monologues on such shades of the rainbow as lavender, russet, azure, and ecru; and Twink ('69), consisting of Nordine reading 34 of Bob Shure's gently absurd dialogues backed by Dick Campbell's instrumental combo. In '72, the ill-fated Blue Thumb label released a twin-pocket retrospective, How Are Things In Your Town?, the title derived from the tag line of Flibberty Jib. It became instantly collectible when the label folded shortly after. Flibberty Jib was subsequently adapted by Levi's for an animated television commercial, narrated by the author and introduced to millions who had never heard the original.

In '78, Nordine incorporated his own private label, Snail Records (‘We want things that catch on slowly). For Snail's first release, he updated the Word Jazz formula and spawned Stare With Your Ears, which was nominated for a Grammy. All the while, Nordine stayed busy and earned a tidy nest egg with commercials and voiceover assignments.

In the '80s, the formula not only survived, it thrived. Nordine (through Snail) released the cassette-only Grandson Of Word Jazz and Triple Talk. He produced more than 300 half-hour "Word Jazz" and "Now, Nordine" programs for National Public Radio. In 1989, he did a short take on Hal Willner's Felliniesque Disney tribute album, Stay Awake, backed by jazz mavericks Bill Frisell and Wayne Horvitz. Willner, a long-time enthusiast (You're Getting Better is one of his favorites), later invited Nordine to appear on his free-form NBC-TV program, Night Music.

Ken attests to being a big fan of Joe Frank's contemporary radio noir program, "Work In Progress," which explores similar psychic terrain (albeit in different ways). Frank describes the parallel as ‘the feeling that the person doing the talking is alone and reaching out to you, the listener. There's something highly personal in Nordine's attempt to make meaningful contact, either through intellect, emotion, or humor. There's also an air of mystery - you don't know this person, but the person is self-revealing.’

Ken still does commercials (recently for Murine and Bank Of America), and occasionally sneaks off to his summer shack in Spread Eagle, Wisconsin to kick back on the porch, follow fireflies, and wonder-wander. He describes the hamlet as ‘25 or 30 years behind the times.’ But then, Nordine has always been a man as comfortable glancing in a rear-view window as in a crystal ball.

Word Jazz has spanned three generations - missed by most, appreciated by the knowing, and awaiting discovery by those with adventurous ears.”

Saturday, April 13, 2013

“The Jazz Scene”

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

In thinking of how best to “set-the-stage” for this JazzProfiles feature on – The Jazz Sceneone of the unique events in the recorded history of the music, I quickly realized that I couldn’t say much to improve upon the opening that Michael Levin gives it in his January 13, 1950 review for Down Beat.

It’s followed by producer Norman Granz’s comments about The Jazz Scene from the original 78-rpm folio along with brief, background overviews of photographer Gjon Mili and artist and illustrator David Stone Martin and Brian Priestley’s  essay Reissuing the Jazz Scene” which forms the insert notes to the double CD’s version issued in 1994 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Verve Records by Norman.

At the close of this JazzProfiles feature, you’ll find a video montage of Gjon Mili and David Stone Martin’s graphics for The Jazz Scene set to Neal Hefti’s Repetition track from the album with Charlie Parker on alto saxophone.

© -  Down Beat, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“New York — The Jazz Scene, probably the most remarkable rec­ord album ever issued, even to its price ($25), is now out, the slight­ly delayed love child of Jazz at The Philharmonic [JATP] pro­moter Norman Granz.

There are some defects in this album, and some disagreements that you may have with repertoire and artists used, but by and large it is a gargantuan effort to repro­duce in some splendor the jazz scene today.

Granz has talked about, dreamed of, and worked on this album for well over three years. To my per­sonal knowledge, he has well over $12,000 of his own dough salted in its production. Assuming that all 5,000 copies of the limited edition are sold, he can't possibly do more than break even, and counting the time he has spent fighting it through, he will certainly lose dough on it.

Complete Freedom

The album itself was built essentially around the idea of assembling the top arrangers and soloists of the current time and giving them complete leeway to do any­thing which they wanted to do, in the fashion in which they wanted to do it, regardless of cost or com­mercial implications.

Thus, Ellington used baritone saxophonist Carney against strings, George Handy wrote a blues satire, Ralph Burns a charming quasi-waltz, Hawkins plays a tour de force on tenor sax completely solo, Lester Young works over a jazz tune backed by Nat Cole and Buddy Rich, Charlie Parker bops a side, falls in and out of a Neal Hefti Latinish date with most attractive results, Bud Powell rambles over Cherokee, while Machito's band blows its theme song, Tanga.

All the sides, their abstract mu­sical content aside, are therefore quite fascinating for the unique paths followed and the real effort made in most cases to stay out of ordinary grooves.


The six 12-inch vinylite records are packaged in a fashion that will really pop your eyes. Each record, with a quite tricky square Jazz Scene label, is in an envelope pro­tected by an envelope flap. The al­bum cover is a sturdy cloth, such as the Victor company used to use 10 years ago, but is built like a loose leaf notebook so that the con­tents may be removed if you so wish.

David Stone Martin has done a magnificent line drawing for the frontispiece, something like his cover for the Josh White blues al­bum for Disc, while each of the artists has a full page photograph, along with notes written about the individual records by Granz. Then, in the back, there are 16 magnificent Gjon Mili shots of other jazz greats, including a won­derful lead-off of Louis sitting look­ing pensive while Little Jazz [Roy]Eldridge, complete with metal-rimmed glasses, blows his head off.

Granz has really tried extremely hard to make this album one that is worth more than the $25 you will fork out to get it. He has suc­ceeded admirably except in several instances where the musicians con­cerned simply didn't come through with a peak performance. Frankly, I found these lapses as interesting as the excellent performances; in other words, who had it and who didn't when the chips were down.

There is another obstacle con­cerned with most of these records which by and large has been over­come: these are essentially all-star and often experimental dates, us­ing in large part men who hadn't worked together before, and sometimes men with completely differ­ing backgrounds.

Should Be Proud

Despite  all  this,  and with he handicap of record contracts bind­ing many names, Granz has done a job of which he may well be proud. Putting down on wax some of the things with which the boys are puttering these days.

Is it worth the $25? I think so. I'd pay it myself. With only 5,000 copies, it will certainly be a col­lector's item very shortly. So cal­culate accordingly.”

© -  Norman Granz/Verve Records, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Norman Granz

“This is our attempt to present today's jazz scene in terms of the visual, the written word, and the auditory. We felt that this three-dimensional presentation, as it were, of the scene was the best manner of demonstrating it.

This album isn't trying to tell the history of jazz, nor is it, except by a kind of indirection, attempting to show the future course of this art form. Instead, it's an effort to mirror contem­porary jazz. Thus, established artists such as Ellington, Hawkins, and Young are portrayed alongside little-known, but no less important musically, artists such as Machito, Charlie Parker, Flip Phillips, and Bud Powell. It also includes arranger-composers such as Ralph Burns, George Handy, and Neal Hefti, who are incorporating modern classical ideas within the jazz idiom. It's regretted that, primarily because of contractual commitments, many great artists were necessarily omitted; it's particularly unfortunate that Art Tatum, Sarah Vaughan, Illinois Jacquet, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Eddie Sauter, and especially Ella Fitzgerald, were not recorded. However, most of them are included pictorially.

The idea behind this album was simple: to get the artists best illustrating today's jazz scene to record the essence of them­selves musically, and their real, inner characters, photographi­cally. To that end, we requested each artist to do the one side, or sides, that they felt to be the distillate of what they repre­sented to themselves. The artist had no restrictions whatsoever placed upon him. He could use any composition, (his own, or someone else's), any arrangement, any instrumentation he chose. Especially, could he take as long as he wished in record­ing. George Handy, for example, composed an original piece for twenty-eight men, and took almost five hours to record it; Lester Young and Buddy Rich, on the other hand, took but ten minutes for their side; Coleman Hawkins, playing as a single, still needed eight hours before he was satisfied with his work. And so it went, each artist relishing the prospect of making records with no musical nor commercial strictures of any sort, and trying to do something of which he would be proud.

There were reasons for each artist's being in this album: to be representative of today's jazz scene, and to be the best of that representation. Thus, as a big band arranger, Ellington has for years been the paragon, and as yet no band has seri­ously challenged the all-around competency of his organiza­tion mainly because of Duke's arranging ability. For the soloists, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Harry Carney, Bill Harris, Willie Smith, to instance, are certainly among the best in current jazz. In modern idiom, Charlie Parker and Bud Powell are unparalleled. And Machito is the finest example of an exciting new trend in rhythm which is being fused with the harmonic excursions of the modern horn men.

We intend to make The Jazz Scene a yearly affair present­ing new jazz stars as they appear. We trust you'll find this year's album an exciting adventure in jazz, as well as a doc­umented portrayal of this art form as it exists today, and one to which you'll return often.”

Gjon Mili

“Gjon Mili is one of the great photographers of our time. He is noted for his exciting stroboscopic work that's been displayed in practically every major magazine in the world. His ability to photograph artists in the various art forms so well is predicated upon a great love for and understanding of their intent and prob­lems. He is particularly sympathetic to jazzmen, and his work with them has helped advance jazz into the lay world immea­surably. In 1944 Mili wrote and directed Jammin' The Blues, a motion picture short for Warner Brothers. This marked the first time that the motion pictures had properly used jazz as an art form, presenting it fairly and honestly, and not in the absurd manner in which the movies were accustomed to treating it in the past. That it was a good job is proven by the fact of its being an Academy Award Nominee as the best short of the year.”

David Stone Martin

“David Stone Martin is probably best known for the wonderful series of album covers he did for Disc Records and, more recent­ly, for Mercury Records on the Jazz At The Philharmonic series. One critic termed his work as ". . . the most impressive visual dis­plays in the entire record industry, regardless of company size." Martin uses an elaborate line technique, as his impression of The Jazz Scene demonstrates. This work, incidentally, is his general impression of jazz. That Martin has done paintings for such divers groups as advertisers, political campaign directors, radio execu­tives, record companies, and OWI, he insists is no contradiction for the artist, just so long as the artist allows nothing in one form or another to deny him a whole-hearted attack upon his material. He feels that artists, analogously to jazzmen, can jam, as it were, on their own in and out of hours, provided they refuse to ride for­mulas. Martin was art director of TVA, where he placed giant murals on the walls of power houses. He was also supervisor of mural projects for WPA in Chicago. He won the Art Director's Club of New York Medal 1946-1947-1948-1949 for his work.”

© -  Brian Priestley/Verve Records, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Reissuing The Jazz Scene by Brian Priestley

The Jazz Scene was unique among producer Norman Granz's typically ambitious projects. While at least three of its indi­vidual tracks have become famous in their own right, many of the rest have remained in obscurity as a result of their original limited-edition release. Although some of The Jazz Scene contents have been recycled many times, half of the twelve items comprising the original album have not been reissued in the US since the Fifties. The welcome decision to expand this reissue by including other related material, often from the same sessions, makes the present set a cornucopia of Granz's early studio-based output.

When The Jazz Scene started to become a reality in the late Forties, Granz already had three notable successes to his name. Early in the decade, he began to organize paid jam sessions in Los Angeles clubs featuring visiting stars from the tour­ing big bands. Then, in 1944, he got authorization from his then-employer, the movie-giant MGM, to put together a short sub­ject on jazz. The brief spoken introduction, with Granz himself romanticizing the notion of jam sessions, was the only con­cession to conventional documentary ideas. Directed by photographer Gjon Mili, Jammin' the Blues immortalized an idyllic vision of the great Lester Young and others, including drummers Jo Jones and Sid Catlett.

While that project was underway, Granz moved from nightclub and film studio to concert hall. A staunch believer in racial integration, he organized the first full-scale jazz concert in Los Angeles, a benefit for the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Fund, to obtain the release of some Mexican youths who were believed to be wrongly imprisoned. That concert was staged as a jam session (recently reissued as Jazz at the Philharmonic: The First Concert, Verve 314 521 646-2), but the presence of a large audience turned it into "somethin' else". In early 1946, Granz made arrangements to issue the records of the concert, and they sold unexpectedly well. He simultaneously planned his first nationwide JATP tour, beginning at Carnegie Hall.

Granz was aware, however, that there was more to jazz than dramatized jamming, with its gladiatorial aspect, audiences baying for blood. So he began organizing studio sessions, virtually his first apart from the film and a couple of other excep­tions. Those exceptions were sessions by Nat "King" Cole, with Lester (for Philo in 1942) and with two of the tenor saxophon­ist's followers, one date each with Illinois Jacquet (for Disc) and the young Dexter Gordon (leased to Mercury).

But The Jazz Scene studio recordings would be of a radically different nature, aiming to feature artists who would not be at home in Granz's concerts, along with stars whom he already employed but presented in less than commercial contexts. The idea was to issue the results in a 5,000-copy album of several discs, in the 1 2-inch format usually reserved for European classical music, retailing at $25. In the Thirties, major labels had created limited-edition albums of 78s devoted to individual works or spe­cific composers, and reissue albums of Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong had been produced by Columbia in the early Forties.

Shortly before, similar albums devoted to newly recorded Chicago and Kansas City jazz were done for Decca and, as far back as 1937, Victor had released an album of four 12-inch singles by its big swing stars (it contained two huge hits: Benny Goodman's Sing, Sing, Sing and Bunny Berigan's I Can't Get Started).

Granz's intention, though, was to give nothing less than a comprehensive picture of the very different and more varied con­temporary scene of the late Forties. No expense was to be spared in recording the contents, and doubtless the sudden prof­its from JATP tours went toward financing them. As Norman's original liner notes point out, he wanted

‘to get the artists best illustrating today's jazz scene to record the essence of themselves musically .... The artist had no restrictions whatsoever placed upon him. He could use any composition (his own or someone else's), any arrangement, any instrumentation he chose. Especially, could he take as long as he wished in recording.’

In this way, Granz became responsible for a lot of specially commissioned material, all of it interesting and some of it the stuff of history.

The twelve tracks that were issued in late 1949, after a long gestation, focused heavily on saxophonists and composer/arrangers. The earliest to be recorded (early 1946), but one of the last to be added to the collection, featured the star of Jammin' the Blues, Lester Young. (The session this comes from along with the aforesaid Dexter Gordon date, is avail­able on Lester Young Trio Verve 314 521 650-2.)

Though not officially ‘producing,’ Granz had much to do with Lester's first two post-Army dates for Aladdin, negotiating the contract as Young's new manager. It seems strange then that Norman proceeded to record a session himself for which Lester was contractually unavailable; perhaps he hoped that Aladdin would release it. Aladdin may have been unconvinced about a trio without a bassist, especially one in which the pianist and drummer were contracted to other companies. So Granz produced the date and sat on the results until Lester was free to sign with Norman's Clef label. (Nat Cole received the pseu­donym Aye Guy on the original issues and only a passing reference in the Jazz Scene notes.)

Granz's studio files bear witness that he first intended to include Back to the Land from the session but finally decided on I Want to Be Happy, possibly because it was up-tempo and Buddy Rich is more obviously involved. But both tracks show three laid-back and wittily swinging masters playing as if for their own relaxation and amusement.

The twelve Jazz Scene tracks, incidentally, are presented in the order of the original 78 rpm folio. But one of the first artists Granz approached specifically with a view to the project was the young Ralph Burns. A writer for Charlie Barnet and a key figure in the 1944-45 Woody Herman band, Burns had ceased playing piano but continued to tour with Herman as staff arranger. Less than a month before this session, Woody had recorded the classic Burns extended works Lady McGowan's Dream and Summer Sequence. Then, according to Ralph,

we were on some kind of a vacation, and I remember Norman was some place else and offered to sublet his apart­ment to me. He said he was doing an album written by various artists with soloists. I don't know whether I sug­gested Bill Harris, or probably he suggested Bill.

What came out of this happy circumstance was Introspection, featuring not only Harris (who would tour with JATP in the following year) but several other Herman sidemen. Among them were lead trumpeter Conrad Gozzo, tenor saxophonist Herbie Steward, drummer Don Lamond, and trumpeter Sonny Berman who, until his tragically early death three months later, was Burns's roommate on the road. Ralph's varied writing here reflects a background that included study at the New England Conservatory with Alexei Haieff (a pupil of Stravinsky), Lukas Foss (then assistant to conductor Sergei Koussevitsky), and pianist Margaret Chaloff (mother of baritone saxophonist Serge). The delicate tone colors, and the discreet way the opening waltz theme moves into 4/4, are indicative of the mastery that Burns brought to subsequent projects.

Probably on the same day, a twenty-eight-piece band (including Burns's fourteen pieces) tested Granz's lack of restrictions on studio time and instrumentation by taking nearly five hours to achieve a satisfactory take of The Bloos by George Handy. Now a completely forgotten name, Handy contributed Diggin' Diz earlier in 1946 to a Gillespie-Parker date on which he played piano, but he was chiefly known for his challenging big-band scores for Boyd Raeburn. Original compositions such as Tonsillectomy, Dalvatore Sally, and Yerxa (subtitled Elegy — Movement from the Jitterbug Suite) were almost matched by vocal arrangements of Temptation and I Only Have Eyes for You that were real obstacle courses for the singers con­cerned. These, according to The Encyclopedia of Jazz, "made him the most-talked-about new arranger of the day". Ralph Burns concurs, "Oh, absolutely, yes. I used to admire George's work a lot."

Handy's intelligent use of the strings and woodwinds and clever use of contrast deserve considerable praise. As does the band, including many players who had worked or guested with Raeburn (Vail, Killian, Pearce, Wilson, Klee, McKusick, Thompson, Jacobs, Marmarosa, Callender, and Mills). By the time The Jazz Scene was ready for release, however, Handy had succumbed to health problems. He responded to Granz's request for biographical notes with, "Studied privately with Aaron Copland for awhile which did neither of us any good. . . . Only thing worth while in my life is my wife Flo and my boy Mike. The rest stinks including the music biz and all connected."

Also based on the West Coast was another leading saxophonist who was one of Granz's favorites. A frequent participant in early JATP concerts, Willie Smith had been a key member of the Jimmie Lunceford band in its decade of glory from 1933 onwards. Smith, indeed, was the one who blew the whistle on Lunceford for abandoning the band's original collective agree­ment and taking, at the dictate of his management, an unfair share of the earnings. Willie's departure in 1942 started the band's gradual decline, culminating in Lunceford's sudden death in 1947, while Smith himself went on to years with Harry James, Duke Ellington, and lucrative studio work.

With this session, we come to the most significant expansion yet of the Jazz Scene concept. Not merely Smith's only date as a leader for Granz but virtually his only date as the sole horn, it has been extended to include all of the tunes and surviv­ing alternative takes. Sophisticated Lady, Granz's original choice, was one of the Ellington numbers that Smith arranged for Lunceford as far back as 1934, and it became the alto saxophonist's nightly feature when he replaced Johnny Hodges in Duke's band during 1951 and '52. The other pieces, originally issued on a single, are placed on disc 2 with other material related to the Jazz Scene sessions. Tea for Two was regularly used by Smith, for instance on the second Esquire all-star con­cert in 1945 (again backed by Ellington), while Not So Bop Blues gives a good glimpse of Smith's improvisational ability. Granz's notes in the accompanying booklet rightly drew attention to the work of Marmarosa, then a leading light among young pianists, and Barney Kessel.

The Ellington connection looms larger in the next batch of tracks, for two pieces included in The Jazz Scene were credit­ed to Duke, even though he does not play on them. Granz made it clear in his booklet notes, however, that Duke was in the studio conducting these features for the great Harry Carney. (Similarly, Charles Mingus directed but didn't play on a session led by his baritone saxophonist, Pepper Adams.) Both Frustration and Sono were part of that magnificent outpouring of new Ellington material that continued throughout the Forties, much of it never commercially recorded. Frustration was pre­miered at Duke's third annual Carnegie Hall concert on December 19, 1944, but apart from radio transcriptions the only contemporary studio recordings of Sono were these two takes, probably done just before Duke signed with Columbia Records in August 1947.

Granz noted, "Initially, I approached Harry Carney .... Carney was so excited that he told Ellington and Ellington became similarly enthused. It seems that Duke had always wanted to use strings and this seemed the logical time to do it." Later, the Maestro wrote several pieces, involving such symphony orchestras as the Robin Hood Dell Orchestra (1949, later recorded as Non-Violent Integration), the NBC Symphony (1950, Harlem), and the Symphony of the Air (1955, Night Creature), but this may be the only occasion on which he wrote for a mere string quintet. The attempt to get it to sound like a section of his band is fascinating, to say nothing of Carney's contributions and his blend with the strings near the close of Sono.

The most surprising outcome of the considerable vault research done for this reissue is the discovery that Duke's collabora­tor Billy Strayhorn recorded two piano solos for Norman Granz — possibly on the same day as the pieces with strings. At least one was probably intended for The Jazz Scene until it was squeezed out by the inclusion of both Carney solos. With their quite distant relationship to Ellingtonia and occasional hints of Mary Lou Williams (brought up in Pittsburgh, like Billy), these pieces are a major contribution to the expanding field of Strayhorn studies.

The one other writer represented by two pieces in The Jazz Scene is Neal Hefti. Hefti, who like Burns was associated first with Charlie Barnet, had created such classic scores as Wild Root and The Good Earth. In the late Forties he wrote for the bands of Charlie Ventura, Harry James, Stan Kenton (including vocal arrangements for June Christy), and Hefti's wife, vocalist Frances Wayne. But from 1950 his name was increasingly linked with Count Basie, writing first for the bandleader's septet and then for his second big band, which recorded so many classics for Verve.

Hefti's main contribution here is the long Rhumbacito, with its varied themes and interesting writing for the nine-piece string section. But, as Neal explained in the notes to Verve's complete Charlie Parker set (837 141-2), Granz "asked me about two days before if I could come up with two other sides for a ten-inch single". Hefti did, and they were a feature for Bill Harris called Chiarina (which seems lost) and Repetition, written with no soloist in mind. The score for the latter is much more straight-ahead, and the lead trumpet (Wetzel probably, rather than Porcino) makes it quite commercial-sounding. However, the fact that Parker showed up during the recording resulted in an unplanned collaboration, giving the piece another dimension and making its inclusion in The Jazz Scene a necessity.

In the aforesaid Parker box-set booklet, Phil Schaap convincingly demonstrated that Repetition took place on the same evening that Bird had been recording the piece named after him as his designated contribution to the Granz project. This was often thought to have taken place after the 1948 American Federation of Musicians recording ban, for at the time of The Bird the alto saxophonist was obligated to one if not two other record labels. Charlie was not a person to let such niceties bother him, however, and as a result we have this singularly relaxed improvisation on the chords of Topsy. One of relatively few quartet sides he made, it has (thanks to Norman's use of 12-inch discs) the longest studio-recorded solo of Parker's career.

From many points of view, the piece de resistance of the original Jazz Scene was Picasso. As it turns out, Coleman Hawkins had already recorded an unaccompanied solo a couple of years earlier (Hawk Variation was done for a tiny label run by the Selmer saxophone company). But Picasso was the one that became famous and eventually inspired lots of follow-ups from Sonny Rollins to Anthony Braxton. It also benefited from considerable preparation, according to Granz:

" When we recorded this side, Hawkins sat down and for two hours worked it all out on the piano. He then record­ed it on the tenor for another two hours. Always the perfectionist, he still wasn't satisfied; so a month later we record­ed the piece again, and finally, after another four-hour session, got the take we wanted."

Needless to say, none of these other tenor takes survive — otherwise they would be here. As to what Hawk was so painstak­ing about, there are two schools of thought. The piece is, according to Gunther Schuller (in The Swing Era), "a free-form, free-association continuity" consisting of phrases, according to John Chilton (in The Song of the Hawk), "unconnected by harmonic progression or tempo.”

Even non-musicians, however, have often compared it to Body and Soul, for the simple reason that the implied chordal back­ground of Picasso is a chorus and a half of the 1931 song Prisoner of Love (itself very similar to Body and Soul but with a different key-change for the channel). Any doubt about this explanation will be dispelled by listening to Hawk's 1957 version of Prisoner of Love for Verve (on 823 120-2), which is — by no coincidence — in the same key and at roughly the same speed as his performance here. Indeed, although it begins out of tempo, you can snap your fingers to most of Picasso, at about sev­enty-eight beats per minute, in order to feel the underlying tempo and appreciate the soloist's rhapsodic departures from it.

Likewise, the knowledge that Platinum Love is based on Harold Arlen's As Long as I Live (this identification by Schaap) actually adds interest, for Hawk used this sequence at least twice more — in his contribution to the Les Tricheurs soundtrack (Clo's Blues on Verve 834 752-2) and his historic 1950 studio meeting with Charlie Parker (Ballade on Verve 837 141-2). The whole Platinum Love date fits right in with the Jazz Scene ethos, because of its collection of younger bop-influenced sidemen such as the two trombonists, baritone saxophonist Cecil Payne, and guitarist John Collins. With hindsight, it's instruc­tive that The Big Head and Skippy (no relation to Thelonious Monk's Tea for Two variation, which bears the same name) lean somewhat towards rhythm-and-blues saxophone, underscoring Hawk's position as forefather of that school too.

In the fall of 1948, just when musicians, with the blessing of the union, were beginning to record again, Norman Granz had ten of his Jazz Scene items mastered by Mercury Records, the Chicago-based company to whom he was now leasing his material. (These ten included Back to the Land, as noted above, but not I Want to Be Happy.) In the previous months, he had been unable to record any of his concerts, since these were all done with the agreement of the AFM. He had done few other studio sessions before the union ban, apart from a Hank Jones solo set and the first Flip Phillips date (one track of which, Znarg Blues, is now on Flip Wails: The Best of the Verve Years 314 521 645-2). Such a fertile mind as Granz's was unlike­ly to have stood still, however, during the ban and, as well as pursuing his biannual tours with fluctuating personnel, he was now full of ideas for more studio work.

Some of these only came to fruition in the next few years, but two were put into practice virtually immediately. Signing up pianist Bud Powell was an excellent example of Norman's talent-spotting and another instance of using someone who might not have shone in the JAT.P context. Granz wrote,

‘Powell's whole life is wrapped up in playing the piano. His playing, as a result, carries with it not only the con­viction and authority of a solid musician, but the feeling and sincerity that comes from love of one's instrument.

Curiously, Powell has never been recorded as a soloist, apart from an occasional bit passage on record dates with Parker and [others]; this is the first time that he's had the chance to go for himself.’

It was not generally known that Bud had actually done a trio set in 1947 (it was unreleased until 1950), and by featuring him on The Jazz Scene Granz spotlighted one of the most neglected and misunderstood of all the bebop pioneers. The impor­tant current collection of all of Powell's work for Granz (The Complete Bud Powell on Verve 314 521 669-2) precludes issu­ing any extra material here. But, with the selection of Cherokee, the producer was including what he described as ‘practi­cally a theme song for the modern jazzman.’

In deciding at this point to record the Afro-Cuban jazz of Machito's band, Granz made one of his more prescient moves. It was obvious that many of the beboppers and their acolytes were already interested in Latin jazz, and Stan Kenton used to tell the story of going to hear Xavier Cugat, to be told by a musician, ‘Man, if you think this is good, you should go and hear Machito — he's the real thing!’ Maybe Norman had a similar conversion, given the distance in technical expertise and emo­tional conviction between the Neal Hefti tracks and the present versions of Tanga done a year later. It's certain Granz was aware that the musical director of the band, Mario Bauza, had worked for a long time with Chick Webb and Cab Calloway, even if it was not yet official that Tanga (like Gillespie's Manteca) was Spanish slang for marijuana.

The format of the Machito session was to have Bauza's scores incorporate solos by the kinds of players who often sat in with the band anyway, such as Parker and Phillips (those takes, from the same date, are on The Original Mambo Kings, 314 513 876-2). All three versions of the classic Tanga feature a rather straight-sounding alto saxophone attributed to Gene Johnson with a trumpet interlude a flatted fifth away (by Bauza?) and then a jazz solo on the montuno. This was done on the album and on a recently discovered alternative take by Phillips as well as on a third version, a two-part single, by Leslie Johnakins, the former Claude Hopkins and Hot Lips Page sideman who stayed with Machito for the next thirty years.

Phillips was, of course, the then-current hero of JATP, especially because of his role in the September 1947 Carnegie Hall concert that had been Granz's first new release when he signed his distribution deal with Mercury. Flip was, since the Znarg Blues session, the only JATP star who was also under contract to Granz for studio recordings. So it seems entirely appropri­ate to add material from the tenor saxophonist's next studio date, done shortly after Tanga. The backing group includes both Tommy Turk and Sonny Criss, two new signings who were touring at the time alongside Phillips, Parker, Hawkins, and anoth­er temporary JATP acquisition, Fats Navarro.

And last, several of the underlying themes of The Jazz Scene and of the additional selections are tied together with the 1955 tracks led by Ralph Burns, originally issued as part of Ralph Burns Among the JATPs. It had a striking cover design by David Stone Martin (who was an integral part of the elaborate Jazz Scene booklet, along with Gjon Mili), and it featured soloists previously heard here, such as Ray Brown, Harris, and Phillips. It also included others who had come within the Granz orbit, such as Louis Bellson and Oscar Peterson, plus Ellington's longtime clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton. And it featured Roy Eldridge, one of Norman's all-time favorite musicians who, though seen with JATP as early as 1945, was unavailable to sign a recording contract with the producer until 1951.

Granz wrote, ‘We intend to make The Jazz Scene a yearly affair presenting new jazz stars as they appear.’ This leads to intriguing thoughts of the artists he might have included in the Fifties, but competition between specialist jazz labels soon became intense, putting many more performers out of Norman's reach contractually. And he became so much busier as the Fifties dawned that the idea of an annual volume may just have been superseded by general studio activity with contract artists such as Eldridge, Phillips, Young, and others.

As for The Jazz Scene, he noted that, because of contractual commitments, ‘it's particularly unfortunate that Art Tatum, Sarah Vaughan, Illinois Jacquet, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Eddie Sauter, and especially Ella Fitzgerald were not recorded.’ Most of these would record for Granz during the next few years (Sarah only worked for him much later in her career, and Sauter was only on Verve after Norman had sold the company). But The Jazz Scene was unique in that it predated Granz's regular involve­ment with studio recording, obviating the need for any kind of sampler. As a result, the way the contents were put together reflect­ed a sense of idealism and a feeling for what was happening that is, I regret to say, scarce these days.

Brian Priestley
London, July 1994
[Brian Priestley is the co-author of Jazz on Record, New York: Billboard Publications, 1991.]

The Jazz Scene photographs Gjon Mili, David Stone Martin’s artwork and Neal Hefti’s Repetition can be seen on and heard in the following video tribute.