Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Phil Woods - November 2, 1931 - September 29, 2015: Rest in Peace

Philip Wells [Phil] Woods
Born: SpringfieldMassachusettsNovember 2, 1931

© -Reprinted with the permission of Gene Lees; copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Phil Woods sometimes refers to himself as Dubois. He is more than half French by ancestry. His father changed the name from Dubois. The rest of Phil is Irish.

When I played one of Phil's records for a friend whose main experience of music was country and western, she said, "Oh yes—he cares." And so he does. Phil's wife Jill (whose brother, Bill Goodwin, is the drummer in Phil's group) once said to me, "Phil's angry about all the right things."

And so he is. He gets angry about indif­ferent musicianship, politicians, racism, injustice in all its forms, and any failure to render to jazz and its past masters the respect he thinks they deserve. Phil man­ages to combine in his brilliant alto playing an improbable combination of ferocity and lyricism. Phil once said pointedly that his influences were "Benny Carter, Johnny Hodges, and Charlie Parker, in that order." He has assimilated all his influ­ences to become utterly distinctive, one of those people you can identify in two or three bars, sometimes in one assertive phrase.

Phil graduated from Juilliard as a clari­net major. He still plays the instrument occasionally, and always beautifully. But he has specialized since early days in alto saxophone, on which he achieves a huge tone. He has played with absolutely eve­rybody of consequence in jazz, in every imaginable context, and has recorded with Benny Carter and Dizzy Gillespie, two of his major heroes. He is an intriguing com­poser and, as a soloist, inexhaustibly inventive.

One of Phil's early idols was Artie Shaw, on whose work he modeled his own clari­net playing. It was my pleasure to intro­duce Phil to Artie, who began his pro­fessional career on saxophone, at a party after one of Phil's concerts. Also at that party was the fine tenor saxophone player Eddie Miller. When Phil had gone off in the crowd of his admirers, Shaw said to me, "I've heard them all. All. Phil Woods is the best saxophone player I ever heard." And Eddie Miller warmly agrees.

Phil is completely uncompromising. He dislikes amplification, and will not allow microphones on the bandstand. Though he was a successful studio musician in New York in the 1960s, he has since then declined to play anything but jazz, and only on his terms. He tours with a quintet that usually contains a second horn, whether trumpet or trombone. Tom Harrell is one of the alumni of his group.

I don't wish to make Phil sound forbidding. He isn't. Indeed, he's terribly funny and a delight to be with. But Jill got it right; I know no one on this earth with more integrity than Philip Wells Woods.”

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Forgotten Ones - Buddy Collette: The Gordon Jack Essay

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

“If I were going to pick a guy to open the Hollywood studio doors as Jackie Robinson did for baseball, Buddy would have been the man”.
- Gerald Wilson, trumpet player, bandleader, educator

“A spiritual father to Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, James Newton and myself. Buddy was a sage and saint. The doors he opened for us are innumerable and monumental.”
- Charles Lloyd, tenor saxophonist, flutist, bandleader

UK-based author and essayist Gordon Jack “dropped by” the editorial offices of JazzProfiles recently to share the following piece on Buddy Collette which first appeared in the March 2015 issue of Jazz Journal. You can locate more information about the magazine via this link.

And at the conclusion of this piece, you can checkout Buddy’s style of playing on a video that features him on a track from Conte Candoli’s Little Band Big Jazz on which the rhythm section is comprised of Vince Guaraldi, piano, Leroy Vinnegar, bass and Stan Levey, drums.

© -  Gordon Jack/JazzJournal; copyright protected, all rights reserved, used with the author’s permission.

“Buddy Collette should be remembered not only as a consummate multi-instrumentalist equally at home on flute, clarinet, alto or tenor but also for the major part he played in integrating the Los Angeles Federation of Musicians’ Locals in 1953. Until then two different locals operated in many US cities – one for black performers and one for white.

He was born in Los Angeles in 1921 and began learning the piano when he was ten but a couple of years later he switched to the saxophone.  His family lived in the Watts area and Britt Woodman and Charles Mingus were neighbours. It was Britt’s brother who taught Buddy the clarinet and by the mid-thirties he was a member of The Woodman Brothers Biggest Little Band In The World.

Buddy also had his own band around this time playing occasional Saturday night dances but he needed a bass player. A chance meeting with Mingus who was studying the cello solved the problem. Buddy encouraged him to take up the bass and introduced him to Red Callender who became Mingus’ first teacher, charging $2.00 a lesson. After considerable wood-shedding Charles joined Collette’s band for occasional engagements at the Odd Fellows Hall in Watts and over the years Buddy and Mingus remained very close.

Around 1937 he started working at the Follies Theatre backing acts like Tempest Storm, Lily St.Cyr and vaudeville comedian Joe Yule (Mickey Rooney’s father). A little later in 1940 he began studies with the celebrated Lloyd Reese who had acquired a reputation as one of the finest jazz educators on the west coast. While studying with Reese he joined the very popular Cee Pee Johnson band who were usually to be heard at Central Avenue venues like the Club Alabam. Buddy was on baritone and it was possibly when the band appeared at Hollywood’s Rhumboogie that Orson Welles heard them and decided to use them in Citizen Kane. They can be seen briefly during a party scene at the end of the film.

When the US entered WWII in 1941 he joined an all-black US Navy Reserve band serving with Clark Terry, Jerome Richardson and the Royal brothers - Ernie and Marshal.  After the war the Central Avenue scene continued to thrive with clubs like Lovejoy’s, the Last Word and the Turban Lounge featuring young stars like Dexter Gordon, Wardell  Gray, Sonny Criss, Buddy and his friend Bill Green.

Collette started to organise a little band with John Anderson, Britt Woodman, Spaulding Givens, Mingus, Oscar Bradley and Lucky Thompson who had stayed in town after his booking with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker at Billy Berg’s in 1946. They rehearsed at Mingus’ house and their first booking was at the Down Beat which was the hottest spot on Central Avenue. It was a collaborative group so they decided to call themselves The Stars Of Swing. That was to be on a sign outside the club but Lucky Thompson had other ideas. On opening night the club sign said, Lucky Thompson And The All Stars. Mingus apparently wanted to kill him and three days later after the original sign was reinstated Lucky left the group to be replaced by Teddy Edwards

With aid of the GI Bill Buddy began studying at the American Operatic Laboratory, the California Academy of Music and the L.A. Conservatory of Music. This was the time that he began concentrating on the flute studying with Henry Woempner who was the top flutist at MGM. He also had harmony lessons with Franklyn Marks and Wesley La Violette who numbered Shorty Rogers, Marty Paich and Jimmy Giuffre among his students.

For a time in the late forties when work was scarce he went on the road with Joe Liggins’ R&B band on baritone. Joe had just had a big hit with The Honeydripper and the band was working mostly down south where prejudice was severe and very difficult to take. Another southern trip involved Buddy performing with Eddie “Rochester” Anderson who was famous for his work with Jack Benny. Around this time he was playing alto in Benny Carter’s band at the Hollywood Palladium and he was also teaching music at Jordan High School in Watts. The fourteen year old Frank Morgan whose father had played guitar with the Ink Spots, together with Sonny Criss and Eric Dolphy were some of his students. Eric and Buddy were close friends until Dolphy’s untimely death in 1964.

With his superior sight-reading skills Collette was beginning to get regular calls for record dates in the late ‘40s on alto with people like Ivie Anderson, Johnny Otis, Gerald Wilson, Ernie Andrews and Charles Mingus. Then around 1950 he made history by becoming the first black musician to be hired for a national TV show. Jerry Fielding, who had replaced Billy May as musical director for Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life show hired him after hearing his flute performance in Bizet’s Carmen with the Community Symphony Orchestra.  

Duke Ellington wanted him – “So I can feature that flute of yours” - but Buddy was by now doing too well in L.A. He started playing tenor with Herb and Lorraine Geller at a club on Main Street that had the benefit of a weekly radio broadcast. Around this time Gerry Mulligan who had just opened at the Haig sometimes rehearsed his quartet with Chet Baker at an apartment Buddy was sharing with Jimmy Cheatham.  

In 1953 Buddy along with Benny Carter, Gerald Wilson and Red Callender convinced the authorities that there should only be one musician’s local in L.A. James C. Petrillo president of the American Federation of Musicians was against it but with the help of high-profile show-business personalities like Josephine Baker, Nat Cole and Frank Sinatra they were finally successful in their fight to integrate the two unions. As a result a lot of black musicians were later contracted to do the Carol Burnett, Danny Kaye and Flip Wilson shows. Years later Gerald Wilson said, “If I were going to pick a guy to open the Hollywood studio doors as Jackie Robinson did for baseball, Buddy would have been the man”.

Early in 1955 he was playing at Lake Tahoe with Lena Horne and Chico Hamilton was on drums. It was Chico’s ambition to leave the singer and organise a new group with a different sound. Fred Katz had been recruited on cello, Carson Smith was on bass together with the young Jim Hall on guitar who was working in a book-store at the time. Buddy Collette with his multi-instrumentalist skills was to be the final and very important ingredient in what became one of the most distinctive small groups of the era.

Chico had obtained a booking for the quintet at The Strollers a small club in Long Beach about 20 miles south of L.A. Buddy was working with Scatman Crothers at the Tailspin Club in Hollywood so for the first week of the engagement Bob Hardaway took his place. Once Collete was on the stand the group became extremely popular in part thanks to regular broadcasts from the club by disc-jockey Sleepy Stein on KFOX. Prices probably helped too because there was no cover charge unless one of the bigger acts like the Ink Spots were appearing when the door-price would be $1.00.

Collette contributed a number of his intriguing originals like A Nice Day, Blue Sands, Buddy Boo and Sleepy Slept Here - the latter was used by Stein as a theme on his nightly radio show. The quintet of course provided an ideal showcase for his solo abilities. On alto his highly structured lines recalled the elegance of Benny Carter and his tenor had much of the light swing of Lester Young. He was one of the very few performers who could make a convincing case for the flute as a solo jazz instrument and his clarinet playing was acknowledged by Down Beat critics when they voted him the New Star on the instrument in 1956. He stayed with the quintet for about eighteen months but life on the road was tough. He was making about $300.00 a week with Chico which was what he could earn for half an hour on the Groucho Marx show. The studio scene meant good money and short hours which gave him more time for continued study.

In 1957 he appeared on the Stars of Jazz TV show with Gerald Wilson and was booked again for the show in 1958 with Abbey Lincoln. Throughout the late fifties he made numerous albums with Benny Goodman, Buddy Rich, Quincy Jones, Peggy Lee and Herbie Mann. His 1956 recording of Cycle was notoriously dismissed by Miles Davis in a 1958 Down Beat Blindfold Test – “All those white tenor players sound alike to me…unless it’s Zoot Sims or Stan Getz”.

Nelson Riddle often used black performers like Plas Johnson, Harry Edison, Joe Comfort and Buddy for albums with Rosemary Clooney, Nat Cole and Sinatra. Buddy can be clearly seen on the LP cover of Sinatra’s 1960 Swingin’ Session!!! sitting next to Riddle. He has an eight bar solo on Should I and Frank apparently always asked for him whenever he was on the west coast. Apart from his considerable studio work he kept performing with his own quartet at local clubs the Haig, the Cellar and Shelly’s Manne Hole.

In 1962 he made one of his rare visits to NYC because Mingus needed help with music for his Town Hall concert which featured 30 musicians. The occasion turned out to be a disaster described by Clark Terry as, “The most bizarre and chaotic scene I have ever witnessed!”  The following year he was back in the city at the invitation of Norman Granz to conduct the band at Basin Street East accompanying Ella Fitzgerald.

In L.A. the jazz scene was changing like it was everywhere else in the ‘60s and ‘70s. He was still getting a lot of studio calls though from people like Jerry Fielding, Paul Weston, Harry Zimmerman and Billy May. He always had private students but in 1973 he started teaching at California State University, moving on to Loyola Marymount University and later California State Polytechnic Institute at Pomona. In 1994 he helped establish the Jazz America summer teaching programme aimed at young players. The 23 January 1990 was declared Buddy Collette Day in L.A. and in 1998 he was honoured by the mayor as a Los Angeles Living Cultural Treasure.

Buddy Collette died on 19 September 2010. In the March 2011 Jazztimes Charles Lloyd wrote a moving tribute calling him, “A spiritual father to Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, James Newton and myself. Buddy was a sage and saint. The doors he opened for us are innumerable and monumental.”

As leader
Cool, Calm & Collette (Fresh Sound Records FSR 2249)
An Original Westcoaster (Fresh Sound Records FSR 2250)
Buddy Collete & His West Coast Friends (Fresh Sound Records FSR 2248)

As Sideman
The Complete Pacific Jazz Recordings Of The Chico Hamilton Quintet (Mosaic MD6-175)
Conte Candoli All Stars, Little Big Band Jazz (Fresh Sound Records FSR 1629)
John Graas Nonet, Jazzmantics (Lone Hill Jazz LHJ 10149)
Red Callender, Swingin’ Suite (Fresh Sound Records FSR-CD 458)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Charlie Mariano - A JazzProfiles Snapshot

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

“I don’t know any Jazzman who has as good a sense of melodic development in his solos as Charlie.  The lines he finds!  And he’s so warm.”
- Shelly Manne

I’ve always had a special fondness for combos with a trumpet and alto saxophone “front-line.” Perhaps this was because one of the first Jazz groups I ever worked with had this configuration.

I liked the brightness of the brass and the crackling sound of the higher register alto saxophone, especially when paired with a trumpet.

The combination just sounded so hip.

But I had no idea how brilliant this pairing could sound until I encountered it in the form of Stu Williamson on trumpet and Charlie Mariano on alto saxophone.

Stu and Charlie were on the first Contemporary LP that I ever bought at my neighborhood record shop. The rhythm section was Russ Freeman on piano, Leroy Vinnegar on bass and, of course, Shelly on drums.

Entitled Shelly Manne and His Men, Vol. 5: More Swingin’ Sound [Contemporary S-7519, OJCCD-320-2], it was recorded on July 16th and August 15-16, 1956 and, as I was to learn later, it was a sequel of sorts to Shelly Manne and His Men, Vol. 4: Swingin’ Sounds [Contemporary S-3516, OJCCD-267-2].

Shelly kept this version of The Men together for a little over two-and-a-half years years until Charlie Mariano made the decision to move back to his native BostonMA in 1958.

Nat Hentoff has described the music by this band as “ … lean, angular, rhythmically probing, and emotionally striking in a hard unsentimental way.”

The music on Vol. 5 was fresh, crisp and clean as was much of Southern California in the 1950s. To use a friend’s favorite phrase: it was “happy, joyous and free.”

Richard Cook and Brian Morton writing in the Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th edition reflected that the recording contained – “…excellent early material from a notably light and vibrant band fronted by the underrated Stu Williamson and the always inventive Charlie Mariano. … Shelly played as soft as he ever did, and with great control on the mallets.”

Three things about the music on this album struck me immediately and forcefully: [1] Shelly Manne’s use of tympani mallets, [2] the luminous trumpet work of Stu Williamson who also plays valve trombone surprisingly well and, most of all, the plaintive wail that was so much a part of Charlie Mariano’s alto saxophone tone.

All three were most audibly on display in Quartet, Bill Holman’s extended composition.

Of Quartet, Bill Holman writes: "Originally Shelly's idea was a long piece for the group, possibly with several sections, moods and tempos, long enough to extend the written parts and yet have space for blowing.

My interpretation: a jazz piece written especially for this group with its personality in mind; predominantly written, not too technically difficult to impair the jazz feeling, lines written to be played with a jazz feeling. Several sections to give con­trast, form and continuity necessary for a piece of this length.

Construction: 1st and 4th parts built mainly on traditional blues progression, very closely related thematically. 2nd part related to first and fourth, but to lesser degree. 3rd part melodically unrelated, but drum figures imply theme from 1st and 4th. Shelly improvises drum intro, develops theme. The four sections correspond broadly to the four movements of the classical sonata form. This form used, not because it is a classical form (See: Efforts to Combine Classical and Jazz Music) but because it has proved itself, thru centuries of use, capable of supporting (as framework) a composition of this length.”

I was so enchanted by the warm and melodious sound that Shelly got using mallets on drums that I don’t think I struck my drums for days with a regular drumstick after hearing this album. [He unhinged the snare strainer to gain an additional tom tom sound from that drum and used heavily-cushioned tympani mallets to produce a mellow tone – no pun intended]

But it was Charlie’s playing on the 2nd movement of Holman’s Quartet that really got to me, especially when he begins soloing which you can hear at 3:00 minutes of the following video tribute to Mariano:

I’ve listened to a lot of Jazz over the past 50 years or so, but this one grabs me every time.

The second movement or the “development” portion of the sonata is where the harmonic and textual possibilities of the “exposition” [theme] are explored.

On Quartet, the second movement is taken at a slow tempo, one that is almost at the pace of a funerary dirge. On it, Charlie sounds like he is in mourning, crying after the soul of a lost friend or loved one. His tone has such a vocal quality to it.

“Soulful” would become a word that was used often in relationship to Jazz, but nothing I ever heard then or now is as soulful as Charlie’s playing on this track.

I told Charlie my story at a 3-day festival in May, 2003 sponsored by the Los Angeles Jazz Institute.

He said that he rarely ever went back to listen to his old recordings but he was so touched by my reaction that he would listen again to Vol. 5 and More Swingin’ Sounds.

I wonder if he ever did, listen again?

I do, often.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Bobby Troup – Stars of Jazz [From the Archives]

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

I am re-posting this piece in order to show-off our brand, spanking new Stars of Jazz video tribute that you will find at its conclusion.

Doesn't anyone say "brand, spanking new" anymore?

“About Bobby Troup...
He sang as though he had just half a voice. No volume, it was all about confiding. Some­times he croaked out a line, next minute he'd released a word as though he was doubtful about delivering it to the world at large. Bobby Troup never played to the gallery, never went for the big one. Yet, despite - or rather because of - such reluctance, allied to a lemon-twist quality that fell oddly on unaccustomed ears, the man from HarrisburgPA. still qualified as Mr. Cool, the vocal equivalent of a Paul Desmond alto solo maybe. He sounded like no one else. And no one else has ever sounded like him.”

- Fred Dellar, Mojo Magazine

We wrote about composer, pianist and vocalist Bobby Troup in an earlier feature about him and Julie London which you can locate in the blog archives by going here.

Many of us first “met” Bobby in the 1950s when he hosted the Emmy award wining ABC television series, Stars of Jazz.

Can you imagine - a regular, weekly series on a major television network devoted to Jazz?

It was cool and so was Bobby.

Since it was based in Los Angeles, most of the groups that appeared on the show were associated with was then labeled the “West Coast” school of Jazz.

There are two wonderful books on this subject in English: Ted GioiaWest Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960 and Robert Gordon, Jazz West Coast, The Los Angeles Jazz Scene of the 1950s.

A number of years ago, The California Institute of Jazz made available to those in attendance at its Spring 1999 4-day festival celebrating West Coast Jazz , a wonderful CD of the music from the Stars of Jazz series.

Ken Poston, the director of the institute, wrote the following in the insert booklet which accompanied the compendium:

“This anthology has been assembled exclusively for JAZZ WEST COAST II, presented by the California Institute for the Preservation of Jazz. All of the material comes from various Bobby Troup Stars of Jazz television broadcasts. Stars of Jazz debuted in the summer of 1956 on KABC, Los Angeles. It was unheard of in the mid 1950s to televise jazz on a regular basis, but because of the dedication of producer Jimmie Baker, program director Pete Robinson and host Bobby Troup the program aired for over two years. It was sponsored by Budweiser and eventually went from a local to network broadcast. The selections on this disc represent the incredible range of artists that were beamed into your living room every night.”

—Ken Poston

Incidentally, Ken’s organization, which now carries the name – The Los Angeles Jazz Institute [LAJI] – continues to sponsor semi-annual, four day festivals, as well as, one-day commemorative events. You can find out more about these programs by visiting Ken’s website.

In addition to the LAJI’s repository of goodies, Ray Avery, the late photographer and Jazz recordings maven, was allowed to photograph the Stars of Jazz.

A compilation of Ray photographs from these shows was published in 1998.

Cynthia T. Sesso, who in her own right is a major authority on Jazz photography, licenses Ray’s work along with the images of a number of other photographers who specialized in Jazz.

Cynthia has been a great friend to JazzProfiles over the years in allowing us to use photographs by her clients on these pages.

You can find out more about Cynthia and her work at her website. She may also have copies of Ray’s book about Stars of Jazz still available for sale.

Her are some excerpts from the book’s introduction regarding how Ray came to be involved with the show and Bobby Troup’s role as contained in an interview that Ray gave to Will Thornbury.

© -  Cynthia T. Sesso/CTSimages, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“…, my photography flowed naturally out of my involvement in my record store. At that time I wasn't well known as a photographer. I just happened to be there and I had an entrĂ©e because I was in the record business. Most of the small record companies knew about me because I was carrying their product in my store, they would invite me to record sessions. I was very seldom paid for a session, except if they bought some photos. …

One day a friend of mine asked if I'd seen "Stars Of Jazz" and I said I hadn't, so I checked the newspaper and found out when it was going to be on. I just went down, I think it was the second or third show, and I asked them if I could photograph it. They were very friendly and said yes, of course, just be careful and don't fall over any cords or walk in front of any cameras."

The host for all but two Stars of Jazz episodes was Bobby Troup. He embodied the essence of the show - straightforward, genuine and creative. Perhaps some of the show's viewers from outside the jazz world were pulled in through Troup's accessibility. He wore a crew cut. He was a graduate of
the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in business and had written many of the nation's favorite songs "Route 66", "Daddy", "Lemon Twist", songs that crossed over from the jazz to the popular charts. In addition to writing songs, he was also an active musician and would perform often on the show.

"Bobby was the perfect man", notes Jimmie Baker. 'There were some people who wanted to have a bigger name, but nobody else could do it. Nobody else had the appeal that Bobby had." Avery adds, "Bobby was a good musician, had written great songs and he could be a great master of ceremonies. That's a combination they couldn't find in anyone else. He spoke really well - he didn't want any of those corny jazz lines in the script, which was good. He was a really good interviewer. He made people feel so comfortable when they were there. And of course they respected him as a musician, many of the sets featured Bobby at the piano."

"All the musicians had so much faith in the presentation of "Stars of Jazz"," Troup says. "They thought it was the best jazz show they'd ever seen. Did you know the story of how "Stars of Jazz" got started? Pete Robinson, Jimmie Baker, and Bob Arbogast were all jazz buffs. I mean they really loved jazz, and there was this executive, Seligman, graduated from Harvard, Phi Beta Kappa, and they were on him constantly to let them do this jazz show. Finally just to get them out of his hair, he said 'OK, I'll give you a studio, a camera, you have to write it, you have to arrange every musician, no more than scale, and I'll give you three weeks to run the show.' The first show was Stan Getz. And they screened quite a few people and for some reason or another they picked me to be the host. I'm sure glad they did. Every night was a highlight, every night. I did the show for scale, it amounted to $60 maybe $70 a night. When we went network I got scale for network, which was more."

Avery adds, "in those days there weren't the camera men that there are today. Now you go to a concert and there's fifty people with cameras, but before, maybe half a dozen of us would show up. Consequently, the photos taken in my early period are the ones that are in demand now because not many people have them."”

Ironically, Seligman, who authorized Stars of Jazz and was very boastful of the program when it won an Emmy Award, never supported the show for a regular timeslot when it went national on ABC.

Despite the critical acclaim it received, the show was cancelled of January, 1959 due to “low ratings.” Seligman was also responsible for ordering that the tapes of the 130 episodes of Stars of Jazz be erased so that they could be reused. After all, each tape cost $400. Of course, what was recorded on them was priceless!

I guess “Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad?”

Mercifully, Jimmy Baker of the show’s production team was able to save 35mm’s and 81 of the early kinescopes, all of which now reside for posterity in the UCLA Film Library.

More of the music from the series is available on a commercial RCA CD - Bobby Troup Stars of Jazz [74321433962] - from which we’ve drawn the music for the following tribute.

In his insert notes to the recording, Pete Robinson, one of the show’s producers, wrote the following:

“It has been observed that People Who Live in Glass Houses Shouldn't Throw Stones, and since Bobby Troup's particular glass house is a collective one, consisting of 17- and 24-inch television screens the country over, it is most important that his participation in the realm of jazz be exemplary. It is.

As one playing of the enclosed collection will attest, Mister Troup's qualities of tempo, intonation, taste and interpretation place him in good stead as a jazz singer of considerable merit. Nominations in the Down Beat and Playboy polls add further to his vocal status.

These fans, however, will come as no sur­prise to the initiated. Bobby's work has had more than a little exposure on records. What IS new is the extraordinary group of jazz musicians who here­with are represented in tandem with Troup. Bobby's presence as narrator of ABC-TV's "Stars of Jazz" for the past three years has found him rubbing elbows with players from every corner of jazz. (A total of 714 of them at this writing, for those who find security in statistics.)

It was, then, only a matter of time until an elite group of these jazzmen should come together with Troup for the purpose of recording. When Shorty Rogers and Jimmy Rowles became available to provide arrangements, the time was ripe.”

The audio track on the following video is the Dave Pell Octet performing Marty Paich's arrangement of Mountain Greenery.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Duke Ellington: Our Greatest Composer - Grover Sales

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

“We look to the future for the American composer, not, indeed, to the Horatio Parkers and Edward MacDowells of the present, who are taking over a foreign act ready-made and are imitating it... but to someone as yet unknown . . . who will sing the songs of his own nation, his own time and his own character.” 
- London Times, 1913

"Stan Kenton stands before a hundred reeds and brass, makes a dramatic gesture, and every studio arranger in the audience knows just how it's done; Duke Ellington lifts his little finger, three horns make a sound — and nobody knows what it is."
- Andre Previn

“Yet for all his crochets, quirks, and put-ons, Ellington could still astound, even to the last. Though his bands grew indifferent and time-serving in later years, he remained a prolific, often inspired composer and his piano an ever-increasing source of wonder. This magic, or the hope of it, kept us coming back to Ellington to the end.”
- Grover Sales

One of the characters of personality that I always admired about the San Francisco based Jazz critic, writer and educator Grover Sales [1919-2004] was that he never pulled any punches.

Grover’s searingly honest appraisals even extended to “The Duke of Ellington” [Ella Fitzgerald’s oft-repeated honorary title].

Yet, even though he applied his scrupulous scalpel liberally and often when he felt that Ellington was taking his foot of the gas, I daresay that no one understood the Duke’s music better and could describe its essential qualities more succinctly and accurately than Grover Sales. [Apologies to Stanley Dance and Terry Teachout.]

You can locate this essay in its entirety in Grover’s seminal work - Jazz: America’s Classical Music.

“Of the three seminal jazz artists to gain mass acclaim before World War II, Duke Ellington is the most difficult to explain. His veiled, princely psyche, more complex than Armstrong's or Waller's, was given to philosophical turns and levels of sophistication uncommon for jazz musicians of his time. Duke's canny coming to terms with commercial, racial, and internal pressures that collapsed less hardy peers from Fletcher Henderson to Charlie Parker has long been a source of fascination—and annoyance—to critic-spectators of the maddening clash between the Duke as artist and the Duke as crowd-pleasing showman.

Edward Kennedy Ellington was born in 1899 to an educated, well-to-do Washington, D.C. family that enveloped him in the unstinting love and security worthy of an ideal Freudian upbringing. Marked as a special child, he was started on piano at seven and soon cultivated the poise, flair for leadership, and ducal charm that earned him his title. Smitten with ragtime, the teenaged Ellington gave up a painting career to gig around Washington as band pianist at parties and dances. "I was getting so big," he told his Boswell, the British critic Stanley Dance, "that I had to study some music to protect my reputation. I had elementary lessons at school, and I used to slow down James P. Johnson piano rolls and copy them note for note. Now Doc Perry taught me about reading and I took harmony lessons from Henry Grant." (Dance, The World of Duke Ellington.)

Duke's move to New York brought him into after-hours contact with Harlem's piano kings, James P. Johnson and Willie 'The Lion" Smith, whose two-fisted styles left a lifelong mark on Ellington both as pianist and composer. Fronting a six-piece band at Broadway's Kentucky Club, a popular hangout for musicians and showpeople, Ellington launched his half-century career as bandleader in the mid-1920s with scarcely a glimmer of the glories to follow within a matter of months. His first records sound pitifully dated beside the concurrent Henderson and Morton; compare Henderson's 1926 Stampede to Ellington's Animal Crackers recorded the same year. But "Duke Ellington and his Washingtonians" bore seeds of greatness that soon germinated to push orchestral jazz beyond its strict function as dance music and into the hothouse of abstract art. Much of the credit for the origins of what critics were soon to call "the Ellington effect" belongs to "growl" trumpeter Bubber Miley, whose toilet-plunger mute evoked plaintive sobbings and terror-ridden screams. His ageless solos with the early Ellington Band stun the listener with all the force of Armstrong leaping out of the earth-bound Henderson band; they pointed in the direction Duke was to follow all his life.

Late in 1927, a year after Ellington waxed such cornball novelties as Animal Crackers, the band made an incredible leap forward with a series of blues that cast Miley in the role of co-composer and the dominant solo voice: The Black and Tan Fantasy, Creole Love Call, The Mooche, and the band's theme for many years, East St. Louis Toodle-oo . For more than four decades these ominous mood pieces formed the keystone of Ellington's ever-growing repertoire, nourishing a forest of offshoots. With each new version the scoring was enriched, and Ellington's piano developed from its lame ragtime parlour style in the early 1920s into an essential part of the band, providing orchestral fills, backing soloists either as a "stride" accompaniment or in lush, romantic modes that set Duke apart as a distinctive piano voice. But his proud succession of trumpeters were instructed never to stray from the paths carved by Bubber Miley, dead at 29, one of jazz's endless victims of the Prohibition high life.

The Ellington-Miley "jungle style" evolved from necessity at Harlem's Cotton Club where the band began a five-year tenure in 1927 that had germinal effects on Duke's music. An expensive mob-owned club offering lavishly costumed productions with large casts, the Cotton Club catered to white-tie and ermined slummers in naive quest of primitive tribal rites provided by the clever management in the guise of coffee-colored chorines in palm-leaf scanties, avidly pursued by nearly naked African chiefs to the lewd shrieks of Ellington's wa-wa brass and wailing reeds. Ellington had to write background scores for these constantly-changing floor shows, pushing him into composing abstract tone poems and impressionist mood pieces, unlike other black bandleaders of that time who performed almost exclusively for dancers. Duke caught the eye of shrewd business agent Irving Mills who arranged for a regular radio broadcast from the Cotton Club that spread Duke's fame beyond the confines of Harlem and the jazz subculture.

With mounting success, Ellington swelled his band to full Henderson proportions with an unmatched wealth of distinctive soloists. Commanding the devotion and loyalty of his long-term crew, he imposed his benign will on this symbiotic group that turned rehearsals and performances into spontaneous arranging workshops. The ill-fated Miley was succeeded by Cootie Williams who mastered the "plunger's" art under the guidance of Joseph "Tricky Sam" Nanton, a sorcerer who used the plumber's friend to turn the trombone into a human voice crying in anguish, laughing obscenely, or growling in anger. The grand tradition of

New Orleans clarinet virtuosity lived on in Barney Bigard, whose liquid, bluesy reed fluttered like a crazy flag above the stomping ensemble charged by the big-toned whump of Wellman Braud's bass. Johnny Hodges sang through his alto sax with a silky authority unchallenged until the advent of Charlie Parker. Hawkins disciple Harry Carney was the first to coax jazz from the cumbersome baritone sax and served as anchorman of the reed section for almost fifty years.

Decades-long tenures in the Ellington band were not uncommon and account in large part for the steady evolution of the "Ellington effect" and the proficiency of difficult ensemble passages. Such constancy of personnel made a further testament to the leader's unmatched charisma and managerial aplomb in a business where performers were as touchy as opera divas and prone to change shop with breathtaking dispatch.

Writing with the individual timbres and styles of his stellar soloists in mind, Ellington created an inimitable body of music. He broke all the rules of music schools and harmony books, writing only what sounded good to him, neither knowing nor caring that music academies said it couldn't be done. In 1927 he scored the wordless vocal of Adelaide Hall as a coequal jazz soloist in Creole Love Call. He was the first to write true concerti for individual band members. He composed chamber jazz for odd combinations: bass clarinet, muted trombone, tenor sax, and baritone sax in the high register. Andre Previn said: "Stan Kenton stands before a hundred reeds and brass, makes a dramatic gesture, and every studio arranger in the audience knows just how it's done; Duke Ellington lifts his little finger, three horns make a sound — and nobody knows what it is." Straining at the three-minute limit imposed by the standard in the record industry, he became the first authentic jazz composer to write and record extended works, starting in 1931 with Creole Rhapsody (Smic 6/6). His briefer compositions numbered over two thousand. Ellington's gift for massing unique orchestral sounds, plus his boundless iridescent charm, elegance of carriage, speech and dress, and unruffled dignity, were the admiration of all musicians from Armstrong to Coltrane. Dizzy Gillespie said, "I break out in gooseflesh every time Duke comes into a place."

Big band jazz of New York
Harlem "stride" piano
Broadway and Follies show music
Popular songs of the day
New Orleans jam
New Orleans clarinet tradition—Barney Bigard
Kansas City tenor sax tradition—Ben Webster
Bubber Miley's "jungle style"
The blues in endless variations
Impressionist European harmony—Debussy, Ravel, Delius
Latin influence—Juan Tizol, Caravan, The Flaming Sword
Black gospel music—Come Sunday
Modern string bass—Jimmy Blanton
Mood and "jungle" pieces as backgrounds for dance productions
Original ballads—Sophisticated Lady, Solitude, Mood Indigo
First use of human voice as an instrument in jazz—Creole Love Call
First extended jazz compositions—Creole Rhapsody, Reminiscing in Tempo
First authentic jazz concerti—Clarinet Lament, Concerto for Cootie
"Ellington units"—chamber jazz
Portraits of black artists—Florence Mills, Willie "The Lion" Smith
Avant-garde bebop—Cottontail
Billy Strayhorn's composing-arranging
Impressionist tone poems—Perfume Suite, Tone Parallel to Harlem
"Train" pieces—Daybreak Express, Happy-Go-Lucky Local
Sacred Concerts

His uncanny way of coming up with the right word at the right time was legendary. When his tenor sax star Ben Webster told him, "Governor — you've got to pay me more money! You're workin' me to death!" Ellington replied softly, "But Ben — I can't afford to pay you what you're worth—nobody can." (Time-Life Giants of Jazz, Album notes.)

Ellington's reputation as a hit tune writer was launched in 1930 with the haunting blues-tinged Mood Indigo, followed by Sophisticated Lady, Solitude, In a Sentimental Mood, It Don't Mean a Thing if It Ain 't Got that Swing, I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart, Satin Doll, Caravan and Perdido (both written with his trombonist, Juan Tizol), and dozens more that survive today in the repertoire of all musicians and vocalists, pop as well as jazz.

In 1933 his aggressive manager organized the first of many band tours to England and the Continent where Ellington was stunned to find himself lionized by fanatical record collectors, classical music critics, composers, famous intellectuals, and royalty who did not dance to his music but listened, convincing him of its durability and worth. This first encounter with British and French devotees prompted him to compose more ambitious and extended works.

When the Ellington band seemed to have reached its peak in the late 1930s, three additions thrust it to even greater heights — that have yet to be scaled in the history of big band jazz. In 1938 Billy Strayhorn joined as staff arranger-composer and Ellington alter ego. Submerging himself in the Ellington idiom, the shy, diminutive Strayhorn made an incalculable contribution to the Ellington book. From the time he pooled his talent with Ellington's until his death thirty years later, few scores in which Strayhorn did not have a hand found their way into the band's library. Take the A Train, which succeeded East St. Louis Toodle-oo as the band's theme song, was entirely his doing. Few songwriters ever matched the melodic invention of Passion Flower, Day Dream, Chelsea Bridge, or Lush Life, whose exquisite melody was perfectly matched by Strayhorn's own lyrics. Guitarist Mundell Lowe said Lush Life is one of the few songs he knows that requires no improvisation because the line as written cannot be improved. Strayhorn's ballads are not as well known as Ellington's, possibly because they are rather difficult to sing.

The bursting-at-the-seams tenor sax of Ben Webster, battle-tested in marathon Kansas City cutting sessions, was employed in 1939 to augment the long-tenured reed section. Whether on up-tempo stomps like Cottontail, dirty blues like Sepia Panorama, dreamy ballads like All Too Soon, or the moody introspection of Blue Serge, Ben fired up a band lusting for a new voice. Since no book was written for Ben he had to "find my own note," imparting an indefinable dissonant wail to the reeds that sent critics back to the thesaurus for new adjectives of celebration.

The most revolutionary change came with the addition of Jimmy Blanton, the first "modern" bassist to use the instrument melodically as well as rhythmically. Plucking or bowing with violin-like agility, Blanton imparted a new drive to the band and upset all previous notions of bass playing, heretofore rooted in the whump-whump concept carried over from the tuba. "Blanton was the first bass player I heard who had this carryover from note to note," said his disciple Ray Brown, "and those notes just rangl I used to play along with his records with Ellington when I got home from high school, and he made a large impact on me." (Chevron School Broadcast, "Music Makers.") Ray Brown was not alone; during his two brief years with Ellington before his death from tuberculosis at the age of 21, the shy unassuming Blanton convinced all future bassists from Oscar Pettiford to Mingus and Richard Davis that there was no other way to play this once-clumsy instrument. The dramatic difference between Blanton and all bassists who came before him can be plotted by hearing his work on Ko-Ko, Harlem Air Shaft, and Blue Serge and comparing it with the bass on Ellington's earlier records like Creole Rhapsody, with Count Basie's bassist on Taxi War Dance, or with Fletcher Henderson's Wrappin' It Up.

The triumvirate of Strayhorn, Webster, and Blanton signaled the golden age of Ellington — 1940 to 1942. Of the many Victor recordings from this period, few are anything less than consummate masterpieces, and none give the listener anything more than an approximation of what this miracle of a band sounded like in person. Meanwhile, individual soloists with the band—Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, Barney Bigard, Cootie Williams—fronted their own recording sessions of "Ellington units," cadres of seven or eight band members, usually with Duke on piano, who left a legacy of distinctive chamber jazz.

The war years of the 1940s cost Ellington many of his key men, and he began to lean on Strayhorn when the going got rough in an era that wiped out most of the big bands. Wholesale changes in 1950 brought in a crew of modernists—trumpeter Clark Terry and drummer Louis Bellson. Aside from brief flashes of glory the band rarely caught the inspirational fire of the youthful 1920s and the mature 1940s. As the band grew more dispirited, Ellington's piano, once fashionably dismissed as technically limited, took on added luster and magnificence to become the dominant voice in the ensemble, suggesting that his more obvious gifts as composer-arranger had long overshadowed his keyboard prowess. "Nobody realizes how much piano Duke can play," said Johnny Hodges.

His twilight years became a triumph of honorary degrees, White House invitations, and sacred concerts in American cathedrals. When he was denied the Pulitzer prize at the age of 66, prompting indignant resignations from that Committee, he responded with his customary put-on suavity: "Fate is being kind to me; Fate does not want me to become too famous, too young." His death in 1974 was mourned in headlines, not consigned to the back-page oblivion usual for jazz obituaries in the American press.

In more subtle and unsettling ways than Armstrong or Waller, Ellington's obsession for mass adulation colored the public performances of his declining years. Carried to quirkish extremes as though to spite critics, his compulsive pandering to a total audience was long the despair of purists, especially abroad where devotees had little knowledge of the racial, economic, or cultural pressures that shaped the music they embraced with messianic fervor, largely through the social vacuum of the phonograph. His first London concert of 1933, an outrage to most of the 4,500 fans and critics who had committed his records to memory, followed a pattern Ellington was to repeat throughout his career. British critic Derek Jewell reported: "When Ellington heard some people laughing during the 'growl' solos of Tricky Sam' Nanton and Cootie Williams, and perceived a certain restlessness when the band played slower numbers, he switched to items from his vaudeville routines." This shocked the faithful who came from all over Europe to bathe in the evocative mysteries of Black and Tan Fantasy and The Mooche. To Duke's boundless amusement, Irish critic Spike Hughes issued bulletins to the audience warning them not to laugh at "Tricky Sam's" plunger trombone, "which is not humor but a great work of art," and enjoined spectators not to applaud solos but to wait until the end of a number, just as they would at any concert recital. (Fifty years later, jazz audiences still ignore Hughes's injunction.) In the 1960s Jewell wrote: "Ellington's European concerts consisted entirely of old favorites, although Duke later claimed that this was because audiences demanded the numbers and wouldn't let the band get on to newer stuff like the Liberian Suite" (Jewell, Duke.)

As Ellington's career progressed his public facade grew ever more whimsical. Concert and night club appearances grew almost as predictable as Armstrong's, with dreary repeats of limp routines: Harry Carney holding the interminable note on Sophisticated Lady, Tenor saxist Paul Gonsalves cranked up in the vain hope of recapturing the frenzy of his 27 blues choruses of Crescendo in Blue that electrified the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival; marathon drum solos of dubious taste, and Duke's perennial bid for a piece of the rock'n'roll action: One More Time bellowed by the most degraded singer Duke could find. Prime soloists like Cootie Williams and Lawrence Brown were limited to one brief solo per show, and strangest of all, Duke coached his men to repeat note-for-note the solos they had created on records, as though he felt the public wanted to hear nothing they had not heard before.

To dissuade Ellington from the jaded programming critics had come to expect, Monterey Jazz Festival founder Jimmy Lyons commissioned him to compose a special suite for the 1960 Festival. Knowing well that if Duke was asked not to program threadbare routines he would be certain to include them out of perversity, Lyons hit upon the devious ploy of billing the concert "Ellington Carte Blanche," with frequent reminders to the maestro that the evening was his to do as he wished. At a rehearsal the night before the debut of his new work, Suite Thursday, Ellington spent most of an hour on a tricky eight-bar passage for tenor sax and two muted trombones. As he told a successful bandleader who advised him to cut his weekly payroll of $4,500 when the grosses failed to cover it, "The band you run has got to please the audience. The band I run has got to please me. If it were not for my band, how could I hear my music?" But when "Ellington Carte Blanche" was offered to 7200 fans, aside from the marvelous Suite Thursday the program was identical to what all had heard before, down to the detestable finale of One More Time. When a brash critic admonished him publicly for repeating such cliches Ellington, in a rare display of temper, waved his arm toward his orchestra and shouted: "Look! What you see on that stage are fifteen men making a living!" These paradoxes were an eternal part of the Ellington mystique.

Ellington seemed to hunger for the massive audience his nation always denied him. Despite his prestige abroad he never rivaled Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Stan Kenton, or Dave Brubeck in their heyday. His records sold well though never in the league with Shaw's Begin the Beguine, Miller's In the Mood, or Brubeck's Take Five, let alone the Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit. He had cause to be cynical of what critics advised him to play. Brutal attacks on his 1935 experimental four-part Reminiscing in Tempo left ugly scars; "I only wrote it for them!" was his wounded cry on reading the scornful reviews from Britain and Europe. His most ambitious extended work, Black, Brown and Beige, was poorly received when premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1943, and it took 35 years for a recording of the fifty-minute work to be issued in its entirety (Fantasy-Prestige).

Ironically, his best music was played in the early 1940s to acres of dancers crowding a few listeners huddled near the bandstand. In his final years, when no one danced and everyone listened, his concert performances could verge on embarrassment. Like some cold sober John Barrymore, Ellington lived out his days in a perverse parody of his enormous talent with dogged reruns of popular hits and flippant baubles like Pretty and the Wolf. Once-charged-up bandsmen sat night after night like bored mandarins, victims of Byron's "awful yawn which sleep cannot abate." Their leader always lusted after that monster record hit, the all-time bestseller he felt was his due. Audiences in the United States were never large enough. In every major foreign city he would hold court backstage for the great and near-great, but in his own country he never lured the round-the-block crowds that the Kingston Trio or Tijuana Brass did. Toward the end he sensed the public might not hold still for his best work, like the orchestral suites and Sacred Concerts into which he poured his final energies.

Yet for all his crochets, quirks, and put-ons, Ellington could still astound, even to the last. Though his bands grew indifferent and time-serving in later years, he remained a prolific, often inspired composer and his piano an ever-increasing source of wonder. This magic, or the hope of it, kept us coming back to Ellington to the end.”