Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"Any Dude'll Do" - Bill Holman and The Metropole Orchestra

Milestones - The Music and Times of Miles Davis by Jack Chambers

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

MILES DAVIS : Milestones, [Columbia C L 1193]

“Side 1: Dr. Jekyl, while not especially melodic, gives the group an excellent opportunity to "stretch out." The eights and fours between Miles and Philly Joe Jones are fiery and invigorating. Paul Chambers, in spite of the fast tempo, takes a soulful solo. The exchange of choruses between Coltrane and Cannonball is the high point of the track, and the rhythm section is very stable throughout.

Sid's Ahead is, in reality, the old, and now classic, Walkin'. During his solo, Coltrane is very clever and creative in his handling of the substitute chords. Miles strolls (without piano) beautifully. He is a true musical conversationalist. Cannonball is quite "funky " at times, and Chambers exemplifies his ability to create solo lines in the manner of a trumpeter or saxophonist.

The third track, Two Bass Hit, opens with everyone on fire—particularly Philly , whose punctuation and attack are as sharp as a knife. Coltrane enters into his solo moaning, screaming, squeezing, and seemingly projecting his very soul through the bell of his horn. I feel that this man is definitely blazing a new musical trail. Philly and Red Garland back the soloists like a brass section, an effect which always creates excitement.

Side 2: The theme of Milestones is unusual, but surprisingly pleasant particularly the bridge where Miles answers the other horns, achieving an echo effect. Philly' s use of sticks on the fourth beat of every bar is quite tasteful. Cannonball cleverly interweaves melodies around the changes. Miles is as graceful as a swan, and Coltrane is, as usual, full of surprises.

Red Garland, who is undoubtedly one of today's great pianists, is spotlighted in Billy Boy with Philly and Paul. The arrangement is tightly knit and well played. Red employs his block chord technique on this track and plays a beautiful single line, as well. Philly and Paul do a wonderful job, both soloing and in the section.

Straight No Chaser is a revival of a Thelonious Monk composition of a few years ago—the spasmodic harmony makes it quite interesting. Cannonball is excellent on this track. I may be wrong, but he seems to have been influenced somewhat by Coltrane. Miles paints a beautiful picture, as surely as with an artist's brush He has a sound psychological approach in that he never plays too much. He leaves me, always"wanting to hear more. I have heard no one, lately, who creates like Coltrane. On this track, he is almost savage in his apparent desire to play his horn thoroughly. Red plays a single line solo with his left hand accompanying off the beat. He closes the solo with a beautiful harmonization of Miles ' original solo on Now's The Time. Here, Philly goes into a subtle 1-2-3-4 beat on the snare drum behind Red's solo, setting it off perfectly. This is the best track of the album. In closing, I'd like to say — keep one eye on the world and the other on John Coltrane.”

Benny Golson, The Jazz Review, January 1959

One of the reasons that I set up this blog was to have a place to celebrate my heroes and to share them with you.

I was very fortunate to have an early career playing in Jazz groups of every configuration imaginable and I enjoyed it all immensely.

Musically, I made money in commercials and studio work and while that income helped put me through college, the setting for it also helped me realize that the world did not need another, starving Jazz musician, which is what I would have become without the studio work.

But although I subsequently made my way in the world without music, I kept in touch with many of my “old Jazz friends” by buying and listening to their records, reading their books and magazine articles, and attending their club and concert appearances.

Along the way, I also made “new” Jazz friends, many of whom are Jazz writers and critics who have expanded my knowledge and awareness of the music and its makers.

One such new friend is the author, Jack Chambers.

I first “met” Jack on a stormy Sunday afternoon in San Francisco when undeterred by “The great El NiƱo of 1997-98” [headline from The San Francisco Chronicle], I hopped into my car and headed for the now defunct Borders Bookstore on the corner of Post and geary Streets.

Over the course of that weekend, I had come to the realization that I did not know very much about Miles Davis’ pre-Columbia Records years, so I headed into town in search of a book that would give me more information about Miles’ earlier discography.

By some miracle, Borders always stocked an ample supply of books about Jazz and lo and behold there was Jack’s book Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis which provided me with all the information I needed about Miles’ recordings.

I was fortunate enough to get a combined edition, but Jack’s book was originally published in two volumes as explained in the following excerpt from his Introduction:

“My book is organized in two volumes, which subdivide Davis's long and extraordinarily productive career into its main phases. Milestones I traces the emergence of the teenaged Davis from East St. Louis, Illinois, into post-war New York City, where he joined the ranks of the bebop revolutionaries, worked out his individual style, and took his place in the forefront of jazz music by late 1959. Davis's activities during this period are covered in two main movements: the first, under the heading "Boplicity," details his apprenticeship, first in his hometown and later under the aegis of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, culminating in his first masterwork with the short-lived experimental nonet of 1948; the second, titled "Miles Ahead," concerns his creative recess during his years of heroin addiction and his dramatic return to form in the 1950s, culminating in the years of the first great quintet and the sextet. Milestones II takes up his music and his times from 1960, also in two main movements; it begins, in "Prince of Darkness," with his formal reorganization of bebop in the second great quintet and continues in "Pangaea" with his restless search for further formal expansions, leading to fusions with free form, rock, and other music.”

While I initially sought out Jack’s Miles book to help fill the gaps in my knowledge about Miles’ earlier recording career before he signed with Columbia in 1955, what convinced me to buy it was the following annotation about my favorite Columbia recording by the Miles Davis Sextet.

I literally wore this record out practicing to it so I thought I was familiar with it, yet what struck me was how much Jack’s observations and insights enhanced my appreciation of the music on Milestones.

See what you think; I’m willing to wager that you’ll see the recording differently after you’ve read Jack’s assessment of it.

“Miles Davis Sextet
Miles Davis, tpt; Julian Adderley, as; John Coltrane, ts; Red Garland, pno; Paul Chambers, b; Philly Joe Jones, dms. New York, 2 April 1958 Two Bass Hit; Billy Boy (rhythm trio only); Straight No Chaser; Milestones (all on Columbia CL 1193)
Same personnel but omit Garland on Sid's Ahead; Davis plays piano and trumpet; same place; 3 April 1958
Dr. Jekyll [Dr. ]ackle] Sid's Ahead [Walkin']
(both issued as above)
Dr. Jekyll is a misspelling (pace Robert Louis Stevenson) of Jackie McLean's title, Dr. Jackle.

With the expanded instrumentation from the quintet to the sextet, Davis makes strategic use of the instrumental combinations. Red Garland's role as a solo voice almost disappears, except for the trio track, Billy Boy, the American folk song that Ahmad Jamal rearranged into a swinging vehicle for piano players. Garland's version was only one of dozens being played at the time, which later prompted Jamal to complain, "I was stupid enough not to copyright the arrangement, and then Oscar Peterson did it, Red Garland did it, Ramsey Lewis did it, everybody did it, and I didn't get paid for it." Garland's only other solo turn is on Straight No Chaser, and everywhere else the space conventionally taken by the piano player is given to Paul Chambers on bass, who solos on every track except Two Bass Hit and Milestones.

The unusual emphasis on bass rather than piano as a solo voice rankled Garland, who walked out of the studio during the warm-up for Sid's Ahead, leaving Davis to double on piano and trumpet on the recorded version of this track. But the emphasis not only reflects Davis's displeasure with Garland; it also, more positively, reflects his delight in his bassist's development. Soon after these recordings were made, Davis told Nat Hentoff, "Paul Chambers ... has started to play a new way whereby he can solo and accompany himself at the same time - by using space well." How that polydexterity might translate into performance is hard to guess, but Chambers was given ample opportunity to show his wares both arco and pizzicato.

The solo orders take some unconventional turns, too. Adderley is the first soloist on Milestones and Straight No Chaser, followed by Davis and then by Coltrane, an order that exploits the stylistic contrasts among the three horns magnificently and also preserves the dynamics of the superseded quintet by allowing Coltrane to charge in behind Davis. On Sid's Ahead and Two Bass Hit, Coltrane opens the solo round, with Davis again interposed between the two reedmen on the former but not soloing at all on the latter. On Dr. Jackie, Davis solos first, exercising the traditional privilege of the leader in jazz bands, but the round of solos turns out to be another innovation, as Davis shares his final three twelve-bar choruses with Philly Joe Jones, and then Adderley and Coltrane trade choruses in their turn.

Probably a more challenging problem for Davis than alloting solo space for the expanded band was working out the ensembles. Only Dr. Jackle seems cluttered in the ensembles, and that impression probably comes not from the lines played by the horns so much as the quick tempo at which they are asked to play it, which prevents them from giving full value to each note. Otherwise the arrangements are very effective, even on the complex Two Bass Hit, where each horn takes charge of a counter-theme in a glorious small-band adaptation of John Lewis's composition. Equally noteworthy are Adderley's lead on the ensemble of Straight No Chaser, with the other horns playing tight dissonances under him, and the startling fanfare of Milestones from which Davis's translucent tone rises at the bridge.

But despite all the attention to solo orders and ensembles that went into these recordings, they succeed only because of the improvisations that sustain the moods of the ensembles and cohere both individually and collectively. Benny Golson, who reviewed this album for Jazz Review, remarks that in Two Bass Hit "Coltrane enters into his solo moaning, screaming, squeezing, and seemingly projecting his very soul through the bell of the horn," and he adds: "I feel that this man is definitely blazing a new musical trail." Perhaps the best evidence of that new trail, in retrospect, occurs on Straight No Chaser, where Coltrane stacks up chords in breathless runs of eighth-notes and sixteenth-notes, a solo that makes a textbook demonstration of the "three-on-one" approach he discussed in his Down Beat article.

Golson and most other reviewers noted that Adderley's playing here shows Coltrane's influence, but that influence is more apparent than real at the point where most listeners think they hear it. In Dr. Jackie, the seams between the alternating choruses by the two players are almost indistinguishable, and there is momentary confusion on a first listening as to where Adderley leaves off and Coltrane begins, and vice versa. But the confusion does not seem to be caused by similarity of phrasing so much as by similarity of tone, as Adderley's full, rich tone on the alto almost seems to be aping Coltrane's tenor in the transitions. Coltrane's influence comes across more clearly on Adderley's solo on Sid's Ahead, a series of sweeping glissandi worthy of Coltrane at his best. The two reedmen are balanced by Davis's sure, spare trumpet, characterized by Golson as "a sound psychological approach in that he never plays too much." Golson adds, "He leaves me, always, wanting to hear more."

The power of the sextet is thus clearly demonstrated in their first recordings. Apart from Dr. Jackie's flawed ensembles, each composition crystallizes various aspects of that power as a self-contained miniature. The intricate, ingenious arrangement of Two Bass Hit, which is worthy of Gil Evans, was almost certainly put together with only a few gestures by way of instruction for the reallocation of parts. For Ian Carr, the British trumpet player, it is Straight No Chaser that wins the accolades. "With Miles Davis, everything counts," Carr told Lee Underwood. "Everything must count, and every note must be accountable. If there's no reason for its being there, then it shouldn't be there. And he swings. For me, he swings more than any other trumpet player, more than almost anybody - just listen to his solo on Straight No Chaser on the Milestones album. No other trumpet player swings like that." Benny Golson points out, among the more arcane delights of this music, that Red Garland ends his solo on Straight No Chaser with "a beautiful harmonization of Miles's original solo on Now's the Time." He states flatly that Straight No Chaser is "the best track on the album."

At least as many people would choose Milestones as the best track. This new composition by Davis, which recycles the title he first used in 1947-it was obviously too good a title to simply abandon - but otherwise bears no resemblance whatever to the earlier composition, contains a remarkable unity. Michel Legrand remarks, "I love the way they approach this melody-everything is for the melody; the chords are very simple, like a carpet on which all the music is based. In other words, the whole thing is not based on complexity, but on simplicity and purity." (It is juvenile, of course, to speak of any work of art as 'perfect,' but it is somehow irresistible to come right out and say - at least parenthetically - that Milestones seems to be a perfect jazz performance. Its components are a simple, memorable, highly original melody, followed by three individualistic explorations of the theme, each one as memorable as the theme itself, by Adderley, Davis, and Coltrane, all buoyed by the brash but sensitive rhythm section, and then the simple, unforgettable melody again. There is nothing more, it seems to me, that one might hope for or ask for in a jazz performance.)

Amazingly, Milestones, which appears to be simple, highly accessible, and above all swinging, also represents a structural innovation of great consequence not only for the music of Miles Davis but also for jazz in general. It is Davis's first completely successful composition based on scales rather than a repeated chord structure. James Lincoln Collier, in his history of jazz, describes its structure this way: "The ability to place his notes in unexpected places is Davis's strongest virtue. It colors his work everywhere. His masterwork in this respect is his Milestones ... It is made up of the simplest sort of eight-bar melody - little more than the segment of a scale, in fact - which is repeated and then followed by a bridge made out of a related eight-bar theme, also repeated. After the bridge, the theme is played once more. The point of it all lies in the bridge, where the rhythm goes into partial suspension. Miles stretches this passage out with notes falling farther and farther behind their proper places. Indeed, in the reprise of the theme at the end of the record he stretches the bridge so far out that he cannot fit it all in and has to cut it short." Collier adds: "It is built not on chord changes but on modes... For Davis, who was already making a point of simplicity, they were a perfect vehicle. He was not the first to see what could be done with them, but he was the one who brought the idea to fruition. Milestones uses one mode on the main theme, then switches to a second mode for the bridge."

Collier correctly points out that Davis was not the first jazz player to promote a modal foundation for jazz compositions - that distinction probably belongs to George Russell. During one of Russell's enforced absences from jazz activity due to tuberculosis, he formalized his thinking in a dissertation called The Lydian Concept of Tonal Organization, first published in 1953 and required reading ever since for jazz scholars, but well before that Russell had tried to use modes in his writing. The first composition in jazz to use a modal organization is probably Russell's introduction to the Dizzy Gillespie orchestra's Cubano Be. "Diz had written a sketch which was mostly Cubano Be," Russell says. "His sketch was what later turned out to be the section of the piece called Cubano Be except that I wrote a long introduction to that which was at the time modal. I mean it wasn't based on any chords, which was an innovation in jazz because the modal period didn't really begin to happen until Miles popularized it in 1959. So that piece was written in 1947, and the whole concept of my introduction was modal, and then Dizzy's theme came in and we performed it,"

Davis's contribution was not in discovering the innovation but in making it work. He was fully aware of the breakthrough he was making in Milestones, as its title indicates, and he described its advantages to Nat Hentoff at the time. "When you go this way," he said, "you can go on forever. You don't have to worry about changes and you can do more with the line. It becomes a challenge to see how melodically inventive you are. When you're based on chords, you know at the end of 32 bars that the chords have run out and there's nothing to do but repeat what you've just done -with variations. I think a movement in jazz is beginning away from the conventional string of chords, and a return to emphasis on melodic rather than harmonic variation. There will be fewer chords but infinite possibilities as to what to do with them."

This was the innovation that Coltrane described when he spoke of Davis's "new stage of jazz development" and of his compositions with "free-flowing lines and chordal direction." Hentoff draws the conclusion from his discussion with Davis that "Davis thus predicts the development of both Coltrane and, to a lesser degree, the more extreme, more melodic, Ornette Coleman."

For the ordinary jazz listener, Davis's modal breakthrough is meaningful not for its formal musical properties or for its historical importance but for the gain in expression it allows the musicians, which in the hands of individuals of the caliber of Davis, Coltrane, and Adderley is heard and felt powerfully.

In Milestones and in the other modal compositions that follow it in Davis's repertoire, there is no feeling of self-conscious experimentation and no implication that these musicians are revising the structural foundations of their art. In this regard, Davis contrasts strikingly with the proponents of third stream music and even with the humbler innovators in his old nonet, and also with the avant-garde or free form musicians soon to follow, all of whom spent more than a little energy talking about the uniqueness of their contributions rather than making their music.”

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A "Voyage" with Stan Getz

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

With so much of the late, great tenor saxophonist Stan Getz’s recorded music available, it is understandable that his 1986 recording Voyage on the Blackhawk Records label [BKH 51101-1-D] has gone largely unrecognized.

But while this oversight is comprehensible, it is unacceptable, at least from my perspective, as I consider it to be one of the best recordings that Stan ever made.

Mercifully, it is still available both as a CD and on vinyl so if you haven’t added it to your Getz collection, you should give serious consideration to doing so.

A subsidiary of Aspen Records based in San Francisco, CA, Blackhawk Records issued a number of superb recordings by Phil Woods, Jessica Williams, Kenny Barron, the Elvin Jones - McCoy Tyner Quintet, Steve Kuhn the Gil Evans Orchestra, Sonny Stitt with the Hank Jones Trio, Roland Hanna, Hal Galper, Eddie Gomez, John Scofield, Chico Freeman, Maynard Ferguson, Shelia Jordan, Jimmy Knepper, Dizzy Gillespie and The Mitchell-Ruff Duo and Abdullah Ibrahim before doing the typical here-today-gone-tomorrow small Jazz recording company fade at the end of the decade of the 1980s.

Voyage is largely an outgrowth of the time that Stan and his then quartet consisting of pianist Kenny Barron, bassist George Mraz and drummer Victor Lewis spent as part of the Artist in Residence Program at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Ca [about 30 miles south of San Francisco, CA].

The recording was made at the Music Annex Recording Studio in nearby Menlo Park, CA and features Stan and the band in peak performance after playing the six tunes that comprise the LP on an almost regular basis throughout the period of the Stanford Jazz Program residency.

The distinguished Jazz author and scholar, Dr. Herb Wong had an ownership position in Blackhawk and wrote the following insert notes which explain the significance of Voyage at this point in Stan’s career as well as its place in the Getz discography.

“A  gap of four long years has separated Stan Getz last quartet recording and this latest voyage. As one of the first magnitude stars of the pantheon of jazz. Stan carries special significance to every one of his performances, regardless of the context. The quartet, however, is admittedly his favorite environment. Logically, a new Getz quartet recording promptly generates eventful interest.

It has quickly stimulated vigorous applause from those who have had the opportunity to preview it. After recording on literally several hundred albums, reams of copy and a trail of awards, you'd think he might have reached a complacent comfort zone.

Au contraire. Stan persists in his dynamic process of improvised inventiveness, shaping the bed of creativity through his enchantingly lyrical and virile personal sound and style. It's a style on the tenor saxophone that spurs and triggers a listener's imagination to roam and to discover aural images.

Apprehension of how original ideas pop up at a given moment from the unconscious is difficult to explain. Stan's genius is perceivable as a pathway to truth and ecstatic beauty. Noted psychoanalyst Rollo May in his scholarly discourse on the nature of creativity, insists that ecstasy is the intensity of consciousness that occurs in the creative act... involving the total person. "It brings intellectual, volitional, and emotional functions into play all together." Under Dr. May's framework. Stan Getz' music, in my opinion, expresses a union of form and passion with order and vitality.

Recently I asked pianist Kenny Barron about the specialness he experienced in playing with Stan, and Kenny was quick to say. "His attitude is open to growth. Stan welcomes ideas of younger players, including new tunes." And. indeed, there is fresh literature on this album—the opener. "I Wanted to Say" is contributed by drummer Victor Lewis and there is an infectious pair by Kenny—"Dreams" and the title selection. "Voyage." Pianist Victor Feldman. who has played with Stan on a number of stints through the years, composed the lovely "Falling in Love." a perfect vehicle for the warm romanticism of Stan and his group.

Balancing original pieces are the 1939 evergreen ballad penned by Jimmy Van Heusen. "I Thought About You." and the Jerome Kern diamond. "Yesterdays." recut by Stan with some surprises that just sparkle. (Dig how Kenny Barren picks up on Stan's solo!  It's like an orchestrated thing, and it just happened at the moment; Kenny plays the Milt Buckner-inspired block chords, and they are a beautiful fit I was. as well as everyone else, knocked out by the unexpected gem.)

Speaking admirably about Kenny, bassist George Mraz and Victor Lewis, Stan asserts that "they are the kind of musicians who almost sound as if they are classically trained because everything they touch is correct. Even though they have the drive of a jazz band, they have the touch of pure classicists.

"The band is like a classical string quartet. If I had another horn, it would get in my way and it would almost be like playing arrangements. In a quartet, I'm able to phrase differently every night. I'm up there and I can freely do whatever I wish to do. And a quartet is small enough for everyone to solo; I like to hear everyone in the band solo. It's essentially a classical-jazz approach to music."

In reality, the band on this album is Stan's working band. It's plain they fit into his paradigm of empathic values. All three rhythm section mates play what's needed for each individual tune, giving to the whole. "Kenny, for instance, plays every piece, wanting to give Kenny Barron to the piece, and not make the piece Kenny Barron." notes Stan. "Like George and Victor, too. he's ego-less like the Taoist philosophy of removing all self."

Not incidentally, this quartet has been the official band Stan has been leading during his current Artist-in-Residency at Stanford University-a position from which he has been deriving much pleasure, having invested much time and expertise into the experience.

Besides concertizing on campus, he works with the university big band, a cluster of jazz combos, plus other facets of the jazz education curriculum. Residing in nearby Menlo Park, moments from Stanford's campus. Stan finds this peripheral enjoyment a part of the total positive perspective of his living. He is a veritable super folk hero on campus and in the community. As the director of the Stanford jazz ensemble, Joseph Bowen, says: "When Stan walks into class, the students are in awel"

Stan speaks through the eloquence of his horn to illustrate theoretical aspects, always with the fluid, emotional heat he brings. "My area of the curriculum is feelings. When I was asked about my reaction regarding modes in a jazz theory class. I said: 'I don't care much for modes. It's not the mode that counts, it's the mood!" Man, that is succinctness

Here. then, are four brilliant magician/musicians sharing their spiritual and organic soulfulness. delivering their messages. Personally I have had a lifetime love affair with Stan's music and emotional art. and so have countless others

One of these generalized others is Aiko Suzuki of Toronto whose striking art piece adorns the album cover. Her fan letter to Stan includes associative responses illustrating the influence of his music:

"Your artistry is compelling for so many reasons, at many levels... intense serenity ... from out of ancient lonely primeval caves to dazzlingly positive humanism ... rich and at times minimalist —hence spiritual and emotional dynamism ... you dignify our carnal spirit. . no rhetoric, clear, clean ... crystalline ... elegantly romantic and sensuous."

The music on "Voyage" will stick in your memories. It should enjoy an unlimited life span.”

—Dr. Herb Wong
You can check out the title track on the following video:

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Madeline Eastman - "The Dolphin Lady"

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

“‘The definition of a jazz singer is a singer who sings jazz,’ said Mark Murphy with tongue-in-cheek, although, actually, he's a definitive jazz singer himself.

He scats with bravado. He improvises melodically, harmonically, rhythmically, and with the lyrics. He writes vocalese lyrics to jazz instrumentals and also writes his own songs. He can break hearts on a ballad, plumb the deepest blues, bossa like a Brazilian, or wing harder and hipper than just about anyone. [Emphasis Mine]

‘A lot of singers attempt to sing jazz, use aspects of jazz in their arrangements, but without really getting into the whole thing,’  …

‘l think the test is The Jazz Singer Test.  You take a singer and three musicians and you put them in a room, or a pub like I used to do in London. I had this trio. The piano player couldn't read. The bass player couldn't read. The drummer read, but it didn't matter. I gave them a list of tunes. We never rehearsed. We just got up. I gave them the keys, and I counted off, and it happened. Because we were all Jazz musicians. I think that's the test. If a singer can get up and cut that, he's really doing it."
- Mark Murphy as told to DJ Michael Bourne

“In this world of ordinary singers, of overrated singers, I’m glad there is Madeline.”
- Leonard Feather, Jazz author, scholar and critic

Michael G. Nastos in his artist biography about Madeline Eastman for all about jazz asserts: “

“In her career as a jazz singer, Madeline Eastman has remained close to home while establishing a worldwide presence without recording for a major label, instead releasing a series of independently produced, critically acclaimed recordings.”

Remarkable in itself, what makes this statement border on the incredulous is that “close to home” is the greater San Francisco Bay Area, which in recent years has not exactly been known as a hotbed of Jazz.

But for those of us who have ready access to the SF bay area, catching Madeline in performance in either a club or a concert venue is one of Life’s great Jazz experiences for nothing compares to the vocal renderings of Mad [an explicable nickname that comes about by shortening her first name; you are gonna have to wait for an explanation of “The Dolphin Lady” until you read the Mark Murphy insert notes to her Point of Departure CD that close this piece].

I mean, where else can you hear vocalese lyrics to tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson’s Inner Urge, or vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson's Little B’s Poem - both of which she wrote [!]- or a scat chorus sung in unison with Phil Woods on Eddie Harris’ Freedom Jazz Dance, or a heart-stopping rendition of the ballad theme to the movie Baghdad Cafe?

Perhaps Madeline’s greatest gift to us goes beyond her interpretative skills as a vocalist and points directly to the quality of her voice which is magnificent in and of itself. Madeline’s voice is the ultimate “point of departure.”

Madeline’s voice is pure and it is powerful and I for one have to take it in small doses because it simply overpowers my emotions.

By way of background, Mad was born June 27, 1954, in San Francisco, CA, where she grew up listening to pop tunes on the radio, including those sung by Barbra Streisand, Jack Jones, Vic Damone, and Eydie Gorme, among others. In her senior year of high school, she viewed the film Lady Sings the Blues and discovered Billie Holiday, then enrolled in college music classes at San Francisco State University, and also attended various local jam sessions during her academic years.

Finding her calling as a “legitimate” jazz singer through early voice coach Charles Richards, Eastman made her recording debut with the Full Faith & Credit Big Band; began collaborating with Palo Alto-based trumpeter Tom Harrell; and over the years worked with internationally known veterans like Phil Woods, Cedar Walton, Kenny Barron, Mike Wofford, the Turtle Island String Quartet, Tony Williams, Rufus Reid, Matt Wilson, and vocal mentor Mark Murphy. Barron and Eastman teamed up for a recording project with the legendary 50-member Amsterdam-based Netherlands Metropole Orchestra.

In 1990, Eastman and Kitty Margolis co-founded their Mad-Kat record label, through which they were able to make their own music with no commercial or artistic constraints. She has also been a member of the administrative staff for the San Francisco Jazz Festival.

Aside from performing, she has conducted many clinics, is director of the Stanford Jazz Workshop, is artistic director of Jazzcamp West, conducts mobile touring Monterey Jazz Festival programs, and does her own Voice Shop retreats.  She now serves as Department Chair of Jazz Vocal Studies at the Jazzschool in Berkeley, CA.

A pivotal recording, influential for her in terms of composition, arrangements, and phrasings, was Miles Davis' Filles de Kilimanjaro. After hearing it, Eastman's approach to time, dynamics, and pitch changed her into a jazz vocalist more interested in taking chances than in toeing conventional standard lines. Her debut recording, Point of Departure from 1990, was followed by Mad About Madeline! in 1991, Art Attack in 1994, and the 2001 CD Bare, which concentrated on ballads. While broadening her repertoire, Eastman added Brazilian and soul/R&B tunes along the way for the 2003 effort Speed of Life, featuring Reid, Akira Tana, pianist Randy Porter, percussionist Michael Spiro, and trumpeter Mike Olmos. All of her recordings are available through her website: www.madelineeastman.com.

Along the way, Eastman has picked up awards from Down Beat magazine critics in their annual Talent Deserving Wider Recognition poll, and has twice been named one of the top female jazz vocalists.

She has toured worldwide, from Japan, Finland, Sweden, Germany, and Scotland to New York City nightclubs and festivals close to her West Coast home in the San Francisco Bay Area. Eastman has also become a prominent lyricist, writing her own song lines to several modern jazz classics, and has arranged more than a fair share of her repertoire.

As promised. here’s Mark Murphy’s insert notes to Mad’s Point of Departure CD.

“Just a few years ago I was doing my three or four hips at the local "Y" pool here in San Francisco. This particular afternoon my snail's pace kept being interrupted by a lithe, fishlike lady slipping past me like a dolphin. I stopped after the sixteenth splash and took a pause. Who pops up out of the chlorine from another lane in the pool but the great drummer Vince Lateano. of jazz and latin fame. We shout "Hey..." and begin the rebop that is inevitable between musicians anywhere: what's doing and where etc… Suddenly the dolphin lady surfaces dripping and grinning to join us. It's Mad! I mean Madeline Eastman, the swimmer. She and Vince know one another 'real well,' and the rebop gets louder among us.

So, you might ask, what's doing with Mad? Madeline Eastman has just recently given me one of the best, most stylish and cool album-tapes of contemporary vocal jazz.  I hear them all and this is the best in a long time. The dolphin lady certainly does more than swim...she sings.

Wherever I perform, I'm constantly given tapes from songwriters and jazz singers, all over the world, really. I love singers. Jazz singers and all their problems especially. I know them all. (You should have heard my concert in Sydney of the Australian Vocal Jazz Summit a few years ago. Wow.) But, we're talking Madeline Eastman here.

I first heard Mad on my long gig at Jim and Mary Lou Quinlavin's The Dock - in Marin County's stylish Tiburon [north across the Golden Gate Bridge]. Even then Mad was cool, as she belted out Four all the way through, and she lets you do some of the work, making you listen. Now, of course, with that swimmer's bod and her stylish clothes that remind you what a looker she is...you might be distracted from her vocal artistry. But not for long.

Cool, but intense is our Mad. She means it. She did not compromise, and this radiant tape is the result.

Like I say, for years singers have given me tapes, and Madeline Eastman's is just about the freshest, coolest, most interesting of them all.

You'll pick your own favorites of course, but dig the bittersweet heartbreak of "No More" — all those bop lines she sings with such ease. She even makes sense of the silly English lyrics to two gorgeous Ivan Lins songs. And then the brilliant You Are My Sunshine. I could go on.

Special, SPECIAL applause for the charts by Paul Potyen! Hey Paul!...All right! And she's got some good company in trumpeter Tommy Harrell, pianist Mike Wofford and bassist Rufus Reid. Remember the other swimmer? Vince Lateano? Playing here, too. But as for you Madeline Eastman, baby...you did it right!”

— Mark Murphy

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Jeri Southern

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

The contributions that Orrin Keepnews and Gene Lees have made to Jazz over the past fifty years are immense and go well beyond anything that can be described in this brief introduction.  Orrin’s work in recording and reissuing the music and Gene’s in writing about it have made the world of Jazz a far richer place because they devoted so much of their talent and creative genius to it.

Teaming up to develop and describe this retrospective of Jeri Southern’s early recordings at Decca is certainly an indication of the respect and admiration that Orrin and Gene have for this member of the Jazz family, a female vocalist who was not accorded enough of either in her lifetime.

When the likes of Orrin Keepnews and Gene Lees have so much praise to offer about the song stylings of Jeri Southern, the least I can do is to listen to them and to recommend that you do so as well.

© -  Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The Very Thought of You: The Decca Years, 1951-1957 [Decca GRP – 671]

“Here is a good clear look at one of the very best singers to emerge from the Pop/Jazz/Show-tune musical world that flourished in the mid-century years. By now this era can seem incredibly long ago and far away, but at its strongest it still retains all of its power to charm us and move us - and to demonstrate that, in the best of hands, this area of popular music is a true art form.

It has been my pleasure to work on this project with Kathryn King - a long-time friend with a solid track record of her own as a record producer, who has the considerable added incentive of being the daughter of the artist who is heard here in retrospect. Jeri Southern began her significant recording career with the half-dozen years at Decca from which this CD is drawn, As we picked our way through an extensive body of music, finding that our individual lists of preferred songs were looking remarkably similar, it did seem best to follow chronology in a general way, but without being excessive about it. As a result, tempo and instrumentation and the emotional content of these songs have led to a program that seems to pretty much set is own pace.

I knew Jeri Southern hardly at all; I only met her after she had ended her singing career. But I first heard her a long time ago, and have been fascinated over the years by what I consider to be a striking example of one of the major show-business paradoxes. This woman, a warm-voiced, sensitive, intelligent interpreter of the wonderful repertoire that a lot of us insist on capitalizing as The Great American Song Book, had all the qualities that I associate with two closely allied, important and consistently undervalued fields: being a jazz singer and being what for want of a better name is often called a cabaret singer. In Jeri's case this included the helpful fact that she was an excellent musician [among some attributes that in my view she shares with Carmen McRae is that she may well have been her own best accompanist]. But like so many of the best qualified female singers of the pre-rock days of the Fifties and early Sixties, she was typecast into a ‘pop vocalist’ category and as a result suffered through deliberate (although presumably quite well-intentioned) efforts to make her sound like everyone else and concentrate on the kind of lower-level Tin Pan Alley music that only a song-plugger or a music publisher could love.

The only two women I can think of who entirely fought their way through that mess and emerged as universally acknowledged major artists were obviously very strong, very tough, and supported by even tougher friends and associates. Ella Fitzgerald, who of course had Norman Granz as her all-American blocking back; and the totally indomitable Peggy Lee [who was a good friend of Jeri’s and, I’m inclined to suspect, would have been her role model if Ms. Southern had by nature been a more hard-shelled personality]. But that was not the way it worked out for Jeri; it should realty not be surprising to learn that her relatively early retreat from the show biz battlefront was basically the result of her being - to apply a phrase usually used to describe a jazz musician whose work goes sailing way over the heads of his audience – “too hip for the room.”

Way back when I first heard this voice, I was in Chicago visiting a World War II army buddy - it couldn’t have been past the very beginning of the Fifties, maybe earlier. He and his wife insisted on my listening to the laidback late night disc jockey who was The Man of the moment, Dave Garroway, soon to become one of the very first of the star night time (and subsequently early morning) casual television hosts. But all that lay ahead. What Garroway was doing at that particular time was shouting the praises of a great young locally-based singer by the name of Jeri Southern.

I became a fan at first hearing, then admittedly cooled off as her career seemed to be going in directions that I didn’t care for – you’ll note that we have not included one of her most popular recordings, a folksong tear-jerker called "Scarlet Ribbons.” Consequently, it took me much too long to become aware of some important factors. One was that her voice remained a great instrument, and another that she was singing a very high percentage of the right kind of songs -  merely note in passing that the writers represented here include Rodgers and Hart [four times], Cafe Porter [twice], Jerome Kerr [two more] and Kurt Weill.

It also seems apparent that she was doing battle energetically and in two ways against the kind of arrangements that were all too often in deadly vogue in those days. For one, in a period when a singer’s worth seemed to be measured by the size of the accompanying orchestra, she nevertheless succeeded fairly often in working on records in much the same setting as she would appear in clubs: backed only by a rhythm section, which on five of these numbers is led by guitarist/arranger Dave Barbour [long and closely a collaborator with Peggy Lee). It’s a formula that at times even allows her to be the piano player -  check out the Southern solos on Ray Noble's I HADN'T ANYONE ‘TILL YOU and her own I DON T KNOW WHERE TO TURN. And secondly, even when the writing behind her was lush and potentially overbearing, someone -- perhaps the artist herself, or a properly- motivated manager or other colleague  - often was able to keep the background writing under control. Or, when necessary, she seems to have been able simply to overcome it. I refer to my own listening notes on possibly my personal favorite in this collection, the magnificent Kurt Weill/Ira Gershwin MY SHIP. It was a specific and private comment, not intended for publication, but it now strikes me as quiet generally applicable to this compilation, and indeed as a summation of the artistry of Jeri Southern. “The strings are a matter of taste  I wrote, "but it is such a great performance of a great song.”

-         0rrin Keepnews

Remembering Jeri – Gene Lees

"Once upon a time, America was blessed with any number of small nightclubs that featured excellent singers singing excellent songs, and even the' big record companies were interested in recording them. Some of the best of them played piano, ranging from the competent to the excellent, Most of them were women, and there was a glamour about them, superb singers such as Betty Bennett, Irene Kral, Ethel Ennis, Marge Dodson, Lurlean Hunter, Audrey Morris, Shirley Horn, and even regional singers, such as Kiz Harp of Dallas. Many of them are forgotten now; Shirley Horn alone has enjoyed a resurgence.

They were sometimes called jazz singers, although they were no such thing, or torch singers a term I found demeaning, not to mention horrendously inaccurate. Male singers were with equal condescension from an ignorant lay press called crooners.

The songs they sang were drawn from that superb classic repertoire that grew up in the United States between roughly 1920 and the 1950s, and had any of us been equipped with foresight, we’d have known that the era was ending, doomed by “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?” and “Papa Loves Mambo” and “Music Music Music “even before the rise of Bill Haley and His Comets, Elvis Presley, arid the Rolling Stones.

Of all these singers, one of the greatest was Jeri Southern, born Genevieve Lillian Hering near Royal, Nebraska on August 5, 1926, the baby in a family of two boys and three girls. Her grandfather had come from Germany in 1868, and in 1879 built a water-powered mill on Verdigris Creek. His sons and grandsons, including Jeri’s father, worked there. I am indebted to Jeri’s sister, Helen Meuwissen), for this information about Jeri’s early life.

“She could play the piano by ear when she was three, Helen said. She started studying at six. I don t think she ever quit taking lessons. (I car confirm this Jeri was doing some formal study of piano to the end of her life.) She went to Notre Dame Academy in Omaha, and always credited the nuns there for her background. She took voice lessons in Omaha with Harry Cooper. It was her desire to be a classical singer.”

Jeri also studied classical piano in Omaha with a much beloved teacher, Karl Tunberg. But her ambitions in the classical world evaporated one evening when she walked into a nightclub and heard a pianist playing jazz. She loved this music, and the experience changed her life. After high school graduation, she moved to Chicago.

She started playing standards in clubs, and got more experience as a pianist in local Chicago big bands. Eventually, as her reputation grew, she was advised that she could make more money if she would sing, a standard casting for women pianists in those days: women were not supposed to be instrumentalists, they were supposed to sing, or, just maybe, play the harp. So she did start to sing, and accompanied herself at the piano. She abandoned her trained operatic voice and began singing in her speaking voice, which had a smoky sound, with a very soft enunciation and a haunting intimacy. And her career took off.

Her greatest popularity was in the 1950s. The first of her records I heard was YOU BETTER GO NOW, the oldest track on this CD. I was blown away by it: the simplicity, the exquisite lack of affectation or mannerism. She recorded it for Decca in late 1951, just after she turned 25. She then turned out a series of superb performances for Decca, through to the Rodgers and Hart gems she recorded November 26, 1957: YOU'RE NEARER and NOBODY’S HEART. I met Jeri probably two years later, in 1959. She eventually left Decca and went on to record for other labels.

Unlike many performers, her stage career represented a great struggle for Jeri. First, she was extremely shy. I remember her telling me during our Chicago friendship that the first time she arrived at a nightclub and saw her name on the marquee, it terrified her. She deeply felt the responsibility of drawing and pleasing an audience – she was intimidated by the look of expectation in their eyes.

There are performers who passionately crave the audience. They will climb over footlights, climb over the tables, do anything to claim the audience’s attention and, I suppose, love – or the illusion of love. Jeri wasn’t like that. She simply loved the music. The music was everything, She was almost too much a musician, and certainty a perfectionist. Her philosophy of performing was the diametrical opposite of Carmen McRae's, who not only wouldn't do a song the same way twice, but probably couldn’t remember how she did it the last time. Jeri worked on interpretation until she got it ‘right,' which is to say the way she wanted it. She would then stick with her chosen interpretation. She was also disinterested in scat singing. I have noticed an interesting thing about those with the harmonic and instrumental skills to scat-sing - they often don’t and won’t do it. Nat Cole was a classic example of this fidelity to the original melody; so was Jeri.

As her reputation grew, her handlers – the managers, agents, publicists, record company executives - set out to make her into a pop star. Certainty with her Germanic beauty, she had the basic material for it. They dressed her in fancy gowns.  They took her away from her beloved piano and stood her in front of a microphone with some else to play for her. Nothing could have been more diabolically designed to send her fleeing from the spotlight.  And so, like Jo Stafford [and for the record, Greta Garbo, Doris Day, and others], she simply quit. She walked away from the business and the discomfort it brought her.

But the musicianship was always there, and she took to teaching. She wrote a textbook, Interpreting Popular Music at the Keyboard.   She enjoyed composing, and over the years wrote pop songs with various partners [one of which, I Don’t Know Where to Turn is included here], and even ventured into other genres like orchestrating film scores and writing classical songs.

I used to drop by to visit her every once in a white at her apartment in Hollywood. Illustrating some point in a discussion of this song or that, she would go to the piano and play and sing for me. She simply got better throughout her life, and during these occasional private performances, I could only shake my head and think what the world was missing. Her piano playing in those last years was remarkable. It had grown richer harmonically, and the tone had evolved into a dark golden sound.

She was working on a book of piano arrangements of songs by her friend Peggy Lee, also a friend of mine. One sunny afternoon a few years age, I telephoned Peggy. How re you doing? I began.

‘I’m very sad,’ she said. ‘Jeri Southern died this morning.’

As I learned later, she succumbed to double pneumonia. The date was August 4, 1991. The next day, August 5, she would have turned sixty-five.

Once she told me that during those Chicago years, she considered me her closest friend in the world. It is an honor I will not forget. I truly loved Jeri, not only the singer but the person inside who through music so diffidently allowed us glimpses into her all-too-sensitive soul.”

-         Gene Lees

Jeri Southern at Home

"Jeri Southern was essentially an intensely private person whose talent for music thrust her into a public career. Since Gene Lees and Orrin Keepnews have done such a fine job of describing my mother's public life, I thought it would be of interest to her still devoted audience to learn something of her private life. as I knew it.

My mothers life was unusual in a number of respects, not the least of which was the fact that a great deal happened to her at a very early age. She started performing as a pianist while still in her teens, moved from Nebraska to Chicago, developed a following there, married, signed a record deal, had a baby, and had her first great commercial success as a recording artist, all by the time she was 25. At 36 she retired from her public career. For the next 30 years her time was as much taken up with music as it had been before, but as a teacher, a writer and a composer - she never went back to performing.

Shortly after recording YOU BETTER GO NOW, my mother moved from Chicago to Los Angeles, where she lived for the rest of her life. Taking the title of one of the songs she recorded perhaps a little too closely to heart ( Married I Can Always Get"), she married four times; three of her husbands were musicians, one a radio der5onatity. My earliest memories are from the house we had in Malibu, a wonderful place right on the water, where she and I would take daily "walks' with our hyperactive Irish Setter. The intellectual pursuits, the preoccupation, the pleasures my mother enjoyed at the Malibu house were the ones she carried with her throughout her Life – she loved reading, exploring the whole dimension of the mind, summoning the restorative powers of the sun, and most of all, playing the piano. 

She always practiced classical pieces, although she never performed them. Some of her favorite things to play were Beethoven sonatas, Grieg’s Holberg SuiteDebussy’s Images, and in later years the Brahms Intermezzi.  She would also compose and improvise at the piano. Because she suffered from what could only be described as a crippling case of performance anxiety, she hated to be observed while she played, and only really enjoyed herself when she thought that no one was listening. So it was that I got in the habit of sneaking

She had the most exquisite command of  harmony, so that when she played a tune, she would basically use it as a launching pad for an extended improvisation which often went very far afield harmonically.  Sometimes, as I sat surreptitiously listening  to these explorations of  hers, I would be certain she could never figure out how to get back to  the original key of the  piece, but she always did, and in the most spectacular way, with subtle and elegant voice leading and chord progressions that were simply stunning. For a period of years she also studied guitar with a fuzzy-voiced Italian whose greatest contribution to our lives, notwithstanding the guitar lessons was probably the killer spaghetti sauce recipe she induced him, after much cajoling, to surrender.

When she was at home she spent a lot of time reading. She was fascinated by the work of Carl Jung, whose ideas became an essential part of her world view. She was also very taken with Gurdjieff, and even got interested in numerology toward the end of her life. She found it exciting to contemplate both the innumerable possibilities of inner space, so to speak, and the complexities of the physical world.

Another pursuit of her life at home was listening to the work of other singers. Her perfectionism made her a tough audience, but there were a few to whom she would return again and again. As one can immediately discern from listening to her recordings, she felt that the most important criterion for a great singer was a reverence for and communication of the lyric. She was not swayed by technical brilliance; the only singer with astonishing vocal technique whose work she enjoyed was Mel Torme, and that was because he delivers a lyric so well. She also loved Frank Sinatra, Nat Cole, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Lucy Reed, Jackie and Roy, and the Hi-Los.

Music was really the playing field for her entire life. And with a few important exceptions, all of her most important relationships were with musicians, with whom she could share her opinions, her discoveries, her delights. Though she lived in Hollywood most of her adult life, she was not involved in that world. To say that she was reticent socially would be a mammoth understatement.

She hated parties and social gatherings, and had the same small circle of friends the day she died that she’d had for decades before. But for those of us who were privileged to be close to her, she had that rarest of gifts - acceptance. She was a loving, supportive, non-judgmental friend and mother. She loved her family and, in an important part of her mind and heart, she never really left Nebraska.

I still miss her so much, but it fulfills the dream of a Lifetime to be able to put this package together, to remind the world of what a wonderful singer she was."

- Kathryn King