Thursday, September 29, 2011

Nat Adderley and Alto Saxophones Players

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

“Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley’s enormous personality and untimely death, together with his participation in such legendary dates as Miles’s Kind of Blues, have sanctified his memory …. But brother Nat was a big part of the band they had together from 1959 until Cannonball’s passing in 1975 at the age of 45.

One of the few modern players to have specialized on the cornet, … Nat was always the more incisive soloist, with a bright ringing tone that most obviously drew on the example of Dizzy Gillespie  but in which could be heard a whole raft of influences from Clark Terry to Henry ‘Red’ Allen to the pre-post-modern Miles Davis of the 1950s.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“Nat Adderley received top billing in the Cannonball Adderley Quintet from 1959 to 1975. Although overshadowed by his brother Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, Nat's own contribution to the band's success was substantial….

Nat contributed to the quintet as both player and composer. He wrote several hits that became jazz standards, including "Work Song," "Sermonette," and "Jive Samba." His instrumental style bears the influence of Clark Terry, Miles Davis, and, in brassier moments, Dizzy Gillespie.

How­ever, Nat's solos are often highly personal in their use of half-valve (slurred) effects, unusual tone color, and a wry sense of humor.

Without him, the quintet would have been an altogether different, and perhaps more somber, band.”
Len Lyons and Don Perlo, Jazz Portraits

Nat Adderley became a bandleader in 1975 without really wanting to ….”
- Orrin Keepnews

As I have mentioned before on these pages, business travel was a constant part of my life, especially during the last two decades of my career.

Most of it was national, some of it was international. Occasionally, and much to my relief, it was local.

One such local trip that I made on a quarterly basis involved visiting a client who owned a business based in Stockton, CA, which is about 80 miles due east of my office in San Francisco.

Since the purpose of these visits involved an early morning meeting with the company’s Board of Trustees, I would usually drive out for dinner with my client the previous evening to discuss the agenda, and then stay the night in a nearby hotel. It was easier than battling the morning traffic and the especially-dangerous morning fog.

A big box bookstore was located in the same complex with the hotel, and as I was restless following dinner, I wandered over to it to kill some time before turning in.

The store carried an extensive display of CD’s [remember those?] and while browsing its collection, I came across some music by Nat Adderley’s group featuring “Vincent Herring,” an alto saxophonist whose name was new to me.

I’d always dug Nat’s playing, the discs were being offered at half price and the “kicker” was that Jimmy Cobb was the drummer on two of the three that I purchased.

Boy, was I in for a treat.

When I returned to the room, I popped one of the CDs into my portable player, put on my ear phones and there went my early night as I stayed up half of it being blown away by Vincent Herring.

Poor Nat; here he was with another fantastic alto sax player.

As was the case with brother Julian, Nat more than held his own, but, man, Vincent Herring was somethin’ else [no pun intended].

As Nat described to Alwyn and Laurie Lewis in his March 1992 interview with them for Cadence Magazine: “Vincent plays Vincent; he has the style of Cannonball’s, but he does not play Cannonball’s licks. And that’s why I like him.” [paraphrased]

Elevating, exciting, electrifying - whatever the best words are to describe Vincent Herring - one thing is certain, you can’t expect to listen to his playing and easily go to sleep, afterwards.

Although a little groggy from lack of sleep, I showed up to the Trustees’ meeting the following morning with a big smile on my face. That and saving the client a good deal of money on their reinsurance placement must have won the day as I was able to renew the contract for one more year.

I owe it all to Nat Adderley, at least, the smile on my face, as if it hadn’t been for him, I most probably wouldn’t have discovered Vincent Herring.

Judge for yourself whether it was a worthwhile finding as Vincent is featured on the audio track to the following video tribute to Nat. As Nat explains in the introduction,  Work Song is one of his more famous tunes. Walter Booker on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums are old friends from their days together with Nat in the Adderley Brothers Quintet. Art Resnick does the honors on piano.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Andy Martin: Professional Musicianship At Its Best

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

How do you make a Jazz trombonist smile?

Have him sit in a big band trombone section when Andy Martin stands up to take a solo.

I’ve seen this happen time and time again.

Whatever the context – Tom Talbert’s Band, the Les Brown Band, Louie Bellson’s Big Band Explosion, the Bill Holman Orchestra, the Phil Norman Tentet, the Carl Saunders Bebop Big Band, the Tom Kubis Orchestra, The Metropole Orchestra of Holland, Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band – Andy’s solos put a knowing smile on the faces of all of his mates in the trombone sections of these bands.

They are all first-rate trombone players, many of whom are excellent soloists themselves and they all know what’s on offer when Andy plays.

A gorgeous tone, flawless technique and musical ideas that just flow seamlessly one after the other; one into the other.

Smooth, pure, powerful: listening to Andy Martin take a solo is the epitome of professional musicianship at its best.

Based on the West Coast, Andy invariably draws comparisons with Frank Rosolino and Carl Fontana, two other monster Jazz trombonists who spent the majority of their careers in and around Southern California.

Andy has done an album with Carl and one that is dedicated to the memory of Frank. You can find more information about these and all of his recordings by visiting his website. It is also a great source for details concerning all aspects of Andy's career.

Distributed in 1998 on Chartmaker Records, I have always been partial to Walkin’ The Walk,  a recording that Andy made with Bill Liston on tenor and a truly superb rhythm section comprised of Tom Ranier on piano [and too rarely heard outside of Southern California], John Clayton on bass and Jeff Hamilton on drums.

Andy’s original composition Line for Lewis is from this CD and forms the audio track on the following video tribute. The tune is based on the melody of the old standard,  Limehouse Blues. Checkout the four bar drum solos that Jeff Hamilton lays down beginning at 3:34 minutes.

You don’t have to be a professional Jazz trombonist to smile when Andy Martin plays. All you have to do is listen; the smile will take care of itself.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Conversation About Jazz with Ted Gioia

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

Ted Gioia is one of my very favorite Jazz artists.[“Gioia” is pronounced “Joy-a”]

But I've never heard him play.

For me and his many other fans, Ted brings Jazz to life by writing books about it.

And what magnificent books they: grand in conception, well-researched and well-thought out and all are beautifully written.

Thankfully, many of the literary Giants of Jazz are still with us.

In Ted Gioia, it’s great to see a new one coming over the horizon to join their ranks.

If you have yet to read Gioia on Jazz, you are missing out on one of Life’s real joys.

How and when did music first come into your life?

I have a picture of myself seated at the piano at the age of 11 months.  A note in my mother’s handwriting mentions my interest in making sounds at the instrument.  The note says:  “Baby likes to play piano and drink coffee.”  You could still describe me in the same terms today, so many years later.

I didn’t start formal piano lessons until I was in fourth grade, but long before that I was playing by ear at the instrument.   For as long as I can remember, I was drawn to music.

What are your earliest recollections of Jazz?

I didn’t discover jazz until I was a teenager.  It is no exaggeration to say that my first visit to a jazz club was a life-changing event.  Up until that time, I had dabbled in both classical music and rock.  But after my first experience hearing live jazz, I put both of those on the back burner.   From my mid-teens until my late twenties, I devoted around three hours per day to the piano.  It was my great joy and solace—it still is.   

Alas, in my early thirties, I developed arthritis.  This was nothing short of a personal crisis for me—and forced me to change how I saw myself and my calling in life.  I had to limit the amount of time I spent at the piano, and I needed to redirect my energies into other pursuits.  My productivity as a writer is closely related to my inability to put all the hours into musical making that I once did. 

What advice would you give to a younger jazz writer?

I would offer a few suggestions.  

First, always strive for honesty, even if it makes you unfashionable.  Instead of jumping on bandwagons, put faith in your ears and your own emotional responses to the music.  You will be surprised how often the consensus opinion will eventually come to match views of yours that once seemed hopelessly out of touch.  Nothing gets staler faster than the flavor of the month, but music that touches people’s emotions and delights their ears has a way of proving itself over the long haul. 

Second, listen to music sympathetically, and try to understand where the artist is coming from, instead of imposing a one-size-fits-all ideology on what you hear. 

Third, don’t write to try to impress other critics.  Write to serve your reader.  Be suspicious of critics who don’t seem to give sufficient respect to their reader’s enjoyment of music.   I believe David Murray is the person who said it best:  “People don’t want music they have to suffer through.”  Jazz is not a form of penance—it is a means of enchantment.

Fourth, listen, study and learn.   Always try to expand your knowledge and musical horizons.

Five, try to write as well as you can.  Describing music in words is almost impossible, and the only path to success is through total commitment to finding the best words, the perfect phrase, the proper metaphor, the right style. 

Six, don’t be afraid to show your love of the music in your writing.  Sometimes you may get attacked for doing this.  You can wear those attacks like medals of honor. 

What do you mean by finding the “right style” to write about music?

I have changed my writing style for every book.  The proper tone for writing about West Coast jazz is different from the approach needed for the Delta blues.  Listen to the music, and it will direct you to the right prose style. 

Although you write about many topics, what made you decide to become a jazz writer?

I stumbled into being a jazz writer.  I wrote jazz reviews for my college newspaper as a way to get record companies to send me free albums.   I was financially strapped, and this was the only way I could find to get my hands on the music I craved. 

Later I wrote my first book, a quirky work called The Imperfect Art.  I saw this book as a work of cultural criticism, but almost everyone else saw it as a jazz book.  From that moment on, I was perceived to be a jazz writer—which was fine by me.  That said, I still see my interest in jazz as one part of a larger concern with issues of society, art and culture. 

My recent book The Birth (and Death) of the Cool was, to some extent, an attempt to return to the approach I had followed with The Imperfect Art—namely to use jazz as a platform for discussing bigger cultural issues.

Is there a form of writing about jazz that you prefer: insert notes, articles, books …?

I fear that I am out of touch with the rest of the modern world.  I prefer to write long essays, but the marketplace wants short articles. I have learned the new rules, and have figured out to blog and tweet.  Still, my main interest is in writing in-depth works of criticism.  

Conversations about jazz invariably turn to “impressions” and “favorites.” So let’s turn to “impressions;” who were the jazz musicians who first impressed you and why?”

The first jazz recordings I purchased were by Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans and Duke Ellington.  Around this same time, I also developed an interest in ragtime and early jazz.  During my mid-teens I learned a number of Scott Joplin rag pieces, and also studied the music of Jelly Roll Morton.  But before my twentieth birthday, I began focusing on modern jazz.  That included an intense immersion in bebop.  Later I turned my attention to a wide range of post-bop styles.  To some degree, I learned the jazz tradition in chronological order—starting with the earliest ways of playing jazz, and working forward.

Many jazz players would eventually influence my personal approach to improvisation, but I would call particular attention to Lennie Tristano, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Keith Jarrett, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Paul Desmond, Chet Baker, Clifford Brown, Bud Powell, Art Pepper, Herbie Hancock, Paul Bley, Art Tatum, Lenny Breau, Denny Zeitlin and Wes Montgomery—as well as some of the names I already mentioned, especially Duke Ellington, Bill Evans and Miles Davis.

I also listen widely outside of the jazz genre.   Tango, Brazilian music, blues, contemporary classical music, movie soundtracks, singer-songwriters, choral music, you name it….I am always on the lookout for fresh new sounds.

Staying with your impressions for a while, what comes to mind when I mention the following jazz musicians:

Louis Armstrong?

Armstrong may well be the single most important individual in the history of jazz.   To understand his impact, you need to listen carefully to jazz before Armstrong, and then gauge what Louis added.  Compare King Oliver’s “Dipper Mouth Blues” from 1923 with Armstrong’s “Potato Head Blues” from 1927—and marvel over how far the art of jazz improvisation was pushed forward in just four years.  And almost entirely due to the contribution of a single person.

Duke Ellington?

I continue to return to Ellington’s music for inspiration.  I especially admire the music he made between 1938 and 1943.  During this period Ellington set a standard for jazz composition that no one has surpassed.

Lester Young?

As you know, I have a maintained a lifelong loyalty to the musical values of cool jazz.  And my allegiance is undimmed by my realization that jazz has always been primarily a hot art form.  Those who pursue a cool aesthetic must have the courage of their convictions—both because it is bloody hard to live up to its demands on the bandstand, where one invariably gets caught up in the heat of the battle, and also because the critics and opinion leaders in jazz have often been indifferent, if not actually hostile, to the cooler approach.  So Lester is more than just a musician for me; he is also a kind of hero and role model. No one did more than Lester to shape the values of cool jazz, and he did it in the face of intense opposition. 

Musicians today could learn a lot from him—particularly in his ability to make a complete and satisfying musical statement in just 8 or 16 bars.   I also hazard to say that jazz would have a larger audience nowadays, if younger musicians came to grips with what Lester could teach them. 

Dizzy Gillespie?

If you haven’t heard what Dizzy did in the 1940s, you won’t understand bop, and you won’t adequately comprehend how much he raised the bar for everyone else.  His playing on “Salt Peanuts” from 1945 may be the most exciting trumpet solo I’ve ever heard.

Shorty Rogers?

A beautiful player, an underrated composer and a lovely person.  I consider myself fortunate to have had the chance to meet with him and talk about his life and music. 

Gerry Mulligan?

Another pioneer of cool jazz.   Gerry played the decisive role in establishing the cool aesthetic on the West Coast.  To some extent, critics began perceiving California jazz through the prism of Mulligan’s contribution.  This had an unfortunate side effect of obscuring the work of West Coast players who didn’t fit into the cool pigeonhole, yet you can’t blame Mulligan for that.   He had a fresh, uncluttered approach—as with Lester Young, Mulligan could be a valuable role model for jazz players even today. 

Lennie Tristano?

I didn’t pay much attention to Tristano until I was in my early twenties.  But when I was studying at Oxford University, I performed in a quartet with a British saxophonist named John O’Neill—he later wrote some very well-known sax and flute method books—and he was a Tristano devotee.  John opened up my ears to Tristano.   The more I listened to Lennie, the more I became convinced that he was a hugely important figure who had never received his due.   I still feel that way.  In many ways, Lennie was decades ahead of his time, especially in his concept of phrasing.

Miles Davis – John Coltrane?

I’m sure many jazz insiders are tired of hearing about Kind of Blue.  In the parlance of the music business, it is perhaps “over-exposed.”  Yet I still think this might have been the most talented jazz band to ever perform as a working group.  Miles and Trane each represent what sociologist Max Weber would have called “ideal types,” and to hear them perform together is magical, and will always be magical. 

Bill Evans?

I cherish the 1961 Village Vanguard recordings made by Bill Evans, Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian.  This would be one of my desert island disks.  

Wynton Marsalis?

Wynton gets a lot of criticism, but I believe he has made a substantial contribution to the music.  His best work will still be heard and admired many years from now.  He has also matured into a fine ambassador for jazz, and a caring mentor to younger musicians. 

Dave Brubeck?

Dave is an intensely creative artist who believes firmly in the process of improvisation—I suspect that he seeks to surprise and astonish himself when he plays, and this openness to the inspiration of the moment is one of the reasons why his recordings still sound so vital decades after they were made.   I admire his music, and I also admire him as a person.  Mr. Brubeck is a class act.

The Imperfect Art: Jazz and Reflections of Modern Culture is your first published book. What is the main theme of this work; how and why did this book come about?

I came up with the idea for this book while studying philosophy at Oxford.   I had the crazy idea that jazz could elucidate key issues in philosophy and aesthetics.  I began writing the book the day after I finished my final exams.  

I take some pride in the fact that many people consider this one of the strangest jazz books ever written.  It definitely has maintained a cult following—I still hear from readers who respond favorably to its strangeness. 

When you wrote West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960 [published 1992], this style of jazz had not been in practice for over 25 years. What motivated you to research and write a book-length treatment on the subject?

I grew up in Southern California, and felt a personal affinity to the West Coast jazz music of the 1950s.  I had heard too many smug critics dismiss this music as some sort of marketing gimmick.  I disagreed vehemently with the conventional wisdom, and decided I wanted to try to change it.  So when my editor Sheldon Meyer asked me to write a follow-up jazz book to The Imperfect Art, I decided to make the plunge and write the history of modern jazz on the West Coast.

This was a brash decision.  I was too young to write the story of this period.  There were many jazz critics who had been active on the West Coast during that period, and they would have been in a much better position to write a book on the subject.  But people like Leonard Feather and Ralph Gleason had no intention of tackling this subject—like many of their peers, they were somewhat scornful of the West Coast tradition.  I stepped in to write the book, because the history needed to be documented and dealt with on its own terms.   This book was a true labor of love.

I think the book had an impact.  In the years following the publication of West Coast Jazz, fewer and fewer critics offered up smug rebukes to this body of music.  The musicians associated with the West Coast started to get a larger dose of respect.  I like to think I played a part in this change.    

What is the premise of your book The Birth (and Death) of the Cool? How did you arrive at the idea for this book? What are some of the consequences of the “death of the cool?”

Ever since I wrote my West Coast jazz book, I wanted to write a related book of cultural criticism that dealt with the nature of “cool” as a social force.  When I finally sat down to write the book, and pulled together my research—which I had been collecting for more than fifteen years—I came to the surprising realization that the essence of cool was under attack in the current milieu.  

This forced to me recalibrate my entire book.  Instead of writing a book on cool as a timeless concept—which I had originally envisioned—I needed to chart the rise and fall of cool over a half century period.  I studied this shift via motion pictures, books, television show, music, politics, business, religion and other spheres of our modern life. 

The basic premise of the book is that post-cool attitudes and lifestyles are on the rise, and changing our cultural landscape.  As a nation, we are losing our cool, so to speak.  The Birth (and Death) of the Cool has both fervent fans and detractors, and may be the most controversial thing I’ve ever written.

The New York Times labeled it “… one of the 100 notable books of 2008;” The Economist considers it to be “… one of the best books of 2008.” Talk a bit about why the subject of your book Delta Blues is so compelling and important?

When I was delving into jazz during my teens and twenties, I paid insufficient attention to the blues tradition.  I had concluded—mistakenly, I now realize—that blues was simple music.  But as I matured as a music writer, I came to realize that the early blues was much richer and deeper than I had ever suspected.   During the course of the 1990s, my interests gravitated more and more toward traditional African-American music.  I wrote a book on work songs and another book on the use of music in healing and ritual, and these projects further reinforced my sense of the power and depth of pre-commercial musical values.  At a certain point, I decided to make the plunge and immerse myself in the blues heritage.  My Delta Blues book was the result of that process.  

Why did you decide to take on a book-length study of the History of Jazz? As Ken Burns found out, somewhat to his amazement let alone his consternation, when his television documentary on the subject aired on PBS, jazz fans seem to take exception to almost all aspects of his work, especially in terms of the artists he included and those he decided to leave out of his retrospective. How did you approach the project? Did you have a particular theme in mind?  What segments of the history are you particularly pleased with and are you satisfied with the reception the work has received from its reviewers?

I don’t think I would have had the courage to write an all-encompassing history of jazz without the support and encouragement of my editor at Oxford University Press, Sheldon Meyer.  He had confidence that I could rise to the demands of the project, and I worked hard to live up to his expectations.  I was fully cognizant that Sheldon had served as editor for many of the finest jazz writers of recent decades—Whitney Balliett, Martin Williams, Gary Giddins, Gunther Schuller, Francis Davis, Stanley Crouch, Richard Sudhalter, Gene Lees, Ira Gitler and many, many others.  His advice and support were crucial to the whole endeavor.

How did I proceed?  I based my work on deep, intensive listening and aimed to convey to readers something of my own joy in the music, but also took seriously non-musical factors—I was always striving to place jazz in the proper socioeconomic and cultural perspective.  I aimed for scrupulous fairness—even when I presented revisionist views, I put them in the context of opposing perspectives, so readers could judge for themselves. Above all, I worked hard at my writing—I wanted the work to read like an unfolding story, and not just a compendium of facts. 

I will leave it up to readers to decide on the ultimate success of the venture.  But clearly the response has been sufficiently positive to justify a revised and expanded edition of the work, which came out a few months ago.    

If you could write a next book about any jazz-related subject, who or what would be the focus of such a book?

My next book will be a study of the jazz repertoire.  It will be called The Jazz Standards.  This will be a fairly big book—a 200,000 word manuscript.  Oxford University Press will be the publisher. 

Of all your writings about jazz over the years, which ones are among your favorites and why?

I have always written from a passion for the music.  I would be a more commercially successful writer if I paid more attention to what publishers and editors want, but I find it hard to operate that way.  My focus in writing has changed over the years, based on whatever I am most passionate about at time.  I pick subjects that delight me, even if everyone else tries to dissuade me.  Because of this approach, I usually am most enthusiastic about whatever I am writing about on any given day.  

What are you thoughts about blogs and websites devoted to jazz?

I visit the leading jazz websites almost every day.  As the mainstream media cuts back its coverage of jazz, blogs and web forums are filling the gap.   If you checked out the jazz bookmarks on my web browser, you would probably find around 40 jazz websites that I visit with some regularity.  

I realize that your interests are wide-ranging, but could you please conclude this “interview” by talking a bit about what excites you as you look out over the current jazz scene?

I try to listen to some new music every day of my life.   Some days, I may listen to as many as four or more new CDs.   This is an excellent practice, and I would recommend it to other music writers…and music lovers. 

If you practice this kind of expansive listening, you will find that there are countless talented and exciting artists out there—and not always on the major labels.  Indeed, nowadays, they usually aren’t on the major labels.  I am especially struck by the global spread of jazz talent. Promising artists and interesting music are everywhere—but you need to put out the effort to find them, since you probably won’t hear them on the radio and you almost certainly won’t see them on TV. 

In short, if you put in the time and energy necessary to hear what is happening right now—this year, this month, this week, this very day—you won’t be disappointed.  

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Conversation About Jazz with Doug Ramsey

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

I’ll try to keep this introduction brief so that my mumblings don’t detract too much from what follows.

Peter Keepnews succinctly stated: “Those of us who have tried writing about Jazz know what a daunting challenge it can be to do it well. Expressing an opinion about a given musician or recording is easy; explaining what exactly it is that makes that musician or recording worth caring about is not.”

Doug Ramsey has been brilliantly “explaining” the merits of the work of Jazz musicians and the qualities of Jazz recordings for over fifty years.

Doug’s writings about Jazz are so artfully done that opening an LP or a CD and finding that the descriptive notes have been written by him is the metaphoric equivalent of finding a real diamond at the bottom of a box of Crackerjacks.
Ray Avery once said of his colleague, William Claxton, that “some of us take photographs of Jazz musicians, but Bill is an artist.”

Those of us who write about Jazz feel the same way about Doug.

How and when did music first come into your life?

I don’t remember it’s not being in my life. The first that I recall making music was as part of a chorus in, I think, the second grade. I took piano lessons, without notable success, from age or so

Did you play an instrument?

My next instrument, starting at 13, was the trumpet. To be more precise, it was a 12-dollar cornet that belonged to the junior high school band. Eventually, I saved enough from a paper route to buy a used Olds Special, an excellent horn that I still have but rarely play. Much later, Clark Terry got me a factory deal on a CT model Olds flugelhorn. For several years I’ve had the Bobby Shew Yamaha trumpet and the Shew model Yamaha flugelhorn. Lessons with Bobby during my L.A. years were invaluable. I’ve never stopped playing, despite many requests. The black and white picture shows me sitting in illegally at a club called the Crown Bar in the late 1950s when I was in the Marine Corps, stationed in Iwakuni, Japan.

The tenor player in the striped shirt is Sergeant Paul Elizondo, who went on to lead a big band famous in San Antonio, Texas, and become a popular Bexar County commissioner. The drummer was a corporal named, I think, Sears. The pianist and bassist had the gig at the club. Although the base at Iwakuni was headquarters of the First Marine Air Wing, my commanding officer was an Air Force colonel 450 miles north at Far East Network headquarters in Tokyo, an ideal arrangement. My job was to run the Iwakuni radio station of FEN, staffed by Marine, Army and Air Force enlisted men and a handful of Japanese civilian employees.

The commander of the air wing was Lt. General Carson Abel Roberts.

One night when I was sitting in legally at the officers club on base, General Roberts introduced himself as a fellow player who as a youngster had known Bix Beiderbecke. On that thread, an unlikely friendship developed between the war hero three-star general and the greenish first lieutenant. If I had been under his command, that would have been unlikely. We were on a first-name basis; he called me Doug and I called him General. Sitting-in in town couldn’t have been too serious a violation of regulations; one night, General Roberts showed up at the Crown with his cornet and asked if he could play “Green Eyes,” which he did—a bit shakily but with the right changes.

It is my good fortune that there are outstanding musicians in my current hometown, Yakima, Washington, who allow me to play with them. We actually had a paying gig not long ago. Fifty bucks apiece. The way things are going, I know a few guys in L.A. and New York who would jump at that. World-class players come here frequently to play at The Seasons Performance Hall. A couple of Seasons Fall Festivals ago, Marvin Stamm invited me to play a duet with him. Actually, he informed me that I would play a duet with him. Bill Mays wrote a splendid arrangement of Freddie Hubbard’s “Up Jumped Spring” for trumpet, flugelhorn, violin, two cellos and rhythm section (Mays, Martin Wind and Matt Jorgensen). It was fun. No one in the audience threw anything.   

- What are your earliest recollections of jazz?

My parents’ small collection of 78s was a mish-mash that included, among other things, records by Frankie Carle, the Andrews Sisters, Rafael Mendez, Eddy Arnold and Louis Armstrong. They had a record changer hooked up to the big Philco console radio in the living room. I played Mendez’s “La Virgen de la Macarena” a lot and wore Armstrong’s “Mahogany Hall Stomp” practically white. I’m not sure that I knew what Armstrong did was called jazz. I was perhaps 10 years old.

 - Many conversations about jazz invariably turn to “impressions” and “favorites.” Why do you think this is the case?

As for favorites, most non-musicians and casual listeners develop them early on and maintain them as their standard for the rest of their lives. Here’s how Woody Herman put it when we talked following a dance job in San Antonio in 1974:

“Most of them stop listening as soon as they leave high school. That’s their last really firm connection with music. In that period of their lives, it’s all-important, and from the time of their first responsibility on, it becomes background to everything else, which is very natural and correct, I guess. But then they still want to tell me how the band isn’t making it now and it was so great then. And that really aggravates me. It’s about the only thing that does.”

One customer had asked that night for “Johnson Rag.” Another said to Woody, 
“Don’t you have any Russ Morgan pieces?”

“And they get some very terse replies,” Woody said, “like ‘No’ or ‘He quit the business’ or ‘I’ll play that when I get to the big band in the sky.’ It becomes a kind of standup routine. Certainly anyone has a right to ask for anything, but I can’t for the life of me think why I have to do those tunes.”

The quotes are from the Herman chapter in my book Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers.

Okay, so let’s turn to “impressions; who were the jazz musicians who first impressed you and why?”

Armstrong, of course. The next jazz player I’m conscious of admiring was Muggsy Spanier. He led in a curious way to Charlie Parker. When I was 15 or so, I was in a booth at Belmont Radio & Music in my hometown, Wenatchee, Washington, the Apple Capitol of the World and the Buckle of the Power Belt of the Northwest, listening to Spanier’s Commodore recording of “Sugar.” The son of the store’s owner was the tenor saxophonist Don Lanphere, who not long before had recorded “Stop,” “Go” and those other Prestige 78s with Fats Navarro, Al Haig, Tommy Potter and Max Roach. Don was home for a while, getting well and helping his dad. He opened the door, handed me a record with a yellow label and said, “Here, listen to this.” It was Parker on Dial; “Yardbird Suite” on one side, “Moose the Mooche” on the other. That introduction by Don affected my listening habits, expanded my horizons. At about the same time, I worked up the courage to introduce myself to the pianist Jack Brownlow, Wenatchee’s other great jazz musician, who helped Lanphere develop. I had heard him at high school dances and could sense, even in that context, that he was something special. He asked if I was a musician and invited me to his house to play. It was a disaster. I knew nothing about improvising and proved it. Still, he took me on, gave me ear training, played me recordings of all the right people and explained what they were doing. Among other revelations, he made me aware that Nat Cole was a great pianist—and why. Those listening lessons went beyond jazz. At Jack’s house I first heard Stravinsky, Villa Lobos and Shostakovich. One indelible evening at Lanphere’s, Don introduced me to the Boston Symphony/Charles Munch recording of Ravel’s “Daphnis and Chloe.” I could go on and on about what I owe Jack and Don. They developed the musical portion of my brain.

- Staying with your impressions for a while, what comes to mind when I mention the following jazz musicians?

Louis Armstrong.

I’ve been listening to him for more than six decades. I’m hearing new things and rediscovering things that astound me. I recently put up on Rifftides his “Summertime” from the Porgy and Bess album with Ella Fitzgerald. His expression of the melody of that song is an apotheosis of pure music. His introduction to “West End Blues,” which I have heard 4,372 times, still devastates me. When Dizzy said, “No him, no me,” he wasn’t kidding. I’ll take it further; no Armstrong, no jazz as we know it. 

Duke Ellington 

A magician. An alchemist. There’s a story that some of the most gifted Hollywood film composers were asked to listen to several complex pieces of music and analyze the chords. They nailed them, down to the last e-minor half-diminished 13th with a 9th on top (I made that up). There was an exception, the Ellington example. These composers with ears like sonar could not agree on what the harmonies were made of. Duke kept his band together through low-key leadership and management that are studied in business schools, and—no small matter—through the proceeds of his song royalties. With the indispensable help of Billy Strayhorn, he made his orchestra and its members extensions of himself.  They, in turn, helped to shape him. It is not possible to imagine outside the crucible of Ellington’s band, for example, the Johnny Hodges everyone knows, or Ellington without the inspiration and challenge of writing for his great individualists, Hodges, Cootie Williams, Ben Webster, Harry Carney, Rex Stewart, Paul Gonsalves and all the others. 

Dizzy Gillespie

Bird called him “the other half of my heartbeat,” but to a large extent Dizzy was also the brain of the bebop movement. For him, teaching was a calling. James Moody, Jimmy Heath, Ray Brown, Mike Longo and countless others have recounted Dizzy’s patiently giving them insights into harmonies and structures central to the music. On the heart side of the equation, he was the embodiment of rhythm in all of its power, simplicity and complexity. He recognized the catalytic importance of Chano Pozo, and Afro-Cuban jazz became a part of the jazz mainstream. Let’s see, there must be something else. Oh, yes, he was the most gifted and influential trumpet soloist of his generation and a few generations since. No him, no Fats Navarro, Kenny Dorham, Conte Candoli, Miles Davis, Art Farmer, Idrees Sulieman, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Brian Lynch, Ryan Kisor. Feel free to complete the list. It may take a while. When you have time, listen to his solo on “Night in Tunisia” (RCA Victor, 1946). All of those guys did.

In 1962, I was working at KYW-TV in Cleveland, before those call letters moved to Philadelphia. Dizzy was the guest host for a week on The Mike Douglas Show, which was produced at KYW. He had the quintet with Moody, the 19-year-old Kenny Barron, Chris White and Rudy Collins. On the show, they played “Chega de Saudade,” the first time I had heard a bossa nova played with that intensity. They were playing that week at the Theatrical Grill downtown on Short Vincent (I love that street name; had to work it in.) One night after the gig, Dizzy and I got to talking and he invited me to his hotel room to continue the conversation. We shared a bottle of red wine, had a serious discussion about music, acted silly and developed a warm acquaintance that lasted until he died. 

Stan Kenton

He had a great ear for emergent talent among players and arrangers and a dedication to massive sound. The two qualities often conflicted but, as in the Contemporary Concepts period, at their best his bands produced stimulating music of great importance. Kenton was a better pianist than he is generally given credit for, and some of his arrangements from the 1940s and 50s are superb.  

Shorty Rogers

He was a brilliant arranger and composer who synthesized the spirit of the big band era and the innovations of the Birth of the Cool band into a highly personal style. Those early 1950s Giants recordings with Art Pepper, Hampton Hawes, Shelly Manne and all hold up as well as anything from the period, regardless of coastal origin. His work on the East Coast-West Coast Scene album he shared with Al Cohn, particularly “Elaine’s Lullaby,” is masterly. Rogers’ trumpet and flugelhorn playing was idiosyncratic, beguiling. His Atlantic and Pacific Jazz quintet albums are classics. “Martians Go Home” should have won a special award for economy and humor in the use of “Rhythm” changes.

Gerry Mulligan

His writing made the Kenton band swing regardless of its leader’s inclination. His charts for his own big band were brilliant, but he stretched himself so thin that he didn’t do enough writing for it. His pianoless quartet had a brief existence but is inspiring musicians more than half a century later. Mulligan was the baritone saxophonist who could sit in—and fit in—with anyone. His sextet with Bob Brookmeyer, Art Farmer, Jim Hall and Bill Crow was a great band, and Night Lights is a masterpiece. He was restless in his curiosity and search for knowledge. He was a stimulating dinner companion. I miss him a great deal.

Horace Silver

I’ll refer to what I wrote not long ago on Rifftides about putting on the Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers album as background music to begin the day.
I chose it because I wanted something that had solos I could sing, hum and whistle along with as I fixed breakfast. Every note of Horace Silver’s second Blue Note album, the first by the Jazz Messengers, has been embedded in my brain since shortly after it was released in 1955. My record collection then consisted of 10 or 12 LPs. This was one of them. I played it so often that Silver’s, Kenny Dorham’s and Hank Mobley’s solos and Art Blakey’s drum choruses became part of my mind’s musical furniture. Silver, Blakey and bassist Doug Watkins comprised a rhythm section that was the standard for what came to be called, for better or for worse, hard bop. Dorham and Mobley, with their deep knowledge of chord-based improvisation, constructed some of their most memorable solos. Silver’s compositions—and one by Mobley—are classics.

Horace’s own bands that followed—with Art Farmer, Clifford Jordan, Blue Mitchell, Junior Cook, Joe Henderson, the Brecker Brothers and Ryan Kisor, among others—comprise an important chapter in the history of the music. I am sorry to hear that he has been ailing.

Miles Davis-Gil Evans collaborations

Recently I contributed an historical essay to Bob Belden’s pending Miles Español project. Working on it brought home again that the pervasive influence of the Davis-Evans Sketches of Spain has reached virtually all precincts of music, as Belden’s video and CD show. From his arrangements for the Birth of the Cool band through Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, Sketches of Spain and Quiet Nights, Gil’s understanding of Miles’ temperament, inclinations and leanings made it a perfect partnership. I wish that it had lasted longer, but what they gave us will endure.  

Mel Tormé

A great singer. He sometimes went overboard in the melisma department, but his intonation, swing, diction and lyric interpretation were flawless. His collaborations with the Marty Paich Dek-tette, particularly Mel Torme Swings Shubert Alley, and his duets with George Shearing belong in the vocal hall of fame. Is there a vocal hall of fame?

 Maria Schneider

She learned—absorbed—from Gil Evans and Bob Brookmeyer and developed a recognizable style. Now, she herself is an influence. Like most category-based criticism, assessments that she has gone beyond or outside jazz are meaningless. Forget labels; she writes wonderful music. If you’ve ever watched her work in front of her big band, you know that she is an inspiring leader. Sky Blue was terrific. I look forward to her next album.

- What made you decide to become a jazz writer?

I’m not sure that I decided. It happened. In the eighth grade, a teacher told me that I should be a reporter. I considered law and architecture, but ultimately majored in journalism. The junior year at the University of Washington School of Journalism was total immersion in the newspaper process. We put out a daily paper. Music was one of the beats the editors handed me. I wrote frequently about jazz. I’ve never stopped, although three years in the Marine Corps slowed my output. My career has been in newspapers, broadcast news as an anchor, correspondent and news director; then as an educator of professional journalists. I have had a parallel career or sub-career as a writer about jazz and free press issues and as a novelist; one novel so far.

- Is there a form of writing about jazz that you prefer: insert notes, articles, books …?


- If you could write a next book about jazz on any subject, what or who would be the focus of such a book?

 I’m working on a book that will be, essentially, a collection of liner notes, which, done right, is a form of journalism. I’ve written a few hundred sets of notes. Some of them hold up.

- You’ve accomplished many wonderful things in your life both personally and professionally. Why is it that jazz has continued to play a role in your life?

Because it goes to the core of what I value: individuality, freedom of expression, human interaction, beauty.

- Switching to the subject of “favorites:”

Why must we have favorites? Why not evaluate every book, film, composition, solo, or painting on its merits, without ranking it? For that matter, why must we have favorite musicians, actors or newscasters? (Gene Lees ‘ unisex term for them was “anchorthings.” Boy, do I miss him). That thought leads to popularity contests or, as the magazines call them, readers polls and critics polls. If publicity about winning poll results in more work, record sales and income for deserving musicians, perhaps polls are worth something, but I don’t trust them much; I get too many e-mail messages from musicians and their publicists pleading for votes. I have voted in many critics polls, but I’ve become increasingly skeptical of them.

I’ve come to dislike the very word “favorite,” but I can’t come up with a suitable synonym.

- What are some of your favorites books about jazz?

There you go again. All of Whitney Balliett’s books, all of Martin Williams’, Gene Lees’ and Nat Hentoff’s. Gunther Schuller’s Early Jazz and The Swing Era. I’ve been waiting for years—make that decades—for Schuller’s book on bebop. Both of Louis Armstrong’s autobiographies. Dan Morgenstern, Ira Gitler, Gary Giddins, Andre Hodeir, Ted Gioia, Stanley Dance, Joachim Berendt, Francis Davis, Albert Murray, Larry Kart, Royal Stokes, Stafford Chamberlain, Jeroen de Valk, Ashley Kahn, Bill Crow’s books of anecdotes, Mike Zwerin. Wait a minute, this is a trap, you know. Sure as the devil, I’m leaving out 10 or 15 valuable writers about jazz.  

- What are some of your favorite jazz recordings?

Talk about traps! I’ll name 10, with the understanding that I could name 50 or 100. If you asked me tomorrow, it could be 10 others. Not in rank order:
Bill Evans: Portrait in Jazz
Duke Ellington: And His Mother Called Him Bill
Louis Armstrong: The Hot Fives and Hot Sevens
John Coltrane: Blue Trane
Dave Brubeck Quartet: Jazz at College of the Pacific, Vol. 2
The Sarah Vaughan 1950 Columbia’s with George Treadwell and his All Stars: Miles Davis, Benny Green, Budd Johnson, Tony Scott, Jimmy Jones, Freddie Green (or Mundell Lowe) and Billy Taylor.
The Curtis Counce Quintet albums on Contemporary, with Harold Land, Jack Sheldon, Carl Perkins and Frank Butler
“Flamingo” from Charles Mingus’s Tijuana Moods, with its perfect Clarence Shaw trumpet solo
Chick Corea, Now He Speaks, Now He Sobs
Ravel, Daphnis and Chloe (Munch, Boston Symphony)
You’ll notice that there is nothing recent on that list. Maybe it takes favorites a few years to develop.

- Who are your favorite big band arrangers?
(Not in order) Eddie Sauter, Fletcher Henderson, Bill Holman, Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Gil Evans, Mike Abene, Jim Knapp, Frank Foster, Bob Brookmeyer, Darcy James Argue, Don Redman, Duke Pearson, Gerry Mulligan, Maria Schneider, Benny Carter, Ralph Burns, Slide Hampton, Bill Kirchner, Quincy Jones, Johnny Mandel, Sy Oliver, Gerald Wilson, Melba Liston, Neil Hefti, Oliver Nelson. This could go on a while. May I stop now?

- Who are your favorite Jazz vocalists?
Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Anita O’Day, Carmen McRae, Jimmy Rushing, Helen Merrill, Nat Cole, Carol Sloane, Bill Henderson, Peggy Lee, Joe Williams, Ray Charles, Jack Teagarden, Teddi King, the young Ethel Waters, Mark Murphy, Meredith d’Ambrosio, Karrin Allyson, Fats Waller, Nancy Marano, Jeri Southern, Jimmy Rowles, Mildred Bailey, Chet Baker, Rebecca Kilgore, Johnny Hartman, Carol Fredette, John Pizzarelli, Nancy King, Daryl Sherman, Mel Tormé, Maxine Sullivan, Ray Nance, Blossom Dearie; Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. That’s the short list.

 Who among current jazz musicians do you enjoy listening to?
An incomplete list: Ambrose Akinmusire, Bill Charlap, Steve Wilson, Kirk Knuffke, Bill Mays, Sonny Rollins, Diana Krall, Kenny Barron, Miguel Zenón, Jessica Williams, Wadada Leo Smith, Ed Partyka, Branford Marsalis-Joey Calderazzo duo, Gretchen Parlato, Matthew Shipp, Matt Wilson, J.D. Allen, Alexander String Quartet, Dubravka Tomsic, Jan Lundgren and everybody on Bob Belden’s Miles Español project. 

Of all your writings about jazz over the years, which ones are you most proud of?

Recently, the notes for the MJQ Mosaic box and that Miles Español piece, but overall, probably the Desmond biography and the non-jazz novel Poodie James, because so much of my blood, sweat and being went into them.

- What are you thoughts about blogs and websites devoted to jazz?

It is clear that there are no rules for blogging. My conviction is that the standards of accuracy, fairness, thoroughness and reliability that go into any responsible writing must apply to blogging. Opinion should be plainly identified as opinion, if only by context and usage. The medium offers wide possibilities for sound, photographs, video, even a certain degree of interactivity. Many jazz blogs just sit there looking like pages out of an academic journal or a thesis.   

- If you could host a fictional “jazz dinner,” who would you invite, and why?

Good conversationalists. Most jazz musicians are good conversationalists.

- If you could put on an imaginary three-day jazz festival in Yakima, WA, how would you structure it and who would you invite to perform?

Fortunately for Yakima, it has The Seasons Performance Hall, which in addition to its regular schedule has a week-long festival in the fall. The festival has included James Moody, Jessica Williams, Bill Charlap, the Brubeck Brothers Quartet, Tom Harrell, Ernestine Anderson, Tierney Sutton, Marvin Stamm, Karrin Allyson, Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band, Eric Alexander, David Fathead Newman and the Bill Mays Trio with Martin Wind and Matt Wilson. The Seasons Fall Festival also incorporates classical elements. Maintaining quality hasn’t been easy because of the economic morass we’re in, and in recent regular bookings The Seasons has resorted to lesser music in an attempt to pay the bills, a familiar story in the arts these days. As a pro bono adviser to this nonprofit hall, I advise them to hang in there and aim for the standard of quality implied in that list of names. As for structure, The Seasons Fall Festival has always been linear. It does not put artists in competition with one another, a la Montreal, New Orleans and other festivals that have morphed into huge parties. You wonder how much they have to do with music.

- If you were asked to host a television show entitled – The Subject is Jazz –  who would you like to interview on the first few episodes?

Sorry, Steve, Gilbert Seldes and WNBC-TV took that title half a century ago. We’ll have to choose another. How about The Steve Cerra Show? I would ask Sonny Rollins, George Wein, Branford Marsalis, Bill Mays, Dave Brubeck, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Miguel Zenón, Benny Golson, Marian McPartland, Cedar Walton, Gerald Clayton, Darcy James Argue and Matthew Shipp. That’s the first 13 weeks. Do you think we’ll be renewed?

What writing projects about jazz have you recently finished? Are there any that you are currently working on?
I put up a new Rifftides post this morning. I recently wrote the Mosaic MJQ notes just mentioned, and a lengthy historical analysis of the musical connections among Spain, Africa, the Caribbean and New Orleans for the Miles Español project. There is another jazz book in the works, but it has a long way to go. A second novel that I started some time ago keeps calling to me from the depths of the computer, where it has been imprisoned.  

- You have done a lot of writing over the years on the subject of jazz. Have you given any thought to “collecting” these and leaving them with a college or university library for future reference?

Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers is a collection. So, more or less, is the next book. That’s one way of making the work available beyond the moment. No university has been pounding on my door but all reasonable offers will be considered.