Thursday, April 4, 2013

Manet and Moe

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

“Moe Koffman was a child prodigy who first came to notice while playing with Jimmy Dorsey. He came to world-wide attention in 1958 with his hit record "Swinging Shepherd Blues" which has been covered by many jazz artists. Over the years he has led an active "double life" as both a studio musician and as an in demand live performer. Leading his own group, the Moe Koffman Quintet, he also plays with Dizzy Gillespie in the "Dizzy and Moe Koffman Super-show" which takes them around the world on tour. Moe Koffman has been a featured soloist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and with the bands of Benny Goodman. Quincy Jones and Woody Herman.”
- - Adam Ward Seligman

I literally stumbled upon a chrome cassette [remember those?] tape of Moe Koffman’s recording Oop Pop A Da soon after its release around 1988.

There was a record store [remember those, too?] on Pico Boulevard not too far from where I was working at the time in West Los Angeles that had it in the $1.99 bargain bin.

I knew of Moe’s work on saxophone and flute with fellow Canadian Rob McConnell’s marvelous Boss Brass Big Band and that, plus the fact that Dizzy Gillespie appeared on two of tracks appealed to me, so I bought it [did I mention that it was offered for sale at $1.99?]

I just loved that recording from day one.

When the album wasn’t in my car’s cassette tape player it was because it was usually playing on the tape player in my home.

Along with Dizzy doing his thing on Oop Pop A Da and A Night in Tunisia, and Moe’s fine playing throughout, the album showcased a terrific rhythm section made up of Ed Bickert on guitar, Bernie Senensky on keyboards, Kieran Overs on bass and Barry Elmes on drums.

Like Moe, all of these musicians are Canadian. Ed Bickert has a number of albums as a leader to his credit and he also made some marvelous recordings with alto saxophonist Paul Desmond in the mid-1970s

A straight-ahead swinger, pianist and keyboardist Bernie Senensky has recorded extensively as a sideman and with his own trio .

I’ve always thought of Barry Elmes as the “Canadian Joe Morello.” Just listen to the crackling sound of his drums and the way in which he crisply executes his drums fills and solos on the sample video soundtrack to see what I mean.

Moe’s flute playing on Oop Pop A Da really knocked me out. It’s not uncommon for reed players to double on flute, but Moe’s playing as a flutist took the whole thing to another level.

In digging around a bit, I found that Moe’s first commercial success had come on flute as his 1958 recording of The Swinging Shepherd’s Blues subsequently became an international hit. I had heard the tune on commercial radio, but didn’t know that Moe was the flutist on the recording.

Through the early 1950’s, Moe, who born in Toronto, worked in the US. with bands led by Sonny Durham, Buddy Morrow, Jimmy Dorsey, Ralph Flanagan and Tex Beneke before returning to Toronto where he formed the Moe Koffman Quartet and subsequently recorded the international hit “Swingin’ Shepherd Blues” (1958).

The song, which ultimately merited a BMI award for more than one million performances logged, brought him international recognition as a flautist and he remained one of the most in-demand session men in the business until his death in 2001 at the age of seventy-three.  In 1994, Koffman was accorded the rank of officer if the Order of Canada and was nominated for 8 JUNO Awards [Canadian Grammy] during his career.

None of which I knew at the time I first acquired Oop Pop A Da.

Disaster struck when my car tape player “ate” the tape; mangled it beyond all redemption. I was crushed for a time and then I forgot about it under the flood of new and reissued music that greeted the advent of the digital age.

I remembered it from time-to-time, especially when I heard Moe on CD’s by Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass Big or when I acquired discs that featured Ed Bickert or Bernie Senensky, but I couldn't find it in a compact disc format.

So I stopped looking for it.

Fast forward about ten years to find me once again rummaging through the cut-out bins in music stores, this time in one that was located in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.

Suddenly there it was … a compact disc version of Moe Koffman’s Oop Pop A Da on the “Soundswing/Duke Street” label #SWD2108.  It’s a good thing I wasn't wearing a fedora pulled down around my eyes and a trench coat, as given the furtive side-to-side glance I gave upon finding the CD, someone my have thought I was trying to steal it.

Needless to say, it gave me great pleasure to be able to listen to Moe’s music again and, twenty-five years later, it still remains a favorite among the recordings in my collection.

I was listening to Oop Pop A Da recently while looking an art book collection of portraits by Edouard Manet and I thought that Moe’s music might make an appealing Jazz and Art pairing.

Manet was born in Paris in 1832 and lived there until his death in 1883. The commentary in the art book notes that “each of his portraits is so different in mood and technique that it is remarkable that they were all painted by him between 1868 and 1874.”

Coincidentally, Manet portraits are currently on display at the Royal Academy in London.

The Economist magazine [1/26/2013] offers these comments about the Royal Academy Manet exhibit:

“Seductive, witty and intelligent, Manet was also financially independent. Few of these portraits were commissions. His ‘Music in the Tuileries Garden,’ painted in 1862, … has been called ‘the first truly modern picture.’ It was brutally attacked at the time.

The critics shredded Manet. They mocked his inconsistent style; his refusal to respect conventions. Their vicious words were like ‘lashes of a whip,’ Manet once wrote. Yet he had contemporary champi­ons, including Baudelaire, Stephane Mallarme, a symbolist poet, and Emile Zola, a novelist. Younger artists, such as the na­scent Impressionists, also admired him. Pierre-Auguste Renoir observed that Ma­net was as important to them ‘as Cimabue or Giotto were to the Italians of the Quat­trocento.’ His influence continues. Rineke Dijkstra, a photographer, credits Manet with helping inspire contemporary large-format portraits.

As it happens, Manet's own style was in part a response to the rise of portrait pho­tography. By the time he was in his 30’s it seemed ‘everybody’ wanted such a pho­tograph, himself included. He understood this presented a challenge for painters, and so he set out to make his portraits ‘boldly strange,’ argues Carol Armstrong, an art historian. This show may not be without disappointments, but it offers ample evi­dence of why Manet is revered. “

 Each of the following video montages contains audio tracks from Oop Pop A Da. The first features Manet’s portraits as set to Moe’s original composition, No Siesta’Ees Fiesta while the second is a video tribute to Moe which offers his original composition – Fried Banana. Moe is featured on both flute and soprano saxophone.

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