Monday, August 2, 2021

The Creative World of Stan Kenton -The Rock Years - Part 7

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

Kenton 70's music had many things in common with the bands of other eras including great soloists, great section leaders and a select number of arrangers who played a key role in shaping the orchestra's identity. 

But one thing that was different about Stan’s music during this period was the infusion of Rock ‘n Rock into the band’s book of arrangements.

In this chapter from his definitive Stan Kenton: This Is An Orchestra, the erudite Kenton-scholar Michael Sparke explains how this development, or, at least an attempt to do so, came about.

Kenton Goes Rock


“Bob Curnow was 31 when he joined the Kenton organization, ten years older than his first stint with the mellophonium orchestra in 1963, but still a young man. He was certainly young enough to have been influenced by the fusion music that had actually worked both ways, with a few of the rock bands like Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears injecting a little from the jazz idiom into their arrangements. Much as Bob might have preferred to get straight into writing for the band himself, his first, full-time task was to ensure the survival of Creative World Records.

At the same time, Bob's impossible instructions from Stan were to expand the label by recording other artists, so that CW was not dependent solely upon the Kenton orchestra. But Curnow had neither the experience, nor (more importantly) the finances to groom the better pop artists who helped subsidize the jazz and classical catalogs of the major companies; and popular jazz stars were not only expensive, but generally contracted to other labels. Curnow had little option but to feature new jazz talent, but if anything sells slower than established jazz groups it is little-known names, and after some few releases by such as Les Hooper and John Von Ohlen, this part of the project was abandoned, leaving Bob free to concentrate on obtaining a "hit" record by Kenton himself.

In consultation with Curnow, Stan was persuaded this could best be achieved through "fusion," a combination of jazz that he hoped would retain the regular fans, and rock to involve the younger generation. In other words, the music was to be dumbed down. Stan had little choice if Creative World was to remain operational, but at the same time his musical instincts resisted the change, so that he was never 100% committed. To live in two musical worlds at the same time is a precarious existence, but some artists had achieved the near-impossible, Miles Davis being the prime example.

Over the summer of 1973 the character of the band changed considerably. As Stan looked to implement his new policy, he commissioned Gene Roland to come up with a rock-oriented album while retaining the Kenton sound, seemingly overlooking (or possibly forgetting) Gene's previous failure at the same task. Although he traveled with the band for three months, Roland's glory days were long behind him, and he was no more successful in 1973 than he had been in 1966. Most of Gene's output was unceremoniously dumped, and only two titles made it onto the new album now coming together. "Those Roland compositions were not up to his earlier standard," observed Bob Curnow, "and that's why you don't hear them any more." But whether "Blue Gene" and "Country Cousin" were any worse than the other titles on 7.5 on the Richter Scale is a matter of opinion. Hank Levy hit "rock" bottom with "Down and Dirty," and even Hanna's band vocal version of "It's Not Easy Bein' Green" is embarrassingly bad. The two big "hits" were both melodically dire film themes: Curnow's "Live and Let Die" and Dale Devoe's adaption of "2001" retitled "2002—Zarathustrevisited" for copyright reasons.

7.5 on the Richter Scale was produced by Bob Curnow and largely conducted by Hank Levy, with seemingly minimum Kenton participation. "The album was done in a very hurried fashion in one of Wally Heider's small studios," commented Curnow. "It was a low-budget deal, and a lot of the music had never been played before the session, and that band was not at its strongest sight-reading. The change in style arose out of the Company's poor financial state—we were looking for something that would sell."

And set amongst all this dross was a single jewel that shone like a gem, an oasis in a desert wasteland. Marty Paich's vision of "Body and Soul" was orchestrated in the same classical style as his previous "My Old Flame," an almost cruel reminder in this setting of how fine the music of Stan Kenton could sound. "A beautifully crafted work of art," opined Mike Suter. "When 100 years down the road Kenton is rediscovered, 'Body and Soul' will be the representative of the last decade. It's fitting!"

There's a wicked irony in the fact Stan had set up Creative World in order to enjoy the freedom to record the music he wanted, and now economics were forcing him to compromise just as he had at Capitol. Although Stan's lack of judgment (the sacking of Clinton Roemer in the States, and the floundering Dutch subsidiary in which he held a 51% stake) was partly to blame, the band was now very dependent on university and college bookings. Every artist likes to bask in audience approval, and the rock charts created more enthusiasm from the kids than "Body and Soul" ever did. As final proof (if any were needed) that junk always sells better than serious music, Audree Coke confirmed: "7.5 on the Richter Scale was an attempt to appeal to a younger audience, and is turning out to be the biggest seller we have ever had."

Like most of us, Stan Kenton frequently changed his mind. In 1948 he had told Down Beat that strings produced a thrilling sound, but were definitely not for his band. In 1950 he had fronted the Innovations Orchestra, featuring a full 16-piece string section. The following quotes to me are also set two years apart:

Stan Kenton, February 22, 1973: "I've always felt that jazz is jazz and rock is rock, and I never felt that we should get into playing rock music."

Stan Kenton, February 6, 1975: "Rock rhythms are more exciting than the old-fashioned jazz rhythms. Rock rhythms have become fused with jazz, they're part of today's music, and there's no going back now."

But again like most of us, Kenton sometimes said things that were expedient rather than what he really believed. So was it a case that Stan had genuinely changed his mind, or more that he was making the best of a bad job? Lillian Arganian asked Hank Levy, who had already done more than anyone to introduce rock into the band, for his opinion. "He didn't believe in it that much," said Hank.

Trombone player Howard Hedges also told the story that whenever Levy submitted a chart that had "rock feel" written on it, Stan would rehearse the music and say he liked it, but would subsequently pass. Hank discovered that if he retitled the SAME CHART and inserted "Latin feel" instead, the music would make it into the book.

Some of the young musicians naturally liked the rock influence more than others. In Peter Erskine's view, "A good number of Hank's charts did employ 'backbeats.' Hank specified 'Jazz/Rock' and we played it as such, for better or worse—but the man's writing should not be indicted. Hank Levy was a lovely gentleman, and I know that Stan cherished their musical association."

A different view of Levy's music (and much closer to my own) was offered by Mike Suter: "Hank was a wonderful man. I loved him dearly— and loved is the word I have chosen after careful consideration. He was totally committed to jazz and jazz education. But he was NOT a good composer or arranger. His gimmick was time charts. For Kenton he stuck pretty much with 5/4 and 7/4 time signatures, probably at Kenton's request. But I've played many of his more 'adventurous' pieces, and they all share the same deficiencies as those he wrote for Kenton: they're predictable, forced, harmonically weak, and unimaginative. I hate to say all this because he was such a great guy. So incredibly supportive. But he was a college-level writer at best. That Kenton recorded so much of his music reflects just how far the band had declined in those last years."

At best, Stan's commitment to rock was half-hearted. "For one thing," observes Suter, "rock is a rhythm-based music led by the guitar, and the Kenton band had only three full-time rhythm players—drums, bass, and Latin percussion—but no guitar and only an occasional piano. Therefore any true rock was impossible. Both Stan and Hank were from an older generation, and neither had any real understanding of rock. In my opinion, Bob Curnow proved best at melding rock and Kenton."

The prospect of Stan Kenton playing rock piano was as preposterous as Benny Goodman trying to switch from swing to bop 25 years earlier, so Hank Levy and Dick Shearer tried to convince Stan to hire a younger pianist who would add the textures of electronic keyboards to the band. As Mike Suter recalls, "Stan was playing less and less, so many of the jazz players were looking for more support, and Hank had a kid he was high on who played synthesizer. Hank and Dick hatched the idea that this kid should join the band and play keyboard parts—synthesized piano on traditional tunes and more modern sounds on our version of rock—when Stan chose not to play.

"According to Dick, Stan wouldn't entertain the idea. Dismissed it out of hand. The fans would never accept another piano player. Stan simply said 'No,’ and that was it. Hank kept on to Stan, but Dick dropped out after the first time Stan said 'no.' Dick recognized the tone and stopped. He knew it was pointless —and maybe even dangerous—to continue. In my view and Dick's, the idea had merit. Synthesized sounds would have helped the inadequacies of what Hank wrote and called rock, and would have aided Curnow's music the most, because Bob was the best at reshaping music from the rock idiom to fit Stan's style. I don't remember Dick mentioning whether Curnow played any part in the effort to add a keyboard player. Personally, I'd bet Bob stayed out of it—no evidence, just a gut feeling."

Curnow confirmed he had no knowledge of the move at all, adding, "I never felt the necessity for a second pianist, and even if I had felt the need for electronic keys of some kind, I would NEVER have mentioned it to Stan. One didn't 'discuss' things with Stan very often. You made your (hopefully) well-thought-out suggestion, and then waited for his decision."

So (thankfully in my opinion—and that's phrasing it mildly!), the Kenton band never became a rock band, though it went far enough to alienate some older fans, but not far enough to really enthuse the rock generation. At concerts, the contemporary music like "2002" and "Live and Let Die" was interspersed with more traditional Kenton music, resulting in the very real danger that in trying to please everyone, you end up fully pleasing no one. Stan returned for an extensive tour of Europe in September 1973, its relative failure (especially in Germany) being attributed to "over-exposure"—this was the second visit to England in the same year—rather than a failure to connect with its core audience.

As often happened after an overseas tour, personnel changes took place once the band returned Stateside, among them John Park, who was forced to leave following a heart attack on October 10, soon followed by saxists Kim Park (John's step-son) and Mary Fettig, who had formed a relationship that allegedly resulted in pregnancy. Also given notice was Dale Devoe (trombone), whom Stan appreciated more for his writing than his playing. "2002" had been a sizable hit for the band, though it was the bossa nova-ish "Love Theme from The Godfather" that was the more musically attractive. Dale was a youngster just getting started, and probably wasn't best pleased that Stan had considerably simplified his arrangement when recording the 7.5 album, so that it emerges as effective but over-bland. Much more cutting-edge Kenton was Dale's "El Cordobes" (named after the Spanish bull-fighter) which Stan never saw fit to record. But Dale's biggest hit was "Roy's Blues" for Roy Reynolds, which remained in the book to the end. From Devoe's own account in Steven Harris' invaluable book The Kenton Kronicles, Dale's stay in the band was short but not always sweet, and he perhaps fits Bill Fritz' comment as well as any, that "The tragedy lies in the minds of those who join the band with great expectations, and end up dwelling on what might have been."

From producing one of CW's top sellers, Bob Curnow moved to one of its weakest: Solo—Stan Kenton without His Orchestra. Even the ever-prudent Audree Coke admitted, "The Solo album is selling rather slowly." The truth was, the fans had always adored Stan despite, rather than because of, his instrumental abilities, because as a jazz pianist Kenton didn't even reach the starting gate. There were literally hundreds of piano players in the business with more jazz feeling and rhythmic sense than Kenton brought to the keyboard.

By the Seventies, as his fingers stiffened, Stan was featuring his "concerto" piano style most extensively. Arrangers found their charts were more likely to be accepted if they included a piano solo, often as an introduction to the piece. Audiences appreciated this "hors d'oeuvre," an appetizer, knowing that the orchestra would soon come roaring in, and Kenton basked in this warm glow of affection. But remove the "main course"—the band—and an audience would soon have grown restless. Stan Kenton and his orchestra could fill New York's Carnegie or London's Festival halls. But be honest, how many "bums on seats" would a Stan Kenton Piano Recital have filled?

There had been suggestions for a Kenton piano album for many years, but Stan had always deferred, perhaps sensing it wasn't his greatest strength, and also because he invariably tensed up and became very apprehensive when recording solos. By all accounts Kenton suffered agonies during the sessions, and a hilarious compilation of out-takes that includes Stan's many expletives is a mind-boggling prize among serious collectors. Bob Curnow relates: "I remember when we first went to record at United and Western, the studio was in darkness, but a light from the control room was focused on this nine-foot grand—this big, black, Baldwin piano—and as Stan saw it he said, 'I feel like El Cordobes walking into the ring, and that's the bull!' And it was quite an experience, a real eye-opener. Some things Stan played beautifully, and some things he played terribly. A lot of times he didn't even remember his own compositions, and I had to go out and find the sheet music for things like 'Theme to the West.'"

For Kenton to record an entire album without even rhythm support was certainly a brave—some might say foolhardy—venture on his part. There's very little "jazz" on the completed album, and even then you are by no means hearing the music as Stan played it, as Curnow explains: "It was very hard. We recorded something like 11 hours of music, and then I took the tapes and edited those 11 hours down to 42 minutes. Every note on the album is Stan's, but it's a real patchwork quilt of many takes over many days on quite a few of the cuts. My memory tells me there were well over 150 intercuts and edits in the final album. I worked on it for an entire month before going back into the studio to put together the master. What a labor of love, with an emphasis on the LABOR part!"

The best summary of Solo that I have seen comes from Ed Bride on Kentonia: "To me, the Kenton solo album is more of a personal statement than great jazz piano-playing. You hear melodies of compositions that were played by the big band, and you get to think about what might be going on in his mind. He's talking to us. It's more personal than musical, at least to me."

The next musician to cause the greatest stir after John Park was also an alto sax player. Tony Campise joined in March 1974, the most "avant-garde" soloist the band had ever featured (and that includes Jay Daversa), giving rise to strong pro and anti opinions both inside and outside the orchestra. Kenton allowed Campise complete freedom of expression, and featured him at concerts on such disparate titles as "Inner Crisis" and "Street of Dreams" (from rock to ballad). I asked Stan how he found Tony compared with Park: "Campise's an exhibitionist and Park isn't. Campise has such tremendous technique he can't help but use it, and sometimes he plays too much. He'd take a lot of wild chances and scare guys to death, the things he'd get going on that horn. But he didn't play with the taste that Park played with."

Dick Shearer continues, "Campise probably knew more about saxophone than anyone I've ever heard in my life. Technically he knew how to do everything, and he could change styles: if he wanted to sound like Johnny Hodges or Lee Konitz or whoever, he could do that very easily. There were times when he'd be playing he'd do something like that just for the fun of it. Every time he played you didn't know what was going to happen. Tony had no inhibitions, whatever he felt, whatever he wanted to do, he did it. His lead playing was always fine, but I'm less sure whether his solos always fitted the style of the band.

"Tony was popular with the public, and sometimes he'd get these ethnic-type things going, where he'd talk like a Japanese, or he'd do his Mexican imitation. And he could literally talk backwards. He could speak what sounded like nonsense into a tape recorder, and when you played it the other way it came out as, 'Yes, my name is Tony Campise.' Tony's the type of person who could hear a language once or twice, and have the pronunciation down, whether or not he understood what was said."

Despite Campise's strong personality, Mike Suter insists this was the "John Harner band." John played lead trumpet through 1974-75, and according to Suter: "Brought phrasing and dynamics back to Stan's music. John willed the band to excellence and personally burnished the rough edges. I wish I knew how he did what he did, but I don't have a clue. He would decide to make a change, and somehow through his sound we were aware that a change was coming, and be ready. I'm afraid Stan's ambiguity towards John prevented him from recognizing his talent until it was too late. Great lead players only come along a few times, and Stanley blew it."

Following a successful if less than overwhelming tour of Japan in April, the band plunged into a brace of new scores written by Bob Curnow, a very diverse talent whose skills ranged from the traditional Anthems music to the fusion charts he saw as the best way for Stan to make contact with the younger generation. Bob's original concept had been an album featuring the music of Chicago, and another from Blood, Sweat and Tears, but Stan was never fully convinced. While he could endorse translating classical composers like Wagner into the Kenton idiom with composure, rock groups carried a certain stigma that he found impossible to overcome. Kenton ended up advising Bob to use some music by both groups on a single LP, and even that should be filled out with some original Curnow compositions. One senses Stan's lack of conviction from his comment (displaying more optimism than realism), "We used music made popular by Chicago because we felt it would call attention to the band and gain a lot of the younger listeners—and we've begun to believe now that we didn't have to do it, because the kids are coming to us in droves anyway."

Even post-Kenton with his interest in Pat Metheny's music, Curnow never wrote pure rock; at most his music might be described as "fusion," and the centerpiece of the Chicago album ("Chicago Suite III") veers towards jazz. As Mike Suter phrased it, "Bob was the best at melding rock and Kenton. He squeezed the music into the Kenton mold, writing great arrangements, let's say 85% Kenton and 15% rock, that worked. At the same time, the music itself, regardless of the arrangements, doesn't have the 'drama' that a Kenton piece should have." While I might quarrel slightly with Mike's percentages, he is right that the music isn't really strong enough to support Bob's imaginative arrangements, so that a sense of total fulfillment is lacking. Music from rock groups might be a workable basis to sell records, but it was never going to replicate the great Kenton achievements of the past. And the Chicago music had the disadvantage of seldom being played in public, according to Curnow because, " 'Chicago III Suite' was a very complicated piece of music. They played it for just a few months after the recording, and then stopped because Stan would get lost, and it'd get all screwed up. Stan was aware he wasn't as sharp any longer, and he couldn't do it justice. And that's why in the Seventies he allowed the arrangers to conduct their own things on the recording sessions whenever possible."

Kenton's deterioration since his operations was highlighted by Mike Suter: "The Stan Kenton I knew in 1974 was very different from the man I knew in 1963. His health problems had taken a huge toll. He still loved being a bandleader, standing in front of his brainchild. He still loved the Clinics, which to him wasn't just a way to rake in a few extra bucks—his belief and leadership in jazz education was for real. He even still loved the road. But he no longer had the drive, the energy, to be the front-running innovator he once was. He no longer drove the band as in earlier years; now the band drove him."

More to the taste of Kenton traditionalists (and possibly Stan himself) were the two Curnow original compositions, which showed no trace of rock influences. "First Child" is a sombre, sololess work, dedicated, Bob said, to his first-born son, replete with all the majesty one associates with Kenton music. "Rise and Fall of a Short Fugue" is more experimental, with weird Campise flute, written, Bob said, because "Stan wanted something which he could play every night and conduct differently. Originally the piece was constructed in such a way that there were different directions to work through, so that Stan could change tempos, appoint different soloists, and bring out the backgrounds behind the soloists at his bidding. That piece could comfortably go ten or twelve minutes, and be pretty interesting." But this recording is over all too quickly in just four, and the basic concept worked no better than it had with Russo's "Improvisation," resulting in the title soon being dropped from the repertoire.

Much was clearly expected from Curnow, as illustrated by these quotes to me:

Stan Kenton: "Bob Curnow is basically a brilliant composer and conductor, and he shouldn't be wasted running Creative World—he's got too much to say." (February 6, 1975)

Dick Shearer: "He's my brother! I think Bob is the new Johnny 

Richards—he's marvelous!" (February 18, 1975)

Audree Coke: "Bob is remarkable. He is talented, intelligent and totally creative, and he writes specifically and correctly for the Kenton band. Bob is the logical successor to Pete Rugolo." (February 19, 1975)

I asked Curnow why it didn't happen, and his simple explanation was that Stan eventually found him most indispensable running Creative World successfully, and there was no time to write as well, so the Chicago album was Bob's swan-song. (Two further titles were recorded in 1975, but left on the shelf.) Stan returned to relying on his two reliables Levy and Hanna (especially Hank) and a sprinkling of other writers, but never found anyone to replace Maiden. Fusion was lost in the shuffle, but Stan had no great ideas to replace it with, so that the band lacked a clear direction. It's a real potpourri on Fire, Fury and Fun, a pretty meaningless album title itself, and since Curnow's idea was to fashion an LP featuring the band's soloists, something drawing attention to that concept might have been more explanatory.

Stan's thematic piano is prominent (though not really a headlined soloist) on Levy's "Quiet Friday" (not so hushed during its rockier moments) and Hanna's "Montage." I appreciate Hanna's ballads are not universally regarded with the same admiration I have for them, but "Montage" is one of Ken's finest achievements, a dark, brooding work with a powerful theme that builds to a dramatic orchestral climax. Conducted by Curnow in Hanna's absence, the initial arrangement has been considerably simplified for recording purposes, yet still presented problems on the date. The recording log shows it took 14 takes to perfect "Montage," and Stan became tetchy, afraid the session would run into overtime he couldn't afford. During a break, Shearer gave Suter the nod to switch from tuba to bass trombone, because (said Mike), "The tuba part was just impossible, but in the end we never played 'Montage' again as good as we got it on the record." And they never went back to playing the original, superior orchestration again either!

The remaining pieces are more legitimately solo features, the "fun" presumably intended to come from Tony Campise's voice and flute on "Hogfat Blues," if you find pig-like noises masquerading as music amusing. A much more musical score comes from veteran arranger Chico O'Farrill for the conga drums of Ramon Lopez. Ramon told me he chose Chico based on his previous writing for Stan and Machito, and that he specified the congas should melt in and out of the music, rather than just being percussive. Chico slows the tempo mid-piece for a short piano spot which cleverly leads into the closing section, and as Lopez notes, "We made only two takes, and the band played so great we left it at that. Stan didn't like the original title 'Hit and Rum' [Ramon's favorite tipple], and elected to put my name on it instead."

The album's big hit was "Roy's Blues," which according to composer Dale Devoe experienced changes to its structure along the way. A basic blues chart of no great melodic worth, it was one of the few Seventies titles to really take the public fancy. Reynolds started out on baritone sax as heard here, the tone of which I preferred to the tenor he adopted in January 1975. Both Reynolds and the band soon grew tired with the monotony of the piece, and Suter relates, "We tried Roy on a lot of other charts, but none were as effective. Roy played 'Yesterdays' a few times, and it was beautiful. But the audiences didn't want to be touched, they wanted to be thrilled. The band was still playing it in '78, and the crowds still ate it up. It got one of the biggest reactions every night."

Peter Erskine certainly displays a great deal of "fire" on "Pete Is a Four-Letter Word." The piece is orchestrally structured, and is certainly not an endless drum solo, though whether Levy's score is better musically than Rugolo's for Shelly Manne almost 30 years earlier is a matter of opinion. "I think the feature was Stan's idea," said Erskine, "but I had no input into the chart's design or form, and it wasn't an easy tune to play—a bit 'left-handed' rhythmically. Typical procedure for the band at that time was to play a piece a couple of times (at most) in concert before the recording session, then go into the studio and scramble like crazy to get a decent take for the album, and then begin playing it nightly until the album came out."

Under these conditions, considering the inexperience of most of the band and Stan's loss of vigor since his illnesses, it's not surprising producer Bob Curnow worked under pressure. In a comment that showed how much Stan's attitude had changed since earlier times, Bob explained: "The Creative World albums were hard, especially in the post-production stage, because I had to go in and mix-out all the clams, and some of the solos were troublesome. More time should have been put into the recordings, and Fire, Fury and Fun was done in just two days: the band was in and out of the studio because they left Chicago after that real fast. Stan really left everything in my hands. He rarely expressed any interest in anything like the art-work or liner notes. On the sessions he rarely interfered or said anything. He'd leave it to me to decide whether we needed another take, and I always pushed for one more. I wanted that extra something that wasn't there yet, and that nearly always turned out for the best."

This look at Kenton’s music is to be continued and concluded in Part 8.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Ted Gioia on Revising His "The History of Jazz"

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

Ted Gioia's The History of Jazz has been universally hailed as the most comprehensive and accessible history of the genre of all time. Acclaimed by jazz critics and fans alike, this magnificent work is now available in an up-to-date third edition that covers the latest developments in the jazz world and revisits virtually every aspect of the music.

Gioia's story of jazz brilliantly portrays the most legendary jazz players, the breakthrough styles, and the scenes in which they evolved. From Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club, Miles Davis's legendary 1955 performance at the Newport Jazz Festival, and Ornette Coleman's

experiments with atonality to current innovators such as Kamasi Washington and Esperanza Spalding, Gioia takes readers on a sweeping journey through the history of jazz. As he traces the music through the swamplands of the Mississippi Delta, the red light district of New Orleans, the rent parties of Harlem, the speakeasies of Chicago, and other key locales of jazz history, Gioia also makes the social contexts in which the music was born come alive.

This new edition finally brings the often overlooked women who shaped the genre into the spotlight and traces the recent developments that have led to an upswing of jazz in contemporary mainstream culture. As it chronicles jazz from its beginnings and most iconic figures to its latest dialogues with

popular music, the developments of the digital age, and new commercial successes, Gioia's History of Jazz reasserts its status as the most authoritative survey of this fascinating music.

The following interview with Ted was conducted by Natalie Weiner, NPR Music on July 15, 2021 for the station’s “Fresh Air” series and can be accessed on its site via this link.

Ted Gioia also has his own website which you can visit by going here.

It’s hard to imagine the Jazz World without the many books that Ted has written on the subject. His insights, commentaries, and well-founded opinions enrich any Jazz fan’s appreciation of the subject.

© Copyright ® Natalie Weiner/NPR, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“For most contemporary music consumers, listening to jazz is a historical exercise. Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue is, at the time of writing, still No. 3 on Billboard's Jazz Albums chart 61 years after it was released, much to the chagrin of the artists making music in the same tradition today.

Ted Gioia, whose third edition of The History of Jazz was released in March, won't tell you to avoid Kind Of Blue. The esteemed music writer and historian has as much reverence for the classics as anyone, as is evidenced by the effusive, electric way he writes about them: "Is it going too far to see this Davis unit as the most impressive working combo in the history of modern jazz?" Gioia writes of Kind Of Blue's sextet, before a detailed description of each player's contributions.

But Gioia won't let you stop with jazz's highlight reel, captivating as it might be. His own version can be found in the 15 pages of recommended tracks at the back of the book, updated with this latest edition to reflect the past decade in jazz. Insisting on jazz's current vibrancy was one of the primary reasons Gioia wanted to revisit the book, originally published in 1997 and last revised in 2011. "I've always felt that the best way to look at music history is in the way that embraces its vibrancy and accordance for people living right now," he says.

The History of Jazz is an ambitious survey of the genre that was almost immediately recognized by critics from Terry Teachout to Greg Tate as among the most authoritative and thorough books of its kind. Since it was first published, Gioia's History has sold more than 100,000 copies to an audience that ranges from jazz history students to newcomers to the genre to aficionados; as a result, his impact on shaping jazz's narrative and canon can't be overstated.

Gioia spoke with NPR about what he's learned about jazz in the 24 years since he first published his exhaustive history, what's surprised him about the music's development, and what he thinks will never change.

Natalie Weiner, NPR Music: What is your process for writing a book like The History of Jazz?

Ted Gioia: The first rule I have is: you must control the narrative or it will control you. Before I write anything in a historical survey, I have to have a crystal clear idea in my head of what the structure is and where all the pieces are going to fit. If you start with just the empirical evidence, you'll never get from there to the finished book. I had to start with big picture questions: What is this music all about? What have been the profound changes in it? How has it impacted people's lives, and society and culture? When I start with the big questions, then I can structure it and bring in all those characters and songs. But that structure should be hidden from the reader. It should feel natural and obvious.

How do you start revising a book that covers such a vast topic? Did you have a specific idea of what you were going to add, or were you planning broader edits?

Whenever I do a revised edition, I go through the whole book and say, "Can I make this sentence better? Do we know more facts about this subject?" 

But a number of things were happening in the jazz world that really needed to be added. All of them were in embryonic form in earlier editions, but they're clearly more important now.

First of all, the expansion of jazz globally. It's always been the case to some degree, but right now the vibrancy and excitement of jazz scenes all around the world is remarkable. They've become very self-sufficient. I have some experience with England, for example, because I lived there for two years when I was younger, so I know what jazz musicians in England are like — or at least, I thought I did. When I was living in England, the jazz musicians were always very focused on what was happening in America. When I talk to jazz musicians in England now, they're so focused on the excitement of their local scene that they don't even need to worry about what's happening in New York.

Also, the growing role of women in jazz is one of the most significant trends we're seeing. It's a dramatic change from when I was coming up, and this requires me to not only pay attention to what's happening right now with women in jazz, but to look back at the history of the music and see what the antecedents were that prepared us for this shift. I had to make changes [to that effect] at several junctures in the book.

I saw a third trend that I thought was absolutely critical: Jazz seems to be returning to a dialogue with popular culture, to a degree that I had hardly believed possible when I wrote the previous edition of the History of Jazz. Look at all the popular musicians who have embraced jazz: David Bowie, Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar. Everywhere you look in the popular music scene, there's this dialogue, and to me that's tremendously exciting. Some of it might seem superficial, like with these Hollywood movies about jazz. I know jazz people make fun of Whiplash and La La Land, but with the Miles Davis movie, the Chet Baker movie, the Ma Rainey movie, Soul — everywhere you look in pop culture, jazz is used as a touchstone for excellence. We, as jazz musicians and jazz people, should be proud of that.

With jazz's re-engagement with popular culture, are there any noxious narratives about the music that you see being perpetuated?

Probably the thing that irritated me most was this idea that jazz was dead. But actually, as I dig into the music day after day and week after week, I see the exact opposite. My sense is that things are changing and evolving, and that there are new artists and things happening all the time. In revising a history of jazz, I want to do justice to that. The funny thing is, as I was working on the revised edition, more and more people started seeing this. All of a sudden, the same magazine that had written an article called "Jazz Is Dead" five years ago now comes with an article saying, "Jazz Is Coming Back."

I also wanted to deal with a myth about jazz that I've heard often. There's a view that the new generation of jazz musicians are all cold and lifeless — students who have learned to play jazz in a college classroom, and because they didn't pay their dues the way the old-timers did, their music falls short in some undefinable way. I don't think that's fair. The more I looked into this, the more it became clear to me that jazz musicians are getting jobs at universities and grants, but that's not changing how they play at all. They've adapted very little to the bureaucracy and strictures of academia and institutionalization, and they deserve credit for this.

In many ways, I think classical music is loosening up because of the entry of jazz into these institutions — the rest of the music ecosystem is adapting to jazz, the same way these pop stars are adapting to jazz. Jazz is a catalyst; it's a change agent.

There was a part about that in the book that I was surprised hadn't really changed from the first edition. You addressed that concern about conservatories, and even the risks that come from trying to document a history: "The only danger, and a very real one, is that our respect for the past comes to blind us to the demands of the future ... all agendas become suspect, and even the concept of a history of the music, with the sort of stately chronological unfolding that we associate with such narratives, is not beyond debate." How do those sorts of ideas inform your approach to creating a history like this one?

As a historian of jazz, it's tempting to buy into this model of the music progressing in an eternal Hegelian motion towards progress and greater and greater things. It's an easy way to write a book on the history of music, to say, "Each generation takes what the previous generation did and pushes it two steps forward." But that narrative doesn't do justice to the real life activities of jazz musicians. Jazz music is messy; the trends are complex and often go back and forth in surprising ways. Even in the midst of writing a history of jazz, I wanted to make sure people knew that fitting this thing into a historical progression could mislead them.

It also could have a negative effect on the music. If I form a student jazz band, and I view our job as to play the masterpieces of the past, I will teach those musicians in a very different way than if I believe I am teaching them to play music of the present moment.

That kind of begs the question of how you think the institutionalization of jazz — epitomized in some ways by how Wynton Marsalis has developed Jazz At Lincoln Center — and some of those institutions' insistence on the creation of a canon has impacted the music.

I view myself as a defender of Wynton Marsalis. He's attacked a lot, but often he's attacked for things that are beyond his control. He arrived on the scene at a moment when the jazz world wanted to dig into its history, wanted institutional support, wanted respect. He helped us do that. He deserves praise for that. On the other hand, if the only role of an institution in jazz is a historical one, turning it into a museum piece would do more harm than good. I tend to think that Wynton understands these tradeoffs, and that overall his impact is mostly positive on the art form.

The worst thing that could happen is for jazz to end up like the symphony orchestra, where you go to a concert and almost everything they play is 100 years old. I view it as part of my mission to deal with the history of the music in a way that prevents that from happening. My respect for the history must always be tempered with an understanding of how we use these songs and sounds to revitalize the music ecosystem we currently live in.

Returning to your point about the expanding role of women in jazz, as you went through your revision, was there a little bit of realizing, "Hey, maybe I missed something here"?

To some degree, I was sensitive to this issue even in the early stages of writing the book in the 1990s. But clearly, there was a need to dig deeper and to broaden what I did both for historical accuracy and also to understand the traditions and experiences that set a platform for what women are doing in the current day in jazz. To give one example, in the previous editions of the book I talk about John Coltrane but I don't talk about Alice Coltrane. In this edition, I was given the opportunity to do that. Part of the validation for this is that Alice Coltrane is having an influence now to a degree she didn't have 20 years ago. Part of it is Ted's getting wiser about how to write the history of the music, but the needs of the present day also change how we look at the past.

Is there anything that you cut?

There's very little that I cut — occasionally I would read a sentence I didn't like. It's rare for me to remove somebody from the history of the music. Mostly, I'm trying to expand my coverage rather than narrow it. That said, if the book becomes too bulky, it's no longer readable. If I ever do a fourth edition, I might set myself a rule not to expand it any longer. I don't want this to be a reference book that people just put on the shelf, I want them to be able to read it from cover to cover.

I mean, it took me a while to read it, but it was really easy to read — I was surprised by that.

The biggest challenge in writing a book of this sort is taking a complex historical situation involving thousands of musicians and recordings, and having it read smoothly like a story. My goal has always been to achieve that. Anything I can do to make the experience of jazz and music in general fun and exciting is a high priority for me. That may seem frivolous to some people, for a music historian. But to me, it should always be part of the equation.

As I get older, my attitude towards music and my vocation as a music writer has gotten stranger. I've become more mystical, more spiritual, more metaphysical. This presents a challenge to me, because I want to be a thorough, scholarly writer. I'm constantly battling with my instinctive feel that the music is magical, and needing to present this in a way that's analytical and suitable for a university press. Much of the battle in my advanced years is to rein in my own mystical tendencies and anchor myself in empirical reality. But still, anyone who reads my books will understand that for me, music is a strange and wonderful experience.

One of the most important things I did in my life was writing a book called Healing Songs, where I looked at whether music can enhance our health and well-being. I started that book with no predetermined notion of whether that was true, and the more I researched it the more I found that music is capable of doing things beyond our ability to explain them; as a music writer, that's sobering — but it needs to inform my practice.

The only time that I felt a little befuddled as I was reading was when I came to where it seemed jazz-funk and jazz-R&B fusion would fit. How do you go about determining what to include and exclude?

That's a fair criticism. Most of my books have been broad surveys. Every time, I realize that some people are going to get a whole section or chapter, some people are going to get just a paragraph, some in a sentence or part of a sentence, and some will be eliminated entirely from the narrative. I take that responsibility seriously, and work hard to do what is fair. But I can't promise that what I do is flawless, or that other people wouldn't have different priorities. When people come to me and say, "You left out such-and-such artist," I usually just nod my head, because I know more than anyone what I've left out.

Now, probably more than in 1997 when the first edition was published, it feels like the word "jazz" is increasingly fraught. As you were revising this, did you have any reservations about continuing to use it? Is it still a useful term?

I know people who dislike the word jazz because they feel it casts a negative light on the music. Frankly, I'm mystified. Even at the start, the word "jazz" was applied to the music with a positive intention. The first uses of the word jazz, more than 100 years ago, were in the context of describing something exciting, different, out of the norm, invigorating, exhilarating ... and people used it to describe the things in their life that were most transformative. It made sense to apply it to this music. I don't believe it's ever been applied negatively, and to those who want to abandon it, I caution them that it will be taken up by other people who will not respect it the way we do.

To that point, though, do you think there's a way in which the term has become so broad — even within the expansion of the music, and how it describes so many different sounds — that it becomes meaningless?

It's always hard describing things that are vibrant, alive and evolving. Something that's dead and never changes is easy to define. The fact that it's hard to define jazz and people will debate its meaning is a positive thing. 

The London scene has music that some might argue isn't jazz — but the fact that that argument is taking place is the healthiest thing you can imagine. Same thing in the 1940s when people were saying Charlie Parker wasn't jazz. That was great for the music. The day may come when people no longer argue about jazz and they're all in agreement; I fear that day, because it will mean that we're a fossil.

Do you feel like there's been a substantive shift in the way you look at documenting history, in your approach, since you published the first edition?

Absolutely. My process as a historian has changed dramatically since the '90s. I'm more interested now in how music changes the life of the listener than I was before. Previously, I had been fascinated with the performer. Nowadays I'm very concerned with what music is like for a listener or student or community or other stakeholders. My writing style has changed, and I'd like to think it has gotten freer and fresher. It's still going to be more of a historical survey than Ted Tellin' Tales, but my whole approach to writing about music has become livelier. Finally, my faith in music as a source of enchantment and catalyst for change in human life has grown dramatically since I did that first edition. That informs everything I do.

If I could truly understand what created something as amazing as Kind of Blue, or Louis Armstrong's Hot Fives, or made Buddy Bolden decide to start playing jazz, if I could really get to the heart of that and put it in a bottle, people would want to buy that right now. If instead I can make my history book that bottle, that would be my dream.”

Natalie Weiner is a freelance writer living in Dallas. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Billboard and Pitchfork.

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Friday, July 30, 2021

Gerry Mulligan's Bari Sax Setup - From Reed to Wireless Mic by Ed Enright

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

Jazz fans usually don’t give the actual instruments that Jazz musicians play much thought.

They are more interested in what comes out of the horn than the horn itself.

But for the player, the mechanics of the instrument are an entirely different matter as can be seen in this article by Ed Enright concerning Gerry Mulligan’s gear which appeared in the December 1992 edition of Down Beat.

It’s a brief but fascinating look at the many considerations required to play an instrument or instruments effectively in a variety of settings as well as what goes into optimizing their performance.

“A traditionalist will tell you that the only good jazz is acoustic jazz. But even a purist like baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, who's always been a stickler for working with acoustic instruments, isn't totally adverse to electronics.

Mulligan mixes a little bit of the new with the old—a subtle twist of technology that's hardly noticeable to even the most discriminating ear. Listening to his recent recordings and seeing him play live today, you'll hear that same cool, earthy "Mulligan" sound: a perfect balance of horn, mouthpiece, reed, and player.

Mulligan's sax itself is a gold-plated Conn professional model, serial number M189588, made in 1926. Back then, Conn saxes featured extruded tone holes with a rolled lip, which Mulligan says "makes the pads seat really well."

Rolled tone holes offer two advantages according to Joe Sax of Joe Sax Woodwinds in Dumont, N.J., who services Mulligan's horns. "The soft, rolled edge is more gentle to the pad, and it makes the tone hole stronger and resistant to bending or nicking when the repairman uses tools to manipulate the pads," he explains.

Sax has articulated Mulligan's G-sharp key, causing it to activate automatically when Mulligan presses the low C-sharp, B-natural, or B-flat key with his left pinky finger. It's a common feature on modern saxes that facilitates tough interval jumps involving the left pinky.

Sax has also taken the thumb rests off the horn, simply because Mulligan doesn't like them.

Mulligan's second horn is a silver-plated Conn baritone sax, serial number 226986, made in 1929. It produces a dark tone that Mulligan feels is great for recording in the studio. "It's a pretty-sounding horn, but I don't like it for the theater because it doesn't project," he says.

Mulligan's Gale mouthpiece plays an equally important role in sound projection—so important that he considered retiring when he broke it once and couldn't find a replacement. His career was saved by Vandoren product specialist Jean-Paul Gauvin, who was able to repair the mouthpiece's broken tip seamlessly. The mouthpiece appears to have been customized under a previous owner. "That's why I never could replace it," Mulligan explains.

He acquired the Gale in the early '50s while looking for a mouthpiece "that I could get control and volume with and be able to project. Most baritone mouthpieces, I could never find any that would project worth a damn. This does."

Mulligan's quest for the perfect mouthpiece was inspired by an experience playing in a group with Charlie Parker at the Apollo Theater. "Bird would go out front and play a solo, and I got this impression that the sound was going out into the theater and I could hear it hitting and bouncing off the back wall. And I said, Aha! That's how it's done.' At the same time he was playing loud enough to fill the place, but the sound was beautiful; it wasn't harsh."

The Gale also made it possible for Mulligan to play with an attack he couldn't get on other mouthpieces. "I want a note that comes out immediately, and this does it," he says.

When it comes to reeds, Mulligan uses Vandoren mediums or medium-hards. "It's not a wide-open mouthpiece, so I can use a stiff enough reed to get a solid sound out of it. If you use a soft reed on baritone, it buzzes all over the place, and I try to eliminate as much of the buzz as possible."

Reed longevity is one of Mulligan's fortes, and he takes it to the extreme: He once played the same tortured reed for a year. Mulligan maintains a reed by cleaning it after playing and putting it back on the mouthpiece so it dries in the proper shape.

While Mulligan's art is shaped purely by what comes out of his horn, a little technology goes a long way in communicating it to others. You won't catch Mulligan with his foot in the bell trying to reach low A, for instance. Not only does he accept the baritone's natural range limitations (B-flat on the low end), but the bell is already occupied by a clip-on wireless microphone.

The wireless system consists of a small mic mounted onto the horn's bell, a transmitter attached to Mulligan's belt, and a receiver that plugs into the sound board. It was designed by the same technician who did Miles Davis' setup—Ron Lorman, president of Hartke Systems.

In 1985, Lorman custom-designed Miles' system with a special preamp to handle horn levels. "Nobody was making anything for horns at that time, so I tried out the Samson CT-2 wireless transmitter with the Ramsa WM-S2 [electric-style] microphone," Lorman explains. 'And then, in turn, Miles started opening his big yap and we'd get calls from Dizzy Gillespie and Mulligan. So we started putting together a package for these people.’

As in most live situations, Mulligan used the wireless system at Chicago's Ravinia festival during the premier performance of Re-Birth Of The Cool this summer. During the project's preparation stages, another of Mulligan's toys came in handy: the Synclavier digital workstation. After acquiring less-than-perfect transcriptions of songs from the original, sonically crowded Birth Of The Cool recordings, Mulligan had a computer copyist feed the charts into the Synclavier's note-processing software. Then, it was ready for editing.

"We had to make changes in order to try to determine what was there. [The transcribers] were able to get pretty close on a number of things; and then the other things we had to go back over and rework and try to remember what was done originally. All of that music was lost."”                            DB