Thursday, May 10, 2018

Tom's Soul - Tom Harrell's Body and Soul

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

Trumpet and Flugelhorn player Tom Harrell has been performing with pianist Dado Moroni for almost thirty years when, after leaving Phil Woods’ quintet in the late 1980s, Tom and Dado hooked up as part of the late alto saxophonist George Robert’s quintet along with bassist Reggie Johnson and drummer Bill Goodwin.

To say that Tom and Dado have an affinity for one another’s music would be an understatement.

Sometimes when you work with another musician, things just happen, they inexplicably come together and the performances rise to another level. The dynamic is akin to what I’ve heard described as a Zen-like, mind-to-mind transmission; nothing is specially stated either verbally or via the use of symbols, yet the musical partners seem to “complete” one another almost mystically and spontaneously.

For the musicians involved, these moments become the surprise in the Sound of Surprise, Whitney Balliett’s enduring definition of Jazz.

To extend this thought of the surprise in the surprise, another way of putting this is that these unexpected developments come about because musicians like Tom and Dado who have developed a close rapport or empathy often take more chances in their improvisations.

Another possible explanation is, since you know somehow that the other musician is always there as a safety net, you feel more confident in trying new things: chord substitutions, rhythmic displacement, melodic motifs that cross bar lines, et al.

Often times, too, these exercises into unchartered territory begin with previously explored paths in the form of very familiar melodies - aka “Old Chestnuts” -  as the point of departure.

As an example, the video montage at the conclusion of this piece is based on Tom and Dado’s adaptation of the melody to Body and Soul.

With the possible exception of Round Midnight and All The Things You Are, I think there are more renditions of Body and Soul in my collection than any other song from the Jazz Standards or the Great American Songbook.

By way of background, Ted Gioia in his The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire offers this information on Body and Soul which was composed by Johnny Green, with lyrics by Edward Heyman. Robert Sour, and Frank Eyton.

“This is the granddaddy of jazz ballads, the quintessential torch song, and the ultimate measuring rod for tenor sax players of all generations. Even in the new millennium, this 1930 composition continues to serve as a cornerstone of the repertoire. Yet "Body and Soul" could easily have missed the mark, fallen out of favor and never established itself as a standard, let alone achieved this pinnacle of success….

The whole history of this song marks it as an unlikely jazz classic. "Body and Soul" was written by an unproven songwriter—Johnny Green was a former stockbroker with an economics degree from Harvard….Although Louis Armstrong made a recording at the time of the song's release, "Body and Soul" most often showed up in the repertoire of white dance bandleaders, such as Paul Whiteman (who had a number one hit with the song in the fall of 1930), Leo Reisman, and Jack Hylton.

But a few cover versions from the mid-i93os gave notice of the song's potential as a springboard for improvisation. Henry Allen, Benny Goodman, and Art Tatum all enjoyed top 20 hits with "Body and Soul" before Hawkins's celebrated recording.

Hawkins was late to the party, and didn't start playing the song until toward the end of the decade, sometimes using "Body and Soul" as an encore, or stretching out with chorus after chorus—ten-minute performances unsuitable for 78 rpm records, then limited to roughly three minutes before all the available "disk space" was exhausted. Or so the saxophonist thought. RCA exec Leonard Joy had a different opinion, and prodded Hawkins to record a shorter version of "Body and Soul." The result was an astonishing success—a surprise hit record that caught on with the public in February 1940. The tenorist barely hints at the melody, and instead plunges into an elaborate improvisation, heavily reliant on tritone substitutions and built on phrases that are anything but hummable. The intellectual component here was daunting, yet for once the general public rose to the challenge. ...

With the rise of bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, and other styles, "Body and Soul" retained its central place in the repertoire. During the 19505 and 19605, the song was recorded by a who's who of the most influential players of the day, including John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Bud Powell, Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan, Art Pepper, Sonny Stirt, Dexter Gordon, and many others. But the song was just as likely to show up in the set list of Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Earl Hines, Jack Teagarden, or another representative of the music's past. In a period during which different schools of jazz were often depicted as being at war, "Body and Soul" was a meeting ground where the generations could converse on friendly terms.

The song has hardly lagged in popularity in more recent years. Certainly its appeal among saxophonists is well documented, and one could easily chart a history of the tenor sax through the various recordings of "Body and Soul" over the decades. Yet pianists have been almost as enthusiastic as the horn players. Art Tatum left behind around 20 recorded versions, and virtually every significant later jazz pianist, of whatever persuasion, has taken it on....

For all that, something cold and almost clinical comes across in many performances of this piece….  For better or worse, this ballad has become more than a ballad, rather a testing ground where aspirants to the jazz life prove their mettle. In this regard, "Body and Soul is likely to be around for a long, long time, and its own rise and fall linked to the jazz idiom as a whole.”

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