Saturday, July 14, 2018

Gillespiana: Grand, Glorious and Glistening

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

“Dizzy was almost entirely self-taught. They are treacher­ous terms, "self-taught" and "self-educated," often carrying a connotation of untaught or uneducated. The terms mean no such thing. One of the values of formal education, at least in the arts, is that a good teacher can shorten your search time, guiding what is in the end self-education. You can learn to draw only by the repeated doing of it, until the coordination between eye and brain and hand is reflexive and unconsidered. Thus it is with musical education, for in the last analysis, in learning an instrument you are training muscle memory. It may indeed be the great virtue of the older jazz musicians that they were self-taught, each of them working out his individual problems in his own way.”
Gene LeesJazzletter, February 1999, Vol. 18., No. 2

The explanation for Dizzy's renewed vigor [during the period when Gillespiana was recorded] stems entirely from [Lalo] Schifrin's arrival in the band. Bassist Bob Cunningham ,…, believes this was because, in Schifrin, Dizzy had found a man who matched his own musical curiosity. "Lalo was like a sponge, he was so eager to learn. We'd be playing something, and he'd hear a thing he hadn't heard before, a new voicing, and Lalo would be right there asking Dizzy 'How do you do this?' And that was the way he was, his enthusiasm was infectious, he loved the music so much."
Alyn Shipton, Groovin’ High: The Biography of Dizzy Gillespie [p.316]

“When he has a big band behind him, it pushes him in different directions and that’s when I think Dizzy’s actually at his best.”
- Trumpeter Jon Faddis as told to drummer Kenny Washington, insert notes to Dizzy Diamonds [Verve 314 513 875-2]

Gillespiana [Verve V-8394] is a five-part suite that arranger-composer Lalo Schifrin wrote for him after he joined Dizzy’s group in 1959 as its pianist. Gillespiana came out around the same time that many of the collaborations between arranger-composer Gil Evans and trumpeter Miles Davis were being issued on Columbia Records:  Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, and Sketches of Spain.

But Miles couldn’t have performed Gillespiana, it was tailor-made for Dizzy’s style of trumpet, one that is full of grand thematic statements, glorious trumpet machinations and glistening brass sounds.

Miles hints at things; he sets moods; he’s a colorist. Dizzy screeches, screams and squeezes notes out of the horn.

Big, bold and brassy; that’s Dizzy’s style of trumpet and Gillespiana provided the perfect vehicle for this approach to the instrument.

Other than the information contained in Gunther Schuller’s liner notes to the original LP [which are reproduced below], I really wasn’t aware of the context for the album or read much Jazz criticism about it.

For example, I didn’t know, as Gary Giddins asserts, that the:

“Gillespiana Suite, the five-movement concerto grosso Lalo Schifrin wrote for him in I960, elicited an inspired performance that his disciple Jon Faddis has described as a culmination of his work in the middle and late '50s, when his timbre grew mellow and he developed a delayed affinity for the blues. Yet as that period was often ignored or patronized as a popularizing aftermath to his revolutionary work in the previous decade, Gillespiana was long lost to critical discussion until Faddis's Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, which Schifrin conducted, gave it a fresh airing in 1995.” [Visions of Jazz, pp. 292-23].

I also learned more about how this extended work came about from this explanation which is taken from Kenny Mathieson’s Giant Steps: Bebop and the Creators of Modern Jazz 1945-65:

[Lalo Schifrin had met Dizzy during his big band’s 1956 tour of South America, including Lalo’s native Argentina. Dizzy was so impressed with Schifrin’s music that he invited him to look him up if he ever got to New York.] … the pianist took him up on the offer when he arrived in New York in 1960. Schifrin joined Dizzy's quintet as a replacement for Junior Mance, although it is likely that what Dizzy really wanted was his writing rather than piano skills. They collaborated on the most successful of the longer works which Gillespie attempted at this time, Schifrin's Gillespiana, in which the pianist achieved a highly successful interweaving of Latin and jazz elements within a five-section structure which adapted elements from the classical suite and the ensemble-within-an-ensemble counterpoint of the concerto grosso form, using Gillespie's quintet against an expanded horn and percussion section.

Both the original album (recorded in November 1960) and the concert debut of the work at Carnegie Hall also included Dizzy's Tunisian Fantasy, an extended re-working of Night in Tunisia, and a version of Manteca which, thirteen years on, had lost none of its irresistible exuberance.

The relationship with the classically trained Schifrin, which Dizzy likened to that between Duke Ellington and arranger and composer Billy Strayhorn (though one big difference lay in the fact that Schifrin received the composer credits so often denied to Strayhorn), and the emphasis on large-scale works at this time reflected Dizzy's own desire to see his music given greater recognition and acceptance within the 'legiti­mate' musical establishment, but it remains firmly jazz-rooted.” [p.38]

As a related aside, Martin Williams had this to say about Tunisian Fantasy and the Gillespie-Schifrin collaborations in this excerpt from his Jazz Changes:

“The aforementioned A Night in Tunisia is the basis of Tunisian Fantasy, a part of another concert recording done at Carnegie Hall last year by Dizzy Gillespie, who led a large orchestra of brass and percussion assembled for the occasion. The Fantasy (which, incidentally, might have been better rehearsed in a couple of spots) is a set of variants on Gillespie's piece, one of them based on the main theme, one on the bridge, and one built around the interlude that introduces the soloists, etc.

It is the highest compliment to Gillespie's pianist Lalo Schifrin, who wrote The Fantasy, to say that the work is as generally unpretentious as many comparable jazz pieces are pretentious, that it is almost constantly interesting, and that it fulfills one of its main functions beautifully—it inspires the trumpeter to play with joyful variety and with the compellingly graceful bravura that is Gillespie at his best.” [p. 254]

Combining their comments about both Gillespiana and the subsequent Tunisian Fantasy are authors Richard Cook and Brian Morton in their Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.:

“Gillespie's Verve contract was arguably a little disappointing in that it produced no single indispensable record. The big- and small-band dates were pot-pourris of dazzling breaks and solos that never quite gelled into the long-playing masterpiece Gillespie surely had in him at this time. Having already outlived many of his key contemporaries in bebop, he was beginning to be a player in search of a context.

The best single disc is certainly the one that couples Gillespiana - a marvelous assemblage of orchestral charts by Lalo Schifrin, some of his finest work on record, to which Gillespie rises superbly - and the subsequent Carnegie Hall Concert of a few months later, not quite so memo­rable, though this Manteca and the extravagant Tunisian Fan­tasy are exhilarating.” [p. 574]

Returning specifically to the Gillespiana Suite, Alyn Shipton shared these detailed insights about the work’s evolution and significance in his biography of Dizzy entitled Groovin’ High: The Life of Dizzy Gillespie [Excerpted from pp. 310-314]:

"Dizzy had asked me to write something," remembers Schifrin, "so I had prepared sketches for Gillespiana, and I mean just that—not orchestrated, not developed—which he asked me to take over to his house and play for him.

" 'How would you like to orchestrate it?' he asked.

"I told him I could hear a brass band in my head, playing the full band sections with his jazz quintet out in front. I told him I thought I could achieve the sound I wanted by replacing the five saxophones of a regular big band with four French horns and a tuba, along with the usual four trumpets and four trombones. Immediately he picked up the tele­phone and called Norman Granz at Verve. While he was being put through he turned to me and asked, 'How long do you think it will take to orchestrate?'

"I told him about three weeks, and there and then he agreed with Granz to record it in two sessions just over a month away. It seemed to me to be quite fantastic—but we did it.

'When I got to the studio, besides Dizzy there were people like Clark Terry, Ernie Royal, Julius Watkins, Gunther Schuller, Urbie Green. I looked around and realized this was an amazing band, the best band you could put together in New York, composed of New York's elite. I thought back to my childhood, to that conversion when I heard the discs by Charlie Parker and Dizzy, and I felt like a Moslem must feel on arriving in Mecca. Just seeing them I was very nervous.

"Then, in a moment, I overcame the nerves. The music dictates how you feel, and I began to conduct and play. It was very rewarding then, and I find it is still very rewarding now, in the late 1990s, that something I wrote all those years ago is still alive and has become a classic in a real sense with regular performances recently by Jon Faddis or James Morrison with orchestras and bands all over the world."38 [Author interview with Lalo Schifrin, January 9, 1998]

The five movements of Gillespiana were conceived as a form of concerto grosso, the baroque form in which a small group of musicians takes the role of a concerto soloist, playing above and between sections by the full orchestra. In Lalo's vision, the regular Gillespie quintet (with himself on piano) would become the group of soloists and the full band would take the role of the orchestra.

As his sketches became a finished piece, each movement took on a distinctive character, as Gunther Schul­ler (who played French horn in the band) relates: "Schifrin wished to pay homage to the many facets of Dizzy's enormous musical talent. Lalo felt that it was not possible to do this in some kind of 'synthesis.' He therefore resolved to write a work in which each movement would reflect a different aspect of Dizzy's personality ranging from the melancholy 'Blues' to the vigorous 'Toccata,' from allusions to Dizzy's African fore­bears to his interest in Latin American music."

Lest this seems too much like Schuller with his academic hat on, he also shared in the extraordinary atmosphere of the date already described by Schifrin: "I think I am speak­ing for all my colleagues on the date when I say that we were all visibly excited by the work and Dizzy's sovereignty on his horn, undimmed in my opinion by the passing of the years."39 [Gunther Schuller liner notes to Gillespiana Verve 314 519 809-2] ….

The suite was an unqualified success with the public and continues to be performed, as Lalo pointed out, forty years later. It was also a success with some critics. Down Beat’s John Tynan voted it five stars, and Gramophone’s Alun Morgan suggested (perhaps somewhat erroneously in the context of the instrumental forces used) that it was an "immensely rewarding" counterattack against the "third-stream menace." Other writ­ers were not so sure, including Nat Hentoff, who felt it was "weak" and "rather conventional."40 [John McDonough’s insert notes to CD reissue]

The logical development from recording Gillespiana in a studio was to play the music in concert. This was not long in coming, with a mid­night recital at Carnegie Hall extending into the early hours of March 4, 1961. In addition to Gillespiana, there was to be a set of Dizzy's older pieces, reworked by Schifrin for the new instrumentation and crowned by "Tunisian Fantasy," an extended rewrite of "Night in Tunisia." The whole thing was billed as the African Suite, dedicated to the new nations that have thrown off their colonial shackles."41 [Baltimore Afro-American, February 18, 1961]

This was difficult music to present in concert, not least because of the "studio dynamics" Schifrin had created. In the recording studio it is easy to balance a solo double bass against a thirteen-man brass section, and Schifrin's experience of writing for film studios in Paris and Buenos Aires had given him a compositional background in which such tech­niques were common. It is far harder to achieve such a balance in a natural concert hall acoustic.

When the author asked Schifrin how he had managed to achieve such a satisfying end result, he said: "By the time we got to Carnegie Hall I was becoming not exactly blasé, but certainly more confident. This was because we had done a tour of New England first to try out the music. It was a bit like taking a musical on an off-Broadway try-out. By playing HartfordConnecticut, and other such towns, we had a good idea of how to achieve what we wanted in the one hall that really mat­tered.

My only sadness is that when the original album was released of what had actually been a three hour concert, they chopped off the last movement of Tunisian Fantasy. In fact I'd written it in three parts, but there are only two on the disc, and it wasn't until one of my 1990s Jazz Meets the Symphony discs that the entire work finally got recorded."42 [Author’s interview with Lalo Schifrin, January 9, 1998].”

John McDonough, who writes for Down beat and the Wall Street Journal, offered these remarks in his CD insert notes to Reissuing Gillespiana and Carnegie Hall Concert.

“Between sets in a Chicago club one night not so long ago, Jon Faddis slid his horn into its case, tucked it under his arm, and hopped a cab over to WBEZ radio where DJ Dick Buckley played (and still plays) the kind of good, straight-ahead jazz that rarely starts arguments. As he arrived, Buckley had just dropped the tone arm on the "Prelude" section of Gillespiana. Faddis stopped outside the studio door, listened, and reached for his horn. At the first trumpet break, according to Buckley, he walked into the studio blasting out Gillespie's line note for note. He probably could have kept playing. Gillespiana is a record Faddis knows well and much loves.

Faddis was only seven years old when Gillespie recorded this work in November 1960. It was less than two weeks after JFK's election, but Kennedy's was not the only New Frontier in the wind. Jazz was increasingly conscious of itself as an art as it probed Europe's Schonbergian experiments that had taken place earlier in the century. Among other things, it way feeling its was in the arcane corridors of atonality. Cecil Taylor was in the air. And five weeks after the Gillespiana sessions, Ornette Coleman recorded Free Jazz for Atlantic.

It was in this dizzy atmosphere that Gillespie and Lalo Schifrin came together. Schifrin was then a 28-year-old pianist from Argentina who at sixteen had studied serial composition with twelve-tone composer Juan Carlos Paz. Gillespie actually had met Schifrin during his first State Department-sponsored tour of South America late in 1956, when he heard his young big band one night in Buenos Aires. He was struck by the writing, most of which was Schifrin's, and before he moved on, he asked the young musician to compose something for him. This was the start of Gillespiana. A few years later he came to America and began writing for Xavier Cugat.

Schifrin approached Gillespie again in 1960 with some of his early quintet sketches for Gillespiana. Dizzy not only liked the sketches; he liked Schifrin and promptly took him on as pianist in his working group, replacing Junior Mance. But Schifrin's performing responsibilities may have been less important to Gillespie than his resources as a composer, since there was no shortage of good pianists from whom Gillespie might have chosen.

You see, Dizzy also wanted to go legit. "I've struggled to establish jazz as a concert music," he wrote in his autobiography, "a form of art, not just music you hear in places where they serve whiskey." No doubt he saw in Schifrin a man with the resources to help him do that. He also saw, more than most in his generation, that yesterday's revolutionary often becomes today's or tomorrow's reactionary. As an accomplished composer, Schifrin represented an alternative for Gillespie to the temptations of standing pat and becoming an object of jazz nostalgia. Gillespie identified a youthful sensibility in the Argentinean's work that could help frame his music in contemporary compositional structures — yet he wanted to continue the Latin tradition that had been part of his work since the days of Chano Pozo and "Manteca" in the Forties. At the very least, he could expand his group's repertoire of original material. It was a wise choice and Gillespie's excitement was palpable, even effusive. In a talk with critic Gene Lees, he compared the collaboration to that of Strayhorn and Ellington.

For Schifrin, however, the association was even more significant. He saw in Gillespie not just a friend and teacher but a world-class patron who could bring wide attention to himself and his work. He saw in the partnership a chance to escape the niche of the Argentine movie industry, where he had written well-regarded but little-known film scores, and move into the world of jazz, which was his abiding passion.

Gillespie made Gillespiana the centerpiece of his concerts almost as soon as Schifrin joined the band. But the original intent had always been to expand the work so as to set the quintet off against a large band. In the summer and fall of 1960 Schifrin wrote the all-brass orchestrations, eschewing reeds It was recorded in November and released the following May, with a proper unveiling at Carnegie Hall in between. It was described in the original album notes as a "suite form [in a] concerto grosso format".

Gillespiana also made people listen. After a few solid but unexceptional albums, here was Gillespie back in top fighting form. While some disputed the value of Schifrin's work — Nat Hentoff dismissed it as "weak" and "rather conventional" — it surely helped inspire a Gillespie performance that was widely praised in the jazz press. In down beat John Tynan, who would shortly brush off Free Jazz with no stars, awarded Gillespiana five. And Alan Morgan in The Gramophone called it an "immensely rewarding" counterattack against the third stream menace. (It was ironic that the album note was written by third stream godfather Gunther Schuller, who also played on the date.)

That Gillespiana continues to sound contemporary more than three decades later should not be surprising — though one certainly could not have listened to 1927 Fletcher Henderson in 1960 and magnificent though it still was, confused it with anything contemporary. Though Gillespiana was recorded at a time when jazz stood on the threshold of great hysteria and debate over what John Litweiler has since labeled "the freedom principle", the battles that lay beyond 1960 would be fought largely amongst musicians, far from the ear of the general public. As a consequence, the impact the new developments left on the larger shape of jazz, outside of the solitary charisma of John Coltrane remains debatable. Judged by the prevailing currents today, the jazz avant garde of the Sixties produced nothing comparable to the sweeping reformation Gillespie's generation imposed upon the music in the Forties.

Maybe this is why musicians such as Jon Faddis, who would learn Gillespiana so thoroughly, turned more to Gillespie for inspiration in the late Sixties than … well … others. And maybe this is why Gillespiana seems comfortable with the Nineties, almost as if the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties hadn't happened.

Gillespie's inventory of trademarks are, of course, everywhere: a penchant for starting a musical thought at the top of a scale; chromatic descents, particularly in quarter notes; a fondness for double-time sprints; and that hard-tempered sound.

In them reside the substance of his musical identity an identity that Schifrin writes knowingly for in these works…..”

The noted Jazz scholar, Gunther Schuller, who also played French Horn on Gillespiana, wrote these liner notes for the original Verve LP.

“Boris Schifrin is a talented young man from Argentina who not only occupies the piano chair in Dizzy Gillespie's present Quintet, but is also—judg­ing by this forty-two minute work-a composer to watch. Lalo, as he is known to his colleagues, is twenty-eight years old, and brings to this work ten years of experience as a practicing jazz pianist, an intuitive feel for the rhythms of Latin America, and a keen understanding of European 'art music.’

Lalo's appreciation and love of the latter was given an early impetus by the fact that his father was a violinist in the famed Teatro Colon in his native Buenos Aires, so that his childhood was literally steeped in music. Later, five years of study with Juan Carlos Paz, one of the three leading contem­porary composers of Argentina (and indeed of South America), served to acquaint him with the more contemporary musical trends. Lalo's formal musical education was completed by three further years at the Paris Conservatory, primarily under the much respected Charles Koechlin.

Among Schifrin's many credits to date, two seem particu­larly relevant: Schifrin represented Argentina in the 1954 International Festival of Jazz, held in Paris; and in 1958 received the Argentinian Acad­emy Award in the film music category for his work in the film El Jefe.

Gillespiana reflects the flexible, un-pedantic and inquisitive creative personality of its composer. In fact, to me, the work seems to be one of the few successful large-scale attempts to blend authentic South American rhythms and sonorities with those of jazz. That such a music be composed for Dizzy Gillespie, and dedicated to him, is especially fitting, since Dizzy has always had a natural, 'built in' feel­ing for Latin American rhythms, (e.g., Cubana BopManteca, etc., and, of course, his hiring of the late Chano Pozo).

In Gillespiana, Schifrin wished to pay homage to the many facets of Dizzy's enormous musical talent. Lalo felt that it was not possible to do this in terms of some kind of "synthesis." He therefore resolved to write a work in which each movement would reflect a different aspect of Dizzy's person­ality, ranging from the melancholy Blues to the vigorous Toccata, from allusions to Dizzy's African forebears to his interest in Latin American music. Lalo felt that such a work would best be served by the eighteenth century "Suite" form, specifically in another eighteenth-century manifestation, namely the Concerto grosso format, as exemplified in this instance by a quintet featured within a large accompanimental brass and percussion group.

Schifrin's skill in handling this intriguing assignment is all too evident, not only in the clarity and power of his ideas, but in his considerable orchestrational ingenuity. The standard separation of 'lines' between trumpets, horns and trombones is obviously done by a composer with a very sure hand. Careful listening in the Toccata, for example, will reveal that Schifrin was able to vary the ac­companiments by constantly using fresh permutations of the alternating 6/8-3/4 patterns, that are the rhythmic basis of most Latin American music.

I like also Schifrin natural, intuitive understand­ing of the brass instruments, their virtues as well as their limitations. It is this quality that made the musicians on this date perk up from the routine of their New York commercial studio rounds, and rise to the challenge of Lalo's music. This can be heard above all in Dizzy's own playing, Leo Wright's work on flute and alto, Frank Rehak's and Urbie Green's back-to-back solos in the Toccata, and the consistency of Ernie Royal's lead-trumpeting. This is the kind of music which challenges the best in instrumentalists, and I think I am speaking for most of my colleagues on the date, when I say that we were all visibly excited by the work and Dizzy's sovereignty on his horn, undimmed, in my opinion, by the passing of years.


Cover Photo: Milan

Dizzy Gillespie Quintet: Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet), Leo Wright (alto and
flute), Lalo Schifrin (piano), Art Davis (bass), Chuck Lampkin (drums).

TRUMPETS: Ernie Royal (lead), Clark Terry, Joe Wilder, John Frosk

HORNS: Julius Watkins (lead), Gunther Schuller, James Buffington, Al Richman; on last session Buffington and Richman replaced by Morris Secon and William Lister.

TROMBONES: Urbie Green, Frank Rehak, Britt Woodman, Paul Faulise (bass)

TUBA: Don Butterfield


TIMBALES, TIMPANI: Willie Rodriguez

BONGOS: Jack del Rio

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