Monday, January 30, 2012

Harry Allen: A Throwback

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

"Stan Getz was once asked his idea of the perfect tenor saxophone soloist. His answer was, 'My technique, Al Cohn's ideas, and Zoot's time.”
- Gene Lees

Harry Allen may well be the fulfillment of Getz’s recipe for making the perfect tenor saxophone soloist. His style of playing certainly recaptures the essence of the ultra cool sound and the easy, lyrical phrasing of Stan, Al and Zoot.

For as Richard Morton and Brian Cook state in their Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD 6th Ed.:

“Allen has been acclaimed by an audience waiting for the Four Brothers to come back, if not the big bands. His full-blooded tenor sound offers countless tugs of the forelock to Zoot, Lester, Hawkins and whichever other standard-issue swing tenor one can think of; and it's hardly surprising that these enjoyable records have been given the kind of approbation that was heaped on the early Scott Hamilton albums. Allen plays nothing but standards, delivers them with a confidence and luxuriance that belie his then twenty-something age, and generally acts as if Coltrane and Coleman had never appeared at all.”

The editors go on the describe Allen’s “steamrollering sense of swing and his sewing of phrases and licks together with the kind of assurance once associated with Zoot Sims.”

Harry Allen can play and he comes to play.

He’s a throwback to a time when tenor saxophonists “plugged in” a rhythm section, planted their feet and “stretched out” into solos that were marked by fleet intensity, a warm, breathy sound and boppish licks.

Harry’s approach to the tenor saxophone finds the melodious aspects of the instrument and brings them to the forefront: no upper register squeaking; no running of seemingly mindless chromatic scales up and down the horn; no lengthy extrapolations that cause the listener to “head for the door” or to “turn that damn noise off.”

Harry’s music makes you stop and listen; it makes you feel good; it makes you smile. Here is the wonder and beauty of music the way The Muses, who created it, meant it to be played.

As is the case with many, younger musicians these days, Harry has his own website on which you can locate lots of information about his background, schedule of performances and a discography.

And here’s a link to a feature about Harry that Stephen Fratallone posted to his Jazz Connection Magazine in September 2005 entitled Just Wild About Harry: Harry  Allen brings His Swinging Mainstream Tenor Back to Jazz’s Forefront that’s just loader with good stuff about Harry.

Given his affinity for the style of playing made famous by the late tenor saxophonists Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, fittingly, these days, Harry can often be found in the company of guitar Joe Cohn, Al’s son. The two have formed a quartet that frequently records and appears at Jazz festivals and clubs both at home and abroad.

One of our favorite recordings by Harry and Joe in accompaniment is Eu Não Quero Dançar – I Won’t Dance [RCA Victor 74321 58126-2] about which Richard Cook and Brian Morton commented:

“For a change of pace, Allen did a sort of bossa nova album in I Won't Dance- sort of, because he swings it a lot harder than Getz chose to. Instead of the melodies billowing off balmy breezes, there's the odd tropical storm along the way, and it's an agreeable variation on what might have been expected.”

I have selected No More Blues [Chega de Saudade] from this CD as the audio track to the following video tribute to Harry. Checkout the simultaneous soloing by Harry and Joe that begins at 2:55 minutes. Beautifully done and not easy to do without tripping over one another’s solos.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Clare Fischer 1928-2012: A Tribute

A performance by Clare's Big Band of his original composition Miles Behind. The solos are by Warne Marsh on tenor saxophone and Conte Candoli on trumpet. Larry Bunker is on drums.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Milton Hinton and Jazz History: Parallel Courses

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

Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1910 and relocated to Chicago by his family at the close of World War I in 1918, it seems that bassist Milt Hinton had been around Jazz since its beginnings.

But like Osie Johnson, his drumming counterpart on numerous recordings sessions over the years, I found it difficult to locate much information about Milt despite the fact that the Lord Discography lists him on 1,205 recording sessions!

So when my copy of Down Beat: The Great Jazz Interviews a 75th Anniversary Anthology arrived from Santa Claus this year, I was thrilled to discover that it contained Larry Birnbaum’s detailed essay about Milt entitled Milt Hinton: The Judge Holds Court, January 25, 1979.

Here are some excerpts that primarily focus on Milt’s nearly 16 year association with the Cab Calloway Orchestra.

I think you’ll find it to be a wonderful reminiscence of what the world of Jazz and the United States were like for a working musician from approximately 1935-1950.

© -  Larry Birnbaum/ Down Beat, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

"Bass means bottom. It means foundation, and bass players realize that their first job j is to support the musicians and the ensem­ble. Bass players know more about sharing ffld appreciating one another than any other musicians. In all my years I have never heard a bass player put another bass player down; they have great love for each other and they learn from one another and they share experiences and even jobs. It's why the art of bass playing has made more progress in the last 40 years than the art of any other instrument."

Milt Hinton should know. At 68 [Milt died on December 19, 2000 at the age of 90], the dean of American bassists stands at the summit of a half-century career that has taken him from the speakeasies of Chicago to the pinnacle of the big-band era with Cab Calloway to the jam sessions at Minton's in the early days of bop. …

"But to get back, in '35 Cab went to California to do a movie with Al Jolson called The Singing Kid. His bass player, Al Morgan, was a fantastic visual player. He was really my idol; I used to watch him just to see how a great bass player acted, and that's what I figured I would be like when I grew up—of course I'm nothing like that at all. When they made this movie, the cameras would be grinding away and every time Cab looked around, instead of the camera being on him it would be on Al Morgan, because he was a tall, black, handsome guy and he smiled and twirled his bass as he played. This got under Cab's skin because it was a little too competitive for him. But nothing happened about it until one of the producers said to Al Mor­gan, 'Look, you're so very photogenic that if you were going to be around here, every time we made a picture with a band scene in it you would get the job.' So this guy quit Cab in California and joined Les Kite's band with Lionel Hampton and all those guys who were established in Hollywood, and he stayed there.

"Cab started back east without a bass player, and my friend Johnson told Cab that if he was going through Chicago he should stop at the Three Deuces and dig Milt Hinton. By this time Simpson's band had broke up and the owner had opened a Three Deuces at State and Lake. Zutty Sin­gleton was the bandleader and Art Tatum was the relief piano player there. When Art played, it was my responsibility to stand by and come in for his finale. He played solo piano, but for his last tune, which would be something up-tempo, I was supposed to join him and take it out and then come on with Zutty's band. Of course, Art Tatum was so fabulous that I don't think I ever caught up to him; his changes were too fast for me and he left me standing at the post. But it was such a joy to see him, and he was a very nice person. He could see slightly if you put a very bright light behind his eye, so during intermissions we played pinochle together.

"Zutty had the band, mostly New Orleans guys. It was Zutty playing drums, Lee Collins, a great trumpet player whose wife recently put out a book about him; there was a kid from New Jersey, Cozy Cole's brother, who played piano, and Everett Barksdale was the guitar player. We worked for months at the Three Deuces and my acceptance as a musician was established, because Chicago was a New Orleans town—all the jazz was New Orleans jazz—and Zutty Singleton was the drummer. There was Baby Dodds and Tubby Hall, but Zutty was really the guy. He had been with the Louis Armstrong Hot Five, with Earl Hines and Lil and Pre­ston Jackson, who is now living in New Orleans. Zutty finally decided to take me into his rhythm section. Now I was with the king and now I was established as a top bass player in Chicago.

"And now Cab comes down and he listens to me play. He never said a word tc me, he just sat there—I saw him in the room—and a guy said, 'Cab is in.' He came in with a big coonskin coat and a derby and, man, he was sharp, people were like applauding. He sat at a table and listened to us play, and on the intermission he invit­ed Zutty over to the table to have a drink with him—not me, but Zutty. He said, 'Hey, I'd like that bass player, I heard he's pretty good.' Zutty was most beautiful and kind to me and he was only too happy to have me make some progress, and he said, 'You can have him,' in that long drawl, New Orleans accent he had. So Cab said, 'Well, thanks man, and if you ever get to New York and there's anything I can ever do for you, you just let me know,' and they shook hands. Then Zutty came upstairs— I'm playing pinochle with Art Tatum—and said, 'Well, kid, you're gone.' 'Where am I going, Zutty?' 'Cab just asked me for you and I told him he could have you.' I said, 'Don't I have to give you some kind of a two-week notice or something?' and Zutty said, 'If you don't get your black ass out of here this evening, I'll shoot you.'

"Cab finally comes up and sings a song with us, he hi-de-ho's and breaks up the house—and as he's leaving he says to me, 'Kid, the train leaves from LaSalle Street Station at 9 o'clock in the morning. Be on it.' That's all he said to me, no dis­cussion of salary or anything. I dashed to the phone, called my mom, and told her to pack that other suit I had and my extra shirt. I got my stuff—of course, there was no time to sleep—and I met the band at the station. It was quite an experience, because I had never been on a train except coming from Mississippi to Chicago, and you know I didn't come on a Pullman or any first-class train—we were right next to the engine. I'd never seen a Pullman in my life, and here all of these big-time musicians were on this train, on their own Pullman.

"There were these fabulous musicians: Doc Cheatham, the trumpet player; Mouse Randolph, another trumpet player; Foots Thomas, the straw boss, the assistant leader of the band, a saxophone player; Andy Brown, a saxophone player; and the drummer, Leroy Maxey. These guys had been working in the Cotton Club in New York and they were really professional: Lammar Wright was another great trum­pet player in the band; Claude Jones, a great friend of Tommy Dorsey's, was the trombone player; and there was my old friend Keg Johnson who had recommend­ed me.

"I must have looked pretty bad. I had the seedy suit on, a little green gabardine jacket with vents in the sleeves—we called them bi-swings in those days. Keg was introducing me around, and the great Ben Webster was in the band. He and Cab had been out drinking that night and they missed the train at LaSalle Street, but you could catch the train at the 63rd Street sta­tion. They were out on the South Side balling away with some chicks and they didn't have time to come downtown. So they picked up the train at 63rd Street and got on just terribly drunk. I was sitting there and Keg was trying to introduce me to the guys, and Ben Webster walks in ter­ribly stoned and he looked at me—I must have weighed 115 pounds soaking wet— and said, 'What is this?' and Cab said, 'This is the new bass player,' and Ben said, 'The new what!?' I remember thinking I would never like Ben, and he turned out to be one of my dearest friends.

"I hadn't asked anybody about the price, but I was making $35 a week with Zutty at the Three Deuces and that was one of the best jobs in town. Fletcher Hen­derson was at the Grand Terrace at that time with Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins and Chu Berry and they were making 35 bucks a week. I didn't know how to approach anybody about money with Cab, so finally I told Keg that Cab hadn't said anything to me about money. Keg [Johnson, a trombonist] said, 'Oh, everybody here makes $100 a week.' Well, I almost fainted—$100 I had never heard of; it was a fantastic amount of money. This is before Social Security—they only took out $1 for union dues and you got $99, and $99 in those days was like $9,000 today. Honestly, you could get a good room for $7 a week; you could get a fantastic meal for 50 cents and cigarettes for 10 to 15 cents a pack; bread was 5 cents a loaf; so you can imagine what the thing was like.

"Cab told me after we started making one-night stands that he was only hiring me until he got to New York and got a good bass player. I was quite happy even to do that for 100 bucks a week. We made one-nighters for three months before we hit New York, all through IowaDes Moines, Sioux City, everyplace, and I got a chance to really get set and all the guys liked me.

"Well, Al Morgan was not a reading man. He had been in the band so long he had memorized the book, so there was no bass book. And here I was quite academ­ic—I'd studied violin and I'd studied bass legitimately with a bass player from the Chicago Civic Opera and I never had a problem with reading—I was playing Mendelssohn's Concerto in E-minor so there was no problem. I said, 'Where's the music?' and there was no music, so Benny Payne, the piano player, said, 'You just cock your ear and listen, and I'll call off the changes to you.'

"Benny was most kind and we've had many laughs about this later; I'm about S'7" and Al Morgan was a tall man, he must have been 6'3". There was no time to get new uniforms so I had to wear his clothes, and when I put on his coat I was just drowning in it. His arms were much longer than mine so that you couldn't see my hands because they didn't come out through the sleeves. The guys said I looked like Ichabod Crane or somebody—I'm playing bass through the coat-sleeves and they were laughing.

"I had never really played with a big band of that caliber, and when they hit it that first night it almost frightened me to death. The black guys in those days used to wear their hair in a pompadour—it was long in front and we would plaster it down with grease and comb it back and it would stay down. Of course, when it got hot that grease melted and our hair would stand straight up. I had this big coat on and I got to playing and the grease ran all out of my hair and my hair was standing up all over my head and Benny Payne is calling out these chords to me—'B-flat! C! F!' The guys in the band told me later that they were just rolling with laughter, they could hardly contain themselves, because I was really playing good but I looked so ungod­ly funny.

"Finally Cab saw that the guys liked me and we were having so much fun that he said, 'We'll give him a blood test.' There was a special tune that Al Morgan did, featuring a bass solo, called 'The Reefer Man.' Cab said, 'OK—"The Reefer Man,'" and my eyes got big as saucers because I didn't know anything about this new music. I said, 'How does it go?' Benny Payne said, 'You start it,' and I said, 'What!?' He said, 'We'll give you the tempo but it just starts with the bass—just get into the key of F.'

I tell you, I started playing F, I chromaticized F, I squared F, I cubed F, I played F every conceivable way, and they just let me go on for five or 10 minutes, alone, playing this bass, slapping the bass, and doing all this on this F chord. Finally Cab brought the band in with a 'two... three... four' and they played the arrangement. Benny's calling off the chords to me, and after three or four min­utes the whole band lays out and Benny says, 'Now you've got it alone again,' and here I go back into this F. I must have played five or 10 minutes, and Benny comes over and says, 'Now you just act like you've fainted and just fall right back and I'll catch you,' and I did it and it was quite a sensation as far as the public was concerned, and the musicians were just out of their skulls they were laughing so.

"By the time we got to New York, Ben Webster liked me and Claude Jones liked me and the guys all said, 'This guy's going to make it,' so I was in. I stayed with the band 16 years, until 1951.”

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Down Beat: The Great Jazz Interviews a 75th Anniversary Anthology

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

I always keep a copy of William Zinsser’s On Writing Well by the computer when I’m writing.

You never know, one day I might – write something well [“Hope springs eternal?”].

In his chapter entitled Writing About People – The Interview, Mr. Zinsser urges prospective writers to:

“Get people talking. Learn to ask questions that will elicit answers about what is most interesting or vivid in their lives. Nothing so animates writing as someone telling what he thinks or what he does—in his own words.

His own words will always be better than your words, even if you are the most elegant stylist in the land. They carry the inflection of his speaking voice and the idiosyncrasies of how he puts a sentence together. They contain the regionalisms of his conversation and the lingo of his trade. They convey his enthusi­asms. This is a person talking to the reader directly, not through the filter of a writer. As soon as a writer steps in, everyone else's experience becomes secondhand.

Therefore learn how to conduct an interview. Whatever form of nonfiction you write, it will come alive in proportion to the number of ‘quotes’ you can weave into it as you go along.”

It seems that Frank Alkyer and Ed Enright have taken Mr. Zinsser advice to heart, for in searching for a format to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Down Beat, they have chosen to edit a collection of interviews that were published in the magazine from 1934 – 2009.

The interviews are grouped according to decades and represent, the editors words, “… 124 of the best interviews or artist-written articles that this magazine has ever produced.”

In the book’s Preface, editors Alkyer and Enright go on to say:

“The history of Down Beat is the history of the last 75 years, just told through the lens of jazz and blues musicians as well as the journalists who cover them. Race relations, sexual equality, unionism, wars, recessions, birth, life, death, the tri­umph of the will, the battle of the soul: it spills across the pages of Down Beat.

But the aspect of this dense history that holds up best, that truly endures, is the voice of the artist. The editors of Down Beat get a lot of opportunities to go back and look through the archives for research. It's one of the great privileges of working for the magazine, and one of the real occupational hazards. Plan for an hour of research, then lose the better part of the day reading through all of those terrific pages from bygone eras.”

Whenever I have an opportunity to go into the archives, the items that really draw my attention are the articles writ­ten by musicians, or those heavily spiced with quotes from musicians. The music criticism in Down Beat is fantastic, sec­ond to none, an essential guide to music that is being made. Record and concert reviews provide a glimpse into how a piece of music is received at the time it's presented. The critics may not always be right, but they do give you a sense of how that work fit into the critic's personal tastes as well as into the realm of other music being created at that time.

But the opportunity to read about Ellington, Armstrong, Miles, Bird, Dizzy, Coltrane, Brubeck, Eldridge, Lester Young, Ella, Lady Day—all the greats—to hear them talk about their lives and their careers—in their voices— that's what paints a lasting picture, and delivers a glimpse inside the artist's world. That's the essence of Down Beat. …”

So not only does this 340 compilation contain interviews with musicians, but it also has a bevy of articles in which musicians in essence “interview” themselves by writing about their music.

In order to provide you with a sampling of what’s on offer in this terrific book, here are excerpts drawn from interviews and guest artist essays for each of Down Beat’s almost eight decades of publication.

© -  Down Beat Magazine, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The 1930s – “Duke Ellington: A Black Genius in a White Man’s World” – Carl Cons

“Duke is  highly  imaginative   and extremely sensitive to close and weirdly beautiful harmonies. He has a mirror type of mind that catches all the brilliant, col­orful and vivid images of living and reflects them in tonal pictures.  He is reflective rather than interpretive in that he is interested principally in reproducing all of his experiences rather than account­ing for them. He is a tone painter who tries to catch all the warmth and color of a set­ting sun on his canvas keyboard, translat­ing sight into sound, and using chords as his pigments.

Many critics read a great deal of their own personalities into Duke's music when they start interpreting it for us—and usually miss the central idea. This is regrettable, but a simple mistake that would not be made over and over again if they under­stood one fundamental characteristic of the Duke. He is a narrator, and a describer. "Lightnin"' is the description of a train journey with all the excitement and variety of scenes and sounds. "Mood Indigo" is an innocent little girl longing—soliloquizing. "Toodleo," the picture of an old Negro man broken down with hard work in the field coming up a road at sunset, his broken walk in rhythm.” [p.5]

The 1940s – “Lester Young: Pres Talks About Himself, Copycats” – Pat Harris

"The trouble with most musicians today is that they are copycats. Of course, you have to start playing like someone else. You have a model, or a teacher, and you learn all that he can show you. But then you start playing for yourself. Show them that you're an individual. And I can count those who are doing that today on the fingers of one hand."

It was the Pres talking. Lester Young, a pioneer of the "new" jazz, whose friends find themselves in the peculiar position of trying to persuade him to tolerate the majority of musicians who can't meet his standards, and, on the other hand, getting others to try and understand the Pres.

"Lester Young has been so misunder­stood, underestimated, and generally shoved around," one of them said, "that he almost was pushed out of the field of top active jazz musicians." The tendency is to relegate him to the position of a historical "influence."

The 1950s – “Lennie Tristano – Multi-Taping Isn’t Phony” – Nat Hentoff

"If I do a multiple-tape," Lennie said slowly with determination, "I don't feel I'm a phony thereby Take the 'Turkish Mambo.' There is no way I could do it so that I could get the rhythms to go together the way I feel them. And as for playing on top of a tape of a rhythm section, that is only second-best admittedly. I'd rather do it 'live,' but this was the best substitute for what I wanted.

"If people want to think I speeded up the piano on 'East Thirty-Second' and 'Line Up,' I don't care. What I care about is that the result sounded good to me. I can't otherwise get that kind of balance on my piano because the section of the piano I was playing on is too similar to the bass sound. That's especially so on the piano I use because it's a big piano and the bass sound is very heavy. But, again, my point is that it's the music that matters."

One of the objections voiced to these particular tracks was that whatever Lennie did to the tape made his playing very fast. "It's really not that fast, though," Lennie said. There are lots of recordings out there that are much faster. … The tempo, in most Jazz joints, in fact, is faster than on the record. And the record was a little above A-flat. That may account for a little of the speed, too.”

The 1960s – “The Resurgence of Stan Getz” – Leonard Feather

“Bill Coss, reviewing his Village Van­guard re-debut in the June 8, 1961, Down-Beat, synthesized the problems that Getz had to face: "There were in attendance the haters, musical and otherwise, who came to find out whether the young white man, who had long ago lengthened the legendary and unorthodox Lester Young line into something of his own, could stand up against what is, in current jazz, at least a revolution from it (or a revulsion about it)."

While asserting that in his own view Getz could and did and seemed as if he always would measure up, Coss added that "the still broad-shouldered, blue-eyed, bland-faced young man met musicians backstage, and they tried him with words and with Indian-hold handshakes of ques­tionable peace and unquestionable war. The young man out front was his arrogant best, holding his audiences with strong quotations from his past and much stronger assertions of his version of the newest (but much older) sound!"

Clearly implied were the facts of jazz life that had come into focus during Getz's absence: the cool sound and the cool atti­tude had given way, during those two or three years, to a concern for heavy, aggres­sive statement, to an atmosphere of racial hostility without precedent in jazz, to an accent on musical anger and disregard for fundamentals—characteristics that were not to be found in the light lyricism of a Stan Getz solo.”

The 1970s – “Cannonball The Communicator” – Chris Albertson

“Critic John S. Wilson summed it up in a 1961 issue of Down Beat :

‘Cannonball’s [Julian “Cannonball” Adderley] unique ability to talk with an audience with intelligence, civility and wit does a great deal toward establishing a warm, receptive atmosphere for his group.’

The new Adderley Quintet was born on the Riverside label, whose driving force was the late Bill Grauer, an enterprising man who greeted the sounds of King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band and a new Quincy Jones Orchestra with equal, boyish enthu­siasm. In Cannonball's music, Grauer saw earthy elements that were missing in the so-called cool jazz and the free-form music that Ornette Coleman was pioneering— Cannonball's music had soul.

Just how the term "soul jazz" came about is uncertain. Cannonball believes it was coined by Grauer, and it might well have been. Certainly, Grauer did a great deal to promote the use of the term, to the point where its application became so widespread that it lost any meaning it might have had.

Today the term "soul" has a different connotation, having become a synonym for "black." Today's soul music is that per­formed by the Temptations, James Brown or Gladys Knight and the Pips. "Let's say that soul has developed the way it should have, according to Bill Grauer's concept and the way I thought it was going to be," says Cannonball. "It has developed along the lines of the old things, utilizing elements of contemporary beats and stuff like that... now the blues, the same old blues that we loved 25 or 30 years ago. It's a big thing and it's called 'soul' music instead of the blues... B.B. King is a lion after so many years of being just B.B. King, and I think it's beautiful."

The 1980s – “Maynard Ferguson: Rocky Road to Fame and Fortune” – Lee  Underwood

Ferguson: I always have that fun thing with composers and arrangers. I say, ' Are you sure what my thing is?' As soon as they say, 'Yeah, I know what your thing is,' I say, 'Great. Now do something different.' That is, something which is me, but which I don't impose on other people.

Basie, for example, has sounded the same for many years, and yet I can still sit in front of that band and thrill to it. The same thing with Ellington, even with his great creativity. The same thing with the Beatles. I refer only to their validity. I have no interest in talking about the things that don't enhance me. Their music is their right, their privilege, their art. …

Ferguson: I love the independence of if I never have another hit single, we're still gonna burn it out every night and we know we'll have good albums. I enjoy doing my own thing and being contempo­rary, and doing it honestly. I really enjoy playing "Rocky," and if you listen to it, you'll see that, in person, my solos are not the same, and the drummer doesn't play it the same way.”

The 1990s – “Joe Henderson: The Sound That Launched 1,000 Horns” – Michael Bourne

“He's not Pres-like [Lester Young] or Bird-like [Charlie Parker], not 'Trane-ish [John Coltrane] or Newk-ish [Sonny Rollins]. None of the stylistic adjec­tives so convenient for critics work for tenor saxist Joe Henderson. It's evident he's listened to the greats: to Lester Young, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins—to them and all the others he's enjoyed. But he doesn't play like them, doesn't sound like them. Joe Henderson is a master, and, like the greats, unique.

When he came along in the '60s, jazz was happening every which way, from mainstream and avant-garde to blues, rock and then some, and everything that was happening he played. Henderson's saxo­phone became a Triton's horn and trans­formed the music, whatever the style, whatever the groove, into himself. And he's no different (or, really, always different) today. There's no "typical" Joe Henderson album, and every solo is, like the soloist, original and unusual, thoughtful and always from the heart.

“I think playing the tenor saxophone is what I’m supposed to be doing on this planet,” says Joe Henderson. “We all have to do something. I play the saxophone. It’s the best way I know that I can make the largest number of people happy and get myself the largest amount of happiness.””

The 2000s – “Dave Brubeck: That Old Cowboy” – David French

"If you knew all the guys who never say anything too good about me who secretly know I opened the door for them, or have said it, but it isn't picked up by the jazz police," he said. "If I told you all the guys you'd be surprised. At the same time the critics are saying I'm not playing jazz, I'm influencing a whole bunch of guys who play so great.

"I'll give you one example," he contin­ued. "One of my favorite piano players was Bill Evans. When he was young, he made a lot of good remarks about me. In the fake book, he gets credit for recording 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Someday My Prince Come.'

But where did Bill hear it? Maybe five years before? I know where he heard it, he knows where he heard it and he would tell me where he heard it. But it dies right there.

"I won't name any more. But look at some of the best, far-out guys, you'll find that the guy they heard who set them off in right direction was that old cowboy Dave Brubeck."

Most authors will tell you that their writings, in whatever form, benefit immensely from the involvement, assistance and guidance of a good editor.

My late friend, Jack Tracy, joined Down Beat in 1949 and was its editor from 1953-1958. According to John McDonough in his August/2011 tribute to Jack, “Tracy guided Down Beat out of the last phrases of its fabled but fading antiquity into a modern era of serious criticism and journalism.”

Upon his passing in December, 2010, I put together this video tribute to Jack and thought I reprise it as a fitting way to close this review of Down Beat: The Great Jazz Interviews a 75th Anniversary Anthology.

The audio track is vibraphonist Victor Feldman performing his original composition Too Blue with Scott LaFaro on bass and Stan Levey on drums.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Down Beat Magazine – 25th Anniversary

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

My how time flies.

While preparing a forthcoming feature on Down Beat Magazine’s 75th Anniversary Interviews, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles suddenly remembered that it had been the recipient of an LP album given to all of the magazine’s subscribers in celebration of it having reached the quarter-century mark in 1959.

“Recorded in Hollywood and New York in special cooperation with Verve Records under the personal supervision of Norman Granz,” the LP which is entitled Down Beat’s Hall of Fame Volume 1 [Verve MG V-8320] is comprised of 12 tracks selected by the editors “… to get a full representation of the past quarter century in Jazz…. [the magazine was founded in 1934]”

Featured artists include vocalist Ella Fitzgerald, drummer Gene Krupa, tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins with trumpeter Roy Eldridge, pianist Oscar Peterson with bassist Ray Brown, vocalist Anita O’Day, pianist Art Tatum, tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, the Count Basie Band, drummer Louie Bellson, tenor saxophonist Lester Young and alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges and his orchestra.

As we were unable to find a CD reissue of this recording, we thought it might be fun to make available the liner notes from the original LP with their point-in-time reference to the state of Jazz in 1959. We wonder if our old friend, the late Jack Tracy, may have been one of “the editors” who had a hand in writing them?

These notes are followed by a video which uses graphics from the LP’s cover art as developed by the crackerjack production team at CerraJazz LTD and the Magic track from the album played by the Basie band.

© -  Down Beat, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Down  Beat's
Hall of Fame, Volume I
Verve  MG V-8320

If all the greats in the history of jazz were laid end to end, you'd have . . . something similar to this LP. Released to help Down Beat celebrate its 25th Anniversary, it is a disc that attempts to achieve that kind of jazz universality.

Of course, it would be impossible to get a full representation of the past quarter century in jazz on five LPs, much less one. How many important figures you have to leave out, how many great choruses go unincluded!

How, for example, do you chose between a track by Dizzy Gillespie and one by Charlie Parker?

You take into consideration that Bird is gone, and will make no more recordings —while the giant Diz is alive and swinging. That simplifies the task considerably . . .

Or take another example: the task of selecting someone to represent the main­stream of jazz drumming. Who should it be? Jo Jones, Buddy Rich, the late Dave Tough, Shelly Manne? In the end, it has to be Gene Krupa. Go back, if you can, to the old Krupa band recording of No Name Jive and listen how Gene builds the band unbelievably, while never losing sight of the basic roll with which he started out. Krupa has always had and still has a sense of form and clarity of pattern that any drummer alive can learn from. All things passed through Gene: he was the gatherer of what went before and the harbinger of what was to come. Therefore, it had to be Krupa . . .

In a sense, therefore, though the selec­tion of material for this disc was difficult, most choices had a certain inevitability. These are the selections:


YOUR RED WAGON — Ella Fitzgerald, with Lou Levy, piano; Max Bennett, bass; Gus Johnson, drums; Dick Hyman, electric organ. This is the hard-swinging Ella, rather than the gentle Ella of balladry. One of the uncontested greats, Ella punches her way through this old classic with a backing that demonstrates the gutsy propensities of electric organ.

GENE'S SOLO FLIGHT - Gene Krupa Quartet, with Eddie Shu, tenor saxophone, Wendell Marshall, bass; Dave McKenna, piano. A good deal having been said al­ready about Gene's genius, it is well to draw attention to Shu's facile tenor in the Lester Young tradition, and to McKenna's distinc­tive piano.

HANID—Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge, with Hank Jones, piano; Mickey Sheen, drums; George Duvivier, bass. Here two giants of the swing era blow in a hard bebop groove. Little Jazz barges in with a tense, rasped and swinging solo. Listen to the wild thing that happens when the mute comes out. Hawk comes in low and virile enough to sound as if he's blowing bari­tone. The tasteful Mr. Jones demonstrates why he is one of the favorite pianists of Oscar Peterson, among others. The tune, the title of which you might try reading backwards, is a Hawkins original.

DEBUT — Oscar Peterson, with Ray Brown, bass. This track, recorded in New York, recalls the days of the Oscar Peterson Duo—and Canadian pianist Peterson's first tremendous impact on the U.S. public. This was the formative Oscar, and it is fascinat­ing to look at his roots.

LAIRD BAIRD - Charlie Parker, with Hank Jones, piano; Max Roach, drums; Teddy Kotick, bass. Life! From the open­ing phrase, the uncomplimentable Bird shows the ferocious lust for it that he had, despite all the talk of his self-destructive-ness. Recorded in 1953, the tune js an orig­inal whose title refers to Parker's son, Laird.

ANITA'S BLUES — Anita O'Day, with John Poole, drums; Bud Lavin, piano; Monty Budwig, bass. Anita, one of the handful of great singers in jazz, dryly (and brilliantly) reworks the timeless fabric of the blues.


TRIO BLUES — Art Tatum, with Jo Jones, drums; Red Callender, bass. Callender was the favorite bass player of the late Art Tatum. Whenever Tatum was on the West Coast, Callender was first on call to work with him; which is how Callender, a busy studio musician, happened to be on this date, done in January, 1956, in Holly­wood. Modern jazz forerunner Tatum was in excellent form the date this was recorded.

DOWN BEAT-Stan Getz, with Jerry Se­gal, drums; Mose Allison, piano; Addison Farmer, bass. Woody Herman tells a story about Stan Getz. When Getz joined Her­man in 1946, he played the band's book through once on the stand and, so far as Woody knows, never looked at it again; he had it memorized. Such was—and is—the musicianship of this remarkable tenor saxo­phonist. Derived from Lester Young, Getz became the fountainhead of a whole new concept of tenor playing. Today, he is in the odd position of being an immortal who is only 32 years old.

MAGIC—Count Basic and his Orchestra. Personnel: Reunald Jones, Harold Baker, Thad Jones, Wendell Culley, Joe Newman, trumpets; Benny Powell, Bill Hughes, Henry Coker, trombones; Frank Foster, Frank Wess, Marshall Royal, Bill Graham, Charlie Fowlkes, saxophones; Freddie Greene, guitar; Ed Jones, bass; Sonny Payne, drums; Basic, piano. As it happens, Count Basic has been a bandleader exactly as long as Down Beat has been in business: 25 years. (He took over the remnants of the Bennie Moten band in 1934). Though this track was recorded in 1956, the Basic per­sonnel is pretty much the same today. Thus, the track represents not only one of the most important bands in jazz history, but one that is generally conceded to be the most exciting on the scene today.

DRUMMER'S HOLIDAY—Louis Bellson and his orchestra. Personnel: Frank Beach, Don Fagerquist, Mel Moore, Bob Fowler, trumpets; Dick Noel, Juan Tizol, Nick Di Mao, George Roberts, trombones; Bill Green, Buddy Collette, Chuck Gentry, Mah-lon Clark, saxes; Geoff Clarkson, piano; Tony Rizzi, guitar; Joe Mondragon, bass; Milt Holland, drums. One of the deftest of technicians, Louis Bellson is one of the great big band drummers. Working with another gifted drummer, Milt Holland, he leads — and pushes — this band (made up mostly of top Hollywood studio muscians) into its tremendous swing.

LESTER SWINGS -Lester Young, with Gene Ramey, bass, Jo Jones, drums, John Lewis, piano. The title of this tune (try humming Exactly Like You along with it) is superfluous; when didn't Lester swing? The Father of the Cool, and perhaps the most influential saxophonist of them all, Pres is heard here in a 1951 session that was truly historic. Among its other points of interest: the driving playing of John Lewis in the days when the Modern Jazz Quartet wasn't even a gleam in John's con­templative eye.

EARLY MORNING ROCK - Johnny Hodges and orchestra. Personnel: Ray Nance, Clark Terry, Harold Baker, trum­pets; Quentin Jackson, trombone; Jimmy Hamilton, Russell Procope, Harry Carney, Hodges, saxophones; Billy Strayhorn, pi­ano; Jimmy Woode, bass; Sam Woodyard, drums. This is the perfect track to wind up this disc: Duke Ellington isn't here in the flesh, but his spirit is all through this performance by some of his boys. Thus the track is a tribute to the man who has con­tributed most over the longest time to the growth of jazz.

POSTLUDE—Three of the men heard on this record are gone now: Art Tatum, Charlie Parker, and Lester Young. In the quarter century of Down Beat's existence, these were primary innovators. There are no replacements for their individual geniuses.
But young talents keep turning up. Per­haps a giant like Parker will be among them. One can only guess at the direction —or directions—jazz will take. During the next 25 years, Down Beat will go on looking for and reporting on the great talents— as it has in the last quarter century.

—The Editors

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The American Jazz Orchestra: A Gift from Gary, John and Roberta

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

“In 1985, when jazz critic Gary Giddins was told by producer Roberta Swann that she was thinking of putting together a modern classical ensemble, he suggested that she help create a jazz repertory orchestra instead. With John Lewis as the musical director, the American Jazz Orchestra had their debut concert in 1986, playing works associated with Duke Ellington, Jimmie Lunceford, Fletcher Henderson, Count Basie, and Dizzy Gillespie. Two recordings resulted (tributes to Ellington and Lunceford), which often found the all-star players re-creating recorded solos. But when funding eventually ran out in the early '90s, the American Jazz Orchestra slipped away into history.”
~ Scott Yanow, Rovi

Gary Giddins is always doing nice things for Jazz.

His engrossing and entertaining book Visions of Jazz: The First Century was the subject of an earlier feature on these pages which you can locate by going here.

I also compiled an earlier profile on John Lewis, the conductor of the American Jazz Orchestra who, for many years, was also the musical director and pianist with the Modern Jazz Quartet. You can locate the previously posted essay on John via this link. [Unfortunately, two of the videos in the original piece on John had to be removed because of copyright "third-party matches."]

Lastly, Roberta Swann of the Cooper Union in New York City should be accorded major kudos and expressions of gratitude by Jazz fans for all she did to assist and support the American Jazz Orchestra during its all-too-brief existence.

Gary Giddins does nice things for JazzProfiles, too, like allowing me permission to reprint the following insert notes to the CD, The American Jazz Orchestra: Ellington Masterpieces [East-West 7 91423-2], which is currently available as an Mp3 download from Amazon [along with orchestra’s later recording of the music of Jimmy Lunceford].

© -  Gary Giddins, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“From its inception, The American Jazz Orchestra was devoted to the music of Duke Ellington. It could hardly be otherwise. No American composer has left a greater, more diverse body of work, or set higher standards for its continued performance. The challenge Ellington put to posterity is twofold. There is, first of all, the astonishing size of his catalogue, which includes popular and art songs, suites, tone poems, a ballet and an opera, stage and Him scores, and concertos and sym­phonic expansions, in addition to the thousands of short instrumental that are the cornerstone of his art. Second, there is the medium through which that catalogue is best known: Ellington's own recordings, surely the finest recorded documentation of a living composer's art since Edison patented the phono­graph. From 1924 until 1974, Ellington used the recording studio with prophetic and unrivaled mastery. His records became his scores.

During the half-century that Ellington managed to sustain his own orchestra-serving, in a sense, as his own patron—there was little need for other orchestras to perform his music, even though Ellington himself performed only a fraction of it in his grueling regimen of one-nighters. Indeed, it would have been a kind of plagiarism for another bandleader to appropriate Duke's music (though every bandleader was profoundly influenced by it). With Ellington's passing, however, and the passing of other great composers and arrangers of his genera­tion, a space opened in the life of American music. The works conceived for that uniquely American ensemble, the big band (woodwinds, brasses, and rhythm), cried out to be heard. The American Jazz Orchestra was conceived to help answer that need.

Some say that no orchestra can compete with Ellington's, that his records obviate the need for new interpretations. As in most musical matters, Ellington anticipated the nay savers. The variety of his numerous versions of the same pieces undermine the whole notion of a definitive performance. Interpretation is a relatively new idea in jazz, though it provided the sustenance for European classical music. Perhaps if Beethoven had recorded his sonatas and sympho­nies, subsequent generations would have been more circumspect in their inter­pretations of his scores. But it seems doubtful—after all, Rachmaninoff, Strauss, Stravinsky, Gershwin, and Copland are a few of the contemporary composers who did record their own works, with no diminution of interest from other conductors. Every year an increasing number of Ellington scores are prepared and published, proving that as brilliant as the Ellington Orchestra was, his music has a life beyond it. At the last of the sessions at which the American Jazz Orchestra recorded Ellington Masterpieces, the issue was re­solved for one skeptic. A TV producer who had expressed doubt about the value of recording Ellington stopped by to listen. After hearing a couple of takes, he half-rose from his seat and said, "My God, this proves the music's all there in the score!" Nesuhi Ertegun turned to him and said, "Of course, that's the whole point."

John Lewis grew up with the Ellington Orchestra (he was even present at the dance at which Ellington orchestrated Chloe), and has immersed himself in its music. Last year, he arranged several Ellington masterpieces for The Modern Jazz Quartet's For Ellington (East-West 90926). The inaugural concert by The American Jazz Orchestra, at the Great Hall of Cooper Union in 1986, included his performances of Cotton Tail, Concerto For Cootie, and Jack The Bear, plus Maurice Peress conducting "Harlem". At the AJO's Ellington program on March 3, 1988, at which Peress conducted the first performance of "Black, Brown & Beige" to incorporate Ellington's final emendations, John Lewis pre­pared nine of the shorter works, as well as Ellington's concert expansion of "Mood Indigo". Writing in The New York Times, John S. Wilson noted that The American Jazz Orchestra "has become a cohesive unit that expresses a strong personality even when it is working within the established outlines of Ellington's three-minute recorded arrangements." The idea for this album was born that evening. The following November, the AJO played these 15 selections for three nights at the Blue Note. When the AJO went into the studio a few days later, Lewis and the band were ready.

With the exception of Rockin' In Rhythm, introduced in 1930, all of the selections on Ellington Masterpieces come from those years which are often cited as the grandest in Ellington's career, 1940-1943. It's impossible to gauge precisely why a particular period finds an artist in a seeming state of grace. But in this instance some clues must be taken into account. The early 1940s were transitional for jazz: swing was on the wain and bebop was around the corner. Ellington had just signed a new recording contract which guaranteed him artis­tic freedom. For 15 years, he had been honing and perfecting his gifts, making of jazz (a word for which he had little use) a special world of sui generis melo­dies, voicings, and structural designs. Most of his musicians had been with him for a decade or more, and the new recruits were to inspire him to new heights. In Billy Strayhorn, his deputy composer, arranger, lyricist, and pianist, he found a collaborator who would eventually become his alter ego. In the revolu­tionary young bassist Jimmy Blanton, he found a virtuoso with supple time and a distinct soloist's voice. In Ben Webster, the magisterial tenor saxophonist who had played with the band briefly in 1935, he added one of the most original talents of the era. And in Ray Nance, the spry cornetist, violinist, and singer who replaced Cootie Williams in 1940, he found an irrepressible stylist who became a particular favorite with audiences. The stage was set, and during the next few years, culminating with the presentation of "Black, Brown & Beige", Ellington recorded a string of imperishable masterpieces.

In the wonderfully symmetrical Sepia Panorama, the reeds come roaring in for the initial theme (a blues), parting for the two-measure breaks played by John Goldsby, a young bassist with a particular feeling for Blanton's style. The second theme is an exchange between Eddie Bert and John Eckert, and the third finds Danny Bank emerging from the ensemble. At the center is Loren Schoenberg, a saxophonist known for his proclivities toward Lester Young, who in this context brings to life Ben Webster's more rugged approach. An issue confronting every jazz repertory performance is what to do with the original solos. Lewis opts, for the most part, to retain those solos when they have become as well-known as the written passages. Ellington himself had some relevant words about improvisation: "The word 'improvisation' has great limi­tations, because when musicians are given solo responsibility they already have a suggestion of a melody written for them, and so before they begin they al­ready know more or less what they are going to play. Anyone who plays any­thing worth hearing knows what he's going to play, no matter whether he prepares a day ahead or a beat ahead. It has to be with intent."

Billy Strayhorn's Johnny Come Lately features Jimmy Knepper, one of the great postwar trombone stylists; another great trombonist, Benny Powell, a 12-year veteran of The Count Basie Orchestra, is heard playing the muted passages. Note the rhythmic meshing of the rhythm section especially toward the end; Howard Collins is one of the last masters of the nearly-forgotten art of rhythm guitar. On All Too Soon, a celebrated vehicle for Johnny Hodges and Ben Webster, we hear one of the last major figures to join the Ellington band: Norris Turney was entrusted with the awesome responsibility of taking Hodges's place. Later, Ellington encouraged him to write for the band and to introduce a new voice to its palette, the flute. Knepper and Schoenberg are also heard, as is Dick Katz, who has an uncanny flair for those skittery arpeggios that were Ellington trademarks. Katz also comes to the fore on Ko-Ko, the ingenious blues that originated as an epi­sode in Ellington's unfinished opera, "Boola". The open trombone part is played by Knepper, the muted one by Bert.

Chloe is one of the cleverest examples of the way Ellington could adapt an inferior pop tune and make it sound like an exotic original. The solo­ists are Knepper, Bill Easley (a gifted tenor saxophonist who is emerging as one of the finest clarinetists of his generation), Bert, Goldsby, Eckert and Schoenberg. Eckert is one of the most admired of the younger trumpet players in New York; during a take of Chloe, Nesuhi Ertegun remarked, "To me, he's a revelation."

Ellington wrote a long series of portraits, from "Black Beauty" (Florence Mills) in 1928, to "Three Black Kings" (Martin Luther King) in 1974, and none is more charming or evocative than Bojangles, a homage to the sublime dancer, Bill Robinson. You can almost see him tapping down a stairway, Shirley Temple in tow, during the trio episode—which, incidentally, is played by trumpet (Eckert), trombone (Bert), and clarinet (Easley). John Lewis took over the piano chair; Schoenberg and Easley are also featured.

Cotton Tail, a striking variation on the standard "I Got Rhythm" chord sequence, boasts not only a classic Ben Webster tenor solo, but an equally famous Webster-composed chorus for the reeds. One night, between sets at the Blue Note, Schoenberg said with some astonishment, "You know, I feel just as creative playing Ben's solo on Cotton Tail as when I'm improvising." He sounds it. Bank and Katz are also heard, and don't miss the Banknote at the end. Nothing distinguished Ellington's sound more than his use of Harry Carney's baritone sax as a leading voice in the reed section. Bank is the AJO's bedrock.

Lewis considers Sidewalks Of New York one of Ellington's unsung masterworks, and is surprised that it wasn't heard more, especially in the town it celebrates. An inspired transformation of an old ditty, it is a swinging, surpris­ing arrangement that puts the spotlight on Easley, Katz, Knepper, Schoenberg, Turney, and Bank. That elephant cry of a trombone figure in the closing en­semble is by Benny Powell. Billy Strayhorn's Take The "A" Train, a perfect example of reeds and brasses set in precision responses, was almost immedi­ately promoted to become the band's theme. No jazz solo is better known (or more often performed) than the one Ray Nance played on it. When Nance left the band, Cootie Williams (who had returned) inherited his "improvisation", and played it verbatim night after night for 10 years. Eckert's perfor­mance is remarkable: he's playing Nance's conception, but the interpretation is entirely his own.

Jack The Bear, another Ellington benchmark, was the first piece conceived as a vehicle to introduce the unique talent of Blanton, and is no less admired for the ensemble melodies that replicate bass lines and the crescendos played by the brasses. In addition to Goldsby, the featured players are Katz, Easley, Virgil Jones, Bank, and Powell. Main Stem, yet another great Ellington blues, has all the rowdy charm of the Broadways it celebrates. The soloists are Turney, Eckert, Jones, Easley, Bert, Schoenberg, and Knepper.

One of the most widely-noted performances of the first AJO concert was Virgil Jones's reading of Concerto For Cootie. He has played it several times since, making it more and more an extension of his style and sound. Although the melody was later turned into the popular song "Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me", it originated in a setting that extended phrases beyond standard eight-bar constructions, and meshed trumpet and ensemble in true concerto form.

Knepper, Easley, and Jones are heard in episodes of Conga Brava, but the key role is played by Schoenberg, in a vivid retelling of the Webster solo. The piece was inspired by a dance craze (conga lines were once as ubiquitous as parties) that seems especially trite when considered beside this remarkable and rather complicated composition. Mel Lewis, perhaps the finest big band drummer in the world, and certainly a savior of band music in New York (his own orchestra recently celebrated its 23rd anniversary of Monday nights at the Village Vanguard), defines the pulse.

When John Lewis played the piano part on Rockin’ In Rhythm in concert, Jim Miller of Newsweek wrote, "Lewis remained faithful to the composer's idiom while improvising in his own style: earthy yet elegant, bluesy, debonair, as graceful as Astaire. Nearly 60 years old, Rockin' In Rhythm suddenly felt brand new." The other soloists are Powell and Easley; Bank plays the ensemble clarinet part and Bob Millikin, who shares with Marvin Stamm lead trumpet responsibilities, plays the high note climax.


Mike Zwerin, the late columnist about all-things-Jazz, in his Son of Miles series for, wrote an article entitled John Lewis: A Big Gig that offered this overview of the American Jazz Orchestra.

© -  Mike Zwerin, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Fletcher Henderson, Jimmy Lunceford, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Claude Thornhill and the others developed the sound and popularized it before it disappeared into the mists of the past described as the "big band era."

Like horse-drawn carts and the 78
RPM, big bands tend to be remembered as nostalgia. They are coming back, it is true, but just on Monday or Thursday nights or like that in tiny clubs where they outnumber the guests. That ain't exactly the idea.

In these days of instant communication, people want to know, "What have you done for me lately?" Like last night. It's getting so we're nostalgic for breakfast. Monday night won't do.

As part of this small but sparse renewal, the American Jazz Orchestra was organized by a Village Voice critic, Gary Giddins, and Roberta Swann of Cooper Union; with the composer-pianist John Lewis, creator of the Modern Jazz Quartet, as musical director.

"Though the
United States is a nation rich in symphony orchestras, chamber groups and opera companies," Giddins stated, "it has never produced an enduring ensemble that could present the masterworks of its indigenous classical music." "Enduring" meaning six nights for a one week gig. We are satisfied with so little.

Lewis and Giddins both sounded weary some summers ago, discussing the matter. Maybe it was a two-month heat wave. Somebody forgot to turn the oven off that summer, and the sense of purpose and humor has been hard to nourish. "It's a lot of work, all unpaid. At least as far as I'm concerned," said Lewis. Giddins picked up the motif: "This is the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. I'm not getting paid for it and I hate it."

My goodness! In context, however, both complained on the reverse side of the coin of love. "An incredibly rich and varied repertoire has been created," Giddins also said: "Big band jazz is uniquely American. We are trying to preserve it like a symphony orchestras tried to preserve 19th century European music. Of course there is one big difference - the big bands are already preserved on record. But in order to appreciate the real spirit of this music, it has to be heard live. This is jazz music, the sound of now. And if we want to preserve the tradition among the musicians, they must be given the opportunity to perform it for an audience." (Every day after breakfast at least.)

Lewis added: "There is no replacement for live performance. The effect on the emotions of the public is entirely different. No Matter how well it is re-mastered, recorded music remains, in a sense, dead. It doesn't move. The purpose of this orchestra is to preserve the golden age of large ensemble jazz and have younger generations of musicians and listeners make it their own."

Clearly improvisation is dead when it is preserved on record. A contradiction of terms. "Recorded jazz" is an oxymoron. Something that should be of the moment is frozen in time.

The American Jazz Orchestra presented concerts of the music of Lunceford, Woody Herman and Ellington. The concerts included some of the best instrumentalists in
New York: the trombonists Jimmy Knepper and Eddie Bert, the trumpeters Jon Faddis and Marvin Stamm, the saxophonists Norris Turney and John Purcell and the drummer Mel Lewis.

Each concert was preceded by a week of paid rehearsals - one of the conditions under which Lewis agreed to be musical director. Each involved scraping together numerous donations from $5 to $5,000 and, although Cooper Union donated their "Great Hall" as the orchestra's home, it was never an easy scrape.

After the American Jazz Orchestra became an established name with good reviews, a press kit and a board of directors that includes Bill Cosby and the former
New York governor, Hugh Carey, who is chairman, Giddins tried to raise an annual budget from corporate sources to turn the orchestra into an ongoing repertory group like subsidized symphony orchestras. He said "I'm going after a Lee Iaccoca who loves jazz.

"I spent my entire life avoiding these kind of people," he admitted. A quite reasonable duck: "Money people are so patronizing about jazz. If they support classical music, they get what they consider status for their money. Their wives have a chance to wear their expensive jewelry at Carnegie Hall. If they give money to rock, at least their kids can wear Aerosmith T-shirts. But jazz is a bastard art. They don't see it as improving either their social standing or their business, and the t-shirts suck. So the basic task is to upgrade people's perception of jazz."

Which recalls a Lenny Bruce routine. Informed that he had been booked into a bar called "Ann's 440," he objected because it was a well-known homosexual hangout. He wanted no part of it.

"No no," the owner replied: "We want you to change all that."

"Gee!" exclaimed Bruce: "That's a big gig."

A big gig indeed. John Lewis has been working to improve the image of jazz for 50 years, since he played the piano with the Miles Davis "Birth of the Cool" band in 1949. There are those who chuckle at the members of his Modern Jazz Quartet for their three-piece pinstripe suits and solemn stage demeanor. They have been called "pretentious." But perhaps better than any other group, the Modern Jazz Quartet has managed to maintain the spirit, drive and risk-taking that is essential to jazz in an atmosphere of grand standing and status.

"I want to bring big band jazz to the concert hall, where it belongs," Lewis said, while sipping
Champagne between two grand pianos and a harpsichord in his spacious East End Avenue living room: "But not just any concert hall. The use of the hall is not the same as for other repertoire. The audience is different too. You have more young people, a greater generational mix. The size, the atmosphere, the acoustics must be suitable."

He considers Cooper Union's 900-seat Great Hall to be perfect: "We started by putting a microphone in front of every instrument in the 'normal' way. We thought we had to 'adjust' for the hall's acoustics. But it didn't work. We didn't know how to fix it. Then I remembered once hearing every note Duke Ellington's basist Jimmy Blanton played when he stood in front of the band without any amplification.

"Another thing - the most famous use of the Great Hall was when Abraham Lincoln opened his presidential campaign with a speech in it. He had no microphone. Anyway, we could no longer afford all of that sound equipment with the mixing table and the engineer. So we moved the bass out in front of the orchestra and forgot all the microphones. And everything cleared up. The musicians began to make their own balance instead of relying on technicians.

"Musicians today are becoming more flexible. We have no trouble finding people who are capable of adapting to the different styles of the tradition even though many of the younger generation have never been exposed to the original. And, too, some of the scores and parts have been lost, we have tried to transcribe inner voicings from recordings."

"The time is right for a reawakening to the excitement of our vernacular classics," Giddins concluded. "The American Jazz Orchestra can spearhead that revival and guarantee the survival of our musical heritage into the next century."

This was all some years ago. Anyone hear about the American Jazz Orchestra recently?”

Due to copyright restrictions from WMG, I was unable to use a track from the American Jazz Orchestra’s Ellington Masterpieces for the audio portion of the following video tribute to the AJO.  Instead, I’ve substituted the Ellington Orchestra’s 1943 rendition of Conga Brava.

My thanks to Gary Giddins, John Lewis, Roberta Swann and Cooper Union, Nesuhi Ertegun, the wonderful musicians who performed with the orchestra and all those associated with it for the gift of the American Jazz Orchestra.  Talk about a labor of love!