Thursday, February 28, 2013

Kandinsky and Kenton: An Artistic Accord

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

“Beginning in the mid-1940’s, Kenton found an enthusiastic, ever-growing, devoted audience. His music seemingly spoke to the postwar young and veterans of World War II. The enveloping, orgasmic sound of the orchestra had a hypnotic quality. The general feeling was that Kenton was hip. And though many critics disagreed vehemently, supporters of the orchestra would have none of that. They loved with a passion this vivid, often stirring, immoderately loud music that made them feel good and seemed to promise something for the future.”
- Burt Korall, Jazz author and critic

There’s a tremendous bond between Jazz musicians.

They know how hard it is to play this music; harder still to create it.

As a result, Jazz musicians have a ready respect for others who demonstrate a facility in navigating the music’s many challenges.

The knowing look; the smile of appreciation; the nodding of the head in approval are all subtle signs accorded to a musician who can make it happen in Jazz.

Jazz doesn’t exist; it has to be brought into existence by the improvising skills of the musician, individually and in combination.

Of course, the melodies, chord structures and blues frameworks that these improvisations are based on are, for the most part, written compositions.

But this notated music only serves as a point of departure.

Jazz is almost impossible to teach, but it can be learned.

In Jazz, one of the sincerest forms of flattery is indeed imitation; copying the work of others in order to get the “feel” of how Jazz is done and to develop one’s own sensibilities for making it.

It’s like trying on our elders’ clothes until one is able to “dress” oneself with originality, assurance and style.

When it all comes together and one finds one’s own voice in Jazz, there’s a tremendous sense of satisfaction and power in what the author Arthur Koestler once described as “The Act of Creation.”

Although I am not at all practiced in other, creative arts, I am told by many who are that artists share a similar affinity with the work of each other be they painters or poets or photographers; essayists or writers or biographers; playwrights or actors or movie directors.

Sometimes these artistic accords cross lines and combine well with one another.

Imagine viewing motion pictures with film scores by Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith or Ennio Morricone, or listening to Leonard Bernstein or Sting read the narrative to Tchaikovsky’s Peter and The Wolf  while the symphony orchestra plays out the sounds of each of the characters or any of the multitude of multi-media experiences that we create for ourselves like viewing photographs or reading a novel while listening to music.

The arts blend and form a concurrence with one another because each in their own way takes us through perception into the world of imagination, emotion and atmospheric mood. 

Artistic expression also satisfies our need to shape our own world; our individualism, as it were.

Part of growing up is rejecting the world of our parents [without, of course, rejecting them] and seeking out our own interests and world view. Artists help us to do this by replacing the powerful ambiguity of imitation with the thrilling assurance of finding our own preferences.

Artists often pave the way for the new. In Jazz, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, and Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives were followed by the big bands of The Swing Era and they, in turn, were followed by Bebop and various forms of progressive or modern Jazz.

In painting, Greek and Roman art was followed by that of Medieval Times, and then the Renaissance, Mannerism, The Baroque and the various schools of Modern Art including, Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism, Post-Impression and the many schools of Twentieth Century painting and sculpture.

Two examples of artists that strike me as constantly searching and probing for new directions while having an artistic unity based in iconoclasm are the painter Wassily Kandinsky [1866-1944] and the composer-arranger-bandleader Stan Kenton [1911-1979].

Put into a simpler form: I like listening to Kenton’s music while viewing Kandinsky’s art. Both are known for their daring.

Kandinsky died in 1944, a few years after Kenton formed his first big band in 1941. As a Russian living in Germany, Kandinsky’s art reflected the chaos of German culture before and between the two, world wars.

A leading member of a group of Munich artists known as “Der Blaue Reiter” [The Blue Horsemen], Kandinsky abandoned representational art altogether.

Using a rainbow of colors and a free, dynamic brushwork, Kandinsky created a completely non-objective style.

Whatever traces of representation his work contains are quite unintentional – his aim was to charge form and color with a purely spiritual meaning [as he put it] by eliminating all resemblance to the physical world.

Not to push the analogy between art and music too closely, but Stan Kenton in his music, as did Kandinsky in his painting, eventually eschewed representational forms of the Jazz while pursuing more abstract forms of the music.

He didn’t want his band to swing or his music to be danced to, he wanted it to be modern, contemporary, and progressive.

But most of all he wanted his music to be listened to, to have an impact, to be felt!

Big, brassy and bombastic, Kenton’s musical conception was orchestral bordering on the grandiose. His music wasn’t mainstream, if anything, it was characterized by a concerted effort to attack established Jazz “traditions.”

Can you imagine standing in front of the Kenton band when it unleashed the power and majesty of its music?

Trumpets screaming, French Horns heralding, trombones blatting, and tuba’s bellowing bass notes – what a rush!

I feel the same flash of excitement when I view Kandinsky’s paintings with their bold, bright colors, non-objective configurations and juxtaposition of shapes and patterns.

Both Kandinsky and Kenton were spurred on by the artistic urge to find their own style; to do it their way.

“Kandinsky's—or any artist's [Kenton?]—ideas are not important to us unless we are convinced of the importance of his pic­tures. Did he create a viable style? Admittedly, his work demands an intuitive response that may be hard for some of us, yet the painting here reproduced has density and vitality, and a radiant freshness of feeling that impresses us even though we are uncertain what exactly the artist has expressed.” [H.W. Janson, History of Art].

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Big Band Jazz From St. Petersburg … Russia!

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

From viewing occasional photographs of its beautiful buildings, castles and canals and its many parks and open spaces, over the years, I had a limited awareness of St. Petersburg, the charming Russian city often called “The Venice of the North.”

But I had very little idea of how the city came into existence until I received Robert Massie’s Peter The Great: His Life and His World [New York: Ballantine Books, 1980] as a Christmas gift.

I had been very impressed with Massie’s earlier biography, Nicholas and Alexandria, a book that was meticulously researched, definitive and yet, at the same time, extremely readable.

Massie is often referred to as a “popular or narrative historian,” a group that has come to include such distinguished writers as William Manchester for his books on Churchill and J.F.K, David McCullough for his books on Truman and John Adams, and, most recently, Robert Caro for his monumental four-volume biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson.

All have deservedly won Pulitzer Prizes, National Book Awards and many other major literary honors.

Massie’s book on Peter The Great [1672-1725] is a fascinating story about how Peter yanked Russia into the then “modern” world by in effect leading a cultural revolution that replaced the traditionalist and medieval social and political system with a modern, scientific Europe-oriented and rationalist system of government.

The “Window on the West” through which he viewed this transformation was St. Petersburg which Peter created in 1703 on the marshy swamps where the Neva River drains northward into the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea.

Peter The Great: His Life and World is a riveting recounting of the journey of one of the World’s Great Souls. “Impetuous and stubborn, generous and cruel, tender and unforgiving, a man of enormous energy and complexity…,” Peter The Great almost single-handedly transformed Russia into a modern world power before his death at the age of 53.

Almost ten years to the day later, I was once again put in touch with the splendors of St. Petersburg, this time courtesy of the release of the movie The Russia House on Christmas Day, 1990.

This beautifully photographed film is based on writer Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of John le Carré’s book by the same title.

Directed by Fred Schepisi and starring Sean Connery, Michele Pfeiffer, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Roy Scheider and a host of great character actors, the movie was one of the first to be shot on location in Moscow and St. Petersburg by a US film crew.

Topping it all off is a magnificent film score by Jerry Goldsmith, one of the true masters of movie music, that emphasizes the talents of Branford Marsalis and the gorgeous tone that he gets on the soprano saxophone, pianist Michael Lang and bassist John Patitucci.

The closing credits are screened over seven minutes of scrumptious scenes of Moscow and St. Petersburg with Branford, Mike and John improvising in the background following the orchestra’s statement of Jerry’s main theme for the movie.

I was so overwhelmed by the magnificent photography, particularly of St. Petersburg, Jerry Goldsmith’s score and Branford, Mike and John playing that I put together my own video montage using this music in conjunction with selected images of St. Petersburg.

This may be difficult to believe, but the Alexander Orloff photographs of St. Petersburg that I use in the video were drawn from Dimitri Shvidkovsky’s St. Petersburg: Architecture of the Tsars [New York: Abbeville Press Publishers, 1996] which was given to me as a gift on Christmas Day - 2000!

The next interregnum in my involvement with St. Petersburg was to be longer than ten years, but only just, as the city once again entered my life this time in the form of a big band Jazz CD that was recorded there and sent to me by an internet friend who resides there.

His name is Serge Bogdanov and he is one of the driving forces behind and the principal arranger for The Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra, the resident Jazz Big Band in St. Petersburg, Russia!

The CD is entitled The Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra Letter to a Friend [Art Beat Music AB-CD-11-2012-038] and it contains six original compositions, four of them by Gennady Golshtein and three standards, all arranged by Serge. Gennady is Serge’s mentor and some of you may remember a tune that Victor Feldman recorded on his Plays Soviet Jazz Themes entitled Gennadi which Golshtein composed and gave to Victor when he was part of the Benny Goodman Orchestra that toured the USSR in 1962.

Interestingly, the Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra’s Letter to a Friend has a CD release party scheduled for February 27th 2013 at the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Jazz Hall.

Three weeks earlier on February 6, 2013, a concert to celebrate the book Russian Jazz: 90 years of history in two volumes was held in the same venue.

It would seem that Russia has an almost a century-old involvement with Jazz and the Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra’s Letter to a Friend CD is a facet of the continuing evolution Jazz in St. Petersburg and in Russia as a whole.

Printed in 2012 by the Planet Music publishing house based in St. Petersburg, its publication was timed to coincide with the 90th anniversary of Jazz in Russia.

Included in the two-volume collection are materials covering the early stages of Jazz’s development in Russia, a review of formative period of Soviet Jazz in the second half of the XX century and biographical information about current masters of Russian Jazz and young stars of the national Jazz scene.

The book’s chief editors are Alexander Peterson and Kirill and Anna Moshkov Filipeva - founders of www.Dzhaz.Ru [a Russian Jazz portal with news, reviews and festival information]. The work includes essays by leading jazz journalists and critics including Vladimir Feiertag, Alex Batashev, Michael Mitropolsky and many others. 

The concert in honor of the book’s publication included a musical program by Gennady Gholstein and his Orchestra, the "Saxophones of St. Petersburg," trumpet and flugelhorn player David Goloshchekin’s band and vocals by Ella Trafova.

Both Gennady Gholstein and David Goloschkein have played major roles as mentors and patrons to both Serge Bogdanov and the Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra.

Serge’s arrangements reflect a kind of brief history of modern Jazz orchestration. They contain elements that were characteristic of the first three Woody Herman Herds when Ralph Burns, Neal Hefti and Al Cohn were doing the writing for those bands. The lightness and clarity of Neal Hefti’s later writing for the Count Basie New Testament Band [1959-1960] is also apparent in Serge’s work as is the linear writing of the charts that Gerry Mulligan did for the Stan Kenton Orchestra, as well as, Mulligan and Bob Brookmeyer’s scores for the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band of the 1960s

But as Serge himself notes, the most dominant influence on his writing is that of Thad Jones’ conception which had its most complete expression in the orchestra that Thad co-led for many years with drummer Mel Lewis and has right through to the sound of the current Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. I also hear strains of the late Gil Evans in Serge’s voicings. Perhaps these come through Thad who had great respect for Gil’s unique ability to use instruments in unusual combinations.

While myriad influences are discernible in his style, Serge’s orchestrations have their own stamp, their own distinctiveness that make them different than anything you’ve hear before.

For one so young, Serge has developed great skill as an orchestrator. His charts have a particular emphasis on the middle register and a relaxed and easy swing.

He often carries the lead voicing with the soprano sax wrapped in the warm sound of mellow brass played in unison; no screeching in the upper register or bass pedal tones thrown in for effect, the music just flows.

Serge’s writing is based on an uncomplicated swing, but yet, it is full of pep and definition.

The Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra is very adept at playing these arrangements. The sections play well individually but they also easily blend together as a full band. While the band sounds well rehearsed, it doesn’t sound mechanical.

What is so startling about Serge’s arrangements and the playing of the Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra is how professional and mature they both sound.

One wonders how these traits can be so fully developed in a Jazz big band that, judging from its photographs, is made-up of relatively young musicians.

All must have superb teachers, have spent many hours listening to records and even more hours practicing on their individual instruments and rehearsing together as a band.

If something as abstract as music can said to have “qualities,” then two are on exhibition with Serge Bogdanov and the Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra: a vision and a dedication to achieving this goal.

Notating Jazz is a very difficult thing to do because there are aspects of the music that are imprecise. You can’t learn them from a textbook; you have to immerse yourself in learning from listening and from sharing with one another. It takes a lot of time, dedication and effort to master these skills.

The high quality of big band Jazz that Serge and the JPO put on display in Letter to a Friend reflects an enormous passion for Jazz, because without it and a lot of determination, I doubt this recording would ever have happened.

In his insert notes to the CD, the Russian musicologist Victor Feiertag takes some of these points further. Here’s what he has to say about the Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra and the music on Letter to a Friend.

© - Vladimir Feiertag/Art Beat Music, copyright protected; all rights reserved [paragraphing modified and some editing].

“At last, a big band , capable of offering both a vivid mastery and stylish arrange­ments, along with real swing, has appeared in St. Petersburg. And all this is being done by young musicians aged 25 to 30! They never heard live either Duke Elling­ton (whose composition "Love You Madly" is however worthily played on this album), or Count Basie, and didn't catch the orchestras of Joseph Weinstein, Vadim Lyudvikovskiy or the first groups of Oleg Lundstrem. But their influence is obvious.

All the saxophonists of the orchestra were raised and taught to play their instruments by Gennady Golshtein, who at one time defined the style of most Russian orchestras and since the mid-70's helped to found jazz education in St. Petersburg. It was he who assembled and led the unique orchestra "Saxophones of Saint-Petersburg" in the last decade of the past century, having continued the marvelous history of big bands in "Northern Palmyra". It was he who instilled a taste for the art of arrangement in Serge Bogdanov, one of the leaders of the current band.

In fact, the big band has two leaders - the lead saxophonist Kirill Bubyakin (alto, soprano saxophones and flute) and the arranger Serge Bogdanov (baritone saxophone). Both consider Thad Jones an idol, and David Goloschokin - who provided the prestigious stage of the St. Petersburg Jazz Philharmonic Hall to the newly formed band for their rehearsals and performances  - as a patron.

The debut album includes primarily compositions of residents of St. Petersburg: - four dedications to Gennady Golshtein - partly new, partly ones written 30 years ago ("The Time Has Come", Melodiya, 1988). The author dedicated these melodies to his friends: "A Theme For Tima" is dedicated to Teimuraz Kukholev, the first St. Petersburg bop pianist; "A Letter to a Friend" is for George Friedman, a saxophonist and a pioneer ideologist of "jazz ferment" in the Northern Capital; "Sleeping Ships" is a tribute to the memory of his irreplaceable partner, trumpeter Konstantin Nosov; and "In the Westside" is a dedication to Vitaly Dolgov, the best arranger of the last century.

Also included are orchestral versions of hard bop tunes of other natives of St. Petersburg - current Muscovite Alexander Berenson and Ruslan Khain (New York, USA). Also worth noting is an unusual version of the famous "Evening Song" by Vasily Solovjev-Sedov, his original declaration of love for his native city. And this is not a political statement, not a demonstration of patriotism, but a need of a new generation of musicians to interpret the rich musical cultural heritage of Russia and of our city [St. Petersburg].

Serge Bogdanov recognizes that "there were many wonderful melodies among the most popular songs of the Soviet period, especially in the '40's and '50's. They are still an integral part of our life. "Evening Song" by Vasily Solovjey-Sedoy holds a special place. It is simply impossible not to be connected to this tune if one was born and lives in Leningrad-St.Petersburg. Being an unofficial anthem of our city, it can be heard not only on radio and television but on public transporta­tion, as a musical call sign, and recently the anthem of a famous football club [Football Club Zenit St. Petersburg Футбольный клуб «Зенит].

The Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra is completely a modern band. In the orchestra there is no separation between frontmen and sidemen. Everyone can improvise. The debut album of the orchestra also includes some, more experienced musicians as invited guests such as David Goloschokin and Igor Butman (also a resident of St. Petersburg)  as featured soloists to help fill out the overall sound picture. The orchestra has existed for three years and in a small, close-knit jazz world has already achieved fame, thanks to St. Peters­burg concerts and thematic programs (featuring the music ofCount Basie, Thad Jones, and Gennady Golshtein) as well as trips to festivals and work with foreign musicians.

Of course, the path to the hearts of the audience is long and complicated, but this album may find its way to that audience of big band Jazz fans because of its absolutely incredible colors, unexpected dynamics and surging rhythms along with its "modern mainstream" style.

I hope that music fans will pay attention to the debut album of this revived northern capital big band, and exclaim together with the author of the last compo­sition, Frank Wess: "You Made a Good Move!"

The following video features images of the Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra of St. Petersburg, Russia in action. The tune is In the Westside by Gennady Golshtein. Serge Bogdanov, of course, did the arrangement and the solos are by Andrey Zimovets on piano, Kirill Bubyakin on alto saxophone and David Goloschekin on flugelhorn.

The Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra Letter to a Friend [Art Beat Music AB-CD-11-2012-038] will eventually be available via iTunes and perhaps other downloads.

In the meantime, should you wish to purchase a copy, you can contact Serge Bogdanov directly for the details at or

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Abbey Lincoln – A New Beginning

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

“She was never a conventional standards singer, indicating her individuality and occasionally her disaffection in subtle ironies, almost subliminal variations and, even more occasionally, hot blasts of fury. Like John Coltrane and Billie Holiday, she was both respectful of her material and inclined to manipulate it without mercy or apology.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

I once asked the late, Chuck Niles, a revered, long-time Jazz disc jockey on the Los Angeles FM airwaves, how he approached programming his radio show.

Chuck replied: “It’s simple really. Each hour I try to include something old, something new and something sung by either a vocal group or a vocalist.”

He went on to say, “Lately, I seem to be playing a lot of stuff by Abbey Lincoln.”

When I asked him why, he explained: “I missed her the first time around.”

For the most part, I did, too.

If Abbey hadn't been married to Max Roach for much of the 1960's, I might have missed her completely.

Max has always been a drummer that I idolized so I pretty much caught everything her recorded; Abbey sang on Max’s 1960 Freedom Now Suite  [Oscar Brown wrote the lyrics] and that was my introduction to her. The date and the album title may bring to mind more about the social history of this period.

Over the years, I've caught a few other things by Abbey, but in thinking of Chuck Niles’ reference to Abbey, I realize that I really didn't know much about her music.

Richard Cook’s and Brian Morton’s The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed. is always a good place to start and so it was that the following annotations about Abbey Lincoln and her recordings helped make a “new beginning” for me in terms of an appreciation of her music.

“Abbey Lincoln worked as a singer in California under the name Anna Marie, then began recording for Prestige. Recorded with Max Roach (her husband, 1962-70), but her career faded in the 1970’s until a revival of interest in Europe in the 1980’s led to a new and successful contract with Verve. Now a matriarchal influence on a younger generation of female vocalists. …

Lincoln's own emancipation proclamation turned her from a conventional club singer into one of the most dramatic and dis­tinctive voices of the day. To suggest that she owes her creative freedom to one-time husband Max Roach is to say no more than she has herself. Before working with Roach on the powerful We Insist! Freedom Now Suite, she had notched up a number of ses­sions under her own name.

She was never a conventional standards singer, indicating her individuality and occasionally her disaffection in subtle ironies, almost subliminal variations and, even more occasionally, hot blasts of fury. Like John Coltrane and Billie Holiday, she was both respectful of her material and inclined to manipulate it without mercy or apology. …

There has been a tension throughout Lincoln's years with Verve between letting her build a band of young, responsive players who can be molded to her idiosyncratic vision, and surround­ing her with established stars on the label's roster. The 1994 album [A Turtle’s Dream Verve Gitanes 527382] is an almost perfect illustration of the point. One of the joys of the record, as with some of its predecessors, is flicking through and identifying one dream line-up after another - Metheny and house pianist Kendrick, or Metheny and Barron with Haden and Lewis - only to find that the saxophone solo you've just swooned to on 'A Turtle's Dream' or 'Not To Worry' is by the relatively unknown Lourau.

Like Betty Carter, Lincoln has always had the ability to bring on young players. Like every great musician, she has the gift of making everyone around her play better. …

The voice is now so confidently intimate, so easily conversational, that it becomes difficult to think of Lincoln in terms of ‘performance.’…”

Another excellent source for information on Abbey’s uniqueness in the world of vocal Jazz is to be found in the essay entitled Abbey Lincoln (Strong Wind Blowing) by Gary Giddins. It is included in his Visions of Jazz: The First Century [Oxford University Press].

Here are a few excerpts from Gary’s work:

“The reemergence in the early '90s of Abbey Lincoln as a queenly jazz singer and the simultaneous rediscovery of the long retired Doris Day prompted my thoughts about parallels and distinctions between them. In 1991, each was the subject of documentary films: Gene Davis's You Gotta Pay the Band: The Words, the Music, the Life of Abbey Lincoln, which was initially broadcast overseas only, and Jim Arntz's Doris Day: A Sen­timental Journey, which was shown on PBS. Day was the quintessence of blonde: even her golden album covers reflected the sunshiny chirpiness of an unaffectedly sexy voice and approach to song. Lincoln had carried the banner for ebony since the '50s: "A strong black wind blowing/ Gently on and on," Nikki Giovanni wrote of her.” …

Lincoln's most expressive tour de force was to come, however, in 1995, with A Turtle's Dream: nine originals, plus "Nature Boy" and "Avec Le Temps." Allard once again found a fresh means of presentation, com­bining stellar soloists from three generations (Kenny Barron, Pat Metheny, Roy Hargrove, Lucky Peterson, and tenor saxophonist Julien Lourau, who has listened well to Joe Henderson and Stan Getz), top-drawer rhythm sections, and a few strings. At this stage, no one was likely to miss the generic quality of an Abbey Lincoln song, words or music. With rare exceptions, Lincoln writes songs of a woman alone, dispensing ad­vice about cycles and acceptance that might seem trite if not for the enormous emotional resources she draws on as a singer and her ability to intensify lyrics with details that shake up clichés.”

Lincoln is most eloquent in live performance, taking the measure of her audience. On record, the songs often suggest the consequence of loneliness; in concert, they are enlivened by the relief of shared experience  The long, sustained notes, often hit at a pitch just lower than what you anticipate, have the quality of elated drones. Give yourself up to them, and you are lost to her timbre and intonation and then to the world from which they derive. …”

Abbey sings “I Concentrate on You” in the following video with Tommy Turrentine on trumpet, Julian Priester on trombone, Stanley Turrentine on tenor saxophone, Ray Bryant on piano, Bob Boswell on bass and Max Roach on drums.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Cab Calloway

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


"... deftly brings out the band's inner musical dynamics." --Will Friedwald, The Wall Street Journal

"This formidable book opens the door for future books on Calloway's enduring influence." -The Week

"Mr. Shipton's excellent book should convince many readers and, I hope, some
critics, that it might be time to experience Calloway's recordings and movies
again, and try to discover, in part at least, what the hi-de-ho-ing was all about."
--William F. Gavin, The Washington Times

"Enlightening. Thorough." --JJA News

The Life of Cab Calloway - Alyn Shipton

Cab Calloway was a larger than life figure. With his trademark "hi-de-ho" scat routine, his unruly mop of hair, and his combination of charm and sophistication, he won over audiences across the country. HI-DE-HO: The Life of Cab Calloway, by Alyn Shipton, is the first full-length biography of this fanned jazz musician. Shipton brings together his extraordinary research with first-hand accounts from Galloway's friends and family, highlighting Galloway's uncanny musical talent and influence. From his beginnings in obscure Balitimore nightclubs to his time as Duke Ellington's replacement at New York's Cotton Club, Calloway crossed racial and social boundries to become a nationally beloved entertainer. Calloway was also a brilliant talent-spotter, evidenced by his hiring of such jazz luminaries as Ben Webster, Dizzy Gillespie, and Jonah Jones. In later years, after a stint as a musical theater star, Calloway brought his trademark "hi-de-ho" refrain to a new generation of audiences through his cameos on Sesame Street and The Blues Brothers. In this biography, Shipton brings the era of jazz and swing to life, and makes an excellent case for the inclusion of Cab Calloway among the most influential and innovative musicians of the age.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alyn Shipton is the author of several award winning books on music including A New History of Jazz and Groovin' High: The Life of Dizzy Gillespie. He is jazz critic for The Times in London and has presented jazz programs on BBC radio since 1989. He is also an accomplished double bassist and has played with many traditional and mainstream jazz bands.

Oxford University Press
February 14, 2013
304 pages

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Gerry Mulligan: The New Concert Jazz Band in Scotland

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

For many Jazz fans, Gerry Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band [CJB] was a phenomena of the 1960’s.

Unless you were aware of his earliest roots in the music business with the big bands of Gene Krupa, Elliott Lawrence and Stan Kenton, the CJB seemed to come out of nowhere.

Gerry’s greatest fame seemed to mainly rest with his 1952-1953 piano-less quartet that featured trumpeter Chet Baker.

While musicians, especially those on the West Coast in the decade of the 1950’s were certainly aware of the Birth of the Cool records made for Capitol that Gerry arranged and composed for in 1949-50, the general public was largely familiar with him as a small group leader.

[A sextet followed the quartet and it, too, was piano-less unless Gerry played some piano to give trumpeter Jon Eardley’s and valve-trombonist Bob Brookmeyer’s “chops” a rest].

Formed in New York in the 1960’s, the 12-piece Concert Jazz Band was really a matter of Gerry returning to his big band roots.

Renown as a baritone saxophonist, Gerry’s first love was “… to play the band; I really love expressing my music through my charts “[musician speak for arrangements and orchestrations].

In particular, Gerry was interested in bringing the lightness and airiness of small group Jazz into a big band setting; to put it another way, he wanted to bring the movement and flexibility of Jazz played by fewer instruments into a bigger context.

The Birth of the Cool sessions were an attempt by Gerry and its other arrangers to incorporate the less ponderous texture or sonority that Gil Evans had achieved in his charts for the Claude Thornhill Orchestra.

After his interregnum with small group Jazz in the 1950s, Gerry was picking up where he left off with The Birth of the Cool sessions and some work he had done for a 10-piece group he had organized largely for recording purposes.

The original Concert Jazz Band was a smashing, artistic success and Gerry’s arrangements for it just sparkled.

Sadly, keeping a big band going on a regular basis became such a drain on Gerry that he fell farther and farther away from his main purpose in forming it – he didn’t have time to write for it because he was so busy trying to keep it viable, commercially.

The writing fell to Bob Brookmeyer, Al Cohn a host of other, talented composers while Gerry scrounged around for the schimolies to keep the band happening.

The Concert Jazz Band eventually failed, but fortunately, Gerry and many of the band members were able to keep body-and-soul together with the lucrative studio work then still available in New York.

Gerry put the band back together briefly in 1971 for a recording session which is documented on The Age of Steam album issued on A&M Records [0804].

But he really didn’t bring the Concert Jazz Band out of retirement until 1980 and then he did so with a vengeance.

The resurgence was made possible by the burgeoning European Jazz Festival scene of the 1980s and Gerry and the CJB were everywhere, present.

Whether it was in Holland or Sweden or France or in Scotland, Gerry fans from the CJB’s earlier European tours were ready for more and so was Gerry.

Original compositions and arrangements began flowing out of his pen at a rapid rate, including a series of tiles named after famous train locomotives [The Flying Scotsman and K-4 Pacific] and loving tributes to Dizzy Gillespie and Billy Strayhorn. He also reached back for some Jazz chestnuts like I’m Getting Sentimental Over You, Georgia on My Mind and Satin Doll and gave them gorgeous new treatments.

Even tunes that were written primarily for his quartet and later adopted into the first CJB like Bweebida Bwoobida were spruced-up with new orchestrations. New harmonies and new voicings are in place throughout.

He beefed-up the band by adding a fourth trumpet, a bass trombone and five saxes [including another baritone sax with whom he played in unison on some parts].

Relatively young players like Laurie Frink on trumpet, Bill Charlap on piano and the magnificent Dean Johnson on bass were brought on the band and given a chance to shine in the solo spotlight.

He also added instruments that were new to the band such as flute and soprano saxophone, the latter also becoming a solo vehicle for him.

He sought out Bobby Rosengarden, an “old pro” drummer, who really knew how to kick-the-heck out of a big band by dropping bombs and explosive kicks and fills.

And he wrote more aggressive, propulsive and pulsating arrangements that captured a spirit that seem to say to the Jazz world – I’m BACK; Bigger and Better than ever.

This was a powerful band; not the lighter, airier and nimble CJB of Gerry’s original conception. It reflected the way in which he heard the music at this point in his life.

Gerry Mulligan was happy again because he was doing what he loved best – writing for and leading a big band.

You can hear that joy in all of its power and expressiveness in the following three tracks from the Concert Jazz Band’s appearance at the Glasgow, Scotland Jazz Festival on July 3, 1988.

Welcome back, Geru.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Enrico Plays Ennio

This track is from the second CD that Enrico Pieranunzi recorded for CamJazz featuring the music of the prolific film composer, Ennio Morricone. He is joined on both by bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joey Baron.

The song is entitled Il Clan Dei Siciliani, no relation to either Pieranunzi or Morricone; not sure about Johnson or Baron. :)

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

LUSH: The Joe Clark Big Band Featuring Jeff Hamilton

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

"Having experienced Joe's arranging talents, as a guest of DePaul University's Jazz Ensemble, I was excited about playing HIS compositions in HIS ensemble for this recording. He sure has many ways to express himself and knows the right musicians to call who understand his music. It was easy for me to walk in and feel right at home with this group.

In this genre of Jazz, we are often presented the freedom to ‘play our personalities.’ You’ll hear Joe’s passion for this music through his writing. I look forward to the next opportunity for Joe to make me sound like a million!”
-Jeff Hamilton, drummer, composer and bandleader

Graham Carter, owner-operator of JazzedMedia and drummer Jeff Hamilton are at it again doing good things for Jazz.

This time it involves a February 12, 2013 release of a new JazzedMedia CD by the Joe Clark Big Band Featuring Jeff Hamilton [JM1060].

Once upon a time, the United States State Department sent Jazz musicians like Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and Dave Brubeck around the world as spokespeople for the music and the American way-of-life.

Jeff Hamilton has become a modern-day counterpart of these adventures in music appreciation although his preach-the-faith-of-Jazz junkets are more domestic in their focus.

Whether it be performing and conducting clinics at the Port Townsend, WA Jazz Festival, recording with the DePaul University Jazz Orchestra or being a guest performer at the Central Michigan University Jazz Weekend in Mount Pleasant, MI, Jeff is constantly sharing his skills and his talents to make the Jazz World a better place.

Following his 2012 appearance with DePaul University’s Jazz Orchetsra [also released as a Jazzed Media CD], Jeff’s latest venture finds him back in Chicago, IL once again, this time as the featured drummer and soloist with arranger-composer Joe Clark’s Big Band.

And who better to produce a recording of Jeff’s fun meeting with Joe Clark’s big band than Graham Carter.

Jeff once said of Shelly Manne, one of the greatest Jazz drummers in history:
“I was always mesmerized by the way he played.”

Thanks to his frequent appearances at nearby Jazz clubs and Jazz festivals, I feel the same way while watching Jeff play drums.

I’m always enthralled with Jeff’s drumming. He gets around the instrument so fluidly and always has interesting things “to say.” If anyone has taken on Shelly’s legacy of melodic and musical drumming, it’s Jeff.

Dating back to his years with Woody Herman through to his current co-leadership of The Clayton Hamilton Orchestra, Jeff knows how to kick a big band.

Because he writes them in a linear or horizontal style, Joe Clark takes full advantage of Jeff’s brilliance as a big band drummer with his arrangements on Joe Clark Big Band Featuring Jeff Hamilton [JazzedMedia JM1060]. Think drummer Mel Lewis playing Gerry Mulligan or Bill Holman charts with Stan Kenton or the Terry Gibbs Dream Band and you’ll get some idea of how evenly Joe’s writing flows with Jeff in the drum chair.

The eight tracks on Joe Clark Big Band Featuring Jeff Hamilton consist of three originals by Joe, one by Jeff, and four standards: Monk’s Well You Needn’t, Billy Strayhorn’s Lush Life and beautiful, ballad versions of Tenderly and Yesterday’s Gardenias.

The great thing about the inclusion of the four standards is that their familiarity gives the listener and opportunity to “set his/her ears” in order to better appreciate what is going on in Joe’s arrangements.

One feature of Joe’s writing that jumps out at you is how balanced it is. He knows the range of each instrument in the band and he reflects this knowledge by blending the instrumental sections in such a way that the sound of his music has a richness and a fullness to it.  It’s not all about trumpets screeching high notes and bass trombones and baritone saxophones punching out pedal tones.

No jumbled mass of sound, Joe’s writing allows melodic lines to play out; it doesn’t sound rushed or cluttered. With Jeff stoking the fire in the band’s engine room, Joe’s arrangements keep things simple and allow the band to pulsate under Jeff’s rhythmic guidance.

His charts follow a distinctive, linear logic with the result that they produce a rush of excitement which can only come from big band Jazz when it is performed by musicians who listen to one another and jell as a unit.

Joe’s arrangements share the solo spotlight among a number of band members.

BJ Cord, Victor Garcia and Joe, himself, on trumpet, Tom Garling and Bryant Scott on trombone, Dan Nicholson on alto saxophone, Anthony Bruno and Chris Madsen on tenor saxophone, guitarist Mike Pinto and pianist Ryan Cohan: each bring forth solos that reflect their influences while also offering strong indications of their own voices.

And then, of course, there’s Jeff Hamilton, who, along with the excellent bass work of Joe Policastro, moves things forward with his masterful kicks, licks and fills, always putting a premium on swinging.

Joe Clark Big Band Featuring Jeff Hamilton [JazzedMedia JM1060] is a treat that continues the tradition of swinging big band Jazz while, at the same time, refreshing and enhancing it with new ideas, new energies and news sounds.

Michael Bloom is once again handling the media relations for Graham and Jazzed Media and he sent along the following press release which further describes the recording and gives some background on Joe Clark’s career to date.

© -Graham Carter/Mark Hiebert/Jazzed Media, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“From the liner notes by Mark Hiebert:

The title of this album is Lush. The word "lush" by itself can describe a man who drinks and becomes flirtatious, or it can depict something that is savory and appealing to the senses. The album includes a little of both, with characters like the Femme Fatale living in an unwritten story set in the streets of New Orleans, along with some of the richest and most beautiful new music in the big band repertoire. The listener will quickly fall in love with Joe's musical characters that show us humor, heartbreak, love, and beauty as their story unfolds.

Joe Clark grew up 35 miles southwest of Chicago in Lockport, IL. After high school, he moved into the city to pursue Composition and Jazz Studies degrees from DePaul University. Joe quickly became a top-call composer and arranger for the Chicagoland area. Already, Joe's arrangements and compositions have been performed by renowned Grammy-award winning artists such as Yo-Yo Ma, Renee Fleming, Phil Woods, and Ira Sullivan; musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Sinfonietta, and Grant Park Orchestra; the Rob Parton and Tom Matta Big Bands; and the DePaul University Jazz Ensemble and Alumni Big Band. Lush is his first of many albums to come as a leader.

"I think it was remarkable to everyone involved how quickly the band jelled. From the first moment of rehearsal, it was clear that we were ready to seriously play...the studio sessions were just easy and felt right from the get-go. Joe's music combined with the personnel selections he made created a warm atmosphere of collaboration and it just felt natural," commented tenor saxophonist Chris Madsen. The group had never played together before its only rehearsal, and flourished under veteran leadership from lead alto saxophonist, Dan Nicholson; lead trombonist, Andy Baker; lead trumpeters, Chuck Parrish and Brent Turney; drummer, Jeff Hamilton; and conductor, Dr. Bob Lark.

Bass trombonist Tom Matta was also tremendously influential throughout the session. "Joe has put together one helluva band for this debut recording, and I am as thrilled to be a part of it as I was excited and proud to have Joe as a student all these years at DePaul. The writing, the ensemble, and the soloists are all top-notch. And the drummer is pretty good, too!" Joe reciprocated, It was a real honor to have my composing mentor Tom Matta in the band, sitting right in front of me during the session. He not only dominates that bass trombone, he's taught me so much about the art of the big band. I owe him a lot." Malta's influence was also apparent to Tom Garling, who commented, "It reminded me a little of Gordon Goodwin, with a twist of Tom Matta for hip-ness."

It would be impossible to describe the session and not mention the great contributions of Jeff Hamilton. "Jeff Hamilton is THE DRUMMER'. He is a real artist-Baryshnikov of the beat. Before our first rehearsal, we sat and talked about the charts-he was always looking for deeper artistic depths, more detail, more ways of enhancing the arrangement. He is a deeply caring and professional musician," says Joe. Jeff brought his unparalleled talents to the table along with his original composition, Samba de Martelo, which Joe arranged to feature the drums.

The rest of the rhythm section was also truly outstanding. Pianist Ryan Cohan, guitarist Mike Pinto, and bassist Joe Policastro displayed consummate professionalism and complete musicianship throughout the session. They were deeply involved with the decision making process in the booth and in the studio, always striving for the most authentic sound and feel for the music. The listener will instantly appreciate the deep grooves and artful comping.

"The rest of the band is nothing short than the best musicians I've ever had the privilege to play with. Months before the session, as I was in the early stages of planning, I was totally giddy with the prospect of getting these guys all in the same room to make music together. What's exciting to me is how each individual's personality shined through in the recording. The soloists are amazing—each in their own unique personal way," said Joe. "Recording a big band album is like pulling a heist. I had been writing and dreaming for years and since the time was right and I won a generous artist's prize (God bless Nik Edes and the Edes Foundation), I could put together a dream team. Like a heist, everyone has specific roles that need to be executed with precision and since our session was only for a couple days, everything had to go off without a hitch. So time was of the essence and I was fortunate to recruit the very best."

The album is made up of five arrangements and three originals. Joe shines as an arranger with his Nelson Riddle-inspired Lush Life …, funky second-line infused Well You Needn't, thoughtfully orchestrated Tenderly, inventive Samba de Martelo, and hard-swinging Yesterday's Gardenias. His real compositional voice is most apparent in his three originals: Red Sky, Free-Wheeling, … and Femme Fatale. The one-take performance of Red Sky most clearly reflects Joe's deep understanding of composition and orchestration. Free-Wheeling, like Well You Needn't, reflects Joe's passion for the greasy sound of New Orleans brass bands. And Femme Fatale gives the world a look into Joe's film-noir-savvy mind.

This album was an absolute pleasure to be a part of, and the listener is in for a real treat. There is more in store for this group because as Joe said himself, "this is just the beginning" of the next wave of great Chicago music.

About Joe Clark

Joe Clark is an active composer and arranger of music in a wide variety of styles and idioms.

Working with Dr. Cliff Colnot, Clark is an arranger for The Institute for Learning, Access and Training at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, writing for the Once Upon a Symphony and Orchestra Explorers programs.

Joe's music has been performed by Yo-Yo Ma, Renee Fleming, Phil Woods, Ira Sullivan, Jim McNeely, the Chicago Sinfonietta, Bob Lark and his Alumni Big Band, the Tom Matta Big Band, Mulligan Mosaics Nonet, DePaul University Jazz Ensemble, University of Cincinnati CCM Jazz Lab Band, Chicago Q Ensemble, thingNY, Julia Bentley and the Spektral Quartet, and players from the Grant Park Symphony and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. His horn arrangements can be heard on Kanye West and Malik Yusefs "G.O.O.D. Morning G.O.O.D. Night". Joe has also written extensively for live theater and film, including fruitful collaborations with director Catherine Weidner and writer/director Kyle Higgins.

Joe's awards include multiple Union League Civic and Arts Foundation Awards, the Sidney and Mary Kleinman Composition Award, a DownBeat Student Music Award, and the Claire and Samuel Edes Foundation Prize for Emerging Artists.

A native of Chicago, Joe is also a trumpeter and director of the Joe Clark Big Band. His debut album as a leader, Lush, featuring drummer Jeff Hamilton, will be released on Jazzed Media Records on February 12th, 2013. He is on the faculty of DePaul University and Harold Washington College (City Colleges of Chicago).”

You can locate order information on the CD at and at

The following video will provide you with a taste of what’s on offer. The tune is Joe’s original composition Free-Wheeling with solos by Bryant Scott on trombone, Anthony Bruno on tenor saxophone and Victor Garcia on trumpet.