Monk moves!

Monk moves!

Friday, May 31, 2019

Dizzy Gillespie And The Double Six Of Paris

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


Dizzy Gillespie And The Double Six Of Paris [Philips 830224-2] Gillespie; James Moody (as); Kenny Barron, Bud Powell (p); Chris White, Pierre Michelot (b); Kenny Clarke, Rudy Collins (d); The Double Six Of Paris (v). 7-9/63.


“This almost-forgotten record doesn't deserve its obscurity. The tracks are small-group bop, with the Double Six group dubbing in supremely athletic vocals later- normally a recipe for aesthetic disaster, but it's done with such stunning virtuosity that it blends credibly with the music, and the interweaving is done with some restraint. Gillespie himself takes some superb solos - the tracks are compressed into a very short duration, harking back to original bop constraints, and it seems to focus all the energies - and even Powell, in his twilight, sounds respectable on the ten tracks he plays on.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.


I couldn’t agree more with the Cook and Morton assessment of this recording; it deserves more awareness and appreciation than it has received over the years, if only because of the quality of musicianship it required to bring it into existence.


I also wholeheartedly agree with the following insights and observations about the merits of the recording as contained in the 1986 Max Harrison’s insert notes to the CD edition. Max includes details about the origins of each of the bebop anthems that make-up this masterful recording, as well as, the reasons why the lyrics chosen to create the vocalese are based on allusion to the genre of Fantasy and Science Fiction [today usually referenced as “speculative fiction”].


If you haven’t heard this music,  do yourself a favor and check it out. It is readily available as both a CD and as an Mp3 download from the major online sellers.


“Words are set to music here, and if you like you can say that the music is "about" the stones the words tell. But the music came first, much of it being heard in its original guise in the 1940's, whereas these performances and the words they use belong to the 1960's. So we should have to say that the stories were discovered in the music at a later date. Really, however, this whole Gillespie - Double Six project is about renewal and transformation, emphasising the gaiety always implicit, often explicit, in the music in its initial form.


That last point is quite important because most of the themes date back to the years immediately following World War II, when bop, indelibly associated with Gillespie and Charlie Parker, proved to be the first major post-war development in jazz. And it was not welcome. People wrote articles with titles like "Bebop: How Deaf Can You Get?" (Time, May 17,1948), saying that beside being cacophonous it was morose, unhealthily introverted.


In fact, while possessing considerable technical sophistication, bop conveyed great high spirits, not least the exaltation of brilliant young musicians who had totally conquered their instruments and could play whatever came into their heads. That feeling is still evident in Gillespie's remarkable contributions to these later recordings with the Double Six. He had a hand in composing nine of the twelve themes used here, and four are his work alone. Most of them, as will be seen from the details given below, made their appearance within a very few years, this suggesting the maturity, and completeness, of Gillespie's style in the latter half of the 1940's, and of the bop idiom itself,


But that was a long time ago by the early 1960's, let alone now, and hence the transformation and renewal spoken of above. Here the big bands and small instrumental combos that Gillespie normally fronts are replaced by the Double Six, a vocal group led by Mimi Perrin which is as accomplished in its way as the trumpeter is in his. Even allowing for the help given by recording techniques, it is astonishing that at many points the power of the Double Six's seven virtuosic voices approximates to the impact of a large band.


In fact this has remained one of the most impressive deployments of a group of voices on jazz records. That is to say that the singing is imbued with the spirit of jazz, the participation of such major figures as Gillespie, Bud Powell, and Kenny Clarke obviously being a crucial factor. Clarke in particular ensures that every bar swings decisively. Nor was the traffic all one way, for the stimulus of an unusual set of musical circumstances gave rise to some of Gillespie's best improvising of this period.


What happened was that he recorded the instrumental parts of 10 of these performances in company with Powell, Clarke, and the outstanding French bassist Pierre Michelot in Paris on July 8,1963. Two further pieces were done with Gillespie's then-regular quartet of James Moody (saxophone), Kenny Barron (piano), Chris White (bass), and Rudy Collins (drums) in Chicago on September 20,1963. The choral arrangements, built around, though necessarily departing from, the routines of the trumpeter's earlier big band or small combo versions of the items, were made by Lab Schifrin in collaboration with Miss Perrin.


These were set down by the Double Six and the results superimposed on the instrumental foundation to produce the complete versions. This in itself involved multi-recording because the scores often required that a singer execute more than one part. In the course of preparing these many-voiced scores Schifrin and the leader of the Double Six discovered that they were both readers of science fiction and fantasy, as was Gillespie himself, and so Miss Perrin based most of the French lyrics she wrote for these pieces on ideas of the fantasy or science-fiction type.

Taking them in the order in which they were recorded, "One bass hit" (Pierre dans l'espace) was composed by Gillespie and his arranger Gil Fuller in 1946, "Two bass hit" (Tout a coup tu as peur) by Gillespie and John Lewis a year later. Both were initially vehicles for the great bassist Ray Brown, so Michelot treads in illustrious footsteps here. In the former piece the words tell how, tired of life on Earth, Michelot sets out for the constellation of Orion, although the voices warn him that its denizens may not look much like Earth people. Sure enough, in "Two bass hit" we learn that they have four heads each; they do like jazz, but Michelot gets homesick and returns to Earth. These two pieces belong to him and the Double Six rather than to Gillespie, and this despite the trumpeter's double-time entry on "One bass hit" and solo amid rather than in front of the rich vocal textures. On "Two bass hit," though, his solo is outstanding, full of contrasts yet logically ordered, and given an unusual slant by the vocal support.


Try a backwards spelling of "Emanon" (Pourquoi tu n'as pas de nom?), a piece written and first recorded by Gillespie in 1946. This new version follows John Lewis's original big-band arrangement quite closely but the trumpeter improves on the occasion with a magnificent solo. The story this piece now tells is of a stranger who seeks to lure Dizzy and the Double Six to a land where nothing and nobody has a name; in a passage based on James Moody's 1946 tenor saxophone solo, now taken by Miss Perrin, this interesting character explains that this is because everything is there part of the same huge Single Entity.


Earliest of these themes is "Blue 'n' boogie" (now Le monde vert), first recorded by Gillespie in 1945. In it the Double Six decide to enter the "green world" of the writer Brian Aldiss, but more to the point is that the trumpeter here plays the first of a number of obviously deliberate variants of his initial recorded solos. It is fascinating to listen to the older master commenting on the younger master's thoughts — renewal and transformation indeed. In contrast, "The Champ" (Robie le robot), which dates from 1951, seems to begin inarticulately, but voices and rhythm section quickly sweep in, the trumpet riding their riffs. Gillespie's tone is itself vocalised, of course, and the mixture of brass and voices is again intriguing. Robie is the fastest of robots, hence "The Champ," and it seems especially apt that the trumpet solo should be superb. Powell is heard from, too, sounding more laconic than in former times yet still with pithy things to say.


Just as masterly is Gillespie's opening muted solo on "Tin tin deo" (Rites du Vaudou), a piece in his favourite Latin-American vein that makes an effective change from the bop themes. First recorded in 1951, it here tells of black magic. Powell, not much featured in Latin-American contexts, surfaces again, then Gillespie returns, the mute gone, soaring gloriously over the voices. "Groovin’ high" (La Vallee des Dieux) was initially recorded in 1945 with Charlie Parker and here tells another engaging story. Miss Perrin, taking Bird's original solo, relates how, alone and sad in his room one night, he dreams of a valley of eternal happiness where Dizzy is king, He signifies his desire to go there by improvising a particularly beautiful solo; and all at once he is there, and will rest and play in peace forever. As for Gillespie, he offers a marvellous variant of his own 1945 solo.


More vintage bop from 1946, "Ow!" (L'epee de Rhiannon) here adapts a Leigh Brackett story, "The Sword of Rhiannon." Lalo Schifrin is sent to Mars by trumpeter and singers to find the ancient tomb of Rhiannon and bring back the magic sword it contains. He does so, and leaves Mars, but his ultimate fate is unknown. Tadd Dameron's "Hot house" (Le manoir de Loup-Garou) was the subject of a further Parker-Gillespie collaboration and the trumpeter plays another latter-day variation on what he recorded in 1945. Ringing the changes in a different way, Powell solos here in place of Al Haig, his opposite number in bop pianism who was heard on the original version. Meanwhile the voices sing of werewolves.


In "Anthropology" (Le bonnet de Dizzy), on the other hand, the Double Six's tersely disciplined contributions, hurtling along at a real bop tempo, are scarcely less impressive than the trumpeting for which they express such admiration. Muted again, Gillespie's busy phrases, in the "Tin tin deo" vein, are quite sharp-edged, harshly accented. He is followed by a calmer Powell, whose quotation from the traditional "High society" clarinet chorus is doubtless ironic. The two postscript tracks are of lighter weight. "Con Alma" is brisker than Gillespie's 1954 recording and invokes the gods of Grecian mythology. "Oo-shoo-be-doo-be," from 1952, uses Joe Carroll's original words, finds the Double Six quite subdued, and requires no explanation.


  • 1986 Max Harrison

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Lenny Breau_Bluesette

Lenny Breau - A Magical Guitarist

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



“What I am trying to do is make impressions. I think of myself as a colourist, adding different colours and shades by using different techniques and touching the guitar in different ways. I like to play sounds you can see if you’ve got your eyes closed. I’ll always be a student because I think of music as never ending.”
- Lenny Breau


“I approach the guitar like a piano. I’ve reached a point where I transcend the instrument. A lot of the stuff I play on the 7-string guitar is supposed to be technically impossible, but I spent over twenty years figuring it out. I play the guitar like a piano, there’s always two things going on at once. I’m thinking melody, but I’m also thinking of a background. I play the accompaniment on the low strings.”
- Lenny Breau


“A kind of modern-day Django Reinhardt, Lenny Breau was enigmatic, unpredictable, and wide-ranging in his life and music. Largely unrecognized except by the select few who are touched by his sphere of brilliance, he improvised and innovated kaleidoscopic fusions of styles and techniques that continue to amaze and confound. With his genius intensely focused on the guitar’s labyrinth of strings and frets, the result was the stuff of legends.”
- Jim Ferguson, Jazz guitar historian, writer and Grammy nominee


The sound of the guitar has been present in our family for as long as I can remember; Italian-American social life wouldn’t be the same without it.


Its beautiful sound usually came from a classic, Gibson played acoustically, although at times, a basic, small amplifier was employed.


Later, when recordings came into my life, sometimes “the sound of the guitar” would be strummed as a rhythm guitar by Freddie Green in Count Basie’s rhythm section while at other times Charlie Christian picked and plucked it as a solo instrument in Benny Goodman’s sextet or Barney Kessel both strummed and soloed on it in Oscar Peterson’s classic trio with Ray Brown on bass.


And then there was the discovery of the instrument’s Jazz virtuosos: Django Reinhardt, Joe Pass and Bireli Lagrene along with what Neil Tesser refers to as the “… softer tone and less pronounced attack of Tal Farlow, Jimmy Raney and Johnny Smith” [I still can’t stop listening to the gorgeous recordings Johnny made with Stan Getz in the early 1950s]. One could also add Jim Hall and John Pisano to the latter group.


Guitar players have always fascinated me.


Which brings me to the night in 1968 that I walked into Shelly Manne Hole and encountered guitarist Lenny Breau.



I had no idea how to categorize his style, but he just captivated me. I sat there, spellbound through the entire set and absorbed as much of it in as I could.


Although he was accompanied on the gig by bass and drums, it was his solo guitar work that just blew me away. His work that night was a magical tour de force; I had never heard anything like it before and rarely since.


Much to my delight, RCA issued an album in 1969 of Lenny’s gig at Shelly’s [The Velvet Touch of Lenny Breau Live! RCA LP - 4199; One Way Records CD OW 29315] and acquiring it gave me access to the following liner notes by guitarist Johnny Smith that helped me to understand a bit of what was on offer that night:


The Electric Guitar Rises to New Levels of Musical Excellence in the Hands of Lenny Breau


“In the relatively short career of the electric guitar as a prominent solo instrument there have been many excellent players but comparatively few guitarists who have contributed new styles and approaches to the instrument.


Lenny Breau has created a new concept and direction for the electric guitar that should remain far beyond the short life-span of a musical fad. He is a young man with a musically inquisitive mind for new thoughts and devices that give his playing a refreshing and commanding quality. His technique and performance on the instrument encompass a wide variety of tonal colors and styles that range from sitaristic slurs to some excellently executed flamenco passages. His melodic concepts of jazz are harmonically sound and denote depth of musicianship. The unaccompanied solos are captivating and intriguing with a neoclassic flavor and employ some interesting Chet Atkins-inspired harmonics and amplifier-induced sustained pedal tones.


Drummer Reg Kelln and electric bassist Ron Halldorson contribute to the excellence of this recording. Their constant communication with Lenny is evident in the spontaneous mood and rhythmical changes that occur throughout the performance, which is a refreshing departure from some of the over-arranged or completely disjointed "free style" groups.


There will, no doubt, be self-appointed critics who will say that Lenny at times is too exuberant on the guitar and inserts too many different thoughts and styles into a song, but, no matter what the criticism, the reservoir of musical knowledge, musicianship and the technique to produce are there and should do nothing but improve and contribute to a higher and higher standard and acceptance of the electric guitarist.


- Johnny Smith”


Thanks to CD reissues, over the years I have been able to acquire a number of Lenny’s recordings including Lenny Breau: Five O’Clock Bells and Mo’ Breau [Genes CD 5006/12] which contained these descriptions of what makes Lenny’s approach to Jazz guitar unique.




Five O’Clock Bells [AD 5006]


“Lenny Breau is a legendary guitarist among musicians, but an unfamiliar name to much of the general public because he has heretofore never been sympathetically recorded. This session is the first recording that Lenny feels accurately represents him.

This CD recording documents a magnificent session which took place in New York City. Lenny Breau played his guitar the way he wanted, using his own choice of materials. The results were awesome. Few interpreters can rework a ballad as effectively as Breau. a master at controlling overtones with acoustic guitar.


Breau's style allows him to use all of his fingers simultaneously, like a keyboardist. He can play a walking bass line with his thumb and forefinger while picking notes with his other fingers. The range is enhanced by Breau's customized electric guitar, which is fitted with a classical guitar neck. The classical neck is wider than a regular electric guitar neck, so the strings are further apart, allowing for better high register definition and giving Breau the ability to chord at higher octaves.


Just about all jazz guitar techniques prior to Lenny's innovation came in two forms: either single string work for solos, or strummed chords for accompaniment. Lenny's finger technique allows for simultaneous playing of both lead and rhythm guitar, allowing him, in effect to accompany himself.


To succeed at this, of course, required him to be a master musician. Lenny more than met the challenge. As he played, his legend grew. Canadian guitarist, Domenic Troiano, tells one of the many stories about him: "A guy was standing outside a club where Lenny was playing and said to me. 'Boy are there two great guitarists playing in there'?’ " These recordings will be remembered for years to come as a landmark in the history of jazz guitar.”
- John Swenson


MO' BREAU (AD 5012)


“Breau is one of those (musicians) who, like Art Tatum, hardly even needs a rhythm section..., (his) warm, almost acoustic sound and rhythmic poise make his only serious peer in the field of solo jazz guitar, Joe Pass, sound hopelessly mechanical.”
- Terry Teachout, KANSAS CITY STAR


“Breau has a round, burnished tone, and an extraordinary command ol dynamics and textural nuances …  an encyclopedia of possibilities for the solo guitarist, more than living up lo his reputation.”
- Chip Stern. BOSTON PHOENIX


“Breau’s ability to accompany himself gives his playing a sense of interior dialogue that make other jazz guitar sound incomplete by comparison.”
- Geoffrey Himes, WASHINGTON POST


“Lenny Breau is an almost mythical figure to serious students of the art of playing guitar…”
- Park Street, III. LAMB MUSIC MAGAZINE


“He is one of the true geniuses of the guitar…. I suppose he is a musician's musician. His knowledge of the instrument and the music is so vast, and I think that's what knocks people over about him, but he's such a tasty player, too.  I think if Chopin had played guitar he would have sounded like Lenny Breau.”
- Chet Atkins.


“What I'm trying to do is make impressions. I think of myself as a colorist. adding different colors and shades by using different techniques and touching the guitar in different ways.  I'd like to play sounds you can see if you've get your eyes closed. I'll always be a student, because I think of music as never ending. I just improvise and keep it going and see what happens. Just one big long tune.”
- Lenny Breau




Guitarist James W. Lane, Jr.offered these comments about Lenny as the insert notes to Lenny Breau: The Last Sessions [Genes CD 5024].


"If you are an aspiring guitarist or enjoy listening to a unique approach to music and the guitar, this album is for you."


The one word that describes Lenny Breau’s abilities with the guitar is "Incredible!" His music contains a rarely-found artistry. After hearing these tunes … I came away with a better understanding of the multi-faceted use of the guitar. Breau's playing is mostly spontaneous, totally inspired and captivating. His romantic feel for the instrument creates an environment of sound that carries the use of color and texture, which are enhanced by the many techniques of the player. The dynamics of the pieces just seem to occur. His use of harmonics is extremely fluid, and the way in which they are woven through his works, flow in a manner I’ve never heard before.


Jazz guitarist, colorist, impressionist, stylist?

Trying to categorize the music of Lenny Breau would not do it justice. Instead, listen and enjoy his music. If you find, as I do, that this music is a rare treasure, put it at the top of your collection.”


See what you think of Lenny’s solo guitar stylings on this version of I Love You.


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Lenny Breau with Bassist Dave Taylor "If You Could See Me Now" [Tadd Dameron]

Andy Kirk And His Twelve Clouds of Joy

© -Steven Cerra. Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

For some time now, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles has envisioned brief features on some of the big bands of The Swing Era that have fallen out of view, so to speak. Of course, in the broadest sense, all of the big bands of The Swing Era are relatively obscure today as both the bands themselves and the generation that favored and nurtured this style of Jazz have moved on into history.


During the heyday of the Big Bands, two of the less recognized but highly respected outfits were the Andy Kirk and the Jimmie Lunceford bands.


Andy Kirk (1898-1992) took over Terrence Holder's Dark Clouds of Joy in 1929 and turned the band into a successful touring and recording unit, very largely dependent on the magnificent writing and arranging of Mary Lou Williams.


Though he was often out front for photo opportunities, Andy Kirk ran the Clouds of Joy strictly from the back row. The limelight was usually left to singer June Richmond or vocalist/conductor Pha Terrell; the best of the arrangements were done by Mary Lou Williams, who left the band in 1942; as a bass saxophonist, Kirk wasn't called on to take a solo. All the same, he turned the Clouds of Joy into one of the most inventive swing bands. His disposition was sunny and practical and he was a competent organizer (who in later life ran a Harlem hotel, the legendary Theresa, and organized a Musicians' Union local in New York City).


As Gunther Schuller points out in the following excerpts from his definitive opus The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945:


ANDY KIRK


“It is fascinating to contemplate the role that geography and chance encounters have played in the history of jazz. Although often giving the impression that "it all happens in New York"—even Basie and his Kansas City cohorts had to go there to really "make it"—it is useful to remind ourselves that 1) there was a Kansas City, under a wide-open Prendergast political regime, spawning crucial developments in jazz, including the contributions of one Charlie Parker; 2) that further north in Bismarck, North Dakota, another young man, Charlie Christian, was revolutionizing the guitar, with shock waves of after-effects that, for better or worse, can be felt unto this day in all popular music, even rock; 3) that practically every town in America had a German music teacher and that these provided musical training to the likes of Scott Joplin, Benny Goodman, and Earl Hines, and countless others; 4) that Tatum, Claude Hopkins, Oscar Peterson first studied the classical literature with classical piano teachers; 5) that John Lewis as a teenager in Albuquerque, New Mexico, already heard and knew one of his major influences, Lester Young—not in New York; 6) that it was on the road with the Earl Hines band that Gillespie and Parker first began listening to each other in earnest.


The criss-crossing of bands over the length and breadth of this nation over the decades, with the chance encounters between musicians, has been a factor of virtually incalculable importance in the development of jazz. The long hard tours, the endless one-nighters, though at times painful in actuality, have also played a crucial fertilizing role in the growth of this music. A study of whose paths crossed—and when—would in itself make a very instructive survey of jazz history.


Consider, for example, the fact that Jimmie Lunceford and Andy Kirk both, somewhat by chance, went to Denver, Colorado, to study with Wilberforce Whiteman, Paul's father, and under that remarkable teacher's tutelage both became skillful performers on a host of instruments (brass and woodwinds); further that both played and acquired a certain disciplined professionalism with George Morrison's orchestra in Denver; that the one, Kirk, ended up in 1926 in Terrence Holder's Texas-based band, the other, Lunceford, in Mary Lou Burleigh's band in Memphis, and that she, old enough to appreciate as a teenager in her native Pittsburgh the work of a certain pianist named Earl Hines, soon joined her husband John Williams in Terrence Holder's band, thus becoming with her husband one of the charter members of what in a few years was to be known as Andy Kirk and His Twelve Clouds of Joy. Thus the lives and talents of the elder Whiteman, three major orchestra leaders, two most remarkable jazz pianists, and one very special woman arranger-composer all intertwine in a scheme of geography and chance.


The parallel between Kirk and Lunceford goes farther in that both gradually gave up their playing roles, turning to leading their orchestras; and both had in their service at least one major creative personality, Mary Lou Williams and Sy Oliver, respectively, who early on set the basic style of their band. Kirk, a modest man, had in 1929 reluctantly taken over the leadership of Holder's Black Clouds of Joy band, while continuing to play tuba and bass saxophone. (Holder was one of the popular early trumpet stars of the Southwest but, apparently because of domestic troubles, abandoned his orchestra in 1928.) Our skein of coincidences continues when, after Kirk had taken over the leadership of the Clouds, George Lee, another important Kansas City bandleader, happened to hear Kirk in Tulsa and recommended him for a long-term engagement at the Pla-Mor Ballroom in Kansas City, affording the band some welcome financial stability. In turn, the young Jack Kapp, recording director for the Brunswick label, happened to hear Kirk and asked him to hold a rehearsal in preparation for a recording date. Here again fate interceded in that the regular Kirk pianist, Marion Jackson, failed to show up at the rehearsal. Mary Lou Williams was asked at the last minute to substitute for Jackson. And so Mary Lou Williams became a permanent fixture of the Kirk organization—indeed one of its two stars; the other, in the late thirties, being the remarkable tenor saxophonist Dick Wilson.


The Kirk orchestra's recording history began in late 1929 with two sides cut in Kansas City on the Vocalian label (under the name of John Williams and His Memphis Stompers). …


Mary Lou Williams left Andy Kirk in 1942 and was replaced by a pianist of formidable talents named Kenneth Kersey. In mid-1942 he provided Kirk with a substantial hit, Boogie Woogie Cocktail, which I recall hearing consistently on jukeboxes as late as 1944. Kersey was quite a find. Whereas Mary Lou Williams had taken boogie-woogie, with its murky and somber primitive visions, and given it a more cheerful lacy legato touch, Kersey took the same idiom, tightened its variation structure, energized its rhythms, stylized it and turned it into both a pianistic tour de force and an excellent dance number. It was boogie-woogie cleaned up a bit, efficient, and quite perfect—a miniature boogie-woogie concerto.


As with other orchestras, so too with Kirk, the young up-and-coming modernists were beginning to infiltrate his big band in the early-middle forties. One of these was the first-rate trumpeter Howard McGhee, whose McGhee Special, featuring him in a long extended trumpet solo, was also a successful best seller. McGhee is another one of those fine players who has been forgotten in recent years. Admittedly, he didn't have the staying power of a Gillespie or a Hawkins or a Hines, and his frequent enforced absences through the years certainly signify an erratic career. But in his early days McGhee was a leading transition figure in the incoming bop movement.


When McGhee joined Kirk he was just twenty-four and had played with only one other major orchestra, Lionel Hampton's, for a brief spell. It is to Kirk's credit that he recognized McGhee's talent and allowed him to be featured not merely in a brief solo, but in a major recording debut as soloist-composer-arranger. …”


And George T. Simon, who covered the Big Bands for Metronome Magazine during their Swing Era's heyday, wrote this caring tribute to Andy Kirk in the 4th edition of his seminal The Big Bands:


“HE WAS a gentle man, a kind man, a happy man, an intelligent man and a talented man. He was Andy Kirk, who led one of the better swing bands, one that at times threatened to achieve greatness but which never quite reached the pinnacle it seemed to be constantly approaching.


Called "Andy Kirk and His Clouds of Joy," it was a band composed of good musicians, a band that for several years played outstanding arrangements, but a band that could be wonderful one minute, mediocre the next, wonderful again, only fair for a while and then suddenly wonderful once more.


Perhaps Andy was too lenient. Perhaps had he driven his men harder, they might have played better more often. But such an approach might also have destroyed the warm and relaxed rhythmic feeling that pervaded so much of the band's music.


The first time I heard the band in person, early in 1937 in Harlem's Savoy Ballroom, I was greatly impressed by its simple swinging riffs both in ensemble passages and as backgrounds for soloists, of whom the most impressive was a girl, Mary Lou Williams. One of the most brilliant jazz pianists of all time, serious-looking, with long hair, a shy smile and surprisingly attractive buck teeth, she played in an Earl Hines manner, her solos mirroring phrases that the full band played in its arrangements — arrangements which she herself had written. There was also a good tenor saxist, Dick Wilson, a fine trombonist, Ted Donnelly, whom I always considered to be one of the most underrated of all musicians, and a steady, heady drummer, Ben Thigpen, whose son, Ed, years later, was to drum in the Oscar Peterson Trio.


The band had arrived in New York about the same time that Count Basic's had, but with much less ballyhoo. Organized in 1929 in Oklahoma, it had, like the Count's, established itself in Kansas City. It began to blossom there after 1933, when Mary Lou became a regular member. Married to Johnny Williams, a saxist with Kirk, she had occasionally sat in with the band and seemed so eager to play at all times that Andy nicknamed her "The Pest." Then, one day in 1933, the regular pianist showed up for a recording date reportedly in no condition to play. In desperation, Andy called for Mary Lou, and from then on "The Pest" remained seated on Kirk's piano bench until the middle of 1942, when she finally decided to seek a career as a solo performer.


Some of the band's greatest recordings featured Mary Lou, sides like "Froggy Bottom," "Walkin' and Swingin'," "Cloudy," which it recorded three different times, and "The Lady Who Swings the Band," which was a much more accurate identification tag for Mary Lou than "The Pest." She also wrote one of the most popular instrumentals of the period, "Roll 'Em," a boogie-woogie type of opus, which Benny Goodman's band parlayed into a hit.


Kirk also featured a singer named Pha (pronounced "Fay") Terrell, who sang the vocal on the band's most commercial record, "Until the Real Thing Comes Along." Pha was a rather unctuous singer (some of us used to call him Pha "Terrible"), but he knew how to sell a song. Less commercial but much more musical was another Kirk vocalist, Lunceford alumnus Henry Wells, who also played trombone and arranged, and who, for me, was one of the truly outstanding band singers of all time. (His "I'll Get By" and "Why Can't We Do It Again?" were especially outstanding.) His was a very smooth, musical style, and what he may have lacked in showmanship, he more than made up for in his phrasing. Barry Ulanov, with whom I didn't always hear ear-to-ear on singers, described Wells in the November, 1941, Metronome as "a remarkable, indeed a unique singer, quite unlike any other in popular music. He sings softly, gets a crooning tone, but Henry doesn't croon. He sings with all his voice, he's always got the control for the subtle dynamics of truly rich singing. . . . He is an expressive singer with a lovely voice, a smart musical head . . . who's absolutely untouched in the business." I agreed completely.


Kirk varied his fare between ballads and jazz. The latter department was strengthened considerably both musically and commercially in 1939 by the addition of guitarist Floyd Smith, whose sensuous, insinuating version of "Floyd's Guitar Blues" became one of the band's most attractive assets. Andy also brought June Richmond into the band at about the same time, and the vivacious, carefree, ever-rhythmic singer added much aural and visual color.


The band was especially impressive in theaters. Here it would run through its well-prepared routines in truly professional fashion, with Kirk, who paced his programs exceedingly well, presiding over the festivities like a father immensely proud of his brood—happy, somewhat reserved, but definitely in charge at all times.


Musicians enjoyed playing for Kirk, and it was no wonder that some of the younger, better stars worked for him even though the pay could never have been very high. When Mary Lou left in 1942, Kenny Kersey took her place. Don Byas and later Al Sears came in to fill Dick Wilson's tenor chair, while several future trumpet stars, Hal (Shorty) Baker, Howard McGhee and Fats Navarro, all played in the Kirk brass section.


Andy was generous in the way he featured his men. Perhaps he was a bit too generous, a bit too lenient, believing, as he must have, that the best music comes from relaxed musicians. The potential for one of the great bands remained with the group throughout the years, and yet Kirk never quite realized that potential, perhaps because he could never quite create the musical militancy that in one form or another drove the most successful bands to the top.


When big bands started to fade from the scene, Andy went with them. But, unlike many other leaders, he found various other things to do. One of the most respected men in his community, he managed Harlem's Hotel Theresa for many years, settled into real estate for a while, then became a pillar of New York's musicians local. Throughout it all, he remained the same gentle and kind man whom we all admired so much.


Who said "Nice guys finish last"?”


The following video offers a sampling of the Andy Kirk Big Band’s “beat” as June Richmond swings out with Cuban Boogie Woogie. Mary Lou Williams is also featured on piano.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Evolution of the Don Ellis Orchestra - Part 1

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


“Don Ellis gave the concept of big band jazz. a completely new meaning.”
- STEFAN FRANZEN


“‘I believe in making use of as wide a range of expressive techniques as possible,’ said Ellis, who never lost sight of his own artistic credo, and made some of the most challenging music of modern times.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.


“If Don Ellis becomes, as some of us have predicted, the Kenton of the 1970s, his arrival at this summit will be the culmination of at least five years of concentrated effort to express himself as an individual through every channel available to him — playing, leading, thinking, composing, writing for magazines, teaching, studying, organizing, searching. His success will also be, interestingly enough, the first one in a quarter of a century established by a big band in Southern California (it was 25 years ago last spring [1966] that Stan Kenton started out at the Balboa Ballroom; Gerald Wilson's magnificent band is still on the brink of a breakthrough).”
- Leonard Feather, Jazz author and critic


Don Ellis one of the most colorful big bands in the history of jazz from 1966 until 1978. Ellis's big band was distinguished by its unusual instrumentation, the exploration of unusual time signatures, its occasional humor and its openness to using rock rhythms and electronics. His orchestra achieved enormous popular appeal at a time when the influence of big band music was noticeably fading. Ellis applied his knowledge of the music of non-Western cultures to the rhythmic language of jazz. He was one of the first to have accomplished such a fusion of ideas, and his work stands as a memorial reflecting a significant stage in the evolution of jazz.


I find it interesting that the name “Don Ellis” follows the name of “Duke Ellington” in my recorded music collection.


Both also died within 5 years of each other in the 1970s: Ellington on May 24th, 1974 and Ellis on December 17, 1978. But Duke was 74 years of age when he died and Don was just 44.  One can only wonder what Don could have accomplished with his orchestra had he another thirty years to develop its music.


Both Duke and Don led Jazz big bands that altered the orchestrated sound of the music and each was a pioneer in the way they did this although in Ellington’s case, he was the original pioneer in big band Jazz arrangements in a career that started in 1924 at the Kentucky Club in NYC and spanned a half a century of continued development while Ellis’ innovations only began in 1965-66 with his innovative big band’s appearance at the Club Havana and Bonesville in Hollywood, CA and lasted but a short decade until his death.


In a way, the comparison is unfair because Ellington is an immortalized iconic figure in the Jazz lexicon while Ellis, if he is remembered at all, is seen as a controversial figure in big band Jazz circles; one who is often accused of adulterous behavior because of his incorporation of Rock n Rock, electronic instruments and devices and the use of unusual [odd?] time signatures.


In creating this multi-part feature about Don and his orchestra, my hope is that it might facilitate a better understanding of the significance of the band and its music.


It is drawn from a variety of sources, not the least of which are the annotated liner and sleeve notes that accompany the recordings, as well as, excerpts from articles in the Jazz literature.


The uniqueness of this band deserved to be more fully chronicled and perhaps the following pieces might form a step in that direction.


In view of what was to come in terms of the big band that Don Ellis formed in the 1960s and beyond, the following description by Gunther Schuller was prescient in the extreme.


The context was the three week session at the School of Jazz in Lenox, MA [ which took place in the old baronial mansion,Wheatleigh Hall rather than The Music Inn].


Don Ellis was on the faculty that year and also performed in concert with other faculty members that included Al Kiger, trumpet, David Baker, trombone, Steve Marcus on tenor, Hal McKinney on piano Chuck Israels on bass,


These observations were printed in The Jazz Review. VOLUME 3, NUMBER 9, NOVEMBER, 1960.


“Don Ellis has already found his own voice, which seems to consist of a fascinating blend of jazz and contemporary classical influences. In fact, his playing represents one of the few true syntheses of jazz and classical elements, without the slightest self-consciousness and without any loss of the excitement and raw spontaneity that the best of jazz always had had.


I hear in Ellis' playing occasional rhythmic figures which derive clearly from the world of classical music, which, however, are interpreted with an impulsive infectious swing that never stops. It seems to me that Don has found a way of expanding the rhythmic vocabulary of jazz to include rhythmic patterns heretofore excluded because they couldn't be made to swing.


If this is true, it would constitute a major break through, and its implications would be far-reaching. As I have said Ellis' rhythmic approach is closely related to the harmonic-melodic one. In fact, the one is inseparably related to the other. It is evident that Ellis has listened to and understood the music of Webern, Stockhausen, Cage and others of the avantgarde.


One of his compositions, in fact, is based on an article in the German magazine "Die Reihe", a house organ of the electronic and serial composers” which specializes in the most rarified (and at times obscure) intellectualism thus far perpetrated in- the name of music. Yes, here again, Ellis' jazz feeling has more than survived what would seem to be a strange partnership. His playing that evening also indicated that he can sustain long solos based on one or two central ideas and hold your interest through his imagination and considerable command of his horn.”


Don Ellis - insert notes to Don Ellis Orchestra - ‘Live’ in Monterey [Pacific Jazz - ST-20112; CDP 7243 4 94768 2 0]


"Arranger-conductor-trumpeter Ellis mesmerized the Sunday afternoon concert with his program of advanced meters, a hell-bent brand of dynamics..."
— Eliot Tiegel, Billboard


"...the band plays with fire and precision, thanks to Ellis, who is demonic and startling conductor."
— New Yorker
"His exquisite phrasing, impeccable timing and tonal beauty, while never losing sight of they rhythmical sequences, astounded the audience. There was thunderous applause and a standing ovation at the end of the concerto. Fans of big band, small band, blues, concert, Indian music and soul jazz all have Don Ellis in common."
— Eileen Kaufman Los Angeles Free Press


MONTEREY-Since jazz has no organized method of grooming performers for stardom, it’s important new artists generally achieve prominence through some stroke of luck such as a hit record or a chance to be heard at a jazz festival. The latter channel opened wide Sunday to accommodate the 20 piece orchestra of a brilliant new talent, Don Ellis. Ellis' future as a major force is now assured, a situation for which we and he can both thank Monterey. The festival that established Lalo Schifrin, John Handy and others as names to reckon with in jazz can now add to its honor role the name of this tall, blonde, bearded young trumpeter and composer from Los Angeles. His band opened the matinee here Sunday and stopped the show. I almost wrote "stopped the show cold," but by the time Ellis and his men were through, the stage was an inferno. From the first moment Ellis avoided every convention of big band jazz. He has three bass players, all of whom open the first number sawing away soberly in unison. This work, entitled "33222122 2" after its 19 beat rhythmic foundation, built slowly and inexorably to a thundering, irresistible fortissimo.

What is astonishing about all this is that the results never taste of gimmickry. He has mastered the art of taking an old familiar form or idiom and turning it into something excitingly new without destroying its original essence. Whether his source is an Indian raga, passacaglia, a fugue of a blues, it all comes out sounding like the product of a wide-open mind in which jazz always remains a latent element.

Ellis plays a specially made four-valve horn capable of producing quarter tones. In the past year, he has developed into one of the most original and explorative new trumpet players. There are several other efficient soloists, especially in the saxophone section, but first and foremost this band is a dynamic and splendidly trained unit, and a mirror of its leader as creative composer, soloist and catalyst. His will certainly become one of the most influential voices in the new wave; the comment of on listener who suggested that Ellis may be "The Stan Kenton of the 1970s" is probably close to the mark.
—Leonard Feather, Jazz Critic Los Angeles Times


“With the birth of jazz in this country less than 100 years ago, the music of the whole Western culture was rhythmically revitalized. And since the beginnings of jazz, jazz musicians have been refining and expanding their rhythms. Sometimes in the refining, the element of swing has been all but lost (as in the "cool school" associated with the West Coast), and then in reaction to this, sometimes the swing has been put back, but most of the rhythmic subtlety and complexity lost (as in the "funk" music period). However, the overall pattern from the beginning has been to expand rhythmic horizons.


Recently the jazz mainstream's rhythmic vocabulary has been enriched to include 3/4 (or 6/4). And now almost every organ-tenor group plays a number of things in 3. This may not seem so startling at the present time, but just a few years ago debate was raging as to whether it was possible to swing in anything but 4/4. In fact in the early '60's one of jazz's leading educators, John Mehegan, made the statement that anything that was not in 4/4 could not possibly be considered jazz!


Another more recent breakthrough was made with Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" showing that it is possible to play jazz in 5/4 and that a large segment of the population is interested in hearing music in other than 4/4 or 3/4.

Rhythm was the main thing that attracted me to jazz: both in the excitement of swing and the complexity of the cross-rhythms. Alternation of 4's and 3's was one of the first things that occurred to me, and then I tried experiments of "stretching" the time by means of accelerandos and ritardandos. "Free" rubato time (so common to the avant-garde today) also proved interesting as did the possibility of having several tempos going on a once. The next step was to attempt to play things in 7/4 and 9/4. Arif Mardin, the Turkish jazz composer, gave me a chart in 9 divided 2-2-2-3 that was based on a Turkish folk rhythm, and made me more aware of the fact that the off-numbered meters which at first seem so exotic and difficult to us, are really very natural and a part of the folk culture of much of the world. As a matter of fact, friends have told me of playing Greek club dates where all the main dances were in 7 and 9, and even little kids could dance to these rhythms - and would get annoyed at the musicians if they missed a beat!


I reasoned that since it was possible to play in a meter such as a 9 divided 2-2-2-3, it should then be possible to play in meters of even longer length, and this lead to the development of such meters as 332221222 (19). To arrive at this particular division of 19, I tried many different patterns, but this was the one that swung the most. The longest meter I have attempted to date is a piece in 85. But this isn't so far fetched as one might think at first, because at the Department of Ethnomusicology at UCLA I learned of one folk song with a 108 beat cycle!


In the beginning there used to be two arguments against playing jazz in these new rhythms and meters: [1] They are not "natural." And my answer was: not natural to whom? They are natural to a great portion of the world's peoples. [2] You can do the same thing in 4/4. This is ridiculous, if one can't play comfortably in 5 and 7 for example, how can one hope to superimpose these correctly over 4/4? Also, superimposing any other meter over 4/4 is NOT the same thing as playing in that meter exclusively.


But make no mistake about it, learning to play in these new meters and rhythms is difficult for a jazz musician, and it has not been easy to find 20 musicians with the talent and ability who have the necessary determination to stick with it until they have mastered these new ideas. You would be surprised at the number of well known studio musicians who have tried to read the book of the big band and given up, finding that, much to their chagrin, they sounded like rank amateurs because they couldn't even find the first beat of a bar to begin playing!


In the midst of all my thinking and experimenting with these rhythmic ideas, a very fortunate event happened: I met the Indian musician, Hari Har Rao, and began studying with him, both at the Department of Ethnomusicology at UCLA and privately. He opened up undreamed of new worlds of rhythm that he and his teacher, Ravi Shankar, has worked out. I learned exercises for developing the ability to superimpose complicated rhythmic patterns, one on the other, ways of counting to be able to always keep my place in a given cycle, no matter how long or involved. He showed me how to arrive at new rhythmic ideas, the proper ways of working these out and practicing them. It was a tremendously exciting and rewarding experience. I have written a book explaining much of what I learned and hope to have it published some day so that others can learn this also.


From that time on, I have had two main goals in the realm of rhythm: a) to develop my playing and writing to the highest possible level rhythmically and b) to set the wheels in motion that will send these new rhythms permeating through our whole musical culture.


The big band was started three summers ago [1963] in Hollywood, but temporarily disbanded when I went back to New York for a year. Hollywood was the only place a band like this could have been started, because of the excellent free rehearsal studio facilities of the musician's union, the high caliber of musicians, and the fact that the musicians here are not so transient as in New York. In a project such as this, having a relatively stable personnel is an absolute essential. In the beginning one new person coming in a little wrong could throw the whole band off, however now the nucleus of the band is so strong that nothing can upset them.


The original idea for the expanded rhythm section (3 basses and 3 percussionists) was both musical and practical. I had been doing a lot of playing in Latin bands and became very fond of the sound of having 3 and 4 percussionists, each doing something different. The rhythmic polyphony excited me. On the practical side I realized that if only one drummer and bass player knew my book and if they had to leave for some reason, I would be stuck. So I tried the big rhythm section, fell in love with the sound and have used it ever since! In teaching the band these new rhythms, I have found that the hardest thing is to learn to tap one's foot unevenly.

Usually the 5's come most easily (patting in a subdivision of 2 3 or 3 2), then the 7's and 9's follow - each one usually being progressively more difficult. Once one is used to patting one's feet unevenly, the longer, more complex patterns are relatively easy.


The band has been working steadily every Monday evening (currently at "Bonesville" in Hollywood) for almost a year, and I remember our delight when about 6 months ago, after struggling like mad to feel comfortable in a fast 7 (divided 3 2 2), I brought in a chart in 3 2/3 /4 time (11), and the band played it at sight! That was a big turning point because they realized that now they could count almost any rhythmic pattern at sight. The time barrier had been broken.


Along with the new rhythms, I have been experimenting with new pitches and harmonic-melodic patterns. The new pitches have been made possible to my new 1/4 tone trumpet [4 valves rather than the usual 3] made by the Frank Holton Company at my special request, and this has opened up another fascinating world. The new harmonic-melodic patterns have come about by using the Indian Raga, or scale patterns in new (westernized) ways, in addition to experiments along the "traditional" classical avant-garde techniques of pitch organization.


In summation, let me quote the noted percussionist and composer, William Kraft, who said: "these rhythms are the first real challenge to come along in jazz since the Bebop." I know I have found that working with these rhythms over the last two years has been the most exciting and fruitful period of my entire career in jazz, and I hope that some of the excitement I feel communicates to you, the listener.”
-DON ELLIS 16 August 1966




Leonard Feather - insert notes Live in 3 ⅔ 4 Time [Pacific Jazz ST-20123; CDP 7243 5 23996 2 8]


“Duke Ellington once observed that success was a product of the confluence of four elements (I don't remember the precise words, but this is a close paraphrase): being I in the right place, before the right people, doing the right thing at the right time.


IBy these standards, Don Ellis was long predestined to be a success. The signs have pointed in his direction for several years, but the Ellington four-element formula presented itself last September [1966] at Monterey, where, with his 21-piece orchestra, Ellis brought the crowd to its feet with his astonishing repertoire of unpredictable, metrically eccentric, ingeniously scored performances.


To the factors pointed out by Duke, one might add a few more that could be considered no less vital in the pursuit of maximal achievement. They include determination, which Ellis clearly has in abundance; physical advantages (Ellis is about six feet, trim, handsome, neatly bearded and totally designed to disarm the resistance of every female member of the crowd); an articulate, outgoing personality (Ellis could easily build himself a full-time career as lecturer or panelist); and an awareness of the importance of publicity, coupled with a talent for self-promotion — in this department Ellis is so well fortified that it was obviously just a matter of time before his talent broke through. (I am assuming, a priori, of course, that genuine musical ability is a prerequisite without which the other qualifications cannot sustain anyone.)


If Ellis becomes, as some of us have predicted, the Kenton of the 1970s, his arrival at this summit will be the culmination of at least five years of concentrated effort to express himself as an individual through every channel available to him — playing, leading, thinking, composing, writing for magazines, teaching, studying, organizing, searching. His success will also be, interestingly enough, the first one in a quarter of a century established by a big band in Southern California (it was 25 years ago last spring that Stan Kenton started out at the Balboa Ballroom; Gerald Wilson's magnificent band is still on the brink of a breakthrough).


Ellis might be classified as a Third Streamer, an avant-gardist, or simply as a nonconformist. He himself is not too deeply concerned with the semantics involved. "There is no definite style indicated by the term 'new swing," he has said. "We are now at a time of experimentation where rules are not yet codified into cliches. So much the better. Too many jazzmen have been conservative, afraid of change. This is strange in an art that was born of change, whose very essence is the improvised, the unexpected.


"Anyone who plays even a little creatively or differently from the established school seems to be called avant-garde, especially if he makes any unusual sounds on his instrument. By this definition, the most avant-garde and consistently interesting player I heard during a visit to New York last year was [trumpeter] Henry Red Allen."


Similarly, last June another story appeared under his by-line: "The Avant-Garde is Not Avant-Garde!" He amplified this in the article: "By current avant-garde I refer to those playing the type of music associated with such musicians as Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler and most of the artists of the E.S.P. Records catalogue. The predominant elements of this music (such as the lack of a definite rhythmic pulse or melodic or structural coherence, the use of myriads of flat notes with no overall direction and the at-one-time-unusual shrieks, honks and bleats) have now become commonplace and cliched. And as for 'newness' itself, these elements all date back some years."


If this type of incessant chattering and stream-of-consciousness meandering is no longer avant-garde, Ellis went on. then what is?


He answered himself: "Music based on solid audible structural premises... music that is well conceived and thought out (as opposed to the 'don't bother me with the technical details, man — I'm playing pure emotion' school)... music with new rhythmic complexity based on a swinging pulse with new meters and super impositions... music with melodies based on principles of musical coherence, utilizing the new rhythms along with intervals (pitches)... music making use of new harmonic idioms based on principles of audible coherence (in contradistinction to the 'everybody-for-himself-with-12 tones-Go!' school)... Musical worth or greatness is of the utmost importance. Whether something is avant-garde or not has no bearing on this."


These reflections are the fruit of years of experimentation in many directions. Ellis, born July 25, 1934, in Los Angeles, earned a Bachelor of Music degree from Boston University. During the late 1950s he worked his way through a variety of big bands (Ray McKinley's Glenn Miller outfit, Charlie Barnet, Herb Pomeroy, Sam Donahue. Claude Thornhill, Woody Herman, Lionel Hampton) as well as a period of U.S. Army bands. It was in the Maynard Ferguson band that I first heard him, during a concert tour in 1958. Though there was no chance for any avant-garde or highly individual expression during his brief solos, it was clear already that here was a talent to be watched. During the 1960-62 period Ellis managed to rid himself of the big-band-sideman image. He led his own trio at the Village Vanguard, played in Harlem with a quartet at Wells', was a member of the George Russell combo, and was closely associated during much of this time with a Boston friend, pianist-saxophonist Jaki Byard (who had also been a member of the Ferguson band).


He made three combo albums of value. How Time Passes, on the defunct Candid label, produced by Nat Hentoff, featured him with Byard, Ron Carter and Charlie Persip. An entire side was devoted to an "Improvisational Suite" using a 12-tone row as a point of departure. New Ideas, a Prestige LP, used the same personnel with Al Francis on vibes added. As Don observed then. "All these players are skilled in the technique of standard jazz improvising on chord progressions, but they can also create without chords, and on tone clusters and tone rows. They are not limited in their approach to a mere ignoring of the changes to sound 'far out,’ but have the ability to control both the vertical and the horizontal elements of the music." Don has always sought out musicians with these qualifications; today he is lucky enough to have a whole big bandful of them.


Don has been heard in Europe twice: at the Warsaw Jazz Jamboree in 1962 and in Scandinavia in 1963. In 1962 he recorded, in Hollywood, a set for Pacific Jazz -Essence - with Paul Bley, Gary Peacock and Gene Stone or Nick Martinis on drums. In 1963, he formed a group called the Improvisational Workshop, making several live and TV appearances. He was a featured soloist in a performance that year of Larry Austin's "Improvisations," with the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein. Returning to Los Angeles, he began graduate studies at the University of California; In 1964 he formed his Hindustani Jazz Sextet and expanded his already profound interest in Indian music.


"Indian classical music," he says, "possesses the most highly developed, subtle and complex system of organized rhythm in the world. The best and most technically advanced jazz drummer that has ever lived is a rank novice compared to a good Indian drummer when it comes to command of rhythms. The same thing applies to melodic instruments also. For many months I had the good fortune to study the art of North Indian drumming under Harihar Rao, who has been associated with Ravi Shankar for almost fifteen years. Harihar is a marvelous drummer and sitar player, his sense of time is so accurate that he can keep a steady slow beat while talking, reading or doing anything else. He is extremely bothered by the irregularities in time of the finest electronic metronomes he has heard."


Harihar Rao appeared with Ellis and the Hindustani combo in Hollywood clubs, and in Ellis's joint appearance with Kenton's Los Angeles Neophonic last year (1966.) It is undoubtedly through his influence that Ellis became more and more preoccupied with the use of unconventional metres in jazz. Don started his big band as a workshop experiment in 1964, but by 1965 was working one night a week at a Los Angeles club. A year and a half ago he moved into Bonesville, a moribund club in Hollywood operated by trombonist Walt Flynn.
Ellis has done everything in his power to promote himself, his band and the club. He even had bumper stickers printed reading "Where is Don Ellis?" that were seen on the backs of dozens of cars at the Monterey and Costa Mesa [Pacific Jazz Festival] festivals. He knows that the thing to do is study, develop something of value, get yourself talked about, find places where the right kind of people can hear you, and then convince them.


Without hesitation I predict that at year's end Don and his band will have been the No. 1 jazz success story of 1967. He has a set of principles that just can't miss.”




Digby Diehl - Electric Bath - 1967 [Columbia CS 9585; Columbia Legacy 88985346632]


In less than one hundred years, this album will be obsolete. Reverb amplifiers clavinets, loop delays and quarter-tone trumpets (no to mention conventional instruments) all will be junked. Time signatures such as 5/4, 7/4 or 17 will be too simple for the latest teen dances. And the hard-driving Rock sound will be supplanted by evenings spent receiving electrical jolts to the frontal lobes.


Maybe. But right now, Don Ellis' big band is the best sound that modern music has to offer. It is beautiful, exciting and contemporary: a Now sound that is the most exhilarating trip toward the 2060's anybody's ears have taken. Conceive, if you can, an aural collage created by the Beatles, Karlheinz Stockhausen,  Ravi Shankar and Leonard Feather's Encyclopedia ol Jazz.  And then, imagine that creation churning through the high-powered talents of twenty-one young musicians, like the rumble before you open the door ol a blast furnace. Electric Bath runs this scope of ideas and intensity.


Every Monday night for two years, Don has been rehearsing and experimenting with the band before capacity crowds at Hollywood jazz clubs. Dazzling performances at the Newport and Monterey Jazz Festivals drew astonishing acclaim in all sectors. His following runs the gamut from Zubin Mehta. director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic to the Association, and if you could see Andy Williams bobbing his head in patterns of 3-3-2-2-2-1 -2-2-2 to follow one of Don's compositions in 19/4, you'd know why the musical world is taking notice.


Fascinating fun, that's why. Just as the incorporation of syncopation brought new vitality to popular music at the turn of the century, Don's use of a funky 7/4 or a blues in 5 gives us a delightfully renewed sense of tension in rhythm. New tempos change our awareness of accents, break down the cliche phrases based on 2/4 or 4/4 and. medium being the massage, make us listen in a very involving way with fresh perspectives. From this new rhythmic vista, electronics and quarter-tones are really natural extensions of a modern musical conception. The Don Ellis band has no academic hang ups about its music - it just radiates good vibrations in a refreshing contemporary idiom.


"Open Beauty," for example, begins as a shimmering spider web ol psychedelic effects The electric piano of Mike Lang flutters delicately over a bowed bass background as an echoing, airy, melodic surrealism which grows louder and more complex by layers until the whole band is screeching into a cataclysmic nightmare The 3}/4 movement of this Ellis composition lends new elements to the contrapuntal interplay between sections, as the reeds compliment the brasses like fugal coo-coo clocks. Similarly, the Fender-Rhodes piano, which is basically an electrified clavichord, suggests the presence of an entirely non-musical mechanism bursting into song.


Then, as the dense structural tangle subsides. Don Ellis plays what must be one of the most remarkable solo passages on record: duets, and trios with himself by playing into a loop delay echo chamber. His solo, like the entire piece, is based on harmonic open fifths, but he also uses simple :minor scales and ascending thirds for stunning jeffect. This passage creates a kind of sonic vertigo, as though he were tossing notes into a still pool and hearing the concentric waves ol sound return in musical circles that are played against one another. If one needed proof of the value of the .electric trumpet, the hypnotizing beauty of this passage would be sufficient.

"New Horizons" is a work based on a musical cycle of 17, which is divided into 5-5-7. The sharp crackle of precise ensemble playing can be heard to particular advantage in the brass section as they blow crisp phrases over the compelling tempo. In his use of stop choruses, call-and-response patterns or ragtime figures, Don seems to be suggesting that the history of Jazz fits into the new tempos. Mike Lang picks up the hint, and his piano chorus gives you the fantastic feeling of hearing Jelly Roll Morton through a time machine His comic boogie-woogie bass lines and modified ragtime licks are fine pieces of musical humor.


Creating orchestrally a facsimile of John Coltrane's "sheets of sound," this composition evolves though varying layers of dynamics to a percussion section workout, with all four members of the rhythmic backfield In motion at once. Even difficult touches like the bubbling fountain effect ;in the reeds at the end mesh beautifully to illustrate new musical horizons.


"Turkish Bath" captures the adventurous spirit ol the band completely. This wild Ron Myers chart opens with Ray Neapolitan on sitar and quickly moves into a lar, far-out East theme statement by trie reed section which is tuned in approximate quarter-tones and distorted through amplifiers for Turkish effect. Solo work by Don, Ron Myers on trombone and Joe Roccisano on soprano sax takes place against a kaleidoscopic background of beautifully arranged phrases Mike Lang on clavinet sounds remarkably like an electric guitar and lends Rock flavor to this outing. As the ear-wrenching dissonance of the reed section fades and the sitar returns for what sounds like the out chorus, catch the jarring juxtaposition as Steve Bohannon breaks in and whips the band through a recharged ending.


"Alone" is a composition by Hank Levy whose "Passacaglia and Fugue" for the orchestra has generated tremendous enthusiasm at concert appearances Ray Neapolitan's bass lines in a straight 5/4 tempo form the basis for an organic piece which unravels itself In logical elaborations on a Latin background On this tune, Don's solo begins with a humble-sounding group of mumbles that ascend in a kind of moaning climb to a virtuous display of pyrotechnics, like Superman climbing out of his Clark Kent duds. Again, the clean ensemble quality ol the band's playing is evident as each nuance of the composition is developed.


"Indian Lady" has the feeling of a hoe-down in a harem. This bluesy tune in 5 (divided 3-2) features Don on some fancy trumpet figures which utilize (the fourth valve of his horn for quarter-tones. The instrument which sounds very much like "soul" electronic organ is Mike Lang on the Fender electric piano. Ron Starr on tenor and Ron Myers on trombone romp into the fast-moving down-home feeling of the piece with aplomb and the band as a whole wails. Steve Bohannon, the young multi-tempo master of the percussion section, solos swingingly in 5 and pushes the band to a roaring close. As a comic afterthought, Don picks up the last few bars again for a Dixieland tag which is finished out by the whole band. Dixieland in 5!?


Well, trying to communicate this kind of New Sound in prose may be a problem, but it's nothing compared to the complexities of capturing the total effect of twenty-one instrumentalists playing through unusual electronic equipment. Producer John Hammond and Sound engineer Brian Ross-Myring have succeeded in recreating that "live" experience on vinyl with a fidelity beyond reasonable expectation. Just listen, and Don Ellis will prove to you that one record in some cases, is worth several thousand verbal notations.


Digby Diehl


(Mr. Diehl is a freelance writer who contributes to The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and various other publications.)


To Be Continued in Part 2 ...