Sunday, March 25, 2018

Cal Tjader - 1965 Downbeat Blindfold Test

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

I’ve always been amazed by how closely Jazz musicians of my era followed the work of their peers or, at least, had an interest in those musicians associated with the music whose approach to it “spoke to them.”

For today’s Jazz fans, there are multiple media platforms and streaming services for sourcing information about the music.

But there was a time that afforded only two primary means of gaining information about Jazz: one could either go see and hear it performed in a Jazz club [later, in concert halls and at festivals] or one could listen to it on recordings or on the radio [especially big bands as many radio stations had resident orchestras from about 1935-1955].

This limited means of gaining access to information about Jazz bred familiarity in the best sense of that term because few of us expand our musical horizons in a vacuum; seeing and hearing the work of others provides a vast pool of resources from which to draw and make use of in the development of a preferred style of playing Jazz. It also makes you acutely aware of who is doing what in the music, especially on your instrument.

The extent to which those in the Jazz world listened and learned from their peers was always brought home to me whenever the latest copy of Downbeat magazine arrived and I turned to Leonard Feather’s “Blindfold Test” column.

I was constantly fascinated by how often the musician taking the “test” could identify the playing of others, especially those, as I stated, who played the same instrument.

Listening to one another while the music is being made is of vital importance while playing Jazz and it would appear that this quality also carries over in terms of being able to recognize the work/styles of other Jazz musicians.

A case in point are the answers [and observations] from vibraphonist and bandleader Cal Tjader in the following “Blindfold Test conducted By Leonard  Feather in the June 17, 1965 edition of Downbeat.

“The existence of Cal Tjader's current combo, with its stimulatingly mixed repertoire of straight jazz, Afro-Cuban specialties, and bossa nova, is the indirect consequence of a chain of events that goes back to 1947.

"That," Tjader said, "was the year Chano Pozo joined Dizzy Gillespie. He was the greatest of all the Cuban drummers. As a child, he'd been fascinated by some of the west African rhythms that survived in Havana.

"Chano's message spread. The bass player with Diz at that time was Al McKibbon, who picked tip a lot of Chano's rhythmic ideas. In 1954 McKibbon and I both worked in George Shearing's Quintet. George soon became interested in the Afro-Cuban ideas. He hired Armando Peraza, who idolized Pozo."

Tjader was with Shearing for only 16 months, but Peraza remained for almost 10 years. Today he is a member of Tjader's group.

For Tjader's second Blindfold Test (the previous one was published Dec. 7, 1961), Tjader was removed from the Latin bag for most of the interview.

1.  John Coltrane. Big Nick (from The Definitive Jazz Scene, Vol.  1, Impulse). Coltrane, soprano saxophone; McCoy Tyner,  piano; Jimmy Garrison, bass; Elvin Jones, drums.

I'm afraid I'm a little confused about whether it was John Coltrane on soprano or not. I don't think it was, although whoever it was was definitely influenced by the Coltrane style of playing. Sounded like it was Roy Haynes on drums, or maybe cne of the new drummers like Elvin Jones. ... It reminded me a lot of the old Roy Haynes conception, which is snap, crackle, and pop all the way through.

I really got a little bored, as I find myself doing on some of these things — it just gets to be too chaotic around the third or fourth chorus. The first chorus was very nice, going into the second was kind of interesting, but after that, I get bored. Frankly. I am sort of waiting till they take it out: the release from that tension.

The piano player I wouldn't recognize . . . sounds like a lot of the young modernists. . . . Again, I'm not sure that was Coltrane; it doesn't quite sound like his improvising, although the only time I remember hearing a soprano saxophone with that sound was Coltrane. But I don't think it was John Coltrane.

I rate it about two stars.

2.  Terry Gibbs. Tippie (from The Definitive Jazz Scene, Vol. 1, Impulse). Gibbs, vibraharp;   Kenny Burrell, guitar; Sam Jones, bass, Louis Hayes, drums.

I think that was Terry Gibbs and Kenny Burrell. I'm not sure about the bass player; could have been Richard Davis or one of the fellows around New York . . . and I'm not sure about the drummer.

But I thought I'd just mention that Terry — I remember reading his Blindfold Text in Down Beat recently — and I agree with him on several things. I think he's one of the few honest, happy players around on the scene today. There's no shucking, or he's not trying to do anything that's not natural.
He was one of my big influences; he was sort of the link between Hamp and Milt. He's a real honest, happy, enthusiastic player. Looking back, I'm sure Milt probably influenced more vibists than anybody else, but I think Terry was great.

I would rate this four stars, simply because it's a very honest, swinging thing. It sounded like the guys, too, had a good time on this date. Kenny Burrell, if I'm correct, is one of the great feeders on guitar, like John Lewis is on piano.

3.   Herbie Mann. Samba de Orfeu (from Live at Newport, Atlantic).  Mann, flute; Dave Pike, vibraharp; Willie  Bobo, percussion; Luis Bonfa, composer.

That's Herbie Mann and his group, obviously in concert somewhere. Samba de Orfeu, from Black Orpheus. And I think that's Dave Pike on vibes. I don't think that's Willie Bobo on timbales, and I frankly thought the timbales solo was a little sloppy.

The balance on the whole thing bothered me quite a bit. I didn't hear enough bass, but I guess on a stage they may have had a few problems — if it was a concert date.

I love the tune. . . . Again, the thing that bothered me was the balance. Within the group there was too much drums and not enough bass. The solos were nice; I have always liked Dave Pike. I think he's one of the more melodic vibists on the scene today. Three stars.

4.   Ken Mclntyre. Say What? (from Year of the Iron Sheep, United Artists). Mclntyre, composer, alto saxophone, flute; Jaki Byard, piano.

I don't know who that was ... for just a second I thought it might be Brubeck or Clare Fischer, till the alto sax came in.

I think what these guys were trying to do — and what a lot of groups are trying to do, and at times very unsuccessfully —  is 5/4 rhythm. It sounded to me like they weren't really used to it. I noticed a lot of flams in the rhythm section and a very plodding kind of a beat; it reminded me of a freight train trying to swing.

The soloist has been listening to Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane; but, again, the chaos to me is very boring. They were trying to get something out of the rhythm section, but the piano player kept feeding them 1-2-3, 1-2 — there was no break-up of space.

Brubeck is one of the few groups that can do this kind of experimentation with time successfully, because they have a way of tempering it a little better. But this just sounded heavy-handed and plodding, and I would only rate it one star — for the effort in trying to do something in 5/4.

5.  Vince Guaraldi,  Bola Sete. Star Song (from Vince Guaraldi, Bola Sete   and Friends, Fantasy). Guaraldi, composer, piano; Sete, guitar.

I'm sure that was Vince Guaraldi and Bola Sete, and I'm sure that was an original tune written by Vince, called Star Song. First of all, I think the mood they've established is very lovely and the whole rapport between Vince and Bola and the group. The only thing that bothered me was: Vince will have a nice line established melodically, and then he suddenly gets caught back in some of these funky cliches, which are out of context with the mood. It's like trying to play a pretty bossa nova tune and then going funky.

Although I will say Vince has improved harmonically very much in the last few years. And I think he and Bola are very complementary to each other. The whole mood had a nice empathy and a sympathy to what bossa nova should be. So I would rate that four stars.

6.  Thelonious Monk. Shuffle Boil (from It's Monk's Time, Columbia). Charlie Rouse, tenor saxophone; Monk, composer, piano; Butch Warren, bass; Ben Riley, drums.

That's got to be Thelonious. I guess if you don't recognize Thelonious, you better turn in your union card.

I have sort of mixed emotions. First of all, it's a very humorous record and broke me up in many spots. Monk can do that if you really listen to his ideas. Aside from some of the really serious (if that's the word to use) compositions like 'Round Midnight, which are very beautiful, soulful, mournful ballads, he can write things like this, which are sort of like the hunt-and-peck system, but he makes a lot of sense. And I thought the rhythm section was terrific. I don't know who the drummer was, or the bass, but I loved the drum solo — lot of continuity. The whole group was great — very pleasurable.

Sometimes it's hard to know whether Monk is really putting everybody on; there's a very thin line sometimes between shucking and really honest playing.

I got a tremendous kick — you have this feeling in the first two or three choruses with Charlie Rouse, and then all of a sudden Monk's gone; you think he's getting up and getting a drink of water.. ..  His first chorus kind of bothered me because it sounded like he was trying to do something contrived — that is, be so far out that nothing makes sense, but in the second and third choruses he started to get into something that he was feeling, naturally and honestly.

And I must admit that Monk, for a lot of guys, is not the great feeder, because you never know when he's going to come in and upset your ideas.
But for this group I would rate this five stars, just because it's Monk, and I really enjoyed it.”

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave your comments here. Thank you.