Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lennie Niehaus: "Annie's Dance"

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

When the editorial staff at JazzProfiles wrote the feature on alto saxophonist and composer-arranger Lennie Niehaus which is currently available for review at the bottom of the columnar side [scroll down on the left] of the blog, the crackerjack graphics theme at CerraJazz LTD had not as yet developed a video tribute to him.

This has now been rectified.  We’ve also added gathered a few, more praiseworthy comments about this “… remarkable alto soloist, with a sense of flowing melodic line, lovely cool tone, and strong feeling for rhythm. He is a thoughtful and serious musician, who composes and arranges in his own style, with definite ideas of where he is going and what he wants to achieve.” – Lester Koenig, Contemporary Records

“In the mid-1950’s, Lennie Niehaus avoided cliché, incorporated audacious harmonic ideas, and distilled the essentials of big band writing into arrangements for small groups. His recordings are still notable in the 21st century for their freshness and daring.” – Fantasy Records/Concord Records Group

“Year after year, record after record, Lennie Niehaus seems ever truer to himself. His work is marked by the same simplicity of conception, same strength of execution, absence of the slightest extravagance and, …, the same honesty.” – Andre’ Hodier

“I’m still out there,” says Lennie Niehaus, looking trim and vigorous, a 78-year-old with plenty of miles left on his odometer. “Last year I did two movies and a six-hour miniseries, and a couple of years ago I went to England to conduct the BBC Jazz Orchestra.”

Not bad for a guy who was playing alto saxophone with the Stan Kenton Orchestra in 1951; has scored, arranged or composed the music for 17 movies produced or directed by Clint Eastwood; and who won an Emmy award for his score for the Showtime film Lush Life.” … - Don Heckman/ September 2007/JazzTimes

Friday, March 25, 2011

Tal Farlow & Red Norvo - All of Me

Guitarist Tal Farlow performing All of Me with Red Norvo on vibraphone and Steve Novosel on bass.

Brought to you courtesy of our friends in Omaha, Nebraska.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

David Matthews and The Manhattan Jazz Orchestra

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

As you will no doubt notice from the above photograph as well as those of him in the embedded video tribute that concludes this piece, David Matthews smiles a lot.

After hearing his music, you will understand why.

This guy is a splendid big band arranger.

One reason for this is that he took a Bachelor of Music degree in Composition from the conservatory at the University of Cincinnati. He knows what he’s doing, technically.

Another is that he has been doing this for a long time dating back to 1970-1974 when he was the arranger and band leader for James Brown Productions and subsequently from 1975-78 when he was the staff arranger for CTI Records where he wrote for Nina Simone, Hank Crawford and George Benson, among many others.

You can find a fully annotated list of David’s arranging and composing credits as well as his other accomplishments in music by visiting his website.

A third and perhaps primary reason for his marvelous big band arrangements is that he has a special gift for it – some guys just play “orchestra.”

They just know what works in writing a big band “chart” [musician speak for “arrangement”]; they know what to put where and when in the music.

They have a commanding knowledge [and often, an intuitive sense] of the range and timbre of each instrument that allows them to voice and blend them to create a variety of textures or sonorities [i.e.: the way the music “sounds”].

Talented arrangers like David keep the music interesting and exciting for both musicians and listeners alike: the former love playing on their arrangements and the latter feel good after hearing them.

You can hear David’s mastery at work in the audio track to the following video tribute to him and his big band, The Manhattan Jazz Orchestra, as he takes Dizzy Gillespie’s oft-heard Manteca and transforms it into a fresh and stimulating piece of music.

One of the devices that he employs to give the piece a new sound is that he “plays orchestra”

You may think that there are only two solos on Dave arrangement of Dizzy’s Jazz standard: Ryan Kisor’s trumpet solo at 2:36 minutes and that of Scott Robinson on baritone sax at 4:03.

But David precedes each of these solos with one of his own using the full orchestra instead of the piano to play them.

You can hear the first of his orchestral solos just after the full exposition of the Manteca’s theme – from 1:51 to 2:35 minutes.

The second can be heard following Ryan’s solo, but before Scott Robinson’s: from 3:17 to 4:02 minutes.

David closes the arrangement with a stirring “shout chorus” [short for “shout me out” or “take me out”] that begins at 4:47 minutes.

Special mention needs to be made of Walter White on lead trumpet and Chris Hunter on lead alto sax, respectively, as their prowess is an important ingredient in making David’s chart come together so well. Chip Jackson on bass and Terry Silverlight on drums really keeps things flowing with the strong pulse they generate as a rhythm section.

This is brilliant stuff.

Did I say that David Matthews was one heckuva big band arranger?

Judge for yourself.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

J.S. Bach: Bach to Jazz

David Matthews and the Manhattan Jazz Orchestra is the subject of our next feature which will post tomorrow. In the meantime, you might enjoy listening to the band's music and David's "gawjus" arrangements by viewing this previously developed tribute to J.S Bach. Ryan Kisor [trumpet] and Chris Hunter [alto sax] are the soloists on Toccata and Fugue.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ben Sidran: The Cat in the Hat

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

Once a drummer, always a drummer.

It’s a different orientation, a different way of looking at and listening to Jazz.

It’s what you listen for first and then the rest of the music falls into place.

As a result of this percussive point of reference, it seems I’m always getting to other musicians through drummers: Philly Joe Jones got me to pianist Bill Evans [I bought Bill’s Everybody Listens to Bill Evans’ album because Philly is the drummer on it]; Larry Bunker got me to vibist Gary Burton; Kenny Washington got me to pianist Benny Green; Steve Gadd got me to pianist-composer arranger, Ben Sidran, et al.

“Bad” Steve Gadd came into his own as a drummer in the 1970s and, as a result, he easily absorbed and blended Rock beats and Latin accents into his style of Jazz drumming.  His drumming was as much a reflection of what was then contemporary in music as it was steeped in the traditions of Jazz drumming.

With Steve you could be listening to a marching band cadence on the snare drum one minute, a cow bell clave the next followed by a Rock backbeat; sometimes all three together.

He combined these drum rudiments, percussion “influences” and the extremely unique sound from the way he tuned his drums into a style that became instantly recognizable as “Steve Gadd;” not an easy thing to do on a drum kit. And while he was putting all of these rhythmic devices together in a new way, he constantly swung his backside off in whatever the setting he played in.

So when I came across a radio broadcast with a version of Seven Steps to Heaven that featured Steve’s inimitable drumming, I feverishly swung into my Jazz detective mode to find the source album [in other words, I called the radio station].

The track was from an album entitled The Cat in the Hat [AM CD 741] by “Ben Sidran,” whom I originally came to know as a pianist with a gift for writing lyrics to Jazz tunes and solos in the style of Jon Hendricks - what Jon refers to as “vocalese.”

You can hear both Steve’s intriguing approach to drum fills, kicks and solos and Ben’s ultra hipster lyrics on the Seven Steps to Heaven track from this album as we have used this Jazz standard by Victor Feldman and Miles Davis as the soundtrack for this video tribute to Ben. Joe Henderson is his typical first-rate self as the tenor saxophone soloist [see if you can pick-up Joe's reference to Johnny One-Note when he comes back in at 3:14 minutes].

Just in case you are in the mood to sing-along, here’s Ben’s vocalese to the tune:

© -Ben Sidran, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


One. two three, four. five, six seven
Steps to heaven
Five. six. seven, eight, see them pass
Free at last.

Trying to relate to the great masters
of our art Breaks my heart
As they depart
One. two. three, four. five. six. seven
Steps to heaven
Steps to heaven
Steps to heaven
Steps to heaven

When Miles was in style
The boys wouldn't smile
The girls wouldn't clear the aisle
Now the man’s in exile

When Trane led the pack
There was no looking back
There was no doubt about the fact
You had to catch that act

Now Charlie Parker he's a movie star
But they just wouldn't listen
When the man wasn't missin'
Now the man's gone
Say there, can you tell me where the
man's gone So long.

The record machine
t came on the scene
And closed down the nightclubs clean
It sure is mean.

They're gone for good
Free at last
They took those steps to heaven

As Michael Cuscuna explains in his insert notes to The Cat in the Hat, Ben already had eight CDs to his credit by the time of its issue in 1979 so I had a lot of catching up to do.

Fortunately for me, my awareness of Ben bridged beyond just his musical accomplishments to include the Jazz Talk program that he hosted for a number of years on National Public Radio.

The interviews that Ben conducted with Jazz greats on these NPR programs have all been issued in book form and are also all available as CDs.

Here are a few more background notes and observations about Ben and his music by Michael Cuscuna.

© -Michael Cuscuna, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

It is not surprising that a kid from Madison. Wisconsin, who gigged in college with friends Steve Miller and Boz Scaggs and then went home to memorize Bud Powell and Sonny Clark records would turn out the way he did.

Ben Sidran played piano in that first Steve Miller band, but was really noted for the lyrics he wrote for many of their classic songs, including "Space Cow­boy" and "Seasons." Later, he went to England to study at the University of Sussex, and emerged with a PhD. in American Studies plus a brilliant book on American black music entitled Black Talk. He has continued to write, mostly for Rolling Stone, as well as liner notes on albums ranging from Jackie McLean and Eric Dolphy to Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks. He's produced records for Steve Miller. Tony Williams. Jon Hendricks, Sylvester and a few British rock bands that you've probably never heard of. As a pianist, he's done session work with the likes of Gene Clark and The Rolling Stones.

From all this, one might gather that Ben is versatile and eclectic, or that he has a multi-personality split to rival Sybil's. But the point is that his own music (documented by eight albums in as many years) is shaped by all of these diverse elements, not as in a patchwork collage, but existing simultaneously, congruently. welded together by Ben's personal vision and creativity. His is not some kind of "fusion" music: rather, it is simply Ben Sidran Music, forged through his own perceptions and detail­ing a style that's completely his own.

It you are a bebop junkie, the phrase 'the cat and the hat' will probably con­jure up images of Lester Young or Thelonious Monk, two famous knights of the lid. Or if you are a former kid. it may well remind you of the Dr. Seuss story of similar name about the feline in the striped stovepipe, who appears during the absence of adults to perform star­tling acts of turmoil and magic. That description might also apply to Lester and Monk, and not just a few other jazz masters as well, whose lyricism has that childlike simplicity and irrepres­sible inner logic. And this album could well be considered Ben's nod to all those cats who appeared, through their music, and touched him in that way. opening his soul and imagination to that which can only come from within.

The Jazz musician is the spellbinder, the consummate artist of great training who nonetheless still flies by the seat of his pants, taking chances and celebrat­ing life through the act of surprise. In his music, Ben often reminds us of the old tongue-in-cheek adage that 'in Jazz there are no mistakes, only opportuni­ties,' either through his deceptively simple lyrics, which detail the bitter­sweet ironies of life, or through his highly personal conception, which serves to reinforce the impossibility of stepping into the same stream twice, but the im­perative of trying it at least once.

Michael Cuscuna

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Stan Kenton, Artistry in Rhythm – Portrait of a Jazz Legend

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

“[The ancients Greeks] … knew that Fortune was an idiot’s dance, springing away, and then back, and then again away. And they knew that no one is ever always fortunate.”
- Donna Leon, The Girl of His Dreams [p.109].

With almost 40 years as the leader of a Jazz big band, no one knew better about la forza del destino than Stanley Newcomb Kenton.

Thank goodness for the many fans of Stan’s music that this talented and dedicated musician had perhaps more than his fair share of good fortune over the span of his nearly four decade career [1941-1979].

If you lived in Southern California, particularly in the 1940s and 1950s, the name “Stan Kenton” was closely associated with big band jazz. It also had a similar relationship to Jazz on the West Coast during the decade of the 1950s as most of its principals had been “on” the Kenton band at one time or another.

And when the Jazz clubs began to fold and the Jazz festivals diminished or disappeared, if you wanted to learn to play Jazz, Stan Kenton’s name became synonymous as a source for learning about this fascinating form of music through the many clinics and college concerts his band appeared at in the 1960s and 1970s.

The JazzProfiles editorial staff has recently written extensively on Stan and you can re-visit these past features by clicking on the following segment links:

Beyond the fact that preparing these blog features on Stan provided us with a focus for spending more time familiarizing ourselves with recordings of Stan’s music, the arrival of Michael Sparke new book – Stan Kenton: This is an Orchestra! [Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press] – a few months after its publication in April, 2010 also served to further our knowledge about the career of this amazing musician.

And now, along comes a magnificent documentary DVD by Graham Carter, the Producer and Director of Jazzed Media [], which coincides with the 100th anniversary of Stan Kenton's birth [Wichita, KS on December 15, 1911].

Two ingredients make Stan Kenton, Artistry in Rhythm: Portrait of a Jazz Legend must viewing: Graham Carter’s exceptional skills as a filmmaker and the film’s heavy reliance for source material on Ken Poston, Director of the Los Angeles Jazz Institute, and his knowledge of all-things-Kenton.

During its 117 minutes, the “DVD includes over 20 people interview about Stan Kenton’s career, and over 20 television and movie performances of the Stan Kenton Orchestra. [It] also includes over 300 photos and images from Kenton’s almost 40 year Jazz music career and rare taped interviews with Stan Kenton.”

Notwithstanding the fact that Graham’s DVD is the audio visual equivalent of a nearly two hour gold mine of Kentonia, the pace at which this material is presented never gives its viewer the sense of being rushed or of being lectured.

The experience the DVD affords is more akin to hearing and viewing a good story teller unfold a well-conceived narrative.

Even for those who may already be familiar with certain aspects of the “Kenton story,” they have certainly not heard it told this way before.

Graham keeps the film visually interesting with a sentimental but not maudlin interview with Howard Rumsey, the bassist with Stan’s first band in 1941; footage of Stan with a coat jacket slung over his shoulder talking about where it all began while standing on the beach sand just down from the burned out site of the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa, CA [having been rebuilt after a fire gutted it in 1935, it was lost forever in a second fire in 1966]; interviews with former band members Peter Erskine [drummer] and Mike Vax [lead trumpet] explaining the significance of the orchestra in its later years, something not always well-understood or appreciated by the fans of Stan’s earlier bands.

But perhaps what stands out the most among the film’s many attributes is the way in which Graham constantly captures and underscored Stan’s humanity for I would venture to say that never in the history of big band Jazz was a band leader more universally loved by musicians than was Stan Kenton.

Another theme that the DVD emphasizes is Kenton’s constant search for new forms of Jazz expression: here again, not all of his fans stayed on board the USS Kenton as it navigated its way along the Seven Seas of Jazz in search on new musical treasure.

But this was Stan quest: it was his musical soul that was on this journey looking for new forms of musical expression.

In viewing Graham’s DVD, it appears as though Kenton was not always certain of the best direction to take in order to satisfy this search – the expression “we’re lost but we’re making good time”  sometimes comes to mind, but Stan was always very welcoming in allowing both musicians and fans to join him for the ride.

If you are inclined to undertake the adventure that was Stan Kenton’s musical journey through life, I can think of no better way of experiencing it than by watching Graham Carter’s superb documentary DVD on the subject.

Here is Graham’s own annotation about the film.

“Stan Kenton is acknowledged as one of the pioneers in developing contemporary big band jazz, with a career as band leader starting in the 1940s and lasting through the late 1970s. Kenton was also responsible for helping bring to fame many jazz stars including June Christy, Maynard Ferguson, and Lee Konitz. Many great arrangers wrote for the Kenton band including Bill Holman, Bill Russo, Lennie Niehaus, Gerry Mulligan, and Pete Rugolo.

Celebrating the 100th birthday centennial of Stan Kenton in 2011, this almost 2 hour documentary film, produced in association with the Los Angeles Jazz Institute, provides an in-depth look at Kenton s almost 40 years as a big band leader.

Kenton was a leader in combining Afro-Cuban rhythms with big band jazz in America in the late 1940s. The "Progressive" era of Kenton jazz introduced various elements of modern classical music to the big band jazz setting. His "Innovations" orchestra of the early 1950s offered up a touring band combining jazz and classical music elements and featured soon to be worldwide jazz stars including Maynard Ferguson, Bud Shank, and Shorty Rogers. Kenton was instrumental in the formation of jazz education starting in the late 1950s. The 1960s brought further development of additional instrumentation to the band with the "Mellophonium" sound, and later many works written for the Los Angeles Neophonic Orchestra. Kenton continued leading bands through the changing times of the rock influenced late 1960s and 1970s.

Producer & Director Graham Carter has interviewed many people connected with Stan Kenton s life and career including Howard Rumsey, Dr. Herb Wong, JoAnn Kenton, Audree Kenton, Peter Erskine, Carl Saunders, Joel Kaye, Mike Vax, Bill Holman, and Jack Costanzo.

Many famous Stan Kenton Orchestra film and television performances have been included from the big band era of the 1940s through the late 1970s. A large collection of audio music performances are included in the film showcasing the various Kenton bands and their renowned soloists.”

And here are a few comments from the many fans who have already viewed it.

“It's wonderful!!!! Just to see Stan the Man, in all his phases, leading his band, coming to life ... it's priceless. …

Ken Poston does a running narrative (if you've ever been to one of his presentations in L.A., you will appreciate the significance of that) and there are interviews with Jack Costanzo, Herb Wong, Bob Curnow, Eddie Bert, Mike Vax, JoAnn Kenton, Audree, Howard Rumsey, Bill Holman, and many others, and film clips ranging from the earliest beginnings right up to the last band. How this was all compressed and edited into a comprehensive and smoothly flowing narrative is just amazing. …

Congratulations to Graham Carter, and thanks to all who collaborated to produce this marvelous video, which, I agree, every Kenton fan will want to own and play, many times. The music itself hits on so many of his phases! Most of us probably have the full-length recordings, but this is like a nice sampler to remind us how much we've always enjoyed it all. You'll see John Von Ohlen, you'll see Dick Shearer, you'll see June and the early band members and Shelly and ... well, get your copy and see for yourself. Make it your Valentine to yourself. :) ….

- Lillian Arganian”

“This year the legendary big band leader Stan Kenton would have been 100 years old. "Stan Kenton: Artistry in Rhythm – Portrait of a Jazz Legend" is a great way to celebrate the Kenton Centennial. …

This film provides an overview of Kenton's memorable career, one marked by some of the most important and controversial innovations in the history of big band jazz. The story is related through interviews with friends, associates, admirers and family, as well as a variety of photographs and archival performance footage. …

Producer/director Graham Carter has done a marvelous job of gathering together these disparate elements to provide the viewer with a cohesive picture of the Kenton career and personae. The interview segments are masterfully blended into the excitement of the musical footage to keep the story moving along at a rapid pace. At the conclusion of the almost two hour running time, I felt that the elapsed time was considerably less than the actual time. That is always a sign that the creator of the film has been successful in engaging the viewer in a way that justifies the effort that went into producing the final product. ( …

- Joe Lang”

“”Stan Kenton - Artistry in Rhythm, Portrait of a Jazz Legend - ****½:

Graham Carter of Jazzed Media has done a Herculean job of documenting through archival footage and 20+ interviews with Kenton alumni and family, the jazz life of Stan Kenton from the early 1940s all the way to end of Stan’s life in the late 1970s. This 40 year period encompasses all the generations of Kenton’s bands from the Artistry in Rhythm Band of the early 1940s; through the 1950s Innovations in Modern Music and Contemporary Concepts; the New Era in Modern American Music and The Neophonic Years of the 1960s; and concluding with The Creative World of Stan Kenton period of the 1970s when Stan created a record label just for his band.

What jumps out to viewers of this extended period of Kenton excellence is Stan’s restlessness. For example, Stan would do largely commercial work to support the costs for his band to incorporate strings in a 43 member band at the beginning of the 1950s, which was an artistic success but a financial failure to tour. He was arguably the first big band leader - certainly on the West Coast - to incorporate Afro Cuban rhythms by using the talents of Johnny Richards.

Throughout this historically well researched near two hour encapsulation of the musical life of Stan Kenton it became clear that he was a father figure to his band. They represented the family that he did not have the time to raise. His failings as a family man were partially “cured” by the love of the musicians he traveled with on lengthy bus trips.

Proper time in the
DVD is devoted to Stan Kenton’s role as a jazz educator. He knew full well that fostering jazz education in the schools would keep jazz alive. For that alone he should be honored.

 - Jeff Krow, Audio Audition”

For order information, please click on this banner:

Or you can visit Graham’s website at

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sliding Hammers: Karin and Mimmi Hammar

Karin and Mimmi Hammar, trombonists from Sweden, performing their original composition High Altitude Delivery with Mathias Algotsson on piano, Martin Sjostedt on bass and Ronnie Gardiner on drums.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Dave Pike: It’s Time, Again

“I was in [Roy Harte’s] Drum City in Hollywood one afternoon in 1953, where I saw a vibraphone for the first time, picked up the mallets and started playing. I knew immediately that I had found my means of expressions.”
- Dave Pike

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

Although we went to the same high school, Dave Pike is five [5] years older so I missed him.

He was President of the high school’s Instrumental Music Association, as was I, and for a time, our photos hung together above the wall of the music room.

By the time I graduated and had started gigging around Hollywood, Dave had already left for the East Coast and was gigging around New York.

Given my long association and friendship with Victor Feldman and Larry Bunker, both of whom were exceptional vibraphonists, vibes were always a part of my musical life. Some of my earliest Jazz gigs as a drummer were playing in trios and quartets that featured them on vibraphone.

All three of us were to become great admirers of Dave Pike’s skills on the instrument.

I’ve also always been a big fan of be-bop, a style of Jazz that Dave Pike specializes in and which he plays passionately and with great reverence for its traditions, particularly those established by its principal co-founders, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Therefore, when Orrin Keepnews, President, Artists and Repertoire man and Chief Cook and Bottle washer for Riverside Records issued his 1961 LP – It’s Time for Dave Pike - it seems that I was destined to own a copy [Riverside RLP-9360].

The 2001 CD reissue of this recording on Original Jazz Classics [OJCCD-1951-2] contains the following annotation on the back tray plate.. Presumably written by Orrin, it is an excellent summation of Dave Pike’s playing:

Dave Pike occupies a distinctive niche in modern Jazz. A vibraphonist with an attack and sound like no other, he plays with a concentrated strength that makes the improvised lines all but take physical shape.”

The ace graphics team at CerraJazz LTD put together this video tribute to Dave on which he performs Solar, one of the tracks from the It’s Time for Dave Pike, along with Barry Harris on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Billy Higgins on drums.

We’ve also gathered the following observations about Dave by Thomas Schnabel, Zan Stewart and Mark Gardner, Ira Gitler, and a little more from Orrin Keepnews in closing. The editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought these might be helpful in providing some perspective on this marvelously talented and too often overlooked musician.

“The sound of the vibraphone is like no other instrument. At once seductive and ce­lestial, the sound is transparent, cool, and airy, yet it is capable of filling a large room with a soothing warmth. Countless people have been fascinated with its magic sound, yet ironically there are only a dozen mallet players world wide who have mastered the instrument. Of these precious few artists, some have exploited the instrument's gentle pulse, churning out syrupy ballads; others have been seduced by the harpies of com­mercialism, while others have remained sub­merged in the tidepools of esoterica. That leaves the world with just a handful of truly creative and evolving players, an exceedingly small family of gifted artists in which Dave Pike has secured for himself an enduring and enviable niche.

Pike is a gentle and slightly built man, whose ingratiating and soft-spoken manners don't betray the rhapsodic power one exper­iences when watching and hearing him per­form. He was born in Detroit on March 23, 1938, and though not from a musical fam­ily, found himself playing piano, drums, and horns from an early age. A percussive player, the vibraphone perfectly suited his artistic needs. "The minute I touched the instrument", he began in his thoughtful and deliberate manner, "that was it, I knew that this was the instrument I was meant to play. I was physically designed to play it. Your whole body's involved with it, your soul, heart, and mind, just like the drums, but with the enormous universe of harmony and melody. I love the sound, I believe music should be beautiful and strive for a beau­tiful sound, and I just can't imagine playing anything else."
- Thomas Schnabel, liner notes to Let the Mnstrels Play On [Muse Records MR-5203

“The vibraharp, or vibraphone, a descendant of the xylophone developed in the United States in the late 1920's, is an instrument with an unusual, very clear tone. A superior set of vibes can send a reverberating sound across a room, filling that space with a sooth­ing diffused warmth. With the mallets in the hands of a master player, the vibraharp can sing the softest song or wail the wildest waltz, always with that sen­suous, percussive timbre that only it possesses. The vibraharp is, indeed, a magical instrument.

Dave Pike is a magical vibraharpist. He is a player of sensitivity and emotion, of imagination and power. His concept of music is broad and open, allowing for many diverse styles in the make up of the complete musician. Over the years, he has shared the limelight with such heralded compeers as Ornette Coleman, Bill Evans, Charlie Haden, Paul Bley, Herbie Mann and Lee Konitz, and his art reflects the expanded horizons he experienced while working alongside these greats. Whether playing free form or jazz-rock, Dave Pike is a superb modern creator in the jazz idiom.”
- Zan Stewart, liner notes to On A Gentle Note [Muse Records MR- 5168]

“… [Dave’s] style is notble for its well resolved and quicksilver ideas, inspired more by such bop giants as Charlie Parker and Bud Powell than any other vibraphonist. Pike's sound has come in for much praise from his fellow musicians and jazz critics over the years. Dan Morgenstern wrote in 1963: 'Dave's sound is neither excessively vibrato-laden nor excessively dry; it is clear but not brittle, lyrical but never sentimental. The honesty and warmth of his playing is underlined by his habitual 'singing' - as much a part of his improvisation as Hamp's 'grunts' are part of his.'”
- Mark Gardner. Insert notes to Pike’s Groove [Criss Cross 1021]

“The electrically amplified set of metal bars, first made popular in jazz by Lionel Hampton, is known by many names-vibraphone, vibraharp, vibes and bells are some of its appellations. Dave Pike has another name for his set. He calls it the "steam table,”  a humorous title, but one that has accuracy.

Adjectives like "steamin',” "cookin’,” etc. have been used to signify playing with heat, or, to put it even more basically, swinging. The best jazz vibists have always realized the percussive nature of their instrument and have never allowed it to become a purveyor of bland sounds. While Dave Pike is a steamer, he is not a steam fitter. He is a dancer and a singer.

Let me qualify this. Pike's physical approach to the vibes is very active. On up tempos he seems to be interpreting his own modern dance; on ballads his toe-work is gracefully in a ballet bag. Of course, you can11 see this on a record, but you can hear another example of his complete involve­ment with his instrument in the singing with which he underlines his playing. This is common practice among many pianists and vibists, but in Dave's case it is perhaps more intense. Most importantly, you can hear his playing. Inspired more by Charlie Parker and Bud Powell than by other vibists, his conception is original and becoming more so all the time.”
- Ira Gitler, insert notes to Pike’s Peak, [Portrait RK 44392]

“The intensity with which … DAVE PIKE ap­proaches the vibes seems to me so compelling and over­whelming that it surely can almost be felt —  like a ghost at a séance that cannot be seen or touched, but is nevertheless so convincing a presence that you're ready to swear it's definitely there. Having watched Dave at work, I considered the possibility that I was assuming too much in feeling that this aura of vivid excitement comes through clearly on a recording. But a couple of judicious advance experiments with listeners who had never seen him in action convinced me that all that spirit and energy are really audible, and almost tangible, here.”
- Orrin Keepnews, insert notes to It’s Time for Dave Pike [OJCCD-1951-2]

In case you haven’t already done so, it’s time for you to take a hearty sampling of Dave Pike’s music.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Jack Teagarden, Basin Street Blues and New Orleans

“‘Jack was just a gentle, good-natured, soft-spoken guy,’ said bassist Jack Lesberg, who worked with Teagarden countless times in the 1940s and '50s. ‘Never craved attention, or asked anything special from anybody. Never wanted to put himself forward. Just wanted to play and sing, and let life take care of the rest in whatever way it was going to.’

But all too often life doesn't take care of the rest. Even the yellow brick road can be all uphill, and there are indi­cations aplenty that, for Jack Teagarden, the slope was sometimes pretty steep.”
- Richard M. Sudhalter, The Complete Capitol Fifties Jack Teagarden Sessions [Mosaic MD4-168]

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

Thanks to its location in a small suburb about a dozen miles west of New Orleans, business trips to visit one of my oldest and largest clients often brought me to The Crescent City.

If truth be told, due to New Orleans’ famed Epicurean delights, my boss spent more time with the client over the course of a year than I did.

His explanation for this disparity was so that he could properly help them savor the wining and dining delights that the city is famous for as his way of saying “Thank You” for their business.

I generally got called in to smooth over any trouble spots and to do the “minor things” like the contract renewal!

Although the client was located in a suburban community just outside the city, we stayed at one of New Orleans’ downtown hotels, preferably The Fairmont.

And since I usually wasn’t a part of the eating rich foods and staying up late drinking 18-year old Scotch brigade, I often spent my free time walking along streets of the city’s French Quarter; streets whose names had been made famous in the titles of Traditional or Dixieland Jazz such as Bourbon Street, Rampart Street and Basin Street.

Of course, by the time I got there, with the exception of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and occasional appearances by trumpeter Al Hirt and clarinetist Pete Fountain, Traditional Jazz had since been long gone from the streets of New Orleans, and especially from the French Quarter.

Still it was fun to amble down some of these historic venues in the early afternoon with the refrains of Jack Teagarden singing Basin Street Blues going through my mind.

For as long as I can remember, Jack Teagarden was a vicarious member of our family; my Father loved his playing so much that he would have easily adopted Jack into it.

He had many of Jack’s original 78 rpms records and played them constantly all the while miming Jack’s trombone sound by pressing an imaginary horn’s mouthpiece to his lips with the first, two fingers of his left-hand and working a make-believe trombone slide with his right.

My Dad’s devotion to Jack Teagarden did ultimately benefit me as he gave into my teenage pleadings to attend the Newport Jazz Festival [NJF] in July, 1957 after he found out that “Big T” would be there as part of a birthday celebration for Louis Armstrong.

The audio track to the following video tribute to Jack is taken from Teagarden’s performance of Basin Street Blues at the NJF on July 4, 1957 where he appeared along with Henry “Red” Allen on trumpet, J.C. Higginbotham on trombone, Buster Bailey on clarinet and a rhythm section of Claude Hopkins [p], Arvell Shaw [b] and Cozy Cole [d].

This rendering of Basin Street is my favorite recording by Jack. In it you can hear the humanity and humility that was so characteristic of this great Jazz musician.

Here are some thoughts, observations and comments about Jack as drawn from the writings of a number of respected authors.

Whitney Balliett, American Musicians: 56 Portraits in Jazz [New York: Oxford University Press, 1986, excerpts taken from pages 160-164].

“Jack Teagarden was obsessed by music and by machines. In New York in the late twenties, when he was with Ben Pollack's band, he would some­times play around the clock. He would start at 6 p.m. with Pollack at the Park Central Hotel and would finish somewhere in Harlem, where he had gone to jam, the afternoon of the next day. …

Teagarden's love of machines was an extension of his love of his instrument. He thought of his trombone as a kind of machine, and he spent his life mastering its deceptive, resistant techniques, and redesign­ing mouthpieces, water valves, and mutes. His father, an engineer who took care of Texas cotton gins, taught him mechanics. When Teagarden was thirteen, he replaced the pipes in his grandmother's house, and a year later he became a full-fledged automobile mechanic. As an adult, he re­built and drove two Stanley Steamers. He was a flamboyant inventor. … Sometimes he built machines simply for the sake of building them. He constructed one that filled a room, and when he was asked what it did he replied, "Why, it's runnin', ain't it?"

His trombone and his machines were the interchangeable lyrical centers of his life, and they helped hold it together. It was, in many ways, a desperate life. Women flummoxed him. He was married four times, and none of the relationships worked very well. (He had two children by his first wife, and one by his last.) He had no head for money, and he was a gargantuan drinker—almost in the same class as his friends Fats Waller and Bunny Berigan. He was careless about his health: he had lost all his teeth by the time he was forty, and he had several bouts of pneumonia. He had little sense about his career.  …

Teagarden's demeanor and appearance always belied his travails. He was tall and handsome, solid through the chest and shoulders. He had a square, open face and widely spaced eyes, which he kept narrowed, not letting too much of the world in at a time. His black hair was combed flat, its part just to the left of center. He was sometimes confused with Jack Dempsey. He liked practical jokes, and he had an easy, Southern sense of humor, the kind that feeds on colloquialisms. (Asked once why he slept so much, he said that, like all Southerners, he was a slow sleeper.) …

Teagarden had several different tones: a light nasal one, a gruff, heavy one; and a weary, hoarse, one—a twilight tone he used for slow blues, and for ballads that moved him. He had a nearly faultless technique, yet it never called attention to itself. Opposites were compressed shrewdly in his style. Long notes were balanced by triplets, double-time spurts by laconic legato musings, busy­ness by silence, legitimate notes by blue notes, moans by roars.

Teagarden developed a set of master solos for his bread-and-butter tunes—the tunes that his listeners expected and that he must have played thousands of times: "Basin Street Blues," "A Hundred Years from Today," "Beale St. Blues," "Stars Fell on Alabama," "St. James Infirmary," "I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues," "After You've Gone." Each time, though, he would make generous and surprising changes—adding a decorative triplet, a dying blue note, a soaring glissando—and his listeners would be buoyed again. Sometimes he sank into his low register at the start of a slow blues solo and rose into his high register at its end. Like his friend and admirer Bobby Hackett, he stayed in the bourgeois register of his horn, cultivating his lyricism, his tones, his sense of order and logic. Teagarden was a good jazz singer. His singing, a distillation of his playing, formed a kind of aureole around it. He had a light baritone, which moved easily behind the beat. The rare consonants he used sounded like vowels, and his vowels were all pureed. His vocals were lullabies—lay-me-down-to-sleep patches of sound.

Teagarden gathered friends wherever he went. His playing stunned them when they first heard it, and it still stuns them. [Pianist] Jess Stacy:

"I thought he was the best trombonist who ever lived. When I made those Commodore sides with him in 1938—'Diane’ and 'Serenade to a Shylock'—he just walked in, warmed up, and hit out, and he played like an angel. He was an ace musician who could talk harmony like a college professor. He'd sit at the piano after a take and say, ‘Try this chord on the bridge, this C with a flatted ninth,’ and he'd be right. Of course, he was a wizard with tools, too. He always carried a tuning fork. He had perfect pitch, and he couldn't stand out-of-tune pianos. So he'd work at a bad piano between sets until he got it where it didn't drive him crazy anymore. They couldn't make them any nicer than Jack—never any conceit, never got on anybody's nerves."”

Ross Firestone, Swing, Swing, Swing: The Life and Times of Benny Goodman [New York: Norton, 1993, excerpts drawn from pages 50-51].

“ …. We never heard anything like it. Such style and good taste and the way he knew his harmonies. It was such a wonderful feeling inside to hear someone do something so well."

Teagarden's warm, richly melodic, blues-drenched playing was com­pletely unlike the technically accomplished but emotionally remote approach to the instrument favored by Miff Mole, the premier white jazz trombonist up to now who was emulated by most other white trombone players, including Glenn Miller. Teagarden's impact upon the Pollack musicians and the rest of the jazz community in New York, black as well as white, can hardly be exaggerated. Gil Rodin thought he was the best trombonist he'd ever heard and claimed that the main reason Miller didn't return to the band was that he was humbled by Teagarden's hands-down superiority and knew everyone else really wanted him.

Benny and Teagarden took to each other's playing immediately. "Benny has always thrilled me," Teagarden said. "When we worked together in the old Ben Pollack orchestra ... he used to leave me so weak I couldn't hardly get out of the chair." For Benny, Teagarden "was an absolutely fantastic trombone player, and I loved to listen to him take solos." According to Pollack, "Benny Goodman was getting in everybody's hair about this time, because he was getting good and took all the choruses. But when Jack joined the band, Benny would turn around and pass the choruses on to Teagarden."

"I got about as many kicks out of hearing Jack play as any musician I've ever worked with," Benny maintained. But the peculiar remoteness that eventually became such a puzzling part of Benny's personality kept it from seeming that way at the beginning. "Benny used to worry me," Teagarden recalled. "He'd keep looking at me all the time, and it got on my nerves. One day I asked him, 'Say, you keep staring at me all the time. Do I annoy you—or is anything wrong?' Benny laughed and said, 'My gosh, no. But the things you play just keep surprising me!' " "Benny was hard to read,"

McPartland agreed. "He'd get a look on his face, and you really didn't know what he thought about anything. But he meant no ill will." "I never was much of a hand for talking about things I like, especially in those days," was Benny's comment on the incident. Bud Freeman claimed that Teagarden's advent changed the style of the band and left a permanent mark upon Benny's playing. "Benny Goodman, up to the time of hearing Jack, had not played much melody. He became a strong melodic player. I'm certain that this influence contributed strongly to Benny's greatness."

Richard Sudhalter, Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contributions to Jazz, 1915-1945 [New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, excerpts drawn from pp. 709-710; 718].

“… [Jack’s] fascination with things mechanical found its most lasting expression in the unique way he played the trombone, particularly the solutions he devised to its technical problems

He found a solution, based on an intuitive understanding or now brass in­struments work. The higher a trumpet or trombone plays, the closer together the notes … and the more options it offers for producing a given note. Some such alternatives are so naturally out of tune that (on a valved in­strument especially) they can't be used at all. A trombone slide offers a chance to correct such pitch anomalies with often finely calibrated adjustments.

Multiplying this by all the levels of the overtone series makes clear what young Weldon discovered very early: with diligent practice, and relying on an unusually acute ear to adjust intonation, he could play almost any note he wanted (save the very low ones) by favoring positions which kept the slide close to his face.

Jazzmen who heard Teagarden throughout his career were often amazed that such a musical torrent could come of so little apparent slide movement. British trumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton, for one, ‘marveled at the way in which [Teagarden's] huge, square right hand seemed to wave languidly an inch or two in front of his face while the notes tumbled out.’

…. [Lyttelton goes on to say that] ‘It is hard to find a single Teagarden record which he did not enhance with his beautiful, curiously blunted tone, his marvelously fluent articulation, his perfect rhythmic poise and the sheer elegance of his musical thought.’”

Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed., [pp. 1429-30]

“… Teagarden took the trombone to new levels, with his impeccable technique, fluency and gorgeous sound, allied to a feel for blues playing which alluded many of his white contemporaries. …

Teagarden's star is somehow in decline, since all his greatest work predates the LP era and at this distance it's difficult to hear how completely he changed the role of the trombone. In Tea's hands, this awkward barnyard instrument became majestic, sonorous and handsome. By the time he began recording in 1926 he was already a mature and easeful player whose feel for blues and nonchalant rhythmic drive made him stand out on the dance-band records he was making.”

Gunther Schuller, The Trombone in Jazz, in Bill Kirchner, ed., The Oxford Companion to Jazz, [New York: Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 631-32].

“Jack Teagarden brought a whole new level of musical sophistication and musical expressivity to trombone playing.

… Teagarden had a very easy, secure high register, and as a con­sequence was one of the first trombonists to develop an abundance of "unorthodox" alternate slide positions, playing mostly on the upper partials of the harmonic series and thus rarely having to resort to the lower (fifth to seventh) positions. Since many of these alternate posi­tions are impure in intonation, it is remarkable how in tune Teagar-den's playing was for that time. He had also developed an astonishingly easy lip trill—a sine qua non for today's trombonists, but still a great rarity in the 1920s—and was constantly experimenting with novel so­norities, produced by, for example, playing with a water glass held over the bell of his horn, or removing the bell altogether.

Teagarden was unique among trombonists in playing with a laid-back, "lazy" style, which many observers called a "Texas drawl." He also had quite a reputation as a singer, particularly of the blues, again in a superbly relaxed manner. Teagarden's essentially vocal, lyric trombone style, using lots of what brass players call "soft tonguing," has its parallel in the "slurred speech" approach—almost to the point of mushiness—in his singing.”

Ted Gioia, The History of Jazz, [New York: Oxford, 1997, excerpts taken from pp. 82-84].

“Only one other white brass player of the day could approach [Bix] Beiderbecke in terms of individuality and creativity. Jack Teagarden stands out as the greatest of the traditional Jazz players on the trombone, and also left a mark as an important Jazz singer. …

Teagarden had few models to draw on—either on record or in person—during his formative years. The New Orleans tradition, despite its frequent use of the trom­bone, had done little to develop its possibilities as a solo voice. It more often served as a source of counter melodies or rhythmic accents, often linking harmonies with the slurred chromatic glissandi that characterized the "Tailgate" sound, a stock New Or­leans device associated most closely with Kid Ory….

In many ways, Teagarden's playing showed a disregard of formal methods, especially in his reliance on embouchure and alternate positions rather than slide technique; …, by the time of his arrival in New York [1927], Teagarden was already a seasoned musician. …

Teagarden displayed a sensitivity to the blues that few white players of his gener­ation could match. …

Although he was capable of virtuosic displays, Teagarden was most at home crafting a carefree, behind-the-beat style. Especially when he was singing, the lazy, "after-hours" quality to his delivery— incorporating elements of song, patter, and idle conversation—proved endearing to audiences, especially in the context of a jazz world that was only just discovering the potential of understatement. Teagarden was just as comfortable in simplifying the written melody as in ornamenting it.”

And let’s close this overview of Jack Teagarden with these comments from Martin Williams Preface to Jay D. Smith’s and Len Guttridge’s Jack Teagarden: The Story of a Jazz Maverick [New York: Da Capo, 1988].

“Obviously a man like Teagarden, with his mastery of his in­strument, might have stepped into almost any kind of music and made a career for himself. But one thing that Jay D. Smith's and Len Guttridge's book makes clear is that Jack could not have been any kind of musician except a jazz musician.

A jazz musi­cian simply has to make his music and dedicate his life to it, even though he may not tell you (or himself) why he has to. He may not, indeed, even be able to say why, or need to say why. The need is to make the music and, necessarily, lead the life that makes that possible. All of which has little or nothing to do with ego or acclaim or money. He needs to give his music to the world and he hopes the world will understand.

You will find out about that need in these pages. You will also find plenty of the pranks and boys-will-be-boys anecdotes that seem so prevalent, diverting, and (under the surface) necessary a part of the musical life.

I could say that Smith and Guttridge engaged in a labor of love in researching and writing their book for Jack. But I would also describe it as a labor of infatuation, and
I offer that further description with respect.”

— Martin Williams October 1987”

“Infatuation” is a good word to use with Jack Teagarden’s music.