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.

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].

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Houdini’s – “Kickin’ In The Front Window”

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

“There is something very magical about this band called The Houdini's. The six young Dutch masters who first travelled to America in 1991 to record at the legendary Rudy Van Gelder stu­dio, appear to be, like that famous engineer, wizards when it comes to sound. The group combines sophisti­cated, often daring harmonies with clever juxtapositions of rhythms to create the sonic illusion of a much larger band than a three horn sextet.”
- Russ Musto, Insert Notes to Kickin’ in the Front Window [Timeless CD SJP 405]

“If one is trying to understand the everlasting debate about what is happening in the field of jazz nowadays, he will find that the 'know-it-alls', in their tendency of labeling and polarization, have two options available for the new jazz talent. Either the musician gets himself a hip outfit, a stage full of overly expensive electronic-equipment and accordingly a pile of debts, or he puts on a shabby face, dives into the past of bebop and proclaims it sacred. All of this is nonsense of course, since jazz is a very lively and independent form of music, giving its comment on events of its own time. Jazz should not move into rock music's place nor become the musical conscience of those who can't move away from Lady Nostalgia.

If you ask me, THE HOUDINI'S won't have themselves labeled in either way, and that alone is already worth mentioning. During their numerous live-performances this successful jazz-sextet proves that it is very well possible to combine certain acquisitions from the past with more recent musical developments and keep their own kind of music very much alive.

Exciting compositions (most of them are originals) and all soloists with a daring bravura make an unique event out of every live-concert for the audience as well as for the musicians. Therefore it has been a wise decision to record this first HOUDINI'S-CD live in one of the better jazz clubs in Holland. No colorless digital studio sound but a very fine live-recording of an astoundingly hard working jazz group with a more than enthusiastic audience. Thrilling music without boundaries, not made to have itself labeled whatsoever unless you want to label it for its high quality, and there is no harm at all in doing that.”
- Hans Dulfer, Insert Notes to The Houdini’s: Live at The Paradox [Timeless CDSJP 349;translated from the Dutch by Angelo Verploegen]

“The North Sea Jazz Festival every summer in The Hague is an enormous musical buffet. Hundreds of musicians play hour after hour all at once on thirteen stages around the Concertgebouw.  It’s impossible to listen to everything, so I meander from gig to gig. If the music doesn’t excite me I’ll venture elsewhere. If the music is good, I’ll stay a while. But there’s always so much happening that I almost never stay for a whole performance.

One delightful exception at the North Sea 1991 was the performance of a young Dutch band – The Houdini’s …. I was also amused by the name. I mean, whill The Houdini’s play magical Jazz? … [Listening to them play] It felt as though I had walked into a time warp.

What I heard was Village Vanguard in the 1960s [because] what The Houdini’s played was vintage Blue Note, or that’s what the music felt like.

They weren’t playing the actual Lee Morgan or Hank Mobley or Art Blakey tunes. They were playing original tunes, but with a groove and a spirit very much like the Jazz Messengers.

They weren’t imitating the Blue Note sound, they were refreshing it. And it was obvious that for them, playing this music is great fun. I felt the same and stayed to the end.”
Michael Bourne, Insert Notes to Headlines: The Houdini’s In New York [Timeless CD SJP 382]

There’s so much going on in the World of Dutch Jazz  that the editorial staff at JazzProfiles constantly finds itself returning to Holland for themes for its blog features.

The Houdini’s is a sextet that has become a recurring favorite since I first heard it about a dozen years ago thanks to a CD that a friend in Holland sent me.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the group’s recording debut under this name. Over this span of time, the Houdini's have undergone some instrumentation [trombone in place of tenor saxophone] and personnel changes in the bass and drum chairs, but its pulsating sound and driving rhythms have remained essentially the same. The group emphasizes very dynamic and well-balanced ensemble playing.

The three original horn players Angelo Verploegen (trumpet and flugelhorn), Rolf Delfos (alto sax and soprano sax) and Boris Vanderlek (tenor sax), started working together in 1986. That's when they recorded the soundtrack of the Dutch movie Blonde Dolly (WEA 242 084-1).

In 1987 they joined the Boulevard of Broken Dreams Orchestra with which they recorded the album Dancing with Tears in My Eyes (Idiot Records 832 714-1) and toured through Europe and Canada.

It was the musical director of this orchestra, Gert Jan Blom, who came up with the idea of putting a hardbop-sextet together for the 1987 Canada tour of Boulevard of Broken Dreams and named it “The Houdini’s.”

When the three, original horn players returned to Holland, they added a new rhythm section consisting of Erwin Hoorweg, piano and keyboards, Stefan Lievestro, double bass and Pieter Bast, drums.

With this line-up, The Houdini’s began performing at Dutch jazz-clubs [the Paradox in Tilburg, Holland] and festivals like HEINEKEN JAZZ FESTIVAL in Rotterdam and NORTH SEA JAZZ FESTIVAL in The Hague and appearing live on the radio-shows JAZZSPECTRUM and TROS SESJUN.

Thankfully, for those of us without ready access to The Netherlands, The Houdini’s have recorded many CDs on Timeless Records (Live At Paradox, Headlines: Kickin' In The Frontwindow), Challenge Records (Hybrid, Play The Big Five, Cooee, Live At Kiama Jazz Festival, Stripped To The Bone), Channel Classics (Porgy & Bess), Munich Records (Chasin' The General), Blue Note Records (Strange Fruit, with Trijntje Oosterhuis) and Social Beats Records (Unleashed and Remixed)

The band toured Europe, the USA, Canada and Australia and did co-productions at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw with a string orchestra, the Amsterdam New Sinfonietta conducted by Richard Dufallo;  the Schönberg Ensemble conducted by John Adams; the Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw conducted by Henk Meutgeert; the film score from Buster Keaton's silent movie The General.

The Houdini’s personnel today is made up of Angelo Verploegen on trumpet, Ilja Reijngound on trombone, Rolf Delfos on alto saxophone, Erwin Hoorweg on piano, Marius Beets on bass and Bram Wijland on drums.

If you are a fan of straight-ahead Jazz,  The Houdini’s is a group that’s well-worth checking out.

The following video features the group performing Kickin’ in the Front Window, one of their signature pieces, at the 1996 Kiama Jazz Festival in Australia. During their Australia tour, Barend Middlehoff was with them on tenor saxophone in place of Ilja Reijngoud.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

In Walked Walter Davis, Jr.

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

“A PROBLEM that frequently confronts jazz musicians is the basic one of what to play. Jazz has always consisted on what is, for the most part, a borrowed repertoire. The first jazz bands played marches and quadrilles, and today you hear mostly popular and show tunes. Fortunately, there are certain musicians with the gift for composition, who are able to supply their own material, thereby making a musical statement completely their own, rather than borrowing from a storehouse of music they might find less suitable
Of course, every jazz musician is a composer in a sense; in fact, some people define a jazz solo as spontaneous composition. Some solos have been turned into compositions by other hands — Lester Young and Charlie Parker have both received this tribute, and a phrase of Dizzy Gillespie's, for instance, was reworked by Tadd Dameron into the lovely If You Could See Me Now. And the world of jazz history is full of so-called "originals," most of them vanishing with the same speed it took to write them. Occasionally, though, one of these "originals" achieves some degree of permanence, and some of them have passed into the basic repertoire — Milt Jackson's "Bags' Groove," for example.

But beyond this, there are a few men who can rightly be called jazz composers, and, perhaps not so surprisingly, four of the most important of them have been pianists: Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, and John Lewis. In speaking of any of these men, you can always get a good argument going about which aspect of their careers are most important — their music, their groups, or their piano playing.

To take this very brief discussion right down to the present, what amounts to a new school of jazz composition is to be found in the person of Horace Silver. The conjunction of Silver and the Jazz Messengers, and the music Silver has written for that and subsequent groups, is probably the single greatest impetus to the "funky" school. Some examples of this work have achieved enormous popularity, such as Senor Blues on Blue Note 1539, and other instances are scattered liberally throughout the Blue Note catalogue, but the one record that may have been the start of it all is Blue Note 1518, which includes such near-standards as The Preacher.

And here, on this album, is a young man, another pianist, composing in the same tradition — Walter Davis Jr. On his first Blue Note album, Jackie McLean's New Soil (BLP 4013) he contributed three tunes, notably the bouncing, humorous Greasy. On this, his first album as a leader, he contributed all the music. There is a difference between composition and the mere sketching out of riffs, and Walter Davis Jr. has gone a long way toward achieving this distinction. It is practically a parlor game in some circles to put the newest "original" on the phonograph and then figure out what song it really is — what standard has had its harmony lifted to provide the basis. This music will afford little satisfaction to players of that game. They are truly compositions, varied in mood, rhythm, and harmony.

One of the things that Walter Davis Jr. has kept in mind on this album is one of the best lessons of the great Duke Ellington, a lesson so simple it is often overlooked — write for the men who are going to play your music. As I mentioned, Davis is in the Silver tradition. At present, he is pianist with Art Blakey and he has chosen as soloists two men associated, at various times, with these musicians — Donald Byrd [tp] and Jackie McLean [as]….
Sam Jones and Art Taylor, on bass and drums, are veterans of several Blue Note sessions, and provide here their usual sympathetic support….”
- Joe Goldberg, insert notes to Davis Cup [Blue Note B-232098]

Up the street from the “old” Yoshi’s Jazz club and restaurant in Berkeley, CA was a small shop that sold LP’s [or, as they are referred to today – “vinyl”] and CD’s.

In typical Berkeley fashion, the shop had a distinctive name – D.B.A. Brown – and although I never asked, I assume the “D.B.A.” reference was to the standard initials for the phrase “doing business as.”

After driving over from San Francisco to catch pianist Benny Green’s trio at the club, I had a little time to kill before the first set so I parked my car in the nearby Dreyfus Ice Cream factory lot and strolled over to D.B.A. Brown.

While browsing the music on offer at the shop, I came across a solo piano CD by Walter Davis, Jr. entitled In Walked Thelonious [Mapleshade 56312] which I purchased with the idea that it would “keep my company” on the drive back to the city.

When the doors to the club opened, I was able to get a table close to Benny’s piano. I laid the Walter Davis, Jr. Monk tribute disc on the table, took off my jacket and placed an order with the cocktail waitress.

After playing a magnificent first set with his trio consisting of Christian McBride on bass and Kenny Washington on drums, Benny stepped down from the bandstand, noticed the In Walked Thelonious CD and said to me: “Isn’t Walter Davis, Jr. a gas?”

The next thing I know, Benny had seated himself at my table and began to regale me with stories about how Walter Davis, Jr. and Walter Bishop, another pianist who played in the style of Bud Powell, had helped him when he moved to New York [Benny grew up in Berkeley] and how much he had learned from them over the years. He couldn’t say enough nice things about these men.

Interestingly, although it was many years apart, we both first experienced Walter Davis, Jr. by listening to him on Jackie McLean’s New Soil Blue Note recording.

In addition to his marvelous Bud Powell/Horace Silver-inflected piano solos and accompaniment, Walter had contributed three, original contributions to New Soil [BLP 4013].

Alfred Lion of Blue Note Records was so impressed with Walter that soon thereafter, he featured him on his own LP entitled Davis Cup. [CDP 7243 8 32098 2 8]

I must admit that I hadn’t really followed Walter’s career that closely after those early Blue Note recordings.

But I’d really loved his writing and enjoyed his piano playing enough to pick up the Mapleshade CD featuring his solo piano interpretations of Monk’s tunes.

Walter’s treatment of Thelonious music was a revelation to me for as Pierre M. Sprey, the producer of the CD put it: “… in listening to Walter play Monk, I learned more about the inner workings of Monk’s music than in my previous thirty years of listening to the original.”

Talk about the serendipitous way that Life works: I had not heard Walter Davis, Jr. play for almost three decades and here I was listening to him play what has to be considered as one of the definitive solo piano treatments of Monk’s music ever recorded.

Pierre M. Sprey’s complete insert notes to In Walked Thelonious [Mapleshade 56312] are as follows.

© -Pierre M. Sprey, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Walter Davis, Jr. had been thinking about a solo recording project ever since he left Dizzy Gillespie's group in 1986. There was no question in Walter's mind as to what the album would be. It would be dedicated entirely to the music of his mentor and close friend, Thelonious Monk—a thank-you to the New York bebop giant who had taken Walter, a gifted East Orange, New Jersey teenager, under his wing in 1949.

Until the day he died in June, 1990, Walter did things the hard way. The Monk project was no exception. Rather than picking eight or ten comfortable Monk stan­dards and rehearsing them for a few days, he immersed himself in fifty of Monk's toughest compositions for two months, deliberately leaving the choice of which to record until the moment he sat down at the studio Steinway. As though things weren't difficult enough, he limited himself to three minutes pertune, saying, "I just want to get in, say what I have to say, and get out—no endless b.s. solos."

A week before the long-planned first recording session, Walter, a deeply mystical man, called me early one morning. Without saying hello, he said with a quiet intensity, "Man, you won't believe what happened to me last night. I sat down to my electric piano and Thelonious came into the room. I played for three hours and never even turned on the piano" For Walter, this was no vision or metaphor. Thelonious Monk really was in his basement practicing room, giving him specific technical lessons on how to play Monk, correcting Walter's tempo on one tune, revamping his chord voicings on another, showing him how to put more "stride" feeling into a third.

Still, I didn't fully understand how deeply Walter felt that this recording was to be a dialogue between himself and Monk until we got started. Most of the five days we worked in the studio, it was just Walter at the beautiful old Steinway and me at the tape recorder. But Walter was clearly playing for someone else. Every time he'd pull off a tricky time change or voice a chord in some startling way, he'd shoot a sly look of triumph sideways at the air—the kind of look you see when jazz musicians play to impress each other.

At one point, Walter was falling short of the strict standards he had set for himself. The tune was "Gallop's Gallop," intricate and laden with pitfalls. Walter had already tried eight takes, breaking off, deeply dissatisfied and frustrated, in the middle of each one. When I couldn't bear it anymore, I suggested he proceed to another tune, maybe return to this one later.

Walter replied instantly, "You don't understand, Pierre. If I don't do the hard ones, Thelonious will be laughing at my ass for the rest of my life." And indeed, on the ninth take, he whipped off a witty and jewel-like rendition—one that, no doubt, earned an approving chuckle from Monk.

In those five days of listening to Walter play Monk, I learned more about the inner workings of Monk's music than in my previous thirty years of listening to the original. Yetthis album presents neither a mere skillful imitation nor a Davis-style reinterpretation of Monk (even though Walter could have performed either task had he wanted). Instead, this album is a brilliant illumination of the elements that made Monk unique and unforgettable: the little boy playfulness, the devilish delight in startling harmonic or rhythmic twists, the teasing with slightly changed quotations from familiar standards, the old-time "stride" piano sound in the midst of modern harmonies, and the stark emotion of those angular, unadorned ballad lines. Walter has somehow managed to intensify each of these facets—in a way that sounds just like what Monk would have played had he chosen to let us in on his secrets. Yet he has also fused these elements into concise, polished gems quite different from Monk's own constructions.

For sheer playfulness, check out Walter's "Green Chimneys." For ballad lines of austere beauty, listen to what he does with "Ruby, My Dear." In "Criss Cross," Walter dissects Monk's devilish trickiness. "Gallop's Gallop" becomes a swinging vehicle for clarifying the stride roots in Monk's composition.

If you want to come to grips with what has been achieved here, compare some of Walter's versions side by side with Monk's. Pick something as overplayed as "'Round Midnight." If you listen first to Monk's solo version (on Blue Note's Genius of Modem Music, Vol. 1), then listen to either of Walter's versions, your immediate reaction will be surprise at how much Walter's improvisation differs without violating any aspect of Monk's spirit. Your second reaction will probably be to put the Monk solo back on the turntable because Walter's clear exposition has suddenly made you aware of the subtleties you missed the first time around.

Perhaps the most spontaneous tribute to Walter's otherworldly achievement in these sessions comes from Dwike Mitchell, the pianist in the Mitchell-Ruff duo. Several months after these sessions, I happened to be playing the tapes for Dwike. I had told him nothing about Walter's immersion in the Monk project or about Monk's "visit" to Walter's basement. After two cuts, Dwike stopped the tape and said, "I've been listening to Walter all my life and I know exactly how he plays. What's on this tape is not Walter; it's Monk playing through Walter's hands."

Here’s a sampling of what’s on offer in Walter Davis, Jr.’s In Walked Thelonious [Mapleshade 56312]. The tune is Monk’s rarely heard Gallop’s Gallop.