Thursday, February 23, 2012

Max Ionata is Making Jazz

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

“Good stuff.  It's nice to hear someone who appears to be under 60 who doesn't play one cliché after another.”
David Scherr, Composer and Saxophonist

Max Ionata is not a familiar name in Jazz circles.  He should be.

Max’s Jazz tenor saxophone playing is accomplished and refreshingly unique.

To be fair, he’s very well-known in his native Italy and thanks to Matteo Pagano, the owner and proprietor of Via Veneto Jazz, his two recent CDs for that label offer more of Max’s marvelous music which should garner him even more appreciation, both at home and abroad.

You can locate more information about Via Veneto Jazz by going here.  And while currency exchange rates and foreign postal services may be expensive and time-consuming, the good news is that the Via Veneto Jazz CDs Dieci and Kind of Trio along with other of Max’s recordings are available as Mp3 downloads.

For many years, the two signature instruments associated with Jazz were the trumpet  - Pops, Bix, Diz and Miles – and the tenor saxophone – Hawk, Pres, Sonny and Coltrane.

Trumpet and tenor saxophone are the two front-line instruments in most Jazz combos and their sounds blend particularly well when played in unison.

The human ear seems to have an affinity for the tenor saxophone which may, in part, be due to the fact that its sounds are very close to that of the human voice. It has been said that the tenor sax has an almost vocal quality.

Given the imposing stature of the Jazz greats who have played the instrument over the almost hundred years of the music’s existence, a great deal is expected of those who pick up “the big horn” and follow in this tradition.

Max Ionata doesn’t disappoint.

Whether he is featured in quintets that he co-leads with trumpeters Fabrizio Bosso and Flavio Boltro, or evoking the dueling tenor tradition of the great Dexter Gordon & Wardell Gray, or Al Cohn & Zoot Sims or Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt in combination with Danielle Scannapieco, another of Italy’s rising young tenor sax stars on their Tenor Legacy Albore CD, or as a member of drummer Roberto Gatto’s quintet on the Remembering Shelly CDs recently issued on the Albore label, Max Ionata always plays with presence, power and passion.

His sound is robust and yet mellow, his phrasing is long and continuous, and he generates a steady sense of swing.

Max doesn’t overreach the range of the horn to litter his solos with squeaks and squawks nor does he take lengthy solos whose most appealing quality to the exhausted listener is that they have finally come to an end.

When Max is making Jazz, his solos are so artfully constructed that you don’t want them to end, at least, not too soon.

He incorporates just enough harmonic extensions to make his solo melodies interesting, but these never become ends in themselves.

Max doesn’t come to impress, he comes to play.  What you hear in his music is the fun of making Jazz; the music as an expression of a good time being had by all concerned.

Nothing laborious or contorted: nothing elaborately diminished, augmented or raised.  Just a beautifully played and very swinging tenor saxophone.

When a musician like Max comes along, other musicians can’t wait to have the chance to work with him. He brings out the best in them. In his presence, Jazz is once again accessible and yet still an adventure.

The following video features Max performing Astrobard from his new Via Veneto CD Dieci with Fabrizio Bosso on trumpet, Luca Mannutza on piano, Nicola Muresu on bass and Nicola Angelucci on drums.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Stefano Di Battista: "Goodbye Mr. P."

Something "easy-on-the-ears" from Stefano. Click the "X" in the upper right hand corner to close out of the ads.

Soprano saxophonist Stephano di Battista performing his original composition "Goodbye Mr. P" with Daniele Scannapieco on tenor saxophone, Flavio Boltro, trumpet, Julian O. Mazzariello, piano, Dario Rosciglione, bass and Andre Ceccarelli, drums.

Friday, February 10, 2012

New Cool Collective Big Band - Live in 2001 - Flootie

Nothing too complicated here. Just a bunch of young musicians having fun with rhythms and riffs. The New Cool Collective is based in Amsterdam, Holland. The baritone solo is by Frans Blanker and the keyboard solo is by Wiliam Friede who also did the arrangement of "Flootie." Friede co-leads the NCC Big Band along with alto saxophonist and flutist, Benjamin Herman, who will be the subject of a future feature on JazzProfiles.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Herbie Hancock - Sonrisa

The audio track on the following video presents a side of Herbie Hancock's music which you may not have heard before.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Irene Kral: A Voice So Irresistible, Beguiling and Pure

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

“Irene Kral was not just another jazz singer.

“She had a delicate style, yet every note was placed with deliberate aim, and she always hit her mark with unerring accuracy. She had a brilliant flair for picking tasty, little-known material, often by up and coming young, jazz-influenced songwriters.

She recorded only a small number of albums, often on small, jazz labels and she never sang in a show-off way, never scatted, never belted or made her voice raunchy .

Most aficionados of female vocalists have never heard of her, and she remains largely forgotten in the jazz history books. Yet her work deserves to be searched out, for her intimate style and purity of tone.”

“Irene had a lovely, resonant voice with a discreet vibrato, flawless diction and intonation …. She was a master of quiet understatement.”
- Linda Dahl, Stormy Weather: The Music and Lives of a Century of Jazz Women [p. 151]

“She was a superior ballad singer of impeccable taste.”
- Reg Copper, The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz

Drummers and “chick singa’s” do not go together like love and marriage and a horse and carriage.

Contrary to what Sammy Cahn and Jimmy van Huesen say in their lyrics, drummers and female Jazz vocalists “… is an institute you [can] disparage” just by asking most drummers about their experiences in working with female Jazz singers.

By the way, before this introduction gets labeled as some sort of sexist rant, the same can be said about the antipathy that many drummers have about working with most “boy singers,” too.

My statement is only a generalization, but most of the time, drummers work with singers because they have to in order to make a few schimolies and not because they want to as singers usually drive them nuts.

There are exceptions, of course.

It was a total blast to work with Anita O’Day during a two week stint as a member of her trio at “Ye Little Club” in Beverly Hills [John Poole, her regular drummer, had taken ill].

The late Irene Krall is also among my special favorites, a list which includes the likes of Carmen McRae, Blossom Dearie, Ruth Price and Ruth Olay. I heard Irene sing with Shelly Manne’s group on a few occasions and I remember him remarking: “Irene is just the best. She’s like another member of the band. She’s a musician.”

And Russ Freeman, the late pianist who worked with Irene in Shelly’s quintet and on Irene’s 1965 recording Wonderful Life, said of her: “She is a gas to work with. Her choice of tunes is so different and she handles difficult material like a snap.”

Hal Blaine, the drummer on the Wonderful Life album said of Irene: “When she did that cut on Sometime Ago, we were all spellbound. Most singers do the tune too slow like they want to wrap themselves in every word. She sang it perfectly and then went on to do a swinging version of Bob Dorough’s Nothing Like You Has Ever Been Seen Before. Just like that: bam, bam. What a pro.”

Music captivated her at an early age. As Gene Lees recounts in the following excerpt from his essay on Irene’s older brother, Roy Kral [a pianist and a singer], and his singer-wife, Jackie Cain:

"When I was about seventeen, we were rehearsing our dance band in my basement. Four brass, four saxes, three rhythm."

His sister, Irene, would always remember this. She said, ‘I was always fascinated by my brother rehearsing in the basement with different bands and singers, and they were having so much fun, I just knew that I wanted to do that too.’ Born January 18, 1932, Irene was eleven years Roy's junior and so must have been about six when that band was in rehearsal.” Singers and the Song II, p. 176]

It’s a good thing that she got an early start. Sadly, Irene’s “wonderful life” was over all too soon as she passed away at the relatively young age of forty-six [46].

Here’s a retrospective of the salient aspects of Irene’s short-lived career and a well-focused explanation on what made her singing so unique as excerpted and translated from the insert notes to Irene Kral with Herb Pomeroy: The Band and I [Japanese Capitol TOCJ-6076].

© -  Capitol Records, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Irene Kral was not just another jazz singer.

She had a delicate style, yet every note was placed with deliberate aim, and she always hit her mark with unerring accuracy. She had a brilliant flair for picking tasty, little-known material, often by up and coming young, jazz-influenced songwriters.

She recorded only a small number of albums, often on small, jazz labels and she never sang in a show-off way, never scatted, never belted or made her voice raunchy .

Most aficionados of female vocalists have never heard of her, and she remains largely forgotten in the jazz history books. Yet her work deserves to be searched out, for her intimate style and purity of tone.

Irene Kral was born to Czechoslovak parents on Jan. 18th, 1932 in Chicago. Her earliest musical influence was her brother, Roy, who at 18 formed his own big band and would rehearse the group in their parent's basement. While watching her brother and his band, she decided that she wanted to sing. She was 8 years old at the time. Her brother, Roy, became well known later as half of 'Jackie and Roy', a highly influential bebop vocal duo, well-respected in jazz circles.

By the time she was 16, she was singing and accompanying herself on piano, performing at school and the occasional wedding. Her vocal skills impressed her professional musician brother enough for him to take her by the hand to audition for a swinging Chicago big band, led by Jay Burkhardt. Burkhardt’s band had been the starting point for two other singers, who went on to bigger things, Joe Williams and Jackie Cain (who later married her brother, and was the 'Jackie' of 'Jackie and Roy). A series of jobs with other bands came and went, over the next few years, including a brief stint with Woody Herman.

In 1954, she landed a job singing with a jazz vocal group called the Tattle Tales. She played drums, and sang lead with the group, which traveled from coast to coast, and to Canada, Bermuda and Puerto Rico. The group recorded for Columbia Records, but nothing much came of the records. She stayed with the group for a little over a year. Following her heart to stretch out as a solo artist, she left the Tattle Tales and began picking up the occasional weekend solo job, and auditioning for any band that she thought might be going places.

When she was 25, in 1957, her friend Carmen McRae recommended her to band-leader Maynard Ferguson. The next time Ferguson came through Chicago, she got up on the stand and sang one tune with the band. After Ferguson heard Krai finish singing Sometimes I’m Happy he hired her on the spot and she started that night with no rehearsal. In Ferguson’s band she met Joe Burnett, a trumpet and flugelhorn player, whom she married in 1958. She stayed with the Ferguson band for nearly two years, recording one album with them, before she was offered her own contract to record solo.

In 1959, while in Los Angeles, she became a regular vocalist on The Steve Allen Show. Her exposure on the Allen show led to the recording of her first solo LP for United Artist Records, an entire album of songs written by Steve Allen entitled Stevelreneo. The same year, she cut the LP The Band And I, with the Herb Pomeroy Orchestra, working with legendary saxophonist and arranger Al Cohn.

Next, she became the featured vocalist with Shelly Manne and his Men, a popular leader of 'West Coast cool jazz'. She also appeared solo at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas. By 1961, Irene and her husband, Joe, had relocated to Tarzana, California, a small suburb of Los Angeles where their daughter, Jodi was born. Their second daughter, Melissa, followed. She limited her yearly out of town performances to a half-dozen choice engagements around the country, in order to spend time with her family.

Throughout her career, she felt like she had been born too late, and had just missed the height of the Big Band Era. She recalled, ‘When I was in high school, I bought every Woody Herman and Stan Kenton record that came out. June Christy seemed to be in the greatest spot in life, and gave me my first inspiration. I'm sorry I missed hearing some of the really good big bands around earlier, like Jimmie Lunceford's and Billy Eckstine's, and Dizzy Gillespie's first band.’

‘Now when I'm old enough to appreciate them, almost all the really good bands are gone.’ She named a few of her other favorite singers as being Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughn, Dinah Washington and Helen Merrill.

Although she could swing with the best of them, she thought of herself as primarily a ballad singer. ‘I love to sing ballads more than anything, and consequently I know three times more ballads as 'up' tunes. I dig tunes that have a warm laziness about them.’ Jazz vocalist Carmen McRae who, talking about Irene, said, ‘Besides being a marvelous singer, Irene has great taste in tunes. In fact, I've 'stolen quite a few from her!’

In 1964, she sang on Laurindo Almeida's Grammy© Award-winning album, Guitar From Ipanema. The following year, she recorded an album of her own, called Wonderful Life, on the small Mainstream label. In addition to her usual choice of great songs, unfortunately, the company insisted that she record three tunes aimed at the Top 40 'teen' market. On these songs, she seems like a fish out of water. Nothing came of the attempt to make her more 'commercial,’ and the songs stand as the only blemish on her recorded output of classy material.

Ten years passed before she recorded again. She continued to perform regularly at jazz clubs around the country. By the mid 70's, her relationship with her husband, Joe, had begun to deteriorate and shortly after their divorce, she met a Los Angeles disc jockey named Dennis Smith. ‘They got along wonderfully and really hit it off right from the start,’ her brother, Roy Kral recalls. ‘Dennis was the best thing that could have happened to her. It was his love and warmth, and his protection, and his caring for her that brought out this wonderful sound from her, at the time. Before that, her vocal tone had been a little more strident. Her relationship with Dennis brought all this warmth out of her, and that really showed in her singing on the Where Is Love album.’

Where Is Love was released in 1975 on the Choice label. On this album of solely ballads, she is accompanied by just piano, thoughtfully played by Alan Broadbent. The material is so laid back, it almost stands still. In the liner notes, she wrote, ‘This is meant to be heard only during that quiet time of the day, preferably with someone you love, when you can sink into your favorite chair, close your eyes and let in no outside thoughts to detract.’

In her 1984 book on women in jazz, Stormy Weather, Linda Dahl wrote: ‘Irene Kral had a lovely, resonant voice with a discreet vibrato, flawless diction and intonation, and a slight, attractive nasality and shaping of phrases that resembled Carmen McRae's. But where McRae's readings tend to the astringent, Kral's melt like butter. She was a master of quiet understatement and good taste.’

Her album, Kral Space, was released in 1977, and was a welcome return to the swinging trio sound of her earlier efforts. The album brought together the songs of contemporary jazz songwriters like Dave Frishberg and Bob Dorough, as well as Cole Porter and Jerome Kern. Kral Space was nominated for a Grammy© for Best Jazz Vocal performance.

The following year, another quiet album of voice and piano, Gentle Rain was released. Again she was nominated for a Grammy© for her work. Both years, she lost the award to her good friend Al Jarreau. Downbeat Magazine, in its' review of Gentle Rain, had this to say about her voice: ‘Irene Kral is one of today's most engaging vocalists. Though she doesn't possess a great natural instrument, Kral projects intelligence and emotional depth. This gives her performance a worldly dimension akin to that of Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra.’

Jazz singer/songwriter/pianist Dave Frishberg remembers, ‘Irene had a definite direction in her singing. I accompanied her many times as I've done for other singers. Usually, when you accompany a singer, there are times when the piano player can lead the singer into different directions. With Irene, she definitely led you and you followed. She knew exactly what she wanted, and she was firmly in command.’”

“Sometime Ago” which forms the audio track to the following video tribute to Irene and “Nothing Like You Has Ever Been Seen Before” on the audio only SoundCloud are both from her Wonderful Life CD.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Chambertones - Jesse van Ruller/ Circles

Shades of Jimmy Giuffre, Jim Hall and Ralph Pena?

The Buddy Rich Big Band

Has there ever been a more exciting big band drummer than Buddy Rich?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

David "Fathead" Newman: Tough, Texas Tenor

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

“It's always been a mystery to me why Da­vid "Fathead" Newman isn't one of the most popular instrumentalists of the second half of the twentieth century.

He's got the intellectual chops to play be-bop, ballads or blues with a backbeat and with feeling, creativity and authority. He's got more taste than most living musicians; his sparse obbligatos behind Ray Charles on the magnificent live version of "Drown In My Own Tears" should be required listening for anyone licensed to carry a horn.
When he plays a note with the unique Texas tenor tone, every cell in my body comes alive.

That Texas tenor sound is a phenomenon in itself. David, Don Wilkerson, Booker Ervin, James Clay, King Curtis and Wilton Felder were some of its major exponents to emerge in the fifties. As different as their styles were, they shared a rich, hard, vibrato-less sound and a clear, deliberate articulation.

The sound is strong, sure and prideful, but with an underlying vulnerability. It's pas­sionate. … Cannonball Adderley described it as ‘a moan inside the tone.’ …”
- Michael Cuscuna, 1997

“When I was coming up in Dallas, all the older guys, especially the saxophone players, had a big, wide-open sound.”
- David “Fathead” Newman

“The Texas tenor sound and concept is very much unlike, and in advance of, the Coleman Hawkins of 1929 and beyond. It is a more fluent, more melodic and blues tinged approach, perhaps more elegant, too.”
- Günter Schuller

During an interview with him, I once asked Orrin Keepnews, who for many years was the proprietor and co-owner of Riverside Records, why he labeled the album he co-produced with Cannonball Adderley for David “Fathead” Newman and James Clay, The Sound of the Wide Open Spaces [Riverside RLP 1178; OJCCD-257]?

“Because,” he said, “ like Arnett Cobb, Illinois Jacquet, Bud Johnson, Buddy Tate, and a bunch of others, David and James seem to have the same compelling Texas moan in their tone.”

Even now, after all these years, when I listen to the music of tenor saxophonist David “Fathead” Newman, it always calls to mind Orrin’s phrase – “a compelling Texas moan.”

In his notes to David’s recording entitled Resurgence, which along with Still Hard Times has been reissued on CD as David “Fathead” Newman: Lone Star Legend [Savoy Jazz SVY 17249], Michael Cuscuna offered these insight on the Texas tenor sound, David Fathead Newman’s relationship to it and the salient features of David’s career up to when these recordings took place for Muse in 1980 and 1982, respectively.

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

The legend and aura surrounding Texas saxophonists is clearly based in fact. Whether from Houston in the south or Dallas-Fort Worth in Central Texas, that state has spawned an array of impressive artists for generations, all toting a hard veneer and a soul that can em­brace the world. Only listening can reveal the bond that links Herschel Evans, Arnett Cobb, Illinois Jacquet, Booker Ervin, Wilton Felder et al.

A geographically genetic genre. An oral tradition and a testament to environment.
Consider the dramatic differences between David Newman, James Clay, King Curtis, and Ornette Coleman, all within a couple of years of the same age, all in Dallas-Fort Worth revolving around the band of the legendary saxophonist Red Connor in their teens.

Dig beyond their obvious stylistic differences, and you will hear the same voice, the same cry, the same bending of the note, the same powerful, but vulnerable sound.

On one end of the spectrum in the forties was Ornette Coleman, the oldest of the bunch. Red Connor would often scold or fire him for memorizing and perfectly executing Charlie Parker solos, an exercise that Connor felt to be uncreative. On the other hand was King Curtis (Ousley), mastering and crystallizing the rich blues and R & B tradition, but snubbed by Connor and the Beboppers of the day. History would vindicate men as their visions focused and their contributions became irrefutable. Fusing both extremes and all the riches that lie in between were men like David Newman, a master who has yet to receive his due.

Still in his teens, David built a strong repu­tation around Dallas before going on the road with Lowell Fulsom and T-Bone Walker, a road that rarely led far beyond the borders of Texas. He was playing alto and baritone saxophones at the time. He and Ray Charles had crossed paths on several occasions in the early fifties. When Charles put together a permanent working band in 1954 with the effective instrumentation of two trumpets, two saxophones and rhythm, he recruited Texas tenorman Don Wilkerson and David Newman, playing primarily baritone, but occasionally doubling on alto. A year later, Wilkerson left. David was offered the tenor saxophone chair. Of course, he accepted the new position and the new instrument. And the rest, as they say, was hysteria.

David's solos, obligate fills and ensemble voice were stunning testaments to the art of R & B. His understated, soulful creations matched the essence of Ray Charles perfectly. Charles recorded a couple of instrumental al­bums that featured Newman's talents. The band's repertoire was beginning to include pieces by James Moody, Horace Silver, Max Roach and Milt Jackson.

By 1958, Memphis-born Benny Crawford, primarily a pianist and alto saxophonist, se­cured the baritone saxophone chair with the Charles band, bringing into it his own ideas and sound. A few months later, Detroiter Marcus Belgrave would assume one of the trumpet chairs. In July, the Ray Charles band would perform (and record) at the Newport Jazz Festival. In November, at Ray's instigation, Atlantic would record the first album by David Newman with the Charles band of the time mi­nus the second trumpet. And that meant David on alto and tenor, Crawford on baritone (and contributing three tunes), Belgrave on trumpet, Ray Charles himself on piano, Edgar Willis on bass and Milt Turner on drums.

In 1959, Charles added Leroy Cooper on baritone sax, freeing Crawford to return to alto saxophone. In the process, he changed his first name to Hank and affirmed his own startling identity. He too began recording for Atlantic, maintaining the essence and style of that orig­inal Ray Charles instrumentation throughout his ten year stint with that record company. On the first three albums (1960-62), he used the band minus Charles intact. And that meant more opportunities to hear David.

But for David Newman, any outside activity after his first album seemed to be an oppor­tunity to break away from the Charles mold. In 1960, he recorded a straight-ahead date for Riverside with James Clay and his second Atlantic album. Although Marcus Belgrave con­tributed a tune, the setting was strictly quartet with Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Charlie Persip, a clear statement of hard-core jazz. His third album schizophrenically offered a hard bop quintet with Belgrave on trumpet and a funky, blusier quartet with Crawford at the pi­ano and Ray Charles' bassist and drummer.

In 1964, David left Ray Charles' orga­nization, which had been since 1960 a full-fledged and less personal big band. He gigged locally around Dallas and turned his attentions to his family in its crucial years. By 1967, he began commuting to New York. By this time, he was playing soprano sax, as well as alto, tenor and flute. He re-established his ties with Cedar Walton, who was his pianist on local Dallas gigs when they were both still in their teens. He also re-established his relationship with Atlantic Records.

In March, he made his first album in five years, using a Texas guitarist who had recently migrated to New York. His name was Ted Dunbar, and that was his first recording session. The tune that drew attention to the album was one that Walton had just given to him, when they were working out on a friend's piano. It was "To The Holy Land[Recorded on the 1967 House of David Atlantic LP 1489]." A month later, New­man and Walton would appear together on a Lee Morgan session for Blue Note, recently released as "Sonic Boom."

Throughout the late sixties, David continued to record a succession of albums under his own name and appear on dates led by organist Don Patterson, Lonnie Smith, Shirley Scott and Charles Kynard. After rejoining Ray Charles briefly in 1970, he became a member of Herbie Mann's Family of Mann, a vehicle that allowed his tenor saxophone and flute work to shine and allowed him to contribute to the band's book of compositions as well. It was this band that first recorded "Davey Blue."

Although he left Mann in 1974, David continued to record albums of his own for Atlantic (and its sister label Warner Bros.) until 1977. He did studio work for the likes of Aretha Franklin, Cornell Dupree, Nikki Giovani, T-Bone Walker and Ben Sidran and made oc­casional live appearances. But David's em­phasis shifted back to Dallas during the late seventies except for three heavily arranged albums for Prestige that were misguided in the sense that they obscured the identity of the man whose name appeared on the record cover.

In the summer of 1980, David arrived in New York and transcended his shyness, call­ing all his old friends in town to announce his presence and his availability. We all responded with delight, and many things grew out of it. Among them is this record date, his first pure effort in years. The cast featured old associates, including Hank Crawford who came to the ses­sion with "Carnegie Blues" freshly written and tucked under his arm.

There could not have been a more appropriate date to record this album than September 23, the birthdate shared by Ray Charles and John Coltrane. Welcome back to New York, “Fathead.”

It had been my plan to use the 1967 version of To The Holy Land from The House of David Atlantic LP as the audio track on the following video tribute to David “Fathead” Newman, but WMG had other ideas and muted the audio when the video was uploaded to YouTube.

So instead we turned to the 1980 version of the tune Michael references in his notes to the Resurgence LP with David on tenor sax, along with Marcus Belgrave on trumpet, Ted Dunbar on guitar, Cedar Walton on piano, Buster Williams on bass and Louis Hayes on drums.

And if you are in the mood for contrasts, with the help of the crackerjack graphics team at CerraJazz LTD, I also developed another video that shows actual images of The Holy Land, in this case, Jerusalem, with a big band version of Cedar’s tune for the sound track as provided by the Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw. Peter Beets does the solo honors on piano.