Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Meet Jim Rotondi

Jim Rotondi is part of a coterie of outstanding young trumpeters on the Jazz scene today, both domestically and internationally, that includes Roy Hargrove, Nicholas Payton, Ryan Kisor, Alex Sipiagin, Joe Magnarelli, Scott Wendholt, Terence Blanchard,  Rudd Breuls, Bert Joris, Fabrizio Bosso, Flavio Boltro among others.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles and the crack filmmakers at CerraJazzLTD productions put together the following video that features photos of Jim as well as most of the album covers from his recordings on Gerry Teekens’ Criss Cross label and Marc Edelman’s Sharp Nine Records.

The audio track is from Jim’s Bop [Criss Cross 1156]. The tune is entitled King of the Hill which Jim co-wrote with tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander. Joining Jim and Eric on this cut are Harold Mabern on piano, John Webber on bass and drummer Joe Farnsworth.

Details about Jim Rotondi’s  background and his current musical affiliations are thoroughly outlined in these informative insert notes by Bret Primack.

© -Bret Primack, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Jim's Bop [Criss Cross CD 1156]

When I listen to this music, I'm reminded of the records that came out during the late 50s and 60s on the Blue Note label. That was a golden era in Jazz and on Blue Note, there was a stable of first rate musicians who recorded music in varying configurations that has more than stood the test of time. It was certainly music that reflected the age but thirty years later, it sounds as fresh and new as the day it was recorded.

That same freshness permeates every fiber of these grooves, as it does on most Criss Cross recordings. And like the Blue Note of the 60s, there's a stable of young, New York based musicians recording for Gerry Teekens' label who have set a standard of excellence that insures their music is guaranteed to survive the ages as well.

If this were the 60s, I suspect you'd find Jim Rotondi standing alongside Freddie Hubbard , Lee Morgan, Donald Byrd and the rest of the Blue Note brass section as a trumpeter with his own singular voice. Here in the 90s, his second release as a leader puts him in the forefront of the talented trumpeters on today's scene. And like that Blue Note stable, Jim works with a group of musicians in varying configurations. On this date, two of his principal collaborators enlivening the proceedings significantly are tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, and drummer Joe Farnsworth. The three of them have played and recorded together for a number of years now and have a collective group called One For All.

In addition to bassist John Webber, certainly no slouch in this company, a survivor of the 60s Blue Note sound is on board as well, Rakin' and Scrapin' and still a keyboard contender, Harold Mabern. A veteran of so many classic sessions, most notably for this writer, his work with Lee Morgan, Mabern's presence here is a touchstone to jazz history not lost on his young collaborators.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Rotondi has nice things to say about the men who made this music.

Eric Alexander: "This record is a good example of the way we work together. We got together two days before the date and wrote all the material. That's how we do records, on our own dates and with other musicians. Writing under the gun works well for Eric and 1. 1 first met Eric in 1990, when he was studying at William Paterson, along with Joe Farnsworth. Right away, we started playing together. Eric gave me my first date as a sideman too , on his record "Straight Up." So for the past eight years, we've played quite a bit, off and on."

"Eric is such a strong player that I find myself constantly being challenged and trying to be on a par with him in terms of the strength of his ideas. Another thing about Eric, and some may not hear it this way, is that he's very disciplined but spontaneous as well. It rubs off when we play together. Like on this record, at the session, we put together some background things on the spot."

"In addition to working together, we're also friends. We go out to Yankee Stadium for baseball. Joe too. In fact, Eric, Joe and I have been like frat brothers since I've known them. Our playing reflects that; we're very in tune, spiritually, very much on the same level."

Joe Farnsworth: "I went to college at North Texas State from '82 to '85 with Joe's brother, James, who was a baritone saxophone player and that's when I first met Joe. When I moved to New York, there were actually three brothers, Joe, James and John, who were are all musicians."

"The first thing I like about Joe's playing is that he has so much understanding of the different periods and drummers that I don't necessarily hear in young drummers. He understands the history of so much music that anything I play, he's going to know where it's coming from. A lot of musicians want to play with Joe because of that. Lately, he's worked with George Coleman, Cedar Walton and Benny Golson."

Harold Mabern: "I first met Harold when we played together on Eric's first date and we played briefly with George Coleman's Octet. In fact, that group made a recording that was never released. Here and there, over the last eight years, I've done a few more things with
him. He teaches out on William Paterson so I've been privileged to be exposed and associated with him for a while and it's an honor to have him on the record, which is also his first sideman date for Criss Cross."

"Harold knows how to make anything better. He'll always have suggestions on how to make an ordinary tune into much more of a vehicle for the band, a focal point.. He adds things in the arrangements and also just by what he plays, because he's a fantastic soloist and it's great to have him playing behind me. It brings everyone's level up. He makes everyone play better."

John Webber: "John's been on the scene for a long time now and is also a friend. He's from Chicago and works with Johnny Griffin but he's also played with people like Brad Mehldau and Etta Jones."

"John is a very solid bass player, there's absolutely nothing contrived or extraneous in his playing. And his personality is like that as well. His time is right, the notes are right, and the changes are always right, he's like a rock"

As for the tunes, King of the Hill is Jim's tribute to Freddie Hubbard, which he co-wrote with Eric. "Freddie had the ability to write tunes that were so much a part of his personality," Jim explains, having been studying Hubbard's playing for so long that he considers him a primary influence. "Freddie wasn't the first guy I studied, actually my first influences were Clifford Brown and Woody Shaw. When I got to college, I started getting more into transcribing solos and doing a transcription for his 'Birdlike " solo on 'Ready For Freddie " really opened me up to his playing. His playing on that recording seemed so perfect, so flawless which is really amazing because the trumpet is not as flawless as other instruments. It's hard to be that perfect on the horn. Every trumpet player should be aware of and study Freddie Hubbard."

Last Call is another co-composition Jim did with Eric. "I came up with a piano riff and told Eric I wanted a gospel thing and he came up with the line. It's not a gospel song in the true sense but we both play with Charles Earland so it's got that vibe, kind of an end of the night, hanging in a bar vibe."

El Patito, which is Spanish for the duck, was written by Eric, although '.we did work on it together but the melody is entirely his. I think it's reminiscent of a tune on Lee Morgan's Rump-roller album, 'Edda.' Harold plays so great on things like this, he just sets up a big, fat blanket of rhythm to play over."

Trombonist Steve Davis, another remarkably proficient young player in the Criss Cross stable, is a good friend of Jim's and he recommended the standard, We'll Be Together Again. Another standard, All or Nothing At All, gets an up-tempo treatment here, in "the old Blue Note style. Just the tune, not too much arrangement."

Reflecting on standards, Jim laments their loss, feeling "they really don't write melodies with great harmony anymore. There's lots of great writers now writing good tunes, but there's something about certain standard writers, the ones who wrote strong melodies with interesting chord changes."

Jim took Moon Rays from Horace Silver and his album Further Exploration . Silver's work has also been an influence. "When I first started playing with Joe and Eric, I would transcribe Horace's arrangements and we'd play them straight from the record. His original arrangement on this is a slow mambo but we decided to take it up-tempo. But with Horace's compositions, there are always a bunch of different ways they can be played."

Jim picked Stevie Wonder's modern standard You Are The Sunshine of My Life because he wanted a more contemporary pop tune as part of the program. Also, he explains that "Harold loves to do stuff like that. Even Eric Clapton tunes, Harold can make great vehicles out of. He came up with the arrangement and it's the perfect example of how Harold can make what would normally be a simple tune and give it a new life with great arrangement."

Joe Farnsworth wrote Jim's Bop, as dedication to both Jim, this trumpeter, and his late brother, who played baritone sax.

Reflecting on this session, Jim is pleased, feeling it's a very accurate of "how well we work together. We did this date in a little over five hours and everybody has to be really in sync for that to happen."

In addition to his own gigs, Jim is currently working with Charles Earland and Lionel Hampton, as well as gigs with George Coleman. And with Eric and Joe, is part of One For All. "To establish yourself and get work in clubs, it's about as difficult young people getting into the music now as it's ever been. But I've been at it a long time now, eleven years this month, and it's been a steady process."

Bret Primack June,1998 http://www.jazzvideoguy.tv/

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cedar Walton

“If you must put Cedar in a bag [style], then he is a hard-bopper. How could he be anything else after working for so many years with Art Blakey who instilled into all his sidemen the importance of the beat? But this is not to suggest Cedar lacks subtlety, wit or sensitivity. However, when certain grooves are required then the creative Mr. Walton is just the pianist to find them. He learned all about the blues back there in Dallas, but those skills aside he is a most gifted interpreter of ballads and places much emphasis on great original tunes from jazz repertory.”
- Mark Gardner

“Cedar appeals to the side of my personality that needs things to be precise and exact. Everything is crystal clear, well thought through, delivered with the highest degree of musical intention— in terms of phrasing, articulation, re-harmonizing. You can expect certain things from him on the highest level, and he is going to give them to you."
- David Hazeltine, Jazz pianist

“The excitement of fresh ideas laid out against a familiar terrain, the excitement of surprise, is the nature of Cedar Walton’s playing. …I think we are beginning to realize how precious are musicians like Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan, Kenny Barron and Cedar Walton who have found their own widely ranging paths. As pianists, they may not be innovators, but they are originals because they have mastered certain techniques for the expression of their own feelings and fancies.”
- Gary Giddins

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

I like Jazz pianists who play in a melodic, graceful and light manner in the style of Tommy Flanagan and Hank Jones. Jimmy Rowles, also comes to mind as someone who plays in this vein as does Cedar Walton.

I could listen to these guys play for hours and quite literally have.

Lately, I’ve been absorbed in the music of pianist Cedar Walton

Because his lilting and lyrical style makes such effective use of evenly articulated, eight-note phrasing, Cedar's solos are very easy to hear; it’s almost like he enunciates the music. Everything he plays is so clearly spaced that it falls easily on the ears.

He’s also never far away from a touch of the blues and funk.

Cedar rides the time so well. He’s a drummer’s delight, always swinging; you just lay it down back there and try to stay out of the way.

The first time I remember hearing him play was on a recording by J.J. Johnson’s sextet which included trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan.

Shortly afterwards, Cedar [and Freddie] joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and I was able to "catch" Cedar in person when Art’s group came out to the Left Coast in 1962 to play the Renaissance on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, CA.

To give Freddie and Curtis Fuller [trombone] a chance to rest their “chops” - in this case, brass player term for “lips” – each night, Art would feature Cedar in a trio version of That Old Feeling.

We’ve used Cedar’s performance of the tune from the Three Blind Mice album as the audio track for the following video tribute to him. The album was recorded in performance during the Messengers’ 1962 two-week stint at the Club Renaissance.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mel Torme’ + Marty Paich = Musical Magic

“The young Torme's voice was honey-smooth, light, limber, inef­fably romantic and boyish; and it's amazing how many of those qualities he kept, even into old age … Torme's rhythmic panache and tonal sweetness turn back the years.”
- Richard Cook & Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD.

“The one major singer who consistently sought to use the cool sound in his work …
was Mel Torme … [who was] inspired by the sound of the Miles Davis Nonet and the Gerry Mulligan Tentet, the two celebrated mini bands that had set off the cool reaction to bop’s heat. He and West Coast arranger Marty Paich put together a ten-piece unit patterned after both the Davis and Mulligan bands.

In a masterful series of sets like Mel Torme and The Marty Paich Dektette [Bethlehem] and Mel Torme Sings Shubert Alley [Verve], Torme and Paich brilliantly recast familiar show tunes into fresh, exciting new forms.”
- Will Friedwald in Bill Kirchner, ed., The Oxford Companion to Jazz 

“On the job, he [Marty Paich] became (in my estimation, of course) a U-Boat
Commander. On the job, the exact performance of his music was not just
desirable ... it was ordained. Quite often, Marty delivered a
passionate speech to whatever band was in front of him - having to do
with the importance of playing his music the only way possible - his
way. Which I'll add was unquestionably the right way. Usually as he
spoke, his voice would tighten and now and then a tremor could be
detected. It meant that much to him ... and I never encountered this
level of determination in anyone else I played for. Ever. And I
appreciated him all the more for it. Some of my colleagues, though,
didn't. Everybody considered him a gifted arranger, but some didn't
mind if they didn't get the call to work for him. I enjoyed every
minute of it ... even the speeches.”
-Trombonist, Milt Bernhart

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

After revisiting the music of Marty Paich in the context of the arrangements he prepared for Stan Kenton’s Orchestra, his work with alto saxophonist Art Pepper on the latter’s Art Pepper + 11 album and the charts he wrote for his own big band – we’ve done video tributes to all three – the editorial staff at JazzProfiles suddenly remembered that it had made a grand omission.

What about Marty’s writing for vocalist Mel Torme!?

Mel and Marty began their collaboration in the mid-1950s on a series of recordings for Bethlehem Records – most notably, Mel Torme’: Lulu’s Back in Town – on which Marty used his trademark prowess for taking a relatively small band and making it sound like a much larger orchestra.

The Torme’-Paich association produced musical magic in the sense that Marty’s arrangements personified in the public mind all that was hip, slick and cool in Mel’s vocal stylings.

Paich’s writing had a strong compatibility with Torme’s singing style. He had an uncanny way of producing arrangements that gave flight to Torme’s vocal acrobatics while at the same time keeping them from getting out-of-hand.

The partnership continued in effect during the early 1960’s when Mel moved to Verve. Their best work together at this label was on the Mel Torme’ Swings Shubert Alley about which Richard Cook and Brian Morton had this to say:

“This is arguably Torme's greatest period on record, and it cap­tures the singer in full flight. His range had grown a shade tougher since his 1940s records, but the voice is also more flexible, his phrasing infinitely assured, and the essential lightness of timbre is used to suggest a unique kind of tenderness. Marty Paich's arrangements are beautifully polished and rich-toned, the French horns lending a distinctive color to ensembles which sound brassy without being metallic. There may be only a few spots for soloists but they're all made to count, in the West Coast manner of the day. It's loaded with note-perfect scores from Paich and a couple of pinnacles of sheer swing in 'Too Darn Hot' (a treatment Torme kept in his set to the end) and 'Just In Time', as well as a definitive 'A Sleepin' Bee'.”

You can hear the musical magic that the duo of Torme and Paich produce on the Whatever Lola Wants audio track to the following video tribute to Mel. Throughout, listen for how Mel brings the fictional Lola to life with his phrasing of the tune's lyrics. There's disdain and more than a touch of pity in his voice. It's like he's saying to the young man about to be ensnared in Lola's clutches - "You don't stand a chance."  The genius is in the details; Mel's not just singing the song, he's portraying it.

Be sure and also listen for:

[1] Marty’s use of a musical reference to Dizzy’s Manteca in the intro
[2] Art Pepper’s roaring alto solo at minutes
[3] trombonist Frank Rosolino’s quote of Dizzy’s A Night in Tunisia at the beginning of his solo at
[4] the subtle key change when Mel comes back in at minutes with Marty’s use of a riff based on Bernie’s Tune in the background
[5] the one-man, three-note fanfare that Mel employs at 3:07 minutes to end the tune; not many vocalist could pull this off.

The following insert notes by to Mel Torme’ Swings Shubert Alley by Lawrence D. Stewart insert notes reveal the amount of thought, knowledge and sensitivity that went into the development of this recording [paragraphing modified].

“Geometry insists that the whole is equal to the sum of its parts; but when the proposition is Mel Torme plus Marty Paich, the result is far more than a combination of singular talents. Torme and Paich have made over half a dozen records together, always experi­menting in the balancing of this jazz equation. But the formula they have uncovered for this set is the most astonishing yet.

Torme does not conceive of himself as a soloist with a background accom­paniment. Instead, he treats his voice as one more instrument in the band and achieves his effects by balance, counter-rhythm and even harmonic dissonances, which ring against these instrumental changes. "Most singers want to finish singing and then have the band come in for a bar and a half—and then they're on again," observes Paich. "But Mel's always saying 'Let the band play — let the band play.' It’s quite unselfish from his standpoint and it doesn't overload the album. It makes for good listening." It does even more than that: It gives a totally new conception to some rather traditional music.

Shubert Alley is the home of stand­ards, and on this album we hear a dozen from as many shows of the past two decades. Broadway show orches­trations have a certain sameness which is effective in the theatre — where attention is directed toward the action on stage — but sometimes makes rather routine listening at home. (In­deed, does anyone ever hear an Origi­nal Cast album and not have his thoughts drawn to the footlights rather than to the song?) The first problem in choosing the numbers for this set was to pick tunes which had a jazz potential. Paich remarked, "When we picked the tunes we chose those geared not only to serve Mel as vocalist but to serve instrumentally as well."

"Too Close for Comfort" (Mr. Won­derful, 1956; music and lyrics by Jerry Bock, Larry Holofcener and George Weiss): A fine introduction to the set, with its rhythmic treatment, its stac­cato emphasis on rhymes, and its building to a sustained climax with harmonic changes. "Once in Love with Amy" (Where's Charley?, 1948; with mu­sic and lyrics by Frank Loesser): Origi­nally Ray Bolger soft-shoed this sing-along ballad to ecstatic audi­ences. Besides recreating this song-and-dance situation, Torme works up some melodic improvisations for the lyric.

"A Sleepin' Bee" (House of Flowers, 1954; music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Truman Capote and Harold Arlen): This melody began as one of composer Arlen's famous "jots." He had thought of developing it for Judy Garland's A Star Is Born, but the tune was put aside and soon he himself was working on its lyric. "On the Street Where You Live" (My Fair Lady, 1956; music by Frederick Loewe, lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner): Torme and Paich take us for a fast trot down this famed thoroughfare. In the show—as on this recording — the song enthusiastically announced Freddy's love for Eliza Doolittle. So successfully did Freddy plead his case that Shaw himself in­sisted that it was to be Freddy, and not Professor Henry Higgins, who was to win the girl.

"All I Need Is the Girl" (Gypsy, 1959; music by Jule Styne, lyr­ics by Stephen Sondheim): For this tap-and-song specialty, Torme has con­cocted some up-dated lyrics, with ech­oes of Max Shulman and Ira Gershwin. "Just in Time" (Bells Are Ringing, 1956; music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green): Torme establishes this contemporary stand­ard to the accompaniment of bass and drums; then the band comes in, and soon Torme is spinning out improvisa­tions upon this insistently simple me­lodic line.

"Hello, Young Lovers" (The King and I,1951; music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II): Conceived as a bittersweet ballad, this song here gets sped up as Torme and Paich give it new emphasis and phras­ing. "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top" (Oklahoma!, 1943; music by Ri­chard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Ham­merstein II): The song itself may have been in the tradition of "The Donkey Serenade" with its jog-jog tempo and repetitive melody, but the show created its own genre: the American folk operetta. "Old Devil Moon" (Finian s Rainbow, 1947; music by Bur­ton Lane; lyrics by E. Y. Harburg): This song takes its title from a phrase in "Fun to be Fooled," a song which E. Y. Harburg had written with Ira Gershwin and Harold Arlen for 1934's Life Begins at 8:40. Paich now gives this quasi-Irish ballad a South American beat.

"What­ever Lola Wants" (Damn Yankees, 1955; music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross): As handmaiden to the Devil, Gwen Verdon undulated this song to acclaim on both the stage and screen. Torme has worked in his own allusion to Nabokov and worked over the song to advantage. "Too Darn Hot" (Kiss Me, Kate, 1948; music and lyrics by Cole Porter): Here we have a bril­liant arrangement, excitingly enunci­ated, with all the seldom-heard lyrics; and hear that repeated title and key changes which ever set it off.

"Lonely Town" (On the Town, 1944; music by Leonard Bernstein; lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green): A song which has never lost its memorable evocation of World War II New York, this number can also be a contempo­rary supper-club lament, as Torme and Paich prove in this final demonstration of their facility with jazz equation.


Personnel: Mel Torme, vocals, with the Marty Paich Orchestra. Orchestra includes Al Porcino, Stu Williamson, trumpets; Frank Rosolino, trombone; Vince DeRosa, French horn; Red Callender, tuba; Art Pepper, alto sax; Bill Perkins, tenor sax; Bill Hood, bari­tone sax; Marty Paich, piano; Joe Mondragon, bass; Mel Lewis, drums.

Arranged and conducted by Marty Paich.

Recorded January 21, February 4 and 11, 1960 in Los Angeles.

Produced by Russ Garcia. Recording Engineer: Val Valentin

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dick Grove: Little Bird Suite

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

Although we couldn’t remember exactly when, an Internet friend informs us that we acquired our LP copy of composer-arranger Dick Grove’s Little Bird Suite [Pacific Jazz #74] in 1963.

Dick was very active in Southern California Jazz and musical circles dating back to the mid-1950s when, as its pianist, he was a member of the Westlake College of Music Quintet that won the “Easter-week, Intercollegiate Jazz Festival” sponsored by bassist Howard Rumsey and the famed Lighthouse Café in Hermosa Beach, CA.

Under the direction of John Graas, one of the few French-Horn players who specialized in Jazz and who was also a composer-arranger, the award winning quintet recorded an album for Decca – College Goes to Jazz: The Westlake College Quintet [DL 8393]. For your review, we have included a video tribute to the group and the music on this album at the end of this piece.

Dick would subsequently teach at Westlake, the archetype for Jazz conservatories. The college was founded in 1945 in a Beaux-Arts house located near 6th and Alvarado, not too far from downtown Los Angeles. The college is no longer in existence.

He later formed his own Dick Grove School of Music in the San Fernando Valley, north of Los Angeles. Dick’s school offered classes in harmony & theory, composition, orchestration and arranging, keyboards, songwriting, et al. For a full list of Dick’s credits go here.

We spent some time in one of Dick’s rehearsal bands. He was a marvelous educator, an extremely kind and gracious person and one of the few composer-arrangers who actually knew how to write a drum part that keyed the drummer into what was going on in the music instead of simply writing “8-bars of swing on the hi hat” and having a few downbeats noted here and there for “bass drum” or “cymbal crash.”

While re-discovering the Pacific Jazz LP and making the following video tribute to Dick, we were very surprised to learn that this wonderful music had not been digitalized and transferred to CD. The audio track is entitled Circlet and the soloists are Paul Horn on alto saxophone and Bill Robinson on baritone saxophone.

Leonard Feather wrote these informative liner notes for Dick Grove’s Little Bird Suite  Embedded into Leonard’s notes is a video that features another cut from the album. This one is entitled Doodad.

“It seems that there is always a stage in the career of every major artist at which the remark is made by surprised listeners: "Where has he been all these years?," or "Why hadn't I heard of him before?" With the obvious exception of child prodigies, most of the important contributors have to go through this phase; in the case of Dick Grove there can be no doubt that it will be the near-unanimous reaction to this album.

As was the case with Clare Fischer, Gil Evans and others now recognized as important arrangers, Dick Grove had to wait until he was in his thirties before he could make any impact on the jazz scene. Unlike the others, he is a latecomer in the actual craft of writing. "It's only in the last three years," he says, "that I really learned to write, to the point where I could say I wanted to."

Born December 18, 1927, in Lakeville, Indiana, he was not seriously interested in music until about 1942. "My mother and brother were both musicians; he was quite a bit older and played in movie houses, piano and organ. I didn't study until I got out of high school and went to Denver U. for a couple of years. I'm mainly self-taught, trial and error style. I picked up piano and-used to double on vibes."

In 1954 he moved out to California, concentrating for the most part on backing singers, writing and teaching. He played with Alvino Rey for a while (but then, who hasn't?), and lately has done some effective playing and writing (without any credit for the writing) on records with Mavis Rivers.

"Didn't you ever try to submit anything to any of the name bands?" I asked him.
"No, I got into sort of a trap, by getting things going in my own direction. If I were to submit something to Harry James, say, I would have to write the way the Harry James band plays. Or if I wrote for Basie in the Basie style, it wouldn't be me at all. I almost got to the point where I was going to have to do something like that, but I feel I have something of my own to say and it finally dawned on me that anything I do is worth more to me under my own name."

In this manner, the necessity for personal expression became the mother of orchestral invention and the Dick Grove Orches­tra came into existence.

The band has been together, with a few personnel variations, for three years, but chiefly as a rehearsal group. Lately there have been a few in person appearances at college concerts; the plan, now that the group has finally been committed to records, is to keep together, play more concerts and go on the road if and when the demand warrants it.

Of his influences, Dick says: "Naturally I admire Gil Evans, mainly for the mature conception he has; but rhythmically I write very differently." An important difference also is that Gil's best known ventures have been arrangements of standard material, whereas Dick essentially is a composer-arranger who concentrates on his own original themes.

Of the instrumentation, he comments: "I use the regular basic set-up of reeds, brass and rhythm, but I don't write by sections. There are so many ways to create variety through unusual voicings or instrumental combinations.

"All the trumpets double on flugelhorn, which gives a better blend with the woodwinds. I use the piano occasionally, but only as an orchestral thing, not in the rhythm section.

"All the originals in this album except Little Bird were origi­nally commissioned by Dave Robbins' Jazz Workshop. Dave is a trombonist and conductor; his orchestra is heard every other week from Vancouver in a government-subsidized Canadian radio series. I've been writing for him regularly for a couple of years. The versions in the album are slightly different.

"As for Little Bird —it started out as a thing called Blues Two Ways. Pete Jolly took the background theme of the minor part and made a separate 16-bar thing out of it, as a bossa nova. Tommy Wolf added lyrics and it became Little Bird. As it turned out, we were pretty lucky with it; we got seven recorded ver­sions, and my own makes it eight."

There is a suite-like relationship, Dick says, between the three tunes on the first side and the first two on the second side. In other words, the five compositions with bird references in the titles, though they stand by themselves as entities, are tied together in the sense that they make logical continuous listening.

Nighthawk, the moderately paced but firmly-swinging opener, gives immediate exposure to Grove's extraordinary flair for color and variety of timbres in orchestration. There is also a prompt introduction of the soloist who, on the strength of this album, seems certain to earn the belated publicity as an instru­mentalist that Grove will acquire as a writer. His name is Joe Burnett; coincidentally, he is Grove's age. Dallas-born, he has played with just about every name band from Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson to Woody Herman and (of course) Charlie Barnet; but he has never had any substantial solo exposure on records. His solo vehicle here is the flugelhorn and his work shows a lyrical beauty that establishes him as the orches­tra's most remarkable instrumental voice.

Bird of Paradaiso, the longest and most brilliantly variegated track, is practically a concerto for Burnett. His lonesome wistful sound, unaccompanied, serves as an introduction and main­tains a sense of tension until, a minute and a half in, a tempo is established by Pena and Jeffries. By using a cluster type of voicing, Grove achieves special moments of rich orchestral texture, these passages being skillfully interwoven with the flugelhorn’s statements.

Mosca Espanola is a vivid pastiche of sounds all the way from the opening F and B Flat triads, through the opening ensembles into the sharply delineated Bill Robinson baritone solo, the gracefully swinging Dick Hurwitz trumpet, and on to the closing passages throughout which bass and drums are ingeniously integrated. The instrumentation in a passage near the beginning, in which I thought I heard muted trombones, actually is played by four open horns, with flugelhorn on top, two tenor trombones and bass trombone.

This voicing, Dick points out, is used at other points, some­times with bass clarinet added, as is the case in Canto de Oriole. The latter is a moody, almost stately piece, performed with an obviously keen, sensitive ear for dynamic and phrasing requirements on the part of every man in the orchestra. Both here and on the preceding track, Little Bird, one is constantly aware of the importance of Jeffries' and Pena's roles, not only as resolute swingers but as part of the overall sound. (Pena's parts in Oriole and Paradaiso were all written out.) Little Bird is noteworthy also for the work of Paul Horn, one of the most accomplished flutists in contemporary jazz; and for the tenor by Bob Hardaway.

Doodad and Circlelet, as noted above, are in a slightly dif­ferent bag from the rest of the compositions, though they retain the ingredients essential to the very personal Grove palette. Paul Horn is the featured alto soloist on both; his sound on alto for several years has been one of the very few distinctive ones on this horn. Circlelet also provides another glimpse of Bill Robinson's full-blooded baritone. Doodad is perhaps closer to the standard big band concept, in structure and sounds; than any of the other works in this set.

Repeated hearings of the album will reveal much more than can be outlined in any verbal summation. There are so many intricate or unusual uses of various tonal colors —the flute dou­bling the lead an octave higher, the woodwinds above the brass, the added warmth obtained through the use of the flugelhorns — that the whole set of performances takes on more interest at each hearing, both technically and harmonically.

Not the least noteworthy aspect of Dick Grove's success is his ability to achieve these results without resorting to such devices as atonality or continuous meter-shifting. "There are so many things that can be done within the present frame­work," he says, "and my feeling is, if you can't hear it, you shouldn't write it."

Clearly there are so many things he can hear that the lis­tener's ear is engaged from the first moment and never allowed to wander as the album follows its polychromatic course.

If orchestral jazz is going to survive, the strength of its will to live must depend on the initiatives of men like Dick Grove. And because of men like him, I am confident that its survival is assured.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Joe Magnarelli

I first met Joe Magnarelli in March, 1998 in a Seattle recording studio where we were recording Italian Jazz pianist Dado Moroni’s Out of the Night CD which I co-produced with Philip Barker for his Jazz Focus Records.

In between takes, we chatted amiably and Joe’s warm personality seemed a perfect compliment to his mellow approach to the trumpet which he plays in a style very reminiscent of Kenny Dorham.

Aside from his work on the Moroni album, I had previously heard Joe on recordings he made for Gerry Teekins’ Holland-based Criss Cross Records, a label he continues to record for under his own name and in combination with Philadelphia-based trumpeter John Swana.

Persistence [RSR CD 194] is my first encounter with “Mags’” work on Mark Feldman’s Reservoir label and it is a thoroughly enjoyable one.  On it, Joe is joined by Gary Smulyan on baritone saxophone and a rhythm section that is one of the best on today’s Jazz scene: pianist David Hazeltine, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington.

Peter Aaron is the music editor of Chronogram magazine and a contributor to the Village Voice, the Boston Herald, All About Jazz.com, All Music Guide.com, and Jazz Improv and Roll magazines. Here are his insert notes to Persistence [Reservoir RSR CD 194].

© -Peter Aaron, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“There are several indispensable qualities an artist must have if he or she is to survive as a jazz musician. Tone. Technique. Ears. Resourcefulness. Adaptability. Good communication skills. Patience. Confidence. Individuality. Taste. Drive. Soul.

But perhaps the most important quality a great  jazz musician - or any great artist, really -must have is persistence. Lots of it. Because without it, none of the other qualities mentioned above can be attained; when we see them manifested these characteristics can seem like assets an artist has been born with, but the truth is they have to be nurtured, developed. Which takes persistence. And persistence itself is what keeps an artist's eves on the prize, a strength that will carry him or her through the lean times, the slings of the naysayer, the chatty, indifferent audiences, the jet lag, the bad road food, the near-empty clubs, the sleepless nights of self-doubt that all artists encounter. The ones who don't have that all-important stick-to-itiveness eventually give up the ghost and quit playing, at least professionally.

But Joe Magnarelli has persistence. Lots of it. Joe, or Mags, as the trumpeter is often called, has been playing his horn for nearly 40 years. And for more than half of those years he’s been doing it professionally, both as a leader and in the bands of Lionel Hampton, Brother Jack McDuff, Harry Connick, Jr., Toshiko Akiyoshi, Jon Hendricks, and Ray Barretto, as well as in the Glenn Miller and Carnegie Hall jazz orchestras. Joe is also a teacher, serving as an adjunct professor at the New School of Social Research in Manhattan and New Jersey City.

University in Jersey City and conducting clinics and master classes outside of these schools. And, having been a stellar student himself under James Moody, Tommy Turrentine, and others, Joe certainly has a lot of knowledge and experience to pass on. But in addition to the notes-and-bars music theory material he covers, one lesson he imparts to his students is that of maintaining their resolve despite the tests and trials of learning and playing music-in other words, persistence. "Sometimes you do have to give the kids a pep talk," Joe says. "You know, that idea of 'Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger."' And, indeed, all tenured musicians know the value of emotional strength, both on and off the bandstand.

Since 1994 Joe has been making acclaimed albums as a leader and co-leader, but this is his first for RESERVOIR MUSIC. (He played as a sideman on Gary Smulyan's exemplary 2003 RESERVOIR release, THE REAL DEAL.) "Being on Reservoir is a really good situation for me," says Joe. "Mark Feldman has the right sensitivity as a. producer. During the session he pretty much just let us do our thing, but when he did offer input it was right on the mark. And I’d already known [engineer] Jim Anderson from some big band and small combo dates I'd played on, so it was all very easy, very relaxed." It definitely comes across: One of the hallmarks of PERSISTENCE is its overall relaxed, free-flowing feel. It's not hard to believe him when Joe mentions that the tunes were "pretty much all done in one or two takes."

Of course, the absolutely killer band Joe put together for the session enters into the equation, too. Check this lineup, jazz fans, and just try not to salivate: Mags on trumpet, Gary Smulyan on baritone, David Hazeltine on piano, Peter Washington on bass, and Kenny "The jazz Maniac" Washington on drums. A veritable all-star team of New York’s world-class straight-ahead scene. "They're some amazing cats, alright," beams Joe. "We'd all worked with each other separately before, so we were all familiar with each other. They could all sense what I wanted play, right from the first note."

Joe wrote Persist during his tenure with the late conga king Ray Barretto. "The tune was originally called 'Persist Until You Succeed' and had lyrics written by Sue Giles, and then I just started calling it Persist," Joe explains. "But Ray didn't like that title and renamed it ‘Mags,’ after me." As  "Mags:' the piece was done in a Latin arrangement for Barretto” s Grammy-nominated 2005 release, TIME WAS - TIME IS. Reworked into a 4/4 swing-time adaptation, Persist opens this album and provides the inspiration for its title. The track kicks off with an ensemble flourish and a strong pronouncement by Kenny Washington, and features a wonderfully scrambled recurring horn vamp and colorful and blustery solos by the leader and Smulyan.

The Village, with its effortless, light bossa nova groove, recalls the music of Joe's time with Barretto as well as the lively culture of Greenwich Village, where the trumpeter was living when he composed the tune. Hazeltine takes a great, sparkling turn here, staying clear of any predictable Latin keyboard clichés, and Joe contributes a fine, bubbly solo.

The band next reprises the standard I Had the Craziest Dream, giving the Harry Warren/Mack Gordon chestnut a smooth and buoyant but relentlessly swinging treatment. While Joe delivers the tune's gorgeous melody with measurably heartfelt tenderness, it's the (non-related) Washington’s that almost steal the show here. "A trumpet player hardly ever gets to play a beautiful standard with a rhythm section like that," says Joe. "It was too much fun, playing that tune with those cats." Peter Washington's strutting bravado drives the performance, and the riveting breaks that he and Kenny Washington contribute are likewise highlights.

It's not hard to guess where the title of D Train Boogaloo came from. "I was on the D train heading downtown to a gig at Birdland when I wrote it," recalls Joe. "Before every record date I force myself to write one tune just for that particular session. The pressure helps me get focused for the date, and D Train Boogaloo is the one I wrote for this album."

PERSISTENCE also boasts a pair of ageless standards by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz. Joe picked up Haunted Heart just a few years ago, while he was playing with Barretto. "I didn't realize that Dietz and Schwartz had written the tune, but I'd always loved it," Joe says. "Barretto’s band had done an arrangement of it, and Barretto liked what I was playing on it. He said, 'Man, you should always play that tune.' I love it." And no doubt listeners will love this version, with -warm deep Smulyan solo, and the lyrical musings of the leader. You and the Night and the Music, on the other hand, was an unplanned inclusion. "That was the last tune we cut. There wasn't any arrangement, we just blew." And blow, they do, especially Smulyan and Kenny Washington during an early, fiery exchange that proves one of the set’s high points.

The ballad Barretto is an homage to Joe's former mentor, who died in 2006. "I started writing it pretty soon after he passed," says Joe. "I'd work on it every morning, adding to it little by little."  It would seem the tunes namesake would've been deeply touched by the tender tribute, which is graced by the trumpeter's gorgeous lines and Smulyan's simpatico comping behind them, as well as a spare, exquisite passage by Hazeltine.

Joe had some fun with the tide of the last tune, Soul Sister. "It's basically 'Body and Soul' redone as a waltz:' he says. "I like to write on top of a standard once in a while. It's fun to do." The tracks, loping, easy, pendulum-like groove offers an excellent backdrop for the lithe intervals of Peter Washington and the leader's occasional Coltrane-esque trills. After such a satisfying ride, its the perfect performance to bring the album in for a smooth landing. And Mags and the band make it all sound so easy.

But of course it isn't easy. Oh, it gets easier as the years roll on. But only after the players have already poured years of dedication and sweat into their craft. Which is a fruitful and never-ending process for Joe Magnarelli. And one jazz lovers will never tire of listening to. If there's one lesson that this music illustrates, it's that persistence pays off.

“Life can be very demanding, but you can't let the tough times get you down," offers Joe. "Every day when you wake up it's a chance to start fresh.”


I have always liked the tune – You and the Night and the Music – particularly after hearing pianist Bill Evans’ interpretation of it on the Interplay album which features a sparkling solo by trumpeter Freddie Hubbard.

The version of the tune on Persistence does not disappoint, especially if you are a fan of straight-ahead Jazz.

As you can hear on the sound track to the following video, after Joe plays the line [melody] using a Harmon mute, baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan and drummer Kenny Washington launch into trading eights, fours and twos that are of such a high quality that they could serve as a model of how this form of – if you will – interplay between horn and drums is done.

Kenny’s exchanges with Gary begin at 1:09 minutes with the 8’s starting at 1:16 minutes; the 4’s at 2:01 minutes and the 2’s at 2:47 minutes.

And, if you are so inclined, listen to this audio a second time and just concentrate on the bass line that Peter Washington lays down behind Joe’s playing of the melody from 18 seconds to 1:08 minutes. All hyperbole aside, this is simply some of the most magnificent bass playing that you are ever likely to hear.