Thursday, December 31, 2015

Ken Burns Jazz - A Retrospective Review - Part 1B

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

Here’s is the continuation of Part 1 of the JazzProfiles retrospective review of the Ken Burns PBS television series Jazz which will run consecutively as Parts 1A, 1B, 1C and 1D. I have broken down Part 1 into four segments to make it more manageable for me to develop into postings and to make it easier for the reader to absorb the writer’s arguments about the series.

There will also be a Part 2 and a Part 3 to Ken Burns Jazz - A Retrospective Review and these will also be divided into segments and run consecutively on the blog]

Two of the most interesting pieces about the Ken Burns series on Jazz were written for the Columbus Dispatch by S.R.B. Iyer, of whom you may never have never heard. Bala Iyer was born in Coimbatore, India. He studied economics in Delhi, moved to the U.S. in 1981 to work on a doctorate, and studied English literature at Purdue and Ohio State universities. He wrote two pieces about Jazz, the first an interview, the second a review.

In order to avoid confusion about who is being heard in this and in other pieces I will quote, I have placed in bold face and italics, the byline at both the beginning and the end of the commentary.

By S.R.B. Iyer

Ken Burns, the television documentarian, was asked recently to reflect on American indifference to the past.

He was in Walpole, New Hampshire.

"It comes," he said over the telephone, "from the relative youth of the country. I live here in a village, one of the oldest on this continent. And yet there were Indians here 225 years ago, killing off the first white people. So, you know, it's a very, very young country. The response to the Civil War (series) was flabbergasting, not just for me, but for the rest of the country, because we suddenly realized we had a past and wanted to have one ...."

His new documentary series, Jazz, is the final installment of his "trilogy on American life." Burns says he began his Civil War television series without any idea that he was embarking on such a long project. But the pattern of American history made his trilogy inevitable. The Civil War, he says, quoting Shelby Foote, "defined us." Baseball (his television series and the game) "helps us understand what we had become." Jazz (the music, and possibly his series as well) is "a very accurate witness of the twentieth century" and "suggests some sense of what we might become." This is because "the model of jazz is so democratic, is so without barriers, so utterly American."

Burns has been listening seriously to jazz for about six years. And in all his pronouncements on the subject, one hears the fervor of a recent convert. He acknowledges, when pressed, the irony that he has discovered jazz during what is widely agreed to be one of its most fallow periods. However, he feels that this is a superficial view.

"Jazz isn't as popular as it used to be, but that doesn't mean that it isn't a vital art form. Witness Citizen Kane, the greatest film of all time: a huge box-office disappointment when it first came out. Van Gogh was essentially a suicide. Today his paintings sell for more than anyone else's on earth."

Some Americans feel that jazz is old-fashioned, he says. Others think "it has an esoteric dimension." They think that to understand it, they "need advanced degrees." This "is an unfortunate consequence of a jazz community that is consistently fighting and bickering with itself." Burns has made Jazz to dispel all these misconceptions. He is confident "that after 25 years of experience, that the sorts of things that I have done have sort of hit the Zeitgeist of my country quite accurately at times."

He says that the good news about jazz has spread all over the world. Its appeal is universal. He visited the president at the White House not long ago. "We stayed up all night listening to jazz. He told me about meeting a saxophone player in Russia. The president is a huge jazz aficionado. He said that when this guy was on, "it was as good as anything I have heard."

One gets the sense that Burns is exasperated by "the jazz community" even as he is preparing to carry the gospel of jazz to millions of American television viewers. He complains that his documentary has already been criticized by members of this "contentious" tribe for omissions, misplaced emphases, etc.

When this subject is raised, he becomes declamatory, even ecstatic.

"My story," he says, "is much larger. I'm a very controlling and in-control film maker. Nobody is going to arrest my agenda. And my agenda is to tell a compelling national narrative to my countrymen, in the most compelling way I can, filled with the undertow of contradiction and irony that attends any manifestation in this universe and to eschew the kind of simplistic philosophical, dialectical, or political solutions that criticism often applies to things. I'd rather deal with a complex relationship to minstrelsy, a complex relationship to race in the early white practitioners of jazz, to drugs, to war and things like that. And I think the film has done it and done it magnificently."

Jazz also "parses the question of race in America." Burns says that "the greatest poetic justice that I have ever come across is the fact that the only art form Americans have created was born out of the community that has experienced a lack of freedom in a supposedly free land."

Asked how the series ends, Bums says, "We quite consciously turned the spigot of our narrative off about '75." He made this decision not out of fear — "I have been fearless about the other aspects in all the episodes" — but because he "is in the business of history" and prefers to "deal with the past."

He is happy to leave the present to "reviewers, critics, journalists."”


“To enjoy (this) documentary series, it is helpful, if not essential, to know as little as possible about jazz. If one knows very little — absolute ignorance is ideal — about the history of this country in the twentieth century, one might be Burns's perfect audience.

Burns's basic assumption is breath takingly simple-minded: jazz reflects, at every stage of its evolution, the social, cultural, and political circumstances of the period. It has been a running commentary on American life. We are told, for instance, that Louis Armstrong's monumental West End Blues, recorded in 1928, was "a reflection of the country in the moments before the Great Depression." How a piece of music does this is not made clear. One might wonder then whether Charlie Parker's Cool Blues is a vote for or against Keynesian economics.

Three elements in Jazz compete for the viewer's attention: the script, the music, and the pictures on the screen. The pictures — still photographs, documentary footage, clips of musicians — are superb. The music, some curious choices notwithstanding, is often as good. But both pictures and music are overwhelmed by the sheer badness of the script.

The script is everything good jazz isn't: sentimental, solemn, melodramatic, and deficient in both humor and subtlety. It is oppressively defensive. It is sanctimonious and self-important. Crammed with superlatives, it often seems less history than advertisement.

Structurally, Jazz is both repetitious and unimaginative. A musician, say Sidney Bechet, is introduced. His social-political-historical context is established with period photographs, documentary footage, and the testimony of experts and contemporaries. Sometimes the order is reversed. Wynton Marsalis then reassures us of this person's worthiness. The process isn't complete without this intrusion by Marsalis.

In Sidney Bechet's case, could we not have heard instead from the soprano saxophonist Bob Wilber? He knew Bechet; he was a student of Bechet's in the late '40s; he played with Bechet. He is alive; and he speaks English.

Burns seems to have learnt about jazz from Stanley Crouch, Albert Murray, and Wynton Marsalis. The ideological tilt of the film is recognizably theirs. Those who follow jazz might wonder at the experts Burns has chosen. Fortunately Gary Giddins is among them. He is vivid, funny and memorable; and especially eloquent on Armstrong and Parker.

Gerald Early, who is heard from at great length, is at the other end on the spectrum of eloquence. Early is Burns's expert on race. His commitment to opaque generalization is total: "Jazz seemed so much to capture the absurdity of the modern world." "Jazz is a kind of lyricism about the great American promise and our inability to live up to it in some ways." Etc. He opines that Miles Davis "had decided he was going to be the ultimate Walt Whitman," but the description of Davis's Whitmanesque trumpet style is beyond him. "It was a kind of piercing sort of sound," he offers. "It was piercing and mellow at the same time."

The story of jazz, in Ken Burns's narrative, is essentially the story of four or five representative figures. Louis Armstrong -— the Shakespeare, Bach and Dante of American music (Gary Giddins) — is unknowable. Duke Ellington, "the greatest American composer," is presented as something of an exemplary figure. Charlie Parker is the jazz martyr, undone by drugs, drinks, and "inner demons." Benny Goodman, a lesser musician, is an expert popularizer, the white face of jazz. Miles Davis epitomizes black militancy.

In addition to these suns, a number of satellites arc considered in passing. They are chosen to illustrate some socio-cultural point.

The naive jazz lover, expecting to see his heroes celebrated, will get some nasty shocks. The treatment of Benny Carter, for instance. Carter was, with the exception of Johnny Hodges, the finest alto saxophonist before Charlie Parker and is, perhaps, the most versatile musician to grace jazz. Besides the alto saxophone, he has been recorded playing the clarinet, piano, trombone, the tenor and soprano saxophones, and he is a brilliant trumpeter. Carter was a fine bandleader and one of the most influential composers and arrangers in the history of jazz. Unfortunately, his importance is merely musical, and he is therefore not usable by Burns. He doesn't rate even a moment's consideration.

The parochialism of Jazz is another surprise. "Utterly American," a "uniquely American music." Jazz is undoubtedly all of that. But, almost from the beginning, it has had a passionate following outside the United States. The importance to jazz of the French writers Hugues Panassie and Charles Delaunay — as critics, record producers, magazine editors, and discographers — cannot be emphasized too strongly. There arc large jazz festivals every year in France, Wales, England, Canada, Switzerland, Japan, and other countries. The working American jazz musician understands the importance of all this, even if Burns and Co. don't.

When Louis Armstrong died, in 1971, Philip Larkin wrote that he had been "something inexhaustible and unchanging like the sun," that he was "an artist of world stature, an American Negro slum child who spoke to the heart of Greenlander and Japanese alike." The universality of jazz is a miraculous achievement. It should be one of the themes of a documentary like Burns's. It isn't. And perhaps, understandably. For it would have meant examining those qualities of jazz — musical and emotional — that resist simple sociological interpretation.

Philip Larkin wrote in his poem For Sidney Bechet: "On me your voice falls as they say love should / Like an enormous yes."

While suffering through the epic dreariness of Ken Burns's story, I found myself, all too often, entertaining feelings of an altogether different sort.”

— S.R.B. Iyer

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Ken Burns Jazz - A Retrospective Review - Part 1A

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

"Ken Burns's Jazz isn't jazz; it's politics and ideology — at times one is tempted to say racism — masquerading as history and sociology."
- Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

“Three elements in Jazz compete for the viewer's attention: the script, the music, and the pictures on the screen. The pictures — still photographs, documentary footage, clips of musicians — are superb. The music, some curious choices notwithstanding, is often as good. But both pictures and music are overwhelmed by the sheer badness of the script.

The script is everything good jazz isn't: sentimental, solemn, melodramatic, and deficient in both humor and subtlety. It is oppressively defensive. It is sanctimonious and self-important. Crammed with superlatives, it often seems less history than advertisement.”
- S.R.B Iyer, The Columbus Dispatch

“... [Jazz]  depended almost entirely on the vision of jazz shared by the Holy Trinity - Wynton Marsalis and his mentors Stanley Crouch and Albert Murray.” 
- Whitney Balliett, The New Yorker

“... [Ken Burns’ Jazz] …  is a vigorous exercise in political correctness, a distortion of cultural history that only deepens racial division while ill-serving the music it sets out to celebrate. Even more dispiriting is the fact that Ken Burns passed up a genuine opportunity to showcase one of the only organically and expansively multi-cultural movements in American history — the evolution of jazz.”
- Diana West, The Washington Times

If you want to stir up a controversy among Jazz fans, do a retrospective about the music and you will be certain to hear from someone about who and what you left out of it.

On the other hand, the tendentious, prepossessed and misrepresented supposed documentary on the subject of Jazz produced by Ken Burns deserves to be skewered for both what is was and what it wasn’t.  

If you doubt the “wisdom” in this statement read the following essays and correspondence by Gene Lees, S.R.B Dyer, Diana West and Robert Parker, all of which will appear in a four-part consecutive posting on JazzProfiles.

Here is Part 1A.

Ken Burns Jazz — to the Ground
Part One
March 2001 edition of the Jazzletter

“Any way you look at it, the Ken Burns PBS series titled Jazz is, if not the biggest thing ever to happen to this music, one of the biggest. It was widely publicized and ubiquitously advertised with funds from General Motors, occasionally received tepid praise, usually in the conventional jazz magazines — extensive beneficiaries of its ad budget — and was everywhere excoriated by critics and musicians alike. It depended almost entirely on the vision of jazz shared by Wynton Marsalis and his mentors Stanley Crouch and Albert Murray. These three — the Holy Trinity, as James T. Maher and Whitney Balliett have called them — were among the series' main talking heads, endlessly drilling one singular vision of ethnic exclusion. But whatever one thought of the series, it was big, in physical size (ten broadcasts totaling nineteen hours), in the scope of the publicity expended on it, size of its budget (publicly said to be five million dollars but according to some reports the real figure was twenty million), and range of its impact. In a pre-broadcast story published in its Arts and Leisure section on Sunday, January 7, the New York Times expended four full pages on the subject. More on that later. Two days earlier, on January 5, the Christian Science Monitor, which has far less space to play with, gave it almost two full pages.

The January 31 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that on the average, 10.3 million Americans per night watched its episodes. How many saw the full nineteen hours of it was not stated, but the paper did report that the series averaged a 3.6 national rating.

"The series also is having a dramatic impact at record stores and online outlets, where sales of CDs with the Burns imprint are soaring," the Chronicle reported. A group of CDs produced in a cooperative arrangement between Sony and Verve bore a broad yellow banner on the cover saying Ken Burns Jazz. "Three of them," the paper continued, "are on Billboard's top 200 albums chart — it's unprecedented for that many jazz discs to hit the paper's charts — including the 5-CD box Ken Burns Jazz: The Story of America's Music."

But how accurate are the polls? Christopher Kitchens of Vanity Fair is ardently skeptical of political polls. During his lectures, sometimes to as many as three thousand persons, he asks that whoever has been polled hold up a hand. No one, he says, ever does. Then he asks if anybody knows anyone who has been polled. No one ever does. And I don't know anyone (do you?) who has ever been polled about television, including whether he or she watched Jazz. .

On February 5, Jonathan Yardley wrote in the Washington Post:

"The tempest stirred by Jazz, the ten-part series that finally (mercifully) ground to its conclusion last week, may be boiling in a teapot. As one of my occasional correspondents wrote, 'No one I work with watched it. No one in my family watched it.' It was pretty much the same here, too: Only a handful of my fellow workers seem to have paid much attention to it, and even the person in my family who is most passionate about music caught only glimpses of it.

"So the avalanche of e-mail that has tumbled into my inbox since I wrote about the PBS series three weeks ago may be misleading. The only people who really care about Jazz may be die-hard aficionados — whose numbers, as is well known, are lamentably small — and others keenly attuned to the subtlest nuances of race relations in the United States. The rest of the country — I'd guess something on the order of 275 million souls — seems to have been blissfully unaware of the series; given the distortions, omissions, and fabrications with which it was riddled, doubtless that is for the best."

Yardley's review appeared in the Post January 15. He said of the earlier Burns epic, The Civil War, that "it is undeniably powerful, if overlong and emotionally manipulative. For this work he has been praised, and he seems to have come to believe his own press clippings. Not merely is he content to recycle all the formulas that were once fresh but are now exhausted, he has assumed a self-aggrandizing near-messianic pose. Thus we have various films (about Congress, the Statue of Liberty and so forth) presented as aspects of "Ken Burns's America," and now we have Ken Burns's Jazz.

"Well it isn't Ken Burns's America and it certainly isn't Ken Burns's jazz."

Yardley, in common with many other writers, notes that Burns focuses almost entirely on a few dead giants, while ignoring many major later figures. This, he says, "may be good news for record companies that can repackage their backlists at minimal expense" but "it so obsessively places race at the center of the tale that it manages to politicize jazz in ways that would have deeply offended, say, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, and that surely will offend many potential converts, whatever their own race may be.

"Ken Burns's Jazz isn't jazz; it's politics and ideology — at times one is tempted to say racism — masquerading as history and sociology."

This, he noted in the piece that followed three weeks later, "sat well with some readers (mostly white) who were angered by the gratuitous slights inflicted by Ken Burns et al on even the finest white jazz musicians, but poorly with others (mostly black), who argued that, as one reader put it, 'jazz may be color-blind but the musicians and society in which they live and play definitely [are] not.'"

Yardley notes that the series, while never claiming that black musicians had "natural rhythm," nonetheless came close to the Noble Savage idea of the past: "Marsalis wouldn't say that blacks musicians are 'savage' — quite to the contrary — but that their blackness affords them, ex post facto, a 'nobility' that white musicians cannot hope to attain. This was a leitmotif in Jazz from beginning to end. Indeed the series ended with a shameless glorification of Marsalis himself as savior of jazz — and it did far more to widen the racial divisions among jazz musicians than to narrow them."

A number of writers observed that Burns acted and spoke, in interviews, as if he had personally invented the art. Jelly Roll Morton also claimed to have invented it. Comment on this extended, confused, and ponderous television series has been flowing to me in a stream, or perhaps I should say scream. And although I had vowed never to say another word about Marsalis, who once was a very good trumpet player and lost it, such is the uproar (I have never seen anything like it) that I have no choice but to organize an extended survey of reaction.

The critics were universally dismissive — all those I read, in any case — and musicians were frequently furious. Some of the best writing, as so often is the case, was that in the New Yorker by Whitney Balliett, who said that some of the interviews are invaluable, but noted:

“Many first-rate musicians are tapped only in passing or are ignored altogether. Those who are mentioned briefly, then left on the cutting-room floor, include Charles Mingus, a great bassist and a wildly original composer and bandleader; the Modern Jazz Quartet, for forty years the most lyrical and swinging of jazz chamber groups; and the seminal pianists Earl Hines, Bud Powell, and Bill Evans, who, taken together, invented modern jazz piano.

There are more: Pee Wee Russell, an endlessly original and lyrical clarinetist; the trombonists Vic Dickenson and Jimmy Knepper, utterly different but both inimitable and ceaselessly inventive; Jim Hall, Charlie Christian's successor; and the cornetist Bobby Hackett, whose solo on Glenn Miller's A String of Pearls belongs with Armstrong's baroque edifice on West End Blues.

I thought the Civil War series Burns did was good, though lugubrious and not up to the level of the wanton ecstatic praise it received. For one thing the use of music in that series should have alerted me to Burns' insensitivity to this art, a country-fiddle dirge endlessly repeated and played, as it turns out, by Matt Glaser, of whom more later on. But it was time someone did a protracted documentary on jazz, and, when someone on Burns' staff contacted me, I agreed to an interview. I gave the Burns people a day of my time, including two or three hours on camera.

Ah, and then I made a fatal error: I told the young woman conducting the interview that if they wanted to have a good series, they should not allow Wynton Marsalis too much say in it. With cool dishonesty, she neglected to tell me he was "senior artistic adviser" on the project, and had been from the beginning. Indeed, he suggested the project to Ken Burns. Had I been told this in advance, I would never have assented to the interview, and had I been so advised after the interview, I would never have signed the release form. It was inevitable that I would end up on the cutting room floor.

All you see of me in the series is a brief segment in which I seem to trash Cecil Taylor. I say that he had a perfect right to do whatever he wants musically and I (meaning anybody) had a perfect right to listen to something else. The fact is that I have a lot of respect for Cecil Taylor, and I mentioned him in a larger context of the dilemma facing all music at the end of the twentieth century, the restrictions of tonal music and the theme and variations form and the loss of audience for those who break out of them. But Wynton Marsalis doesn't like Cecil Taylor, and he doesn't like me, either. "That Gene Lees," he told Chip Deffaa, "he's pathetic." And so, he and Burns apparently thought, they could kill two birds with one comment, and thus he used me as a weapon to hurt Cecil Taylor. If anybody reading this knows Cecil Taylor, please convey this to him.

Far more significant than my excision was the omission of Benny Carter. I remember telling the young woman that the one man she must interview was Benny Carter, for he is the only still-active jazz musician whose career was coeval with that of Louis Armstrong: Armstrong was bom in 1901, Carter in 1907. More to the point, Benny Carter is one of the massively significant jazz musicians. Phil Woods (who also isn't in the series) asserted,"My inspirations were Benny Carter, Johnny Hodges, and Charlie Parker — in that order."

Carter is seen briefly in a background shot, and there is no serious treatment of him as the major artist he is. I believe he is mentioned twice, the second time only in a list of bandleaders who broke up their groups at the end of 1946. I called him to ask, "Did they interview you?"

"Yes. I guess they didn't like what I said."

John Clayton, the bassist, composer, arranger, and bandleader had a similar experience. In an interview with Don Heckman of the Los Angeles Times, he expressed the hope that the series will accomplished something positive, but said he was dismayed at Carter's almost total absence from the history

"I was outraged by that," Jon said. "When I asked Benny why he hadn't been interviewed for the show, he said, 'I was.' And when I asked him why material from this interview wasn't included, he said, 'I guess they didn't like what I said.'"

The question is: What did they ask? Knowing Benny as well as I do, I doubt that we will ever know.

Bassist John Heard was equally incensed at the exclusion of Nat Cole. Cole was beyond question one of the most influential pianists in jazz history. Horace Silver has attested to his influence on his own work. So have Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans, and if you want to extend out from these three to all those they in turn influenced, the length of the man's shadow is astounding, not to mention his own superb, haunting playing. But Cole is not mentioned at all.

Marsalis, who is ubiquitous in the series, sometimes illustrates a point by playing his trumpet. He can, it is said, like Clark Terry and the late Harry Carney, do the trick of rotary breathing, which permits one to inhale through the nose while maintaining pressure in the embouchure with the air in the mouth and thus sustaining the melodic line without a break. Marsalis seems to have gone further: he has mastered the trick of rotary speech: making the same points over and over in long, tortured, tautological and often nonsensical maunderings delivered into your face with a rebarbative condescension, his expression fixed in a perpetual slight snigger, his head shaking in almost orgasmic tremors of self-love. Had Burns simply cut some of the Marsalis redundancies, he might have had time for a few kind words about, well, Big Sid Catlett for one. Marsalis's defenders often say that he is good at teaching children. Teaching them what? His own blinkered view of jazz history? Or his mangled grammar? He referred to someone as "de most wisest sage."

Is that as opposed to the de most stupidest sage? How is it that his brother Branford (far the better musician) doesn't talk that way?

To be continued in Part 1B.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Recent Releases #1 - Jazz Promo Services

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

Jim Eigo, the owner-operator of Jazz Promo Services, occasionally sends out review copies of recently released CDs/Downloads and there are a select number of these that I would like to bring to your attention because I enjoyed the music on them and thought they deserved the attention of a wider audience.

Media releases prepared by Jim usually accompany the demonstration copies and since I can rarely improve on them, I thought I would share them with you “as is” and also include some excerpts from the informative insert notes to each recording.

Jazz artists today are not supported by the attention and resources that the Jazz press and recording companies focused on previous generations of Jazz musicians.

Thank goodness, then, for the existence of educated and informed media services such as Jim’s outfit that help today’s Jazz players get the word out. They are media savvy and provide a broad communication and information platform which helps Jazz fans and Jazz musicians stay in touch with one another.

I urge you to checkout Jim’s current projects by visiting him at his website:

Jim is one of “the good guys” and deserves your support for all he does on behalf of the music and its makers.

Marlene VerPlanck -  The Mood I'm In
(Audiophile ACD 348)
Street Date: January 1, 2016

Marlene VerPlanck-vocals, John Pearce-piano, Paul Morgan-bass, Bobby Worth- drums, Mark Nightingale- trombone, Andy Panayi-sax/flute

“Spring comes early In England.  It comes, In fact, despite what the barometer says, in the last full month of Winter when Marlene VerPlanck arrives for her annual tour of the UK;   around eighteen one-nighters spread evenly over thirty days and a dozen counties, allowing plenty of time to recharge the batteries. 2015 was somewhat different; seventeen gigs compressed into nineteen days, gruelling whichever way you look at it with only two days off but on the credit side it did leave a week for R&R which in this case is not an abbreviation of Rest & Relaxation but means Rehearsal and Recording of a new (her 24th) album backed by the trio who have been her principal support since 2009, John Pearce, piano, Paul Morgan, bass, Bobby Worth, drums, a trio par excellence, beyond excellent, in fact, as is Marlene herself, but until Peter Marc Roget lays a new Thesaurus on us I lack a superlative to trump excellent, all I do know is that these four cats left excellent dead in the water along with their salad days.  On two of the twelve tracks they're augmented by the tenor of Andy Panayi, on a further two by his flute, and on a further five by the trombone of Mark Nightingale.  On all twelve tracks the six pros were augmented, in a completely different meaning of the word,  by me and in the interests of declaring an interest this is where I say that I have loved, admired, and respected the artistry of Ms VerPlanck since the day in 1979 when in the small record section of a now long defunct Doubleday's bookstore on 5th Avenue, Serendipity brokered an introduction that left his moment on the road to Damascus looking like a mere bagatelle.

So, what can I tell you.

The Mood I'm In is a typical VerPlanck album which means, as any of her fan-base will testify and new admirers will soon discover, a blend of acknowledged standards, a sprinkling of the neglected, forgotten, obscure, invariably the work of heavy hitters, plus a smattering of newer material by contemporary composers and lyricists.

This 24th album is no exception;  you want contemporary?  Choose track 5 where you'll find Ronny Whyte and John Bunch's Certain People, wonder as the trio in turn, first John, then Paul, then Bobby, elevate the art of accompaniment to a new dimension.

You want obscure? Try track 3 and listen as Paul's bass leads Marlene into the Bobby Troup Henry Mancini collaboration Free And Easy then plays tag with her up to the release before making way for Andy's liquid flute.

You want neglected? Step right this way and inhale Duke Ellington's It Shouldn't Happen To A Dream with a gorgeous solo from Mark.

You want forgotten?  Here's the very thing, a Cahn-Van Heusen entry from 1962 that no one and his uncle Max remembers;   but Marlene found Come On Strong and having found it she sings the bejesus out of it while Andy's tenor just about manages to keep up with her.

And now, you want standard? Boy, is this your lucky day. Close your eyes and wallow in Marlene's definitive interpretation, backed by just the trio, of one of the most gorgeous ballads of the twentieth century, Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane's Too Late Now. It was actually written at the mid-point of the twentieth century, 1951, for the MGM movie Royal Wedding where it was squandered on Jane Powell but looking on the bright side at least it wasn't Dick.

I could of course name-check all twelve tracks and come up with a superlative or three for each one but what the hey, ninety to ninety-five per cent of you holding this CD are repeaters, the loyal fan-base who know as well as I do that when it comes to interpreting the Great American Songbook and if it comes to that the lesser American Songbook Marlene not only wrote the book but also edited and published it and is so far ahead of the pack it isn't even funny.

On the other hand I would like to single out track 9 which is, in fact, a medley. The album was recorded in England in March, 2015, at the end of MVPs 26th annual UK tour and as most of you will know 2015 is Mr. Sinatra's centenary so for her own personal tribute Marlene linked a number he performed with Tommy Dorsey, It Started All Over Again with one he recorded on his own label, Reprise, some twenty years later, The Second Time Around. They were so well received on the tour that she decided to include them here because, let's face it, not everyone is able to get to a venue and hear her live.

And there you have it, a ballad or two, a bouncer or two; an in-betweener or two, like the man said, something for everyone.

Don't look now but that 'everyone' means you, so stop reading and start listening and keep in mind that if Marlene were a movie she'd be Casablanca. Better than that it doesn't get.


Leon Nock,
Lyricist, Journalist, contributor to Jazz Journal Int'l, UK

Artist Website:

Lou Volpe
Remembering Ol' Blue Eyes: (Songs of Sinatra)
(Jazz Guitar Records 917)
Street Date: November 6, 2015

Lou Volpe-guitar, Mel Davis-keyboards, Delmar Brown-keyboards, Onaje Allen Gumbs-piano, Stanley Banks-bass, Leo Traversa-bass, Buddy Williams-drums, Sipho Kunene-drums, Gary Fritz-percussion

“At first thought, a guitar tribute to Frank Sinatra might seem to be something of a contradiction in terms. But just a few minutes into the extraordinary guitarist Lou Volpe's brilliant new album Remembering Ol' Blue Eyes (Songs of Sinatra), it will make perfect sense. Sinatra was known not only for his wonderful voice, but also for his absolutely impeccable phrasing and timing, and for his spectacular interpretive skills that made it sound as if every lyricist had written the song specifically for Frank to sing. He put aside his own virtuosity in order to make the song the center of attention to give it every fiber of his being as an artist. Each song was conceived and developed for its ideal presentation, like a fine jeweler perceiving the essence of the stone before shaping it to its perfect state.

So it is with Lou Volpe.

A virtuoso of consummate artistry, Lou is in masterful control of not only his instrument, but also the full vernacular of musical expression, distilled into a sound as distinctive and personal as the human voice. His playing "'sings" the song as if he was uttering the lyrics. Throughout this album, his phrasing is always perfectly shaped to the demands of the song and its lyrics, and never beholden to his personal style. As with Sinatra, that personal interpretation is entirely his, while still making the song the center of focus.

Lou's playing is spectacular throughout. Blazing single-note runs, riveting chordal playing, rich smears, edgy twang, swirling crescendos, filigreed delicacy, inventive call-and-response, and brilliant use of syncopation and suspension are all brought to the fore as needed to tell the fascinating and utterly enthralling stories that are not only contained in the lyrics, but within the singular artistry that is Lou Volpe. Virtuosic without question, but never for its own sake and always within the purest essence of the song and the tale it tells.

The 13 Sinatra classics - plus one very special dedication to him - are not arranged to replicate the Chairman's versions. Nonetheless, each song has been splendidly constructed in arrangement and production to respect and honor the unique manner in which Sinatra painstakingly crafted each of his own interpretations - and performed with the same emotive and captivating fervor.

Eight exceptional artists were selected to perform this music with Lou, assembled into various combinations specifically suited to the vision conceived for each song. These include Delmar Brown, Mel Davis and Onaje Allen Gumbs on keyboards; bassists Stanley Banks and Leo Traversa; Buddy Williams and Gary Fritz on drums and percussion respectively; with drummer Sipho Kunene offering his talents on one track. While their roles are essentially supportive to Lou's interpretive genius, the flawless musicality and loving care that they bring to every piece is breathtaking, as they make this music their own.

Appropriately, most of the songs selected are from the Great American Songbook, with a couple of more recent Sinatra hits as well. The later pieces include It Was A Very Good Year offered as a soul ballad -lilting, gentle and atmospheric, with some delicious fills by Onaje, and with Lou adding his own keyboard colorations. That's Life receives a gospel-ish treatment with Lou evoking Grant Green over a B3-flavored pastiche from Delmar.

The trio support of Davis, Banks and Williams is featured on three tracks. I’ll Remember April opens the album in wide-open cooker fashion, launched on a Coltrane-inspired rhythm with briskly walking bass and Williams shifting rhythms eloquently. A smoldering, dramatic groove is at play for A Foggy Day, from its Wes Montgomery/Barney Kessel inspired melodic statement to the spirited solo by Davis. Suspense is the operative word here, not only for its suspended rhythms but also for its thematic context. And Sinatra's quintessential late-night barroom classic One For My Baby is a funky soul blues with a hint of B.B. King on tap, all driven smoothly by Banks' dark blue pulse.

A delightful Brazilian feel with Samba/Bossa Nova flavoring spices four items, each greatly enhanced by the effervescent percussion of Gary Fritz. The Best Is Yet To Come is a mid-tempo percussive smoker, with Lou also on keyboards, contributing to its richly textured rhythmic core. The infectiously buoyant and joyful Speak Low contains some blazing single-note runs that would have made Johnny Smith smile. An evocatively shimmering version of You Go To My Head features some especially remarkable percussion interplay. I've Got You Under My Skin has some tantalizing behind-the-beat playing from Lou (who also plays bass), and the scintillating presence of Sipho Kunene on drums.

The playful I Get A Kick Out Of You is a rhythmically alluring jaunt that features some deliciously chordal Wes-like playing by Lou; and All The Things You Are is a scorcher, featuring Lou backed only by Leo's bass and Buddy's drums, and tearing off some explosive, vividly syncopated runs.

Three enchanting solo pieces round out this marvelous album, each with subtly effective and tasteful overdubbing that allows Lou to accompany and color his own leads. These include a vividly suspended and lovely version of Days Of Wine And Roses; and Softly As I Leave You, an exquisite, deeply touching ballad of beguiling intimacy. The final solo piece, which closes the album in poignant and emotionally powerful fashion is Carlos Santana's gorgeous Europa, subtitled by Lou (Dedicated to the Brilliance of Frank) - a majestic and luminous tour-de-force.

Romantic, danceable, uplifting and marvelously enjoyable, Lou Volpe's Remembering Ol' Blue Eyes (Songs of Sinatra) is an album that will be listened to over and over again.

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Clavo Records CR201509
Recorded, Edited and Mixed by: Matthew Brownlie and Brent Fischer

“It's an amazing experience when, unexpectedly, a wish suddenly comes true. If it happens repeatedly, then that's just plain good luck. And so it began years ago when I started archiving the written music library of my father, Dr. Clare Fischer. I had hoped to find buried treasure in the stacks—material previously not seen or heard by others—that could be added to his public output. It has been one great find after another and it's still happening!

Getting most of the music he wanted to perform himself recorded, as opposed to leaving some for others to play, took right up until the end of his life. As with his final concerts, when he was recording, there was an absolute joy of spontaneity. Throughout his life, he felt that emotional content was always strongest during the first or second take so we always recorded that way, even if it meant minuscule imperfections were kept for the greater good of a heartfelt performance. I continue that practice today.

During the process of recording his original material, I almost lost sight of another important aspect of my dad's brilliance: his ability to re-develop the compositions of others into unmistakably personal statements that had the qualities of a new work while still retaining the character of the piece as it was known. I'm proud to present here a compendium of previously unreleased original material, different settings for some originals plus arrangements of great American, Latin and European standards.

The latest surprise came while in the middle of a busy schedule wrapping up this and a few other albums; Pluto and it's largest moon Charon came into view—out of the blue. I had to stop and look, filled with childhood memories of peeking through my dad's telescope at celestial bodies, always yearning for more detail. We shared our fascination with astronomy for decades, constantly delighting at new images sent from telescopes or spacecraft. We hope you'll explore these new recordings with that same sense of joy.”
- Brent Fischer

Track listing
1.  Love's Walk 5:50 (Arr. Brent Fischer)
2. Tema do Boneco de Palha 4:25
(Theme Of The Straw Doll) (Brasil - Neto)
3. When You Wish Upon a Star / Someday My Prince Will Come 7:58
(Churchill - Marline - Morey - Washington)
4. Starbright 4:22
5. TWO for The Road 3:46 (Mancini)
6. Case of the Seven Waterfalls 6:26 (Maiheiros)
7.  Out Of the Blue 4:31 Arr. Brent Fischer
8.  Milbrae Walk 2:56
9. Amor Em Paz 3:18 (Jobim - Gilbert - De Moraes)
10. Squatty ROO 5:24 (Hodges)
11.  Nuages 5:51 (Reinhardt)
12. Novelho 4:11
13. 49 4:21 (Larry Ford) Arr. Brent Fischer
14. Carnaval/A Felicidade/Samba De (Meu 8:00
(Bonfa - De Moraes - Jobim - Maria)

Musicians: Dr. Clare Fischer - Keyboards, composer, arranger Brent Fischer - Producer, arranger, all Percussion instruments, bass Peter Erskine - drums on Love's Walk, Starbright, Out of the blue, Nuages and 49, Mike Shapiro - drums on Tema do Boneco de Palha, Cascade of the seven Waterfalls, Millbrae Walk, and Carnaval/a Felicidade/Samba de Orpheu medley Denise Donatelli - Vocals on Out of the Blue   John Proulx - Vocals on Out of the Blue

“The masterful artistry of Dr. Clare Fischer at the grand piano and digital keyboard permeates this new collection of 14 previously unheard recordings of originals and standards curated by Grammy®-winning Producer, Composer, Arranger Brent Fischer.

In solo, duo, trio and quartet settings, the Fischer's are joined by Peter Erskine and Michael Shapiro plus a special guest appearance by vocalists Denise Donatelli and John Proulx. Out of the Blue is out of this world!

Clare Fischer has often been thought of as being ahead of his time. His keyboard work on this album sets a new paradigm for 21st century jazz as the art form matures into its 2nd century. American, Latin and European standards mix perfectly with Fischer originals like the title song, which is heard here for the first time. Hundreds of years of music history are wrapped up neatly in each track—harmony, polyphony, thematic development, improvising and grooving in a timeless approach. Brent Fischer continues here what Ed Enright of Downbeat calls the "enduring legacy" of Clare Fischer: the culmination of an unusually wide array of influences into a singular sound.”

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