Wednesday, December 8, 2021

"Branford Marsalis: Waltzing with the Devil" by Mike Zwerin

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

The late Paris-based jazz musician and International Herald Tribune writer Mike Zwerin posted a 41-week series entitled Sons of Miles to Culturekiosque Jazznet. In this series, Zwerin looks back at Miles Davis and the leading jazz musicians he influenced in a series of interviews and personal reminiscences. Here is the Branford Marsalis piece in that series. It was published on August 13, 1998 so add 20+ years to any math in the article.

“The "Tonight" show bandleader Branford Marsalis, whose smiling face, as he once wryly put it, played Rochester to Jay Leno's Jack Benny five nights a week for four and a half million American couch potatoes for two and a half years, is no longer a small-screen staple.

Meet Buckshot LeFonque.

The name is taken from a pseudonym Cannonball Adderley used while moonlighting pop and R&B records in the '50s. Branford/Buckshot was passing through Europe on his way to Capetown doing promo and showcases. His manager asked me to make it clear to the readers that Branford (the first name used all alone distinguishes him from his distinguished brother Wynton; mother and father Marsalis certainly had a flare for names) had not, contrary to general opinion, move into a significantly higher tax bracket when he joined Leno's "Tonight" show. And he was not exactly left wanting leaving it.

Financially, he does very well indeed, thank you very much. The drama of Branford's last decade had been the flirtation of a talented and dedicated but volatile musician with pop-star prostitution while, he said, "the defense mechanism was screaming WARNING, DANGER. He likes waltzing with the devil and he knows how to lead.

He was Sting's soloist and musical director for three years. "The Music tells You," a D. A. Pennebaker documentary film, features Branford running between heavy-duty engagements and includes appearances by Sting, Bruce Hornsby and Jerry Garcia. He played Wesley Snipes's saxophone on the soundtrack of Spike Lee's "Mo' Better Blues,'' ditto for Sean Connery in "The Russia House."

All the while, he led his own quartet, which he described as "the best jazz band in the world. For one brief moment we were the best at what we did. Not many people can say that. I'll carry that for the rest of my life." Along the line he won a few Grammys.

It all started when a "Tonight" show producer called him at 11 one morning asking for a short composition to accompany a skit by two. "Are you joking?" Branford replied. "No way. Music isn't like a punch line." Then he thought for a minute. What the hell: "I'll have it ready by 3."

A major chord at the top. A triangle. A majestic trumpet flourish with trombones in counterpoint. Program the horns on a computer, tympani on a sampler. Hook it all up to a MP-C60 sequencer. He delivered it at 3:30. That was a good day in the gilded cage. He loves rising to occasions, like when they had to nail some klezmer music on a first take. He's at his best under pressure. Unfortunately it was rarely like that with Leno.

Television producers think they are working in the most creative and pervasive medium of them all. If you're on this show, they told Branford, you're going to sell a zillion records. He learned it doesn't work like that. Television watchers don't buy records. They're watching, they don't have time to listen. You can't do both at the same time.

The album "Buckshot LeFonque" (Columbia) bombed when it was released. If you believed the producers, after all that television exposure it should have shot right up the charts. Branford describes it as "experimental pop." It includes an Elton John clip, Gang Starr's DJ Premier rapping, Jamaican house music, a guitar solo by Albert Collins and an Elvin Jones drum sample. He places it "a little over to the left but not far out enough so that people who spend all their time liking stuff nobody else likes are going to rush over and embrace me."

He never considered the "Tonight" show a substitute for music. It would be another stop, a stage, like with Sting. Everyone had told him not to go and play rock with Sting - his father, the pianist and teacher Ellis, his brother, the cats. Everyone. Yet it had been a positive stepping-stone in his career, and the strong survive. Every project is a launching pad to the next level. "Sorry to say," he smiled ruefully, "it seems that even my marriage was like some other kind of stop" (he had been recently divorced).

As far as the musical skill level was concerned, he figures he could have played the "Tonight" show when he was a high school junior. One of the guys in Doc Severinsen's band, which he replaced, told him: "You're going to love this job. You can play golf all day."

If you play golf all day and milk the cash cow in the evening when are you going to play music? Musicians play music, he's a musician. Branford set goals for himself. He recorded John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme," performed a Fantasia by Heitor Villa-Lobos with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. He tried to practice two hours a day. He hates practicing, but he does not enjoy sounding bad in public either.

The "Tonight" show producers' promises of "artistic freedom" faded with the ratings. (A lot of people did not think Jay Leno is a funny man.) The band was playing stuff like the "Flintstones" theme and Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein." Branford went on leave.

Everybody's been talking about a hip-hop progeny of Miles Davis but as far as Branford could hear nobody had done it. Some critics say neither did he. Buckshot LeFonque is not disturbed: "When I make a decision to do something artistically, I don't care who likes it or buys it. Because if you use that criterion Mozart would never have written 'Don Giovanni.'"

He was not trying to create an art form, just "adding some wrinkles to the package." Drummers, for example, have been trying to imitate sampling machines. Ridiculous - human beings imitating machines. Why not see what happens when you use both at the same time? His drummer triggered the sampler and there were no sequencers on stage so that the numbers could be as long or short as he liked whenever he wanted to change them.

The Buckshot LeFonque band - including singers and rappers - has been on several world tours. They played James Brown songs, Nirvana tunes; they mixed it up. The forms could be complex, with a lot of starts and stops. Moods and tempi changed. It's a lot of information for the musicians to remember. There were written arrangements. Still, he likes to go off on some new direction without warning:

"Call it jazz sensibility. Nothing is engraved in stone. The beginnings and the endings are fairly consistent. Everything else is completely negotiable."”

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

"Shirley Horn: The Art of the Slow Ballad" - by Mike Zwerin

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

The late Paris-based jazz musician and International Herald Tribune writer Mike Zwerin posted a 41-week series entitled Sons of Miles to Culturekiosque Jazznet. In this series, Zwerin looks back at Miles Davis and the leading jazz musicians he influenced in a series of interviews and personal reminiscences. Here is the Shirley Horn piece in that series. It was published on September 17, 1998 so add 20+ years to any math in the article.

“PARIS - Shirley Horn's grandmother told her that empty barrels make the most noise.

"Space is a valuable commodity in music," Horn said. "Too many musicians rush through everything with too many notes. I need time to take the picture. A ballad should be a ballad. It's important to understand what the song is saying, and learn how to tell the story. It takes time. I can't rush it. I really can't rush it."

She put on a dark pair of dark glasses: "Is this going to take long?"

Toots Thielemans, who was in the room, stopped doodling on his harmonica and said: "They're going to have to invent a new turntable at a slower speed for Shirley's ballads."

Time is redefined in Horn's presence. Toots paused. Somebody's small child in the hotel suite stopped fidgeting. It was like "slow" was infectious. We waited for slow room service with unusual patience. We were all six of us in Horn's time zone. I stopped thinking about the hot lunch awaiting me at home.

"I speak slowly," she said. "There's a place in Paris where I'd like to work one day. It's called the Slow Club."

Two dreams-come-true, Shirley Horn is a Sarah Vaughan who does not overwhelm you with everything she knows at once, and a pianist with the sophistication of a Herbie Hancock who does not sacrifice all 10 fingers on the harmonic altar. Yes indeed.

She is an entertainer who can, without hype, be called an artist. She continues the line of singer/pianists that runs from Fats Waller through Nat (King) Cole. Her album "You Won't Forget Me" was a sure-fire hit from the get-go.

Major league soloists including Miles Davis, Buck Hill, Branford and Wynton Marsalis and Toots Thielemans confirm the accolades musicians like Quincy Jones, Ahmad Jamal and George Shearing have for decades bestowed upon her. With a triumphal stand at New York's Village Vanguard, the album and more work in general than she wants to handle, Horn was finally forced - she considers travel a plague - to graduate from the in-hiding hometown-heroine role she has played to the hilt for decades in Washington, DC.

Once upon a time, the phone rang while she was feasting with her family on organically raised chicken on her mother-in-law's farm in Virginia. Her mother-in-law took it and said: "Man says he's Miles Davis."

To make the fairy tale short, she went to New York where Davis told the owner of the Village Vanguard that Miles would not work there unless Shirley Horn was on the same bill. Miles is Miles, she worked. Lena Horne was in the room.

So was Sidney Poitier, who told Horn: "I really enjoyed your music."

She started piano at four, studied composition at Howard University at 12 and at 18 was awarded a composition scholarship by Juilliard. There are not many credits to her career. It has been a slow career.

She studied with no famous teacher, and worked with no prestigious leaders. She's always led her own trio. Never been a side person. Her name came up increasingly in musicians' conversation throughout the 1980s but bringing up her daughter came first. Horn was a grandmother before she began to appear in upscale East Side New York clubs like Michael's Pub and The Blue Note.

She was in Paris for two (sold-out) concerts, to promote her new album, and to discuss the next one, a collaboration, with Toots.

"I love Shirley," Toots said, followed by a chin-dropping grin. "She plays good for a girl. She plays good for a boy too."

A jazz impresario once accused her of being a cocktail piano player. "Not pianist, piano player," she emphasized the condescension, trying not to look too hurt. When I asked her if a cocktail piano player was actually such a bad thing to be, she replied, hesitating: "No."

For a minute it looked as though it was going to hang there like that, the classic interviewer's nightmare. Toots, however, to the rescue: "It depends on who's drinking the cocktails."

Horn laughed: "I love Toots."

Me too. Saved by the harmonica player. Toots has no trouble with words.

"Are we almost through?" she asked.

For many musicians, music is therapy, never to be explained. They may try, with distaste or desperation, because it is expected of them. Melodious metaphors do not come naturally to these people, and the music is the metaphor to begin with so why bother?

On the other hand, there are those who speak better than they play. Explanations can be a substitute for substance. The talkers spout hot quotes and put judgmental jewels on the table because they believe, not totally in error, that's what the media wants.

An interview with Keith Richards is an example of the latter - Shirley Horn the former. Her defenses are even more difficult to break down because she appears to choose not to speak. It's not even out of a sense of duty, she's playing hide and seek: "Do you have many more questions?"

Horn's minimalist interviews are in perfect harmony with her music. It is astounding how much speed she can inject into a slow tempo, how much drama there can be between two beats.

She's all ellipses. Hungry propelling silences are the body of her work... the good-old three-dot Walter Winchell transitions keeping you on the edge until the next tidbit. With her, it's not like waiting for something to happen. Her ellipses do not, as in the dictionary definition, represent omissions or quick transitions.

Imagine her singing: "cause the" The spaces hang out there on begin to wonder if it's terminal...certainly a strange place to end a song. Maybe she's forgotten the words...or just being weird...with that impish smile...toying with us...until the full impact of that effortlessly stretched, dramatically shaded blank space brings a gasp when the phrase is finally resolved at the last millisecond. "...that makes me dance."

Toots and Horn ran down material for their upcoming album of sad songs titled "Tears." Fascinated by such fine musicians at work, I was amazed to discover that four hours had flown by slowly since I arrived. When I put on my coat at 6:30 P.M., Horn said: "Are we finished already?"

They studied a menu from a Belgian mussels restaurant downstairs where she had dined several days before. "My dear," Toots asked Horn affecting an aristocratic tone. "How did it come to pass that you have this menu?"

"This!?" she looked at it in mock horror, and then at me. "I took it, she continued. "Yes, Shirley Horn stole a menu. See? You wait long enough, you finally learn some truth about me."”

Monday, December 6, 2021

Bob Dorough: A Hillbilly Bebopper on a Geezer Pass

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

While the editorial staff at JazzProfiles completes a commissioned writing assignment, we hope you will enjoy one more week of Mike Zwerin's posts from his Sons of Miles Culturekiosque Jazznet series.

The late Paris-based jazz musician and International Herald Tribune writer Mike Zwerin posted a 41-week series entitled Sons of Miles to Culturekiosque Jazznet. In this series, Zwerin looks back at Miles Davis and the leading jazz musicians he influenced in a series of interviews and personal reminiscences. Here is the Bob Dorough piece in that series. It was published on April 22, 1999 so add 20+ years to any math in the article.

“Bob Dorough may just be the only 75-year-old hillbilly singer, composer and bebop piano player with a ponytail and a seven-album record deal. And just how many of his kind would you say have worked with Lenny Bruce, Miles Davis and Sugar Ray Robinson?

For many years he flew around the United States paying a senior citizen tariff he calls "a geezer pass." He worked with his buddy the late bassist Bill Takas as a duo. They enjoyed working alone together and, frankly, anyway, they could not afford a drummer. This did not bother Dorough all that much because, as that other hillbilly jazzman Chet Baker once said: "It takes a very good drummer to be better than no drummer at all."

But it appears that his scrimping days are over. His album, the first of the seven, "Right on My Way Home," was released by Blue Note, and "Schoolhouse Rock," his educational production dating back to the '70s, was newly packaged into a 4-CD box by Rhino Records.

The kids who once loved his voice singing "My Hero Zero" over animated cartoons on Saturday morning television are now in their 30s happily paying music charges in the jazz clubs Dorough appears in. They elbow each other with nostalgia.

A club called Birdland in the theater district on West 44th Street was packed two nights running last year when Dorough made one of his rare New York City appearances. (Notable names dropped in, including the filmmaker Robert Altman, the artist Al Hirschfeld and actor Gary Goodrow.) Dorough had worked regularly at the Village Gate and the musicians hangout Bradley's, but they both closed.

He likes to "harbor stray animals" on his farm in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains, a 90 minute drive from the city. The area reminds him of the hills, rivers and creeks near his home town of Cherry Hill, Arkansas. He had been "scoring heavy advertising bread" recording jingles like "Sing a Can of Beer," so he bought the place.

With nothing urgent to go for in New York, it was perhaps a bit too easy to get into the habit of lying back with the philosophy expressed in a song he wrote with Fran Landesman: "I've Got a Small Day Tomorrow (and there's a car I can borrow)." His voice has been compared to "Nat King Cole doing a Louis Armstrong impersonation."

Dorough somehow manages to wear his heart on his sleeve, laugh, wink, keep his tongue in his cheek, sing and finger two-handed bebop piano at the same time. "In the old days," he said, with his old-day Arkansas Traveler twang: "I was a bebop student trying to learn 'Half Nelson' like everyone else."

He ran jam sessions with people from Detroit, including Thad and Elvin Jones, in his East 75th Street four-flight walk-up. Financially, Dorough had fallen on what he calls "evil days."

He was working at Henry Le Tang's Times Square tap dance studio for $3 a class. One day, Le Tang said "I've got a five dollar gig for you." He jumped at it. Le Tang introduced him to the boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, who had retired from the ring and was building a song and dance act. Tap dancers are like drummers with legs and Dorough could handle that just fine.

When Le Tang said "play 'Green Eyes' for Sugar Ray," he knew exactly what to do. Afterward, wiping his brow, Robinson said: "You're going on the road with us." Dorough "took it as a command."

They traveled with Robinson's hairdresser, valet and road manager; playing theaters in Detroit, Washington, Philadelphia and the Apollo in Harlem on the same bill with attractions like The Dominoes. "I toured our continent on Count Basie's bus, hung out in Louis Armstrong's dressing room, and I met 'Fatha' Hines in Providence."

Wearing a smile that somehow combined lechery with childlike enthusiasm, Dorough recalled: "Oh, all those beautiful dancing girls. It was wonderful." Robinson took his revue, billed as "The Champ," to Paris with Dorough as musical director. They sailed over first class (doing their act to sing for their supper as it were en route) on the Ile de France.

But they bombed in Paris ("Larry Adler stole the show"), and when Robinson and his retinue sailed back (second class), Dorough stayed in Paris to work at the Mars Club for the French franc equivalent of $11.65 a night. It went a long way in Paris in the '50s. He sighed: "I was in pig heaven."

Back in the USA, Lenny Bruce was "a jazz lover but an autocrat too" and after not too long a period of time, Dorough decided to stop accompanying "A Sick Evening With Lenny Bruce."

After hearing Dorough's vocalese version of Charlie Parker's "Yardbird Suite," Miles Davis called "out of the blue" and said: "I want you to write a Christmas song for me." Dorough took that as a command also. He wrote the anti-Yuletide lament "Blue Xmas," which Miles recorded. One thing for sure - he was taking orders from some sharp cats.

Little Brother Montgomery taught a young white singer named Elaine (Spanky) McFarland about the blues and she started the rock group Spanky and Our Gang, with Dorough producing. Their "Sunday Will Never Be the Same" was a hit.

In addition to advertising exposure and rock hits came a commission to set the multiplication tables to a back-beat. An agency account executive he knew came up with the challenge: "My little boy can't memorize the multiplication tables, but he sings along with Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones."

Dorough had taken an elective called "The New Math" at Columbia University - he knew about the commutative law and he liked the Stones too and he soon realized that he knew more about rock than the account executive. It led to the successful body of work called "Multiplication Rock" including "Little Twelve Toes" ("If man had been born with six fingers on each hand, he'd also have 12 toes, or so the theory goes").

The premise was expanded to "Schoolhouse Rock," including grammar, America (history and civics) and science - Dorough producing once more. Dave Frishberg wrote a song in the American history department that began: "I'm just a bill, yes I'm only a bill, and I'm sitting up here on Capitol Hill."

A folky grammar song by Lynn Ahrens explained: "A noun is a person, place or thing." And Dorough sang his "real rocky" science number called "Electricity." All of which might or might not explain why Bob Dorough has been inducted into the Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame.”

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Dave Frisberg - 1933-2021 - The Washington Post Obituary

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

“Frisberg isn't much of a singer, but he is an excellent pianist and a very fine songwriter, and one can forgive the quality of the vocals on his own records, where he sometimes sounds like an older and jazzier Randy Newman. 

He studied journalism in college and after military service made his way to New York in 1957, where he worked as an intermission pianist in clubs before accompanying the likes of Ben Webster, Bud Freeman and Bobby Hackett. He arranged a beautiful album for Jimmy Rushing, The You And Me That Used To Be (RCA, 1972), by which time he had moved over to Los Angeles and begun making his own records, which subsequently emerged on Concord and Fantasy. His songs are a long drink of American wry, and beautifully pitched: they include 'My Attorney Bernie', 'Peel Me A Grape', 'Blizzard Of Lies', 'Quality Time', 'Do You Miss New York?' and his lyric for Bob Dorough's tune 'I'm Hip'. 

He has done his best to disprove the contention which a supply sergeant in the air force gave him: 'Jazz is okay, but it ain't got no words.'”

- Richard Cook’s Jazz Encyclopedia

Steve Larson concludes the brief annotation he wrote on Dave Frishberg for the Barry Kernfeld, ed, New Grove Dictionary of Jazz by noting that “Frisberg’s broad experience is reflected in his eclectic musical style and the wry wit of his lyrics.”

The following obituary by Matt Schudel, which appeared in the November 18, 2021 edition of The Washington Post, does justice to both by way of explanation.

“Dave Frishberg, a jazz pianist and singer-songwriter whose playful lyrics and inventive melodies about romantic languor, annoying hipsters and too-slick lawyers became standards beloved by wry sophisticates and who also gained an unlikely following among the Saturday-morning cartoon crowd with his whimsical look at how legislation is passed, “I’m Just a Bill,” died Nov. 17 at a hospital in Portland, Ore.

The death was confirmed by his wife, April Magnusson, who declined to specify the cause.

Mr. Frishberg began his career as a versatile pianist who wrote advertising jingles on the side. In the early 1960s, while working with such jazz stars as saxophonist Ben Webster, drummer Gene Krupa and singer Carmen McRae, he began to write songs in a distinctive style that set him apart from other composers of the time.

“They are new American songs,” jazz critic Whitney Balliett wrote in the New Yorker in 1986, describing the broad musical and emotional terrain covered by Mr. Frishberg. “Some are extremely witty, some are extremely funny. Some are fits of nostalgia. Some are lamentations. Some are cautionary. Some are highly satirical. Some are love songs in disguise.”

Shimmering moonlight and kisses in the rain never show up in Mr. Frishberg’s lyrics. Instead, he was more likely to take a sardonic view of the demands of love. When singer Fran Jeffries asked him to write a slinky song in 1962, Mr. Frishberg came up with his first well-known song, “Peel Me a Grape,” which is suffused with a feeling of haughty allure:

Pop me a cork, French me a fry …

Chill me some wine, keep standing by

Just entertain me, champagne me

Show me you love me, kid glove me

Best way to cheer me, cashmere me

I’m getting hungry, peel me a grape.

The song has been recorded by more than 80 performers, including Anita O’Day, Dusty Springfield and Shirley Horn, and it became a signature tune of cabaret singer Blossom Dearie and, more recently, jazz star Diana Krall.

Mr. Frishberg ignored musical fads and changes in technology, preferring to use pencil and paper to piece the words and music together, while sitting at his piano. “I write songs as if we were in 1936,” he once said.

“In the pop and jazz sphere,” New York Times critic Stephen Holden wrote in 2011, “the level of craftsmanship in Mr. Frishberg’s songs is equaled only by that of Stephen Sondheim. Every phrase is chiseled, each word sealed into place.”

He usually wrote both the music and lyrics, but he sometimes collaborated with other songwriters, including Johnny Mandel. In 1966, Mr. Frishberg added words to a tune by jazz musician Bob Dorough and came up with “I’m Hip,” which remains a timeless put-down of pompous trend chasers:

Like dig, I’m in step

When it was hip to be hep, I was hep

I don’t blow, but I’m a fan

Look at me swing, ring-a-ding-ding

I even call my girlfriend Man, 'cause I’m hip

Mr. Frishberg updated the lyrics over the years, adding a new line near the end — “Better show this to Quincy” — as if the self-congratulatory hipster were tight with music producer Quincy Jones.

In another of his songs, “My Attorney Bernie,” Mr. Frishberg satirized a Hollywood stereotype who’s “got Dodger season boxes and an office full of foxes.” (He also managed to rhyme “ventures” with “counterfeit debentures” in that song.) He strung a series of insincere clichés together for “Blizzard of Lies,” a rueful look at modern life: “You may have won a prize, won’t wrinkle, shrink or peel, your secret’s safe with me, this is a real good deal.”

Few of Mr. Frishberg’s songs were written in the first person or delved into his personal experiences. “Every song you hear today is about the way the songwriter feels … about some great epiphany,” he told the Record newspaper of Bergen County, N.J., in 1994. “Those kind of songs are boring. They really are.”

At times, Mr. Frishberg cultivated a wistful, retrospective mood, as in “The Dear Departed Past,” where he longs for a time “when basketballs had laces” and “when every sky was bluer … when every friend was truer.” He once composed a song, “Van Lingle Mungo,” that consisted entirely of the names of 37 long-retired baseball players, dropped like jewels into a lilting Brazilian rhythm.

After years as a sideman in jazz groups — which inspired his tune “I Want to Be a Sideman” — Mr. Frishberg began to perform as a singer in the 1970s, always accompanying himself on piano. He had a reedy, nasal voice with little resonance or range, but he became an engaging and laconic interpreter of his own songs. He was nominated for four Grammy Awards and often appeared in concerts, clubs and cabarets.

Yet, of the all the songs he wrote, the one probably best known to the public was composed for the children’s educational television series “Schoolhouse Rock!” “I’m Just a Bill,” sung exuberantly by Jack Sheldon, offers a whimsical look at how legislation is passed:

Well, it’s a long, long journey to the capital city,

It’s a long, long wait while you’re waiting in committee.

But I know I’ll be a law someday.

At least I hope and pray that I will,

But today, I am still just a bill.

David Lee Frishberg was born March 23, 1933, in St. Paul, Minn. His father, a Jewish immigrant from Poland, owned a clothing store, where his mother was the bookkeeper.

Mr. Frishberg took an early and eclectic interest in music, listening to an older brother’s boogie-woogie jazz records and to the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. He was 8 when he began to study classical piano.

“Then one day I put a Mozart piece into conga rhythm — da da da-dum, da da da-dum,” he recalled to the New Yorker in 1986. “I played it at my lesson, and I was bawled out. I couldn’t believe that doing such a thing was wrong, so I quit practicing and eased out of the lessons.”

He continued to play piano and began working professionally while still in high school. He took music courses at the University of Minnesota, where he majored in journalism. After his graduation in 1955, he spent two years in the Air Force in Utah and began to write advertising jingles for radio. He moved to New York in 1957 and was soon working with notable musicians. During the 1960s, he appeared regularly in jazz clubs and was the pianist for several years in a much-admired group led by saxophonists Al Cohn and Zoot Sims.

In 1971, Mr. Frishberg moved to Los Angeles to write for a short-lived TV comedy sketch show, “The Funny Side,” hosted by Gene Kelly. He wrote for other television productions and spent two years as a pianist with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. By the time he made his first return visit to the East Coast, he had written “Do You Miss New York?,” a widely recorded song with a bittersweet tone of regret: “Do you miss the scene? The frenzy, the faces. And did you trade the whole parade for a pair of parking places?”

To escape the congestion and high prices of Los Angeles, Mr. Frishberg moved with his growing family to Portland in 1986. He stopped performing after a mild stroke in 2014. Three years later, he published an autobiography, “My Dear Departed Past.”

His marriages to Stella Giammasi and Cynthia Wagman ended in divorce. In addition to Magnusson, his wife of 20 years, survivors include two sons from his second marriage.

When Mr. Frishberg began to write songs, he received encouragement from Frank Loesser, the composer and lyricist of the stage musicals “Guys and Dolls” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

Loesser and Johnny Mercer were the songwriters he admired most because they “knew that good lyrics should be literate speech that says something in a lyrical way,” Mr. Frishberg told the New Yorker. “They knew that good lyrics come up to the edge of poetry and turn left.”

Friday, December 3, 2021

"John Scofield: It's Magic" by Mike Zwerin

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

The late Paris-based jazz musician and International Herald Tribune writer Mike Zwerin posted a 41-week series entitled Sons of Miles to Culturekiosque Jazznet. In this series, Zwerin looks back at Miles Davis and the leading jazz musicians he influenced in a series of interviews and personal reminiscences. Here is the John Scofield piece in that series. It was published on September 3, 1998 so add 20+ years to any math in the article.

“John Scofield picked up a guitar in 1962 at the age of 11; it was a role waiting to be filled.

Playing electric guitar was about to become a major macho pose, like throwing a touchdown pass or hitting a home run. It was something little boys mimed in the air without a prop. "Look at me, ma, I'm Jimi Hendrix." It proved how masculine you were, that you could distort and feed back and if your father made enough money you could destroy a guitar or two. Burn it. Guitar players took names like Slash.

It was also more than a pose. The guitar would soon overtake the saxophone as the major instrumental voice of our times. Guitar heroes were coming of age, coming out of the woodwork thanks to Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters and Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and on and on. To say nothing of Elvis. It was the pose of coming of age. Like firing a Kalashnikov.

Except for Charlie Christian and Wes Montgomery, with Jim Hall and Jimmy Raney on the sidelines, the jazz guitar was still just part of the rhythm section. In the classics, Segovia was something of a curiosity. If you didn't play rock, forget it. You were a 90 pound weakling.

The young Scofield was knocked out by early Beatles and Ricky Nelson. He watched Peter, Paul and Mary and the Kingston Trio on television and plugged into the folk phase. There were no teachers in tiny Wilton, Connecticut, where he was growing up, so he taught himself. He listened to Delta blues, the so-called "hippy jazz" of Charles Lloyd and early fusion guitarist Larry Coryell. He played with rhythm and blues bands in high school.

At the turn of the decade, Sco's quartet performed for a packed house in the New Morning in Paris after 40 one-nighters in 15 countries in 44 days. At the same time he celebrated - paraphrasing Ronald Reagan - the 10th anniversary of his 29th birthday. It was a good time to take stock.

John Scofield has become arguably the most influential jazz guitarist. Better known, a bigger draw, the guitar megastar Pat Metheny still told me that as far as he's concerned "Sco is the main man." Metheny's main man is a...MAN!

Scofield learned to be at home with difficult articulation in non-guitar key signatures. Expanding Johnny Smith's sweet monotony, he combined John Coltrane's harmonic advances with the textural innovations of Jimi Hendrix.

Not the least of it, he had also learned how to play 40 concerts in 44 days without drugs (he even stopped smoking cigarettes). There's a lot of strength under the surface of this good-natured, soft spoken family man with the high forehead and ready smile. He makes it sound simple:

"Psyching yourself up with dope is dumb. I did that long enough. It doesn't work. Your timing has to be perfect. You want to get a little numb, but not so numb that the music stops flowing out of you. You're always tuning yourself. It's too much work, you find that you think about nothing else and it screws up your body too. It's not practical and you pay too much. So now I just try and keep cool."

If you get stoned too early you come down too fast - too late and it doesn't hit in time. Cool is the operative word here.

Graduating from Boston's Berklee College of Music in the early '70s, he played with Chet Baker, Gary Burton and Charles Mingus; with McCoy Tyner and Dr. John. He was basically a bebopper, "something of a purist." But then Miles Davis "turned me around, said I was bluesy and got me into wah-wah pedals, back-beats and heavy electronics."

His reputation took a quantum leap in the early '80s when he became a collaborator more than a sideman for three years with Davis, who admitted to building tunes from Scofield's improvisations. Rather than feeling ripped off, Sco was flattered.

After he left the band, however, the trumpeter began to bad-mouth the guitarist in the press. He said, in effect, the Sco was too cool; he said he played behind the beat. He said it and said it and said it - though implying it was not really Sco's fault, poor boy. He's white.”

Thursday, December 2, 2021

"Dave Holland: The Power Behind the Throne" by Mike Zwerin

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

The late Paris-based jazz musician and International Herald Tribune writer Mike Zwerin posted a 41-week series entitled Sons of Miles to Culturekiosque Jazznet. In this series, Zwerin looks back at Miles Davis and the leading jazz musicians he influenced in a series of interviews and personal reminiscences. Here is the Dave Holland piece in that series. It was published on January 28, 1999 so add 20+ years to any math in the article.

“Bass players hold the secret power behind the throne. They control the one absolutely essential element, a role not exactly obvious to everybody. This pleases them a great deal.

Playing bass requires a peculiar personality. You can generalize about it with less danger than most generalizations. Despite the occasional grandstander, they are team players who flourish in the background. Bassists are less competitive than other instrumentalists.

Listeners go to the bathroom during a bass solo. And there has to be some masochism somewhere in anybody willing to lug that coffin around. They are not looking for glory; they know, if you don't, that they already have it. Constructing their central bridge between melody, harmony and rhythm, they are by necessity involved with totality. They control the music.

Dave Holland controls it with more intelligence, power, variety and modesty than most. If you're absolutely forced to pick a "best," he'd be a prime candidate. He has made a living in all sorts of contexts including Bach, Trad jazz in his native Britain (he now lives in upstate New York), Eurojazz and M-BASE avant-garde music in New York City. Everything, everywhere, with everybody.

He took a great deal of pride in his years with Miles Davis. A few years after Miles died, he went on the road with the Miles Davis Tribute Band - Herbie Hancock, Wallace Roney, Wayne Shorter and Tony Williams. I asked him what he thought about Miles's "Doo-Bop," an unfinished album completed after the trumpeter's death. It is an example of a new style being called by an unstylistic name - in this case "new jazz swing." It is rap combined with a chord here and there, horns and jazz feeling. Industry spokesmen predicted it would become a "contemporary expression of the jazz idiom" and "give birth to a new generation of progressive jazz musicians." (It did not. Never mind.)

"I'm not a good person to ask about Miles," Holland replied. "Because every time he played his horn, even only one note, magic happened for me. It didn't matter what was under or over it."

Holland's voice resonates like the weathered wood instrument he plays. His verbal cadence swings, punctuated by frequent smiles. He is accustomed to thinking in terms of the bottom of things. So many smart superstructures have rested on his roots: "Whatever you call this music and whatever it is, it's still basically only a variation, a logical extension of the kind of funk James Brown initiated. Music keeps changing. Each generation has to redefine the elements of rhythmic feeling. Things have got to change and we have got to be prepared to recognize those changes."

This reveals a striking capacity for acceptance for someone who once led a band - John Blake, violin, Fareed Haque, guitar, and Mino Cinelu, percussion - which was, on the surface anyway, diametrically opposed to the music we were discussing. They played soft, hypnotic music based on a variety of traditional elements which, Holland says, "stressed the feminine aspect. A certain gentleness, an unaggresive approach which did not go out and punch people in the face and provoke hysteria. I like there to be some calm in the room."

He stopped and then emphasized, a bassist all the way: "It's very important that you do not make me out to be the leader of this group. I put the four people together to begin with, but we were the sum total of our directions. Our strength was diversity, we brought multidimensional diversity to the music. We were all in it together."

Although Miles's "New Jazz Swing" was anything but calm and diverse, Holland considers rap creative when well done and rich and at its best. He tries to "separate the here and now from something that will still be relevant in 50 years." He tends to give optimism the benefit of the doubt:

"Take a Manhattan sidewalk. New York is a concrete city. Yet wherever you find a crack in the concrete, something grows out of it. Maybe it's only weeds, but that sign of nature's urge to create is an expression of life force amidst the barrenness of modern existence."

"Steam also comes out of the cracks in the concrete," I said.

He laughed, and looked at me bemused, as if to say, "if that's the way you choose to look at life," and replied: "That's true. But I think there will always be the need to express nature's positive force. There has never been more or less need, always the same amount. We're battling a lot of negative things at the moment - incredible materialism, for example. There is no lack of obstacles. But we've always had those obstacles.

"I'm an optimist. Because in a way, the more critical things become, the more creativity strives to be expressed. Light can shine brightest in the darkest moments. I don't think we have to worry. A lot of people wish the music was still like it was in the '50s. There's no way that can be. A renewal may not take the form we expect. As artists, we have to be sure to keep an open mind."

Remembering Lord Buckley referring to something "straining the limits of our practiced credulity," I said: "There's a difference between keeping an open mind and liking something just because it's new. People are afraid of being left behind. They feel threatened. If I don't like this music, does that mean I'm losing touch? Does it interest me really, or do I just want to make sure I'm still 'with it?' An 'open' mind can be an empty mind."

"As far as I'm concerned," Holland replied, "an instrument creating sound in a natural unamplified way is going to be more meaningful than a sampled or synthesized sound. But I still play bass-guitar. I played it on a tour with Jack DeJohnette, Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny. A composition can be structured for an electric instrument. I played it the last year and a half I was with Miles. It was my first instrument, I started on bass guitar.

"But the sound of an acoustic bass hits me very emotionally. My fingers resonating the strings and the wood responding to that is something very special to me. I like nature, and I like natural things. That's a personal point of view. But you have to try and transcend that. I'm not necessarily critical of that other thing. I may just prefer this particular thing. As long as it's done artistically, that's my only criterion. You have to perceive the intention of the music. Music performs many different functions.

"The relevance of any given musical situation means taking the creative flows of the individual musicians and putting them together in a way that makes sense. One thing I learned from Miles is that when a piece is finished it is only the beginning. Every night we would add another chapter. Songs kept evolving to incredible places. These are the kinds of places I'm looking for. I don't really care what they're called."”