Tuesday, August 20, 2019


© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“I love duo jazz.  To me the duo is jazz 
stripped down to its absolute core - two people creating and 
interacting, the mostly intimately personal form of jazz.
- a Jazz Buddy in the UK.”

I’m working my way through the Jazz literature on the late tenor saxophonist Stan Getz [1927-1991]. In addition to consulting the usual biographies and compendiums with references to articles and interviews, I’ve been reaching out to friends via chat groups and direct correspondence to gain the benefit of their wisdom, experience and recommendations on Stan and his music.

To say that the response has been overwhelming would be an understatement in the extreme. It seems that everyone is a Getz fan.

I try not to put out such requests to friends too often because I don’t want to impose on their discretionary time [is it just me or is everyone soooo busy these days?].

One benefit from such solicitations for advice is that the responses often open unexpected doors on the subject that offer very different perspectives on the subject than the ones I’m familiar with or have been considering.

To wit, the lead-in quotation from a Brit Jazz Buddy.

As a result of that remark, I went back to Stan’s duo recordings with pianist Albert Dailey and the double People Time CD with Kenny Barron.

But it gets better because while researching People Time I suddenly discovered that the recordings that Stan had made with Kenny during the last year of his life were also issued as a boxed 7 CD set and that Gary Giddins’ had prepared the booklet notes for these recordings.

When the larger set arrived, I loaded it into my CD changer and wrote to Gary requesting copyright permission to feature his writings on my blog.

Here’s his reply:

I would actually be grateful if you would publish the whole essay with a few corrections that didn’t make the release, as attached. It wasn’t much read here at the time, because the box set didn’t do as well in this country as it did abroad. I’m fond of these notes and would like to see them get another showing!


And here are the revised notes.

© Copyright ® Gary Giddins, copyright protected; all rights reserved; used with permission.


By Gary Giddins

On February 26, 1991, a few weeks after his sixty-fourth birthday, Stan Getz concluded two days of work as a sideman with Abbey Lincoln for the album later released to much acclaim as You Gotta Pay the Band. I remember that wintry afternoon in New York well, because Stan had asked me to meet him at the end of the session. Though I had seen him perform many times, we had never spoken until early in the year, when he phoned out of the blue and asked if I would work with him on his life story.  

Utterly honored but nonetheless apprehensive, I looked forward to meeting him during his New York visit. But when I arrived at the old RCA building on Forty-third Street and Sixth Avenue, I ran into Charlie Haden on the sidewalk, bundled up beside his bass, waiting for a lift. He explained that Stan hadn’t felt well and had left for his hotel; the session had gone so smoothly that it finished early anyway. Moved by the experience, Charlie enthused about how remarkable Abbey was and how exceptionally well Stan played—working right off the lead sheets, without rehearsal, hesitation, or error.

I walked to the corner phone booth and reached Stan at his hotel and he asked me to come over. Stan Getz was a legendarily manipulative guy with a reputation for inconstancy: he could be Bela Lugosi with fangs bared or Cary Grant oozing charm. The epigrammatic Zoot Sims famously called him “a nice bunch of guys.” One night he phoned when I was out and my wife said, “Stan Getz called. He is such a nice man!” Not long afterward I told that to Gerry Mulligan, who had known and worked with him for more than four decades, and he laughed. Half an hour later, he laughed again, and said, “I’m still working on what a nice guy Stan is.” So I leave it you to interpret our initial meeting. His companion Samantha opened the door and Stan, looking quite well, briskly walked forward, smiling, hand outstretched, and said, “You’re Jewish, right? I can tell. You’ve got that open, honest smile.” Instantly, we were landsmen! 

The ethnic bond wasn’t necessary, but it didn’t hurt. We hit it off and I loved being in his company. We talked about the book and about his cancer, which at that time he was treating holistically with a suitcase full of pills, herbs, and macrobiotic foods. He was more than optimistic; he was confident, almost radiant. On one occasion, before I committed to the project, I told Stan it wasn’t worth doing unless he was willing to speak candidly about his history of narcotics and other stimulants and all the troubles, legal and personal, they had triggered. He did his boyish grin and said, “Of course! Why wouldn’t I? I mean, that’s stuff that happened when I was a kid.” Even now, I’m not certain if he was joking—he had recently been embroiled in a messy, public divorce that hinged on his alcoholism and cocaine addiction—but I rolled my eyes and we kept talking.  

As a fan, I had seen the darker side erupt only once, at Fat Tuesday’s in the 1980s, when he verbally demolished a table of middle-aged frat boys who carried on during the set, and walked off stage, refusing to resume until they left. (I thought he was entirely in the right, though, yes, he might have been a bit more tactful.) When Stan and Mel Lewis, the great drummer and bandleader, were similarly diagnosed in 1987, Stan told Mel, “I’m too evil to die,” a line that traveled as fast as a streak of burning gunpowder. Usually, however, he was a princely presence on stage, especially in concert halls, where he would ask for the amplification to be turned off so that he could enjoy the natural acoustics — something few jazz musicians, even solo pianists, had the nerve to do. 

During the week of the Abbey Lincoln session, Stan discussed with Kenny Barron a project he had been mulling over for several months—a duet album. The idea originated on tours with his magnificent quartet: Kenny, Rufus Reid, and Victor Lewis. Each night, Stan would ask for the mikes to be turned off as he and Kenny alone performed Benny Carter’s “People Time.” (Their devotion to this piece, which they first recorded in Glasgow in 1989, was particularly piquant for me. In February 1987, John Lewis and I had invited Benny to conduct an evening of his music with the American Jazz Orchestra. On that occasion, Benny premiered and recorded Central City Sketches, of which the third movement is “People Time.”) Stan was very excited about the duets album, remarking with characteristic conviction, “There are only three pianists left: Hank [Jones], Tommy [Flanagan], and Kenny.” 

At this time, Stan was under contract to Herb Alpert’s A&M, which had recorded but refused to release (until 2003) an excellent quartet date; it issued instead the frankly commercial and duly successful Alpert-produced Apasionado (Kenny later described it as a “kind of Brazilian pop”) with a mostly electric rhythm section, including two synthesizers, plus a wind section. A&M, not surprisingly, had no interest in tenor-piano duets, but Alpert provided the necessary clearance when Stan brought the project to producer Jean-Philippe Allard, who “jumped at the opportunity.”

This was not their first time working together. Jean-Philippe, whose role in the career renaissance of Abbey Lincoln (including You Gotta Pay the Band) can not be overstated, had also produced two albums by Stan’s quartet, recorded at a 1987 concert in Copenhagen’s Café Montmartre. An album, Anniversary, had been released at the time to fervent praise and, as it happened, the second album, Serenity, was released—to equal approbation—around the time (March 1991) that Jean-Philippe was arranging for the two men to record live for four nights at Café Montmartre. In lieu of a rehearsal, Stan and Kenny gave a concert at the Charles Hotel in Boston, and then traveled to Copenhagen where they opened a little more than a week later. 

The performances were miraculous. They include some of the most candidly impassioned music ever recorded and represent a pinnacle in the art and lives of the musicians and the producer. In the candid, poignant liner notes he wrote for the original release, Kenny recalled: “Stan played exceptionally well, giving every solo his all. But I noticed after each solo that he was literally out of breath.” You couldn’t tell that by listening to the fourteen selections chosen for the album People Time

Each night, they played two sets. On the last night, they played one of the finest sets of the engagement—a parting gift of luminous inspiration. Yet afterward, Stan was in too much pain to continue and the second set was canceled. They played one more concert in Paris, Stan’s final performance, and returned home, where he resolved to treat his illness with more conventional and aggressive means. He told Kenny that he hoped to tour again in the summer. That was the last time they saw each other. When Kenny called in May, Stan said he was feeling much better and that they would begin their next tour of Europe with a July 4 concert in Paris. He also spoke of how pleased he was with the Montmartre tapes. 

In April, Jean-Philippe had brought the tapes to Stan’s home in Malibu, where they spent ten days listening to them and choosing together the selections that would be released on the two discs of People Time — an instant classic. Jean-Philippe remembers that “Stan was very serious about this album. For him it was a way to show to the world how great Kenny was. He was very insecure about himself, but he was happy with the result.” Let that suffice as a cue to emphasize the obvious: Stan Getz is the emotional pivot of this music, but People Time and—to a far greater extent—the complete People Time are true duet performances. Kenny Barron’s work here signifies not only a highpoint in his career but an insuperable, probably unique achievement in the annals of jazz piano.

Kenny had much in common with Stan. Both were born in Philadelphia, emerged as child prodigies, and began working professionally at fifteen—which for Stan was in 1942, the year before Kenny was born. Each came to modern jazz from an unlikely apprenticeship: Stan with Jack Teagarden’s Dixieland swing, Kenny with Mel Melvin’s rhythm and blues. Mentored by his brother, the unjustly neglected tenor saxophonist and composer Bill Barron, Kenny played as a teenager with Philly Joe Jones, Jimmy Heath, Yusef Lateef, Ted Curson, and James Moody. Stan spent his teens with Stan Kenton, Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Kai Winding, and Gene Roland. At nineteen, each had a breakthrough: Getz made his first records as a leader (Hank Jones on piano), though the true originality of his sound would emerge a year later in Woody Herman’s band, and Barron signed on with the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet. Musically, they rode the same wave; temperamentally, Kenny is as stable as Stan was volatile. I once saw a great but inebriated musician berate him at a party over a tempo. Kenny later shrugged it off as the price of working with genius. I doubt that Stan ever shrugged off anything in his life. 
Except for an isolated gig in the early 1970s, Kenny didn’t begin working with Stan until 1984, and then only periodically, until he became a member of the quartet in 1986. That year, they recorded together for the first time, a session that ended abruptly when Stan walked out, displeased with his own playing. The sidemen were “bewildered,” Kenny wrote, “because we thought we had two really great takes.” But the next day Stan called Kenny apologetically, explaining that “he felt a little intimidated because that was the first recording he had ever done, or attempted to do, sober.” I guess by Stan’s reckoning, he was still a kid.
The dedication of both men is apparent throughout the complete Montmartre recordings; at one point, Stan even stopped the concert to change his reed, mischievously offering drinks on the house. On every selection, Kenny is a marvel of empathy, ingenuity, and energy bordering on the sublime and frequently brimming over. He not only had to attend to Stan’s musical cues, but to his wavering physical capacity, which, combined with the perfectionist diligence that threatened Getz’s equanimity, demanded ultrasensitive reflexes on every tune, every night. There are countless moments when Kenny reads Stan’s mind, complementing him on a wavelength we are privileged to overhear. Several of the most exhilarating moments occur when (following the piano solo) they read each other’s minds, achieving contrapuntal ecstasy. Elsewhere, there are moments that may induce tears or perhaps an epiphany regarding the delicate line between love and anguish. 

While the public has had seventeen years to absorb People Time, Jean-Philippe has had custody of the tapes that documented all seven sets played over four nights. Now we can all return to that week in March at the Montmartre, but do not think that this is simply more of the same. The complete People Time is a profoundly different experience; the context transforms each selection, revealing unsuspected dramatic juxtapositions and a heightened array of nuances. 

Before delving into these seven mini-epics, consider the overall terrain: forty-eight selections consisting of twenty-four tunes, nine played once, seven played twice, seven played three times, and one played four times. The repertoire is divisible by two, pop standards and jazz pieces (no blues). All thirteen of the standards are love songs, five with love in the title. Four are meditations on lost love (“Autumn Leaves,” “Gone with the Wind,” “The End of a Love Affair,” “Hush-a-Bye”) and the rest explore the renewal of love. The jazz pieces, excepting the robust “Bouncing with Bud” and the wistful “Whisper Not,” are darker, more demanding works that frequently evoke rarified heights of expressive eloquence. In the case of Charlie Haden’s “First Song” (composed for his wife Ruth), a level of transcendence is attained that has little equal in the oeuvres of Stan Getz or Kenny Barron or anyone else. 

Night 1 (March 3, 1991), Set 1
The evening began with “Night and Day,” but the microphone placement was off and so the piece served as warm-up and sound check; for the sake of completeness, that performance is included at the end of Disc 7. We enter the Montmartre with Stan’s announcement, assuring the audience and possibly himself that the music will be “good and bad and in-between.”  He recounts the story behind “I’m Okay,” written by the Argentine composer who had played one of the synthesizers on and arranged and co-composed most of Apasionado, Eddie Del Barrio. The mood of this lovely melody (which is not on that album but is heard here in the first of three versions) is established instantly by Kenny’s minor-key introduction. The eight-bar intro is an art in itself and Barron is a master of it. On the first “Gone with the Wind,” Getz assertively phrases the melody quite differently than on the one to follow. 

But he really comes alive on “First Song.” Abbey Lincoln had previously written and recorded a lyric to Charlie Haden’s incendiary theme: “Sending around / A Soulful sound / Deep as the Sea / Like you and me.” This piece, performed three times, brought out something deep in Getz. In this and the third versions, he builds the melody with extraordinary passion and dynamics, his room-filling sound, once the epitome of cool, now brave, staunch, bursting, resplendent. Barron cradles him every measure, and as they finish, you wonder how they can continue. But they do, with the sole performance of Alan Broadbent’s “Allison’s Waltz,” which prompts an uncharacteristic detour to the low register of the tenor saxophone. Stan paces himself on Benny Golson’s “Stablemates,” and Kenny raises the adrenalin with an especially sprightly solo, employing sly references to Monk, reminding us that before his tenure with Stan, he co-led the splendid Monk-tribute quartet Sphere.     

Set 2
Stan takes the lead, sans intro, in their only reading of “Autumn Leaves,” and stays close to the melody, using dynamic contrast in the absence of his usual inventiveness. An ebullient piano solo, swinging and striding over most of the keyboard, helps to invigorate him, and he returns with renewed strength, a reference to “Tangerine,” and a nice cadenza. Among the prime discoveries of these seven volumes are two performances of Thad Jones’s “Yours and Mine,” neither included on People Time. If Haden’s theme launches Stan to a spiritual zenith, Jones’s piece elicits an almost autobiographical transparency, as he coolly caps the theme with a trill and works over a few emblematic licks, thinking out loud and expansively, and displaying a growing, gutsy determination as he wrestles with its phrases. Yet the highlight of this set is the sole version of Isham Jones’s “There Is No Greater Love,” the first number chosen for inclusion in the original People Time. Raring to go, Stan leaps in on the tail of Kenny’s intro, as if relieved after the hothouse complexity of the previous tune. This is familiar ground, and he tears into it—as does Kenny, his vigorous right hand spelled by spare punctuations, his distinctive take on Monk apparent in his close-chord dissonances and shades of stride. Stan goes out chortling “You Ought to Be in Pictures” (this one was ready for framing) and is apparently so charged that he cues another swinger, “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top.” 

For People Time, Jean-Philippe programmed a version of “Surrey” after “There Is No Greater Lover.” But in concert the duo decided instead to switch to a slow tempo for the first of its three performances of Benny Carter’s song. Stan starts with a slight wobble and though he manfully builds to some splendid passagework about four-plus minutes in, this performance is merely a preview of the masterpiece to come. Given the imposing consistency of Kenny’s playing, one of the uncanny pleasures of the complete People Time is his ability to rally his own playing in response to symptoms of Stan’s fatigue. “Surrey” is a spectacular example. The piano solo, beginning and ending in the bass clef and buoyed by rhythmic changeups, electrifies the audience and Stan, who returns for a contrapuntal finish—a fiery polyphony to cap a rendition as gripping as the one on the original album. After more than two minutes of cheering, Stan and Kenny return. Their encore is the first of three tries at Mal Waldron’s “Soul Eyes,” in an arrangement of consecutive solos, five choruses by Stan, five by Kenny. Stan’s affecting solo is heart-on-sleeve and subtly swinging, and Kenny follows with keyboard gossamer.                

Night 2 (March 4, 1991), Set 1
After tuning up with a fragment of “Close Your Eyes,” they play two excellent standards, the sole interpretation of “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and the first of two performances of “You Stepped Out of a Dream,” which builds in confidence to a lovely out-chorus and tag. The next three selections are at once soul-baring and whimsical, beginning with the second and best reading of “Soul Eyes” (chosen for the original album). Waldron’s tune has generated several classic recordings, including John Coltrane’s and the bass clarinet-piano duet by Waldron and David Murray. Getz-Barron ranks high on the “Soul Eyes” shortlist. Note, midway, the renowned Getz squeak—a consequence of his preference for thick reeds, and as identifiable a trait as Miles Davis’s broken notes. These are “mistakes” so indelibly associated with them that countless young saxophonists and trumpeters tried to play them on purpose. 

Charles Trenet’s “I Wish You Love” made the repertory in respect to Allard (it’s a favorite of his), and they played it three times, never quite getting it to Stan’s satisfaction. Yet each version is melodious and optimistic. In this foray, Kenny gives an atypical display of block-chord texture and Stan ends with a perhaps too-coy salute to “La Marseillaise,” which he didn’t repeat in subsequent sets. “I’m Okay” is pointed and poignant, but the great version is still to come. Tonight, it serves as the calm before the storm. Reversing the tempo pattern of the previous set, they go full out on the closer—an explosive, almost raucous reading of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day,” the overall mood established with one of Barron’s most intricate intros. Getz’s combination of legato phrasing and bruising dynamics and Barron’s galloping variations, complete with a brief Latin segment, make this a delicious performance in any context—as the second track on the original People Time, and as the set finale here, where it embodies astonishing fortitude. 

Set 2
After the break, they returned with the first of two versions of “East of the Sun,” the only standard by Brooks Bowman, the Princeton graduate whose songwriting career ended in a car accident the week before his twenty-fourth birthday. Getz begins brightly, but his timbre is harsh and his second chorus halting; Barron picks up the slack with a tremendously inventive solo, allowing Stan time to recoup his energy. After a piano intro that becomes a vamp-till-ready platform, they sustain a similar mood in the first of two takes of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma”—Stan is increasingly authoritative here, and there are fine moments of interplay between tenor and piano as well as another playful trill. Then they go into a far weightier mode for “People Time,” in the performance that gives the album its title. Now Getz’s sound is ripe and dark and gorgeous, as he deconstructs the chords’ component notes, sometimes banked with tremolos, every phrase edged and embraced by Barron. 

Carter’s theme seems to liberate Steppenwolf Stan, who is alternately ferocious and elegiac for the remainder of a fascinating set that inadvertently touches on the vagaries of mortality—the brief candles that were Bowman and Clifford Brown, the relative longevity of Carter, Gillespie, Benny Golson, and Richard Rodgers, the premature passing of Thad Jones who had died in Copenhagen five years before, a year younger than Stan was at this engagement. An expansive “Stablemates” leads into Golson’s inspired threnody, “I Remember Clifford,” which moves Getz to examine each phrase, making unexpected embellishments, all replaced with equally surprising choices the next night. Each version closes with an outburst that is especially startling this first time you hear it. In complete contrast, the Jimmy Van Heusen melody “Like Someone in Love” exemplifies well-being and the performance (Stan snaps his fingers to brighten the tempo) is witty, magnetic, confident. In further contrast, the demanding “First Song” shows signs of strain, guaranteeing an exceptional Barron solo, allowing Getz to recover for the exuberance of “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” and the reflective ardor of “Yours and Mine.”

Night 3 (March 5, 1991), Set 1
The third night is the most remarkable in its narrative undercurrent. After tuning up, Stan initiates the duo’s only performances of Edward Redding’s “The End of a Love Affair” (a song associated with Nat Cole, Billie Holiday, Johnny Hartman, and others that merits revival) and the third Benny Golson number, “Whisper Not,” and though his playing is fluent and convincing, he is dissatisfied—turning the second number over to Barron after the head and halting the concert to change his reed. Starting over again, he approaches “You Stepped Out of a Dream” with a revitalized attack, exploring all the registers of the horn as if auditioning the instrument. The rapport on “I Remember Clifford” (the version chosen for the original album) is responsive, taut, and acutely meditative, as Getz again tracks the melody, embellishing it with cresting dynamics—this time the closing outburst is perfected en route to a stirringly adroit cadenza. “I Wish You Love” is restful and warmly played, but Bud Powell’s great anthem “Bouncing with Bud” presents problems; the second chorus is fragmented, though Getz ultimately builds a head of steam, and he is clearly off his mark in the final chorus, dropping out for a measure. This means that Kenny has to rise to the occasion, and he does with a blistering solo. The intro to the third take on “Soul Eyes” is not quite in the pocket, and Getz continues to show signs of strain, yet there are momentous eruptions here, raw and crying. 

And then, just when the listener may be inclined to take a deep breath and a break, Getz makes a large withdrawal on his resources to deliver another stunning, self-defining, rampaging account of “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” (number three of four and the one chosen for the album), which, like the second night’s “Night and Day” surges with strength. Ailing? Tired? Not here! With a particularly deft bridge in the theme chorus, he announces his restored powers and Kenny—one imagines his ears perking like a rabbit—supports him with driving bass lines, the two of them digging in and stretching out with thrilling élan. The evening was just getting underway. 

Set 2 
This is one of the great Stan Getz sets, one of the great Kenny Barron sets, and arguably the best of the Getz-Barron sets. Four of the six numbers were included on the original album, and the other two—“Night and Day,” and “People Time”—would have done in a pinch. The audience at the Montmartre must have recognized the adrenalin in the air when Stan tuned up with a few bars of a Beethoven minuet, and the shock of recognition was confirmed six bars into the theme of “East of the Sun” as he opens his chest for a searing phrase. If you haven’t played the previous discs with enough juice to disconcert the neighbors, turn it up here to get the full resonance, the multicolored timbre of the tenor and the thumping luster of the piano: even the overtones swing. The energy level of the opening number carries into the second number, but the third number is something else. 

When people speak of Getz ballads reducing them to tears, they are often referring to this consummate performance of “First Song,” with its unprotected candor, perfect match between melody and interpretation, serene fulfillment of a saxophone sound (Coltrane famously observed, “Let’s face it, we’d all like to sound like that if we could”) that matured over fifty years, and a partnership so loving it could fearlessly bare all. From the first notes—the classical piano intro, the entrance of the tenor—they have you by the glands and sustain their hold for nearly ten minutes. There are Getz masterpieces from every period of his career, going back to 1948’s “Diaper Pin,” but there is nothing else in his discography quite like this. Nor is there a hint of relapse as the set continues. “Like Someone in Love,” once again aggressively finger-snapped into tempo, is nimble and cheerful. In Stan’s first measure, he seems to be playing Irving Berlin’s “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails,” but it’s just a pickup phrase that slips directly into the Van Heusen-Burke song. They nail “Stablemates,” and when the audience demands an encore (“We thought you wouldn’t ask,” Stan says), they play their valedictory “People Time”: a tonal strain apparent in the first few bars disappears as the piece arches upward and then falls, quiet as snow, into resolution. 

Night 4 (March 6, 1991), Set 1
.       The last set is as good as the sixth, albeit lighter in spirit. It, too, produced four of the selections chosen for the original album, while introducing two tunes they hadn’t yet played, including the opener, Sigmund Romberg’s “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise.” Stan makes the most of the minor to major shift in the bridge, adding a tinge of blues. The suspicion, prompted here, that Getz is channeling his younger self is sustained by “I Wish You Love” and the most unlikely song of the engagement, “Hush-a-bye,” where he even gets into some Lester stuff. Kenny also looks back in bliss, displaying his funkiest and freest work of the week, as well as lick from “Bei Mir Bist du Schoen.” The melody of “Hush-a-bye” originated with Ambroise Thomas, the French opera composer whose Mignon dazzled Europe in the 1860s. For the 1952 version of The Jazz Singer, Sammy Fain and Jerry Seelen adapted it with two completely different lyrics: “I Hear the Music Now,” an up-tempo treatment recorded by Peggy Lee and Chris Connor; and “Hush-a-bye,” a ballad treatment recorded by Bing Crosby. It wasn’t a hit for anyone, but it generates enchantment for Stan and Kenny, propelled by rhythm, braced by harmony, elated by melody. They follow with the starkest and most authoritative reading of “I’m Okay,” an immensely touching “Con Alma,” a contemplative “Gone with the Wind” that surely made the original album owing to Kenny’s captivating solo, and—ave atque vale—a final “Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” with its conversational closing chorus allowing Stan to go out with flags flying. 

Three months to the day after the Montmartre concerts, on June 6, my agent phoned to tell me that the contracts for the Stan Getz book were, at last, ready for my signature. A couple of hours after that, Steve Getz called to say that his father had passed. His ashes were scattered off the coast of Malibu. I was asked if I wanted to write a conventional biography of him. No, I explained. The lure had been to work with Stan; that was the point, the appeal, the challenge. After immersing myself for months in these seven discs, I feel as though I’ve experienced a sliver of that challenge. If a musician can reveal himself fully through his music, this is as vital a self-portrait as one could wish. As Kenny Barron wrote in the fall of 1991, “The music on the recording is very special, not only because it’s the last documented recording of Stan Getz, but also because the music is real, honest, pure and beautiful in spite of the pain or perhaps because of it.””

Gary Giddins
New York, July 2009      

Copyright 2009 by Gary Giddins

Monday, August 19, 2019

Music! Music! Music! - Ahmad Jamal Trio

Pianist Ahmad Jamal's classic trio with Israel Crosby on bass and Vernel Fournier on drums. This video contains many images of nickelodeon, which I guess, might be consider one of the earliest musical synthesizers.

Steve Fidyk - Controlled Creativity

© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

I recently started playing drums again after a long absence.

A tenor sax playing buddy took pity on me and invited me to sit in with his group which usually doesn’t include drums.

After a gig, one of the players in the band said to me: “It’s been a long time since I played with a drummer who actually lifted a band.”

I’m blushingly sharing this remark because drums can cause problems in Jazz.

It’s hard to imagine some forms of the music without them, but there are some musicians and some groups that prefer to play Jazz without drums.

Of course, some drummers exacerbate this preference because they want to play drums first and music later [if at all]. This approach dominates and determines the Sound of Jazz, or at least, the Jazz that is being dominated by drums - think the Buddy Rich Big Band.

I suppose, too, there are times when domineering drumming may be appropriate, for example, it’s also hard to imagine 1960s Jazz drumming without conjuring up Elvin Jones with the John Coltrane Quartet and Tony Williams with the Miles Davis Quintet.

Yet, ironically, at the same time Elvin and Tony were dominating and determining the directions of the music of the Coltrane and Davis groups, they were also liberating the musicians in these bands to play looser and freer.

Modal Jazz [the use of scales as opposed to chords] liberated Miles from having to improvise on the dense harmonies contained in bop chord progressions and Tony Williams’ controlled chaos pushed this liberation further, rhythmically.

Coltrane expanded on the modes he was first exposed to as a member of the Miles Davis Sextet 1959 recording of Kind of Blue and further elaborated and embellished them but not before Elvin Jones loosened up the rhythm behind his modal improvisations with his triplet-based polyrhythms.

Of course, there are numerous other examples of drums as a defining characteristic in Jazz dating back to the beginning of the music in combo form just after World War I.

The entire dynamic of how drums interact in Jazz groups is a very troubling one because there’s always the danger of the instrument being underplayed or overplayed; that is the drummer can either be boring or overbearing.

Compounding the problem for today’s Jazz drummer is the issue of technique and how best to employ it.

Many drummers during the early years of the music were self-taught and they learned by ear developing enough skill to get around the instrument, keep good time and, most importantly, swing.

Limited technical skills may have been a blessing in disguise as it provided drummers with enough ability to contribute to the music without dominating it.

Of course, the Gene Krupa - Chick Webb drum battles were always crowd pleasers and the superior speed and power of Buddy Rich and Louie Bellson would shortly manifest themselves in spotlight settings with the Harry James and Duke Ellington Orchestras of the 1950s, but most Jazz drummers were either in or looking for what Mel Lewis describes in the following quotation about drummer Davy Tough’s situation:

“One thing about Dave Tough: he always was Dave Tough, just as Buddy Rich always was what he was. Tough realized we are what we are. The important thing is to be put into a musical situation where what you are can ‘happen.’ Tough found his place with Woody Herman.” 

The young drummers [Stan Levey, Roy Haynes, Denzil Best, Shelly Manne, et al] that came of age with the post World War II Bop movement were more technically inclined, heck you had to be to even play the music.

The advent of drum teachers with innovative approaches to applying drum rudiments [26 exercises designed to help develop alternating hand coordination] to the basic Jazz drum set as well as some basic instruction books on the independence necessary to employ the hands with the feet in the use of the Jazz drum kit became more readily available.

But these materials were of little use in terms of teaching drummers how to play the style of drumming that Kenny Clarke originated for Bebop. That is until the following occurred.

“What young drummers had been studying in challenging drum instruction books by Edward B. Straight and George Lawrence Stone began to make sense after we heard Max Roach. The great teachers laid out the raw materials. But we didn't know how to apply them —until we heard Max. When we got into his coordination, the way he used cymbals, the snare and bass drum, the answers to the puzzle began to fall in place.”
- Vernel Fournier

In the 1950s, Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson, Joe Morello, Philly Joe Jones, Art Blakey, Art Taylor and a host of others arrived on the scene with powerful techniques that had the ability to overwhelm the music if unleashed without restraint. 

Lighting a fire under the music is one thing; blowing it up is quite another. But the more prevalent reality was that drummers began to dominant more aspects of the music and the advent of the Elvin Jones style with Coltrane and the Tony Williams approach with Miles only served to underscore this trend.

The percussive firepower of Jazz drummers would continue to increase beyond the 1960s due to a number of factors both instructional and inspirational

Education in Jazz drumming became even more sophisticated and this combined with Rock, Latin Jazz and Jazz-Rock fusion sensibilities unleashed the phenomenal drumming abilities of Jack DeJohnette, Dennis Chambers, Billy Cobham, Steve Gadd, Dave Weckl, and Vinnie Colaiuta among others on the Jazz scene.

Striking a balance between playing drum technique and playing the drums as a part of the music became a real challenge for Jazz drummers. The former is in the service of Ego while the latter is in the service of Jazz.

Every so often a drummer with exceptional facility on the instrument who subordinates it to become a more integral part of the music comes along.

Steve Fidyk is just such a drummer.

Thanks to preview copies of his CDs Heads Up! And Allied Forces which he shared with me, I have been revelling in his skills and talents. 

It’s all here - precision, blistering speed, power -  but you hear this through drums that emphasize bouncing bebop beats, New Orleans street beats, boogie beats, rock beats, straight-ahead jazz beats, organ-tenor-guitar beats, and the like - not just the drums. He has chops to spare but Steve is all about the music

The drums, as sensitively played by Steve, take on a controlled creativity that compliments and complements the 20 tracks that make up these two recordings.

I suppose one of the biggest accolades you could offer about these recordings is that you would never know that the band on them is headed-up by a drummer. 

Steve Fidyk Heads Up! was issued on the Posi-tone label [PR 8119] in 2014 and features Steve along with Terell Stafford, trumpet, Tim Warfield, tenor sax, Shawn Purcell, guitar and Regan Brough on bassist with Steve as the composer of four of its nine tracks.

Steve represents something of an anomaly.

As a composer, Steve is dealing with melody and harmony and not just rhythm. As a result, he has a broader awareness of how all of the pieces fit into a composition and thus brings his intensity as a drummer down to allow these to be heard more clearly.

And despite chops galore, he has to underplay the drums so that they become a part of the music and not something that pushes it inexorably. 

This taste and discrimination on Steve’s part gives the music a chance to be expressed as compared to being exposed, if not, exploded by bombastic drumming.

The late Gene Lees once asked the pianist Bill Evans why Oscar Peterson didn’t incorporate his use of harmonic inner voicings into his style. Bill answered to the effect that it wouldn’t fit with what he’s doing.

The same could be said of Steve: his “controlled creativity” approach to drumming wouldn’t fit into what Elvin did with Coltrane and Tony did with Miles - controlled chaos was more to the point in those instances.

A great deal of thought has obviously gone into the choice of instrumentation on Steve’s recordings and it influences the sonority of each of the bands, considerably. For example the trumpet, tenor, guitar, bass and drums group on Heads Up! is replaced by a tenor sax, alto sax and organ front line on Steve Fidyk Allied Forces [PR 8157] the next CD by Steve with Shawn Purcell once again doing the honors on guitar.

As you would imagine, the texture or sonority between the two CDs is vastly different and Steve takes full advantage of these dissimilarities both in the style of drumming that he employs and in the six [of eleven] originals that he composed for the disc.

The organ brings out a heavier sonic footprint for the drums as does the double sax and guitar front line. Steve’s drums sound deeper and fuller in support of all the firepower generated by Doug Webb [tenor sax], Joseph Henson [alto sax], and Brian Charette on organ.

In addition to the originals, Monk’s Evidence, Charlie Parker’s Moose the Mooche, Frank Foster’s Shiny Stockings along with Julie Styne’s Make Someone Happy and these standards give the listener some familiar melodies as a frame of reference along with all the new music represented on these CDs including two fun tunes by guitarist Shawn Purcell - Doin’ The Shake and Might This Be-Bop - which show off Shawn’s versatility as a groove guitarist and a bebopper.

For great musicianship, great music and great drumming that contributes power and pulse in the finest traditions of Jazz drumming, you can’t do better than the Fidyk Force as represented on Steve Fidyk Heads Up! and Steve Fidyk Allied Forces.