Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Dave Holland 5tet - Metamorphos [1999]

The musicianship on display in this video by Dave Holland on bass, Billy Kilson on drums, Steve Nelson on vibes, Robin Eubanks on trombone and Chris Potter, making a rare appearance on alto saxophone, his original instrument, is awesome to behold. Program music based around tonal points, chromaticism, motifs and riffs and rhythms. It's the way a lot of young guys hear the music these days. Stick around for Chris' solo beginning at 9:14 minutes. Charles Mingus must be smiling. The tune is Prime Detective.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Bobby, Roger and The Animals

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

Ahmet Ertegun, one of the co-founders of Atlantic Records, was a big supporter of Rhythm and Blues music as well as a devotee of Rock ‘n Roll in its fledgling years.

His brother, Nesuhi, produced Jazz recordings for the Atlantic label including the Modern Jazz Quartet’s No Sun in Venice and Pyramid, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps and Coltrane Plays the Blues, and a host of other Jazz albums by Milt Jackson, Mose Allison, Jimmy Giuffre and Shorty Rogers, among others.

Ahmet always maintained that his involvement with the commercially lucrative Rock and R & B music enabled him to subsidize his brother Nesuhi’s less-than-profitable ventures into Jazz.

One of his most successful forays into Rock was Ahmet’s decision to record Bobby Darin’s Splish, Splash. It was a record that would sell a million copies for the then, virtually unknown Darin.

Ironically, almost 10-years later, Darin, now and internationally recognized celebrity, would leave Atlantic and establish his own label [Direction Records] over a dispute with Ahmet and Arif Mardin [who had become Bobby’s producer at the label in 1963] involving Bobby’s fervent wish to record the music from Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s Doctor Dolittle.

As recounted by Fred Dellar in his notes to Bobby Darin Sings Doctor Dolittle:

“Bobby Darin constantly re-invented himself. Initially, he'd been a teen idol, littering the charts with the likes of Splish, Splash and Queen Of The Hop. Then he opted to become the new Sinatra, fashioning songs such as Beyond The Sea and Lazy River for a whole new set of swingin' lovers. Once, Bobby even moved into R&B to cut an album of Ray Charles songs, using Ray's own back-up singers, while in 1966 he moved on yet again, linking with the contemporary folk field, and emulating the likes of Tim Hardin. After two critically hailed albums (If I Were A Carpenter and Inside Out) filled with material mainly penned by Hardin and John Sebastian, Darin decided that it was time for a change yet again. No-one was going to classify him, place him in some 'file under' category. It was time for a return to show-biz, a time to dust down the tux, head in a Hollywood direction. But, being Darin, it would not be a mere return to former glories. Nothing as easy as that. Instead, Bobby decided to create a whole album based around his interpretations of a film score. His choice for the project was Doctor Dolittle, a musical penned by Leslie Bricusse, who'd previously collaborated with Anthony Newley on The Roar Of The Greasepaint - The Smell Of The Crowd and Stop The World -I Want To Get Off, the latter a Broadway hit that ran for 555 performances.

Doctor Dolittle, a movie that co-starred Rex Harrison, Anthony Newley, Samantha Eggar and Richard Attenborough, featured a score that had taken Leslie Bricusse 18 months to write. During that period he'd discarded 10 songs and constantly reshaped others. Darin, who'd earlier recorded Bricusse and Newley's Once In A Lifetime, heard the score and loved it. His decision to record it as a complete album pleased Arthur C. Jacobs, the film's producer who claimed: "When Bobby came to us and said he wanted to do his musical impression of Doctor Dolittle, we were flattered but felt that the musical content of our production was out of Bobby's usual style. I mean, in one scene Rex sings a tender ballad When I Look In Your Eyes to a seal! How would that sit with a chap who whirred and whirled with Mack The Knife? Bobby's reply: 'Lead me to it'."

Others were even more incredulous that Darin should want to record the score, his album producer, Arif Mardin, advising him not to go ahead with the project. But, after working on a fine set of arrangements with Roger Kellaway, Bobby made that trip to Western Recorders and shaped an album that has stood the test of time. …”

Pianist-composer-arranger Roger Kellaway summed it up best when he observed: “Bobby was a sensation to work with. He had the knack of knowing exactly what was right for him.”

See what you think as Bobby sings Roger’s arrangement of Talk to the Animals in the following video made with the assistance of the ace graphics team at CerraJazz LTD and the production facility at StudioCerra.

Our latest montage is set in HD images, a format we’ve returned after a long absence.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

"Striking Up The Band" with the Kenny Clarke - Lucky Thompson Quintet

The Blue Note in Paris, 1960. Lucky Thompson on tenor saxophone, Jimmy Gourley on guitar, Alice McLeod Coltrane on piano, Pierre Michelot on bass and Kenny Clarke on drums.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Having "Cheese Cake" with Dexter, Sonny, Butch and Billy

Bring a cup of coffee or tea and enjoy a slice of Cheese Cake with Dexter Gordon and Company.  If you are a Jazz fan, it truly doesn't get any better than Dexter Gordon on tenor saxophone, Sonny Clark on piano, Butch Warren on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. Dexter's Cheese Cake is based on the changes to tenor sax legend Lester Young's tune, Tickle Toe.

Brian and Barbara

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

I have no idea if trumpeter Brian Lynch and vocalist Barbara Casini know each other or have worked together.

I doubt it because Brian is based in New York and Barbara in Italy, but given the international and cosmopolitan flavor of Jazz in the 21st century, it’s certainly is possible.

Where there is a relationship between the two, and what prompted this posting is that both have recorded terrific versions of the tune – You’ve Changed - Brian on his Bolero Nights, Venus Jazz CD [VHCD 1029] and Barbara along with the Jazz Orchestra of Sardinia, Paolo Silvestri conducting on Agora Ta, ViaVenetoJazz [CD VVJ 076].

Okay, I’ll admit it; I’ve got a thing for Bill Carey and Carl Fischer’s tune having featured two versions on a previous blog piece with interpretations by alto saxophonist Andy Fusco and the sublime, “Sassy Sarah Vaughan.

And early this month [July 7th], I spotlighted [bloglighted?] the version that Hammond B-3 organist Eddy Louiss recorded along with Belgian Guitarist Rene Thomas and drummer Kenny Clarke for Dreyfus Jazz [Dreyfus Disques FDM-36501-2].

The song’s poignant lyrics assume autobiographical, heart-breaking proportions when one reflects on their long association with vocalist Billie Holiday. The themes of lost love, seeking love and unrequited love were a constant in Billie’s brief and turbulent life [she died in 1959 at the age of forty-four].

What intrigued us about Brian Lynch’s rendition of You’ve Changed is that it is done in the bolero style of Latin Jazz and has a corker of a solo by alto saxophonist Phil Woods. Brian also takes a fine solo as does pianist Zaccai Curtis.

And did you know that the island of Sardinia off the western coast of Italy has a fine Jazz orchestra? As you will hear on the following video, it does, indeed, and for Barbara Casini’s vocal version of You’ve Changed, the orchestra is under the direction of Paolo Silvestri who also wrote the arrangement.  Be sure and checkout the fine trumpet solo by Giovanni Sanna Passino beginning at 2:42 minutes.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Joris Roelofs: “The Kids Are Fine”

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

“All around they see not rivals but mentors. Gravitating to living masters and young gurus, they talk not of themselves but of the greatness of others. As a result, their sound is pure, their language is concise. Although perpetually young-looking, they are the opposite of naïve. Their groove is light and precise and the smile in their eyes maintains a near-constant  sparkle.”
- pianist Aaron Goldberg commenting on Joris Roelofs

It’s hard to imagine that someone who is only twenty-eight years old could already be so proficient in today’s Jazz world.

Such is truly the case with Joris Roelofs who was born 1984 in Aix-en-Provence (France), raised in Amsterdam (Netherlands), and plays saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet and flute. He began to play classical clarinet at the age of six, and the alto saxophone at the age of twelve.

For one so young, Joris has a considerable list of accomplishments and associations.

He was a member of the Vienna Art Orchestra from 2005-2010. Joris also plays lead alto in the Jazz Orchestra Of The Concertgebouw in the Netherlands. He graduated in 2007 as a Master of Music at the Conservatory of Amsterdam. In 2001 Joris won the Pim Jacobs Price. In 2003 he received, as a first non-American, the Stan Getz/Clifford Brown Fellowship Award in the US, organized by the International Association Of Jazz Education (IAJE). The IAJE also honored him with a “First Level” price. In 2004 Joris received the first prize of the prestigious Deloitte Jazz Award in the Netherlands, a Dutch Award for young musicians who are just about to start their international carrier. In 2008 he was selected for the Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition.

Among others, Joris played with Brad Mehldau, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Christina Branco, Lionel Loueke, Joshua Redman, Chris Potter, Chris Cheek, Eric Harland, Lewis Nash, Aaron Goldberg, Greg Tardy, Ralph Peterson, Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Pete King, Sonny Fortune, Greg Hutchinson, WDR Big Band, Ari Hoenig, Matt Penman, Alegre Correa.

He was recently asked by Brad Mehldau to perform with him at the Carnegie Hall in New York and Sanders Theatre in Boston. At age 16 Joris performed the famous clarinet introduction of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue for a TV show with the Orkest van het Oosten, and in that same show was also featured as a soloist with the Jazz Orchestra Of The Concertgebouw. He also recorded as a special clarinet soloist with the Metropole Orchestra with Laura Fygi (2004). As a leader he performed several times at the North Sea Jazz Festival, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Smalls Jazz Club in NYC, among other places.

In October 2008 he did a European release tour with Ari Hoenig, Aaron Goldberg and Johannes Weidenmueller to promote his debut album Introducing Joris Roelofs. In 2009 and 2010 he did his second and third tour with Aaron Goldberg, Greg Hutchinson, Reginald Veal, Joe Sanders. Joris also plays in a trio with Jesse van Ruller and Clemens van der Feen, they released their album Chamber Tones and toured in Japan. Joris’ new CD Live At The Bimhuis will come out the end of August/2011. As a sideman Joris has been playing at a large number of international jazz festivals and jazz clubs, all over the world. He moved to New York City in March 2008.

Pianist Aaron Goldberg wrote these thoughts about Joris and Jazz in New York City for Introducing Joris Roelofs:

New York remains an artist-magnet. The intrepid flow in from everywhere, their paint brushes or their saxophones on their back, often still searching for a place to sleep. Some show up with a point to prove, and they are usually the first to attract notice. On occasion others arrive with a different kind of special mission. Instead of a moral to teach or an agenda to push, these brave selves search for a lesson to learn. Tey are driven by the love of their art.

All around they see not rivals but mentors. Gravitating to living masters and young gurus, they talk not of themselves but of the greatness of others. As a result, their sound is pure, their language is concise. Although perpetually long-looking, they are the opposite of naïve. Their groove is light and precise and the smile in their eyes maintains a near-constant  sparkle.

Perhaps they have some metaphysical guardian, a Vajravarahi [Tibetan Buddhist diety that helps free one from suffering and gain enlightenment through meditations] to help uproot the ego?

Or maybe their meditations just focus on the truly important: line and melody, mouthpiece and embouchure, narrative and harmony, and the rest follows inevitably. These are the true faithful. From the inside they may see only detours, but their paths are straight and their bearing upright. From the outside they glow like the enlightened. More importantly, they are a joy to listen to. Joris Roelofs is one of the rare arrivals.”

With all of this by way of background, “The Kids” such as Joris, Aaron, bassist Matt Penman and drummer Ari Hoenig “are doing just fine” as you can hear for yourself on the sound track to the following video montage.

The tune is pianist Aaron Goldberg’s The Rules which is an excellent example of the kind of tension-and-release, repetitive phrases and sustained tones can create in Jazz. Aaron takes the first solo, followed by Ari on drums with Joris’s solo closing it out before the piece’s “surprise” ending.

[BTW, if the music of Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, and Lennie Tristano comes to mind while listening to Joris' quartet, your memory is a credit to modern Jazz history].

Joris Roelofs recordings are available as audio CD’s and Mp3 downloads from a number of online retailers.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Nick Brignola: Roaring and Soaring on Baritone Saxophone

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

“He favored the big side of the horn, playing a hard-bop vocabulary with great power and command. … his virtues are a great sound, great time, smart tune selection, and a band that cooks at a great temperature.”
- Richard Cook & Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th ED.

Having previously posted features on baritone saxophonists Pepper Adams [two parts], Serge Chaloff, Ronnie Cuber, Gerry Mulligan [four parts] and Gary Smulyan, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it might be fun to spend a little time with the music of Nick Brignola.

As Jazz author and critic, Herb Wong has pointed out: “Although the baritone saxophone is his instant identification, Brignola has a masterful command of a veritable arsenal of a dozen woodwind instruments.” In addition to Nick’s work on baritone, I am especially fond of his work on soprano saxophone.

When Nick solos, the burners are switched on to maximum for as his counterpart on baritone saxophone, Gary Smulyan proclaims: “Nick doesn’t just blow into the horn – he screams into it!”

As is the case with Smulyan, Nick started off as an alto saxophone/clarinet player.

“‘A little more wind and you can play the same stuff.’

Maybe not one of the more interesting quotes in jazz history, but that remark — made by ‘the guy at the music store’ where aspiring alto saxophonist/clarinetist Nick Brignola went to get his alto repaired — changed the course of Brignola's musical life back in the distant '50s. See, the guy at the store didn't have an alto to lend Nick, so, since the baritone's in the same key, he laid the big horn on him.

‘When I brought it on the gig,’ says Nick, ‘the musicians that were on the gig — well, I guess they just hadn't heard a baritone, 'cause they all wigged out. It was like. 'Oh, that's the axe you should play.’” [Lee Jeske, insert notes to Raincheck, Reservoir RSR CD 106].

In interviews, Nick ventured that he was “trying to showcase the baritone saxophone which I think is the horn that best expresses me” and added that what he was trying to do with his music was “… to make a statement, extending the range of the horn.”

When you listen to what Nick can do on the baritone sax, there seems to be little doubt that he has accomplished his objective. The man is all over the axe and seems to take it wherever he wants to go – effortlessly.

This ease of execution on such an awkward instrument can lead to taking what Nick does on the baritone sax for granted until you stop and realize the complexity of the  improvisations he is creating.

“When I start playing, swinging is automatic,” Brignola notes, “and I like playing long interesting lines utilizing substitute chord changes.”

Trombonist Bill Watrous says of Nick: “His ideas are unending … he is unflagging and his thrust is unbending.”

Trumpeter Ted Curson observed: “Nick is a natural player. And lot’s of people can get into what he’s doing, but he doesn’t sound like any other musician.”

In his insert notes to Nick’s L.A. Bound CD [Night Life Records NLR 3007] Dr. Herb Wong comments that “Brignola’s solos are fiery and animated. … The character of his playing includes personalizing every note – whether the notes are part of a brief comment or an elongated musical essay.

A value judgment from Woody Herman adds a summary of interest. He has said on several occasions that besides the late Serge Chaloff [the vanguard bop baritone saxophonist of the early Herman “Herd” on the 1940s], he would cite Nick Brignola as ‘the other dynamite baritone player’ he has really dug in the bands that he has led over his 40+ year career as a bandleader.”

With the help of the crackerjack graphics team at CerraJazz LTD and the production facility at StudioCerra, we have developed the following video tribute to Nick on which he is joined by trombonist Bill Watrous, pianist Dwight Dickerson, bassist John Heard and drummer Dick Berk in a performance of Horace Silver’s Quicksilver.

And here is an audio-only performance by the same group of Kenny Dorham’s Blue Bossa this time with Nick featured on soprano saxophone.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Ella and Duke: A Musical Love Affair

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

According to the following insert notes by Alun Morgan to Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald: Live at the Greek Theater Los Angeles [Status DSTS 1013]:

“The night Benny Goodman played his first Carnegie Hall concert - January 16, 1938 - turned out to be a momentous occasion in many ways. After Carnegie Hall many went along to New York's Savoy Ballroom to witness a "Battle Of The Bands" between the orchestras of Chick Webb and Count Basie. Duke Ellington was in the audience (and he was cajoled into playing some piano himself) and that may well have been the first time Duke heard Ella Fitzgerald, for she was Chick Webb's vocalist and on the threshold of her highly successful career.

Over the years Duke and Ella became amongst the biggest and most impor­tant names in music but it took impresario Norman Grant to bring them togeth­er on record, for the first time, in 1957 for Ella's "Duke Ellington Song Book" 4-LP set. It was Grant who booked them to appear together at the 1966 Nice Jazz Festival and a few months later they were together again for a seven day engagement at the open-air Greek Theatre in Griffith Park, North Hollywood. The standard Ellington discographies list an appearance at the Greek on September 24, 1966 but this CD comprises previously un-issued material from concerts the previous day when Duke opened the proceedings followed by Ella and her trio, then a closing segment by Ella and the Ellington band.”

As the music on the video tribute that concludes this piece attests, Ella and Duke were made for each other.

Scatting and Ella were also made for each other and unlike many vocalists who make what virtually amounts to sound effects when their scatting, Ella knew what she was doing.

She improvised on the melody of the tune and developed “lines” that flowed, fit and made sense. Many horn players admired the improvisations that Ella sang when she was scatting.

She was one of the very best at it because she wasn’t just trying for the “effect.”

Ella understood that what made scatting effective was understatement.

Which is why she didn’t use scatting very often, preferring instead to rephrase the actual lyrics of the tune, especially in the form of rhythmic riffs to add extra punch and power to the music.

On our video tribute to she and “The Duke of Ellington,” Ella sings Sweet Georgia Brown, a tune which Ted Gioia describes in his recent published The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire [New York: Oxford University Press, 2012]:

“The popularity of this … [song’s chord] progression among jazz musicians is well warranted. The harmonies, which move leisurely from dominant chord to dominant chord, are ideal for supporting blues and funk licks of every denomination; and the final resolution offers a pleasant surprise since the tonic chord doesn't appear in the first 12 bars of the song, an opening that proves in retrospect to be a mas­terful exercise in misdirection. Finally, thanks to endless proselytizing by a world-famous group of itinerant basketball players [i.e.: The Harlem Globetrotters], the song is invariably recog­nized and greeted with enthusiasm by audiences everywhere, no matter how modest their jazz expertise.”

Ella and the band do four choruses of Sweet Georgia Brown in an emphatic medium tempo that is interspersed with a little scatting and a lot of call-and-response interplay and rhythm ‘n blues riffs. It closes with a cool tag which kicks in at 2:24 minutes.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Max on Monk

Max on Monk

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

The “Max” in the title of this piece does not refer to the more obvious connection to Thelonious Monk – drummer, Max Roach – but rather, to one of the more original, urbane and erudite perspectives in Jazz writing, that of, Max Harrison.

To attribute to Max his comments about Monk in the opening sentence of the following essay “… his singular originality was enough to ensure a hostile reception” – would be to put the matter lightly as Mr. Harrison’s musings always seemed to enflame passions wherever and however they were expressed.

Perhaps the strong reactions from some Jazz fans engendered by Max’s opinions had to do with the fact that he generally knew what he was talking about and wasn’t afraid to express his views very directly.

He’s not always easy to read, but if one is willing to make the effort, one usually comes away from Max’s essays well-rewarded with more knowledge and a totally different “take” on Jazz and its makers.

Here’s a sampling.

© -  Max Harrison/Jazz Journal, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“If his singular originality was enough to ensure a hostile reception, it still is ironic that for many years comment on Monk centered around his supposed incompetence as a pianist. On his best days his public perfor­mances demonstrated, with a clarity which no recording ever could approach, that this musician was, in his highly individual command of the instrument and absolute control of his especial musical resources, as remarkable a virtuoso as, say, Earl Hines. The two transcendent techniques were, obviously, quite different, and in Hines's case the dazzling texture of his music, although shaped by an eminently characteristic melodic and rhythmic invention, was firmly rooted in the scale, arpeggio and chordal formations that have always provided the basis of tonal keyboard music.

In sharp contrast, Monk's pianism, strictly in accord with other aspects of his work, if it did not lead us to go quite so far as Andre Brassai, who wrote "awkwardness means greatness and lack of skill means talent and these things are signs of genuine creativity" (i), still had little connection with established conventions, and was of a purer, more directly musical order. His strength lay not in complex executive feats but in a deployment, at once sensitive and vividly incisive, of some of the basic elements of jazz: time, metre, accent, space. This is why, with minor exceptions like the Dutchman Stido Astrom, his influence was not on other pianists but on players of other instruments: the lessons he offered were purely musical, not arising of necessity out of the keyboard.

Certain of Monk's recorded solos, or sections of them, consist of rhythmic variations on the thematic line with shifting metres and evolving patterns of accentual displacement. When he first appeared, in the 19408, such a method seemed dangerously radical in comparison with the then usual system of basing improvised lines solely on the chordal harmonisation of the theme, not on the theme itself. That was because people who listened to Monk had never heard Jelly Roll Morton, and people who knew of Morton's use of motivic development wished to hear nothing of Monk. To both, of course, thematic varia­tion was an essential process.

Much was made of Monk's harmonic innovations, and his pungent, hard-biting sonorities were the aspect of his language which aroused nearly as much adverse criticism as his playing. Yet this shows how right Stanley Dance, a tireless advocate of progress in jazz, always a friend of the latest development, was to complain of the jazz audience's frequent "inability to appreciate the joy of the musician in expression through harmonies rich and strange", of listeners' "narrowed sen­sibility which does not permit them to perceive, through its subtlety and complexity, the inner integrity of much of the later jazz" (2). Certainly in Monk's harmony, and perhaps more immediately than in his exceptionally subtle rhythm, we apprehend a needle-sharp in­telligence which rigorously avoids the commonplace.

Yet however striking this music may be on rhythmic and harmonic planes, it is always informed and directed by the requirements of melody. If the melodic construction is often severe in its economy this is because Monk knew precisely what he wanted to say and how to say it, because he had full command both of his ideas and their means of communication. Thus is explained much of the immense temperamental drive and magnetic cogency of his finest work—again, not fully conveyed on any recording. In his most representative moments all effort was devoted to the true expressive aim, none wasted on mere decoration. Such control is an authentic sign of mastery, but naturally Monk could not bring it off every time; indeed, he was in the same situation as a sculptor for whom one false stroke could ruin the whole statue.

In fact it is misleading to discuss the separate aspects of Monk's work too much in isolation. All elements of rhythm, melody and harmony interact so closely that it is unrealistic to consider one without the others. Monk did not offer an assemblage of easily identifiable trade marks in the manner of a popular soloist: his improvisations are new wholes, not just accumulations of pleasing objects. He was, in short, a composer, not simply because he wrote many 'tunes', or even themes, but because the compositional mode of thinking is evident in everything he did. One instance is his accompanying of other improvisers, for, instead of providing the normal type of chordal support, he often set modified fragments of the theme beside—not behind—the soloist's line in such a way as to give extended performances a closer-knit feeling of thematic reference. A different illustration is his treat­ment of popular songs like Smoke gets in your eyes, where he abstracts and rearranges the components to a quite drastic extent.

Just as Monk's pianism was unusually direct in its musicality, so his recordings, for all their self-consistent idiosyncrasies, have a curious air of objectivity. Even when the choruses follow the conventional AABA pattern of four eight-bar phrases, they are in the tradition of 'com­positions for band', like Morton's Cannonball blues or Bix Beiderbecke's Humpty Dumpty, rather than jazz versions of mere songs. As such, pieces like Epistrophy or Criss cross are altogether foreign to the world of pop­ular music in a way that, for example, even masterpieces of transmuta­tion such as Coleman Hawkins's Talk of the town or Charlie Parker's Embraceableyou can never quite be. And, with a few exceptions like the train piece Little roo tie-too tie, his works never attempt to establish a particular atmosphere, as does Mood indigo by Duke Ellington, or to suggest a specific place, like Tadd Dameron's Fontainebleau.

They are, rather, investigations of perfectly specific musical ideas, such as the minor seconds idea of Mysterioso or the diminished fifth ideas of Skippy, which arise out of his unusually acute awareness of the expressive weight of a given melodic interval or rhythmic or harmonic pattern (3). If, however, there remains, even in the most violent

passages, a kind of detachment, a feeling of objective exploration, it should not be imagined that all Monk offers is a series of abstractions. It is his achievement that in following such a path he created jazz which balances the rival claims of surprise and inevitability. Such music, to quote Brassai again, is "a rebellion against the misdeeds of a mechanised civilisation" (i), but also shows the artist, at an extreme pitch of technical and psychic tension, coming to terms with violence and disorder in the self and in the public world; indeed, that presumably is what its reconciliation of opposites is really about.

Monk's best jazz has, then, a more substantial intellectual content than most, and, while it would be naive to imagine that lessens its power to move us, this world is not the easiest to enter. The private, self-contained nature of his music, its strange, mineral toughness, make it hard to grasp, and help explain the disproportionate popularity of a relatively untypical piece like Round about midnight. It may also account for undue emphasis on the humour in his work. A sharp wit, as ever manifesting itself in directly musical terms, is clear in such things as his caricature of Tea for two, with sophisticated bitonal harmony countered with deliberately stiff rhythms. But whenever we saw Monk at the piano he presented that admirable and, in the jazz world, rare spectacle of a serious artist wholly possessed by the urgency of the matter in hand, the creation of music. Humour was evident in his eccentric platform demeanour—away from the instrument—which, however offhand, clearly aimed if not to amuse then at least to dis­concert. This may be regarded as a characteristically oblique com­ment on the social isolationism and outright rejection of the audience practised by other musicians of his generation, such as Charlie Parker. With typical parochialism, the jazz community believed the boppers' attitude to be unique, and uniquely reprehensible, while, as Monk's very dryness implies, it was a mild gesture compared, say, with the cubist painters' hermeticisation of content several decades earlier in protest against a commercialised academic tradition.

It is a deceptive simplification to say that we get the art we need and deserve, yet it may be that Monk was a little like the court jesters of old, who clothed their home-truths in just sufficient foolery. Whenever we saw him, the stiff-limbed, ungainly movements and bland smile appeared to be those of a buffoon, yet the harsh rhythms and acidulated dissonance of the music he played us said something altogether different (4).”

Jazz Journal, June 1961, as quoted on pages 28-31 of Max Harrison, A Jazz Retrospect, New York: Crescendo Publishing, 1976.


1   Andre Brassai: Graffiti (Stuttgart, 1960).
Stanley Dance:  'Towards Criteria' in Jazzbook 1947 edited by Albert McCarthy (London, 1947).
3  Certain of these "specific ideas" are helpfully illuminated by some of Andre Hodeir's treatments of Monk themes, which are in effect musical   instead   of  verbal   commentaries.   Instances   are   his variations on Mysterioso titled Osymetrios /and // (American Philips PHM2OO-O73)   and   his   atomisation   of Round  about   midnight (American Epic LN3376).
4  Further reading: Lucien Malson: Les Maitres du Jazz (Paris, 1952; rev. ed. 1972); Gunther Schuller: 'Thelonious Monk', Jazz Review, November 1958; Max Harrison: 'Thelonious Monk' in Just Jazz 3 edited by Sinclair Traill (London, 1959); Grover Sales: 'Monk at the Black Hawk', Jazz, Winter  1960; Nat Hentoff:  Thelonious Monka List of Compositions Licenced by B.M.I. (New York, 1961); Nat Hentoff:  The Jazz Life (New York,  1961); Andre Hodeir: Toward Jazz (New York, 1962); Wilfrid Mellers: Music in a New Found Land (London, 1964); Max Harrison: entry on Monk in Jazz on Record edited by Albert McCarthy (London, 1968); Jack Cooke: entry on Monk in Modern Jazz: the Essential Records 7945-70 edited by Max Harrison (London, 1975).

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Jessica Williams – A Pianist with Taste, Touch and Temerity

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

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles was prompted to put this piece together by the arrival of the correspondence that closes it.

I first “met” Jessica around 1980. This was back in the days when one could kill a few minutes waiting for a business appointment or a luncheon while perusing the local record store.

Usually privately-owned and operated, every community in southern California seem to have one and some of these Mom-and-Pop stores even had a Jazz section.

It was during one such diversions that I noticed an LP in the cut-out bin by Jessica Jennifer Williams entitled Orgonomic Music [Clean Cuts CC703]. On the back of the album sleeve was the following quotation by Wilhelm Reich:

"Love, work and knowledge are the well-springs of our life. They should also govern it.”

I didn’t know who Reich was, nor did I know anything about “Jessica Jennifer Williams” and the only musician in the sextet featured on the album that I was [barely] familiar with was trumpet player Eddie Henderson.

But what the heck, Philip Elwood of The San Francisco Examiner said of Jessica that she was a devotee of Reich’s whose sentiments I agreed with, the LP was only a buck, so I gave it a shot.

Boy, am I glad I did. I’ve been listening to everything I can get my hands on by Jessica ever since.

However, it wasn’t until 1992, thanks to a fortuitous business trip to San Francisco, that I had the opportunity to hear Jessica in person as a part of pianist Dick Whittington’s on-going Maybeck Recital Hall series.

I “stayed close” to Jessica’s music in the 1990’s thanks to my association with Philip Barker, the owner of Jazz Focus Records for whom Jessica made a number of recordings including her Arrival CD which has the distinction of being the very first disc issued by Philip’s label [JFCD001].

Thanks to a tip from Gene Lees in one of his JazzLetters, I was also able to score one of the limited edition [1,000] Joyful Sorrow compact discs that Blackhawk Records issued as her solo piano tribute to the late, Bill Evans.

It was recorded at The Jazz Station, Carmel, CA on September 15, 1996 on the 16th anniversary of Bill’s death.

Sadly, too, The Jazz Station in Carmel is no more, but Joyful Sorrow endures as just about my all-time favorite Jessica recording.

Thankfully, Jessica has subsequently released quite a number of solo piano and trio Jazz recordings, many of which are available as audio CD’s and Mp3 downloads.

Jessica is a powerful and pulsating pianist.  He music literally “pops” out at the listener it’s so full of energy and enthusiasm.

She records many solo piano albums, a format which can sometimes be a recipe for self-indulgence and excessive displays of technique.  But Jessica’s music is always tasteful and informed. You can hear the influences from the Jazz tradition in her playing, but you also hear innovative probing and forays into her unique conception of what she is trying to say about herself and how she hears the music.

Her touch on the instrument is such that she makes the piano SOUND! It rings clear and resonates as it only can in the hands of a masterful pianist.

As Grover Sales, the distinguish author and lecturer on Jazz has commented:

“Jessica Williams belongs to that exclusive group Count Basie dubbed "the poets of the piano" that includes Roger Kellaway, Sir Roland Hanna, Ellis Larkins, Jaki Byard, Bill Mays, Alan Broadbent, Cedar Walton, the late Jimmy Rowles and of course, Bill Evans. All share in common a thorough working knowledge of classic piano literature from pre-Bach to contemporary avant garde as well as the classic jazz tradition from Scott Joplin to the present.

All developed an astonishing and seemingly effortless technique that enabled them to venture anywhere their fertile imaginations wished to take them. All take to heart the dictum of Jelly Roll Morton in his epic 1938 interview for the Library of Congress: ‘No pianist can play jazz unless they try to give the imitation of a band.’

 And for all of their varied influences from Earl Hines to Bill Evans and beyond, all are instantly identifiable—unique in the literal sense of this often misused word.”

Writing in the insert booklet to Jessica’s Maybeck Hall CD [Concord CCD-4525], Jeff Kaliss notes:

“It's all there in the first track. Within a few choruses, Jessica Williams shows her hand, or hands: the harmonies in seconds (hit way off to the side of the piano), the punchy attack, the dust-devils in the upper octaves, the nutty quotes. It's familiar Jessica, but she's got plenty up her sleeve for the rest of this remarkable entry in the Maybeck menagerie. …

She came to my awareness as a word-of-mouth legend, a Baltimore-bred genius whose history and personality were said to be as mysterious and unpredictable as her keyboard inventions. As soon as I got to hear her, I was into the reality of her spontaneous magic and not much concerned with the legend. …

[She] has remained a best-kept secret … commanding awe and quiet in the clubs she visited … [her playing] filled with energy and imagination.”

One gets more about her sense of “energy and imagination” when one reads the following notes that Jessica wrote about herself and her music for her Intuition CD [Jazz Focus JFCD 010]:

“I'm occasionally asked where I studied to learn to do what I do; who taught me, what "tricks" are involved, what secrets enable me, how does the process occur... how does one "distill magic out of the air?" The truth is that there are no practice techniques, no miracle drugs, no mantras, no short-cuts to creativity. I tell them that I've played piano since I was four, that I've played jazz since I was twelve, that I've never taken another job doing anything except what I've always known I should be doing in this life: playing music. And maybe that's a part of the answer, if indeed there is one. It's about Castenada's PATH, Campbell's BLISS; you follow it no matter where it leads, and over many years you learn to control it, channel it, allow it to happen.

You become the bow; the arrow is the gift. You never fully own it, just as you can never explore all of its depths, because it springs from the infinite possibilities within you. In this realm, your only ally, your only guide, is intuition. It is seeing instead of looking, knowing instead of believing, being instead of doing. It is Coltrane on the saxophone, Magic Johnson on the court, Alice Walker on the printed page; it is the primary intuition of "right-brained" activity, the birthing of idea into existence.

Perhaps it cannot be taught, but it certainly can be shared...and it is in the sharing that we all experience the best parts of ourselves. We instinctively intuit our organic truth; when we learn to live it, our planet could be paradise.

Your dreams are your sacred truth. …”

You can listen to Jessica’s quite stunning pianism on the audio track of the following video tribute to her on which she performs Alone Together from the Joyful Sorrow Bill Evans tribute CD.

As to Jessica’s temerity, let alone downright courage, it’s all here in the following notice which she sent out recently to her fans.

I hope you’ll heed and help Jessica in her time of need.

Dear friends, critics, fans, friends of fans, anyone who loves my music or at least has enjoyed it:
You can opt to send personal checks or money orders to
·  Jessica Williams
·  PO Box 2391
·  Olympia, WA 98507
·  Please make checks payable to Jessica Williams
Every dollar counts and is deeply appreciated.
I CAN NO LONGER PLAY THE PIANO. NOR CAN I WALK, SLEEP, EAT WELL, STAND OR SIT. MY PAIN IS INTRACTABLE, AND 30mg daily of Vicodin (NORCO) does very little to cut it. 35 YEARS AGO I had a disc surgery (a Laminectomy, L5-S1) but many years of flying and playing music have taken their toll. I am in DIRE NEED OF RADICAL SPINAL SURGERY. MY SURGEON IS DR RICHARD ROONEY AT THE NEW MADISON ST POLYCLINIC.
This is NOT a solicitation for help to pay for the surgery as I HAVE INSURANCE: This request for donations is for the time AFTER surgery, the 6 months to perhaps a year that I won't be able to play or perform. Instead, I'll be doing physical therapy, pain management, and recuperation.
Without a spinal operation I face trunk and leg paralysis, the possible loss of renal function, and constant intractable pain. If it progresses up the spine and reaches the thoracic and cervical spine, I will lose all movement or sensation in my arms and hands. I have moderate scoliosis which increases the possibility of this happening.
Fortunately I have medical coverage. This request for donations is for the time AFTER surgery. It may be a year or more before I can play again, or it could be months - I won't know until it's done.
My surgeon - http://www.polyclinic.com/richard-rooney-md-facs - has decided to do a lateral-entry cage-fusion of L5, L4 and S1. I have had other opinions but I've chosen the premier neurosurgeon in this state (WA), and my age - 64 - rules out fancy but still unperfected alternatives like Pro-Disc©. My surgery will be scheduled soon, probably for some time in LATE JULY or EARLY AUGUST of 2012. (I presently have an viral upper-bronchial infection, so we need to wait until that clears.)
I'll be in the hospital for about 10 days, and then recuperating for 6 months to a year. I feel very lucky and very secure to have chosen the great surgeon who will do the procedure, making it possible for me to get back to my life's work.
I am so happy I can give back through my music. The music that awaits is why I am here.
And THAT, friends, is why I'm asking for help. I know that the people who love my music are the kindest, gentlest people in the world.
But a lot of us tend not to be billionaires. I, for one.
I need your help.
I'm sure that the results will be positive. My surgeon is the best there is, an artist of neurosurgery. He loves my music. I have a lot of NEW MUSIC TO MAKE.
Please make a donation of any size that you can afford. Each of you who makes a donation will get a signed copy of my newest CD for OriginArts - my personal favorite - Songs of Earth. And you'll get your name included in the drop-down "Life Savers Menu" on this donations page.
And if you ORDER MY CDs, that'll help too, and you can do that HERE. Every order and every extra dollar helps, as I can no longer play or pay the bills for a while.
Thank you from my heart, with peace, sanity, love, and freedom, Jessica
DONATE PLEASE!!!  You can use paypal or any credit cards: go to
A message from good friend and fellow pianist and composer Richard Rodseth:
Dear friends,
Some of you have attended or played at house concerts I have hosted in my home. Some of my happiest
and proudest moments.
I was introduced to the concept by pianist Jessica Williams, and since 2005 she has enthralled listeners in my living room once or twice a year, most recently on March 17, her birthday.
I'm sorry to report that Jessica needs our help, and is not well enough to play for us at this time. It would mean a great deal to me if you would read her heartfelt request at the following link and support her if you can:
Whether you purchase one or more of her wonderful CDs (which make excellent gifts), or are able to make a donation, you will have supported a wonderful artist who has touched many with her beautiful music.
Thanks so much, Richard - P.S. I apologize if you receive this message more than once. Feel free to share it with others.
See MRI/DICOM scans of my L5/L4 compression/degradation and my scoliosis and disc deterioration here:
For removal from this list, click here:
I wish you happiness, wisdom, peace, and above all, HEALTH. Stay well and love each other, Jessica

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Portrait of Clark Terry As A Young Man

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

With apologies to James Joyce for modifying his book title, I’ve always enjoyed this story about the young Clark Terry as told by Gene Lees.

“Clark Terry was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on December 14, 1920, the son of a laborer at Laclede Gas and Light Company, the seventh of eleven children, seven of them girls. Before Clark's birth, one girl died. Clark's brothers never escaped the destiny of their father. Clark alone did. …

I'd known about the garden hose for years.

"I must have been ten, eleven years old," Clark said. "Twelve, maybe. My older sister's husband, Cy McField, played tuba in the Dewey Jackson band — Dewey Jackson's Musical Ambassadors — at a place called Sauter's Park in Carondolet in South St. Louis. That's where I was born.

“The park was all Caucasian. We were not allowed to go in there. Us kids, we'd walk down there, about three miles. Walk down to the end of Broadway, the county line. We'd stand up on something behind the bandstand and we'd listen to the band that way.

"I remember one cat who played in Dewey Jackson's band, Mr. Latimore. He was a big, huge guy, played lead trumpet. He used to like me and my brother-in-law used to take me to all the rehearsals. He'd say, 'Son, you can watch my horn.' And I'd say, 4Oh thank you,' and I'd literally sit there and watch his horn. After so many rehearsals, I became very, very close to him. He owned a candy store, and he always kept a pocket full of caramels and mary janes, and he'd give me a couple of caramels and a couple of mary janes and sometimes a couple of pennies. He was the greatest cat in the world, so I wanted to play the horn he played. I'm glad he wasn't a banjo player!

"So one time they went on a break. He said, 'You watch my horn.' I said, 'Okay, Mr. Latimore,' and by the time they came back, I had been magnetically drawn to this horn, huffin' and puffin' away, trying to make a sound. And he walked in. He said, ‘Ah, son, you're gonna be a trumpet player.' And I've always said, 'And I was stupid enough to believe him.'

“That, plus the fact that on the corner called iron Street and Broadway, near where I lived, there was a Sanctified church. We used to sit on the curb and let those rhythms be instilled in us." Banging a beat with his hands, he sang against it a strong churchy passage. "You know, with the tambourines, and the people dancin' and jiggin' and all that. That was as much as you needed to be instilled with the whole thing.

"We had this little band. We used to play on the corner. My first thing was a comb and tissue paper. The paper vibrates. Then I came across a kazoo, which is the same principle. Later on in my life, we had to have kazoos as standard equipment in the studio. Sometimes we would have do little things when you were record­ing for different commercial products.

"We had a guy named Charlie Jones — we called him Bones - who used to play an old discarded vacuum hose, wound around his neck like a tuba, into a beer mug." Clark sang a buzzy bass line in imitation, mostly roots and fifths. "It was a better sound than the jug." The jug of course was the old earthenware jug used in country music and jazz.

"We had a cat who played the jug, too. With the two of them, we had a good solid foundation. My brother Ed played — we called him Shorts, he was a little short cat — played the drums. He took the rungs out of some old chairs for sticks. In those days we didn't have refrigeration, we had ice boxes, and when the pan wore out, started leaking and got rusty, it would sound just like a snare. They had those tall bushel baskets in those days, I haven't seen one in a long time. He'd turn one of those upside down and hang the old discarded ice pan on the side and take the chair rungs and keep a rhythm like that. He got an old washtub and put a brick and fixed it so he could beat it." Clark laughed that delicious and slightly conspiratorial laugh of his as he pounded a beat.

I said, "He sounds like some kind of a genius."

"Yeah!" Clark said. "He was. Well, I got an old piece of a hose one day and coiled it up and got some wire and tied it so that it stuck up in three places so it would look like valves. I took a discarded kerosene funnel and that was my bell. I got a little piece of lead pipe — we didn't realize in those days that there was lead poisoning — and that was my mouthpiece."

It struck me that Clark had invented a primitive bugle, on which he could presumably play the overtones.

"Yeah!" he said. "By the time I got into the drum and bugle corps, I had already figured out the system like the Mexican mariachi players use. They were taught back in those days to play the mouthpiece first."

He did a rhythmic tonguing like a mariachi player, then pressed his lips together and buzzed. "After a while I figured out how to change the pitch." Pursing his lips, he did a glissando, up one octave and down, flawlessly. "And then they could do that with the mouthpiece. After you got the mouthpiece under control, and you got a bugle, you could play notes. You could make all the notes that went from one harmonic to the other."

Never having seen Clark teach, I realized what makes him such an incredible — and so he is reputed — pedagogue, and why young people who study with him worship him. And all of it is communicated with laughter and a sense of adventure.”

One of the earliest Jazz long-playing records I ever heard was a Emarcy sampler which included a track from Clark Terry’s first album as a leader. The tune is entitled Swahili which I found out many years later was co-composed by Clark and Quincy Jones.

I’ve used it as the audio track for the following video tribute to Clark.  On it, Clark is joined by trombonist Jimmy Cleveland, baritone saxophonist Cecil Payne, pianist Horace Silver, Oscar Pettiford on cello, bassist Wendell Marshall and drummer Art Blakey.