Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Medium tempo blues practically play themselves especially when the rhythm section just lays it down and stays out of the way, which is exactly what bassist Peter Washington and drummer Joe Farnsworth do on the audio track to the following video. The tune is entitled Systems Blue. Trombonist Steve Davis wrote it and performs on it along with Mike DiRubbo on alto saxophone, David Hazeltine on piano and, of course, Peter and Joe.

Jazz musicians like to open the first set of club dates or concerts with a medium tempo blues.  The easy tempo, simplified song structure [usually 12 bars which repeats once] and the groove generated all serve to get the juices flowing.

Smiles all round after listening to "the kids" making it happen on this one.

Jazz is in good hands.

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Brew Moore: A Wandering, Soulful Tenor Saxophonist

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

“Moore was a terrific, but star-crossed tenor player, at his best as good as Getz and Sims, but never able to get a career together as they did. He left only a small number of records behind him ….”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

If, as Louis Armstrong’s states – “Jazz is only who you are” – then the inventiveness and spontaneous nature of tenor saxophone Brew Moore’s music was certainly reflective of his wandering and constantly searching lifestyle.

Mark Gardner, the distinguished Jazz author offered these insights about Brew in the liner notes to Brothers and Other Mothers [Savoy Records SJL2210].

“Milton A. Moore Jr. was a drifter, a born loser, a hero of the beat generation and a brilliant saxophonist. Yes, he once remarked that any tenorman who did not play like Pres was playing wrong-that was the extent of his admiration.

Moore was born in Indianola, Mississippi, on March 26, 1924, and his first musical instrument was a harmonica given to him by his mother as a seventh birthday present. He played in his high school band and at 18 got a job with Fred Ford's dixieland band. He arrived in New York during 1943 and heard what bebop was all about. He would return to New York several times in the late forties to lead his own quartet, work with Claude Thornhill (an unlikely environment), swing his tail off in front of Machito's Afro-Cubans, gig with Gerry Mulligan and Kai Winding at the Royal Roost and Bop City.

Moore was never around one place for too long. He would take off for Memphis or New Orleans, playing all kinds of weird jobs ("I go where the work is"). Around 1953-54 he was on the Greenwich Village scene, a frequent jammer at Bob Reisner's Open Door where other cats playing mostly for kicks and little bread included Thelonious Monk. Charlie Parker, Charlie Mingus and Roy Haynes. It was at the Open Door that Bird and Brew once serenaded a piece of chewing gum stuck to the floor. Recently discovered recordings also found Parker and Moore together on 1953 sessions in Montreal, Canada.

One day in the 'fifties Brew casually took off for California. As Moore told it, "Billy Faier had a 1949 Buick and somebody wanted him to drive it out to California and he rode through Washington Square shouting 'anyone for the Coast?' And I was just sitting there on a bench and there wasn't s*** shaking in New York so I-said 'hell, yes,' and when we started off there was Rambling Jack Elliot and Woody Guthrie." After Woody heard Brew play at the roadside en route he refused to speak again to the saxophonist.

Guthrie didn't dig jazz. "But we were the only juice heads in the car so Woody would say to Jack or Billy, 'Would you ask Brew if he'd like to split a bottle of port with me, and I'd say, 'You tell Woody that's cool with me.' Then they let me off in L.A. and I took a bus up to San Francisco."

Before that fantastic journey. Brew had worked around with his buddy Tony Fruscella, a beautiful trumpeter who was also over-fond of the juice. Allen Eager was also a regular playing partner of Fruscella's. Brew stayed in Frisco for about five years, played all over town, made a couple of albums under his own name, recorded with Cal Tjader and drank a lot of wine. He was seriously ill in 1959 but recovered and in 1961 moved to Europe and for three years drifted around the Continent.

Twice in the 1960's he returned to the States but there was still no s*** shaking and nobody bothered to record him properly (a date as a sideman with Ray Nance was the only evidence of the final, unhappy return). His parents were very old and his mother sick. Brew was far from well and didn't look after himself. Friends kept an eye on him and tried to ensure that he ate regularly but Moore was almost past caring.

When he decided to split back to Scandinavia via the Canary Islands where he played at Jimmy Gourley's Half Note Club in Las Palmas, some of his admirers in New York produced a four-page newspaper called "Brew Moore News," in which Brew wrote a touching little verse:

Love I feel, but longing much;
Thy face I see, but cannot touch.
Your presence in heart is good, I know,
but hand in hand-it's greater so.

Time was running out for Brew. There was one more album - a great set made at a Stockholm club [Stampen] where Moore really grooved. Then came the news that he had died after falling down a flight of steps in a restaurant.

The final irony: Brew, who had scuffled and scraped for cash almost all his life, had just been left a substantial sum of money, to give him genuine security, by a relative who had died. It happened too late.”

“Scuffling” is very much the byword when talking about Brew as one has to jump here and there to find the few scraps of information and opinion that has been written about him in that Jazz literature.

Jazz author and critic, Ralph J, Gleason, had this to say about him in the insert notes to one of Brew’s best recordings – The Brew Moore Quintet [Fantasy 3-2222 –OJCCD 100-2]:

Mainly main idea is to get back to simplicity.' says Brew Moore of his work these days. "I like a small group—such as the quintet we have on this album—where there is no other front line and I can let myself go. The biggest kick to me in playing is swinging-freedom and movement. And with a small group, I can do this more easily.

"Music must be a personal expression of one's own world and way of life. When every­thing else gets to be a drag there is music for forgetfulness and also for memory and or a reminder that there is more good than bad in most things. The idea of playing for me is to compose a different, not always better I'm afraid, melody on the tune and basis of the original song, rather than construct a series of chord progressions around the original chords. I feel that in several spots in this group of tunes we attain the rapport necessary for good jazz. I hope so."

And when you listen to these numbers, you will agree that Brew … has done what he set out to do. These all swing and even Brew, who is most critical of his own work ("I guess I never have been happy with anything I did") had to say of this album, "It swings. You can say that."

Brew has two absolutely golden gifts. He swings like mad and he has soul. These are things you cannot learn by wood-shedding [practicing], or in any conservatory. You have to be born with them or learn them by living. Brew had them and he also has a priceless gift for phrasing.

"Everything he plays lays just right," one musician put it. It certainly does. …  When Brew says it, he says it simply, but it rings true. That's the best way there is.”

Ted Gioia, in his definitive West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960 encapsulates the essence of Brew and his career when he writes:

“After high school Moore began a peripatetic career that brought him little fame but gave him a heady taste for life on the move. …

By the time he moved to San Francisco [1954], Moore had achieved a reputation for excellence among Jazz insiders …. Jack Kerouac depicts a Moore performance in Desolation Angels, where Brew (or Brue, as Kerouac spells it) starts his solo with, the beat prosodist tells us, "a perfect beautiful new idea that announces the glory of the future world.”

This future glory eluded Moore to the end. His quartet and quintet albums on Fantasy, made during his California years, were his last commercial recordings in the United States. These along with his sideman re­cordings with Tjader, find the tenorist at absolutely top form, stretching out over standards with an impressive melodic and rhythmic inventiveness. In 1961, he moved to Europe, where, except for intermittent appearances in the United States, he lived until his death in 1973 as the result of a fall.”

To give you a sampling of what’s on offer in Brew Moore’s music, with the help of the crackerjack graphics team at CerraJazz LTD, we put together the following video tribute to Brew on which he performs You Stepped Out of a Dream with Swedish baritone saxophonist Lars Gullin [who also did the arrangement], Bent Axen [p], Niels-Henning Orsted-Pedersen [b] and William Schioppfe [d]. The music was recorded in Copenhagen in 1962.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorializing Paul Desmond

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

Alto saxophonist Paul Desmond died on Memorial Day, 1977.

On this Memorial Day weekend, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it might be appropriate to commemorate the 35th anniversary of Paul’s passing with the following videos that feature his superbly unique alto playing in different musical contexts.

To ours ears, Paul’s sound is associated with everything that we find beautiful in the music.  His was a masterful command of the alto saxophone and his conception took the instrument to new heights, both figuratively and literally.

Paul’s music was like a good book: you could put it down and pick it up again anytime the mood suited you or you could stay up all night reading it. It was full of melodic “stories,” humor, and great depth of feeling.

Listening to Paul play was always a satisfying experience; and like the reading of that good book, one generally came away wanting more.

Stardust – Paul with pianist Dave Brubeck, bassist Ron Crotty and drummer Joe Dodge.

You Go To My Head – Paul with Don Elliott on trumpet and mellophonium, Norman Bates on bass and Joe Dodge on drums.

Chorale – Paul with Dave van Kriedt on tenor saxophone, Dave Brubeck on piano, Norman Bates on bass and Joe Morello on drums.

I’ve Got You Under My Skin – Paul with Jim Hall on guitar, Milt Hinton on bass, Robert Thomas on drums and strings and horns arranged by Bob Prince. [Click on the “X” to close out of the ads when these appear on the video].

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw - Henk Meutgeert/Riffs n Rhythms

It's great when the TV director knows the music and can focus on what's going on now and put cameras in positions to catch what's coming up next.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw

From a concert performed by the orchestra on April 28, 2011 at The Bimhuis in Amsterdam, the composition is entitled Black, Whiter and Brown and features Peter Beets on piano, Joris Roelofs on bass clarinet, and Jan van Duikeren on trumpet with Martijn Vink booting things along in the drum chair.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Jimmy Giuffre and Scintilla Revisited

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

“It’s just one way and every man must go his own way.”
- Jimmy Giuffre, Down Beat, November 30, 1955

“Jimmy is an innovator and much has been written about his contributions to clarinet playing style and to Jazz composition, but this is secondary. It is the basic quality of his music, with its uncontrived simplicity and glowing inner feeling that sets Jimmy apart.”
- Gary Kramer, liner notes to The Jimmy Giuffre 3 [Atlantic 1254]

“the spirit of Jazz suffuses all of these performances …and important step in the long Giuffre musical odyssey …  they are simply marvelous, full of life brimming with ideas, and chock-full of rich, rewarding, imaginative writing and playing.”
- Peter Keepnews, liner notes to the PAUSA: Jazz Origins reissue of Giuffre’s 1950 Capitol LPs

“When one listens to Giuffre's music for what it is—and not for what one thinks it should be—the beauties of this rich and strange musical land­scape begin to emerge. Or rather, landscapes. For Giuffre never found a single musical Garden of Eden, a definitive style or format he could stay in for long. Like his more celebrated contemporary Miles Davis, Giuffre remains a musical chameleon, a distinctive stylist who constantly feels compelled to change his sonic setting.”
- Ted Gioia, West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1969 [p.227]

Almost forty years after I first heard it, I tracked down Jimmy Giuffre and wrote him a letter about how much I enjoyed the music on his Capitol LP – Tangents in Jazz [T-634].

Jimmy was living in Massachusetts and I in San Francisco at the time. Because of  health issues, his wife Juanita helped compose his response. Juanita, a professional photographer, also kindly enclosed a portrait of Jimmy which he had autographed,

In my letter to him, I explained that I had been particularly taken with the four relatively short pieces on the Tangents in Jazz LP entitled Scintilla I-IV.

On the album, the four-parts of Scintilla are sequenced: Scintilla II, Scintilla I, Scintilla IV and Scintilla III.

On a lark, I had decided to re-track these four Scintilla parts and record them in consecutive, numeric sequence.

I had included a copy of a tape recording with the re-sequenced Scintilla I-IV along with my letter to Jimmy.

In his reply, Jimmy shared that this was the first time that he had heard this music in its original order since he wrote and recorded it in June, 1955!

He also explained that although Will McFarland’s liner notes to the LP indicate the four Scintilla pieces being played in numerical order, somehow when the album was being prepared for pressing, it was sequenced according to the Master numbers assigned to each track when they were recorded on June 6,7,10, 1955.

Interestingly, when Mosaic Records reissued these recordings as CDs & LPs as part of their The Complete Capitol and Atlantic Recordings of Jimmy Giuffre [Mosaic MD6-176], Mosaic also used the master track sequence instead of grouping the four Scintilla tracks as a consecutive, inter-connected musical “suite.”

So what you hear as the audio track to the following video tribute to Jimmy is the four-part Scintilla suite in the original sequence. And unless one has re-tracked and recorded this music in a similar manner, no one has heard this music quite this way before.

The video is followed by Jimmy’s “Questions and Answers” about the music on the album which form the original LP’s liner notes, excerpts from Will McFarland’s descriptions of Scintilla I-IV and a postscript on the album by Ted Gioia.

As an aside, I got to know Artie Anton, the drummer on these tracks, quite well as he was for many years a drum shop proprietor and drum teacher in near-by North Hollywood, CA. He always considered his playing on Jimmy’s 1950s Capitol recordings as “one of my most enjoyable times in music.” He would also declare to anyone who would spare him the time to listen to them that his “… playing on these cuts proves that the drums are a musical instrument [big smile – His]!.”

The puckish trumpet work is provided by the inimitable Jack Sheldon; also prominent on all these performance is the robust bass tone of Ralph Pena who sadly left us much-too-quickly at age 42 because of his involvement in a fatal car accident in Mexico.

A top-level soloist and writer makes his most daring move to date: Jimmy Giuffre sets forth a bold new form for improvised music.

The music is revolutionary; yet its advent was a foreseeable, logical step in jazz maturation. Giuffre's new concept is con­troversial ; its evidence here is a must for serious jazz-followers, yet the range of its appeal is so unpredictable that its cham­pions could include bouncing dilettantes, hard-shell tradition­alists, even jazz-apathists.

Specifically, this music puts on view a quartet that functions without an audible beat — no walking bass, no riding cymbal; yet thanks to Giuffre's indomitable folksiness, this flouting of tradition results in jazz that out-thumps the music of most of his heavy-handed neighbors.

Jimmy answers some leading questions...

Q What is this music?

A Jazz, with a non-pulsating beat. The beat is implicit but not explicit; in other words, acknowledged but unsounded. The two horns are the dominant but not domineering voices. The bass usually functions somewhat like a baritone sax. The drums play an important but non-conflicting role.

Q Why abandon the sounded beat?

A For clarity and freedom. I've come to feel increasingly in­hibited and frustrated by the insistent pounding of the rhythm section. With it, it's impossible for the listener or the soloist to hear the horn's true sound, I've come to believe, or fully concentrate on the solo line. An imbalance of ad­vances has moved the rhythm from a supporting to a com­petitive role.

Q But isn't the sounded beat an integral part of jazz?

A The sounded beat once made playing easier, but now it's become confining. And to the degree that the beat was there to guide dancers, it is, of course, no longer necessary to con­cert jazz. I think the essence of jarz is in the phrasing and notes, and these needn't change when the beat is silent. Since the beat is implicit, this music retains traditional feel­ing; not having it explicit allows freer thinking.

Q Hasn't this been done before, particularly by you?

A Several of today's writers have dropped all sounded beat for contrast, but never for an entire work. I've written works completely lacking sounded beat, but the difference between this music and all previous work is the use of the drums. My previous attempts at this approach, while achiev­ing some of the clarity I sought, were always vaguely un­satisfactory to me until I realized the trouble: the drums, by their nature, cannot carry a simultaneous or overlapping line; when the drum is struck, any other note is obliterated, and attention is torn away from any other line. In this music, the drums' lines are integrated but isolated.

Q How is it possible to ensure this isolation during solos, when tacit is usually unpredictable?

A By writing rests in the ad lib parts, allowing the drums to fill. I strive to write the rests at natural phrase endings, holding restriction to a minimum.

Q But isn't there generally more restriction — don't the solo­ists have a good deal less freedom than before?

A In a sense, they have more freedom. No longer fed a stream of chords, or fighting a pounding beat, they are free to get a more natural sound out of their horns, and try for all sorts of new effects.

Q Didn't you have to select your musicians with extra care?

A Yes, I discussed my plans at length with each of them to make sure they were completely attuned to the project. Artie Anton, the drummer, has had wide band experience; from the beginning he was sympathetic to my new ideas. He is a skilled reader, as is Ralph Pena, a bassist with great sound, jazz feeling and a classical background, who has worked with many big bands and Stan Getz. Pena has re­corded previously with me, as has Jack Sheldon, an ex-Lighthouse trumpeter who has also recorded under his own name. Sheldon is a major soloist, and fits perfectly into my conception of the quartet.

Q This music is such a sharp departure; do you have any mis­givings about making the leap?

A This music is no novelty; it's the result of almost a decade of formal study, the culmination of all my thinking, writing and blowing. To me, it seems like sheer insanity to continue to play against that hammering beat. Classical music, once the rhythm is stated, assumed the freedom to move un­accompanied, and if jazz is going to continue to grow, it needs this same freedom.

Q New styles usually provoke extreme reaction; what sort of general judgment do you hope for?

A Early works in a new style necessarily grope; each new tune helps to expand and define the form; this album is not final. All I really ask for this music is an isolated judgment —for what it is, rather than for what it isn't. It isn't an attempt to compete with, or supplant other forms; I knew when I took the step that I must sacrifice a large segment of the usual jazz audience. It is, I think, jazz, and a swinging music, but those are ambiguous terms. Does it excite in­terest? Is it pleasurable? Does the interest hold up? These are the real questions.

Q You've been considered one of the great blowers with the very sort of rhythm you now flee; are you abandoning it for good?

A As a working musician, I must continue to play other music until the quartet works more steadily, and there are prob­lems — such as the extreme awkwardness of any turnover in personnel. I still enjoy playing with a stomping rhythm section occasionally, but my heart lies here; I believe in this music.

Will McFarland comments on the four Scintilla selections ...

Scintilla One — This bright brief opener, mostly ensemble work, serves both as an introduction to the album and as a basis for three subsequent sparkling variations. There is no improvisa­tion or development as yet, but extensions of the form are heard.

Scintilla Two — The ensemble plays the first eight bars of Scintilla One to introduce a development of that theme — minus extensions. This fast, tough, earnest variation is used as a basis for blowing; it's Giuffre's tenor all the way, very free.

Scintilla Three — Another variation on the root Scintilla, lighter and cute this time, stars the trumpet. Jack Sheldon's depth in running ideas is given plenty of leeway, and the clarinet comments from the middle-ground, half written, half spontaneous.

Scintilla Four — Climaxing the album, Giuffre unveils a stir­ring development and finale: the drums are fingered; there is imitation; all four players take a final four; all previous Scintilla material is recapitulated and used; a couple of canons, and the concert closes.

Ted Gioia,  West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1969 [pp. 235-36, paragraphing modified]

“Despite Giuffre's rhetoric, the pieces on Tangents in Jazz do swing. In many ways the listener is even more drawn to the rhythmic element of the music, by the way it moves from instrument to instrument, instead of resting solely with the "rhythm" section. On Tangents Giuffre was again joined by Pena, Sheldon, and Anton, and though none of them stretches out at length during the course of the album, each is very much put in the spotlight as Giuffre employs a wide range of compositional de­vices: call-and-response figures, two- and three-part counterpoint, unison and harmony lines, canonic devices. These take the place of solos in Giuffre's new conception.

As a filmmaker conveys a sense of momentum through a sequence of rapidly shifting camera angles, Giuffre's constant movement from one musical device to another achieves a similar effect. Part of the achievement of Tangents in Jazz is that, despite the leader's stated disre­gard for a "propulsive" beat, these pieces are constantly propelled, if not by a metronomic beat, certainly by Giuffre's constant changes in compo­sitional focus. If anything, Giuffre overcompensates on Tangents, avoiding lengthy solos and shifting musical gears with abandon. The result is a highly concentrated music—which may be pleasing to the listener, but also makes severe demands on the attention.”

Friday, May 18, 2012

Maria Schneider: A Music That Is Movingly Majestic

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

“ … when you look at Maria's resume: she studied composition with Bob Brookmeyer, and spent three years as Gil Evans' musical assistant. From Brookmeyer, she learned how to create large-scale musical structures that add up to more than just a string of solos; from Evans, she learned how to blend instrumental colors with a Ravel-like precision and clarity.

Working with these two masters of big-band writing inspired Maria to develop a completely original sound of her own. 'l think my music has a strong element of fantasy in it,’ she says, explaining that the inspirations for her compositions are as likely as not to be visual: dreams, paintings, memories. ‘lf I don't have a dramatic plane to put myself on,’ she adds, ‘I’m at a complete loss for coming up with notes.

Actually, I think of my pieces as little personalities. They're like my kids. After I finish a piece, it takes a while for me to forget the struggle of composing it. Then, all of a sudden, it becomes something separate from me, and the band takes control of it, and shapes and develops it, and it has its own life.’”
- Terry Teachout

“Schneider’s characteristic voice is … a rich fabric of sound that is alert to nuance but still capable of great power.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“When I first started helping Gil Evans out in a deeper way than copying, it was a little terrifying at first. I felt, who am I to be doing this? …

Then one day I realized that this thing about studying music the right way ,,, the only right way in music is your own way that you do with belief and conviction, and when you stick to it, it becomes your voice.

Gil had all sorts of ways to do things that are not in the books, and they all had a very consistent logic. It was a little bit of a parallel universe that went by its own mathematical rules.
- Paraphrased from Maria Schneider interview with author Stephanie Stein Crease, Gil Evans: Out of the Cool, His Life and Music [pp. 314-315]

“The music itself defies standard definitions of jazz. The inner musical lines reflect her own inner voices. The music is full of characteristic “Schneiderisms”: undulating waves of piano to forte to piano, especially in the brass, and highly textured orchestrations evoking visual imagery and musical colors. It is very personal music.”
- Eugene Marlow

“I think my music has started to more deeply reflect the world of music that I've enjoyed listening to in recent the last years. The rhythmic, harmonic and melodic flavors in my work are undoubtedly influenced by my love of Spanish, flamenco, and Brazilian music. Jazz is still at my core, but the intricacy and development one would find in classical music is more present. Even I become hard pressed to define my music."
- Maria Schneider

When writing about the music of Maria Schneider, the “texture” of her music is often stressed as that quality which makes it so unique and so appealing.

But what is a musical definition of “texture” which joins with melody, harmony and rhythm [meter] as a fourth building block used to create a musical composition?

Ironically, of the four basic musical atoms, the most indefinable yet the one we first notice is – “texture.”

“Texture” is the word that is used to refer to the actual sound of the music. This encompasses the instruments with which it is played; its tonal colors; its dynamics; its sparseness or its complexity.

Texture involves anything to do with the sound experience and it is the word that is used to describe the overall impression that a piece of music creates in our emotional imagination.

Often our first and most lasting impression of a composition is usually based on that work’s texture, even though we are not aware of it. Generally, we receive strong musical impressions from the physical sound of any music and these then determine our emotional reaction to the work.

Beyond the texture or sound of her music and the lasting physical and emotional impact it can create, Ms. Schneider’s music is also heavily rhythmic – the most visceral and fundamental of all the musical elements.

Music takes place in time and like many great composers, Ms. Schneider uses rhythms and the relationships between rhythms to express many moods and musical thoughts.

She uses rhythm to provide a primal, instinctive kind of foundation for the other musical thoughts [themes and motifs] to build upon.

This combination of powerful, repetitive rhythmic phrases and the manner in which she textures the sound of her music over them provides many of Ms. Schneider’s compositions with a magisterial quality.

Another of Ms. Schneider’s great skills as a composer is that she never seems to be at a loss for the new rhythms that she needs to create musical interest in her work.

She is a master at using the creative tension between unchanging meter and constantly changing rhythms and these rhythmic variations help to produce a vitality in her music.

In her use of melody, Ms. Schneider’s approach to composing, arranging and orchestrating appears to have much in common with the Classical composers of the late 18th and early 19th century [Mozart and Beethoven as examples] in that she relies on a series of measured and balanced musical phrases as the mainstay of much of her work.

And like these Classical composers, Ms. Schneider is also careful not to let one musical element overwhelm the others: balance between elements is as important as balance within any one of them.

Ms. Schneider obviously places a high value on melody in her writing as her themes have a way of finding themselves into one’s subconscious and staying there a la – “I can’t get this tune out of my head.”

This is in large part because Ms. Schneider’s melodies are actually easily remembered short phrases, generally four or eight bars in length and these are often heard in combination with other similar phrases to fashion something akin to a musical mosaic with individual pieces joining together to create a musical whole.

Ms. Schneider crafts little melodic devices that are wonderful examples of the composer’s art. And she has learned over the years to base her compositions out of the fewest possible melodic building blocks because if there are too many melodies, or for that matter, too many rhythms and too many different chords in a piece, the listener can get confused and eventually bored.

And on the subject of chords, the building blocks of harmony, here Ms. Schneider’s approach is one involving multi-part harmony and is more akin to modern composers such as Debussy, Bartok and Stravinsky than to those of the Classical period.

With all this going on in her compositions, is it any wonder, then, that even Maria is “.. hard pressed to define my music [?]"

Perhaps you can discern some of these qualities in her music by viewing the following video tribute to her and listening to its audio track entitled Choro Dancado, which forms the first movement of her Three Romances Suite.

Although Ms. Schneider has recorded this piece with her resident orchestra in New York, we have selected the version she performed on October 9,2003 while conducting The Metropole Orchestra Big Band at The Hague in The Netherlands.

The soloists are Leo Janssen on tenor saxophone and Jasper Soffers on piano. The drummer is Martijn Vink.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Balliet on Bean

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

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles has long wanted to have a piece on the site in honor of the memory of Coleman Hawkins, the man most responsible for bringing Jazz to the tenor saxophone.  And what better way to do this for the man who was affectionately known to his peers as “Bean,” than with more of the writing of Whitney Balliett, this time from his anthology entitled Dinosaurs in the Morning: 41 Pieces on Jazz [Philiadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1962].

At the conclusion of Mr. Balliett’s essay, you will find a video tribute to Coleman Hawkins made with the assistance of the ace graphics team at CerraJazz LTD. The audio track is Frank Foster’s “Juggin’ Around” on which Frank is joined on tenor saxophone by Gene Ammons and Frank Wess, along with Nat Adderley on cornet, Bennie Green on trombone and a rhythm section of Tommy Flanagan, Ed Jones and Albert “Tootie” Heath on piano, bass and drums, respectively. All three tenor saxophonists were heavily influenced by Bean.

© -  Whitney Balliet, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“IMPROVISATION, the seat of jazz, is a remorseless art that demands of the performer no less than this: that, night after night, he spontaneously invent original music by balancing‑with the speed of light ‑emotion and intelligence, form and content, and tone and attack, all of which must both charge and entertain the spirit of the listener. Improvisation comes in various shapes. There is the melodic em­bellishment of Louis Armstrong and Vic Dickenson; the similar but more complex thematic improvisation of Lester Young; the improvisation upon chords, as practiced by Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Parker, and the rhythmic-thematic convolutions now being put forward by Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins. There are, too, the collective improvisations, such as, the defunct New Orleans ensemble, and its contrapuntal descendants, which are thriving in the bands of John Lewis and Charlie Mingus. Great improvisation occurs once in a blue moon; bad improvisation, which is really not improvisation at all but a rerun or imitation of old ideas, happens all the time. No art is more precarious or domineering. Indeed, there is evidence that the gifted jazz musicians who have either died or dried up early are primarily victims not of drugs and alcohol but of the insatiable furnace of improvisation. Thus, such consummate veteran improvisers as Armstrong, Dickenson, Hawkins, Buck Clayton, and Monk are, in addition to being master craftsmen, remarkable endurance runners. One of the hardiest of these is Hawkins, who, now fifty-four, continues to play with all the vitality and authority that be demonstrated during the Harding administration as a member of Mamie Smith's jazz Hounds.

Hawkins, in fact, is a kind of super jazz musician, for he has been a bold originator, a masterly improviser, a shepherd of new movements, and a steadily developing performer. A trim, contained man, whose rare smiles have the effect of a lamp suddenly going on within, he was the first to prove that jazz could be played on the saxophone, which bad been largely a purveyor of treacle. He did this with such conviction and imagination that by the early thirties he had founded one of the two great schools of saxophone playing. In 1939, Hawkins set down, as an afterthought at a recording session, a version of "Body and Soul" that achieves the impossible - perfect art. A few years later, he repeated this success with "Sweet Lorraine" and "The Man I Love." Unlike many other jazz musicians, who are apt to regard anything new with defensive animosity, Hawkins has always kept an ear to the ground for originality, and as a result he led the first official bebop recording session, which involved Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, and the late Clyde Hart. Soon afterward, he used the largely unknown Thelonious Monk in some important recordings. Then his playing inexplicably began to falter and he went into semi-eclipse, from which he rocketed up, without warning, in the early fifties, landing on his feet with a brand-new style (his third), whose occasional febrility suggests a man several decades younger.

Hawkins's early style was rough and aggressive. His tone tended to be harsh and bamboo-like, and he used a great many staccato, slap-tongued notes. But these mannerisms eventually vanished, and by the mid-thirties he had entered his second and most famous phase. His heavy vibrato suggested the wing beats of a big bird and his tone halls hung with dark velvet and lit by huge fires. His technique had become infallible. He never fluffed a note, his tone never shrank or overflowed-as did Chu Berry's, say-and he gave the impression that he had enough equipment to state in half a dozen different and finished ways what was in his head. This proved to be remarkable, particularly in his handling of slow ballads.

Hawkins would often begin such a number by playing one chorus of the melody, as if he were testing it. He would stuff its fabric with tone to see how much it would take, eliminate certain notes, sustain others, slur still others, and add new ones. Then, satisfied, he would shut his eyes, as if blinded by what he was about to play, and launch into impro­visation with a concentration that pinned one down. (Hawkins's total lack of tentativeness ‑ the exhilarating, blind man tentativeness of Pee Wee Russell or Roy Eldridge ‑ suggested that he had written out and memorized his solos long before playing them.) He would construct‑out of phrases crowded with single notes, glissandos, abrupt stops, and his corrugated vibrato‑long, hilly figures that sometimes lasted until his breath gave out. Refilling his lungs with wind‑tunnel ferocity, he would be off again‑bending notes, dropping in little runs like steep, crooked staircases, adding decorative, almost calligraphic flourishes, emphasizing an occasional phrase by allowing it to escape into puffs of breath. He often closed these solos with roomy codas, into which he would squeeze fresh and frequently fancy ideas that bad simply been crowded out of his ear­lier ruminations. If another soloist followed him, he might terminate his own statement with an abrupt ascending figure that neatly catapulted his successor. When Hawkins had finished, his solo, anchored directly and emphatically to the beat, had been worked into an elaborate version of the origi­nal melody, as though be had fitted a Victorian mansion over a modern ranch house. At fast tem­pos, Hawkins merely forced the same amount of music into a smaller space. There seemed to be no pause between phrases or choruses, and this pro­duced an intensity that thickened the beat and whose vehemence was occasionally indicated by sus­tained growls. Yet for all this enthusiasm, Hawkins' playing during this period often left the listener vaguely dissatisfied. Perhaps it was because his style had an unceasing - and, for that time, unusual - intellectual quality, with the glint of perfection and a viselike unwillingness to let any emotion out, lest it spoil the finish on his work. One kept waiting for the passion beneath the surface to burst through, but it never did-until five years ago.

Hawkins can now be volcanic. His present style is marked primarily by a slight tightening of tone, which sometimes resembles the sound he achieved at the outset of his career; the use of certain harsh notes and phrases that, not surprisingly, suggest Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins; and an almost dismaying display of emotion. This exuberance has been costly. In his pursuit of pure flame, Hawkins sometimes misses notes or plays them badly, and he falls back, perhaps out of fatigue, on stock phrases of his own, such as a series of abrupt, descending triplets. When everything is in mesh, however, the results are formidable. …”

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Friday, May 11, 2012

Erroll Garner - The Piano As Orchestra

When we prepared our earlier book review of Timme Rosenkrantz's Harlem Jazz Adventures we came across the following information about how Erroll's career in Jazz almost didn't happen. I wonder how many other talented players got discouraged and were never "discovered" in the world of Jazz during it's heyday?

We decided to "re-discover" the wonder that was Erroll Garner by reposting our earlier piece about him on the left columnar sidebar while displaying below these excerpts from Timme's book as well as an earlier video tribute to Erroll.

- “Young Garner's father was a singer who played several instruments, as did his older brother, Linton. Erroll was an entirely self-taught musician who hit the keys when he was three years old and never did learn how to read mu­sic. But he played like no other pianist, and his flamboyant style was a delight to the ears. He would start a ballad with a long, discordant introduction that didn't even hint at the melody to come. At last when he swung into it, his left hand lay down chords like a guitar, keeping up a steady pulse, while his right hand never seemed to catch up, improvising chords or playing octaves that lagged way behind the beat for the rest of the number. Just a pinch of Fats Waller added spice.

I was fascinated by this fellow's joyously swinging piano, and I sought him out while Louis Prima was on [Garner was the intermission pianist at the Tondelayo Club on 52nd St. in NYC where Prima was the featured act]. Erroll was anything but happy. He didn't know many people in New York and was downhearted. No one was inter­ested in listening to him—Louis Prima was the showman attraction. And Erroll was only making forty dollars a week!

He told me he thought he'd go home soon, as it seemed nothing was going to happen for him in New York. Somehow, I had to stop him. I invited him home to 7 West 46th Street, showed him my rented Krakaur grand, and once he got started, it was impossible to pry him off the bench. Little did I know at the outset that he had a bad case of asthma and couldn't sleep lying down!” [p. 176]

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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

To Lester from Dexter With … “Cheese Cake”

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

I could listen to Dexter Gordon play the tenor saxophone all night.

There was a time in my life when I often did.

Dexter made a batch of LP’s for Alfred Lion’s Blue Note label in the 1960s and his playing on them was a revelation.

His solos on these recordings were exciting and explosive, his time hard-driving and impeccable and his sound was big and wide-open.

Dexter’s ideas and inventions flowed so effusively that I couldn’t keep up with them; I couldn’t absorb them.

Anything that came into his mind came out of his horn; effortlessly.

Cascade after cascade of the hippest phrases simply flowed and flowed and flowed.

Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane received more public notice, awards and accolades, but Dexter was right up there with all of them.

When Jazz went to Europe to live, so did Dexter, performing and hanging out in Paris and Copenhagen for most of the last two decades of his life.

By the time of his triumphant return visits to the Village Vanguard in NYC and Keystone Korner in San Francisco in the late 1970s, he had become a different player; more laid back, lyrical and laconic, but still a force to be reckoned with.

Here are a few thoughts and observation about Dexter from Garry Giddins’ marvelous five-page essay on him in Visions of Jazz: The First Century [pp.330–335]:

“The King of Quoters, Dexter Gordon, was himself eminently quotable. In a day not unlike our own, when purists issue fiats about what is or isn't valid in jazz, Gordon declared flatly, ‘jazz is an octopus’—it will assimilate anything it can use. Drawing closer to home, he spoke of his musical lineage: Coleman Hawkins "was going out farther on the chords, but Lester [Young] leaned to the pretty notes. He had a way of telling a story with everything he played/' Young's story was sure, intrepid, dar­ing, erotic, cryptic. A generation of saxophonists found itself in his music, as an earlier generation had found itself in Hawkins's rococo virtuosity. …

Gordon's appeal was to be found not only in his Promethean sound and nonstop invention, his impregnable authority combined with a steady and knowing wit, but also in a spirit born in the crucible of jam sessions. He was the most formidable of battlers, undefeated in numer­ous contests, and never more engaging than in his kindred flare-ups with the princely Wardell Gray, a perfect Lestorian foil, gently lyrical but no less swinging and sure. …

Gordon was an honest and genuinely original artist of deep and abiding humor and of tremendous personal charm. He imparted his personal characteristics to his music—size, radiance, kindness, a genius for dis­continuous logic. Consider his trademark musical quotations—snippets from other songs woven into the songs he is playing. Some, surely, were calculated. But not all and probably not many, for they are too subtle and too supple. They fold into his solos like spectral glimpses of an alternative universe in which all of Tin Pan Alley is one infinite song. That so many of the quotations seem verbally relevant I attribute to Gordon's reflexive stream-of-consciousness and prodigious memory for lyrics. I cannot imagine him planning apposite quotations.”

Bruce Lundvall and Michael Cuscuna collected all of the albums that Dexter made for Blue Note into a six compact disc, boxed set that includes some omitted tracks along with photographs by Francis Wolff and selected commentary.

It’s great to have all of this music by Dexter in a digital format and it provides a convenient means to sample the music of this Jazz giant if you are not as yet familiar with it.

In line with Gary Giddins’ characterization of Dexter as “The King of the Quoters,” Dexter composed an homage to Lester Young by making a few minor [literally] chord alterations to “Tickle Toe,” an original composition that Lester made famous while performing with Count Basie’s Orchestra.

Dexter entitled his piece “Cheese Cake” and you can listen to his performance of it on the audio track to the following video on which he is joined by Sonny Clark on piano, Butch Warren on bass and Billy Higgins on drums.

To experience the sheer joy and delight of a brilliant Jazz tenor saxophonist “at work,” you can’t do much better than Dexter’s solos on “Cheese Cake.”

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Stefano Bollani is "Looking for You"

Another quick visit to our Jazz in Italy series this time featuring the talented pianist, Stefano Bollani, performing In Cerca Di Te [which roughly translates as Looking for You]. Stefano plays the piece with Ares Tavolazzi on bass and drummer Walter Paoli.

As is the case with many of today's Jazz musicians, Stefano has his own website which you can locate by going here.

Chet Baker With A Song In His Heart

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

“In 1953, upon the success of his best-selling recording of "My Funny Valentine" with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, Chet Baker became an instant star. He began winning polls here and abroad with rhythmic regularity for five .years. His "Valentine" solo was soft and lyrical. Lyricism seemed to be Baker's stock in trade, although he was capable of playing crackling bop lines of great intricacy and inventiveness.

And he sang. He sang with.. .well, let Rex Reed describe it... "an innocent sweetness that made girls fall right out of their saddle oxfords." Before he had time to digest the fact of his sudden celebrity as a trumpet soloist, Chet found himself win­ning polls as a vocalist. In one, he was tied with Nat Cole. From obscurity to status among the jazz public as a more popular trumpet player than Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, and as a singer the equal of Nat King Cole. All in the space of slightly more than a year.”
- Doug Ramsey

Was there ever a more photogenic Jazz musician than Chet Baker?

Despite the ravages of time accelerated by an unhealthy lifestyle [or maybe because of it?], Chet seemed to maintain a welcoming presence in front of the camera.

In some cases, this may have more the result of the skills of the photographer than Chet photographable qualities.

Musically, one thing is certain, Doug Ramsey is right when he states that … “Lyricism seemed to be Baker's stock in trade.”

You can judge both his lyricism and his camera-friendly qualities for yourself by sampling the following video in which Chet sings and plays “With a Song In My Heart.” [Click on the “X” to close-out the ads when they appear on the video].