Saturday, April 17, 2021

Zoot Sims with Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band Apple Core

"The Flying Scotsman" - Gerry Mulligan and The New Concert Jazz Band


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

Central to the importance of this article by Richard Cook which appeared in the November 25, 1986 issue of The Wire is the statement that closes it: “the 1986 Gerry Mulligan displays more talents, in a far more appropriate context, than the youngster who exploded on the West Coast scene more than three decades ago.”

For someone who was a constant figure in the national Jazz press for the first 25 years of his career, Jeru was an infrequent reference in it during the last 25 years of his career until his death in 1996.

Some of the reasons for this absence are explained in Mr. Cook’s article. [Of course, what’s not mentioned is the fact that the music itself lost its presence in the national Jazz press.]

What is important is that Mulligan continued to grow as an artist and to represent this development in the new and different venues that were available to him in the 1980s as described in Mr. Cook’s article.

“GERRY MULLIGAN'S NAME CONJURES up a bright yet somehow fuzzy image as a jazz-household word. The reason will be clear to anyone who has followed his greatly acclaimed but convoluted career.

He has been a leader and a sideman; a composer and arranger; has headed groups of every size and shape, and has voluntarily been semi-inactive for extended periods. Nevertheless, he has enjoyed what may be an unequalled series of consecutive poll victories, as the No. 1 baritone saxophonist, starting in 1953. For many years Duke Ellington's Harry Carney had a near-monopoly on this full-toned horn. Mulligan and Carney (who died in 1974) were mutual admirers and once recorded together with the Ellington orchestra.

Today, very belatedly, Mulligan has devised a setting that enables him to display his multiple talents. He is leading, more or less on a full-time basis, a 15-piece orchestra that devotes itself primarily to his compositions and arrangements. In recent years he has taken to doubling on soprano saxophone, an instrument that has been violated by so many squeaking, out-of-tune dilettantes that the purity Mulligan brings to it is a rare joy indeed.

Because the band has never played in California, it was good news to me that Jeru (this is the nickname given him many years ago by Miles Davis) had been booked to play the last two of four consecutive week-long cruises out of Miami aboard the Norway  —  the world's longest jazz festival, produced by Hank O'Neal and Shelley Shier. I was on board for the second and third weeks. More than 100 musicians were involved in this unique venture; Mulligan thus was able not only to present his own ensemble but also to join impromptu forces with various small groups involving a few old friends and several promising youngsters.

Al Cohn, who played on the Norway last year teamed with the late Zoot Sims, was particularly pleased to be reunited with Mulligan during one of the late-night jams. "Gerry and I go back a long way," he reminded me. "I played with him and Zoot Sims on his Mulligan Song Book album in 1958, and I wrote some of the arrangements for the album he did with Judy Holliday." (Holliday With Mulligan, in which the actress sang four songs she had written with Mulligan, is the most tangible legacy of their long romance in the 1960s and early 70s. After her death, Mulligan continued to make the gossip columns during a romance with another actress, Sandy Dennis, that also lasted several years. He is presently married to an Italian, Franca, and has a home in Milan.)

Probably the most surprising ad hoc grouping during the cruise was his alliance with Art Hodes, the Chicago-based pianist who was 81 last November. After playing briefly with a rhythm section that included an old Mulligan teammate, Bobby Rosengarden, on drums, Hodes paired with Mulligan for a slow, pensive blues for which the two men were alone on the bandstand.

Hodes has always taught Basic Blues Piano 101 in his simple performances. Time was when I found his style limited, once writing impetuously (and quite inaccurately) that I could cut him at any session. Hearing him in a more mature light four decades later, I was impressed, not only by the taste Hodes showed within his technical compass, but also by the sensitivity with which Mulligan adjusted his style to a situation that was, for him, quite unusual.

"I enjoyed playing with Art," he said afterwards. "In fact, it's been a kick having so many people around whom I don't normally get a chance to play with."

For some of the less experienced artists present, the opportunity to play alongside such giants as Mulligan, Joe Williams, Dizzy Gillespie and others was a rare learning experience. Cyrus Chestnut, a 22-year-old pianist and composer, was technically on hand as a member of a group of students from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, under the direction of the trombonist Phil Wilson, of Berklee's faculty. It is safe to assume that within a few years Chestnut will be well known in jazz circles for more than his uncommon name.

During the same set Mulligan summoned to the bandstand an onlooker who was not an official member of the festival; Eliane Elias, a gifted pianist from Brazil, had joined the party as the wife of Randy Brecker, the New York studio trumpeter.

For all his pleasure in these unplanned collaborations, Mulligan clearly was proudest of the moments when he presented his full orchestra in concert. Essentially, this is an updated extension of the slightly smaller band, 13-strong, with which he toured internationally in the early 1960s; but the present band's repertoire was almost a cross-section of his variegated 33-year life as a leader.

"Bweebida Bobbida", for instance, with which he opened one recital, brought to mind for me his very first session with a band of his own, in 1951, for which he composed it. Though the original record, by a nine-piece group, sounds a little dated, he has brought to the present version the textures and orchestral diversity one expects from him as both a classicist and a vivid melodist.

"Line for Lyons", named for the Monterey Jazz Festival's Jimmy Lyons, was a product of the 1952 Quartet with Chet Baker; though he has recorded it several times, the 1985 treatment brings it up to date, retaining the simple essence of the song but interpolating solo, sectional and ensemble work that reflects his progress both as writer and soloist.

Outstanding in the band’s library are several compositions from his album Walk On The Water, which won him a Best Big Band Grammy Award in 1981. "Song For An Unfinished Woman" accentuated the band's sedulous attention to subtle dynamic contrasts. On "42nd And Broadway", a delightfully captivating melody, Mulligan switched to soprano saxophone. For Duke Ellington's "Across The Tracks Blues", he virtually duplicated the master's original version, with a splendid reed section passage, clarinet taking the lead, Gerry's baritone supplying the solid foundation. Even the piano introduction by Bill Mays was a note-for-note restatement of Ellington's own.

Mays was one of several inspired soloists. "I moved to New York two years ago because I was tired of doing studio work," he told me. "Now I'm getting all the jazz gigs I want. Playing with this band is a dream." In the rhythm section with him are the drummer Richie de Rosa and an exceptionally supple bassist, Dean Johnson.

In the sax section was Seldon Powell, a tenor veteran with name band credits from Erskine Hawkins and Louie Bellson to Benny Goodman and Clark Terry, "I’m not a regular member of the band," he said, "but Gerry's tenor player gets seasick, so he opted out. I told Gerry I don't get seasick, so I got the job." Also subbing in the reed team was the alto saxophonist Jerry Dodgion, who toured the USSR with both Benny Goodman and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis band.

Mulligan's talents do not end with his writing and playing. "When I Was A Young Man" presented him as a cheerful, quaintly charming vocalist and writer of lyrics to his own song.

True, the tall, crew-cut, clean-shaven, redheaded youth of the old Quartet days has yielded to a tall, gaunt, white-bearded figure, but the effervescent personality seems to improve with age along with his music. In short, the 1986 Gerry Mulligan displays more talents, in a far more appropriate context, than the youngster who exploded on the West Coast scene more than three decades ago.”

Friday, April 16, 2021

Mckinney's Cotton Pickers - Peggy

1930 HITS ARCHIVE: If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight - McKinney’s ...

McKinney's Cotton Pickers - Crying And Sighing

McKinney's Cotton Pickers and The Early Development of Big Band Jazz

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

As Jazz moves into its second century of recorded documentation, I wanted to continue with the “Early Jazz” theme by highlighting some of the nascent developments of the music in a big band format.

While the famous names associated with Jazz big band music in the 1920s - Ellington, Henderson and Redman - are recognized, Redman’s work in the context of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers is often overlooked.

McKinney's Cotton Pickers’ big band was formed in Springfield, Ohio, from the Synco Jazz Band, a group organized by William McKinney shortly after World War I. In 1923 McKinney decided to conduct the band himself, and consequently engaged Cuba Austin as the band's percussionist. At the behest of its agent, in 1926 the band became known as McKinney's Cotton Pickers. With their musical versatility and inspired showmanship the musicians blended comedy routines and light music with jazz numbers arranged by their trumpeter, John Nesbitt. From 1927, when DON REDMAN became music director and principal arranger, the band developed its own distinctive style, which highlighted the precision of the saxophones and brass and emphasized the buoyancy of the rhythm section.

The band's first recordings, in July 1928, helped establish the group nationally, and brought widespread praise for the brilliance of Redman's arrangements and the solo improvisations of Prince Robinson. The Cotton Pickers' golden era took place during the group's long residency at the Graystone Ballroom in Detroit (beginning in 1927 where it gained a reputation equal to that of the two other leading black bands of that era, those of Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson. Claude Jones, who at various times played in all three groups, later claimed that McKinney's Cotton Pickers was the best of the three. Bright-sounding ensembles, good intonation, and effective soloists were the band's principal strengths; these assets, combined with the appealing singing of Fathead Thomas, Dave Wilborn, and Redman, made the Cotton Pickers popular with dancers, listeners, and other musicians.

In 1931 the band suffered a serious setback when Redman left to form his own big band, taking some key sidemen with him. The Cotton Pickers re-formed, and even found superior replacements in the new members Joe Smith, Benny Carter, and Rex Stewart; but the group never regained its former popularity. 

Internal dissension caused many personnel changes during the mid-1930s, and by 1936 almost all the original members had left. McKinney continued to lead the band until the early 1940s, engaging various musicians to direct while he concentrated on administration. Unfortunately the group made no recordings after September 1931.

The band had a happy, raucous sound which was very appropriate for its birth during The Jazz Age, also known as The Roaring Twenties. It’s big, bold sound and joyous approach to music was a perfect compliment to a time when fast dancing, flowing booze, and furious gambling in the stock market characterized an era trying to forget the carnage wrought by the First World War.,

Drawn from John Chilton, Barry Kernfeld, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. 


Crying and Sighing (1928, Victor. 38000); Peggy (1929, Victor. 38133); I'll make fun for you (1930, Victor. 38142); If I could be with you one hour tonight (1930, Victor. 38118); Do you believe in love at sight? (1931, Victor. 22811)


B. Howard: "Old Cotton Pickers Could Out Rock Modern Jazz Orchestras,"

Downbeat .ix/11 (1942),p. 8 

T. Grove and M. Grove: "McKinney's Cotton Pickers," Record Changer (1951), Nov,3

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Early Jazz: The Origins and The Beginnings

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

“Although there is no dearth of books on jazz, very few of them have attempted to deal with the music itself in anything more than general descriptive or impressionistic terms. The majority of books have concentrated on the legendry of jazz, and over the years a body of writing has accumulated which is little more than an amalgam of well-meaning amateur criticism and fascinated opinion.
That this was allowed to pass for scholarship and serious analysis is attributable not only to the humble, socially "unacceptable" origin of jazz, but also to the widely held notion that a music improvised by self-taught, often musically illiterate musicians did not warrant genuine musicological research.
Despite the fact that many "serious" composers and performers had indicated their high regard for jazz as early as the 1920s, the academic credentials of jazz were hardly sufficient to produce a serious interest in the analysis of its techniques and actual musical content.” - Gunther Schuller, Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development

Sometimes it is hard to understand where you are, let alone where you are going, if you don’t know where you came from.

And while the serious dearth of writings on the origins and development of Jazz that Professor Schuller references in the opening quotation becomes less the case as the music achieves the status some have referred to as “America’s Classical Music” [and is therefore the object of greater research and publication in colleges and universities], looking back on the sources of the Jazz tradition is still too often the exception rather than the rule.

This state of affairs sometimes reminds me of the old quip: “We’re lost, but we are making good time!”

To somewhat rectify this situation, every so often the editorial staff at JazzProfiles enjoys creating postings about the early years of the Jazz’s development as its way of helping to remind Jazz fans of the circumstances surrounding the birth of the music .

One book on the origins and development of Jazz that I find to be a constant source of insight and information is Gunther Schuller’s Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development which, thankfully, continues to be available in a paperback edition and from which the following excerpts are drawn.


"During the second decade of our century, while the world was engaged in its first "global" war, and European music was being thoroughly revitalized by the innovations of Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky and the radical experiments of the musical "futurists" and "dadaists," America was quietly, almost surreptitiously, developing a distinctly separate musical language it had just christened with a decidedly unmusical name: jazz. The developments in Europe, following a centuries-old pattern in "art music," were generated by the visions of single individuals—what the romantic century liked to call the inspirations of "creative genius." Jazz, on the other hand, was at this point not the product of a handful of stylistic innovators, but a relatively unsophisticated quasi-folk music—more sociological manifestation than music—which had just recently coalesced from half a dozen tributary sources into a still largely anonymous, but nevertheless distinct, idiom.

This new music developed from a multi-colored variety of musical traditions brought to the new world in part from Africa, in part from Europe. It seems in retrospect almost inevitable that America, the great ethnic melting pot, would procreate a music compounded of African rhythmic, formal, sonoric, and expressive elements and European rhythmic and harmonic practices. Up to the present time these jazz antecedents have been discussed and documented On so far as documentation has been possible) only in sociological and historical terms. The main events, leading from the importation of Negro slaves into the United States through the rituals of the Place Congo [aka Congo Square] in New Orleans to the spread of "jazz" as a new American music, have been well substantiated, but the details of this historical development must await much more research and documentation. Our knowledge of the links between certain important events — such as the dances at the Place Congo in the mid-nineteenth century and the emergence of the generation of jazz musicians after Buddy Bolden following the turn of the century—is largely dependent upon educated guessing rather than the sifting of factual data.

While further historical information may or may not be forthcoming, we can now define quite accurately the relationship of jazz to its antecedents on the basis of musical analysis. Through such studies it is possible to establish the musical links between earliest jazz and the various tributary African and European musical sources.

It is tempting to categorize this or that aspect of jazz as deriving exclusively from either the African or the European tradition, and many a jazz historian has found such temptation irresistible. Jazz writing abounds with such oversimplifications as that jazz rhythm came by way of Africa, while jazz harmonies are exclusively based on European practices; and each new book perpetuates the old myths and inaccuracies. From writing based on well-meant enthusiasm and amateur research, as much jazz criticism has been, more accurate analysis cannot be expected. But it now is possible to look at the music seriously and to put jazz's antecedents into much sharper focus. In the process the African and European lineages will become somewhat entangled, as is inevitable in the study of a hybrid that evolved through many stages of cross-fertilization over a period of more than a century.

African native music and early American jazz both originate in a total vision of life, in which music, unlike the "art music" of Europe, is not a separate, autonomous social domain. African music, like its sister arts—sculpture, mural drawing, and so forth—is conditioned by the same stimuli that animate not only African philosophy and religion, but the entire social structure. In so far as it has not been influenced by European or American customs, African music even today has no separate abstracted function. It is not surprising that the word "art" does not even exist in African languages. Nor does the African divide art into separate categories. Folklore, music, dance, sculpture, and painting operate as a total generic unit, serving not only religion but all phases of daily life, encompassing birth, death, work, and play.

The analogy to early jazz, even in the most general terms, goes still deeper. In the African Negro's way of life, words and their meanings are related to musical sound. Instrumental music independent of verbal functions in the sense of European "absolute" music is almost totally unknown to the African native; it exists only in the form of brief subsidiary preludes and postludes. (Even in such cases, there is considerable evidence of relatively recent European or American influences.)

Basically, language functions only in conjunction with rhythm. All verbal activity, whether quotidian social life or religion and magic, is rhythmicized. And it is no mere coincidence that the languages and dialects of the African Negro are in themselves a form of music, often to the extent that certain syllables possess specific intensities, durations, and even pitch levels.1 [ It is fascinating to ponder the parallels to present-day serial techniques and experiments abstracting syllables and phonemes as purely acoustical musical elements.] The close parallel relationships between words and pitch in African songs has been dealt with exhaustively by A. M. Jones 2 [Studies in African Music, 2 vols. London: Oxford University Press, 1959] and will be discussed later in greater detail.

The extraordinary sonoric and timbral richness of these languages has an intrinsic musicality, which we are not surprised to find in a lesser form in the scat and bop lyrics of American jazz. The reciprocal relationship between African language and music is further emphasized by the fact that such purely functional forms as hunting calls, whistled marching songs, and instrumental love serenades (the latter European-influenced) are without exception translatable into words.3 [See Anthologie de la vie africaine, Ducretet-Thomson 320 C 126 (disc i), side i, seq. 16; side 2, seq. 7 and 10; C 127 (disc 2), side i, seq. 1-4.]

It is common knowledge that African drumming was originally a form of sign language. But beyond this, drum patterns, which in African music are thought of not as mere rhythms but as "tunes," are identified by so-called nonsense syllables. In jazz a similar reciprocal relationship between language and music survives in several manifestations, such as instruments imitating words in answering the vocal lines in blues or the "talking" technique of someone like Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton, the great Duke Ellington trombonist. Conversely, we hear the instrumentalization of vocal jazz in almost every note ever sung by Billie Holiday, who more or less consciously incorporated the instrumental concepts of Lester Young and others into her style; it also survives as a kind of commercialized distant cousin in Jon Hendricks's verbal versions of improvised instrumental solos.

Thus, in certain fundamental musico-sociological aspects, jazz represents a transplanted continuation of indigenous African musical traditions. But, more important, these African traditions survive in an astonishing array of musical detail, covering all elements and aspects of music, including to some extent even harmony, which has generally been associated with the European branch of jazz ancestry. ...

The Beginnings

“It is impossible to establish the exact beginnings of jazz as a distinct, self-contained music. Some historians use the year 1895 as a working date; others prefer 1917, the year that the word jazz seems to have become current and the year that the Original Dixieland Jazz Band made what are generally considered the first jazz recordings; still others prefer dates in between. But whatever date is picked, it is safe to say that in purely musical terms the earliest jazz represents a primitive reduction of the complexity, richness, and perfection of its African and, for that matter, European antecedents.

Once we get past the fascinating stories and legends of early jazz, once we penetrate beyond jazz as a reflection of certain crucial changes in the social evolution of the American Negro, we are left with a music which in most instances can hold the musician's attention only as a museum relic. The purely musical qualities, heard without regard to their historical and social trappings, have lost their particular, almost topical meaning for us; and as musical structures, in performance and conception, much of the earliest jazz sounds naive or crude or dated.

This is not to say that we cannot or should not listen to early jazz in the context and aura of its historical past. Indeed, if we as individuals can be conscious of the historic interest, we surely can enjoy early jazz more than its purely musical qualities warrant. Objective discussion of early jazz is made more difficult because no large body of recordings exists. The problem of assessing the quality of early jazz is compounded further by the fact that the pre-i92j recordings that do exist (or even those that are presumed to exist) cannot all be considered jazz in the strictest sense. Most of these recordings were made by society orchestras, novelty bands, or jazz groups who were forced by the companies recording them to play novelty or polite dance music.

The beginnings of film coincide roughly with those of jazz. Yet by 1915 the cinema had already produced its first great artist, D. W. Griffith. In jazz—as far as recorded proof goes—we have to await the recordings of King Oliver and Louis Armstrong for comparable achievement. We may assume, of course, that King Oliver was playing nearly as well in 1916 as in 1923, and that players such as Jelly Roll Morton, Freddie Keppard, Bunk Johnson, and Buddy Petit were producing above-average jazz in the decade before jazz recording began in earnest. But we lack proof. The unfortunate circumstances that placed a social barrier between a colored performer and the white recording companies have robbed us of the evidence forever.

But even if we could find isolated examples of great enduring jazz in this formative period, we would still have to admit that early jazz represents, speaking strictly musically, a relatively low point in the Negro's musical history. Indeed, how could it have been otherwise"? Circumstances such as segregation and extreme race prejudice forced the music to be what it was. That it was as much as it was, and that it had enough strength to survive and eventually grow into a world music, is abundant proof of its potential strength and beauty.

From this nadir, jazz gradually developed not only in quality but also in basic conception and intent. The musicians who produced it were undergoing some very profound social changes, and their music obviously had to reflect this. Many jazz followers accept the necessity of these social changes but are unwilling to accept the corollary changes in the music itself. Such a contradiction in position, is, needless to say, untenable. In the succeeding chapters we will trace the musical developments that led from the humble beginnings of jazz in the first decades of our century to the 1930s.”