Saturday, March 31, 2018

Benavent, Baker and Ineke Create an "Opening"

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

When I first received my copy of Openng, the instrumentation - tenor sax, bass and drums - brought me back to my first listening of Sonny Rollins’ A Night at the Village Vanguard which has been reissued and remastered as a double CD as part of the Rudy van Gelder [RVD] collection.


Sonny worked the gig when the club had a Sunday afternoon - dinner break - Sunday evening format using either Wilbur Ware and Elvin Jones or Donald Bailey and Pete LaRoca on bass and drums respectively.


At the time of its release in 1957, I had reached a certain proficiency as a Jazz drummer, but I had played the music primarily in larger groups such as big bands and octets.


Sonny’s Vanguard album made me aware of a lot of things, not the least of which is how important it is for each musician in a trio to listen to one another because that format strips things down to the barest of essentials: melody, harmony and rhythm


Another aspect of the music that it brought home to me was that such a “naked environment” really allowed for a more natural flow of the music in terms of the interaction of the instruments since there are no other horns or comping instruments to play off of.


That trio format is not for the faint of heart; there’s nowhere to hide. The tendency might be to hold back but you gotta be brave and venture forth otherwise to music becomes boring, full of cliches and other musical “safe harbors.”


It’s exciting and a bit scary at the same time because the music almost directs itself, assuming of course, that the musician’s who are making it have something to say.


Enter tenor saxophonist Joan Benavent, bassist Matt Baker and drummer Eric Ineke, each a master player in their own right, whose individual talents and skills blend beautifully to produce the music on the seven tracks that make up Opening [SedaJazz records DL V1230-2017].


It’s almost as though Joan, Matt and Eric  as the O3 Trio have channeled that spirit of Sonny and his Vanguard cohorts, brought it forward, and added their own sonority and ideas to make tenor sax-bass-drums Jazz with a texture that reflects their personalities and tastes.


Of course, it’s unfair to attempt to compare Joan to the incomparable Sonny Rollins, but there are some similarities.


One in particular that struck me as I listened to the music on Opening and that is that Joan shares Sonny’s big sound on the big horn; his tone is full, robust, and rich. His sonority engulfs the listener. Much like Sonny, Joan plays the tenor saxophone with brio, fuego and caliente - enthusiasm, fire and heat. And much like Sonny, although he is aware of the harmonic references and substitutions, his solos tended to be melodically and thematically configured.


Because of the bare-boned configuration, bassist Matt Baker’s virtuosic technique actually gets to be heard as a distinctive voice instead of just being felt as a pulse within a rhythm section. His arco [bow] work on bass is exceptionally and rarely heard in a Jazz setting.”


Drummer Eric Ineke has the wisdom and experience to not “push” the music in a particular direction; he doesn’t overplay and thus doesn’t overpower. Instead with his steady time-keeping and “colorist” approach to the rhythm he enables the previously mentioned natural flow between the three instruments.


What also struck me about Eric’s performance on this CD was how beautiful his drums sounded. Clean, crisp with just the right amount of overtone on the cymbals and timbre on the drums coming through. The recording engineer really got his drums “right”


And just when you think the trio groove can’t get much better during the course of the first five tracks, a sextet materializes on the closing two tunes of the CD when Voro Garcia, trumpet, Toni Belenguer, trombone and Santi Navalon on piano join in on Speak Low and Grew’s Tune, respectively. The arrangement on the late pianist’s Mulgrew Miller’s tune that closes the CD rekindled memories of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers when Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller and Wayne Shorter formed the “front line.”


While doing some research on the web about about the musicians, I came across a full review of Opening [SedaJazz records DL V1230-2017] by François van de Linde at www.flophousemagazine.com


I wrote to François and requested his permission to use his review in this blog posting and he kindly granted it. You can read the review on his site which is located at www.flophousemagazine.com


© -  François van de Linde, copyright protected; all rights reserved; used with permission.


“The first thing that comes to mind listening to 03 Jazz Trio’s Opening is that it must be the work of a tight-knit outfit that has been playing together nightly for months.


That’s not the case. Although the protagonists have been crossing each other’s paths. The Spanish tenor saxophonist Joan Benavent and American bassist Matt Baker both live in Valencia. Dutch master drummer Eric Ineke, also an enthusiastic teacher at music schools and conservatories all around Europe, met Benavent at the Conservatory of The Hague. Subsequently, Benavent invited over Ineke to Valencia’s Seda Jazz school. There, Benavent coupled the drummer with the versatile Matt Baker to form a recording unit for Benavent’s ideas to come to fruition. The men participated in an avant-leaning session (and live performance) that turned out remarkably well.


By his own account inspired by John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, hard bop and classical music, there is nothing that suggests Benavent is overreaching. An immaculate and extravert stylist – Benavent searches the extremes of his horn but is neither wild nor aggressive – the big and clear-sounding saxophonist tackles such diverse compositions as Debussy’s Danses De Delphes, Weill/Nash’ Speak Low and Benavent’s post-boppish Opening. This particular ‘opening’ of the program, definitely marked by the ‘Impulse label’ vibe, is something else. The grand, bowed bass opening, loose drum polyrhythm and Benavent’s lyrical yet charged theme immediately works on the emotions, pulling you in the promising universe of the album. Bang! It further develops through the solo of Benavent, whose ‘singing’ tone effectively ices his cake of sheets of sound and staccato playing, via fluent switches of tempo by the trio, subtle interaction of snare drum with sax and bass and a melodic drum intermezzo to the humorous, concise coda in march rhythm. Held together by Benavent’s thematic variation throughout. A royal cake indeed.


Sira i Xesca is a playful and hefty dip into mambo land. Añoranza, a composition by E. Granados, presents a happy marriage between high drama and the smoky tenor atmosphere so typical for classic jazz. The fact that the album’s two mainstream jazz tunes – thoroughly swinging sextet treatments of Speak Low and Mulgrew Miller’s Grews Tune – are snowed under a bit by the album’s front-running setting, speaks volumes about the trio’s skills and passion.


Surely we will see a growth on (relatively) young Benavent’s part in the department of storytelling, perhaps the least imposing aspect of the album, a carefully prepared session that undoubtedly revolves around the controlled fury of Benavent and the trio’s alert interaction. Ineke, elder statesman of hard bop who nonetheless has done his part of ‘far out’ playing during his long career, feels like a fish in the water. Matt Baker, a jack-of-all-hi-level-trades working in the fields of jazz, world, folk and classical music, contributes a forceful tone, melodic, versatile phrasing and exceptional use of the bow.


The tart, touching first part of Debussy’s Danseuses De Delphes is followed up by a meaty drums/tenor battle, the song ending with a blast not unlike one of those surprising thunderous twists in a Mingus performance. The curious but effective mix of vamp and modality of Coffee At The Almost Dead People Place is enticing. Moreover, it’s gutsy and fresh. The whole sum of Opening is just that, made all the more exciting by the sonorous and punchy sound production.”


Personnel

Joan Benavent (tenor saxophone), Matt Baker (bass), Eric Ineke (drums) Voro Garzia (trumpet 6-7), Toni Belenguer (trombone 6-7), Santi Navalon (piano 6-7)

Recorded

in 2016 in Valencia

Released

as SedaJazz Records DL.V1230 in 2017

Track listing

Opening
Sira I Xesca
Danseuses de Delphes
Añoranza
Coffe At The Almost Dead People Place
Speak Low
Grews Tune


Check out Joan Benavent’s website here.



Friday, March 30, 2018

MandelMusic: A Tribute to Johnny Mandel

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


“The ability to write melody is mysterious. There are trained arrangers and composers who lack it, and untrained musicians who have it. Two of the latter were Frank Loesser and Irving Berlin. There are even a few trained musicians who have it, including Tchaikovsky, Henry Mancini – and Johnny Mandel.”
- Gene Lees

“The thing about Johnny is that normally when you pick up a chart [arrangement] to play, you want to change a couple of the chords to make it sound more interesting. But with Johnny’s music, all you have to do is play what’s on the paper; and he does all the substitutions for you. Everything is already there; there’s nothing you have to fill in.’
- Emil Richards, vibraphonist & percussionist

“… the reason that so many of Johnny’s songs are so often played and recorded is that they can be constantly re-examined and re-interpreted.”
- Fred Hersch, pianist

“Johnny Mandel is the very best. When I hear one of his songs, I melt.”
- Tony Bennett

Johnny Mandel will be 93-years old in November, yet the last time I saw him he was grinning from ear-to-ear like a kid in a toy store while leading his own big band at a venue in Los Angeles.

Although many people know his name and usually associate it with music written for the movies, perhaps not as many know that Johnny has a history in Jazz dating back to his studies with composer-arranger Van Alexander in the mid-1940s.

From there he went on to play trumpet or trombone in the bands of Henry Jerome, Boyd Raeburn, Jimmy Dorsey and Buddy Rich. He also wrote arrangements for Rich, Artie Shaw and Woody Herman.

In New York City for most of the 1950s, Johnny became one of the staff arrangers for comedian Sid Caesar’s Show of Shows TV series [along with Irwin Kostal and the legendary Billy Byers], wrote for the Philadelphia-based Elliot Lawrence big band and also did a stint on trombone with Count Basie about which he commented:

“The experience was so wonderful that it seemed like nothing could ever come close to it. So after I left the band, I quit playing. I came out to California.”

Back in the Golden State, Johnny arranged Ring-a-Ding-Ding for Frank Sinatra, Mirrors for Peggy Lee and began to get into motion picture composition about which Leonard Feather wrote:

“Mandel’s reputation as one of the most brilliant young arrangers was enhanced in 1958 by his underscoring for I Want To Live, considered to be the first successful integration of Jazz into a movie score.”

[Both the quotation by Johnny about his time on the Basie band and Leonard’s concerning the significance of Mandel’s score to the movie I Want To Live are from page 189 of the chapter entitled Mandelsongs: Johnny Mandel in Gene LeesArranging the Score: Portraits of Great Arrangers [London: Caswell, 2000] about which more later in this piece.


I Want To Live is right around where I became familiar with Johnny Mandel’s music.

Actually, it may have happened a little earlier when I first heard Shelly Manne’s group performing Johnny’s Tommyhawk and Cy Touff’s octet performing his Groover Wailin’, both of which you can hear on video tributes to Shelly and Richard Bock of Pacific Jazz Records, respectively, that appear at the end of this piece.

A friend who was really into West Coast Jazz suggested that we checkout I Want To Live which was the first time that I fell in love with its leading lady, Susan Hayward, despite the film’s rather poignant story and sad ending.

Johnny’s great music coupled with seeing many of our heroes such as Gerry Mulligan, Art Farmer, Frank Rosolino and Bud Shank appearing on the big screen plus gawping at the “gawjus” Susan Hayward all made for a very rewarding movie-going experience.

And then it all went in a different direction for Johnny who, beginning with Emily, the love theme for the 1964 film entitled The Americanization of Emily starring James Garner and Julie Andrews, became one of the great film composers and melodists.

Johnny’s lyricist for Emily was Johnny Mercer – nothing like starting with the best!

As he explained to Gene Lees: “This is fun! I never looked back since. That’s when I became a songwriter.” [Ibid, p. 182].

Emily was followed by The Shadow of Your Smile which was the love theme for the film The Sandpiper, A Time for Love from An American Dream and Sure as You’re Born from the movie Harper [based on the book, The Moving Target] which stars Paul Newman. Alan and Marilyn Bergman wrote the lyrics.


Johnny then wrote The Shining Sea for The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming with Peggy Lee as the lyricist, Close Enough for Love with lyrics by Paul Williams for the movie Agatha and what was to become his most successful song, Suicide is Painless, which is used as the them song to director Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H*.

Johnny would go on to do the film scores to other movies such as Point Blank, The Last Detail, The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea and The Verdict. 

I came across Johnny again in a Jazz setting after I returned from a government paid excursion overseas when I attended a series of rehearsals for what was to become saxophonist Bill Perkins’ album Quietly There [Riverside OJCCD-1776-2]. The LP featured tunes by Johnny Mandel either from his Jazz repertoire or his film scores to date.

I was at these rehearsals at the invitation of two of my former drum teachers – Victor Feldman and Larry Bunker – who played vibes/keyboards and drums, respectively, on the album.

So here I was in the midst of Keester Parade and Groover Wailin’ again this time in the company of film score themes that Johnny had written including Emily, The Shadow of Your Smile and Sure As You’re Born [the Harper theme renamed after Alan and Marilyn Bergman added lyrics to it].

The latter has always been one of my favorites as I was a big fan of the Ross MacDonald "Bang! Bang! Shoot ‘em Up” books featuring private detective Lew Harper, and thought that Paul Newman had done a super job of portraying him in the movie.

In addition to Bill, Victor and Larry, John Pisano, who plays both acoustic and electric guitars, and bassist Red Mitchell also played on Perk’s “Johnny Mandel” album.  Everyone on the date agreed they loved playing on Johnny’s tunes and that it was “... cool that another one of the ‘good guys’ was making a buck while still writing great music.”

Almost twenty years later, Victor was to play on another Quietly There recording saluting MandelMusic this time under the leadership of tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims [Pablo OJCCD-787-2].

And if you are in the mood for more Jazz adaptations of Johnny’s music, you might want to search out a copy of pianist Fred Hersch’s I Never Told You: Fred Hersch Plays Johnny Mandel. [Varese Sarabande VSD-5547]. The recording contains Fred’s treatment of Sure As You’re Born which he notes has the spirit of Thelonious Monk much in evidence [no pun intended].

In 1991, Johnny was commissioned to arrange his version of the Gershwin’s famous Porgy and Bess which he recorded live at the Wiltern Theater with a big band made up of Jazz luminaries. It has been released on CD as The Jazz Soul of Porgy and Bess [NEC Avenue NACJ-3511].

In addition to his movie work, Johnny has done work with chick "singas" such as Natalie Cole on her Unforgettable album, Shirley Horn’s Here’s to Life and Diana Krall’s When I Look Into Your Eyes.


Here are a few more excerpts from Gene LeesMandelsongs chapter in his Arranging the Score: Portraits of the Great Arrangers [London: Cassell, 2000, pp. 181-192].

© -Gene Less, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Of all the big-band arrangers who developed into film composers, one of the most successful and, among musicians, admired, is Johnny Mandel. And working through the medium of film, Mandel discovered, somewhat to his own surprise, that he is also a phenomenal melodist.

There are untrained musicians who have this talent, such as Irving Berlin and Harry Warren, and trained musicians who don't. Henry Mancini was a trained musician who had it. By contrast, Nelson Riddle, also well trained, didn't.

Johnny has it all, enormous orchestrational technique and a flair for melody that has produced a considerable body of songs.

"For many years I didn't think I could write songs," he told me once. …

"One of the nicest parts of songwriting," Johnny said, "is that you get to collaborate with so many talented people. The Bergmans and I have enjoyed a relationship that's lasted over 30 years and is still going strong. Our first song was 'Sure As You're Born' in 1966.I had no idea that it would result in this kind of collaboration because it started out as a shotgun wedding." The melody was written for a detective thriller with Paul Newman called Harper. This was the main theme, a long melodic line with a lot of harmonic and rhythmic action underneath it, to give a feeling of tension, agitation, and motion. …

"When I'd completed the score for Harper, Sonny Burke, who was head of the music department at Warner Bros, said he thought the theme had to become a song. He got in touch with Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Sonny said, 'Come to the office Monday morning. We'll have it.' I did, they were there, and they said, 'Here is the lyric.' Marilyn sang it. And much to my amaze­ment, it fitted: I didn't believe you could write to that melody."

Hollywood, of course, has always typecast its talent. And Johnny became known for his ability to create suspense in scores, and for a long time he got assignments of that kind. At one point I asked him what he really wanted to do. He said: "Write some great ballads. The very first thing I discovered when I began to write songs was that for me they break down into two definite categories: the ones that just come naturally and the ones that I have to manufacture and work at and use craftsmanship to complete. Almost invariably, when I look back, the second kind didn't turn out to be good. It was the first kind, mainly, that did.

"I don't know why a song happens, when it happens. If I start to hear it, I've learned enough to let it come out, let it go wherever it goes, and I assume the role of a caretaker in that I want to make sure I've got it down on paper. In essence what you've got to do is stay out of your own way and let it go. Because for some reason it wants to go there. While it's happening, my main thought is, please let the thing finish itself. Don't let it stop midway and become a fragment. I've got hundreds of great fragments that I can't figure out where to take. The first thing I want it to do is come to a conclusion, or at least come to a place where I can take it and work with it.


"Most of the songs that I've ended up feeling good about have been like that. They happen, and I've learned to let them happen.

"You know, I like writing to lyrics because it pushes me into directions that I might not go otherwise. It's a different way of writing, and it's nice." …

Mandel said, "I've learned to listen to that thing that happens, whatever it is. And I don't care what it is. I'm afraid if I knew, it would go away.

"I wouldn't want to give anyone the impression that you just wait for the muse and it just comes out effortlessly: this doesn't happen that often. There are many songs that I have had to manufacturer, hack away at, and yet try to make them sound. I can make a song that sounds pretty good, but at bottom I feel that it's a manufactured item. It isn't all gravy.

"For a good part of my professional life, a lot of what I've done is translat­ing colors and emotions that I see on the screen into sound, and I really don't know how I do it. It seems like something that came naturally to me, probably because I used to feel sensations when I heard other people's music. I don't know what the process is and I really don't want to know.

Again, the superstition takes over. If I know too much about it I have that fear underneath that it will disappear, although 1 know that isn't the case. You do best if it's instinctive and you have the chops to do it in the first place. I guess I've always been sort of primitive when it comes to dealing with experiences, and I like doing it by the seat of my pants, like the old pilots - rather than looking at the instruments to find out what I should do. All I know is that I really don't know how to put this in a logical, rational, methodical context at all." …

When Robert Farnon's name came up in a conversation, Johnny Mandel, one of the most brilliant composers and arrangers jazz has produced, said: "Most of what I know is based on having stolen everything I could from Farnon. I've listened to him and tried to approximate what I thought he was doing. He made strings sound like they always should have and never did. Everybody wrote them skinny. He knew how to write them so that it could wrench at you. I'd never heard anybody like him before and I've never heard anybody like him since. We're all pale imitations of him, those of us who are influenced by him." …

One day years ago, I was visiting [Johnny lives along the California coast]. Johnny and I stood at the end of the garden at the top of the cliff, listening to the flopping of the surf and the keening of terns and gulls. I thought of The Sandpiper and the sights of Big Sur and said, "Do you ever get the feeling here that you're walking around inside one of your own scores?"

Johnny said, "Yeah, I do."

More recently I was visiting again. I said, "What do you want to do next?"

"Well," he said, "now I've got this reputation for writing ballad albums for singers, I'd like to get back to writing something that swings."”

Nothing like having your own big band to be able to write something that ‘swings!’

The following video features tenor saxophonist Bill Perkins and his quintet performing Johnny Mandel's theme from the motion picture Harper.




Thursday, March 29, 2018

"Where's The Melody" By Martin Williams

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


"A short, model primer on jazz, in which Mr. Williams triumphantly makes a difficult subject seem difficult and absolutely comprehensible. He spells out in an even, shoulder-to-shoulder manner the various kinds of improvisation, the places of the composer and arranger, jazz rhythms, and the like, and along the way he carefully knocks down those distracting and divisive genre terms 'swing/ 'Dixieland/ and 'bebop' by choosing illustrations from every walk of jazz."
-THE NEW YORKER


". . . a remarkable performance: concise, lucid, and mercifully free of fustian proselytizing. In the opening section, Williams, primarily through the analysis of key available recorded solos, clarifies the basic ways in which jazzmen improvise and the diverse functions of the composer-arranger in jazz.
The book, however, is more than a grammar. Jettisoning the traditional romanticized approach to jazz history by region and river, Williams places the evolution of the language in much more useful perspective by describing the changes in jazz made by its major innovators, from Louis Armstrong to Ornette Coleman."
- Nat Hentoff, BOOKWEEK


I can’t believe I still own a copy of Martin Williams’ Where’s The Melody: A Listener’s Guide to Jazz [New York: Minerva Press, 1963].


Dogged-eared with paper that is yellowing and book spine glue that’s hardening and cracking, it’s been loaned out so many times that it is a miracle that it ever made it back to my bookshelf.


One of the best primer on the process of making Jazz ever written, I thought it might be fun to share the book’s Introduction and Opening Chapter with you on these pages.


© -  Martin Williams, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


INTRODUCTION:
"An American Art"


If we know anything about jazz at all, we have probably heard that it is supposed to be an art—our only art according to some; "America's contribution to the arts/' according to certain European commentators. It has also the kind of prestige that goes with praise from the "classical" side of the fence. One of the first men to recognize the artistic qualities of jazz was the outstanding Swiss conductor Ernest Ansermet, who in 1919 wrote a tribute to the great clarinetist and soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet, adding that perhaps tomorrow the whole world would be moving along his road. And in 1965 the American composer-critic Virgil Thompson said that "jazz is the most astounding spontaneous musical event to take place anywhere since the Reformation/.”


Jazz has its special publications, both here and abroad, its own journalists, reviewers, critics, historians, and scholars. Also, as most of us are aware, our State Department is willing to export jazz to answer for our cultural prestige abroad. Yet here at home, this "American art" is the subject of certain ignorance and certain misunderstandings.


It is possible to approach jazz in several ways. It is more than possible—it is in a sense almost mandatory—to consider jazz as an aspect of Negro American life and of the far-reaching and little understood effect of Negro-American life on American life in general. Jazz is, of course, a product of Negro-American culture, and that means that it represents also a unique coming together of African and European musical traditions.


It is also possible to treat jazz at second hand, as it has influenced our other music. The results of this approach might surprise some of us, for there is hardly a corner of American music that has not been touched somehow by jazz. It has touched most corners of music in Europe as well. To give one rather unexpected example, most of the trumpet players in our symphony orchestras, whether they are performing Bach or Bar-tok, Grieg or Gershwin, play with a slight vibrato (literally, a vibration to their trumpet sound) that they are not supposed to have, because in the past jazz musicians have generally used one. The symphonists have simply picked it up, some of them perhaps unconsciously.


It is  not surprising that all American  popular music, and some American concert music as well, were once commonly referred to as "jazz,” because the influence of jazz and of pre-jazz Afro-American music is everywhere in our musical life — on Broadway, in musical films, in the hotel dance band, in the "hit parade," in the concert hall. And, in one form or another, this influence has been there for over seventy years. So apparently "square" a popular song as Dancing in the Dark would not have been written without the powerful and pervasive effect of the musical force we call "jazz."


Jazz has also been treated through the biographies of its players, and some writers have treated jazzmen as what they are—creative people, most often functioning as popular entertainers. But jazzmen have also been treated as colorful old characters or as pathetic, aging men, unworthy of the callous caprice with which a delinquent showbiz has shunted them aside. It is possible, after all, for the most interesting of men, or even the most colorful of old characters, to be involved in an activity that need not detain us for its own sake. We might appreciate the personal maturity of a shop steward without being interested in owning a handbook on union organization at the local level or one on the processing of auto parts on a modern assembly line.


However, jazz is a music, and it is worthy of our attention as a music. Its musical achievements are quite high, perhaps higher than those of any other so-called "folk" or "popular" music in human history. Undoubtedly the musical level of jazz would have had to be high before it could have exerted such a strong and continuing influence upon other musics. But jazz music itself is much more interesting than the subject of its influence. It has a life of its own, growing, developing, and finding its own way, taking what it needs from the European tradition and adding something of its own at each step. And, as the years pass, jazz behaves less and less like a "popular" commercial music, subject to the fads of the moment, and more and more like what we are apt to think of (rightly or wrongly) as an "art music."


Let us assume in looking at jazz that we know little or nothing about the techniques of music and little or nothing about jazz and its history.


We will assume we know little about jazz history because we want to look at it from a musical standpoint, and because very little that we can appreciate has been written on it from that standpoint. And we will assume that we don't know much about music, because many of us don't.

But perhaps lack of a detailed musical background is an advantage. Jazz has taught itself, so to speak. Jazz musicians have often taught themselves and the music as a whole has wended its selective way, almost on its own, through the techniques of European music. If we were to study music, we would of course study a system largely deduced from practice, a theory derived from what the great European composers have actually done when they wrote. But sometimes this musical system and theory applies to jazz only approximately, only insofar as jazz musicians have borrowed it, transmuted it, and used it in their own way. So in listening to a partly self-taught music, we shall probably have the gods on our side if we become self-taught listeners.


We do not learn to listen theoretically or in the abstract, of course, and almost all the comments in this book are attached to specific recordings. We shall begin by going directly to the crux of the matter, to the jazz musician as he plays combinations and sequences of notes that sound sometimes familiar, sometimes only vaguely familiar, and sometimes not familiar at all. And we shall try to understand how] jazz musicians play, what they do with a melody; how much they improvise, make up as they go along, and how much they work out ahead of time; and the kind of musical logic involved in their way of playing.


There is, after all, little point in worrying about the history of an art or the biographies of its players until we have some familiarity with the art itself. As an introduction to how jazz players play, we will look in the first section of this book, "Where's the Melody?" at what they do with more or less familiar popular songs. Then we will turn to an important original musical form that has been used by jazzmen of all styles and periods, the form called "The Blues.' With these basic forms and practices in mind, we can examine "Eight Recorded Solos" in more careful detail.


Having been thus introduced to the work of the jazz soloist, we can turn, in the section called "What Does a Composer Do?" to the jazz composer-arranger, the man who provides the player with basic material or who revises material he finds in the American popular repertory. The composer-arranger orchestrates; he gives the musicians in large and small ensembles written (or sometimes memorized) parts to play and he assigns the soloists space and duration in which to improvise. A soloist is responsible for his portion of a performance; a composer-arranger for the effect of the whole.


In these four introductory sections we have deliberately avoided chronology and avoided the sometimes careless catch-phrases of styles and schools and periods of jazz. The things that Louis Armstrong and Thelonious Monk have in common as players are more important and instructive than differences in the way they make music. Teddy Wilson, a pianist who first rose to prominence in the mid-Thirties, in those days took the same basic approach to improvised invention as did Charlie Parker, the revolutionary figure of the mid-Forties. And the music of the pianist and leader from the "swing period," Count Basie, taught the modernist John Lewis as much as did Charlie Parker's music— perhaps more.


Having examined the basics of jazz this far, we are now in a position to look at its musical history in "Last Trip Up the River." From a musical standpoint that history is made up of the contributions of certain major
jazz players who renew the basic language of the music periodically, men like Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker, and of certain major jazz composers, men like Duke Ellington, who periodically give larger synthesis and summary and form to the music.


After paying this much attention to the music itself, it is perhaps time to have accounts of the players at work on the scene—in nightclubs, in studios, and in private rehearsals. Thus, the second part of this book describes a nightclub evening of a pianist-composer, "Monk at the Five Spot"; a record date by vibraharpist Milt Jackson and a brass ensemble, "Recording with 'Bags'"; another recording session by a Mississippi blues singer of the old school, "Big Joe in the Studio"; and a rehearsal by some of the men who are involved in the avant-garde with "Jimmy Giuffre at Home.”'


The final part of this book, "Comment by a Listener," represents an effort to return to the music and its musicians with the knowledge so far acquired. In comments (some brief and some more comprehensive) on figures like Horace Silver, Billie Holiday, and Roy Eldridge, I have expanded on some of the points of jazz history described in the first part of the book and have tried to show, in a more or less casual sampling, how some exceptional musicians have developed the ideas of the great figures and have also made contributions of their own. I have also dealt with the work of some less creative figures who water down and popularize the musical ideas of others. I have used as examples some recorded performances which do not seem to me successful; the value in this is not in pointing the finger at failure (or my idea of failure) but rather in discussing how and why performances may fail. Finally, I have commented on recent developments and the jazz avant-garde as exemplified by Ornette Coleman.


I have not tried in this book to disguise my enthusiasm for jazz and for most of the players and performers I have discussed. But I have tried not to include too many of my own specific emotional responses to the musicians and their work. My purpose in this book has been to clear the way, to help listeners discover their own responses by putting them more directly in touch with the music itself. I have suggested my own feelings about jazz, I trust, largely as a means to such an end.


Finally, I think that each reader should undertake a book of this sort at his own pace—even at his own leisure—and that for some a gradual alternation of reading and listening can be the most rewarding. With that purpose in mind, I have included suggestions for a "Basic Library of Jazz" and have, in various sections, added "Record Notes" which list representative works of the artists discussed. The reader will, I hope, take it from there. …


Where's the Melody?


Let us assume that we are following two men as they enter a jazz nightclub or arrive, a few minutes late, at a jazz concert. One of them is an avid fan, an insider who has been following the music enthusiastically for years. His friend is not an insider; he is curious and sympathetic but a little puzzled. As they move inside the club or concert hall, the music is underway. The novice turns to the insider and asks, "What are they playing, do you know?"


The master replies, 'That's A Foggy Day"


At this point we can discern puzzlement, and perhaps despair, on the face of our novice. He knows perfectly well what A Foggy Day in London Town sounds like, and he hears nothing whatever like its melody coming from the musicians in front of him. Yet his friend is sure that it's A Foggy Day.
Jazz must be some kind of musical puzzle.


In effect, our novice has asked a prevalent question, "Where's the melody?" Or, to put it more crudely, "What are those musicians doing up there?" It is a question that is considered so square by some jazz fans, and even some musicians, that they refuse to answer—or even hear it. Yet I think it is a perfectly valid question, and answering it can be enlightening. For what those musicians are "doing up there" is not very obscure. It is not wholly unprecedented in the Western European music from which American music partly derives. And it is certainly no kind of musical game or puzzle.


Most of us probably know that jazz musicians make variations on a theme and that these variations are often improvised, invented on the spot as they play. For many people the primary quality in jazz is its rhythm—jazz is a particular rhythmic way of playing music. And anyone who has ever watched a group of jazz fans will be led to suspect that more than a few of them are responding to jazz rhythm—and very little else. There is nothing invalid about such a response, for its particular way of handling rhythm is indeed one of the unique things and one of the most compelling things about jazz music. But on the other hand, jazz rhythm, on the surface at least, is a readily recognizable quality. For our novice it is probably the thing that for him makes jazz jazz. He hears it, he feels it, and he says, "That's jazz." He may not always be right and he may not sense the fine details of whether the musicians are handling jazz rhythms well (that is, whether they are "swinging"), but he will be right most of the time.


Let's take a familiar popular song, which is what jazzmen do about half the time. There is nothing in the popular song that necessarily makes it jazz. It may have been influenced by jazz, even heavily influenced, as most American popular music has. But if a jazz musician plays it, he will play it with jazz rhythm. He will make it "swing/' give it a particular kind of momentum and movement. Thus, a jazz musician has already made a rhythmic variation on a piece by performing it at all. But so far he has given us no problems, for he has used the familiar melody in a recognizable way— let us say it is A Foggy Day or Pennies from Heaven or Embraceable You or any of thousands of American popular songs that are familiar to most of us and that are commonly used by jazz musicians.


Almost any jazz performance of familiar pieces like those will have at least an opening chorus based on the familiar melody itself. However, many jazz musicians use the melody not just for their opening statements, but as a basis of everything they do. There are players from every style and school of jazz who play that way; if you came in in the middle of one of their performances you would probably know right away what they were playing.
But such performances are not a matter of playing the same thing over and over again. These players make variations. For example, they will embellish the melody in various ways: they will add decorative notes and phrases, they will fill in in places where the melody comes to rest, and they will make slight changes in the notes as written.


At the same time they may improvise with the harmony of a piece (particularly if they are pianists) altering the simple chords that you and I would find on a piece of sheet music and even adding to the chords.


Now, of course, these things can be done badly. Some decorations can be cluttering and affected. The point of the melodic embellishments and of the richer harmony is to enhance the piece, to bring out its good qualities or modify its poor ones, and, at best, to discover hidden qualities and make a better piece of music of it. The great master of this particular embellishment approach to jazz improving was the pianist Art Tatum whose additions and fills were often dazzling, and whose sense of rich, improvised harmony was probably the most developed that our popular music has ever seen.


But besides filling out and elaborating the melody, a jazz musician can subtract from it, can reduce it to a kind of outline with fascinating musical experience thereby. Thelonious Monk,  because of his exceptional and subtle sense of rhythm, can take even a silly popular ditty and make it sound like a first-rate composition for piano — his version of You Took the Words Right Out of My Heart is a good example, or, to take a better song, his rephrasing of I Should Care.


Another player who uses this melodic approach to variations is Erroll Garner. And there are horn players, particularly from older generations, who are excellent at this kind of paraphrase of familiar melodies.


The greatest of all is Louis Armstrong, who can work with good popular material like I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues and improve it, or who can work with poor material like That's My Home and make it sound like deathless melody.


Thus a great deal of jazz variation is recognizably made on a familiar melody, and there are players from all styles and schools who use this approach. They may elaborate the melody, they may decorate it, or they may reduce it and simplify it (basically, these are what a classicist would call kinds of "melodic variation"), and they may re-harmonize it. But it is — always there somewhere. The art lies in how well they transmute it, in how good a paraphrase they come up with while transforming what was written.


Now let's go back to our jazz fan and his novice friend who were entering the club or concert. Let's assume that now they are comfortably in their seats, that the Miles Davis ensemble is performing, and that they begin Bye Bye, Blackbird. In the first chorus of this piece our novice would hear a transmutation of a familiar, perhaps appealing, but obviously and deliberately lightweight popular ditty from the Twenties. He will realize that there is indeed a sea change taking place, however, for although Davis' trumpet is keeping recognizably to the written melody, he has transformed it, making it a kind of buoyant dirge. Then, in Davis' second chorus, there suddenly seems to be no more Bye Bye, Blackbird. What is going on?


What is going on is that Miles Davis is offering a new melody, one which he is improvising on the spot. This melody does continue the mood and the musical implications he was sketching in his first chorus, but it offers some very new ideas of melody.


Davis is using as his guide for this new melody what we may call an "outline" or "framework" of Bye Bye, Blackbird. Technically speaking, he is using what musicians call the “chord changes, the harmonic understructure of Bye Bye, Blackbird as the basis for this melody of his own. (Classicists would call this a harmonic variation, incidentally.)


The way to listen to him now is to listen not for something we already know or have already heard, but for the music that Miles Davis is making as we hear him. If we also hear, or sense unconsciously, that "outline," that related chord structure the player is using as his guide, fine. But we don't have to. Jazz is not a musical game or puzzle.


Sometimes jazz musicians will a familiar structure, a familiar set of chord changes from a standard popular song, without using the theme melody at all, even for their opening chorus. They simply invent, from the very beginning, without any theme statement or paraphrase. Classic examples are Lester Young's 1944 version of These Foolish Things and Charlie Parker's Embraceable You. In each case the player is using the familiar harmonic outline for his guide — but not necessarily for ours. Again, jazz variation is not a guessing game or a puzzle. Where's the melody? Well, again, the melody is the one that Lester Young or Charlie Parker is making up, the one he is playing. It is not something we have heard before; it may even seem to be like nothing we have heard before. It is what he is playing. Hear it, enjoy it. And hear it well, for it may not exist again.


Similarly, jazz musicians sometimes introduce their improvising with new themes, written or memorized, which are also patterned to old chord structures.  Thus, Ornithology takes its outline from the How High The Moon; Count Basie’s Roseland Shuffle came from Shoeshine Boy; Moten Swing came from You’re Driving' Me Crazy; and there are probably at least two thousand jazz originals, from Sidney Bechet's Shag through Ornette Coleman's Angel Voice, based on the chords to Gershwin's I Got Rhythm. An obvious reason for this is that the new themes have a more jazzlike melodic character than the popular songs which were their harmonic origin.


Thus, there are three kinds of variations—those that involve rhythm, which are intrinsic in jazz performances, as we have seen; those that involve embellishing or paraphrasing a written melody, either decorating it or subtracting from it or both; and those that involve the invention of new melodies within a harmonic outline. They are all found, alone or more often in combination, in all styles and schools of jazz except the most recent.


At this point, let's try a summary by example. Let us assume that we play a little bit of piano and read a little bit of music. We are attracted to a particular popular song and purchase a piece of sheet music for that song to try it out on the parlor spinet. The sheet music will probably present the song in a fairly simple manner. The right-hand piano part, the treble, will give its melody. The left-hand part, the bass, will give simple chords that fit that melody; usually the chords given on sheet music are simple, and often they are quite simple. We take the piece home and play it over a few times until we've got it, as written down, fairly smoothly.


For most people this is the end of the matter. They have learned to play the song as the sheet music presents it. But let us assume that there is a jazz musician inside us and he takes over. The first step would be to play the piece with jazz rhythm. Automatically, this will mean at least some changes in the values of the notes and some personal interpretations of the accents. We have begun to make the piece "swing." Actually, an authentic "swing" is not an easy matter, but let's assume we're getting one fairly well.


Incidentally, in doing this we have discovered that making a piece of music "swing" has nothing to do with playing it fast or loud. It is a matter of giving it a particular kind of rhythm. It can be done slowly and quietly. (Actually, it is very difficult to swing at extremely slow tempo or at extremely fast tempo—but that technicality needn't detain us now.)


Now let's say that under the impetus of that swing and its unique momentum, we begin to try changing certain of the melody notes more boldly. What we have already changed suggests more changes, and we extend some, we shorten others, we leave out some, we add others. We begin to get a different piece of music. At the same time, perhaps we hear more interesting harmonies for the left hand. We change a few of the chords to make them richer, and, in passing, we perhaps add a few appropriate tones that weren't there.


Now, the final step: suppose we gradually diminish the original right-hand part—the treble, the melody notes—altogether. We keep the left-hand part (or our version of it) and with the right hand we make up a new melody part that fits that left-hand part.


It used to be said that modern jazzmen, of the generation of the Forties, began the business of writing new themes to old structures and of inventing new solo melodies to chords alone. But this is obviously untrue. It is untrue of the blues form, as we shall see. Furthermore, our example of Moten Swing comes from 1932, and there are earlier examples of jazz originals with their chords borrowed from, let's say, After You've Gone, or I Ain't Got Nobody, or Sweet Sue, or a dozen others. And, almost all of the great players of the late Thirties—men like pianist Teddy Wilson; tenor saxophonists Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, and Lester Young; alto saxophonists Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter; guitarist Charlie Christian —did much of their playing on chord structures alone, with little or no reference to a theme. Indeed, even earlier players were capable of it, and there are many recorded examples of "non-thematic" variations, of variations that invent original melodies, by Bix Beiderbecke, Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, Jack Teagarden, Sidney Bechet, and even by Bunk Johnson whose style dates from the early days of New Orleans jazz.


Only the youngest players have broken away from using either the melody of a piece or its chords as direct guides for making their variations.


A good paraphrase of a melody by a good jazz musician is frequently quite superior to its point of departure, the original popular song in the standard repertory. And a good melodic invention by a great jazz musician is a piece of spontaneous composition that may be miles ahead of its point of departure. 1 would not denigrate George Gershwin's achievements; he was one of our best popular composers— indeed, one of our best musicians. But Gershwin was usually writing songs, fairly simple melodies intended to be sung, usually by relatively untrained voices. And Charlie Parker's recorded variations on Gershwin's Embraceable You and Lady Be Good are instrumentally brilliant in a way that Gershwin's songs are not and were not intended to be.


However, Parker, like most great jazzmen, was also a melodist. He was a great instrumental melodist when judged by quite exacting musical standards. When we remember that Parker (again, like most great jazzmen) was a player and did his "composing" as he played, by improvisation, then we realize how astonishing his achievement was.


And so, we come back again to our question and our answer. Where's the melody? The melody is the one the player is making. Hear it well, for it probably will not exist again. And it may well be extraordinary.”