Friday, January 19, 2018

Ed Bickert: Part 2 - The Views of Other Musicians

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

“One of the many charms of Ed Bickert's guitar playing is that he can be enjoyed on so many levels. Bickert provides music that is seemingly simple, yet deceivingly complex - an amalgamation of swing and bop-based lines, tonicization, moving inner voices, chord substitution, and more.

Entire courses in music schools could be devoted to Bickert's use of passing chords, contrary motion, and deceptive resolution within his chord solos. Many of the voicings Bickert uses just don't get used by a lot of other guitarists, save perhaps in the music of fellow Canadian jazz guitarist Lenny Breau. In an age where, 40 years after the death of Wes Montgomery, most guitarists are still resorting to Wes' block-chord voicings in their solos, Bickert's more intricate approach to this style of playing is refreshing.

If a guitarist exists with a stronger command of "chordal playing" than Ed Bickert, I am not aware of him. Many of Bickert's chord voicings are tricky, and can only be played in one particular area on the neck in order to be logistically possible. In beginning the process of transcribing some of Bickert's music, I was immediately struck by his ability to imply four, five, or six-part chords with three-note voicings. After repeated listenings to numerous passages, I finally came to the conclusion that the fourth note I was often hearing in Bickert's chord voicings wasn't actually being played - it was simply being implied.

At the heart of Ed Bickert's style is one of the fundamental jazz concepts - tension and release. I've heard from people who have listened to Bickert's music and pronounced it "tension-free"... I've even heard the phrase "easy listening".
These are wildly misguided proclamations. The truth is Bickert's command of harmony is so masterful, he has resolved much of the tension he creates before people realize there was ever dissonance.”
- Dan Cross writing in

This is a follow-up to Part 1 of our profile on Canadian Jazz guitarist Ed Bickert which contained three articles all of which were written by Mark Miller over a span of approximately 10 years from the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s.

Part 2 is based primarily on the views of Ed Bickert by his fellow musicians along with some commentaries about and observations of Ed as gleaned from various Jazz publications and insert notes to his recordings.

Richard Cook and Brian Morton reviewing three of Ed’s recordings on the Concord label in The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

Ed Bickert, I Wished On The Moon,  Concord CCD 4284

“Bickert's self-effacing style masks a keen intelligence. His deceptively soft tone is the front for a shrewd, unexpectedly attacking style that treats bebop tempos with the same equanimity as a swing-styled hallad. This was one of the best of several Concord albums.  Although the music is rather too evenly modulated to sustain attention throughout, Bickert adds interest by choosing unhackneyed material and this disc in particular hasa fine program of rare standards.

Ed Bickert, Third Floor Richard: The Ed Bickert Trio with Special Guest Dave McKenna Concord CCD 4380

Bickert's subsequent records for the label continued the formula but, like so many other Concord artists, he inhabited the style so completely that the records took on a spécial elegance and grace.

Ed Bickert, This Is New, Concord CCD 4414

The quartet with fellow guitarist Lorne Lofsky, though, is a little sharper, with 'Ah-Leu-Cha' pacifying the contrapuntalism of the playing without surrendering all of the bebop fizz which underlines it. Very agreeable.

Gene Lees, Jazz Lives: 100 Portraits in Jazz with John Reeves

Born: Hochfield, Manitoba, November 29, 1932

“Some time in the early 1970s, when I was living in Toronto, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond called me from New York. He had been asked to play a Toronto club and wanted to know what I thought. I urged him to do it.

‘But what will I do for a rhythm section?’ he asked. I told him to get a bass player named Don Thompson, either Terry Clarke or Jerry Fuller on drums, and a guitar player named Ed Bickert. "Oh yes," Paul said, "Jim Hall told me about him. Jim said he's the one guy who scares him if he walks into the room when Jim's playing."

Paul came, saw, and was conquered, and thereafter recorded a number of times with Ed, Don, and Jerry. In the liner notes to one of their albums, Paul wrote: "I find myself turning around ... to count the strings on [Bickert's] guitar . . . I'm reasonably sure that it's less than eighty-eight."

As it happened, Ed told Paul, when he was learning guitar in his home on the Canadian prairies he had listened to early 1950s broadcasts from San Francisco by the Dave Brubeck Quartet with Desmond.

Ed is remarkable for the extraordinary technique that he uses in deceptively unprepossessing fashion. Because it is a fretted instrument, the guitar has inherent intonation problems. It is even a nuisance to tune. But Ed's intonation is so accurate that, according to members of Rob McConnell's Boss Brass, the band tunes up to him.

Ed is taciturn. Usually he sits on the bandstand with a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth, taking in the world around him. But he can talk when he wants to, volubly and articulately. I once did an interview with him. Next day I told the guys in the Boss Brass, "You won't believe what I got on tape yesterday. An hour of Ed Bickert talking."

Since Desmond first stood there open-mouthed over Ed's playing, Ed has recorded with all sorts of major players and groups, including the Boss Brass, of which he was a founding member, Benny Carter, and Oscar Peterson. He has recorded with his own groups and toured extensively.”

Paul Desmond, insert notes to THE PAUL DESMOND QUARTET LIVE AT BOURBON STREET [A&M Records SP 850]

“I’ve been quoted - actually, enough times that I’m beginning to be sorry I ever brought the whole thing up - as wanting to get the alto to sound like a dry martini. I mention this now only because there are moments on these records which could justifiably be said to sound more like three dry martinis.

All part of the giddy euphoria of playing in a club again after years of concert.  Or, because of the musicians I was working with - Ed Bickert on guitar, Don Thompson on bass, Jerry Fuller on drums.

Jerry is a charter member of a unique and endangered species - a drummer who appears happiest while devoting his sensitive, intelligent playing to whatever is happening at the moment

Don of course is a walking miracle. Here are some things about him: he plays bass, somewhat reluctantly, if required. He plays piano in the manner of Keith Jarrett. He writes charts like an angel. (As a matter of fact, he looks a bit like a second cousin of Christ, and plays bass as if the family were a bit closer.) If you’re into space music and feel like sitting on a B minor chord for 45 minutes, he either swoops around the bottom register of the bass or flutters about like a giant butterfly trapped in a Stradivarius, whichever is most appropriate. And if you’re an old curmudgeon like me and feel like playing some old standards, he plays all the right changes. (In this case, also recording the proceedings with his other hand.) In all of the above situations, his solos are dependably, unbelievable.

Ed Bickert is unique. Chords, for instance. I play a sort of horn player’s amateur piano. Ten fingers, 88 keys. When I work with Ed, I find myself turning around several times a night to count the strings on his guitar. Even with my eyes closed I’m reasonably sure it’s less than 88. (Perhaps I should count his fingers more often.) My question, then, is how does he get to play chorus after chorus of chord sequences which could not possibly sound better on a keyboard? Or, in some cases, written for orchestra? This all becomes more impressive when I play a tape of Ed’s for a guitar player and suddenly realize, between the hypnotized gaze of fascination and the flicker of disbelief, that what I had cherished as a musical phrase is also totally impossible to play on guitar. (Unlike some other musicians capable of this,
Ed doesn’t have it to beat you about the head and shoulders during his solo; the impossible chord occurs more often quietly in the background.)

(I realize, suddenly, that I’m violating one of my basic principles it’s dumb for liner notes to rave about the music, in view of the fact that you’ve presumably already bought the album . . . like those packages you bring home and the first thing you see when you open them is ‘CONGRATULATIONS!!! YOU HAVE JUST ACQUIRED THE BEST CASSETTE RECORDER AVAILABLE!!! etc.)

Why I continue to ramble on in this fashion about the records is because I feel if I were you (and, incidentally, I am), I’d be curious about the people who played on them.

Jerry Fuller and me you probably know enough about for now. Don Thompson sounds clearly impossible as described earlier, but he is. Nothing seems to change that.

Ed Bickert, then, remains the mysterious figure in this group, and I’m not sure I know much more about him than you do. A picture of him would look a lot like the Marlboro Man (he smokes more than I do, which is impossible, and is much healthier, which is easy. Unless you have a motor-driven Nikon, it would be unlikely to find him without a cigarette heading towards either his face or his guitar, both dearly indestructible. [The cigarette, incidentally, is always a MAVERICK—a Canadian brand which, if it didn’t exist, Ed might have invented.) When he talks, which is not all that often (not that he’s anti-social; he just doesn’t waste words), he sounds surprisingly like Gary Cooper. He has four children (ages 14, 12, 10, 7 roughly, but don’t trust me - who knows what birthdays have roared through that hectic house even as I write this?), and shares the attendant chores with his frighteningly capable, disarmingly charming wife.

He grew up in a small town in British Columbia (do you begin to get the feeling that this album is actually a short novel with records artfully concealed among the pages?).

All I know about Ed’s home is that it’s on the western side of Canada (since both Don Thompson and Jerry Fuller, among many others, came from Vancouver, they must be doing something terribly right out there), which brings us to a very personal and slightly eerie coincidence.

During the same period (early 1950s) that Jimmy Lyons, a San Francisco disc jockey at the time, later the founder of the Monterey Festival, was helping Dave Brubeck and me get out of town, Jimmy’s show was bouncing nightly from many ghostly Canadian mountain-tops.  Fortunately, the show got through to Ed Bickert each night as he was figuring out what to do with the guitar.

It took us long enough, Lord knows, but I’m glad we finally got together.

Frank Rutter [The Vancouver Sun] insert notes to Ed Bickert, Third Floor Richard: The Ed Bickert Trio with Special Guest Dave McKenna Concord CCD 4380

“Edward Isaac Bickert is never one to blow his own horn — figuratively, he's one of the most modest and unassuming men in jazz. But literally —he blows up a storm when needed. Just listen. The pace is set in the opener. Duke Ellington's Band Call. From the first chord you know you are in the hands of a master guitarist.

Bickert is content to remain in his native Canada so fame and top American musicians usually have to come and seek him out, which they have done Among them is his special guest on four of the numbers here, pianist Dave McKenna.

Ed and Dave have a lot in common, though not build — Ed is wiry and compact, Dave full blown and b-i-g. They are both on the laconic side; neither is given to boisterous behavior; except on guitar and piano. They both learned their instruments early, Bickert as a schoolboy in British Columbia's Okanagan valley, McKenna in New England (born in Woonsocket, R.I., weaned in Boston) and they belonged to musical families: Ed played in a family band with his fiddler father and pianist mum while Dave's dad was a drummer and his mother a pianist.

The other members of the group are also Canadians in much demand around the world: Toronto bassist Neil Swainson, a favorite of George Shearing following in the fingersteps of Don Thompson, and drummer Terry Clarke (bom in Vancouver, sometime of Toronto, sometime New York) who has played with everyone from John Coltrane to the Fifth Dimension. They all know each other musically inside out and the empathy is stunning.”

Frank Rutter [The Vancouver Sun] insert notes to Ed Bickert, This Is New, Concord CCD 4414.

“When I called Ed Bickert about this session he was on the top of a ladder. ‘Home maintenance,’ he explained in his loquacious way, ‘I keep close to home.’ It's almost as hard to get him out of the country as it is to get him to string more than half a dozen words together. But when it comes to stringing music, that's another matter, and plenty of top musicians would like to overcome his extreme modesty and homebody ways.

Lorne Lofsky, however, caught the phone on the first ring. This brisk, keen young Canadian guitarist is just waiting to grab the next chance to hit the road, and he'll chatter freely about his ambitions, his love of travel, his musical adventures.

So there's the contrast: the smooth, mature, Bickert, oozing experience (listen, he made a record with Duke Ellington in 1967) and the younger, adventurous, crisp-chording Lofsky. But they match well. In fact, musically, they've been hanging out for five years, playing club dates in Toronto with the same two guys on this recording, bassist Neil Swainson and veteran drummer Jerry Fuller.

So it's a made-in-Canada date: a quartet of Canadian musicians jamming in the comfortable Toronto studio of Phil Sheridan, the engineer to call north of the 49th parallel. "In fact it was very comfortable—no being isolated behind baffles and things," said Ed. …

This is a recording to get you down off a ladder, too; forget the chores and stay home awhile, with Ed and Lorne.”

Donald Elfman insert notes to Like Someone In Love: Paul Desmond Quartet [Telarchive CD-83319]

“Listening to the playing of the late Paul Desmond might be likened to the experience of watching a lovely leaf being wafted in a gentle breeze on a clear and beautiful day. Thoroughly individual alto saxophonist who rose to fame through his work with the Dave  Brubeck Quartet in the 1950s and 1960s, plays all the parts in the above metaphor. He had a clear and beautiful tone and played lightly spinning, drifting melodic lines that, in their simplicity, revealed colors that were personal and individual

Cannonball Adderley, who was at one point was a rival of Paul's in the various polls and whose robust gospel-drenched playing  was worlds apart once said: ‘He is a profoundly beautiful player.’ Writer Nat Hentoff said. "He could put you in a trance, catch you in memory and desire, make you forget the garlic and sapphires in the mud."

The Jazz world came to know Paul Desmond through the hugely popular Dave Brubeck Quartet. He was a quiet and unassuming man, brilliant, witty, curious, but never particularly eager for the role of star. … After the dissolution of the Brubeck group, Paul played rarely, usually only to work with someone he admired or to help someone out. One of his few ventures outside New York was to Toronto to play at a club called Bourbon Street. There he met and developed a fruitful relationship with the players who grace the performances on this album.[Ed Bickert, guitar, Don Thompson, bass and Jerry Fuller, drums.]

He called Jerry Fuller "a charter member of a unique and endangered species, a drummer who appears happiest while devoting his sensitive intelligent playing to whatever is happening at the moment."

Bassist Don Thompson who is now a "regular" in jazz performance and recording was, in 1975, more or less a Canadian treasure who, said Desmond, was "a walking miracle." (He said of Desmond, "Paul was one of the great artists in jazz. One of the most pure melody players, probably, of all time. Playing with him was much more of a challenge than many would guess.")

Ed Bickert is still one of the most thoughtful, sensitive and quietly swinging jazz guitarists. Desmond called him "unique," relishing his extraordinary chords and chord sequences, his melodic and beautifully paced solos, and his unprepossessing manner. …”

Gene Lees, insert notes to Pure Desmond [CBS Associated ZK 40806]

“Ed Bickert is one of the most successful studio musicians in Canada. Legend, and I believe it, has it that he grew up on a farm in the western prairie province of Saskatchewan, which is at least as flat as Indiana. He somehow acquired a guitar, and taught himself to play it, analyzing the harmony of Stan Kenton records by ear. Which may explain his incredible harmonic hearing.

Bickert is a taciturn, soft-spoken, very retiring man. I think they'd been playing together about four days before he and Paul bom got up the nerve to say hello. Bickert is a richly imaginative, always tasteful, and technically accomplished jazz soloist. He is also a thoughtful accompanist, acutely sensitive to the needs of another player. Desmond was thrilled by him, and at the end of their two weeks of working together, ne rushed back to New York with tapes of their playing to sell Creed Taylor [producer at CBS Records at the time] on the idea of bringing Bickert in to do an album. As the preparations for it were made, he said, "My God, to play with Ed, I'm going to do nothing but practice scales for the next month."

I was not at the session, I'm sorry to say. (It gave rise to one of the better Desmondisms: Paul said Creed had been "so busy for two weeks that the top of his head was spinning like a police car light.") I wonder how they all communicated, since Creed is fully as reticent and shy as Paul and Ed Bickert. [Maybe recording engineer] Rudy Van Gelder semaphored.

The result is this album, about which Paul is very pleased, which is a novelty, since he spends most of his fine devising newer and more persuasive causes for self-derogation. ‘I consider it Ed's album, really,’ he said. ‘He's never recorded in the United States before, and I wanted people to hear him.’”

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles hopes that if it has accomplished one thing with this two part feature on Ed is that those of you who have not heard the accomplished guitar playing of Ed Bickert will be inclined to seek it out.

The following is but one example of the musical splendor of Bickert in combination with Desmond. Thankfully, there are many more awaiting your discovery as most of this music is still available for purchase in both analog and digital formats.

The following audio only file features Ed along with Neil Swainson on bass and Terry Clarke on drums on Charles Lloyd’s Third Floor Richard.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Dwike Mitchell and Willie Ruff – “The Catbird Seat”

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

I’m always asking Jazz musicians and Jazz fans what they are listening to or for their opinions about my current listening and/or favorite recordings.

It’s a fun way to get differing opinions about the music.

But when I asked Italian Jazz pianist Dado Moroni what he thought of Dwike Mitchell’s performance on The Catbird Seat from the Atlantic album of the same name, I was momentarily surprised by his answer.

“I cried,” he said.

Although I was taken aback for an instant, I intuitively understood why Dado would react this way to Dwike’s playing on this piece on which he is joined by bassist Willie Ruff and drummer Charlie Smith.

As George T. Simon describes it on the album’s sleeve notes:

The Catbird Seat, a slow, swinging blues, gets its title because, as bassist Willie Ruff  points out, ‘it has such a groovy feel­ing. There's an old Southern ex­pression, “sitting in the catbird seat” which means you're sitting pretty and everything is groovy, and that's how we felt on this number. In fact, it's how we feel most of the time when we're at home in the club [Dwike and Willie owned The Playback Club in New Haven, CT].’ The piece projects a tremendously funky feel, but it's also full of musical polish, such as Willie's marvelous articulation, Dwike's tremendous technique and Charlie's beauti­fully controlled brush shadings. Note too the contrast between the long, tremulous, two-chorus build-up into the lovely, relaxed statement of the theme.”

The Catbird Seat is a slow burn all the way.  The very unhurried tempo at which it is played is one that is rarely heard today and very tricky to execute because there is a tendency to rush or drag.

The intensity is there but you have to let it quietly capture you. The track builds and builds and builds until it reaches an exciting climax. And just when you think it is finished, Dwike offers a different ending from the one that “your ears” are expecting.

In the Atlantic Jazz Keyboards CD [Rhino R2 71596], the noted pianist and Jazz author Dick Katz offered these comments about The Mitchell-Ruff Trio, featuring Charlie Smith performance of The Catbird Seat.

"Pianist Dwike Mitchell and bassist Willie Ruff are probably the least known {in the United States, at least) of any of the artists in this compilation. This is because they have chosen to function outside the mainstream of "the business." They are more comfortable in the concert hail and on college campuses than in clubs with cigarette smoke and long hours. [Ironically, Dwike and Willie took the plunge and later opened their own club in Hartford, CT called The Playback, but like most Jazz clubs, it was to be a short-lived enterprise]

Ever since their incredible triumph in the Soviet Union in 1959 — they were the first American jazz musicians to tour there — Mitchell and Ruff have thrilled audiences everywhere They are also educators of the first rank and have enjoyed special relationships with Yale University and New Haven, Connecticut

Make no mistake, here are two virtuosos ol unique ability. Dwike Mitchell rivals Oscar Peterson in the chops department, and Willie Ruff makes it rough on other bass players. His French horn playing, not heard here, is in a class by itself.

The Catbird Seat with the addition of the late drummer Charlie Smith finds them harking back to their Southern roots. It is truly a pianistic tour de force. Over a hypnotic, steady, unembellished quarter-note pulse, Mitchell builds to a thunderous climax via some awesome tremolo effects. The piece winds down gracefully and ends with a churchlike cadence.  This is state-of-the-art piano blues. It's interesting to compare it with Ray Charles' "The Genius After Hours." [Also included on the Atlantic Keyboards compilation.]

Elsewhere in his liner notes, George T. Simon has this to offer by way of background information on what came to be known as the Mitchell-Ruff trio.

“This is thrilling jazz. I know you read such superlatives in almost every liner note, but believe me, the music herein is really something special.

It's modern jazz with the emphasis on the jazz. Like many modernists, both Dwike Mitchell and Willie Ruff are thoroughly-schooled musicians. But, unlike most modernists, they haven't forgotten the basic romping, swinging beat of jazz, and the results here are pretty electrify­ing.

Maybe, like me, you remem­ber Dwike and Willie when they were just the Mitchell-Ruff Duo. They achieved international fame in 1959 when, as members of the Yale Russian Chorus that was touring the USSR, they tem­porarily tossed aside their ton­sils, hauled out piano and bass, and proceeded to regale the Rus­sians with American jazz.

At that time the group's jazz feeling was highly personal  -  al­most completely implied. Now though, with the addition of Charlie Smith's drums, you can't possibly miss it. Before his ad­vent, what they were playing had relationship to themselves only, just as in modern art a painting on an infinite canvas can only relate to itself. But now, thanks to Charlie, they have been supplied with a rhythmic framework inside which they are able to create jazz masterpieces with a spatial, or rhythmic rela­tivity that all of us can feel and understand.

Mitchell, a Floridian who graduated from the Philadelphia Musical Academy, and Ruff, an Alabaman who earned his B.A. and M.A. degrees in Music at Yale (they once played together in Lionel Hampton's big band) joined forces last year with Smith, a New Yorker, who has played for Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Billy Taylor, at a New Haven club called The Playback. It was founded by Ruff himself, ‘be­cause we needed a place in which we could work out things the way we wanted to, and just stay on until we felt we were really ready to show the rest of the world what we could do.’

For close to a year, the trio worked, played, and, in the case of Ruff and Smith and their fami­lies, even lived together. ‘We got so that each of us could feel what the others were going to do without even looking,’ says Smith. By early autumn of 1961 when they felt they were ready, they brought portable recording equipment into the club and re­corded the numbers heard herein. The first Artist and Repertoire man to hear the tapes, Atlantic's astute jazz-loving V.P., Nesuhi Ertegun, flipped, and - well, here's the result.”

Dwike Mitchell passed away on April 7, 2013 at the age of eighty-three.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles wanted to remember him on these pages with this feature and the following video tribute on which the music is – what else but - The Catbird Suite.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Bernie Senensky – Jazz Pianist

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

“I could just sit and listen to Bernie Senensky play all day.”

Like the late Bill Evans, so could I.

Bernie was also a favorite of the late alto saxophonist, Art Pepper.

According to Hal Hill, a Canadian broadcaster who booked Art into Bourbon Street in Toronto, CA and paired him when Bernie on piano for a week-long gig:

“I have many happy memories of being asked to pick a rhythm section for Art Pepper for an engagement at the now defunct night club 'Bourbon Street' in Toronto. You can imagine Art's delight at having such an ac­complished pianist to work with, someone who molded his ideas so well with Art's music. That was a week of sheer enjoyment, night after night, set after set.

When Art went on to New York at the end of the gig he phoned me to see if I could get Bernie to join him. Bernie, unfortunately, was not availa­ble due in part to his loyalty to a group he had started to work with on a regular basis in Toronto. Those sessions on Contemporary Records, Live At The Village Vanguard (1972) could have been with Bernie as pianist in­stead of George Cables.”

Bernie’s style just sparkles with a lightness and playfulness that makes his solos so easy and fun to listen to. You don’t have to reach for anything; it’s there.

He composes many of the tunes he records, but here again, as is the case with Lolito’s Theme which forms the audio track for the video feature to Bernie which you can locate at the end of this piece, his music is easily accessible.

Nothing tortuously introverted, but rather, music that becomes the basis for straightforward and melodious solo interpretation and a certain gentleness of expression in the tunes he writes as ballads.  To paraphrase Hal Hill, each tune he writes “… has a richness of detail that allows for the fact that we hear things differently.”

Many of Bernie’s recordings are available in digital formats as CO’s and Mp3 downloads.

Here are some background notes about Bernie’s considerable career in the World of Jazz.

© -  Canadian Jazz Archives, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“BERNARD (BERNIE) SENENSKY (pianist, composer) was born December 31, 1944 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Recognized as one of Canada’s premier jazz artists and one of the foremost jazz accompanists in the world, Senensky’s playing and his music have been featured in jazz festivals internationally. Since 1975, he has released eight albums, two of which were nominated for Juno Awards.

Senensky began playing piano at the age of eight, settling into his interest in jazz when he was 14, studying with Winnipeg jazz eminence Bob Erlendson. He began sitting in with local Winnipeg groups which included guitarist Lenny Breau and bassist Dave Young, eventually taking his considerable talent to Edmonton.

His work leading a house band with the Holiday Inn Hotel chain eventually took him to Toronto where he took up residence in 1968, quickly establishing himself as an accompanist playing for and with a wide variety of visiting musicians including Pepper Adams, Chet Baker, Ed Bickert, Terence Blanchard, Ruby Braff, Randy Brecker, Al Cohn, George Coleman, Buddy DeFranco, Herb Ellis, Art Farmer, Sonny Greenwich, Slide Hampton, Herbie Mann, Frank Morgan, Joe Pass, Art Pepper, Bucky Pizzarelli, Dizzy Reese, Red Rodney, Jack Sheldon, Zoot Sims, Sonny Stitt, Lew Tabackin, Clark Terry, Kenny Wheeler, Joe Williams, and Phil Woods.

He has recorded with dozens of the biggest names in the business, played in piano duets with Oscar Peterson and Marian McPartland, and performed with major name bands and ensembles including Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass, the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra, the Elvin Jones Quartet, and the Herbie Mann/Al Grey All-Star Septet.

He formed his own trio in the early ‘70s, and began occupying the piano chair in The Moe Koffman Quintet in 1979 when the band was the number one small jazz combo in Canada. He had played with Moe on occasion prior to that and “was always impressed with his utter musicality and his complete mastery of the flute, alto, and soprano saxophones”. As part of The Moe Koffman Quintet, Senensky ultimately had the opportunity to contribute many of his own compositions to the band’s repertoire for more than 20 years, and continues to keep the memory and the music of Moe Koffman alive today as leader of his "Tribute to Moe Koffman Band."

The following audio only file features Bernie along with Gary Bartz on alto sax, bassist Harvie Swartz and drummer Akira Tana on the title tune from Frank Loesser's "Guys and Dolls."

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Russia House: Jerry Goldsmith

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

Jerry Goldsmith’s The Russia House  could very well be the best score ever to feature an unwanted theme and an unwanted album. Not only did Jerry Goldsmith disapprove of the MCA Records album for The Russia House, but the title theme of the film itself was a reject from a previous Jerry Goldsmith score. The saga of the score for The Russia House begins two years before the film's release, when Goldsmith conjured up a bold and yet longing love theme for the film Alien Nation.

 In a seemingly nonsensical move by that film's producers, Goldsmith's score was rejected and expunged. Knowing that he had a perfectly viable, not to mention powerful, theme on his hands, he waited a few years before working it into the film treatment of John LeCarre's novel The Russia House.

“[Goldsmith’s score contains ] saxophone performances by Branford Marsalis (both scripted and improvised) that are nothing short of spectacular. Never once does he quiver unintentionally or even slightly miss a note. Perfection is bliss.”
- review

“The function of a [film] score is to enlarge the scope of the film. I try for emotional penetration – not for complementing the action. For me, the important thing about music is statement. I can’t describe how I arrive at the decision to make a statement, I simply feel it and react to it.”
- Jerry Goldsmith

Spoken like a true Jazz musician - and this from one of the premier composers of music for the movies in the history of film!

As has been intended since we posted an audio track from the film The Russia House on the columnar or left-side of the blog some months ago:

“We plan to do more with the music from Jerry Goldsmith’s wonderful film score to The Russia House in a future feature highlighting the beauty of the city of St. Petersburg; another of the JazzProfiles editorial staff’s attempts to meld Jazz and photographic images. In the meantime, please enjoy this audio track and marvel at Jerry’s gorgeous scoring for strings [especially beginning at 4:15] and Branford Marsalis’ mastery of the soprano saxophone. With Mike Lang on piano and John Patitucci on bass, this is one of the most beautiful movie themes ever written.”

A few years ago I came across a DVD of The Russia House.  The movie is an adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel by producer- director  Fred Schepisi, who also altered the ending of the novel into a happy one. The movie stars Sean Connery and Michel Pfeiffer who are well- served in their leading roles by an excellent cast that includes Roy Scheider, James Fox, John Mahoney and Klaus Maria Brandauer.

A number of things struck me about the movie including the engaging love affair between Sean Connery and Michel Pfeiffer [the romantic in me?] and the stunning scenes of Moscow and St. Petersburg, both of which came together to create a “feel good” movie.

But what impressed me the most about the film was how the wonderfully crafted music took this movie to a total visual and aural experience for me.

Not surprisingly, the music for this film score in all its unique splendor, was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, one of the great practitioners of this genre.

The film score does all the things it should do to support a suspenseful Cold War thriller, but it does so in many unique ways including the use of beautifully written string segments [few composers know how to score for strings anymore],  the interspersing a Jazz trio made up of soprano sax, piano and bass,  the use of electronic instruments and effects [including recording-in of a metronome] and the careful inclusion of the duduk and balalaika, traditional Slavic and Russian instruments. 

I am not often a fan of the soprano sax; it’s been disparagingly dubbed the “fish horn” for a reason.

But I came to especially enjoy the sound of the instrument as played by Branford Marsalis after listening to him soar over the film score throughout the movie, but most particularly, during the seven minute [7.39] closing scene when the film credits are launched over exquisite camera shots from around Russia’s traditional and modern capitals: St. Petersburg and Moscow, respectively.

Marsalis solos over beautifully orchestrated strings which are interjected with piano and bass rhythmic phrases, the latter played by Michael Lang and John Patitucci, respectively.

The film was released on December 11, 1990 and a CD of the sound track music was subsequently  issued on MCA Records [MCAD-10136].

While doing further research on the evolution of Jerry Goldsmith skillfully  crafted score, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles found two detailed accounts to share with you.

To give you a sense of the architectural beauty of St. Petersburg or in Russian  - Санкт-Петербург – we have interspersed photographs of some of its most famous venues throughout the profile.  These are also included in the video tribute should you wish to view them collectively while listening to Jerry, Branford, Michael and John at work.

Jerry Goldsmith’s The Russia House from 

“The Russia House: (Jerry Goldsmith) If a single film and score could define the word "bittersweet" better than any other, The Russia House would be the champion example. The potentially explosive adaptation of John LeCarre's novel needs no introduction to the concepts of depression and oppression, and despite the story's famously distraught conclusion, audiences were seemingly unprepared for either the gloom of the film or the distorted and confusing ending of the adaptation.

The film fell short of all expectations at the time, though the lead performances by Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer were well enough praised. The espionage story was the first major American production ever to be shot on location in the former Soviet Union, with a sharp, somewhat technological edge driving its fear factor.

Perhaps the most critical element of The Russia House is its extremely memorable score by Jerry Goldsmith, a score with about as much frustration and depression built into the circumstances of its creation as the story of The Russia House itself. Goldsmith first conjured the beautiful theme for this film in 1987 for Wall Street, but when he left that film due to creative differences with the filmmakers, he adapted the theme into his electronic score for Alien Nation the following year.

Being that the 1988 alien/cop drama was so wretchedly awful, however, Goldsmith wasn't particularly disappointed when his score was completely rejected from the finished product. His bold and longing love theme for Alien Nation was realized in that film's cue "The Wedding," but never did it truly take flight until it was altered slightly (improving its romantic flow in three places) and handed to an accomplished jazz trio for The Russia House in 1990.

Goldsmith's approach to the genuine locale was countered by an interestingly American approach to scoring the visuals, infusing a slight edge of old-style noir into the picture. He took a chance by composing an almost exclusively jazzy score, building off of the Barley (Connery) character's performance of the saxophone in the film.

To address the concept of espionage, and not to mention Connery himself, Goldsmith inserts a slight touch James Bond's mechanical instrumentation, making restrained, but smart use of his library of synthetic rhythm-setters. To address the danger of the romance, he offers us a glimpse of the ominously nervous strings that we would eventually hear in full for
Basic Instinct.

The most surprising aspect of the score for The Russia House is its simplicity in instrumentation and repetition. It's hard to imagine how a score of this minuscule size and scope could be so overwhelming in its appeal. That might say something about Goldsmith's raw talent, and perhaps it speaks to three years of development on the concepts.

His base elements are simple; a jazz trio handles the majority of the themes and underscore, with saxophone performances by Branford Marsalis (both scripted and improvised) that are nothing short of spectacular. Never once does he quiver unintentionally or even slightly miss a note. Perfection is bliss.

Michael Lang is equally renown for his fabulous piano performances, and he delicately establishes an elevated level of classy bar room atmosphere for Marsalis' sax. The bass, performed by John Patitucci, has a larger role in the score, not only providing a rhythm for the other two jazz performers, but also handling a large portion of the underscore.

It is during these sequences with the bass that Goldsmith utilizes his electronics to his fullest. With his knowledge of synthesized integration having matured since the experimental days of Legend and Hoosiers, Goldsmith's electronics are almost identically appealing in both the concurrent 1990 releases of Total Recall and The Russia House.

The James Bond aspect of the spy tale called for the presence of mechanized subterfuge, and thus, the use of Goldsmith's wide array of synthesized sounds keeps a consistent rhythm set throughout the score. Most of these sounds are common, light, upper-range, chime-like keyboarding from Goldsmith's library, though the incorporation of a "release of air" effect is unique to this score.

Not always are the solo bass and electronics geared towards suspense, though. The third element of Goldsmith's score is the reasonably sized string section, which is added to provide a whimsical effect for the grand, romantic performances of the title theme (this could also just be a smaller string ensemble simply mixed over itself... it doesn't matter either way). During these moments, the electronics cease their systematic beats and blossom into chimes and twinkles.

No better of an example exists than the finale of the film, when the dream-like "The Family Arrives" sequence provides a false sense of hope at an otherwise doomed finish to the story. During these elegant performances of Goldsmith's cherished theme, the sax, strings, and piano rotate in their pronouncement of the theme, with all three together occasionally blowing the listener away with stunning aural beauty (such as "Bon Voyage"). Over half of the score, though, consists of the suspenseful underscore previously mentioned, with the bass and electronics leading the way. Goldsmith throws in two more elements during these sequences.

First, some very light percussion, crisply recorded, keeps the film moving at a pre-set tempo. To do this, Goldsmith integrates the clicking of a metronome (the device by which instrument performers set their tempo in practice) right into the scheme of the recording. Only a snippet of traditional jazz band percussion is used, such as the light cymbal tapping during the faster rhythmic opening to "Training."

Assessing the need for a slight Soviet influence on the score, Goldsmith also composes for the duduk and balalaika, the former being an Armenian instrument that will sound, to the common American ear, like a low, fluttering woodwind instrument. These elements are combined well with Goldsmith's American jazz, leading to a very smooth and listenable hour of music.

The duduk is employed in a creative way so that it almost sounds as though it's a naturally lower progression of the sax, increasing both instruments' emotional range at moments like the end of "The Meeting." Cues that merge these woodwind sounds, as well as the metronome and synthetics, with some slight improvisation from the lead trio (such as in "Crossing Over") are a delight.

In sum, Goldsmith's music for The Russia House is the type that you wish you could hear every time you go into an upscale bar. It is friendly, yet mysterious. It is smoky, yet crystal clear. It is vibrant, yet lulls you to a different place. Its recording quality is so crisp that Marsalis' sax bounces off the walls with remarkable clarity.

The monotony of its underwhelming construct is compensated for by the sheer talent of its performers and the constant sense of movement that Goldsmith's rhythms use to maintain your interest. In these regards, The Russia House is the ultimate "homework score," a description used by career students who have spent countless hours researching and writing to this music. The vocal version of Goldsmith's theme, performed in the song "Alone in the World" by Patti Austin, melts wonderfully into the center of the album. The song's arrangement and instrumentation by Goldsmith is consistent with the surrounding underscore.

Aside from the recognizable Goldsmithian electronics and some minor key bass string movements teasing later development in Basic Instinct, this score is like nothing composed by any other major film composer in the last twenty years. Other composers have tried to score films with the same emphasis on jazz, but none has succeeded with the same class and sense of style as Goldsmith accomplished. To that end, traditional Goldsmith fans might not warm up to The Russia House at first.

But it has become a legend within the film score industry, a favorite score for several leading composers still working today, with similar praise extended from fans all over the world. Goldsmith's love affair with the final track of The Russia House (the ultimate highlight of the album, for which he allowed the trio of jazz musicians to improvise over seven minutes of material, leading to an enjoyably snazzy conclusion for the album) that he would reprise the sound almost identically in his underrated 1993 score for The Vanishing (though curiously out of place and not as crisp in sound). He would also touch upon the basics of the style at the end of 1997's The Edge.

Even on its addictively attractive album, however,
The Russia House still caused frustration for Goldsmith himself. Not only was his theme unwanted for no less than two films, but the MCA album, as presented, was unwanted by the composer as well.

It's a classic example of how many composers wish to maintain control over the presentation of their works outside of their intended film use. Perhaps the ultimate irony of Goldsmith's quest to narrow down the length of the album for The Russia House is that neither of the other two scores featuring versions of its themes (Alien Nation and The Vanishing) would receive commercial albums, both relying instead on bootlegs and eventual Varèse Sarabande club treatment.

Goldsmith disapproved of the MCA Records album because it presented the mass of the music from the film intact. Many people will argue alongside Goldsmith that The Russia House would make a fantastic 30-minute album. But MCA, in this case, got it right. There are nuances in this score that make every moment one of intrigue.

If you cut out all of the duduk ethnicity and bass string suspense, you'd be left with the dozen renditions of the love theme, and one of the great aspects of the score in its entirety is its ability to bring one of those lush thematic statements at just the right moment of lonely despair.

Many reviewers will be deterred by the length of the album, overlooking the profound impact that an understated score like this can have on its film, and many fans will comment that the score is simply too depressing to enjoy on a bright sunny afternoon.

But elegance comes in many forms, and the music from The Russia House, while perfect for the shadows of midnight despair, is a score that anyone (and especially a Goldsmith enthusiast) should be able to appreciate at any hour. The score came during a fantastic year for film music, but while John Barry's Dances With Wolves, Danny Elfman's Edward Scissorhands, and Basil Poledouris' The Hunt for Red October, among others, drew more public attention, the quality of The Russia House exceeds all of them. The difference is style. *****

The Russia House from
Film Released: December 11, 1990
Film Score by Jerry Goldsmith
CD: Released by
Serial number

Principal Soloists:

Branford Marsalis, soprano saxophone
Michael Lang, piano
John Patitucci, bass

Orchestrated by Arthur Morton

Vocal tracks : Patti Austin

"Leviathan scored a year earlier proved to be the turning point in Goldsmith's career and the reason why composer and agent went after a more rewarding assignment in 1990. Leviathan remains a popular score, but as a movie, Jerry Goldsmith deserved something a lot more worthy of his talents.

By saying "no" to a lot of assignments they held out for Fred Schepisi's adaptation of John Le Carre's book
The Russia House. The movie had quality written all over it and although it failed to make massive box office, the movie garnered enough respect to make it critic friendly and musically Goldsmith wrote one of his most respected works. At the time he placed this ahead of Islands in The Stream as his own personal favorite.

Fred Schepisi's polished adaptation was tailor made for scoring, with emphasis placed on the Russian locations, and at times looking like a travel log, it had to play over some of the best photography lensed for film. Goldsmith's classy jazz score is introduced over the cold grey skies of
Moscow and introduces Michelle Pfieffer's character (Katya). Goldsmith's transparent string writing shows his intentions for this theme and introduces Branford Marsalis' haunting Saxophone as the lead instrument.

Regardless of the love story this is still a cold war spy drama set against a post glasnost
Russia and we are introduced to the intrigue through some restrained but nonetheless suspenseful string work as British Intelligence search the flat of Barley Blair (Introductions). Here Goldsmith creating light but ominous overtones for strings and Piano for the espionage. These aspects come to the fore later in a sequence where Blair is taught how to spot anyone following him (Training). Here synth work and strings create momentum by way of some unusual sounds, especially noteworthy is a 'swishing' effect as Blair shows his lack of seriousness to British Intelligence.
The developing relationship between Blair and Katya is Goldsmith's main focus though as his main theme transforms during their early scenes together and the awakening of their love for each other (Katya and Barley - Bon Voyage). Here Goldsmith introduces Dante by way of atmospheric chimes and ethnic instrumentation (First Name, Yakov). For this character Goldsmith uses the traditional Russian woodwind instruments the Duduk and also the Balalaika. Their tone perfectly conjuring up the mystery of this character and the potential threat of being caught by the Russian authorities.

As Blair and Katya become wiser to the coercion of the
CIA and MI6, and realizing they are in danger of being caught, they plan an escape. Barley's Love and My Only Country signal their undying love for each other as Goldsmith breaks from spy games to focus his elegant theme once more on their relationship. Crossing Over sees the US and British intelligence waiting anxiously to see if Blair has got what they want from Dante. As the clocks tick away so does Goldsmith's metronome, now tense bass creates a sense of uncertainty as plucked strings and piano provide the signal that Blair has done his own deal to save Katya and her family.

Goldsmith clearly adored this project, closing his score with a lengthy romantic end credit (The Family Arrives) in celebration of the family being reunited, with warm strings, minor electronics and improvised Jazz.
The Russia House is evidence of Goldsmith at the top of his game and is also interesting at revealing the original theme he developed for his unused score to the movie Alien Nation. Thankfully though The Russia House became its well deserved home.

MCA issued a lengthy CD, with a crisp recording and proved a wonderful show case for the talents of both Marsalis and Mike Lang (it was no coincidence that Marsalis turned up in James Horner's
Sneakers). One of the longest CDs approved by Goldsmith, he was ironically criticized by some for its length. But his agent, Richard Kraft, took the blame for that."

Released by
Serial number

Cues & Timings
1. Katya (3:57)
2. Introductions (3:12)
3. The Conversation (4:13)
4. Training (2:01)
5. Katya and Barley (2:32)
6. First Name, Yakov (2:53)
7. Bon Voyage (2:11)
8. The Meeting (3:59)
9. I'm With You/
What Is This Thing Called Love (Cole Porter) (2:39)
10. Alone in the World (4:09) (Patti Austin - song)
11. The Gift (2:34)
12. Full Marks (2:27)
13. Barley's Love (3:24)
14. My Only Country (4:34)
15. Crossing Over (4:13)
16. The Deal (4:09)
17. The Family Arrives (7:38)

With the help of the ace graphics team at CerraJazz LTD we have now reset the closing music to Jerry Goldsmith’s film score for The Russia House to the following visual tribute to St. Petersburg, a magnificently beautiful city that the German poet Goethe once referred to as – “The Venice of the North.”