Tuesday, May 30, 2017
© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
MILES DAVIS : Milestones, [Columbia C L 1193]
“Side 1: Dr. Jekyl, while not especially melodic, gives the group an excellent opportunity to "stretch out." The eights and fours between Miles and Philly Joe Jones are fiery and invigorating. Paul Chambers, in spite of the fast tempo, takes a soulful solo. The exchange of choruses between Coltrane and Cannonball is the high point of the track, and the rhythm section is very stable throughout.
Sid's Ahead is, in reality, the old, and now classic, Walkin'. During his solo, Coltrane is very clever and creative in his handling of the substitute chords. Miles strolls (without piano) beautifully. He is a true musical conversationalist. Cannonball is quite "funky " at times, and Chambers exemplifies his ability to create solo lines in the manner of a trumpeter or saxophonist.
The third track, Two Bass Hit, opens with everyone on fire—particularly Philly , whose punctuation and attack are as sharp as a knife. Coltrane enters into his solo moaning, screaming, squeezing, and seemingly projecting his very soul through the bell of his horn. I feel that this man is definitely blazing a new musical trail. Philly and Red Garland back the soloists like a brass section, an effect which always creates excitement.
Side 2: The theme of Milestones is unusual, but surprisingly pleasant particularly the bridge where Miles answers the other horns, achieving an echo effect. Philly' s use of sticks on the fourth beat of every bar is quite tasteful. Cannonball cleverly interweaves melodies around the changes. Miles is as graceful as a swan, and Coltrane is, as usual, full of surprises.
Red Garland, who is undoubtedly one of today's great pianists, is spotlighted in Billy Boy with Philly and Paul. The arrangement is tightly knit and well played. Red employs his block chord technique on this track and plays a beautiful single line, as well. Philly and Paul do a wonderful job, both soloing and in the section.
Straight No Chaser is a revival of a Thelonious Monk composition of a few years ago—the spasmodic harmony makes it quite interesting. Cannonball is excellent on this track. I may be wrong, but he seems to have been influenced somewhat by Coltrane. Miles paints a beautiful picture, as surely as with an artist's brush He has a sound psychological approach in that he never plays too much. He leaves me, always"wanting to hear more. I have heard no one, lately, who creates like Coltrane. On this track, he is almost savage in his apparent desire to play his horn thoroughly. Red plays a single line solo with his left hand accompanying off the beat. He closes the solo with a beautiful harmonization of Miles ' original solo on Now's The Time. Here, Philly goes into a subtle 1-2-3-4 beat on the snare drum behind Red's solo, setting it off perfectly. This is the best track of the album. In closing, I'd like to say — keep one eye on the world and the other on John Coltrane.”
- Benny Golson, The Jazz Review, January 1959
One of the reasons that I set up this blog was to have a place to celebrate my heroes and to share them with you.
I was very fortunate to have an early career playing in Jazz groups of every configuration imaginable and I enjoyed it all immensely.
Musically, I made money in commercials and studio work and while that income helped put me through college, the setting for it also helped me realize that the world did not need another, starving Jazz musician, which is what I would have become without the studio work.
But although I subsequently made my way in the world without music, I kept in touch with many of my “old Jazz friends” by buying and listening to their records, reading their books and magazine articles, and attending their club and concert appearances.
Along the way, I also made “new” Jazz friends, many of whom are Jazz writers and critics who have expanded my knowledge and awareness of the music and its makers.
One such new friend is the author, Jack Chambers.
I first “met” Jack on a stormy Sunday afternoon in San Francisco when undeterred by “The great El Niño of 1997-98” [headline from The San Francisco Chronicle], I hopped into my car and headed for the now defunct Borders Bookstore on the corner of Post and geary Streets.
Over the course of that weekend, I had come to the realization that I did not know very much about Miles Davis’ pre-Columbia Records years, so I headed into town in search of a book that would give me more information about Miles’ earlier discography.
By some miracle, Borders always stocked an ample supply of books about Jazz and lo and behold there was Jack’s book Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis which provided me with all the information I needed about Miles’ recordings.
I was fortunate enough to get a combined edition, but Jack’s book was originally published in two volumes as explained in the following excerpt from his Introduction:
“My book is organized in two volumes, which subdivide Davis's long and extraordinarily productive career into its main phases. Milestones I traces the emergence of the teenaged Davis from East St. Louis, Illinois, into post-war New York City, where he joined the ranks of the bebop revolutionaries, worked out his individual style, and took his place in the forefront of jazz music by late 1959. Davis's activities during this period are covered in two main movements: the first, under the heading "Boplicity," details his apprenticeship, first in his hometown and later under the aegis of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, culminating in his first masterwork with the short-lived experimental nonet of 1948; the second, titled "Miles Ahead," concerns his creative recess during his years of heroin addiction and his dramatic return to form in the 1950s, culminating in the years of the first great quintet and the sextet. Milestones II takes up his music and his times from 1960, also in two main movements; it begins, in "Prince of Darkness," with his formal reorganization of bebop in the second great quintet and continues in "Pangaea" with his restless search for further formal expansions, leading to fusions with free form, rock, and other music.”
While I initially sought out Jack’s Miles book to help fill the gaps in my knowledge about Miles’ earlier recording career before he signed with Columbia in 1955, what convinced me to buy it was the following annotation about my favorite Columbia recording by the Miles Davis Sextet.
I literally wore this record out practicing to it so I thought I was familiar with it, yet what struck me was how much Jack’s observations and insights enhanced my appreciation of the music on Milestones.
See what you think; I’m willing to wager that you’ll see the recording differently after you’ve read Jack’s assessment of it.
“Miles Davis Sextet
Miles Davis, tpt; Julian Adderley, as; John Coltrane, ts; Red Garland, pno; Paul Chambers, b; Philly Joe Jones, dms. New York, 2 April 1958 Two Bass Hit; Billy Boy (rhythm trio only); Straight No Chaser; Milestones (all on Columbia CL 1193)
Same personnel but omit Garland on Sid's Ahead; Davis plays piano and trumpet; same place; 3 April 1958
Dr. Jekyll [Dr. ]ackle] Sid's Ahead [Walkin']
(both issued as above)
Dr. Jekyll is a misspelling (pace Robert Louis Stevenson) of Jackie McLean's title, Dr. Jackle.
With the expanded instrumentation from the quintet to the sextet, Davis makes strategic use of the instrumental combinations. Red Garland's role as a solo voice almost disappears, except for the trio track, Billy Boy, the American folk song that Ahmad Jamal rearranged into a swinging vehicle for piano players. Garland's version was only one of dozens being played at the time, which later prompted Jamal to complain, "I was stupid enough not to copyright the arrangement, and then Oscar Peterson did it, Red Garland did it, Ramsey Lewis did it, everybody did it, and I didn't get paid for it." Garland's only other solo turn is on Straight No Chaser, and everywhere else the space conventionally taken by the piano player is given to Paul Chambers on bass, who solos on every track except Two Bass Hit and Milestones.
The unusual emphasis on bass rather than piano as a solo voice rankled Garland, who walked out of the studio during the warm-up for Sid's Ahead, leaving Davis to double on piano and trumpet on the recorded version of this track. But the emphasis not only reflects Davis's displeasure with Garland; it also, more positively, reflects his delight in his bassist's development. Soon after these recordings were made, Davis told Nat Hentoff, "Paul Chambers ... has started to play a new way whereby he can solo and accompany himself at the same time - by using space well." How that polydexterity might translate into performance is hard to guess, but Chambers was given ample opportunity to show his wares both arco and pizzicato.
The solo orders take some unconventional turns, too. Adderley is the first soloist on Milestones and Straight No Chaser, followed by Davis and then by Coltrane, an order that exploits the stylistic contrasts among the three horns magnificently and also preserves the dynamics of the superseded quintet by allowing Coltrane to charge in behind Davis. On Sid's Ahead and Two Bass Hit, Coltrane opens the solo round, with Davis again interposed between the two reedmen on the former but not soloing at all on the latter. On Dr. Jackie, Davis solos first, exercising the traditional privilege of the leader in jazz bands, but the round of solos turns out to be another innovation, as Davis shares his final three twelve-bar choruses with Philly Joe Jones, and then Adderley and Coltrane trade choruses in their turn.
Probably a more challenging problem for Davis than alloting solo space for the expanded band was working out the ensembles. Only Dr. Jackle seems cluttered in the ensembles, and that impression probably comes not from the lines played by the horns so much as the quick tempo at which they are asked to play it, which prevents them from giving full value to each note. Otherwise the arrangements are very effective, even on the complex Two Bass Hit, where each horn takes charge of a counter-theme in a glorious small-band adaptation of John Lewis's composition. Equally noteworthy are Adderley's lead on the ensemble of Straight No Chaser, with the other horns playing tight dissonances under him, and the startling fanfare of Milestones from which Davis's translucent tone rises at the bridge.
But despite all the attention to solo orders and ensembles that went into these recordings, they succeed only because of the improvisations that sustain the moods of the ensembles and cohere both individually and collectively. Benny Golson, who reviewed this album for Jazz Review, remarks that in Two Bass Hit "Coltrane enters into his solo moaning, screaming, squeezing, and seemingly projecting his very soul through the bell of the horn," and he adds: "I feel that this man is definitely blazing a new musical trail." Perhaps the best evidence of that new trail, in retrospect, occurs on Straight No Chaser, where Coltrane stacks up chords in breathless runs of eighth-notes and sixteenth-notes, a solo that makes a textbook demonstration of the "three-on-one" approach he discussed in his Down Beat article.
Golson and most other reviewers noted that Adderley's playing here shows Coltrane's influence, but that influence is more apparent than real at the point where most listeners think they hear it. In Dr. Jackie, the seams between the alternating choruses by the two players are almost indistinguishable, and there is momentary confusion on a first listening as to where Adderley leaves off and Coltrane begins, and vice versa. But the confusion does not seem to be caused by similarity of phrasing so much as by similarity of tone, as Adderley's full, rich tone on the alto almost seems to be aping Coltrane's tenor in the transitions. Coltrane's influence comes across more clearly on Adderley's solo on Sid's Ahead, a series of sweeping glissandi worthy of Coltrane at his best. The two reedmen are balanced by Davis's sure, spare trumpet, characterized by Golson as "a sound psychological approach in that he never plays too much." Golson adds, "He leaves me, always, wanting to hear more."
The power of the sextet is thus clearly demonstrated in their first recordings. Apart from Dr. Jackie's flawed ensembles, each composition crystallizes various aspects of that power as a self-contained miniature. The intricate, ingenious arrangement of Two Bass Hit, which is worthy of Gil Evans, was almost certainly put together with only a few gestures by way of instruction for the reallocation of parts. For Ian Carr, the British trumpet player, it is Straight No Chaser that wins the accolades. "With Miles Davis, everything counts," Carr told Lee Underwood. "Everything must count, and every note must be accountable. If there's no reason for its being there, then it shouldn't be there. And he swings. For me, he swings more than any other trumpet player, more than almost anybody - just listen to his solo on Straight No Chaser on the Milestones album. No other trumpet player swings like that." Benny Golson points out, among the more arcane delights of this music, that Red Garland ends his solo on Straight No Chaser with "a beautiful harmonization of Miles's original solo on Now's the Time." He states flatly that Straight No Chaser is "the best track on the album."
At least as many people would choose Milestones as the best track. This new composition by Davis, which recycles the title he first used in 1947-it was obviously too good a title to simply abandon - but otherwise bears no resemblance whatever to the earlier composition, contains a remarkable unity. Michel Legrand remarks, "I love the way they approach this melody-everything is for the melody; the chords are very simple, like a carpet on which all the music is based. In other words, the whole thing is not based on complexity, but on simplicity and purity." (It is juvenile, of course, to speak of any work of art as 'perfect,' but it is somehow irresistible to come right out and say - at least parenthetically - that Milestones seems to be a perfect jazz performance. Its components are a simple, memorable, highly original melody, followed by three individualistic explorations of the theme, each one as memorable as the theme itself, by Adderley, Davis, and Coltrane, all buoyed by the brash but sensitive rhythm section, and then the simple, unforgettable melody again. There is nothing more, it seems to me, that one might hope for or ask for in a jazz performance.)
Amazingly, Milestones, which appears to be simple, highly accessible, and above all swinging, also represents a structural innovation of great consequence not only for the music of Miles Davis but also for jazz in general. It is Davis's first completely successful composition based on scales rather than a repeated chord structure. James Lincoln Collier, in his history of jazz, describes its structure this way: "The ability to place his notes in unexpected places is Davis's strongest virtue. It colors his work everywhere. His masterwork in this respect is his Milestones ... It is made up of the simplest sort of eight-bar melody - little more than the segment of a scale, in fact - which is repeated and then followed by a bridge made out of a related eight-bar theme, also repeated. After the bridge, the theme is played once more. The point of it all lies in the bridge, where the rhythm goes into partial suspension. Miles stretches this passage out with notes falling farther and farther behind their proper places. Indeed, in the reprise of the theme at the end of the record he stretches the bridge so far out that he cannot fit it all in and has to cut it short." Collier adds: "It is built not on chord changes but on modes... For Davis, who was already making a point of simplicity, they were a perfect vehicle. He was not the first to see what could be done with them, but he was the one who brought the idea to fruition. Milestones uses one mode on the main theme, then switches to a second mode for the bridge."
Collier correctly points out that Davis was not the first jazz player to promote a modal foundation for jazz compositions - that distinction probably belongs to George Russell. During one of Russell's enforced absences from jazz activity due to tuberculosis, he formalized his thinking in a dissertation called The Lydian Concept of Tonal Organization, first published in 1953 and required reading ever since for jazz scholars, but well before that Russell had tried to use modes in his writing. The first composition in jazz to use a modal organization is probably Russell's introduction to the Dizzy Gillespie orchestra's Cubano Be. "Diz had written a sketch which was mostly Cubano Be," Russell says. "His sketch was what later turned out to be the section of the piece called Cubano Be except that I wrote a long introduction to that which was at the time modal. I mean it wasn't based on any chords, which was an innovation in jazz because the modal period didn't really begin to happen until Miles popularized it in 1959. So that piece was written in 1947, and the whole concept of my introduction was modal, and then Dizzy's theme came in and we performed it,"
Davis's contribution was not in discovering the innovation but in making it work. He was fully aware of the breakthrough he was making in Milestones, as its title indicates, and he described its advantages to Nat Hentoff at the time. "When you go this way," he said, "you can go on forever. You don't have to worry about changes and you can do more with the line. It becomes a challenge to see how melodically inventive you are. When you're based on chords, you know at the end of 32 bars that the chords have run out and there's nothing to do but repeat what you've just done -with variations. I think a movement in jazz is beginning away from the conventional string of chords, and a return to emphasis on melodic rather than harmonic variation. There will be fewer chords but infinite possibilities as to what to do with them."
This was the innovation that Coltrane described when he spoke of Davis's "new stage of jazz development" and of his compositions with "free-flowing lines and chordal direction." Hentoff draws the conclusion from his discussion with Davis that "Davis thus predicts the development of both Coltrane and, to a lesser degree, the more extreme, more melodic, Ornette Coleman."
For the ordinary jazz listener, Davis's modal breakthrough is meaningful not for its formal musical properties or for its historical importance but for the gain in expression it allows the musicians, which in the hands of individuals of the caliber of Davis, Coltrane, and Adderley is heard and felt powerfully.
In Milestones and in the other modal compositions that follow it in Davis's repertoire, there is no feeling of self-conscious experimentation and no implication that these musicians are revising the structural foundations of their art. In this regard, Davis contrasts strikingly with the proponents of third stream music and even with the humbler innovators in his old nonet, and also with the avant-garde or free form musicians soon to follow, all of whom spent more than a little energy talking about the uniqueness of their contributions rather than making their music.”
Monday, May 29, 2017
This overwhelming tribute to Sarah Vaughan preceded a Vaughan concert at the Smithsonian Museum in 1980. Not surprisingly,Gunther Schuller — certainly the jazz authority most deeply rooted in classical music — places Vaughan in the entire context of twentieth-century singing.
Perhaps what is surprising is that he finds her superior to every great opera singer of this period, but he makes every effort to substantiate his claims, not merely assert them.
These remarks are drawn from Mr. Schuller's collection entitled Musings and they appear in Robert Gottlieb, editor, Readings in Jazz: A Gathering of Autobiography, Reportage, and Criticism from 1919 to Now [New York: Pantheon Books, 1996, pp. 986-991].
THE DIVINE SARAH: GUNTHER SCHULLER
“What I am about to do really can't be done at all, and that is to do justice to Sarah Vaughan in words. Her art is so remarkable, so unique that it, sui generis, is self-fulfilling and speaks best on its own musical artistic terms. It is—like the work of no other singer—self-justifying and needs neither my nor anyone else's defense or approval.
To say what I am about to say in her very presence seems to me even more preposterous, and I will certainly have to watch my superlatives, as it will be an enormous temptation to trot them all out tonight. And yet, despite these disclaimers, I nonetheless plunge ahead toward this awesome task, like a moth drawn to the flame, because I want to participate in this particular long overdue celebration of a great American singer and share with you, if my meager verbal abilities do not fail me, the admiration I have for this remarkable artist and the wonders and mysteries of her music.
No rational person will often find him or herself in a situation of being able to say that something or somebody is the best. One quickly learns in life that in a richly competitive world—particularly one as subject to subjective evaluation as the world of the arts—it is dangerous, even stupid, to say that something is without equal and, of course, having said it, one is almost always immediately challenged. Any evaluation — except perhaps in certain sciences where facts are truly incontrovertible — any evaluation is bound to be relative rather than absolute, is bound to be conditioned by taste, by social and educational backgrounds, by a host of formative and conditioning factors. And yet, although I know all that, I still am tempted to say and will now dare to say that Sarah Vaughan is quite simply the greatest vocal artist of our century.
Perhaps I should qualify that by saying the most creative vocal artist of our time. I think that will get us much closer to the heart of the matter, for Sarah Vaughan is above all that rare rarity: a jazz singer. And by that I mean to emphasize that she does not merely render a song beautifully, as it may have been composed and notated by someone else—essentially a re-creative act—but rather that Sarah Vaughan is a composing singer, a singing composer, if you will, an improvising singer, one who never—at least in the last twenty-five years or so—has sung a song the same way twice: as I said a creative singer, a jazz singer.
And by using the term jazz I don't wish to get us entrapped in some narrow definition of a certain kind of music and a term which many musicians, from Duke Ellington on down, have considered confining, and even denigrating. I use the word "jazz" as a handy and still widely used convenient descriptive label; but clearly Sarah Vaughan's singing and her mastery go way beyond the confines of jazz.
And if I emphasize the creativity, the composer aspect of her singing, it is to single out that rare ability, given, sadly, to so few singers, including, of course, all those in the field of classical music. It is my way of answering the shocked response among some of you a few moments ago when I called Sarah Vaughan the greatest singer of our time. For it is one thing to have a beautiful voice; it is another thing to be a great musician—often, alas, a truly remote thing amongst classical singers; it is still another thing, however, to be a great musician with a beautiful and technically perfect voice, who also can compose and create extemporaneously.
We say of a true jazz singer that they improvise. But let me assure you that Sarah Vaughan's improvisations are not mere embellishments or ornaments or tinkering with the tune; they are compositions in their own right or at least re-compositions of someone else's material—in the same manner and at the same level that Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker and other great jazz masters have been creative.
You can imagine that I do not say these things lightly, and that I do not make so bold as to make these claims without some prior thought and reason. For I am, as many of you know, someone who played for fifteen years in the orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, loved every minute of it, and during those years heard a goodly share of great singing—from Melchior to Bjorling and DiStefano, from Flagstad to Sayao to Albanese and Callas, from Pinza to Siepi and Warren. Before that, as a youngster, I thrilled to the recordings of Caruso, Rethberg, Ponselle, Muzio, Easton, and Lawrence. So I think I know a little about that side of the singing art. And yet with all my profound love for those artists and the great music they made, I have never found anyone with the kind of total command of all aspects of their craft and art that Sarah Vaughan has.
I do not wish to engage in polemical discussion here. Nor am I Sarah Vaughan's press agent. I would claim, however — along with Barbara Tuchman — that though my judgment may be subjective, the condition I describe is not. What is that condition? Quite simply a perfect instrument attached to a musician of superb musical instincts, capable of communicating profoundly human expressions and expressing them in wholly original terms.
First the voice. When we say in classical music that someone has a ‘perfect voice’ we usually mean that they have been perfectly trained and that they use their voice seemingly effortlessly, that they sing in tune, produce not merely a pure and pleasing quality, but are able to realize through the proper use of their vocal organs the essence and totality of their natural voice. All that can easily be said of Sarah Vaughan, leaving aside for the moment whether she considers herself to have a trained voice or not. As far as I know, she did study piano and organ, but not voice, at least not in the formal sense. And that may have been a good thing. We have a saying in classical music—alas, painfully true—that given the fact that there are tens of thousands of bad voice teachers, the definition of a great singer is one who managed not to be ruined by his or her training. It is better, of course, to be spared the taking of those risks.
There is something that Sarah Vaughan does with her voice which is quite rare and virtually unheard of in classical singing. She can color and change her voice at will to produce timbres and sonorities that go beyond anything known in traditional singing and traditional vocal pedagogy. (I will play, in a while, a recorded excerpt that will show these and other qualities and give you the aural experience rather than my—as I said earlier—inadequate verbal description.)
Sarah Vaughan also has an extraordinary range, not I hasten to add used as a gimmick to astound the public (as is the case with so many of those singers you are likely to hear on the Tonight Show], but totally at the service of her imagination and creativity. Sarah's voice cannot only by virtue of its range cover four types of voices—baritone, alto, mezzo soprano, and soprano, but she can color the timbre of her voice to emphasize these qualities. She has in addition a complete command of the effect we call falsetto, and indeed can on a single note turn her voice from full quality to falsetto (or, as it's also called, head tone) with a degree of control that I only heard one classical singer ever exhibit, and that was the tenor Giuseppe DiStefano—but in his case only during a few of his short-lived prime years.
Another thing almost no classical singers can do and something at which Sarah Vaughan excels is the controlled use of vibrato. The best classical singers develop a vibrato, of a certain speed and character, which is nurtured as an essential part of their voice, indeed their trademark with the public, and which they apply to all music whether it's a Mozart or Verdi opera or a Schubert song. Sarah Vaughan, on the other hand, has a complete range, a veritable arsenal of vibratos, ranging from none to a rich throbbing, almost at times excessive one, all varying as to speed and vibrato and size and intensity—at will. (Again, my recorded example will demonstrate some truly startling instances of this.)
Mind you, what Sarah Vaughan does with the controlled use of vibrato and timbre was once—a long time ago—the sine qua non of the vocal art. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries vibrato, for example, was not something automatically used, imposed, as it were, on your voice. On the contrary, it was a special effect, a kind of embellishment—an important one—which you used in varying degrees or did not use, solely for various expressive purposes and to heighten the drama of your vocal expressivity. It is an art, a technique which disappeared in the nineteenth century and is all but a lost art today, certainly amongst classical singers, who look at you in shocked amazement if you dare to suggest that they might vary their vibrato or timbre. They truly believe they have one voice, when potentially—they don't realize it—they could (should) have several or many.
Here again, I think Sarah learned her lessons not from a voice teacher, but from the great jazz musicians that preceded her. For among great jazz instrumentalists the vibrato is not something sort of slapped onto the tone to make it sing, but rather a compositional, a structural, an expressive element elevated to a very high place in the hierarchy of musical tools which they employ.
Another remarkable thing about Sarah Vaughan's voice is that it seems ageless; it is to this day perfectly preserved. That, my friends, is a sign—the only sure sign—that she uses her voice absolutely correctly, and will be able to sing for many years more—a characteristic we can find, by the way, among many popular or jazz singers who were not formally voice-trained. Think of Helen Humes, Alberta Hunter,* [ *Alberta Hunter sang remarkably well until her death in 1984], Helen Forrest, Chippie Wallace, Tony Bennett, and Joe Williams.
So much for the voice itself. Her musicianship is on a par with her voice and, as I suggested earlier, inseparable from it. That is, of course, the ideal condition for an improvising singer—indeed a prerequisite. For you cannot improvise, compose extemporaneously, if you don't have your instrument under full control; and by the same token, regardless of the beauty of your voice, you have to have creative imagination to be a great jazz or improvising singer. Sarah's creative imagination is exuberant. I have worked with Sarah Vaughan, I have accompanied her, and can vouch for the fact that she never repeats herself or sings a song the same way twice. Whether she is using what we call a paraphrase improvisation—an enhancement of the melody where the melody is still recognizable—or whether she uses the harmonic changes as the basis of the song to improvise totally new melodies or gestures, Sarah Vaughan is always totally inventive. It is a restless compulsion to create, to reshape, to search. For her a song—even a mediocre one—is merely a point of departure from which she proceeds to invent, a skeleton which she proceeds to flesh out.
There are other singers—not many—who also improvise and invent, but I dare say none with the degree of originality that Sarah commands. She will come up with the damndest musical ideas, unexpected and unpredictable leaps, twisting words and melodies into new and startling shapes, finding the unusual pitch or nuance or color to make a phrase uniquely her own. When one accompanies her one has to be solid as a rock, because she is so free in her flights of invention that she could throw you if you don't watch out. She'll shift a beat around on you, teasing and toying with a rhythm like a cat with a mouse, and if you're not secure and wary, she'll pull you right under. She is at her best and her freest when her accompaniment is firmly anchored.
Perhaps Sarah Vaughan's originality of inventiveness is her greatest attribute, certainly the most startling and unpredictable. But unlike certain kinds of unpredictability—which may be merely bizarre—Sarah's seems immediately, even on first hearing, inevitable. No matter how unusual and how far she may stretch the melody and harmony from its original base, in retrospect one senses what she has just done as having a sense of inevitability—"Of course, it had to go that way, why didn't I think of that?" I go further: in respect to her originality of musical invention I would say it is not only superior to that of any other singer, but I cannot think of any active jazz instrumentalist—today—who can match her.
If it is true, as has often been stated through the centuries, that one way of defining high art is by the characteristic of combining the expected with the unexpected, of finding the unpredictable within the predictable, then Sarah Vaughan's singing consistently embodies that ideal.
Lastly, I must speak of the quality of Sarah's expressiveness, the humanism, if you will, of her art. Sarah has a couple of nicknames, as some of you know. The earliest one was Sassy. Next, around the early 1950s, she came to be called "the Divine Sarah," and more recently simply "the Divine One." Now that's a lovely thing to say about anyone, and I would not argue about Sarah's musical divinity, except in one somewhat semantic respect. What I love so in her singing is its humanness, its realness of expression, its integrity. It is nice to call her singing divine, but it's more accurate to call it human. Under all the brilliance of technique and invention, there is a human spirit, a touching soul, and a gutsy integrity that moves us as listeners.
How does one measure an artist's success? By how much audience they attract? By how much money they make? By how many records they sell? Or by how deeply they move a sophisticated or cultured audience? Or by how enduringly their art will survive? Sarah has been called the musicians' singer—both a wonderful compliment and a delimiting stigmatization. What seems to be true for the moment is that her art, like Duke Ellington's, is too subtle, too sophisticated to make it in the big—really big—mass pop market. God knows, Sarah—or her managers—have tried to break into that field. But she never can make it or will make it, like some mediocre punk rock star might, because she's too good. She can't resist being inventive; she can't compromise her art; she must search for the new, the untried; she must take the risks.
And she will be—and is already—remembered for that for a long time. To some like me—I've been listening to her since she was the very young, new girl singer with the Billy Eckstine Band in the mid-1950s—she is already a legend. I invite you now to listen to the promised excerpt—only one example of her art—a stunning example indeed, taken from a 1973 concert in Tokyo, during which Sarah Vaughan sang and recomposed "My Funny Valentine." Listen!!
It is now my privilege to exit gracefully and to invite you to listen to the one and only Sarah Lois Vaughan!”
I choose I different for the audio track to the following video tribute to Sarah as I have always been particularly fond of her interpretation of You’ve Changed.
But while the tune may be distinct, I’m certain that after listening to Sassy on this track, you will agree that all of what Gunther says about her in his introduction still applies.
Sunday, May 28, 2017
© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
With so much of the late, great tenor saxophonist Stan Getz’s recorded music available, it is understandable that his 1986 recording Voyage on the Blackhawk Records label [BKH 51101-1-D] has gone largely unrecognized.
But while this oversight is comprehensible, it is unacceptable, at least from my perspective, as I consider it to be one of the best recordings that Stan ever made.
Mercifully, it is still available both as a CD and on vinyl so if you haven’t added it to your Getz collection, you should give serious consideration to doing so.
A subsidiary of Aspen Records based in San Francisco, CA, Blackhawk Records issued a number of superb recordings by Phil Woods, Jessica Williams, Kenny Barron, the Elvin Jones - McCoy Tyner Quintet, Steve Kuhn the Gil Evans Orchestra, Sonny Stitt with the Hank Jones Trio, Roland Hanna, Hal Galper, Eddie Gomez, John Scofield, Chico Freeman, Maynard Ferguson, Shelia Jordan, Jimmy Knepper, Dizzy Gillespie and The Mitchell-Ruff Duo and Abdullah Ibrahim before doing the typical here-today-gone-tomorrow small Jazz recording company fade at the end of the decade of the 1980s.
Voyage is largely an outgrowth of the time that Stan and his then quartet consisting of pianist Kenny Barron, bassist George Mraz and drummer Victor Lewis spent as part of the Artist in Residence Program at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Ca [about 30 miles south of San Francisco, CA].
The recording was made at the Music Annex Recording Studio in nearby Menlo Park, CA and features Stan and the band in peak performance after playing the six tunes that comprise the LP on an almost regular basis throughout the period of the Stanford Jazz Program residency.
The distinguished Jazz author and scholar, Dr. Herb Wong had an ownership position in Blackhawk and wrote the following insert notes which explain the significance of Voyage at this point in Stan’s career as well as its place in the Getz discography.
“A gap of four long years has separated Stan Getz last quartet recording and this latest voyage. As one of the first magnitude stars of the pantheon of jazz. Stan carries special significance to every one of his performances, regardless of the context. The quartet, however, is admittedly his favorite environment. Logically, a new Getz quartet recording promptly generates eventful interest.
It has quickly stimulated vigorous applause from those who have had the opportunity to preview it. After recording on literally several hundred albums, reams of copy and a trail of awards, you'd think he might have reached a complacent comfort zone.
Au contraire. Stan persists in his dynamic process of improvised inventiveness, shaping the bed of creativity through his enchantingly lyrical and virile personal sound and style. It's a style on the tenor saxophone that spurs and triggers a listener's imagination to roam and to discover aural images.
Apprehension of how original ideas pop up at a given moment from the unconscious is difficult to explain. Stan's genius is perceivable as a pathway to truth and ecstatic beauty. Noted psychoanalyst Rollo May in his scholarly discourse on the nature of creativity, insists that ecstasy is the intensity of consciousness that occurs in the creative act... involving the total person. "It brings intellectual, volitional, and emotional functions into play all together." Under Dr. May's framework. Stan Getz' music, in my opinion, expresses a union of form and passion with order and vitality.
Recently I asked pianist Kenny Barron about the specialness he experienced in playing with Stan, and Kenny was quick to say. "His attitude is open to growth. Stan welcomes ideas of younger players, including new tunes." And. indeed, there is fresh literature on this album—the opener. "I Wanted to Say" is contributed by drummer Victor Lewis and there is an infectious pair by Kenny—"Dreams" and the title selection. "Voyage." Pianist Victor Feldman. who has played with Stan on a number of stints through the years, composed the lovely "Falling in Love." a perfect vehicle for the warm romanticism of Stan and his group.
Balancing original pieces are the 1939 evergreen ballad penned by Jimmy Van Heusen. "I Thought About You." and the Jerome Kern diamond. "Yesterdays." recut by Stan with some surprises that just sparkle. (Dig how Kenny Barren picks up on Stan's solo! It's like an orchestrated thing, and it just happened at the moment; Kenny plays the Milt Buckner-inspired block chords, and they are a beautiful fit I was. as well as everyone else, knocked out by the unexpected gem.)
Speaking admirably about Kenny, bassist George Mraz and Victor Lewis, Stan asserts that "they are the kind of musicians who almost sound as if they are classically trained because everything they touch is correct. Even though they have the drive of a jazz band, they have the touch of pure classicists.
"The band is like a classical string quartet. If I had another horn, it would get in my way and it would almost be like playing arrangements. In a quartet, I'm able to phrase differently every night. I'm up there and I can freely do whatever I wish to do. And a quartet is small enough for everyone to solo; I like to hear everyone in the band solo. It's essentially a classical-jazz approach to music."
In reality, the band on this album is Stan's working band. It's plain they fit into his paradigm of empathic values. All three rhythm section mates play what's needed for each individual tune, giving to the whole. "Kenny, for instance, plays every piece, wanting to give Kenny Barron to the piece, and not make the piece Kenny Barron." notes Stan. "Like George and Victor, too. he's ego-less like the Taoist philosophy of removing all self."
Not incidentally, this quartet has been the official band Stan has been leading during his current Artist-in-Residency at Stanford University-a position from which he has been deriving much pleasure, having invested much time and expertise into the experience.
Besides concertizing on campus, he works with the university big band, a cluster of jazz combos, plus other facets of the jazz education curriculum. Residing in nearby Menlo Park, moments from Stanford's campus. Stan finds this peripheral enjoyment a part of the total positive perspective of his living. He is a veritable super folk hero on campus and in the community. As the director of the Stanford jazz ensemble, Joseph Bowen, says: "When Stan walks into class, the students are in awel"
Stan speaks through the eloquence of his horn to illustrate theoretical aspects, always with the fluid, emotional heat he brings. "My area of the curriculum is feelings. When I was asked about my reaction regarding modes in a jazz theory class. I said: 'I don't care much for modes. It's not the mode that counts, it's the mood!" Man, that is succinctness
Here. then, are four brilliant magician/musicians sharing their spiritual and organic soulfulness. delivering their messages. Personally I have had a lifetime love affair with Stan's music and emotional art. and so have countless others
One of these generalized others is Aiko Suzuki of Toronto whose striking art piece adorns the album cover. Her fan letter to Stan includes associative responses illustrating the influence of his music:
"Your artistry is compelling for so many reasons, at many levels... intense serenity ... from out of ancient lonely primeval caves to dazzlingly positive humanism ... rich and at times minimalist —hence spiritual and emotional dynamism ... you dignify our carnal spirit. . no rhetoric, clear, clean ... crystalline ... elegantly romantic and sensuous."
The music on "Voyage" will stick in your memories. It should enjoy an unlimited life span.”
—Dr. Herb Wong
You can check out the title track on the following video: