Sunday, December 30, 2012

"The Incredible" Jimmy Smith

While the editorial staff at JazzProfiles completes a planned featured on Hammond B-3 organist Jimmy Smith, we thought you might enjoy viewing this montage of photographs of him and his many recordings.

When Miles Davis first encountered what Jimmy was doing on the Hammond B-3 organ, it is reported that he exclaimed: "This Cat is the 8th Wonder of the World."

When Alfred Lion, the president of Blue Note Records, first heard Jimmy perform, he signed him to a recording contract and proclaimed him - The Incredible Jimmy Smith.

When we first heard Jimmy play, we just smiled.

If this is your first listening to Jimmy, you will, too.

[Click on the "X" to close out of the ads.]

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Erroll Garner in Carmel, California for A Concert By The Sea

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

“The DVD of the 1963 concert in Belgium with Erroll includes a stunning reading of Garner's most durable original composition, "Misty," which had already proved a pop hit both for himself and for several singers.

Garner looks particularly happy to be playing it. Throughout the tune, he sits there drenched in perspiration but with a beaming smile on his face and an irresistible expression of joy.

He looks like someone who has just enjoyed the single most pleasurable experience a man can have – at least while wearing a tuxedo.”
- Will Friedwald

“By the early 1950s, Garner had settled into his preferred format and style – swashbuckling trios which plundered standards with cavalier abandon.”
Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“Erroll Garner (1921-1977) was entirely self taught; at the keyboard he was a fun loving ruffian. … No pianist is likely to have admired his technique, but many envied his witty and melodic improvising, which seemed to flow from a bottomless reservoir.”
- Len Lyons, The Great Jazz Pianists

In terms of furthering my Jazz education at a time when there was virtually no such thing available on a formal basis, probably the most important step I ever took was subscribing to the Columbia Record Club when it first came into existence.

Although I have forgotten the exact details, I seem to recall that subscribers received three of four Columbia LP’s for a low price as a signing bonus with their pledge in return to buy a specified number of albums during a one year period for the retail price plus shipping.

The subscriber could reject the Club’s monthly selection [or its alternate] by simply returning the postcard that announced these choices before the due date stamped on the card.

Therein lay the rub.

I was a teenager and remembering anything except the source of whatever instant gratification I was into at the time was a major hassle, let alone a sheer, biological and psychological impossibility. I mean, c’mon; who ever heard of a responsible teenager?

Talk about a contradiction in terms.

Because I never seemed able to remember to return the Club’s cancellation notice by the cut-off date, in-the-door walked the likes of Columbia’s Such Sweet Thunder by Duke Ellington’s Orchestra, Charles Mingus’ Mingus Ah-Um, the Gil Evans-Miles Davis collaboration, Miles Ahead, Brubeck’s Dave Digs Disney, Art Blakey’s Drum Suite and Erroll Garner’s Concert By The Sea.

In other words, through my [inadvertent] carelessness, I provided myself with the best Jazz education there is – listening to Jazz greats play it.  Because some aspects of Jazz really can’t be taught, I was able to learn more about it by hearing it performed on these classic, Columbia LP’s.

[I realize that this generalization is open to debate and I certainly mean no disrespect to the many hard working Jazz educators out there.]

Of these Columbia Record Club Jazz masterpieces, I was so impressed with Erroll Garner’s playing on Concert By The Sea that I wrote to Columbia Records requesting an autographed photo and actually got one in return!

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles was in Carmel, CA recently and while there, it collected images by some noted photographers who specialize in this area.

With the help of the crackerjack graphics team at CerraJazz LTD and the production facilities of StudioCerra, we thought it might be fun to create a video montage of these images of Carmel, CA and the Monterey Peninsula set to Erroll’s Mambo Carmel from Concert By The Sea.

You can locate the video at the conclusion of these excerpts from Stanley Dance’s insert notes to the recording and some thoughts by Will Friedwald about how the record came about and its significance which appeared in the Wall Street Journal [September 17, 2009].

© -Stanley Dance, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Erroll Garner was a natural, a phe­nomenon. He never learned to read music, but he could create more of it spontaneously than the most schooled musicians in his field. He recognized the source of his gift in a characteris­tically modest statement: "The good Lord gave it to me and I'm trying to develop it." And he did that in his own unique fashion until he was the most popular piano player in the world. With a Manhattan telephone direc­tory (or its foreign equivalent) adding height to the piano stool, the elfin Garner- became an international star comparable to Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.

Like Ellington, he was a good listener with good ears and a good memory. He absorbed what he liked from all that he heard, thus constantly nour­ishing his melodic imagination. And it was undoubtedly his emphasis on mel­ody and rhythm that endeared him to millions. Contrary to concepts preva­lent as he rose to fame, he esteemed his audience and always sought to please or entertain it. Writing in 1971, Melvin Maddocks aptly described him as the Happy Entertainer, and at that time bitterness and anger were very much the vogue artistically. Going his own way, then as always, Garner was subconsciously linked to an earlier jazz tradition.

For all the originality of his style, the pianists whom he referred to as his basic influences were Fats Waller, Art Tatum and Earl Hines. Significantly, both Hines and Garner came out of Pittsburgh, and when producer George Avakian began to work with the latter at Columbia he had decided Garner "was the greatest thing to come along on the piano since Earl Hines." Each of these artists broke stylistically with contemporary modes and each was endlessly inven­tive, yet neither one saw anything demeaning in the notion of entertain­ing those who paid to hear him. Although communication was certainly at issue, it could be achieved with minimal compromise.

Born in 1921, Garner had begun to play piano when he was three by imi­tating phonograph records. He was playing publicly when he was seven and later even worked on the Alle­gheny riverboats before setting out for New York in 1944. There he quickly found a place for himself among the swarming jazz talents on 52nd Street, and there his prolific recording career began almost imme­diately. By the time he signed with Columbia in 1950 he had recorded as an unaccompanied soloist, in trios, with alto saxophonists Benny Carter and Charlie Parker, with tenor saxo­phonists Don Byas, Coleman Hawkins, Wardell Gray, Lucky Thompson and Teddy Edwards, with Howard McGhee, Charlie Shavers and Vic Dickenson, not to mention the orchestras of Georgie Auld and Boyd Raeburn.

These achievements were a triumph of both ability and personality. Musicians liked this quiet, unas­suming guy who could constantly surprise them with his keyboard fantasies.

Garner's style was essentially orches­tral, unlike the horn-like, single-note style of the fashionable beboppers. His left hand laid down a firm beat like that of the rhythm guitarists in the big bands. Against it, with the right hand's phrasing lagging slightly behind, he improvised a rich tapestry of sound, one full of dynamic con­trasts like those of the Ellington and Lunceford bands, where solos con­trasted with brilliant ensembles and where the ensembles themselves were notable for carefully nuanced shading. Like those of such bands, too, his programs were knowingly devised to give audiences a stimulat­ing variety of music at different tem­pos and in different moods. The impact of his lushly romantic versions of ballads, for example, was height­ened by that of his driving interpretations of rhythmic numbers, and vice versa. In either vein, the sheer plea­sure he manifested in playing reached out and enchanted listeners.

When this album, Concert By The Sea, was recorded at Carmel in Cali­fornia in 1955, his reputation was established and his popularity immense. The area's coastline was beautiful, the acoustics in an audito­rium that had formerly been a church [known today as the Sunset Cultural Center] were perfect, and the audience was warmly appreciative, all of which undoubtedly helped inspire Garner, bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Denzil Best that night. Yet when Gar­ner's manager, Martha Glaser, brought a tape of the performance to George Avakian, he was at first daunted by its technical deficiencies. The spirit of the music was such, how­ever, that he devoted two weeks to making "a good-sounding master out of it," as he explained in James M. Doran's revealing book, Erroll Gar­ner: The Most Happy Piano (Scarecrow Press).

“The rest, as they say, is history – still the all-time best selling Jazz piano album of them all.”

© -Will Friedwald, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“The pianist Erroll Garner was one of the great improvisers of all time -- and not exclusively in his music. As writer John Murph notes, a New York Times profile of Garner in 1959 by John S. Wilson observed that the musician refused to make any kind of plan until the very last minute; he cooked elaborate dishes without the aid of a recipe book by simply throwing different ingredients together and tasting; he taught himself to play golf without instruction. He also played thousands of songs entirely by ear, without ever bothering to learn to read music, and composed many original tunes that way, including the standard "Misty." Therefore it shouldn't be surprising that Garner (1921-1977) made his best album -- the legendary "Concert by the Sea" -- practically by accident.

On Sept. 19, 1955, Garner (who is also represented on a wonderful new DVD of two concerts from Europe eight years later, "Live in '63 & '64," as part of the Jazz Icons series produced by Reelin' in the Years and available at performed at Fort Ord, an army base near Carmel, Calif., at the behest of disc jockey and impresario Jimmy Lyons. Martha Glaser, who served as Garner's personal manager for nearly his entire career, happened to be backstage when she noticed a tape recorder running.

As she recalled for the Journal last week, it turned out that the show was being taped -- without Garner's knowledge -- by a jazz fan and scholar named Will Thornbury, strictly for the enjoyment of himself and his fellow servicemen. Ms. Glaser told him, "I'll give you copies of every record Erroll ever made, but I can't let you keep that tape." She took it back to New York (carrying it on her lap), where she assembled it into album form, titled it "Concert by the Sea," and then played it for George Avakian, who ran the jazz department at Columbia Records. Garner had actually left Columbia three years earlier, but, as Mr. Avakian recently told the Journal: "I totally flipped over it! I knew that we had to put it out right away."

When Columbia released "Concert by the Sea" a few months later, this early live 12-inch LP was a runaway sensation. It became the No. 1 record of Garner's 30-year career and one of the most popular jazz albums of all time. It's not hard to hear why: From the first notes onward, Garner plays like a man inspired -- on fire, even. He always played with a combination of wit, imagination, amazing technical skill and sheer joy far beyond nearly all of his fellow pianists, but on this particular night he reached a level exceeding his usual Olympian standard.

"Concert" begins with one of Garner's characteristic left-field introductions -- even his bassist and drummer, in this case Eddie Calhoun and Denzil Best, rarely had an idea where he was going to go. This intro is particularly dark, heavy and serious -- so much the better to heighten the impact of the "punchline," when Garner tears into "I'll Remember April." Originally written as a romantic love song, Garner swings it so relentlessly fast that you can practically feel the surf and breeze of the windswept beach image from the album's famous cover.

The sheer exhilaration of Garner's playing never lets up; even when he slows down the tempo on "How Could You Do a Thing Like That to Me" (a tune also known as Duke Ellington's "Sultry Serenade"), the pianist shows that he's just as adroit at playing spaces as he is at playing notes. The bulk of the album showcases his brilliant flair for dressing up classic standards such as "Where or When" (when Garner plays it, he leaves the question mark out -- you know exactly where and precisely when), but "Red Top" illustrates what he can do with a 12-bar blues and "Mambo Carmel" comes out of his fascination with Latin polyrhythms.
"Concert by the Sea" has never been off my iPod. Sadly, it's also one of the few classic jazz albums that has never been properly reissued. If any album's audio could use a little tender loving care, this is it; the original tape was barely a professional recording, and the bass, for instance, is barely audible. Sony issued a compact disc in 1991, but it's just a straight transfer of the 1955 master, and the digital medium makes it sound worse rather than better.

More frustrating, both Ms. Glaser and Mr. Avakian confirm that the original tape includes, in Ms. Glaser's words, "a whole album's worth of unissued tracks" (four of which are listed in the Online Jazz Discography at that still exist in the Sony vaults. "We didn't put them out at the time because Erroll had already done those songs for Columbia," says Mr. Avakian. "But ideally there should be a new, remastered CD that includes the complete concert." Ms. Glaser, who continues to represent the Garner estate, and Sony Music Entertainment have been unable to work out an agreement for the release of the additional material.

The overall disappointment in the lack of a definitive "Concert by the Sea" package is alleviated somewhat by the excellent new DVD of two subsequent concerts by Erroll Garner, from Belgium in 1963 and Sweden a year later. Both shows are replete with Garner's famous bait-and-switch trick with tempos: "It Might as Well Be Spring" and "When Your Lover Has Gone," both normally slow love songs, here become rollicking and strident, while "Fly Me to the Moon," usually heard as an uptempo swinger, shows Garner at his most tender and introspective. He plays "My Funny Valentine" with so much harmonic ingenuity and melodic originality, with cascading runs of notes that enhance rather than distract from the romantic mood, that you don't even mind hearing that overdone chestnut yet again.

The most irreverent performance here is also Garner's most classically inspired. In his treatment of "Thanks for the Memory," he goes comically overboard with classical references: "To a Wild Rose," "Voices of Spring," Liszt's "Lieberstraum" and Rachmaninoff's "Prelude in C-Sharp Minor." In a 1983 interview on a liner note for a French LP, the pianist Martial Solal praised this aspect of Garner's artistry, likening his use of quotes "to telling jokes," adding: "The independence of [Garner's] hands was very seductive. I even transcribed his solo on "The Man I Love" -- that was one of the only pieces I've ever written out. For about three months I tried to play like Garner."

The concert in Belgium also includes a stunning reading of Garner's most durable original composition, "Misty," which had already proved a pop hit both for himself and for several singers. Garner looks particularly happy to be playing it; throughout the tune, he sits there drenched in perspiration but with a beaming smile on his face and an irresistible expression of joy. He looks like someone who has just enjoyed the single most pleasurable experience a man can have -- at least while wearing a tuxedo.

—Mr. Friedwald writes about jazz for the Journal.”

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Two from The Boys in Rotterdam

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

The piano player on the gig asked me: “Do you have tympani mallets?”

I said: “Yeah, they are in my trap case, why?”

“We’re gonna play Invitation during the next set so you better go get them.”

I got them and when the tune was called, I used them to play a slow rumba beat on the drums.

With the snare drum strainer turned off, that gave me three tom toms upon which to use the tymp mallets to tap out a steady Latin-feel over which the tenor saxophonist played a lilting version of Bronislau Kaper’s beautiful melody to Invitation.

I first heard Invitation on an obscure George Wallington with Strings Norgran LP and later on a John Coltrane Prestige LP entitled Standard Coltrane, drummer Lenny McBrowne’s Lenne McBrowne and the 4 Souls Pacific Jazz LP and vibist Milt Jackson Riverside LP of the same name.

Over the years, versions of Invitation taken at various tempos and played in a variety of styles kept appearing in my Jazz collection mainly because as Ted Gioia explains in his marvelously-fun-to-read The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire:

Invitation has survived solely because Jazz musicians have enjoyed playing it. [Kaper also penned On Green Dolphin Street and All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm, each of which garnered more interest from Jazz players than from the general public]. …

The song is usually taken at a medium tempo with dark hard bop overtones, but is capable of a range of interpretative angles. … Invitation is still inviting enough to keep Jazz musicians interested, and is likely to hold on to this constituency for some time to come.” [pp.201-202].

I recently came across the Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra’s version of Invitation and it along with their treatment of Cole Porter’s Love for Sale gave this piece its title and prompted me to write it in the first place.

The RJO big band arrangement of Invitation was written by Johan Plomp and puts tenor saxophonist Simon Rigter in the solo spotlight behind a driving beat which is laid down by bassist Aaaron Kersbergen and drummer Martijn Vink.

Checkout the screaming trumpet section that begins the shout-me-out-chorus at 3:36 minutes and the way they reintroduce the theme with quarter note triplets at 3:47 minutes.

If you close your eyes, you might be able to conjure up images of Zoot Sims taking one of his great tenor saxophone solos with Gerry Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band as booted along by Bill Crow on bass and Mel Lewis on drums

Those tympani mallets were handy to have around because later that evening, we played Cole Porter’s Love for Sale in a style that was very reminiscent of the version that Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis made famous on the forrmer’s Somethin’ Else LP.

[On this classic Blue Note recording, drummer Art Blakey used the tympani mallets to form a conga drum phrase behind his always-insistent, cymbal beat.]

Turning once again to Ted Gioia for commentary about the tune, Dottore Gioia has this to say about Love for Sale in The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire:

“By the 1960’s, the taboo associated with "Love for Sale" had faded [it was banned from radio play for years because its lyrics are sung from the prospective of a prostitute], and it became entrenched in the repertoires of Jazz players. And for good reason. The opening theme is suitable for vamps of all stamps, from Latin to funky, and the release offers effective contrast both rhythmically and harmonically. A tension in tonality is evident from the outset: this song in a minor key nonetheless parts on a major chord, and seems ready to go in either direction during the course of Porter's extended form. A composition of this sort presents many possibilities, and can work either as a loose jam or bear the weight of elaborate arrangement.” [pp.240-241]

The are a number of big band recorded versions of Love for Sale including one on Pacific Jazz that offers some exciting drum breaks by Buddy Rich [Big Swing Face].

In recent years, I have also become very partial to Johan Plomp’s arrangement of the tune which appeared on the RJO’s debut recording Introducing the Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra [2005].

You can hear this arrangement on the following video tribute to the RJO with Jan van Duikeren playing an extended trumpet solo in a manner that may rekindle memories of Clark Terry’s joyous flights of fancy on the instrument. Also listen throughout the performance for the kicks, fills and solos of Martijn Vink, one of today's best big band drummers. [See if you can pick-up the key change at 4:10 minutes following one of Martijn’s explosions.]

The Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra debut recording is available from Amazon and other online retailers and the RJO has its own website – – should you wish to find out more about the orchestra’s current activities.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Bass Players: Scott LaFaro and Gary Peacock

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

Sometimes I think the acoustic string bass is the least appreciated of all the instruments used in the making of Jazz. One obvious reason for this might be that you have to listen carefully to hear it as it is often overshadowed by the volume coming from the other instruments in a Jazz band, whatever the size.

Perhaps the lack of appreciation that bass players are subjected to is exemplified in the joke in which one member of a couple listening to set at a jazz club turns to the other and says: “It’s OK, we can talk now, it’s only the bass solo!”

Despite the relative obscurity of the instrument for the general listener, there have been a number of pioneering bassists in the history of the music who have significantly enhanced the manner in which Jazz bass is played. Among these, Jimmy Blanton, Oscar Pettiford and Charles Mingus come to mind almost immediately.

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, Scott La Faro and Gary Peacock rose to prominence by also appreciably adding to the technical and stylistic manner in which the instrument is played. 

Frankly, when Scotty and Gary first came up, they were “the talk of the town.” Everyone and anyone who heard them was impressed by what they were doing on the instrument.

Their sound was so strong that when you first heard it, you would have sworn that additional amplification was being used to create the huge tone that came out of their acoustic string instruments.

I was fortunate to hear both Scotty and Gary when they first made the scene with pianist Victor Feldman’s and pianist Claire Fischer’s trios, respectively.  Believe me, no one was talking when they played; everyone’s mouths were agape with astonishment at the stuff these guys were playing on a string bass.

The power and majesty that they generated on an instrument that was often thumped, whapped and plucked during its early years in Jazz combos was awe-inspiring.

Sadly, LaFaro was to die in tragic circumstances in 1961 at the age of 25, but fortunately for the Jazz world, Gary Peacock is still playing wonderfully in a variety of settings, most notably with pianist Keith Jarrett’s trio.

In 2009, Scott’s sister, Helene LaFaro-Fernandez authored Jade Visions: The Life and Music of Scott LaFaro which is still in print and available through the University of North Texas Press [Denton, TX].

Here’s what the esteemed Jazz critic Martin Williams had to say about Scott and Gary while both were still early in their careers in his Jazz Changes [New York: Oxford University Press, 1992].

© -Martin Williams, Oxford University Press - copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The 1960s produced several outstanding young bass players. It was as if Charlie Mingus had released the instrument in the 1950s and those who followed found their ways of exploring its new role. ...

Scott LaFaro, by Way of Introduction

It's quite a wonderful thing to work with the Bill Evans trio," said bassist Scott LaFaro.

"We are really just beginning to find our way. You won't hear much of that on our first record together, except a little on Blue in Green where no one was playing time as such. Bill was improvising lines, I was playing musical phrases behind him, and Paul Motian played in free rhythmic drum phrases."

LaFaro is dissatisfied with a great deal of what he hears in Jazz, but what he says about it isn't mere carping. He thinks he knows what to do about it, at least in his own playing. "My ideas are so different from what is generally acceptable nowadays that I sometimes wonder if I am a Jazz musician. I remember that Bill and I used to reassure each other some nights kiddingly that we really were Jazz musicians. I have such respect for so many modern classical composers, and I learn so much from them. Things are so contrived nowadays in Jazz, and harmonically it has been so saccharine since Bird."

Charlie Parker was already dead before Scott LaFaro was aware of him, even on records. In fact Scott LaFaro was not really much aware of jazz at all until 1955.

He was born in 1936 in Newark, New Jersey, but his family moved to Geneva, New York, when he was five. "There was always the countryside. I miss it now. I am not a city man. Maybe that is why Miles Davis touches me so deeply. He grew up near the countryside too, I believe. I hear that in his playing anyway. I've never been through that 'blues' thing either."

LaFaro started on clarinet at fourteen and studied music in high school. He took up bass on a kind of dare. "My father played violin with a small 'society' trio in town. I didn't know what I wanted to do when I had finished school, and my father said - half-joking, I think  -  that if I learned bass, I could play with them. When I did, I knew that I wanted to be a musician. It’s strange: playing clarinet and sax didn't do it, but when I started on bass, I knew it was music." He went to Ithaca Conservatory and then to Syracuse; it was there, through fellow students, that he began to listen to Jazz. He got a job in Syracuse at a place called the Embassy Club. "The leader was a drummer who played sort of like Sidney Catlett and Kenny Clarke. He formed my ideas of what Jazz was about. He, and the juke box in the place - it had Miles Davis records. And I first heard Percy Heath and Paul Chambers on that juke box. They taught me my first jazz bass lessons. There was also a Lee Konitz record with Stan Kenton called Prologue."

In late 1955, LaFaro joined Buddy Morrow's band. "We toured all over the country until I left the band in Los Angeles in September 1956. I didn't hear any Jazz or improve at all during that whole time. " But a few weeks after he left Morrow, he joined a Chet Baker group that included Bobby Timmons and Lawrence Marable. "I found out so much from Lawrence, a lot of it just from playing with him. I have trouble getting with people rhythmically and I learned a lot about it from him. I learned more about rhythm when I played with Monk last fall; a great experience. With Monk, rhythmically, it's just there, always."

LaFaro remembers two other important experiences in California. The first was hearing Ray Brown, whose swing and perfection in his style impressed him. The other came when he lived for almost a year in the mountain-top house of Herb Geller and his late wife, Lorraine. "I practiced and listened to records. I had - I still have  - a feeling that if I don't practice I will never be able to play. And Herb had all the Jazz records; I heard a lot of music, many people for the first time, on his records."

In September 1958 LaFaro played with Sonny Rollins in San Francisco, and later he worked with the same rhythm section behind Harold Land. “I think horn players and pianists have probably influenced me the most, Miles Davis, Coltrane, Bill Evans, and Sonny perhaps deepest of all. Sonny is technically good, harmonically imaginative, and really creative. He uses all he knows to make finished music when he improvises.”

“I found out playing with Bill that I have a deep respect for harmony, melodic patterns, and form. I think a lot more imaginative work could be done within them than most people are doing, but I can't abandon them. That's why I don't think I could play with Ornette Coleman. I used to in California; we would go looking all over town for some place to play. I respect the way he overrides forms. It's all right for him, but I don't think I could do myself.”

“Bill gives the bass harmonic freedom because of the way he voices, and he is practically the only pianist who does. It's because of his classical studies. Many drummers know too little rhythmically, and many pianists know too little harmonically. In the trio we were each contributing something and really improving together, each playing melodic and rhythmic phrases. The harmony would be improvised; we would often begin only with something thematic and not a chord sequence.

'I don't like to look back, because the whole point in Jazz is doing it now. (I don't even like any of my records except maybe the first one I did with Pat Moran on Audio Fidelity.) There are too many things to learn and too many things you can do, to keep doing the same thing over and over. My main problem now is to get that instrument under my fingers so I can play more music.” (1960)

Gary Peacock: The Beauties of Intuition 

As recently as a year ago, few persons would have numbered Gary Peacock among the more proficient young bassists in Jazz. Today there are few who would not.

Scott LaFaro's unexpected death was a loss in several senses, not the least of which was regarding his contribution to development of the future role of the bass in Jazz, Peacock's recent spurt of development is a gain for much the same reason. His playing has come far indeed from that heard on a Bud Shank record released about two years ago. He is sure, incidentally, that “although you may have an idea of where you are in your work, a record will show you where you really are - you and anyone else who hears it."

Truly contemporary bass playing probably can be said to begin with Charlie Mingus-and perhaps Wilbur Ware and Red Mitchell. The most provocative young bassists do not play a quarter-note walk, 1-2-3-4/1-2-3-4-they do not play "time" and they do not necessarily play a harmonic part. And the horn players know that they do not need them to keep time or provide changes, harmonic reminders. The newer bassists do not merely “accompany" others and take an occasional solo but participate more directly in the music.

In their various ways, truly contemporary bass players are melodists - percussive melodists, lyric melodists, or in LaFaro’s case and Peacock's, virtuoso melodists. Furthermore, like the young horn men, they explore their instruments even beyond what is supposedly their legitimate range and function.

The Peacock who suddenly burst through on recordings with Clare Fischer and with Don Ellis and Paul Bley is a Peacock who is learning to make his way in the most advanced groups and among the most challenging young players in jazz.

He was born in Burley, Idaho, in 1935 and grew up there and in Washington state and Oregon. He studied piano for about six months when he was thirteen, and in junior high and high school was a drummer in student bands. He heard a great deal of so-called western-swing music, which is very popular in the Northwest.

One of his earliest conscious exposures to jazz came when he is sixteen. "A trumpeter I knew played me some of those early records by Bird and Dizzy - Salt Peanuts and those things," he said. I was really amazed, and I asked him who the second alto player was! I could hardly believe him when he answered there is only one."

Peacock left home at seventeen and spent a year in Los Angeles, studying vibraharp for several months at Westlake College. From 1954 to 1956, he was in the Army, stationed in, Germany. It was then that his interest in music really began to take shape. He found himself the leader of a group in which he played drums or piano, and occasionally vibes. But then his bass player left, and Peacock picked up the instrument.

Suddenly things were different: "My hands went down right almost from the beginning. The instrument seemed to fall under my fingers. I never really tried to learn bass - it was as if I just started playing it."

After the service, he went back to Los Angeles, went on the road with Terry Gibbs, and subsequently worked with (as he puts it). every group in the area except Red Norvo's - Harold Land, Art Pepper, Dexter Gordon, Bud Shank . . ..” In the course of  it, his whole approach to the bass changed from the old one to the new.

'I don't know exactly when it happened," Peacock said. "It must have been gradual. Before I realized it, I was there."

It definitely happened later than one evening he remembers when he chanced to end up on the same bandstand with Ornette Coleman. ("When he started to blow, I just froze; I couldn’t play.") But it happened.

Then he no longer had any trouble with groups that improvised freely and no longer had to work only with players who go through every piece cyclically and harmonically, ever repeating the structure.

"Only for about six months in 1959 did I put in any extra practicing and exploring my instrument. I had begun to try things I couldn't execute properly and had to find a way to play them. The rest of the time I learned on the job, just by playing and listening. I grew quite unsatisfied with just playing time. It became redundant, a strait jacket. Along with several people, I found that if a tempo is simply allowed to exist, you don’t need to play it - it's even redundant to play it.”

"But it is a personal thing. If it's right for a given player time, okay. But if it isn't, it won't feel right to him or sound to his listeners. "

This latter observation reflects an attitude that several young players seem to have: an awareness that what is right for them to play or to search for is not necessarily right for everyone.  Peacock, for instance, talks readily of his great admiration for Al Cohn and Zoot Sims and for the Modern Jazz Quartet. But the MJQ holds still another lesson for him, for theirs is truly a group music, and future Jazz will be truly group music.

"You know the title of that LP of Ornette Coleman’s,” he asked, This Is Our Music? I think that tells the story. I think in the future, we will hear a group music by equal participants.  Each member is going to have to be a leader to some extent.”

"It will have to be that way, In my own experience, we work now with a kind of psychic communication. We just know when a drummer has finished a phrase and when he has finished a solo. We know when a horn player has finished developing his ideas.”

"Perhaps this is only the first stage, and we will have different ideas later on. Perhaps we will have more conscious reasons for what we do, but for now, things are evolving this intuitive way.”

Peacock has thought about the dangers, delusions, an, contradictions in a freer music, however.

"The pitfall in the concept of freedom is that total musical freedom invites chaos," he said. "And I think we should also remember that freedom isn't necessarily valid unless it produces something. Also, so-called self-expression is not necessarily musical or artistic. I think we should keep those things in mind when we play. And most of all, we have to know when to stop. We must know when we have said it all, or when it isn't happening.”

"But for myself at this stage, I know that generally my best playing comes when I don't think too consciously about what I'm doing, and frankly that doesn't bother me too much. You can be specific about logical causes and about emotional causes, but about intuition there are no reasons. You just do what the intuition says. Incidentally, I think Ornette Coleman plays by intuition, too, not just feeling, as some people say. Anyway, I think that now we just have to play out the intuitions and see what happens. After all, if you go so far wrong, you'll eventually get back to what's right. And the only way to find out about some of the things we're working on is just plunge in and do them."

About the attitude that it is up to each player to explore the possibilities of his instrument, Peacock said, "Musicians tend not to regard their instruments as a whole. They take only a section of what can be done. The bass has two worlds. At the bottom, it affects everyone, especially in rhythm. At the top, you are into the piano's range and are more of a horn. There you can't upset the time and rhythm.”

"The thing to do is ask, 'What can I do with texture? Dynamics? Timbre? What can I do with one note? What can I do with the whole range? And can I extend it?' These ideas are reaching a lot of players, and particularly bass players - especially, I should name Steve Swallow in this. They are asking these questions, and asking how the answers affect the group music. But a player should work these things out at practice, not on the job. A job is a place to play, not experiment.”

"Take Ornette Coleman. He takes a note, bends it, twists it, even spits it out. It's beautiful; it gives the instrument a new life. Jimmy Giuffre is doing the same sort of thing with the clarinet."

Peacock has substituted for Steve Swallow in Giuffre's current trio on a couple of occasions and considers the experience among the most musically exciting he has had, "Jimmy and Paul [Bley] don't need anyone keeping time - in fact, it would get in their way. But playing with them is very exacting. They have really broken through recently. Their new Columbia record tells the story."

If Bley is not working with Giuffre, he and Gary Peacock can probably be found together. They worked recently at a Sunday session at New York City's Five Spot, with trumpeter Don Cherry and drummer Pete LaRoca, after which Bley moved over to the Take 3 coffee house to take his place with Giuffre and Swallow. Peacock and Bley also have made a television appearance on New York's educational Channel 13, and Peacock recently played a weekend with tenorist Archie Shepp and trumpeter Bill Dixon. But players of their persuasion don't get much of the work yet.

Nevertheless, it is very important to Peacock to be in New York now. "It only took me one day here to know that this is the place,” he said. "In Los Angeles, the first thing you think of doing is relaxing. In New York, we play things and work things out
things that need to be worked out. This is the place - the music the quality of the music, and the interest in it." (1963)

With the help of the ace graphics team at CerraJazz LTD and the production facilities at StudioCerra, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles has developed the following video tribute to Jazz bassists. The audio track features bassist Gary Peacock’s original composition “Liddledabllduya” [i.e.: ‘a little dab will do you’] on which he is joined by Carmell Jones, trumpet, Bud Shank on alto saxophone, Dennis Budimir on guitar and Mel Lewis on drums.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Dave Brubeck – The Economist Magazine and The Week Obituaries

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

For those of you who do not take The Economist or The Week, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought you might find their obituaries of Dave Brubeck, one of the seminal figures in the development of Jazz, to be of interest.

Many readers of these pages had the good fortune to experience and appreciate Dave Brubeck’s music.

In my case, it changed the course of my life – irrevocably.

The images that accompany the obituaries were selected by the magazines.

© -The Economist, December 15, 2012 copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Dave Brubeck, pianist and composer, died on December 5th, aged 91.

“TO PUT Dave Brubeck in a box was an unwise thing to do. He'd just jump right out again, big, broad and strong, with those horn-rimmed glasses and that crazy, slight­ly cross-eyed smile. Call him cool, and he'd tell you that many of his jazz arrangements were so hot, they sizzled. Lump him with players of white west-coast jazz, and he'd object that he felt more black than white. Suggest he was influenced by the pelting, intellectual strain of bebop that took over jazz in the 1940's, and he would say nope, he didn't listen to it; he only ever wanted to do his own thing. Call him the usher of a new jazz age, put him on the cover of Time magazine, where he landed in 1954, and he was crestfallen. Duke Ellington deserved all that, he said, but not him.

His contrarian ways went further. Give him a few bars of Beethoven, and he'd weave a jazz riff through it; but put him in the middle of a jazz set, and he would come up with classic counterpoint as strict as the "Goldberg Variations". Sing him a tune in C, and his left hand would play it in E flat; give him a jazz line in standard 4/4 time and he would play 5/4, 7/4, even 13/4 against it, relentlessly underpinning the adventure with big fat blocks of chords. He was a jazzman who struggled to read nota­tion and who graduated on a wing and an ear from his college music school; and he was also, in later years, a composer of can­tatas and oratorios who was proud to have written a Credo for Mozart's unfinished "Mass in C minor.”

The musicians he picked for his quartet, which dominated the popular jazz scene from 1951 to 1967, were chosen because they could break out of the box like him: Paul Desmond on feather-light, floating alto sax, Joe Morello razor-sharp and witty on drums, Eugene Wright rock-solid on bass. Their greatest success, an album called "Time Out" (1959) that sold more than 1M copies, was a collection of breezily poly tonal pieces in wild time signatures, center­ing on a Desmond piece called "Take Five" written in teasing 5/4, and "Blue Rondo a la Turk", devised by Mr. Brubeck after hearing street musicians playing in 9/8 in Istanbul. These two pieces alone consolidated the quartet's fame on campuses and in clubs all over America; but Columbia Records re­fused to release the album for a year, just baffled, said Mr. Brubeck impatiently, by the fact that it broke so many rules. It did, but hey, it sounded good.

Whenever he sat down at the piano-an instrument as satisfying, to him, as a whole orchestra-his aim was to get some­where he had never got before. It didn't matter how tired he was, how beat-up he felt. He wanted to be so inspired in his explorations that he would get beyond him­self. He liked to quote Louis Armstrong, who once told a woman who asked what he thought about as he played: "Lady, if I told you, your mind would explode." In his own words, he played dangerously, pre­pared to make any number of mistakes in order to create something he had never created before.

Horsebeat and heartbeat

Several people had set him on this path. His mother had first taught him piano when he preferred to be a rodeo-roper; her rippling playing of Chopin round the house he remembered in a piece called "Thank You". His platoon commander in 1944, having heard him doodling on a pi­ano, kept him away from the front line. And Darius Milhaud, his teacher after the war, taught him to see jazz as the natural id­iom of America and the music of free men. Mr. Brubeck believed seriously in jazz as a force for democracy: in post-Nazi Ger­many, in the Soviet Union, in the fragile post-war world (where he toured on be­half of the State Department) and in Amer­ica's South, where he insisted on perform­ing with his black bassist and, when he could, pushed him to the front of the stage.

Yet his mission was never to make jazz freer or more popular; it was to make mu­sic, pure and simple, any way he could. He sang his first polyrhythms against the steady trot of his horse as he rode round the 45,000 acres near Concord, California, where his father managed cattle. In high school, playing at rough miners' dances in the foothills of the Sierras, he would riskily "screw up the shuffle" by adding triplets to it. He wrote on the road, dreaming up "Un-square Dance" (in 7/4) while driving to New York, and composing "The Duke", his tribute to Ellington, against the beating windscreen wipers of his car. All this, with his use of folk songs and hymns and blues and birdcalls, his little snatches of homage to George Gershwin or Aaron Copland, and the freight-train urging of his playing, gave his jazz a flavour less of smoky dives than of open skies and plains.

Critics attacked him for getting rich from it. He said he had never wanted more than the union scale. They said he was too "European", too college-focused, that his music couldn't be danced to and hadn't got swing; he pointed out the happy feet tap­ping at his concerts, and the number of re­cords he sold. Above all they found it hard to believe that the most successful jazz in America was being played by a family man, a laid-back Californian, modest, gen­tle and open, who would happily have been a rancher all his days-except that he couldn't live without performing, because the rhythm of jazz, under all his extrapola­tion and exploration, was, he had discov­ered, the rhythm of his heart. •”

© -The Week, December 21, 2012 copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The Pianist Who Reshaped The Rhythms of Jazz

Dave Brubeck

“By the jazz world's wild stan­dards, Dave Brubeck was a total square. He didn't smoke or take drugs, and he limited himself to one martini before dinner. The pianist favored expressions like "baloney" and "you bet" over coarser alternatives. But when it came to music, Brubeck was anything but conven­tional. He experimented with challenging time signatures on tracks like "Take Five" and ran through all 12 keys on "The Duke," winning the respect of his harder-living contemporaries. On tour in the Netherlands in the 1950s, stride pianist Willie "The Lion" Smith was asked by a reporter, "Isn't it true that no white man can play jazz?" Smith gestured toward Brubeck and replied, "I'd like you to meet my son."

Nothing in Brubeck's background suggested that he was destined to be a jazz great. He grew up on the cattle ranch his father man­aged in northern California, said His mother, a classically trained pianist, banned her three sons from listening to the radio, believing they should play music if they wanted to hear it. The young Brubeck quickly mastered the piano, learning mostly by ear because he was born cross-eyed and had trouble reading music. Brubeck thought his future lay in ranching and had to be prodded to go to college, where at first he studied veterinary medicine. But he quickly "became smitten with jazz," said the Associated Press, and switched his major to music.

After graduating in 1942, Brubeck enrolled in the Army as an infantryman, only to be pulled from frontline duty and given a military band to lead. There he met Paul Desmond, who would become Brubeck's most important musical partner. The alto saxo­phonist "was a perfect foil; his lovely impas­sive tone was as ethereal as Brubeck's style was densely chorded," said The New York Times. Brubeck led a series of bands after being demobilized, and in 1951 he invited Desmond to join the Dave Brubeck Quartet.  The group's smooth West Coast sound proved a hit on college campuses, and "with the release of Time Out in 1959, Brubeck had an unexpected best seller," said The Washington Post. It became the first jazz LP to sell more than a million cop­ies, even though it included complex tunes like "Blue Rondo a la Turk." The piece is in 9/8 time—nine beats to the measure instead of the customary four beats—and blended Turkish folk rhythms with jazz and Mozart.

This success didn't "come without reservations in the jazz world," said The Guardian (U.K.). Some critics suggested that Brubeck only topped the charts because he was white, even though the pia­nist was a high-profile civil rights activist. He refused to play any venue that barred black musicians—his bassist, Gene Wright, was black—and he turned down a 1958 tour of South Africa when told that he could only perform with an all-white band. Brubeck always believed that race was irrelevant to music, explaining that jazz was based on the universal rhythm of the human heart. "It's the same anyplace in the world, that heartbeat," he said. "It's the first thing you hear when you're born—or before you're born— and it's the last thing you hear."”

As you can see from the following video montage, Dave made a lot of records.

One of my favorites is Jazz Impressions of the United States. From it, I have selected Dave’s composition Ode to A Cowboy as the audio track to the video.

The tune seemed a fitting tribute to Dave as his days of riding the range as a young man were perhaps the place where the polyrhythms he was so fond of may have first entered his mind.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ellington in Stuttgart

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

It’s always a great occasion when more of Duke Ellington’s music is made available through recordings, especially when these are made “in performance” [I hate the word “live;” what’s the alternative – “dead?”].

To my ears, nothing beats the sound of Jazz recorded as it is happening [recording studios can be such sterile places].

I have always enjoyed the simple lyricism and vivid gracefulness of the music composed by Duke and his close associate, Billy Strayhorn.

Duke and Billy wrote some of the most instantly recognizable melodies in the history of Jazz. You hear it, you hum it.

Needles to say, then, that the editorial staff at JazzProfiles was thrilled when JAZZHAUS released Big Band Live: Duke Ellington Orchestra [They didn’t ask our opinion on their choice of titles.]

“JAZZHAUS is the new music label featuring audio (and video) jazz programs taken from live radio and television recordings from the archives of Sudwestrundfunk. Jazz broadcasts by Sudwestrundfunk (SWR) started in the summer of 1947. Today, 65 years later, the archives contain about 1,600 audio and more than 350 television recordings of all major modern jazz artists - probably the biggest collection of unpublished live jazz recordings in the world: 3,000 hours - and almost all of it has never been released before. More than 400 ensembles and soloists are listed - many of them recorded three, four, five or more times over the decades.

For the last three years, the JAZZHAUS team has been thoroughly researching the vaults, carefully making the final selections. The old tapes are currently being re-mastered to high-end technology standards and will be released on CD, DVD, vinyl and as audio /video-on-demand downloads.”

Recorded at the Liederhalle in Stuttgart on March 6, 1967 Big Band Live: Duke Ellington Orchestra [#101703] contains thirteen [13] previously unreleased performance fFrom the Sudwestrundfunk Archives with an Ellington band that features Cat Anderson, Cootie Williams, Paul Gonsalves, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney,Russell Procope, Jimmy Hamilton, et al.

Michael Bloom’s firm is once again handling the media relations for Naxos of America, the north American distributors of the JAZZHAUS series and he sent along a press release that contains the following review by  Jonathan Woolf which appeared on MusicWeb International.

“The Ellington road show hit Stuttgart in March 1967. Cootie Williams was back in the serried ranks but Billy Strayhorn was nearing the end; he died a few weeks after the concert. The tunes played reflect a diverse range of Strayhorn and Ellington and beyond - beyond being represented by Raymond Fol's tune Salome. According to W.E. Timmer's massive Ellingtonia, a number of other songs were performed but aren't presented in this 73-minute disc, including long time favourites such as Blood Count and Things Ain't, as well as, Mount Harissa and Drag.

We must be grateful for the material that has been preserved and presented in such good sound here. Procope and Hamilton form a formidable clarinet choir, echoing the late 20s days in Swamp Goo with the former taking an extensive cadential passage. Knob Hill is a sinuous Latin American swinger with hints of Horace Silver. Gonsalves rips through it. One can hear Ellington's very ducal piano prompts in that genial finger snapper, Eggo, whilst Cat Anderson's trumpet, like a dazzling Bird of Paradise, is peculiarly iridescent in La Plus Belle Africaine. We also hear Harry Carney's evocative lowing, Jimmy Hamilton's famously 'straight' clarinet and the fine bass playing of John Lamb, often overlooked in discussions on the subject of Ellingtonian rhythm sections.

Lawrence Brown has his feature on Rue Bleue whilst Carney's is on A Chromatic Love Affair where he displays his incredible tonal variety - at points, you'd swear he was playing tenor and not baritone. Anderson finally goes stratospheric on Fol's Salome, whilst his desk partner Williams arrives for a preaching outing on the Gospel-drenched The Shepherd and stays to turn up the heat on his well-loved Tuttifor Cootie. At long last Johnny Hodges casts his hypnotic spell on Freakish Lights before drummer Rufus Jones has an animated, though occasionally tawdry, bash during Kixx.

Ellington kept up a mighty schedule, of which this single concert (or part of it) forms a useful element. The band seldom slipped lower than great. What a privilege it would have been to have seen them in the flesh.”

In his insert notes to the disc, the recording’s producer, Ulli Pfau, offered these observations about the music on Big Band Live: Duke Ellington Orchestra [JAZZHAUS 101703].


Ellington considered two topics to be off-limits: illness and death. It was for this reason he refused to make a will to the last, fearful of tempting fate and provoking his own demise. He was able to main­tain his orchestra ("the most important thing in my life") with the millions he earned from Tempo, his music publishing company - always conscious of the need to surround himself with individualists; some players stayed with him for decades. Almost constantly on the road following his comeback in Newport in 1956, his career staging posts were largely marked by the studio recordings. He released around 35 albums between 1960 and 1967 alone, including adaptations of classi­cal works, the "Far East Suite" and the "Sacred Concerts".

1967 was a year of triumphs: the outstanding trumpeter Cootie Williams, unbe­lievable in "The Shepherd" and "Tutti for Cootie", was back on board; but then tragedy struck again a few weeks after the Stuttgart concert with the death of Duke's alter ego Billy Strayhorn.

Throwing caution to the wind and refusing to rely solely on time-served hits, Duke and his 14 musicians launch themselves into the new adventure. "Johnny Come Lately" breaks the ice, "Swamp Goo" featuring clarinettist Russell Procope has the magical "Jungle Sound", Paul Gonsalves' tenor sax dances though "Knob Hill", Cat Anderson's trumpet hit the strato­sphere and Harry Carney's baritone horn gives a close-up account of "A Chromatic Love Affair".”

Here’s a sample track from Big Band Live: Duke Ellington Orchestra [JAZZHAUS 101703].