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.