Friday, October 22, 2021

How John Coltrane Got His Sound

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

Over the years, much has been written about John Coltrane’s SOUND.

But how exactly did Coltrane produce it?

As you will come to understand after reading the following excerpts from Lewis Porter’s John Coltrane: His Life and Music [1999], Coltrane’s sound was made up of musical and mechanical elements that he had the genius to blend into one of the most recognizable “signatures’ in Jazz history.

The context for Lewis’s observations and analysis is the period from 1955 - 1957 when John was a member of Miles’s first, classic quintet which he then left for a stint with Thelonious Monk’s Quartet before returning to Miles, this time as a member of Davis’ sextet with Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb. 

“Coltrane was very serious about his art. 

Cannonball Adderley recalled, "Where sometimes Miles would take on some humor in his playing—or lots of times I might feel lighter than usual—John was heavily involved with being just serious and musical, all the time."

He almost never indulged in musical humor or in quoting entire phrases that would be familiar to listeners, and in this respect he was the opposite of Rollins, who is the musical quoter nonpareil.  .. Coltrane's music, more and more, seems to have been about the here and now, about being involved with what he and his group were playing at that moment. Quotations had no place in that world.

The serious tone of the minor mode may be one reason that Coltrane liked to use it (and later the Dorian). "Serious" is a generalization and does not apply to all minor melodies in all cultures; but it does seem fair to say that in Coltrane's music, minor tends to be serious.18 On the blues he relies heavily on the flat seventh and third, which gives his blues playing a minor quality as compared with the major-sounding blues solos of, say, Parker and Lester Young. Significantly, Coltrane liked to write blues themes in the minor. A minor blues, he told Leonard Feather in 1959, "is always good." He said in 1965, "I have a natural feeling for the minor."19

Apparently, it was also during this period that Coltrane became interested in the possibilities of sequences of fourths, something that was to figure prominently in his melodies of the 1960s.  … Coltrane  noted that around the time he was with Monk "I started playing fourth chords" 9”Coltrane on Coltrane"). However, it is hard to interpret his statement that he could create a bigger sound with "more volume" on fourths than on arpeggiated ninth chords. Perhaps this has to do with his practicing of multiphonics, which typically involves trying to bring out the overtone a fifth above (and thus related to the fourth below} each note.

Coltrane was always working on his sound. [Emphasis mine.] No doubt many of the hours that Coltrane spent practicing, throughout his life, were not devoted to finger exercises but were spent quietly experimenting with reeds and mouthpieces. Tom Dowel, Coltrane's recording engineer at Atlantic Records, remembers Coltrane's warmup routine: "John usually showed up about an hour before the session. Much in the manner of classical musicians practicing before a recital, he would stand in a corner, face the wall, play, stop, change reeds, and start again. After a while he would settle on the mouthpiece and reed that felt most comfortable to him, and then he would start to work on the 'runs' that he wanted to use during the session. I would watch him play the same passage over and over again, changing his breathing, his fingering, and experimenting with the most minute changes in his phrasing. Once in a while he would go back to a mouthpiece he had abandoned earlier."

On the saxophone finding your own sound depends largely on finding your personal combination of mouthpiece and reed. Many types and hardnesses of reeds and dozens of mouthpieces are available. Each saxophone also resonates a certain way, and the shape of one's air cavities and sinuses will also help determine the sound one gets—this last, obviously, is not under the player's control. Some players, such as Charlie Parker, had a reputation for being able to get the sound they wanted even on borrowed mouthpieces and instruments. Coltrane was not easily satisfied—he searched hard for the perfect sound. Fellow saxophonist Wayne Shorter says that Dexter Gordon recalled giving Coltrane a mouthpiece to help him project. Shorter believes Jimmy Oliver gave him one too, and that Coltrane sounded so good on it that Oliver wanted it back. By all accounts, Coltrane eventually had a large collection of mouthpieces. Even when he found a mouthpiece he liked, he would sometimes have a specialist adjust it (by fine sanding and other methods) to get closer to what he heard inside his head.

Most photographs show Coltrane playing on a metal mouthpiece, usually an Otto Link model. (Occasionally in the early 1960s, he can be seen using a black, hard-rubber model.) One might think that the metal mouthpiece created the edge in Coltrane's sound, but it's not that simple. Metal mouthpieces generally are very resonant and reinforce the upper partials, but do not by themselves determine the resulting tone. Lester Young, for example, used a metal mouthpiece on his famous recordings with Count Basie during the 1930s, and his ethereal sound was worlds apart from Coltrane's.

Coltrane experimented with different ligatures—the strap that holds the reed onto the mouthpiece. He also tried putting a piece of rubber on top of the mouthpiece, where the teeth hit. (Today one can buy such a strip at an instrument shop.) Reportedly, Coltrane was so fanatic about having a perfect connection with the instrument that he had his upper teeth filed into a slight curve so as to match the curve of the top of the mouthpiece. Coltrane talked about his setup: "I was in the habit of using extremely hard reeds, number nine, because I wanted to have a big, solid sound. And while playing with Monk I tried using number four. I very soon realized that the number nine limited my possibilities and reduced my stamina: with the four I had a volubility that made me give up the nine!" I don't know of any reed make whose numbering goes up to nine, but some mouthpieces do. Coltrane told Valerie Wilmer in 1961 that he used a hard reed, and that "my good ones usually last two weeks."

Coltrane articulated even his most rapid passages with great precision. This is accomplished through the use of the tongue on the reed. The fingers must be very accurate as well, so that the closing of the keys is coordinated with the tongueing. Coltrane told fellow saxophonist George Braith around 1966 that he also obtained clarity through "a definitive way of closing the keys" without relying as much on the tongue.

Except for early photos with Gillespie where he appears to be playing a King "Super 20" tenor, Coltrane was partial to Selmer saxophones—as are most professionals—and different Selmer models vary in sound quality and in ease of fingering. David Demsey and Carl Woideck, both saxophonists and educators, agree that in photos of the late 1950s Coltrane appears to be using the model known as a "balanced action," which was introduced in the mid-1930s and then revised around 1947. During 1960 Coltrane seems to have taken up the Mark VI model that Selmer had introduced in 1954. Shorter recalls that in the 1960s Coltrane had a brand-new Selmer that he tried out at a club in Manhattan. But he couldn't get the sound he wanted, so he drove all the way back to Huntington, Long Island — where he was living at the time — to get the old one. Coltrane was very dependent on having the right equipment.

On Coltrane's solos with the Gillespie small group in 1951, he exhibited a rich tone, a medium-fast vibrato, and pronounced use of portamento. Over the fears, his vibrato slowed down considerably. By 1955, Coltrane utilized a very slow and relatively narrow vibrato, lending a poignant delicacy to his sound. At faster tempos, Coltrane's tone became more raspy and intense. Despite enormous changes in repertory, Coltrane always sounded aggressive and virtuosic on fast numbers, serene, lyrical and sensitive on slow pieces. Compare, for example, "In a Mellotone" with Hodges from 1954 with "Don't Blame Me" of the same date; from 1957, "Time Was" with "While My Lady Sleeps"; from 1960, "Liberia" with "Central Park West"; from 1965, "Vigil" with "Welcome"; and, finally, from 1966, "Leo" with "Peace on Earth."

Coltrane's respectful approach to ballad melodies reflects a tradition before bop; the Parker way was to improvise double-time lines and fills in a ballad. Johnny Hodges was famous for his sensuous ballad paraphrases, with his own distinctive set of ornaments applied similarly each time. It is extremely likely that Coltrane learned much about ballad playing from Hodges, although he certainly learned as well from recordings of Lester Young. Young had a similar way of pacing himself on a ballad. A graphic illustration of Young's dichotomy of style as of September 1949 may be heard by comparing his frenetic solo in "Lester Leaps In," full of overblown low notes and guttural effects, with his pure, singing rendition of "Embraceable You" from the same concert.”

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Sam Jones - Down Home with the Soul Society and The Chant

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

Recorded from 1960 - 1962 with arrangements by Ernie Wilkins, Jimmy Heath and Victor Feldman these largely forgotten sessions present bassist Sam Jones in a variety of orchestral and large groups settings with a host of marvelous musicians including his mates from Cannonball Adderley's quintet, plus Frank Strozier and Blue Mitchell and the likes of either Louis Hayes, Ben Riley and Vernel Fournier booting things along from the drum chair.

Jones was the bassist with alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley’s quintet and Julian served as an informal musical advisor to Orin Keepnews who was co-owner of Riverside and the producer for its recordings.

At the time, it wasn’t unusual for a bassist to be a leader for a recording date - let alone three - but it was uncommon.

Not surprisingly, Cannonball, who was articulate in writing as he was in speaking before an audience at a club or a concert at which his group was performing, provides the following insert notes for the first of these recordings - Sam Jones - The Soul Society [Riverside - OJCCD 1789-2; RLP 1172].

As they contain a wealth of information about both Sam’s background and what went into the making of the album, I thought I’d share them with you “as is.”

Incidentally, Sam Jones - The Soul Society along with its successors - Sam Jones Plus 10 - The Chant and Sam Jones & Co. - Down Home - is still available on CD, both individually and in a combined format of three LPs on two, remastered CDs.

A word in passing. Given how little actual primary source documentation there is available to accompany much of recorded Jazz history, as the years move along, these anecdotal notes from the back of LP sleeves have become an invaluable repository of information.


“It is a special pleasure for me to write the notes to this SAM JONES album. As everyone should know, Sam is my bass player (by which I mean a lot more than just that he is the bassist in my band), and I am happy to have a connection with his first album. As I realized when I showed up at the recording studio for one of the sessions, everyone on the date was obviously also very happy to be a member of this particular "Soul Society." This pleasure and affection for Sam can very easily be heard (and, I'm sure, will be shared) by everyone listening to the album.

During the past two years, Sam has become the most sought-after bass player for recording in New York. This situation is simply a testament to the general awareness of the universal feel in his playing and to the fact that a great many of the best modern drummers choose Sam as the most relaxed section-mate they can find.

"Home," as he is affectionately known to his friends, was tagged with that name in much the same way as Lester Young became known as "Pres" — for Sam refers to everyone else as "Home"! Although born in Jacksonville, Florida (in 1927), he considers Tampa as his home town, for his family moved there when he was three years old. "Home" played bass drum in the Middleton High School band; however, he was always fascinated by the string bass, and began his professional career on that instrument in Ralph Duty's local band while still a Tampa high school student.

Sam's reputation preceded him to New York by quite a few years, via musicians who travelled through Florida, while "Home" himself was gathering experience in the Southern states. (Some of that experience was non-musical, including most of the fabled circumstances encountered by itinerant musicians. Certainly his having been stranded in Texas and arrested in Florida are among the factors that contribute to his earthy soul.) He was leader of a swinging quintet in Miami that included Blue Mitchell on trumpet; and he played in numerous rhythm-and-blues and commercial bands, including those of Tiny Bradshaw and Paul Williams. His introduction to big time jazz, however, was in Illinois Jacquet's band. "Home" then became a member of my previous band in 1956, replacing Keter Betts (who is also effectively displayed in this album). He later worked with Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk before re-entering my present quintet when it was formed in the Fall of 1959.

Sam lists as his favorite bassists the veterans Ray Brown and Israel Crosby. Among the younger players he is particularly fond of Betts and Paul Chambers. "Home" also notes that "I never heard Jimmy Blanton in person, but his record of Jack the Bear with Duke Ellington influenced my direction more than any other bass performance."

Everyone's initial reaction to Sam Jones' playing is respect for his big sound and "choice" notes. Orrin Keepnews, Riverside's A & R chief, says: "Probably the best favor ever done for me by Miles Davis is that I was first introduced to Sam by him." Sam is now Riverside's first-call bassist and although I haven't actually counted, it is my distinct impression that he has appeared on nearly half the label's releases since mid-1958 when he made his debut with Riverside on a Clark Terry date on which the rest of the rhythm section was only Thelonious and Philly Joe!

But this album is no mere gift to reward a faithful performer. Says Keepnews: "This LP was planned as a showcase for Sam's neglected solo abilities on both bass and cello — 'neglected' even though he has of course had lots of solo spots on both instruments, because neither one gets too much attention from listeners unless you really make a point of shining the spotlight on it. And Sam has so much to say on both." Neither instrument dominates here, with Sam playing each on four of the eight tracks. 

Incidentally, "Home's" cello-playing talent was first revealed on one number in a Riverside album by my brother Nat Adderley (Much Brass: RLP 12-301) and has since been featured throughout another of Nat's albums (Work Song: RLP 12-318).

The opening track here, Some Kinda Mean, is a minor piece written for cello by Keter Betts. It is highlighted by a Belts bass solo that will be talked about for some time. All Members is a blues-format composition by Jimmy Heath. The Old Country is an adaptation of an Israeli folk tune, written by Nat. Outstanding here is a walking bass solo by Sam and Blue Mitchell's open-horn sound. (Nat and Blue divide the trumpet spot on this album, by the way, in recognition of both being just about equally close and long-standing friends of Sam's.) The side closes with Jimmy Heath's big-band-styled arrangement of Just Friends, on which Sam plays remarkable cello throughout.

The second side opens with a tune of mine, entitled Home. The melody is played by arco bass and is accompanied by a repeated rhythmic figure based on two chords. Deep Blue Cello, written by Sam himself, is a swinging medium blues. No Greater Love opens most effectively with unaccompanied cello playing a rubato melody; later the rhythm section joins in, swinging lightly. Finally, So Tired is a funky Bobby Timmons work featuring a melody played by pizzicato bass.

Since most of the performers here are well-known as among the most able around, it should be pointed out in particular that this album marks the Riverside debut of Charlie Davis, who demonstrates that he is a man to be reckoned with on baritone sax.

Notes reproduced from the original album liner.”

“It is one of the jazz world's frustrations that bassist Sam Jones [1924-1981] is more valued over a decade after his passing than in his lifetime; and one of its saving graces that labels like Riverside were recording such underrated musicians at their peak. This 1961 session was Jones's second, and clearly much more than an informal blowing date. With a big band constructed around the Cannonball Adderley quintet of the time plus such stellar additions as Blue Mitchell, Jimmy Heath, and Wynton Kelly; and with Heath and Victor Feldman providing arrangements of bluesy original tunes and jazz and pop standards, Jones found an exceptional setting for his bass and cello mastery.”

Fortunately, there was to be a 1961 sequel to Sam’s first Riverside Sam Jones Plus 10 - The Chant [Riverside OJCCD - 1839-2; RLP-358] and Orrin Keepnews explains how it came about in the following notes:

“The second meeting of the "Soul Society" is hereby called to order!

In other words, the impressively talented bassist and cellist named SAM JONES, whose first recording as a leader was the Riverside album entitled "The Soul Society," is back in the spotlight. And once again he is in the company of a group of his good friends, all of whom share such important qualities as: 1) exceptional jazz skills; 2) strong admiration and affection for the remarkable Mr. Jones, who happens to be one of the best-liked men in the business; and (3 the ability to create notably soulful music.

This time much of the emphasis is on a bigger and fuller sound than on Sam's previous album. A good-sized ensemble, performing unusual scores by two of the very best of the younger jazz arrangers, provides a suitably rich orchestral background for the leader's bass and cello. And the group also includes a number of first-rank blowers to share solo honors with Sam.

Rhythm-section members are not often given albums of their own—even when they reach status such as Jones has achieved ("New Star" bassist in the 1960 DownBeat Critics' Poll; constantly in demand for record dates; a key member of the high-flying Cannonball Adderley Quintet; and regarded with something like awe by most fellow-musicians). One possible reason for this scarcity is the problem of figuring out just how to go about featuring a drummer or bassist, other than the not-particularly-satisfying idea of giving him a long solo on each number. But in the present case the initial problem can't really be said to have existed at all. For one thing, Sam has (if you'll pardon the expression) an extra string to his bow: in addition to being a bassist of unsurpassed firmness and inventiveness, he is a uniquely intriguing pizzicato cellist, providing legitimate instrumental variety right from the start. Furthermore, he is a musician of considerable taste and imagination, which led him to specifically request from tenorman Jimmy Heath and from Victor Feldman, the British-born pianist and vibist who is the newest member of the Adderley group, arrangements designed to showcase the melodic properties of both cello and bass.

The result is an album in which the leader's playing is strikingly integrated into the overall framework. Feldman scored his own deeply earthy The Chant and Benny Golson's Blues on Down for the bass session, and arranged Charlie Parker's Blue Bird and a Sam Jones original dedicated to Ray Brown, In Walked Ray, for the cellu date. Heath built versions of Miles Davis' Four and young composer Rudy Stevenson's Off-Color to feature bass, and arranged two standards for the cello session: the Harold Arlen ballad, Over the Rainbow; and the old Al Jolson vehicle Sonny Boy (Sam's performance of which is intended as a tribute to the late Oscar Pettiford).

The formation of the literally all-star group here was simply a matter of selecting from among friends and co-workers. It's easy enough to spot in the personnel listing the other members of the tight-knit Adderley group—Cannonball and Nat, Vic Feldman, Lou Hayes. Blue Mitchell has been a friend since they worked together as 'teen-agers in Florida; Nat, Lou, Blue. Jimmy Heath and Keter Betts (who plays bass on Sam's cello selections) were all present on the first Jones LP. Wynton Kelly shares the piano spot with Feldman for the simple reason that the two men share a top place in Sam's opinion- both as soloists and as invaluable accompanists. Les Spann, whose guitar is added for fuller rhythm support on numbers where bass is featured, worked alongside Sam in Dizzy Gillespie's Quintet. And so on ...

Born in Jacksonville. Florida, in November of 1924, our Sam Jones is not to be confused with the basketball Boston Celtics' Sam Jones (who is the same height but jumps higher} or the San Francisco Giants pitcher of the same name (whose right arm is probably stronger but certainly no more supple). This Jones was with Cannonball's original quintet, then with such top stars as Gillespie and Thelonious Monk before rejoining Adderley when he formed his present group in the Fall of '59. Perhaps aided by the vast amount of attention paid to the sensational Adderley band, Sam has of late begun to receive deserved recognition as one of the most important of today's bassists: an impeccable rhythm-section member and an increasingly forthright soloist. As noted previously, he is in demand for more record dates than one man could possibly get to with particular emphasis on the fact that — by the specific insistence of a great many Riverside artists — he appears on as many of this label's albums as is possible.

Among the horns, the solo emphasis here is on Mitchell, Nat Adderley and Jimmy Heath (Cannonball, feeling that the spotlight belongs on his sideman, solos only on Blues on Down, otherwise functioning as leader of the sax section). In those cases where there might be room for confusion, note that Nat solos on The Chant, Blue on Down, Sonny Boy and Off-Color. Both play on Blue Bird (Nat is first) and on Blues on Down (Mitchell playing the opening melody and taking the first trumpet solo). The piano solo on Sonny Boy is by Kelly; on Blues on Down and Off-Color by Feldman.”

—Orrin Keepnews Notes reproduced from the original album liner.

Thankfully, Orrin once again assembled Sam and his cohorts in June and August of 1962 to produce the third in the series -  Sam Jones & Co. - Down Home [Riverside OJCCD 1864-2 RLP-9432] which DownBeat rated as four stars in its review.

Bassman's Holiday could be the subtitle for Sam Jones's third Riverside album. It includes a version of Ray Brown's "Thumbstring," Jones's own "O.P." in tribute to bass/cello pioneer Oscar Pettiford, and six tracks where Jones is supported by his peers Ron Carter and Israel Crosby. This particularly well conceived collection features four tracks by a nonet/tenet playing Ernie Wilkins arrangements with the leader heard on bass, and a like number of quintet titles with flute and Jones's cello providing the lead voices. With assists from old working partners like Les Spann and Joe Zawinul, and a sampling of solos from the other all-stars heard in the ensemble, the entire program shows once again that the man they called "Home" was one of the most down bassists (and cellists) in jazz history.

“In a 1957 Down Beat interview, the late Oscar Pettiford described the bass as "one of the most important — if not the most important — instruments in any orchestra. You can take just a bass and somebody can sing to it or play to it. You don't need piano or drums. The bass can be much more of a horn than it often has been in the past. When I finish, the bass will be right down front where it belongs."

Pettiford's death in 1960 unfortunately robbed us of undoubtedly important future contributions from him. But his prophecy had already begun to come true; the scope of the bass in general has broadened, and in particular its importance as a solo instrument has greatly increased. One of the strongest illustrations of this growth is the series of albums that bassist SAM JONES has made for Riverside.

Jones is a highly regarded sideman with Cannonball Adderley's group and on many a record date, but in his sets for this label he has been given opportunities to really express his own musical personality. In "Down Home", as before, he makes the most of the situation — as a remarkable bassist and cellist; as leader of an outstanding, hand-picked supporting cast; and as a composer. In the present album there is heavier emphasis than previously on this last quality; three of the eight selections, including the title tune, were written by Jones.

Throughout this album, Sam is "right down front" — as Pettiford put it. As on his previous LPs, he divides his time between bass and cello, with four tracks devoted to each instrument. And, also as before, he is joined here by some of the finest sidemen available. Sam is one of the best-liked musicians around, and his colleagues seem always to make that extra effort towards ensuring the success of his records. Jones' regular boss, Cannonball, does not participate as a musician this time, but he did lend his services as A & R man for the session that produced 'Round Midnight, "O.P.", and Falling in Love with Love. That, by the way, was probably the last record date for Israel Crosby, the vastly respected veteran bassist, in recent years a cornerstone of the Ahmad Jamal trio. (When Crosby died, of a heart ailment, on August 11, 1962, his last leader, George Shearing, paid him a supreme compliment. Asked who would take Israel's place, Shearing replied: "I don't

think anybody   is   going  to  take  his  place;   nobody  took Art  Tatum's  place.  .  .   .")

Bassists and references to bassists abound in this album. Sam plays cello on the three tracks noted above, with Crosby in the rhythm section behind him; on Down Home, his cello is backstopped by Ron Carter on bass. Carter, one of the most impressive of the great new crop of young bassists, is also on Strollin' and Come Rain or Come Shine. Here Jones' bass is voiced with the horns in a melody part on the ensembles, with Ron functioning as the rhythm man. Sam is the soloist on both, but there is a bit of a bass duet near the end of the latter tune.

According to his "Encyclopedia of Jazz" biography, Sam's preferred bassists are Al Hall, Milt Hinton, Jimmy Blanton, Pettiford and Ray Brown. This list gives a clear indication of where he stands: squarely in the middle of a great tradition which he is continuing and enriching. And there are direct references in the material here to the last two names on the list. 

Thumbstring was written by Brown, who has explained that the title refers to the fact that the bass parts are "done with the thumb only, and going in the opposite direction from the normal way of playing" the instrument. Sam does this expertly, and a captivating strummed blues sound is the result. "O.P." is, of course, in honor of Petti-ford, who pioneered jazz cello in 1949, and is a suitably bright and joyous line.

Ernie Wilkins is responsible for the fine, functional arrangements on the four band-and-bass tracks. (The first of these, the irresistibly swinging Unit 7 — composed by Jones — has for some time now been heard in clubs as the closing theme for each set. by the Adderley group.) Ernie's ensemble passages are full of good ideas and voicings. Especially effective are the backgrounds that perfectly set off Sam's strong, sure and well-developed solos. There are also other fine choruses sprinkled through the album, by Jimmy Heath, Blue Mitchell, Frank Strozier, Les Spann (on flute), and pianists Joe Zawinul and Wynton Kelly.

Down Home is a title with several ramifications. First of all, it well describes the mood of that blues piece and, for that matter, the feeling of the album as a whole. Secondly, "Home" is Sam's nickname (he calls a lot of other people "Home'', too, the way baseball pitcher "Bobo" Newsom used to call everyone "Bobo"); and since he is a very "down" and soulful cat, this interior pun contains a strong element of accuracy.

In the interview quoted at the start of these notes, Oscar Pettiford also said: "The bass, after all, is the root of the whole thing." And certainly, after all, Sam Jones has some pretty strong roots.”


Notes reproduced from the original album liner.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Times Remembered - The Final Years of the Bill Evans Trio

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

"As the drummer with Bill Evans from 1978-1980, author Joe La Barbera recounts stories that take readers into the creative process of the Bill Evans Trio. From tune selection, to musical interaction and time feel, La Barbera finally tells the inside story of the musical genius of Bill Evans. In addition to the rare musical insight, readers get a true sense of Bill Evans the friend, father, band leader, and artist. It wasn't always happy or easy to read about the end of Evans's life, but thanks to La Barbera's great writing the story unfolded with humility, love, and honesty."

- CHRIS SMITH, author of The View from the Back of the Band: The Life and Music of Mel Lewis

“An insightful, intimate look into the mind, music and travels of pianist Bill Evans and his trio during his turbulent final years, as remembered by his colleague and friend Joe La Barbera. Many gems are revealed, from Evans's reflections on recording Kind of Blue with Miles Davis, to his conceptions on the art of playing trio, to thought provoking words of guidance for students of jazz — all providing a deeper recognition of the humanity and genius of the man."

- Renee Rosnes, Juno award-winning jazz pianist and composer

If you are a fan of the music of Bill Evans, you need to add this book to your reading list. Period.

There’s nothing else like it in the Jazz literature. 

With the exception of quoted references here and there by musicians who have played in Bill’s trios over the years [circa 1959-1980], there is no other book length treatment by any member of these groups [although bassist Chuck Israels has written an exceptional essay of the inner workings of Bill’s style] describing in detail what it was like to make music with Bill and interact with him on a personal and professional level.

With the assistance of co-author Charles Levin, himself a drummer, Joe La Barbera recounts his time with Bill from 1978 - 1980 in an expressive narrative that’s easy to read and full of anecdotes, observations and insights about Bill the bandleader, the elegant piano stylist and the human being experiencing the high’s and low’s of daily existence.

By way of background : JOE LA BARBERA attended Berklee College of Music and served two years in the 173rd U.S. Army Band before embarking on his career as a jazz musician. He has performed with world-class jazz artists including Woody Herman, Chuck Mangione, John Scofield, Jim Hall, Hank Jones, Cedar Walton, George Cables, Bud Shank, Gary Burton, Mike and Randy Brecker, and Toots Thielmans. From 1993 until 2021 he was on the faculty of the California Institute of the Arts and has been a guest artist/ lecturer at colleges around the world. In 2019 Joe received the prestigious Jazz Treasure Award from the Los Angeles Jazz Society and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He resides in Woodland Hills, California, with his spouse, Gillian Turner, and their boxer Bernie.

CHARLES LEVIN has written for the Ventura County Star, DownBeat, Jazziz, and the Monterey Jazz Festival Program. He has a BFA and MFA from the California Institute of the Arts and played drums professionally for thirty years. Levin led his own jazz group, Coda, and co-led and managed Dreamland, a touring tribute band to Joni Mitchell. He lives in Ventura, California, and New York City with his partner, Jeni Breen, and their dog Ives.

The University of North Texas Press announced the September 2021 publication of Times Remembered: The Final Years of the Bill Evans Trio by Joe La Barbera and Charles Levin with this brief press release.

In the late 1970s legendary pianist Bill Evans, one of the most influential jazz musicians of all time, was at the peak of his career. He revolutionized the jazz trio (bass, piano, drums) by giving each part equal emphasis in what jazz historian Ted Gioia called a "telepathic level" of interplay. It was an ideal opportunity for a sideman, and after auditioning in 1978, Joe La Barbera was ecstatic when he was offered the drum chair, completing the trio with Evans and bassist Marc Johnson.

In Times Remembered, La Barbera and co-author Charles Levin provide an intimate fly-on-the-wall peek into Evans's life, critical recording sessions, and behind-the-scenes anecdotes of life on the road. Joe regales the trio's magical connection, a group that quickly gelled to play music on the deepest and purest level imaginable. He also watches his dream gig disappear, a casualty of Evans's historical drug abuse when the pianist dies in a New York hospital emergency room in 1980. But La Barbera tells this story with love and respect, free of judgment, showing Evans's humanity and uncanny ability—even in his final days—to transcend physical weakness and deliver first-rate performances at nearly every show.

Times Remembered includes a foreword by Hal Miller, a discography of the band's work, and numerous "breakout boxes" with reminiscences by musicians who knew Evans, interspersed with La Barbera's memories of the same times.

This is a fun read; the book basically becomes a vehicle for a “conversation” that Joe has with his readers.

The Itinerary compiled by Tonino Vantaggiato which concludes the book [pages 187 -190] along with a listing of Bill Evans’ Trio recording featuring Marc Johnson and Joe along with the footnotes, bibliography and list of online sites devoted to Evans offer the reader and indispensable repository through which to explore the work of the group during the last three years of its existence.

Beginning at the beginning, Joe’s reminiscences about the very musical LaBarbera family are a throwback to a time when music formed an important part of a self-entertainment element in American family life

All three of the La Barbera brothers - Pat, John and Joe - would attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston and Joe’s description of what the atmosphere was like at that grand educational Jazz institution along with the Who’s Who of contemporary Jazz musicians who passed through it while the brothers were there forms a fascinating story-within-a-story.

Throughout the book, the anecdotal inserts by musicians who are important to Joe’s initial and continuing development as a professional musician add depth to the background of Joe’s career as it leads up to his time on Bill’s trio. These include statements and recollections by drummer Peter Erskine, pianist Andy LaVerne, bassist Marc Johnson, pianist Denny Zeitlin, among many others.

The crushing events that cascaded into Bill’s death on September 15, 1980 are poignantly but not mordantly described by Joe in a way that no one else ever could because it was he that drove Bill to the hospital on the day Bill died with Laurie Verchomin his girlfriend helping to stabilize him.

Bill actually managed to give Joe driving directions to Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. 

In the aftermath, Joe alludes to the stresses and strains of what he went through to keep it all together after he heard  the attending physician’s pronouncement: “I’m sorry your friend didn’t make it.”

Fortunately, although Joe lost his dream job with Bill’s passing, other opportunities soon came his way including a ten year stint as vocalist Tony Bennett’s drummer and, beginning in 1993, a 25 year association as a drum teacher at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, CA.

Of course, the aspects of Joe’s book that are the most rewarding are his personal memories of his time on Bill’s trio so let’s close by sharing a few of these.

“Another concept I found interesting was something Bill called "The Joy of Discovery." I first heard him use this term at a clinic in Tucson, Arizona in the spring of 1979. The trio performed a series of workshops and a concert. I loved this phrase and all it implied from the start. At one point, a student pointedly asked Bill what notes he used in a particular chord voicing on a recording. It's a logical question, and many of us have fielded similar questions about something we may have played on a record.

But Bill's answer was not what any of us expected. He told the student, and I'm paraphrasing here, I can tell you exactly what I played, but it will have no real meaning for you and you'll probably forget it quickly. What you really need to do is to sit down with the song I played and work through it yourself as I did. Then find things that are personal to you based on your understanding of music to date. If I just tell you what you ask, I will be robbing you of the joy of discovery. This was a fantastic lesson for me and the kids.

What about the joy of discovery on a professional level? I have definitely made my own discoveries in the practice room and still do today. But Bill offered me and everyone who ever worked with him the opportunity to make discoveries on the bandstand. He did this by never having an agenda beyond full participation by all of us in the group. He did not want you to sound like the person you just replaced (and believe me, some bandleaders do!) but to find your voice within the music for yourself. This requires a leader with

tremendous patience and confidence—confidence in his own abilities and the ability he perceived in you.”


“Meanwhile, Bill weighed in with this comment about the trio with Marc and myself. "I have the feeling that this current trio is more similar to the one with Scott and Paul than any I've had before," he told Robert Kenselaar in a 1979 interview in The Aquarian. "I don't know how, exactly, what it is except that they inspire me to go for that fresh approach and when I do, they go right with whatever is happening. Maybe it's the mixture of personalities and interests. I don't want to put down any of the trios that I've had because they're all special in their own way. But I feel like the perspective for this trio offers some potential that the others might not have had."

Robert Palmer, writing in a 1979 Rolling Stone interview, agreed. "Johnson and La Barbera are sensitive and adept musicians," Palmer wrote. "They aren't the most spectacular virtuosos on their instruments. But they are the right players ... right for Evans."

The point here is that Bill had no agenda for a new member of the trio other than keep your ears open and respect the music. What's really important to me in all these comments is that this is what Bill was feeling. Fans and history will decide who they like the best; it's really not the point. I'd be happy if my epitaph read, "Bill Dug Me."

In the two years I played with him, he never put his own ego ahead of the music. As a sideman, I was given a great deal of freedom but along with it came responsibility. The music came first—always.”

Historical Perspective

“When it comes to Bill Evans, fans and musicians alike all have their favorite trios and eras of Bill's career. Bill would never compare trios "qualitatively but more in terms of spirit" as he stated in an interview after a concert in Molde, Norway.1 Certainly, reasonable minds can argue the talents and abilities of the individual members of each trio. I would not fare too well side-by-side with "Philly" Joe Jones, who, by anyone's estimation, including my own, was one of the greatest jazz drummers of all time—and Bill's personal favorite, I might add.

The fact is. all of Bill's trios were great and for a very simple reason: Bill Evans was the pianist in each one. Arguably, the bassists and drummers who played with Bill were all exceptional and made enormous contributions to his music and musical growth. Bill's intense emotional style, self-expression, clarity of thought and overall extremely high musicianship can be experienced on all of his recordings, no matter who his partners were.

Bill Evans raised each one of us to a level only he could help us achieve, and this informed the musical journey we experienced later in our careers. Some musicians have this ability and strength to lift everyone around them. Bill had this quality ... in spades. He gave me the strength that allows me to help other musicians play their best. Besides being a great soloist. Bill was an equally great accompanist, always listening and supportive to the soloist. For me, this aspect of being a musician, particularly in the rhythm section, is as enjoyable as taking a solo.

I feel there's a misconception regarding Bill Evans' preference for side-men. Bill stayed open to working with players from a variety of styles and interests. As I've said before, "Philly'' Joe Jones was his all-time favorite drummer and obviously Bill felt a very special connection with bassist Scott LaFaro, especially in the development of the trio's identity. But the first bass player he hired for his trio was Jimmy Garrison and, of course, he worked with Paul Chambers in Miles Davis's Band. Bill told me that he always enjoyed playing with Percy Heath and, on one occasion at the Village Vanguard, bassist John Clayton sat in, and Bill enjoyed that as well.

That all the trios had merit in their own way was not lost on jazz journalists, critics or fans.”

For order information directly through the University of North Texas Press please use this link.

The book is also available through retail and online booksellers and would make a wonderful holiday gift for any Jazz fan.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Sound of Jazz by Whitney Balliett

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

Until the publication of Whitney Balliett’s essay “The Sound of Jazz” in the New Yorker [1983], very little of the background information was known by the general public about what is arguably the best program on Jazz in performance ever produced for TV as well as Whitney’s role in its development.

It’s a fascinating story from so many perspectives that I thought I’d share it with you as a remembrance of times gone by for some of the original makers of the music.

MP3 files of the program are available for download and used CD copies can still be found through various online sellers.

“The confusion about the soundtrack of "The Sound of Jazz," the celebrated hour-long program broadcast live on CBS television on December 8, 1957, began a minute or so before the program ended, when an announcer said, "Columbia Records has cut a long-playing record of today's program, which will be called The Sound of Jazz. It'll be released early next year." 

A Columbia recording by that name and bearing the CBS television logotype was issued early in 1958, but it was not the soundtrack of the show. It was a recording made on December 4th in Columbia's Thirtieth Street studio as a kind of rehearsal for the television production. It included many of the musicians who did appear on December 8th, and except for one number the materials were the same. Columbia probably made the recording as a precaution: a live jazz television program lasting a full hour (then, as it is now, the basic unit of television time was the minute) and built around thirty-odd (unpredictable) jazz musicians might easily turn into a shambles. It didn't. The soundtrack, which is at last available in its entirety — as The Real Sound of Jazz, on Pumpkin Records — is superior to the Columbia record in almost every way, sound included.

The Sound of Jazz has long been an underground classic, and a lot of cotton wool has accumulated around it. So here, allowing for vagaries of memory, is how the program came to be. In the spring of 1957, Robert Goldman asked me if I would be interested in helping put together a show on jazz for John Houseman's new "Seven Lively Arts" series, scheduled to be broadcast on CBS in the winter of 1957-58. I submitted an outline, and it was accepted. I invited Nat Hentoff to join me as co-advisor, and we began discussing personnel and what should be played. Our wish was to offer the best jazz there was in the simplest and most direct way — no history, no apologetics, no furbelows. But John Crosby, the television columnist of the Herald Tribune, had been hired as master of ceremonies for the "Seven Lively Arts," and we feared that he would do just what we wanted to avoid — talk about the music. We suggested listing the musicians and the tunes on tel-ops (now common practice), but Crosby was under contract for the whole series, and that was that. Crosby, it turned out, pretty much agreed with us, and what he did say was to the point. For the brilliant visual side of the show, CBS chose the late Robert Herridge as the producer and Jack Smight as the director. The excitement of the camerawork and of Smight's picture selection — he had five cameramen — has never been equaled on any program of this kind.

Here is the form the program finally took: A big band, built around the nucleus of the old Count Basie band, was the first group to be heard, and it included Roy Eldridge, Doc Cheatham, Joe Newman, Joe Wilder, and Emmett Berry on trumpets; Earle Warren, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, and Gerry Mulligan on reeds,- Vic Dickenson, Benny Morton, and Dicky Wells on trombones; and a rhythm section of Basie, Freddie Green, Eddie Jones, and Jo Jones. This Utopian band, which Basie seemed immensely pleased to front, played a fast blues, "Open All Night," written and arranged by Nat Pierce, who did all the arranging on the show. Then a smaller band, made up of Red Allen and Rex Stewart on trumpet and cornet, Pee Wee Russell on clarinet, Hawkins, Dickenson, Pierce, Danny Barker on guitar, Milt Hinton on bass, and Jo Jones, did the old Jelly Roll Morton-Louis Armstrong "Wild Man Blues" and Earl Hines' "Rosetta." The group was a distillation of the various historic associations, on recordings, of Allen and Russell, of Allen and Hawkins, and of Stewart and Hawkins, with Dickenson's adaptability holding everything together. 

The rhythm section was all-purpose and somewhat in the Basie mode. Thelonious Monk, accompanied by Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass and Osie Johnson on drums, did his "Blue Monk." The big band returned for a slow blues, "I Left My Baby," with Jimmy Rushing on the vocal, and for a fast thirty-two-bar number by Lester Young called "Dickie's Dream." Billie Holiday sang her blues "Fine and Mellow," accompanied by Mal Waldron on piano and by Eldridge, Cheatham, Young, Hawkins, Webster, Mulligan, Dickenson, Barker, Hinton, and Osie Johnson. The Jimmy Giuffre Three, with Giuffre on reeds, Jim Hall on guitar, and Jim Atlas on bass, did Giuffre's "The Train and the River," and the show was closed by a slow blues, in which Giuffre and Pee Wee Russell played a duet, accompanied by Barker, Hinton, and Jo Jones. Crosby introduced each group, and there were pre-recorded statements about the blues from Red Allen, Rushing, Billie Holiday, and Guiffre. (I found these intrusive, but Hentoff and Herridge liked them.) 

The show was held in a big, bare two-story studio at Ninth Avenue and Fifty-sixth Street, and the musicians were told to wear what they wanted. Many wore hats, as jazz musicians are wont to do at recording sessions. Some had on suits and ties, some were in sports shirts and tweed jackets. Monk wore a cap and dark glasses with bamboo side pieces. Billie Holiday arrived with an evening gown she had got specially for the show, and was upset when she found that we wanted her in what she was wearing—a pony tail, a short-sleeved white sweater, and plaid pants. There was cigarette smoke in the air, and there were cables on the floor. A ladder leaned against a wall. Television cameras moved like skaters, sometimes photographing each other. The musicians were allowed to move around: Basie ended up watching Monk, and later Billie Holiday went over and stood beside Basie.

The atmosphere at the Columbia recording session was similar. Many of the musicians had not been together in a long time, and a rare early-December blizzard, which began just before the session and left as much as a foot of snow on the ground, intensified everything. It also caused problems. Our plan had been to reunite the All-American rhythm section of Basie, Freddie Green, Walter Page on bass, and Jo Jones, but Page called and said that he was sick and that, anyway, he couldn't find a cab. (He didn't make the television show, either, and he died two weeks later.) Eddie Jones, Basie's current bassist, replaced him. Thelonious Monk didn't turn up, and that is why Mal Waldron recorded a four-minute piano solo, aptly titled "Nervous." 

There were various other differences between the recording and the show. Frank Rehak took Benny Morton's place on the recording, because Morton was busy. Harry Carney, a man of infinite graciousness, filled in for Gerry Mulligan, a man of infinite ego, because Mulligan insisted he be paid double scale, and was refused. Doc Cheatham solos on the Columbia session but only plays obbligatos behind Billie Holiday on the television show; he had asked to be excused from all soloing, claiming that it would ruin his lip for his regular gig with a Latin band. Lester Young provides obbligatos behind Jimmy Rushing on "I Left My Baby" on the Columbia record, and he also solos twice. He was particularly ethereal that day, walking on his toes and talking incomprehensibly, and most of the musicians avoided him. But he was intractable on Sunday during the first of the two run-throughs that preceded the television show. He refused to read his parts, and he soloed poorly. He was removed from the big-band reed section and was replaced by Ben Webster, and his only solo is his famous twelve bars on "Fine and Mellow"—famous because this sequence had been used so many times on other television shows and because of Billie Holiday's expression as she listens to her old friend, an expression somewhere between laughter and tears. Billie Holiday came close to not being on the show. A week or so before, word of her difficulties with drugs and the law had reached the upper levels at CBS, and it was suggested that she be replaced by someone wholesome, like Ella Fitzgerald. We refused, and were backed by Herridge, and she stayed.

It is astonishing how good the music is on "The Real Sound of Jazz." Billie Holiday and Red Allen and Jimmy Rushing are in fine voice. The big-band ensembles are generally dazzling. The solos are almost always first-rate. (Giuffre is dull, and Roy Eldridge is overexcited.) Listen to Dickenson's boiling, shouting statement on "Dickie's Dream," wisely taken at a slightly slower tempo than on the Columbia record, and to his easy, rocking solo on "Wild Man Blues." And listen to Rex Stewart, sly and cool, on "Wild Man" (he had recently emerged from a long semi-retirement) and to the way Jo Jones frames its breaks—suspending time, shaping melody, italicizing emotion. Some of the music on the show has not weathered well. Monk, surprisingly, sounds hurried and the Giuffre trio, which was extremely popular at the time, is thin and synthetic. And Pee Wee Russell swallows Giuffre in their duet. CBS never ran the program again, but it was shown at the Museum of Modern Art in the sixties, and there is now a copy at the Museum of Broadcasting.”