Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Porgy and Bess Goes Latin - Nueva Manteca

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

For background information regarding the PORGY AND BESS GOES LATIN phase of our continuing theme of Jazz interpretations of the Gershwin opera, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought these insert notes from Nueva Manteca which was released by the Dutch-based Latin Jazz group in 1994 [Lucho 7714-2] might prove helpful.

“The idea of performing the gorgeous songs from Gershwin's masterwork 'Porgy and Bess' in a jazz format has been realized often in a most convincing way. One only has to think of the deeply moving version by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong with the Russ Garcia Orchestra or that other classic: The Miles Davis-Gil Evans collaboration. Remarkably enough a Porgy and Bess album has never been recorded in a Latin version.

George Gershwin himself loved jazz and greatly admired Thomas 'Fats' Waller and Art Tatum. He also had a deep interest in what we nowadays call 'World Music'. In 1932 he embarked for Havana, Cuba. Enjoying the good life, Gershwin found Cuba 'most interesting, especially for its small dance orchestras who play most intricate rhythms most naturally', as he wrote to a friend upon his return.

Inspired by his short visit to Cuba, Gershwin wrote the symphonic work 'Rumba'. According to his own words, in Rumba “... [he] endeavoured to combine the Cuban rhythms with his own original thematic material.” On the title page of the score Gershwin instructed that the players of four of the Cuban instruments he had brought back from Cuba — bongos, gui'ro, maracas and claves — should be placed in front of the conductor's stand, visible to the audience.

In 1934 Gershwin made another field trip. This time he travelled from New York to Charleston, South Carolina. His purpose was to visit the setting of his opera 'Porgy and Bess'. He also wanted to meet the people about whom librettist, DuBose Heyward, had written. From Charleston, Gershwin took the ferry to Folly Island. This island belongs to the group of Georgia Sea Islands. The Afro-American inhabitants speak the Gullah dialect with a vocabulary comprising some four thousand words. This dialect seems of West African derivation.

Although Gershwin found himself in a totally foreign environment far away from the glitter of Broadway, he immensely enjoyed 'going native' and immersed himself in the social and musical life. He frequently attended prayer meetings, participating in the so called 'Ring Shout'. The Ring Shout is a shuffling dance in anticlockwise direction accompanied by complex rhythmic patterns beaten out by feet and hands. Ring Shouts are a familiar characteristic of the 'Sanctified' and 'Pentecostal' churches and are believed to be derived from West African dances. The term 'shout' possibly stems from an Arabic word 'saut', said to be used by West African Muslim pilgrims to indicate the procession around the Kaaba [sacred Black Stone] in Mecca [Saudi Arabia].

Gershwin's friends discovered that the summer of 1934 spent on the Sea Islands was to the composer more like a homecoming than an exploration. The big city songs and the pulse of New York had found their counterpart in the haunting spirituals and body rhythms of the Gullah People. Gershwin had come under the spell of World Music, his masterworks 'Rumba' and 'Porgy and Bess' being the lasting reflection of it.

SUITE PORGY AND BESS GO LATIN - All compositions by George Gershwin.

All tracks arranged by Jan Laurens Hartong except nos. 2 & 6. 'Summertime' arranged by Ben van den Dungen. 'Bess, you is my woman now' arranged by Ben van den Dungen and Jarmo Hoogendijk.

BOUDEWIJN LUCAS Acoustic bass, bass guitar
LUCAS VAN MERWIJK Drums & percussion, bata drum (Itotele)
MARTIN VERDONK Tumbadora, quinto, chekere, bata drums (Yia ami Okoukole)
NILS FISCHER Timbales, conga's, bongo's and bata drums
guest; ALAOR SCARES Brazilian percussion

The following video features the group’s unique Overture to their Latin Jazz version of Porgy and Bess:

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Jerry Kalaf - "Welcome to Earth: Music for Trio and Sextet"

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

Every so often, a CD comes along that reflects that sense of serenity that Jazz can evoke by emphasizing the quieting and peaceful effects of the music’s sonority.

Such a recording was released on January 23, 2015 by Jerry Kalaf, a rare combination of a sensitive drummer who is also a talented composer-arranger [Dennis Mackrell also comes to mind, here].

Jerry’s Welcome to Earth: Music for Trio and Sextet is on Palm Mountain Records [8 88174 88566 7] and you can find order information at and through online vendors including Amazon, iTunes and CDBaby.

The music on Welcome to Earth: Music for Trio and Sextet is the Jazz equivalent of a search for beauty and truth and as such it is an exploration that comes at the music in a way that is more gentle, introspective and probing. Jerry’s music gives you time to think; both while playing it and when listening to it.

In this regard, it’s most telling composition may be This One’s For Jim - a piece that’s dedicated to the late guitarist Jim Hall who epitomized a subtle, smooth, delicate and refined approach to the music.

If as Louis Armstrong maintained - “Jazz is who you are.” - then this music is Jerry Kalaf.

Given the exquisite and intricate style of Jazz being played on Welcome to Earth: Music for Trio and Sextet, one would have thought that flutist and reed man Gary Foster would have found a place on this date.

Instead, we find Gary contributing these insightful insert notes the the disc.

“Jerry Kalaf has been for many years a colleague from the "jazz wars," LA rehearsal bands, motion picture and recording orchestras, and many live performances.

In 1998, Jerry and I played on pianist Gerard Hagen's CD, "Far Horizons." An arrangement of "You and the Night and the Music" was constructed on the spot We decided for variety that the drums and saxophone would improvise a chorus without the bass and piano. As we played our thirty-two-measure moment, I heard Jerry Kalaf the composer for the first time. Instead of a rhythmic solo, Jerry was hearing and playing from a harmonic understanding of the song. We have smiled about that moment many times over the years.

The music presented here is a beautifully conceived and performed collection of Jerry's original compositions. The trio and sextet selections provide fine settings for the performers. Jerry's direct quote about the players heard here is perfect: “... with the exception of Gabe Davis, who is one of our new young artists here in LA, every musician on this recording goes way back with me." All are highly respected practitioners of what jazz great Lee Konitz calls "The Improvisers Art"

Featuring three different groups, the eight tracks on this recording elicit deeply personal responses from the musicians in how they approach Jerry's music. The stylistic contrast between "Ambiguity," "Moving On," and "See You Next Year" is dramatic. Listening to "See You Next Year" I made the note - Begs for a lyric!

Welcome To Earth joins Side Two, This Side Up, and Just Like Old Times as
excellent documentation of Jerry Kalaf s musical life.

- Gary Foster - Los Angeles - October 13th, 2014"

Holly Cooper and her fine team at Mouthpiece Music is handling the media distribution for the CD and she sent along another of her informative press releases which I have reproduced below to give you more information about Jerry and the musicians and music on the new CD.

Welcome To Earth, the newest release by Jerry Kalaf, showcases the diverse talents of this multi-faceted, in-demand musician. A composer, arranger, and drummer, Kalaf's music - both his compositions and his drumming - can be heard on hundreds of recordings and soundtracks.

Welcome To Earth comprises eight of Kalaf’s original compositions and features his long-time collaborators, who are some of the finest jazz musicians on the West Coast. The music is richly textured and lyrical, written with the individual styles of the musicians in mind and presented in a sextet and two different trio settings.

Kalaf states, "My approach to composing can be termed absolute rather than programmatic. In other words, I usually don't draw from sources outside the music. I don't have a specific subject matter or imagery in mind; rather, I'm concerned with melody, harmony, and rhythm. I often think of the names only after the piece is written."

Take, for example, Ambiguity. This is one of the three sextet pieces on this disc that features Doug Walter on alto sax, Barry Coates on guitar, Jeff Colella on piano, Gabe Davis on bass, Scott Breadman on percussion, and Kalaf on drums. It's based on three major 7th intervals that Kalaf incorporates throughout the tune, giving it an ambiguous harmonic but atmospheric feel, and, hence, its name.

Siyaya Samba and This One's For Jim are the other two sextet pieces. Siyaya Samba is a beautiful melody inspired by the Zimbabwean musical, dance and theatrical group Siyaya, that Kalaf met on a State Department sponsored tour of Africa. This One's For Jim, which Kalaf dedicates to Jim Hall, moves through different rhythmic concepts and was arranged to highlight the distinct solo styles of Colella, Coates, and Breadman.

Leonard Thompson on piano, Ryan McGillicuddy on bass, and Kalaf on drums perform together on The Jazz Answer, a tune inspired by Bill Evans. In this piece, every measure can be interpreted as having a new key center, creating a complex but very approachable harmonic feel.

This trio also performs together on Not Knowing, an Oliver Nelson inspired waltz that's reminiscent of "Stolen Moments" that Kalaf takes to a whole new place, and Welcome To Earth, which Kalaf titled for his new grandson. This tune is constructed in six bar phrases that grow increasingly more complex.

See You Next Year and Moving On feature Rich Ruttenberg on piano, Domenic Genova on bass, and Kalaf. As a composer, Kalaf cites Bill Evans as one of his inspirations, which is apparent on See You Next Year, a highly engaging jazz waltz with a Bill Evans vibe. Kalaf and Ruttenberg have worked together on many projects over the years, and in this piece, Kalaf wanted to capture Ruttenberg's languorous style, wherein the notes feel like they resonate longer than they actually do. Moving On, which Kalaf wrote specifically to end the CD, is a wonderful vehicle for Ruttenberg and gives the project a resting place and a sense of completion.

Jerry Kalaf grew up in Binghamtom, New York, but has been a long-time resident of Los Angeles. Welcome To Earth is his fourth CD as a leader. It follows Noche, which features all original music by Kalaf performed by five pianists and four bassists in different trio settings, and Just Like Old Times, another recording of Kalaf s original music, with Rich Ruttenberg, Tom Warrington on bass and string arrangements by Doug Walter. Trio Music is Kalafs first CD as a leader and showcases eight of his compositions and one jazz standard. Rich Eames is on piano and Tom Warrington and Eric Ajaye share the bass chair.

Although there are three different bands on this project, there is an overarching sensibility and tone created by Kalaf's gorgeous melodies and the strong backbone provided by his drumming. His compositional talents and affinity for his fellow musicians create a seamless framework for the interplay of their individual styles. The result is an elegant work that is both meditative and compelling.

Kalaf has toured and recorded with some of the biggest names in music, including Eddie Harris, Gary Burton, Gary Foster, Frank Strazzeri, Bill Mays, Bill Perkins, Jimmy Cleveland, The Pointer Sisters, Gregory Hines and Major Holley, among many others.

He has been active for many years in movie and television studios. His performances and compositions can be heard on literally hundreds of soundtracks, including Batman Forever, Captain America, Demolition Man, Heat, Girls, In Living Color, He's Just Not That Into You, and many, many more.

Kalaf is also a highly respected educator and teaches jazz percussion at the prestigious and highly selective Colburn School in Los Angeles. He's also a recording engineer with his own studio, Studio J, which specializes in trio recordings.

You can sample Kalaf’s work from Welcome To Earth on this Soundcloud audio-only track featuring Ambiguity.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Jimmy Smith – Breaking New Ground [From The Archives]

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

The late Frank Wolff, Alfred Lion's partner in Blue Note, wrote, "I first heard Jimmy at Small's Paradise in January of 1956. It was his first gig in New York— one week. He was a stunning sight. A man in convulsions, face contorted, crouched over in apparent agony, the fingers flying, his foot dancing over the pedals. The air was filled with waves of sound that I had never heard before. The noise was shattering.”

I wanted to expand a bit upon an earlier posting about Jimmy Smith to underscore how great his accomplishment was in bringing Jazz to the Hammond B-3 organ.

You can gain some idea of the magnitude of Jimmy’s achievement from this 1964 Hammond Times  excerpt:

© -Hammond Times, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“I never did take lessons, just taught myself. First, I learned about the drawbars and what each one stood for. As time passed, I experimented trying out all the different sounds. Next came the presets. I tried them out too but I don't use them very much except when playing ballads or something sweet and soft. When it came to the foot pedals, I made a chart of them and put it on the wall in front of me so I wouldn't have to look down. My first method was just using the toe. In the earlier days I was a tap dancer so the transition to heel and toe playing was made without too much trouble. One thing I learned was that you have to have a relaxed ankle. I would write out different bass lines to try for different tempi in order to relax the ankle. One useful learning technique was to put my favorite records on and then play the bass line along with them to see if I could play the pedals without looking down and only occasionally using my chart on the wall. This worked out fine.

When you are properly coordinated, you get an even flow in the bass. Most often, organists are uneven in their playing of the pedals, heavy here and light there. Soon I was putting hands and feet together and achieving co-ordination. My first job with the organ was at a Philadelphia supper club, playing a duo with drums. It was here I began further experimentation with different drawbar settings and using different effects and dynamics. It was before these audiences that the Jimmy Smith sound evolved. People always ask me about this sound. This probably is best explained in my approach to the organ. While others think of the organ as a full orchestra, I think of it as a horn. I've always been an admirer of Charlie Parker, and I try to sound like him. I wanted that single-line sound like a trumpet, a tenor or an alto saxophone.”

And the following excerpt from Kenny Mathieson’s Cookin’: Hard Bop and Soul Jazz, 1954-1965 offers an even broader context in which to view Jimmy’s feat:

© -Kenny Mathieson/Canongate Books, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

In musical terms, … Smith … is the key figure in the evolution of the Hammond organ as a jazz instrument.  As he says, the electric organ had been used in jazz before he first took it up, either on an occasional basis by the likes of Fats Waller and Count Basic, or more regularly by musicians like Glenn Hardman, Doggett, Buckner and Davis. It was Smith, though, who brought the instrument to genuine prominence in a series of recordings for Blue Note in the late 1950s, and established it as a central jazz voice rather than an occasional novelty. Given that he had no instruction, the speed with which he had mastered the instrument by the time of his recording debut early in 1956 was a formidable achievement in itself, regardless of when he started.

The Hammond B-3 organ offered several advantages to the jazz player. Waller and Basic had played and recorded on fixed pipe organs, but the Hammond was relatively portable, although anyone who has ever been lured into helping move one will know that relatively is the correct word. Laurens Hammond had begun manufacturing the instrument in Chicago in 1935, and used a system of rotating steel tone wheels and an electromagnetic pickup to generate both the notes and the additional overtone pitches controlled by the drawbars above the two sets of keyboards (technically, organ keyboards are know as 'manuals'). The introduction of the rotating Leslie speaker in the early 1940s, combined with developments in the Hammond itself (notably the introduction of a percussion stop), helped provide the instrument with its characteristic tremolo sound. Later innovations introduced more technically advanced electronic attributes which eventually led to the tone wheel system becoming obsolete, but the tone wheel models have a distinctive weight and character to their sound which is much sought after, and the Hammond B-3 has remained the classic instrument of choice for jazz players.

Smith achieved a new musical synthesis on the instrument, and took the playing techniques to unprecedented levels. He developed a style which allowed him to play walking bass lines with his feet on the pedals, while playing chordal accompaniment with his left hand, and fleet, single-line melodies (or additional chord punctuations) with his right. The freedom to supply his own independent bass lines obviated the need for a bass player, and he formed what would become the archetypal soul jazz unit in 1955, a trio with organ, guitar and drums (a saxophone, usually tenor, was the optional extra in the equation). His music brought together elements from bebop and swing with blues and rhythm and blues, while the Hammond, which was widely used in black churches, lent itself particularly well to the gospel elements which infused hard bop and especially soul jazz. The combination would prove irresistible. The organ trio flourished in black clubs and bars, and eventually became one of the most popular of all jazz formats.

He brought his trio to New York early in 1956, playing at Small's Paradise in Harlem and at the Cafe Bohemia in Greenwich Village, and left the city's jazz scene buzzing with tales of a new star in the making. Among the jaws dropping were those of Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff of Blue Note, and the latter left a vivid verbal image of the experience (reprinted in the CD insert for The Best of Jimmy Smith: The Blue Note Years) to accompany his many photographs of the organist: 'Jimmy Smith was first with the mostest. I first heard Jimmy at Small's Paradise in January of 1956. It was his first gig in New York - one week. He was a stunning sight. A man in convulsions, face contorted, crouched over in apparent agony, his fingers flying, his foot dancing over the pedals. The air was filled with waves of sound I had never heard before. The noise was shattering. A few people sat around, puzzled, but impressed.'

Blue Note lost no time in taking Smith into the studio for the first time in February, 1956, and made it clear that their new signing was something special, issuing his debut album under the emphatic title of A New Sound - A New Star: Jimmy Smith At The Organ. The first volume, with Thornel Schwartz on guitar and drummer Bay Perry, contained Smith's version of 'The Preacher' and a blistering version of that great jam session perennial, ‘Lady, Be Good', while Volume 2, recorded in March with Donald Bailey taking over the drum chair, opened with an even more famous version of Dizzy Gillespie's The Champ'. The best of this up-tempo material has a raw excitement which still shines through (the ballads are rather overwrought), while Smith's extraordinary facility is matched by a genuine improvisational flair. Schwarz sounds a shade uncomfort­able when soloing at these speeds, and comes across as rather tame by comparison with the pyrotechnics erupting from the organ.

At this point, Smith was still audibly influenced by Wild Bill Davis's big, hard-driving, rather ornate style, and is still gripped by the sheer sonic possibilities of the instrument's effects, sometimes to the point of overkill. He would evolve an even more distinctive and influential voice in the ensuing years, when he began to concentrate more specifically on the horn-influenced, single line approach to soloing which he made his own. When I asked him about influences, all of the players he cited were saxophonists   -Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins and Don Byas. Piano players, he said, 'can't give me the shit I need'.”

[Around 1963, Smith parted company with Blue Note] … leaving a legacy, which, while undeniably formulaic, had not only established him beyond any serious contention as the leading exponent of the Hammond B-3 in jazz, but had done much to lay the foundations of the soul jazz sub-genre. By the time he left, there were numerous organ players plying the same funky fare, but few of them were able to match up to Smith as jazz improvisers. Having established, and indeed patented, his style, Smith rarely departed much from it, but immediately set about varying the kind of settings in which his music had been presented when he joined his new label, Verve Records. Norman Granz had established the label as a major jazz imprint, but he had sold it to MGM in 1960, and the presiding influence at Verve in this period was producer Creed Taylor.”

Jimmy’s output for Verve was very uneven, but while  he was with the label he did make some interesting recordings with guitarist Wes Montgomery and some that placed him in a new, big band setting with imaginative and commercially appealing arrangements by Oliver Nelson.”

Michael Cuscuna offered a succinct synopsis of Jimmy Smith’s rise to celebrity status  in the Jazz world and his early years at Blue Note in the following insert notes to  Jimmy’s Cool Blues Blue Note CD [7243 5 35587 2 7]. They are reprinted below with his permission.

© - Michael Cuscuna, used with permission; copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Jimmy Smith's story is an unusual one because he single-handedly intro­duced an instrument into the modern jazz mainstream and created a sound and a style to go with it. What is most unusual is that he did not even approach the instrument until he was 28 years old, and he did not play a gig under his own leadership or record an album until he was 29.

Born in NorristownPennsylvania on December 8, 1926, Jimmy studied piano from his father and later attended the Orenstein School of Music in Philadelphia for three years, studying piano, bass, harmony and theory. A succession of R&B gigs followed until 1955 when Smith began considering the possibilities of the electric organ, having been inspired by the work of Wild Bill Davis.

He made a deal with a Philadelphia organ dealer to play on one of their organs at one dollar an hour until he could afford to buy his own. When he did buy his own instrument, he housed it in a warehouse near his residence and worked out conscientiously everyday, systematically teaching himself the instrument's capabilities and possibilities.

After a year of sweat, he emerged with a style all his own and a facility that could be described as nothing less than complete virtuosity. He formed his first trio with guitarist Thornel Schwartz and drummer Bey Perry. Word of this phenomenon came up to New York via musicians such as pianist Freddie Redd who happened to catch Smith while traveling through Philly. A few initial gigs in New York, uptown at Small's Paradise and downtown at Cafe Bohemia, and this man playing organ was literally the talk of the town. Alfred Lion of Blue Note was quick to check him out and even quicker to sign him. And from his first sessions, which included "The Preacher" and "The Champ," Jimmy Smith's records were commercial ana artistic hits.

Smith recorded for Blue Note from February 1956 to February 1963. And the label put him in a variety of settings during those seven years. He recorded with his working trio, with singers Babs Gonzales and Bill Henderson, with rhythm section guests Kenny Burrell, Art Blakey and Philly Joe Jones, in quartet setting with Lou Donaldson or Stanley Turrentine and with all star sextets that included Lee Morgan, Curtis Fuller, Tina Brooks, Hank Mobley, Donald Byrd, Blue Mitchell, Jackie McLean, Ike Quebec and many others.

He seemed to shine most on live recordings and dates with an assem­blage or challenging horn men. In this album, we have both. Small's Paradise, the legendary Harlem club at 135th Street and 7th Avenue, has contributed to the history of jazz since the twenties. It has special significance to Smith and his relationship with Blue Note. The late Frank Wolff, Alfred Lion's partner in Blue Note, wrote, "I first heard Jimmy at Small's Paradise in January of 1956. It was his first gig in New York— one week. He was a stunning sight. A man in convulsions, face contorted, crouched over in apparent agony, the fingers flying, his foot dancing over the pedals. The air was filled with waves of sound that I had never heard before. The noise was shattering. A few people sat around, puzzled, but impressed. He came off the stand, smiling, the sweat dripping all over him. 'So what do you think?' 'Yeah,' I said. That's all I could say. Alfred Lion had already made up his mind."

"It was in the cards," Wolff con­tinued, "that Jimmy would succeed. He had revamped the jazz organ and come up with a new sound. The sound has now been adopted by almost all jazz organists, but his style remains his own. Right from the start of his recording career, he was in full command of this very complex and demanding machine, the Hammond organ. Apart from his incredible technique, he had fire, feeling, beat, humor— all adding up to a highly personal style. Everything was there, everything was right when he did The Champ' and through the years so many other masterpieces. Jimmy Smith is a great artist— and a beautiful guy."”

Jimmy Smith reveled in the expanded soundscape provided by Oliver Nelson’s big band arrangements as you can hear in the following audio track with its evocative version of Walk on the Wild Side, Elmer Bernstein’s theme from the film of the same name.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Bill Crow - "An 87-Year Old Bass Players from Othello, Washington"

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

Good things come in threes, so what with our recent postings about bassists Leroy Vinnegar and Charlie Haden, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it would be fun to repost this feature about bassist about Bill Crow, one of the "good guys" in the Jazz world. 

Bill recently referred to himself in a message to an internet chat group to which we both belong as "... an 87-year old bass player from Othello, Washington."

As you will no doubt note from the following, he may indeed be that at present, but Bill has had a long and storied career consisting of so much leading up to that 87th birthday on December 27, 2014.

Bill Crow
January 9, 2009

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

In terms of my exposure to the World of Jazz, I first “met” Bill Crow as the bassist with the “original” Gerry Mulligan Quartet. That’s because, the first time I ever heard the Gerry Mulligan Quartet was in 1959 when Bill played in the New York based version of the group that also included Art Farmer on trumpet and Dave Bailey on drums.

The occasion for the first listening was the What is There to Say? LP [CL 130; CK 52978] that Columbia graciously delivered to my door for a small charge courtesy of my membership in the Columbia Record Club.

With its mixture of standards such as the title tune, Just in Time and My Funny Valentine and intriguing originals like As Catch Can, Festive Minor, Blueport and News from Blueport [composed by Bill], the recording instantly became one of my favorite albums and it has remained so to this day.

And while my Jazz awareness developed to the point that I eventually worked my way back to the original, “original” quartet that Gerry formed in 1952 while working in Los Angeles with Chet Baker, bassist Carson Smith and drummer Chico Hamilton [I liked Larry Bunker better in the drum chair], I never lost my preference for the Farmer-Crow-Bailey edition of Gerry’s group.

Since that first “meeting,” it seems that Bill Crow has always been a part of my Jazz life and I’m happy to say that he still is through a collective correspondence via an internet group in which we both participate.

The music has been good to him and he has been good for the music as in addition to making it, he has also written about it and was for many years involved in its professional activities through his association with Musicians Union Local 802 in New York.

Bill’s bass lines are thoughtfully constructed with notes that always seem to be the best ones from a particular chord sequence. When Bill’s playing, you never have to “look for” the time; it’s firmly there. His notes sustain just enough to give the beat a nice bounce and he artfully varies them to help stimulate the soloists and keep the music flowing.

I think that Bill’s long association with Gerry Mulligan, especially Mulligan as composer – arranger, helped him to develop a very sophisticated harmonic knowledge. He has incredible ears so he knows exactly where the soloist is going and then he can guide him from there. Bill knows what the function of the bass is - he can play the bottom….he can walk…..he can do it all.

Any drummer would love to work with him as Bill gives a rhythm section an instant cohesion. My favorite drummer on the planet – Joe Morello – certainly thought so during his long working relationship with Bill as part of the Marian McPartland trio while at the Hickory House in New York during the mid-1950s.

And yet, Bill was not an instant phenomena on the instrument like a Jimmy Blanton or a Scott LaFaro. His was more a studied, dogged application built on years of trial and error – he literally made himself into one of the premier bassists in Jazz, albeit an underappreciated and unacknowledged one.

His story is more reminiscent of pianist Bill Evans’ assessment:

“I always like people who have developed long and hard, especially through introspection and a lot of dedication. I think what they arrive at is usually … deeper and more beautiful … than the person who seems to have that ability and fluidity from the beginning…. And yes, ultimately it turned out that these people weren’t able to carry their thing very far. I found myself being more attracted to artists who have developed through the years to become better and deeper musicians.”

Bill Crow’s well-developed sense of humor is another of his wonderful qualities. It is an attribute he shares whenever he can in his stories, comments and writings about Jazz musicians – who, as a group, are very funny people.

One of my most cherished possessions is a faded, dog-eared copy of his Jazz Anecdotes which, in its review of the book, The Library Journal cautions should be “Read … somewhere where you are not afraid to be seen laughing out loud.” The humorous Clark Terry story which Bill recounts on pages 327-328 about a bird named Chet who sings Christmas carols has saved me untold dollars in unspent trips to a mental health therapist. Here's The Story of The Amazing Chet.

“Not having [trumpeter] Clark Terry tell this one robs it of some of its charm. You have to imagine the devilish look in Clark’s eye as he sings each song!

A guy walked into a pet store looking for a Christmas gift for his wife. The storekeeper said he knew exactly what would please her and took a little bird out of a cage. "This is Chet," he said, "and Chet can sing Christmas carols." Seeing the look of disbelief on the customer's face, he proceeded to demonstrate.

"He needs warming up," he said. "Lend me your cigarette lighter."

The man handed over his lighter, and the storekeeper raised Chet's left wing and waved the flame lightly under it. Immediately, Chet sang "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful."

"That's fantastic!" said the man.

"And listen to this," said the storekeeper, warming Chet's other wing. Chet sang, "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

"Wrap him up!" said the man. "I'll take him!"

When he got home, he greeted his wife:

"Honey, I can't wait until Christmas to show you what I got you. This is fantastic."

He unwrapped Chet's cage and showed the bird to his wife.

"Now, watch this."

He raised Chet's left wing and held him over a Christmas candle that was burning on the mantlepiece. Chet immediately began to sing, "Silent Night." The wife was delighted.

"And that's not all, listen to this!" As Chet's right wing was warmed over the flame, he sang, "Joy to the World."

"Let me try it," cried the wife, seizing the bird. In her eagerness, she held Chet a little too close to the flame. Chet began to sing passionately, "Chet's nuts roasting on an open fire!""

Bill has the ability to explain complicated and arcane aspects of Jazz in layman’s terms. I have always found him to be a helpful teacher about what goes into making Jazz.

Bill always helps me to remember another quality about Jazz, either playing it or talking about it and that is – Jazz is fun – enjoy it and don’t take it too seriously.

Phil Woods has labeled Bill Crow “Jazz’s Boswell,” a just and deserved appellation as Bill's writings about Jazz and its makers have served to enrich our appreciation of Jazz and to document many important aspects of it as an art form.
Bill has a website - - which is currently offering his two CDs on Venus.

Bill Crow: Jazz Talk 
January 17, 2009

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

“I was self-taught, having picked up the bass on a summer job in 1950. I joined Stan Getz in 1952, after several months of playing with Teddy Charles’s trio. (With Teddy, I learned some modern harmony and developed chops for playing fast tempos.) Jimmy Raney got me that first job with Stan, with Jimmy on guitar, Jerry Kaminsky on piano and Roy Haynes on drums. Jimmy showed me the chords on a couple of his originals, and what to use in certain places on standards like “Stella by Starlight” and “Round Midnight,” but I was otherwise left on my own. I could hear the notes I wanted to play, but couldn’t always find them quickly on the bass. It was a great learning experience.

Stan had a gorgeous tone and fabulous technique. He and Jimmy achieved a blend that sometimes sounded like one instrument. Stan once told me, “I never have any trouble playing anything I can think of. The trouble is in thinking of what to play.” He admired Al Cohn’s melodic ideas, and often used Al’s inventions in his improvisations.

Stan knew that I was mainly a rhythm player at that time, but he sometimes gave me solos on medium tempos, which I could handle. He seemed to like the way I fit into the rhythm section, and he kept me on through several changes in the group. Duke Jordan replaced Kaminsky, Frank Isola replaced Haynes, and then was replaced by Kenny Clarke. Then Raney left, and a little later Jordan and Clarke left, so Stan built a new group, keeping me on. Johnny Williams and Al Levitt came in on piano and drums. Bob Brookmeyer was to join us, but wasn’t available for the first two jobs, so Johnny Mandel substituted for him on slide trombone.

That rhythm section never connected with each other as well as the previous two had. Stan and Bob decided they needed a more experienced bass player, so Stan fired me and rehired his earlier bassist, Teddy Kotick. They went on to the west coast, and then the group broke up. During those six months with Stan, I learned a lot of new music, improved my solo playing a little, met and played with many good musicians, and had my first opportunity to record with a major artist.

Teddy Kotick had been working with Claude Thornhill’s band, so when he left to go back with Stan, I was hired by Claude’s manager, and I started a summer of one-nighters. My reading was good enough to play big-band charts, but I ran into trouble with Claude’s theme song “Snowfall,” which had a repeating bass line in D-flat that was very difficult for me to finger using my self-taught technique. I spent one morning figuring out an alternate fingering, and that started me on the way to learning a better use of the fingerboard. Claude’s music was lovely to play, and there were some excellent jazz players on the band, especially Gene Quill on alto, Dave Figg on tenor and Dick Sherman on trumpet. I got along well with the drummer, Winston Welch, and the band sounded very good almost every night.

When Claude cut back on his schedule, I left his band to take a job with the Terry Gibbs Quartet, with Frank DiVito on drums and Terry Pollard on piano and vibes. Then Gibbs moved to California, and I found a little work here and there in New York. One of those jobs was with Don Elliot, at a club in the basement of the Plaza Hotel called Cy Coleman’s Room. Cy and his trio were the main event, and Don’s group played in between their performances. We started out with Dick Katz on piano and Denzil Best on drums. Don played both vibes and mellophone. With Dick Katz encouraging us to try a lot of John Lewis material, we had a nice subtle swing going with that group, though Don seemed to need the occasional bravura ending, grabbing the mellophone and sounding a tantara, or whooping like a crazed ambulance.

Denzil was still recovering from a bad auto accident. Don loved the way he had played brushes with George Shearing’s group, and told him to take it easy and just play brushes. But Denzil’s hands would swell a little by the end of the job each night, and his left leg was too weak to keep a steady hi-hat beat. Despite Don’s reassurances, Denzil felt he wasn’t playing up to par, and quit after the second week. To replace him, Don hired a drummer that Dick Katz didn’t agree with musically, and so Dick also left the job. Don said he thought he would hire a piano player he knew from a kid band in New Jersey, and that was how I met Bill Evans. At that time, Bill’s playing had some Tristano influence, but he was well on his way to developing his own thing.

Don had me over to his apartment a couple of times to help him work on a multitracking project he was working on. He wanted to be a vocal group and play all the instruments he could play. This was before multi-layered recording heads and wide recording tape had been invented. Don was recording from one single-track tape recorder to the other, adding parts as he went. He finally interested Phil Moore in the project, and in a studio with multi-track capability, we did an album called “The Voices of Don Elliot” for ABC Paramount.

When Don’s gigs ended, I did a short stint with Jerry Wald’s sextet at the Embers, and then Marian McPartland called me to join her trio, with Joe Morello on drums, at the Hickory House on West 52nd Street. Marian made me very welcome, and gave me a lot of solo space. Joe was easy to play with, and the three of us developed a good rapport. The hardest part of that trio for me was that Marian loved to modulate into different keys, and some of them were finger-busters for me, with my homemade fingering system. I was forced to learn to play in all the hard keys, and I improved my technique a lot on that job.
Marian had a great harmonic palette, and I learned a lot from her. And I loved her melodic inventions. At that time, she wasn’t a strong swinger, though she aspired to strong rhythmic playing and worked hard at it. She did eventually develop an easy swing in her jazz.

Joe was adept at poly-rhythms and cross rhythms, and would do his best to lose us during his solos. We learned to count carefully while he played alone, and he always came out right on the money, no matter how complicated his improvisations.

Morello had developed what he called his finger technique, in which he could keep his left stick tapping the drumhead with just the pressure of his left forefinger, and then he could add accents by rotating his wrist at the same time. Sitting with him at a back booth in the Hickory House, where he always had a pair of drumsticks and practiced on a folded napkin on the table, I borrowed a stick and figured out his finger trick, and I could keep it going pretty well. Joe loved to tell admiring students who visited us at the club, “There’s nothing to the finger technique. Anybody can do it. Here, look, even my bass player can do it!” And he would hand me a stick and have me demonstrate.

Joe and I were in a good place to be heard at the Hickory House, and as a result of our exposure there, we were hired as a team by a number of recording artists, including Jackie and Roy, Jimmy Raney, and Victor Feldman. We were also hired on off days by Marian’s husband, Jimmy McPartland, through whom we met and played with musicians of his era like Vic Dickenson, Herb Hall, Tyree Glenn, Marty Napoleon, Pee Wee Russell and Bud Freeman.

I was happy with Marian’s trio, but I couldn’t pass up an offer from Gerry Mulligan to join his sextet, with Bob Brookmeyer, Zoot Sims, Jon Eardley and Dave Bailey. Gerry’s music was beautiful, Zoot was the most swinging jazz musician I had ever heard, and Brookmeyer’s playing had been a delight to hear every night when we were together with Stan Getz. I met Bailey and Eardley at our first rehearsal, and when we began to play, I was knocked out by the quality of the music and the good spirit among us. Gerry had a way of organizing the music without limiting anyone’s expression, and the result was very exhilarating both to the sextet and to our audiences.

Dave Bailey had the touch Gerry was looking for, light and swinging. We locked in together right away, and had a working relationship for a number of years, with Gerry’s groups and with the quintet co-led by Bob Brookmeyer and Clark Terry. Dave was a good section-mate and a good road pal. We enjoyed traveling together, and had many laughs. Dave had been a pilot during the war, and continued to add to his flight knowledge in his spare time. Whenever we were working near a place where he could study something new about flying, that would be how he would spend his daytime hours.

When Gerry’s work dwindled, and not much else was going on in the jazz business, Dave made a living giving flying lessons at Westchester County airport. I went up with him a few times, when he had the use of planes that belonged to his clients. Later, he was co-pilot of attorney F. Lee Bailey’s Lear jet, until it had to be sold. Dave went on to be supervisor of New York’s Jazzmobile program for many years. He refused to play in public any more, but we did get him to come down to St. Peter’s Church and play for the memorial tribute to Gerry Mulligan after he passed away.

After I joined Mulligan’s sextet, I soon realized that my lack of a good fingering system on the bass was giving me problems I didn’t need. With Marian, I played lines that fit my technique, since I was free to play whatever I chose. But Gerry had written certain things that I found difficult to play perfectly in tune every time, and it bothered me. Through a colleague, Trigger Alpert, I found my teacher, Fred Zimmerman, who at that time was the principal bassist with the New York Philharmonic. He straightened out my left hand, taught me how to use the bow, and set me on a path of discovery about the bass that I’m still on.

After a tour of Europe, Gerry’s sextet became a quartet, with Brookmeyer and Bailey, and a month or two later, after I had a disagreement with Gerry over something stupid, I resigned and went back with Marian for a couple of years, now with Dick Scott on drums, since Morello had gone with Dave Brubeck. That trio broke up on the road, and after a bit, Gerry called me to rejoin the quartet, this time with Art Farmer as the other horn.

I was delighted. Art was playing beautifully, and fit into Gerry’s quartet format easily, without losing any of his own musical personality. He was studying George Russel’s Lydian system of tonal organization, and really found it useful in his improvisations. I also went to George and bought his Lydian treatise, but he said, “I’ll sell this to you, but I’m not sure what you can do with it. My whole concept works off the bass line staying around the root of the chord. The horns can go as far out as they like, but it’s the roots that they are going far out from, and we kind of expect the bass player to be there for them.” I studied his scales and decided he was right… I’d do better to stay at the lower end of the chords.

Gerry’s quartet went off to California without me. I decided to stay in New York. When Art and Dave left to help form the Jazztet with Benny Golson, that version of the Mulligan quartet came to an end. A bit later, Gerry returned to the east coast with his Concert Jazz Band, and when Buddy Clark went back home to California, I was happy to join the band. I’ve described in my book “From Birdland to Broadway” what it was like to play with that band. It was one of the high points of my career.

Clark Terry joined the band at the same time I did, and I discovered what a spark plug he was in a band. He knew how to get a good section blend, and all his solos were exactly right for the arrangements. He had a very large bag of tricks, full of surprise and good humor. His technique was amazing, with very flexible lip control and a mastery of circular breathing that let him play amazingly long phrases.

Whenever Gerry’s work schedule had a hole in it, Clark and Bob Brookmeyer would put together their quintet for a week or two at the Half Note. Dave Bailey and I were regulars, and the piano chair, which belonged to Hank Jones, rotated among the subs Hank sent in: Herbie Hancock, Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan, etc. We finally stayed with Roger Kellaway, who was with the group until it ended when Brookmeyer moved to California. Roger amazed us all. Blessed with great technique, he could play any style, from ragtime to space music. Whatever style he chose to play at the moment would be filled with wonderful surprises that kept the rest of us continually delighted.

Nick Travis was the lead trumpeter on Gerry’s band. He had a gorgeous sound, and with his experience with small groups as well as with the Sauter-Finegan band, he understood Gerry’s band, and was the perfect lead man for it.

Sitting next to Clark Terry in the trumpet section was Don Ferrara, who had an entirely different style. He had studied with Lennie Tristano, and had developed the kind of fluid lines I associated with Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh. Though Clark had most of the trumpet solos, Don also had a few, and when it was his turn, he always came up with something wonderful. I admired the way those three trumpet players, each with a strong individual style and sound in their solo playing, got such a good blend when playing together as a section.
Gene Quill was Gerry’s lead alto player. I knew Gene from the Thornhill band, and was glad to see him again. He had learned his big tone and strong phrasing from Charlie Parker’s playing, and was just the right man to lead Gerry’s sax section. He was also a fiery soloist. Gene was a drinker, and when in his cups could be belligerent. Not being a large man, this belligerence often cost him. He was beaten up several times by larger drunks. Toward the end of his life, one such beating caused some brain damage, and he lived his last years with severe physical problems. But his days on Gerry’s Concert Jazz Band were golden. He had the time of his life, and we all enjoyed his fine playing.

During the last years of the Concert Jazz Band, when Clark Terry had to take a night off, he would send in Thad Jones to replace him. I had gotten to know Thad when he was on the Basie Band, and I was playing opposite them at Birdland. He brought good nature and good musicianship to Gerry’s band, and we were always glad to see him. He also brought in some of his arrangements for us to play, which we enjoyed very much.

At that time, Thad was a little spotty as a soloist. Sometimes his solos just flowed out of him, melodic, inventive, and right on the money. Other times, he sounded like his ideas were a moment ahead of his technique, and his solos would sound muddy, his tone would suffer, and he would seem to be struggling. By the time, the CJB had come to an end, Thad and our drummer Mel Lewis had put together their Monday night band at the Village Vanguard. Every time I heard that band, Thad sounded wonderful. Evidently whatever it was that he had been going through as a soloist had been resolved.

Many years later, Nick Brignola called me to participate in a concert he was preparing at a theater in Cohoes, New York, up near Albany. Nick was to play with three groups, a traditional jazz group, a bebop group, and a free jazz group. I found myself in the bebop group, along with Thad Jones. During one of the numbers, while I was playing behind Nick’s solo, I noticed Thad standing behind me with a quizzical look on his face. When we finished our set and left the stage, Thad pulled on my sleeve and said, “Come with me.” We went down to the bar while the concert continued. Thad bought me a beer and then stood back and appraised me for a moment. Then he said, “You’re a big band bass player, and I know it! Now, don’t think about money for a minute. Just let me tell you where we’re going! First, we have three weeks in England. Then we have a month touring the major cities of Europe. Then it looks like we can do a couple of weeks in Africa!” I looked at him for a minute, and then said, “’Bye!” He laughed, and I explained that though I loved his band, I couldn’t possibly leave my family for that amount of time. “Call me for some subs at the Vanguard!” I told him. He did, but Richard Davis, his regular bassist, didn’t take off very much. The band was too good.

Mel Lewis had joined Gerry’s Concert Jazz Band when it was formed in California, and that was what brought him back to New York. When I joined the band, we connected through the music right away. Mel liked the middle of the beat, and preferred the band to settle into the center of a groove, rather than press forward on the time. He had a wonderful beat, and the sounds of his cymbals were perfect for Gerry’s band. I liked the way he decorated the beat with patterns around his drums. He once told me, “I don’t like to play the accents with the brass section. I like to let them swing by themselves. If you play everything they’re playing, they get lazy. I leave them alone, and instead, I play what the saxophones are playing behind them.”

Mel also played great on the Benny Goodman band when we went with him to the Seattle World’s Fair and then on a six-week tour of the Soviet Union. When we went out to jam with the local Russian musicians, the rhythm section was usually Mel, me, and Victor Feldman, who was Benny’s vibraphone player. Victor was a fine pianist, and was up on all the latest jazz tunes, which many of the Russian musicians had learned from Voice of America broadcasts.

Once, when neither Mel nor Dave Bailey was available for some upcoming Mulligan work, I recommended Gus Johnson, who I had met at Birdland when he was with Basie. We had become backstage friends, and began hanging out together now and then. I had played with him once, when he sat in for Frank DiVito with Terry Gibbs’s quartet, and I loved his time feeling. At the time Gerry needed a drummer, I knew Gus wasn’t doing much. He was working as a bank guard in the Bronx to make a living. He came with Gerry’s quartet, and stayed for about a year.
Manny Albam liked the way Gus and I sounded together, and recommended us as a team on record dates. We made several records and quite a few commercial jingles together. In those days, record and jingle producers were always looking for rhythm section teams, the most in demand one being Milt Hinton, Osie Johnson and Hank Jones.

I recorded with Hank a number of times, usually on dates where Milt was unavailable, and I thought he was the perfect pianist. He had a beautiful touch, knew all the best ways around the chord changes, and swung mightily. And he brought an air of cheerful competence to every date, making us all feel that it would be possible to make some very good music that day.

While I was working with Gerry Mulligan, Jimmy Giuffre came to New York with his trio, with Jim Atlas on bass and Jim Hall on guitar. I became friends with Jim Hall right away, and he, Giuffre, Bob Brookmeyer, and I spent a lot of time together in Greenwich Village, where we were all living. Giuffre got a yen to have Brookmeyer in his group, and decided he could still do the trio gigs he had booked by doing without the bass player. So Brookmeyer joined him, and Jim Hall filled the role of both guitar and bass. In those days he kept a second guitar handy, tuned a fourth lower, so he could have that additional range available for certain numbers. And as soon as his financial situation would allow it, he went over to Kenmare Street and ordered a new guitar from the master luthier DeAngelico. [a luthier is some who makes and repairs lutes and other string instruments]

Since Jim Hall and I often went to jam sessions together, I got to play with him a lot. And now and then Mulligan would put together some work for a sextet, which included Jim. We made some nice records with that group, with Gerry, Brookmeyer, Art Farmer, Dave Bailey and Jim. I also played a couple of weeks in Hartford with Dave Mackay, one week with Jim Hall and the other with Jim Raney. When Jim Hall and Brookmeyer were with Giuffre and I was with Mulligan’s quartet with Art Farmer, we made a tour of Europe together, along with the Gene Krupa quartet. By the time we got to Italy, Krupa was no longer with us, due to previous bookings.In Milan, Italy, Jim Hall introduced me to a local guitarist, Franco Cerri, and to Lars Gullin, who was staying in Milan at the time. Our tour finished there, and I stayed for a week with Franco. Dave Bailey and I played a jam session with Lars, who sounded wonderful. A local businessman thought he could sell a record made with Lars and Mulligan’s rhythm team, so he asked Dave and me into a local recording studio. We had just played a jam session with George Grunz when we were in Switzerland, and so we asked them to fly him down for the session. Lars played well, and we all enjoyed the date, but for some reason the record never was released.

The first time I met Phil Woods was on a rehearsal for a record date with Jimmy Raney. I was amazed at the strength and bravery of Phil’s playing. He really announced himself! Quite often after that, we found ourselves playing together on the same groups. And he was Gene Quill’s sub on Gerry Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band. Since Phil moved out to Pennsylvania, I’ve had fewer chances to play with him, but occasionally the opportunity arises. He has lung problems now, but you would never know it to hear him play.

I met Al Cohn and Zoot Sims at Village jam sessions, and first worked with Zoot on Gerry Mulligan’s sextet. We got to know each other better when the sextet went to Europe. We sailed to Italy on the Andrea Doria, a year before it sank, and Zoot and I played a lot of ping-pong on deck during that trip. Zoot sparked that sextet in an extraordinary way, soloing with joyous abandon and infusing the ensemble parts with his special brand of swing.

Not long after that tour, Zoot left to start a quintet co-led with Al Cohn. Often, when their regular bassist, Major Holley, was busy, I would take his place, and it was always a thrilling experience. We were just swinging as hard as we could, all night long. The tunes Al wrote were both interesting and easy to play, and the sound that he and Zoot made together was almost too good to be true. Mousie Alexander was usually the drummer, and Mose Alison the pianist. What a band!

Zoot and Al would occasionally get jobs for just one tenor and a rhythm section, and I often worked those jobs with them. Al called me to play at the Three Sisters and at Gullivers, both in Paterson, New Jersey. His tone was huge, and inventive ideas just poured out of his horn. Stan Getz once said, when asked about his ideal tenor player, “My technique, Zoot’s swing, and Al Cohn’s ideas.”

One extended gig with Zoot was a whole summer I played with his quartet at the Atlantic House in Provincetown, Mass, at the tip of Cape Cod. We played every night, and always looked forward to doing it again. Paul Motian was the drummer, and Nico Bunink was the pianist. We spent every day at the beach and then swung all night long.

Though I worked many gigs with Zoot, I probably played more often with him at jam sessions. He never said no to an opportunity to play. We spent many nights together at loft sessions in the Village and in the flower district in the West 20s. On the road, we usually found some place to play after the gig. We jammed with the local musicians in Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Seattle, Naples, Rome, Milan, Bologna, Paris, Geneva, Moscow, Sochi, Tbilisi, Leningrad, and Kiev. And after he bought a house in West Nyack, NY, about ten minutes from where I live, we often played in the rec room in his basement. And the last time, just a few days before his death, we played at Benny Aronov’s house in Dobbs Ferry, NY. Zoot tried to play, but couldn’t get more than a couple of squeaks out of his horn. But he was where he wanted to be, among friends at another jam session.”