Friday, November 30, 2018

Elegant People - "Triste" - Arranged by Mike Abene, Metropole Orchestra

Count Basie - Famous Door - 1938 - Honeysuckle Rose

Jimmy Rowles Drawings - Chet Baker Sextet

Experiencing Jazz: A Listener's Companion by Michael Stephans

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

I suppose when you write a blog about Jazz, there is the presumption that you know something about what books to recommend that describe and explain how to listen to the music.

When asked for such recommendations, I usually respond with the following list:

- Jerry Coker, How To Listen to Jazz. Revised Edition. Jamey Aebersold Jazz Books.
- Scott Deveaux and Gary Giddins, Jazz. W.W. Norton and Co. which makes it available in both a commercial/trade and educational/interactive edition.
- Ted Gioia, How to Listen to Jazz. Basic Books.
- Martin Williams, Where’s the Melody?, Minerva Press.

However, thanks to my recent acquisition of a used copy of Michael Stephans’ Experiencing Jazz: A Listener’s Companion, Scarecrow Press, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, I now have another excellent book to add to my How to Listen to Jazz Recommended Reading List.

The following excerpt will serve as an example as to what’s on offer in this informative and well-written book.

Improvising: The Heart of the Jazz Experience

“Suppose you've just emerged from the subway on 42nd Street in New York City. Suppose also that you have no particular destination in mind; so you decide to head east on 42nd and see where it takes you. You cross Broadway, and then 6th Avenue, enjoying the sights and sounds as you walk. The only guidelines you have are to have some lunch and head back to your hotel by dinnertime,

As you come to Madison Avenue, you make a split-second decision to turn right and head south. You have never been on this street before, and everything you see and hear is new to you. At this point you decide to find a restaurant for lunch. Your only guideline is your budget; so as a result, you discover a tiny Indian restaurant on 38th Street. The prices are reasonable, so you make the decision to have a meal there.

And so goes your afternoon. street after street, you move spontaneously and without an agenda. The only thing you come to expect is the unexpected itself.

Now, move the scenario from the streets of New York City into your kitchen. You're tired of the same old recipes, and you haven't made your weekly trek to the grocery store. So you decide to just throw something together. But what? You decide to make up a recipe on the spot, using whatever available ingredients you have at hand. So into the skillet go the sliced onion, the ground beef, a little chili powder, some sliced tomatoes, and a few black olives. You have no idea what you are preparing, but you do know that you will serve these prepared ingredients over a bed of white rice. If this experiment tastes good, you might try to prepare it again sometime. If not - well - you'll try to invent something else another time.

These two scenarios represent an important part of life and they are certainly at the very core of jazz music for both the performer and the listener. When the jazz musician is through playing the melody of a song, s/he then embarks upon an improvisational journey, not unlike an afternoon in New York City or an adventure in your kitchen. There are some guidelines, however; just as you know how to put one foot in front of the other when you walk down the street, the jazz musician knows how to play a musical instrument and understands the structure of a song, before s/he moves into unfamiliar territory, choosing this note or that, this musical phrase or that, just as you might instantaneously choose one city street over another in your travels, or one spice rather than another in your instant recipe.

This sense of spontaneity that provides the basis of improvisation is what is often known as being in the moment. As Buddhism and other spiritual philosophies often suggest, there is no past and no future; there is only the present moment in which we find ourselves - either as musicians or listeners. Buddhists call this state of attentiveness, samadhi. When we musicians improvise, we are often seated squarely in the present moment of spontaneous creation.  That is not to say that we don't use the lessons of the past to create our improvisations. We bring certain fundamental tools to a performance; things like the knowledge of theory, harmony, and rhythm - as well as the full range of human emotions we feel at that time - in order to craft our improvisations in some way that brings deep personal meaning to us, and hopefully brings the listener into our world, if only for a little while.

As my friend and colleague, New York pianist Jim Ridl, points out, "Jazz is a complex medium of expression. It calls for both musical intelligence and passion. The musician draws on multiple sources: music of all kinds, personal life experience, current events, history, and culture, and something intangible within the self, whether it be called soul, inspiration, the Muse, or the Spirit" (Interview, 2011), Creating jazz, to paraphrase the legendary trombonist and composer Bob Brookmeyer, is the act of telling your story and mirroring the world at large - with all of its emotional ups and downs. In this sense, the jazz improviser says things through his or her instrument that all human beings are capable of feeling as a part of life. That is where the connection between musician and listener has the potential for creating a moving and memorable experience.

Focusing: Tumbling into Selflessness

When we go to the movies or the theater, we watch the production and listen to it simultaneously. This is a given; however, when a film or play has depth and is totally engrossing and engaging (think of your favorite movie, for example), something happens to us. We often move beyond the mere act of observation and into the realm of participation; that is, we empathize with one or more of the characters and laugh at his or her bumbling mishaps (in a comedy) or cry when he or she encounters tragedy (in a drama). We also revel when justice is served and evildoers get their comeuppance. In other words, we are able to experience a film or play, rather than passively watch and listen to the production.

The above analogy holds true for jazz as well, although the act of experiencing jazz can often be more subtif than experiencing comedy or tragedy. In other words, the whole range of human emotions is not as readily visible as it would be in a film or a play. As you experience a jazz performance, you must be open to whatever feelings you might be having at the very moment you are hearing the music. Since art often mirrors life, you may well experience a wide range of emotions, from pleasure and excitement, to sadness and contemplation, and all that falls in between.

Even as jazz musicians strive for a state of samadhi  - that is, total immersion in the creative act - so too can listeners move into a state of absolute concentration. As a listener, you have only to be completely open to the music unfolding on the bandstand or on your iPod or CD player. As multimedia composer and violinist Stephen Nachmanovitch suggests in his book, Free Play, "For art to appear, we have to disappear." In other words, we essentially have to abandon conscious thought while listening to (or playing) music. We have to train ourselves to be present; to allow ourselves to focus upon what is going on at that very moment - much as a child focuses upon something as simple as the act of building a sandcastle. That means, in a sense, to become what we're doing. So when we hear jazz, we have to give ourselves over to the experience, without preconception, judgment, or distraction. In this sense, we are truly experiencing jazz, not merely listening to it.

Sounds easy, right? If my own students are any indication, experiencing jazz can be a real challenge. With our attention spans becoming shorter and shorter, due to the dynamic advancements in computer technology as entertainment, the idea of sitting through a jazz concert or listening to an entire John Coltrane recording in a college music library or at home may seem too much like work.

So how do we create a sense of focus if we want to be able to give our total concentration to a jazz performance? My jazz appreciation students, who over the years have been mostly non-music majors, have discovered
that such listening is a challenge, especially when they are exposed to music that is often under three-minutes in duration; and when they are overexposed to a hit song by a well known popular musician. For example, you might hear a new song by a good singer, and as a result, you download that artist's song or purchase her CD. After several months Df listening to her hit song on your iPod and on the radio, and hearing it as background music in boutiques, grocery stores, and elevators, you become understandably bored with it.

Jazz, on the other hand, is not a Commodity that can be canned and packaged into a three-minute recording. It is not an entertainment and has little "commercial potential." Musicians don't become jazz musicians because the music provides a lucrative means of making a living. As such, the first thing a new listener can do is to cast aside all previous notions of what jazz is, and accept it on its own terms. Before you decide whether you like a particular jazz performance, you must give your attention fully to it. This means openly embracing whatever you hear and avoiding comparisons with any other musical genre. It also means taking the time to learn about it from the men and women who create the music - for they and the music they play are inseparable. This is one of the keys to the samadhi of listening. A fellow musician once said to me that we [jazz musicians] are vessels through which the music of the universe passes; and this is what flows through us and into you, the listener, if you are open to what we have to say; our stories, our lives.”

Excerpted / adapted from Experiencing Jazz: A Listener's Companion (Scarecrow Press, 2014) ©2014 Rowman & Littlefield Publishers /TN

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Buck Clayton: A Brief Biography by George Hoefer

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

Buck Clayton: has there ever been a better name for a Jazz musician?

Trumpeter Wilbur Dorsey "Buck" Clayton, 1911-1991, became synonymous with two forces in Jazz: the Count Basie Band which he left in 1943 and the Jam Session which he participated in at home and abroad until the end of his life.

Listening to Buck's style reveals an easy affinity for that of Louis Armstrong's, but then, few trumpet players of Buck's generation escaped Pops' influence, nor did Jazz vocalists like Bing Crosby and Billie Holiday, among others.

George Hoefer was one of two Associate Editors for Down Beat magazine when he developed the following biography of Buck in 1961.

It’s important to remember “the old guys” who pioneered during the early years of the music because it helps us keep alive an awareness of Jazz’s traditions.

Can you imagine working a Jazz gig in Shanghai for two years during the mid-1930’s China?!

“Watching and listening to trumpeter Buck Clayton gives the feeling of being in the presence of the Rock of Gibraltar in a jazz group.

Clayton is a tall, handsome man with sensitive green eyes. He is always neatly and modishly dressed, and his firm stance seems to dominate the stand and denote solidity. This Clayton-effect seems as true musically as physically, for his trumpet sound is authoritative whether he is soloing, leading the ensemble with an incisive, clean open horn, or furnishing an exciting muted drive behind a blues vocalist.

Clayton is one of those musicians no one worries about. He'll fit into any concert, record date, or band. He frequently is taken for granted, and because of this, he probably has not received as much attention as his playing warrants.

A jazzman, especially one like Clayton, who has grown up with the music, is a creative person whose artistry strives to express not only his own personal emotions but also the feelings of his environment. There are extremes in jazz, but Buck's voice strikes a balance. He is a solo stylist who came out of the swing period after service with one of the greatest jazz bands of the period, Count Basic's.

Like many other solo stars whose musical voice became established in name swing bands, Clayton would not return to band work, even if the bands were plentiful. These stars — Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Bud Freeman, Jimmy McPartland, to name a few— would feel confined or submerged musically if they were forced to play within the web of arrangements again. To a man, they prefer the small group, where the improvised solo scope is wide and the challenge is open. Nor is the "togetherness" of the modern-jazz chamber group appealing to them.

Fortunately for these titans, the music has attained enough acceptance for them to play it the way, for the most part, they prefer—on recording dates, jazz concerts, tours, a little television, and personal appearances with outlander groups. Their only requisite is headquarters in New York City.

When Clayton was asked if it bothered him to play in out-of-town night clubs in front of local bands, which in many cases are comparatively amateurish, he said, "No. If it's too bad, I just don't listen. The most trouble I've had of that sort has been right here in New York, where there are some bass players who think of themselves as drummers."

The jazz world makes colorful newspaper and magazine copy, but too often the more sensational  aspects of the musician's life are overemphasized. Clayton would not supply that sort of grist. He has his own home out in Jamaica,  N.  Y.,  where he lives with his wife, Patricia, and two young children, a boy and a girl. His hobbies include gardening, with emphasis on rose bushes, along with a deep interest in photography. He takes many color movies of his family and home-life activities. For the last five years he has filmed complete Christmas festivities involving his two children. He accepted a holiday job at George Wein's Storyville in Boston one year with the provision that he could be off Christmas eve to return to his home for a day.

Wilbur Clayton was born in Parsons, Kan., in 1911. His father, a minister, was also a musician and taught Buck piano. The father's instruments were trumpet and bass, but when Buck was high school age, he was given the family trumpet and told to play in the church orchestra. This permitted his father to concentrate on bass in the rhythm section, in which Mrs. Clayton played organ.

About 1927, the George E. Lee Orchestra from Kansas City, Mo., passed through Parsons on its way back from Oklahoma. This band had the late Julia Lee on piano and the great Kansas City drummer, Baby Lovett. Young Clayton, however, was fascinated by Bob Russell, who played five types of trumpet, ranging from a slide trumpet to a bugle. Russell talked to Buck and gave him pointers on the horn.

Buck and another youth left Parsons one day before they had finished high school and hoboed to California. Shortly after arriving in Los Angeles, Buck's conscience began to bother him and he decided to return to Kansas and finish his schooling before settling down on the west coast. After he did, he soon was back in Los Angeles to start a music career.

He began playing in the Red Mill dance hall for taxi dances. Next he became a member of Earl Dancer's 14 Pieces from Harlem, a band made up of California musicians, none of whom ever had been in Harlem. When Dancer left one day, reportedly with the band's money, Clayton found himself with a 14-piece band of his own. They worked steadily on the coast from 1932 to 1934.

During 1932, Clayton had the opportunity to hear, for the first time, Louis Armstrong in front of Luis Russell's Band at Sebastian's Cotton club. Clayton recalls being especially taken with Armstrong's version of I'm Confessin'. He also was inspired by the late Joe Smith's horn when the latter turned up in California with McKinney's Cotton Pickers on a road tour.

When 1934 came, pianist and bandleader Teddy Weatherford, who had inspired Earl Hines back in Chicago, was in California to recruit a band for an engagement in Shanghai, China. He liked Clayton's group and offered them the job.

At that time, Buck was courting Gladys Henderson, an attractive chorus girl at the Cotton club. The chorus line was doubling in the movies, working with Duke Ellington's band in its first film, Check and Double Check. Gladys wanted to go with Clayton. They decided to marry.

Word got around at Paramount, and they stopped making the movie long enough to bring the romance to marriage. Buck, even so, was not so sure this was what he wanted and had not made a definite decision up to the scheduled hour of the marriage. He stood out in front, he recalls, leaning against a telephone pole, trying to decide. The ceremony was held up two hours before they could find Buck. When he was finally escorted inside, the Ellington band started the wedding march, and Clayton recalled the thrill of Cootie Williams' growling trumpet during the procession and the newsreel cameras turning. The Mills Brothers sang during the ceremony, and George Raft, who was featured in the movie, beamed. He had been partially responsible for setting it all up.

The Claytons went to China, where they spent 1934-36, except for 10 days in Japan, working with Weatherford at an English dance hall in Shanghai known as the Canidrome. It was good experience for Clayton, for the band was required to play for tea dances, nightly  dancing, and some concert music such as Rhapsody in Blue.

When Clayton returned to the United States, the band broke up, along with his hasty marriage. Buck had been sending arrangements to Willie Bryant, who had the band at New York City's Ubangi club, and hoped to take his 14 pieces east with him to play under Bryant. The band refused to go so Clayton took off by himself. He got as far as Kansas City.

Oran (Hot Lips) Page wanted to leave the Basie crew, then playing the Reno club, so Clayton moved in to replace Page. The manager refused to pay when Clayton took over the trumpet spot. The rest of the band, some of whom were playing horns held together by rubber bands, pooled their money so Buck could get $2 a night for his efforts.

Shortly after Clayton became a regular member of the Basie group, jazz connoisseur John Hammond arrived in town, and the rest is Basie band history. Buck laughs now when he thinks of how Basie and the boys, including himself, dreamed of the days they would be making the stupendous sum of $100 a week a man. They had been making $18 a week, except for Buck, who got $14.

On their last night in Kansas City, the Basie band fought a battle of bands against Duke Ellington in the Paseo ballroom. Clayton remembers that Basie's men were cocky and their spirit won the battle, even though they played out of tune.

The Basie band's first engagement out of KC saw them follow the great Fletcher Henderson Band into Chicago's Grand Terrace. The band laid an egg there. But Buck and other Basie-ites had a chance to hear Roy Eldridge and Zutty Singleton's jam band in the Three Deuces. The next seven years held many kicks for Basie's bandsmen. They made many records (starting with their ill-fated arrangement with Decca that deprived them of royalties), including many small-group sessions, like the Teddy Wilson sides with Billie Holiday, on which Clayton's accompanying horn is outstanding.

On the Basie bandstand, after the Grand Terrace bomb, Clayton recalled the unique relationship between saxophonists Herschel Evans and Lester Young. Clayton said they admired each other's playing but were not particularly friendly. They sometimes traded choruses while sitting back to back on the stand, their styles miles apart. The night that Evans was taken to a hospital, the band was playing a battle of bands in Connecticut, and Herschel played wonderfully, Clayton said, as though he had a premonition that it would be his last chance. He was taken to New York in an ambulance after the session and never returned to the band. But the story that there was an empty chair on the bandstand for a long time after Evans' death is the product of some writer's imagination.

Clayton left Basie in 1943 to go into the army for three years. He never went back to a regular job with a big band after coming out of the service. After several seasons as a featured soloist with Jazz at the Philharmonic, he settled down in New York City and has operated on a freelance basis since.

He is in demand in many different corners of the jazz world. His work has included many Dixieland concerts, and he credits the New Orleans clarinetist, Tony Parenti, for teaching him Dixie techniques — as well as showing him how to make spaghetti sauce. Buck's favorite Dixieland trumpeters are Charlie Teagarden and Wild Bill Davison. For six months in the last year, Clayton was the featured horn at Eddie Condon's club in New York.

Clayton has made several tours in Europe. In France, he has been under the sponsorship of both Charles Delaunay and Hugues Panassie, who represent opposite poles of jazz tastes. They are good friends of Buck's, but dislike each other, which amuses Clayton. He was not amused, however, when on one concert date for Panassie, the followers of Delaunay cut the wires to the microphones from under the stage.

Trumpeter Clayton recorded for many years under an exclusive contract with Columbia Records, but recently has been making records with various companies as a freelancer. Early in the fall he was the featured horn man on a Kansas City-style date organized by Tom Gwaltney, a former Bobby Hackett and Billy Butterfield clarinetist. A record company executive remarked as he listened to Buck's horn solo on K.C. Ballad, “That Buck — he couldn't play badly if he tried."

The trumpet-playing Kansan is looking forward to a one-month tour of Switzerland, Germany, and France during January, 1961, for the Harold Davison booking office of London.

Clayton will take his favorite musicians on the trip: Emmett Berry, trumpet; Dickie Wells, trombone; Buddy Tate, tenor saxophone; Earl Warren, alto saxophone, and Gene Ramey, bass. He still has to locate a pianist and drummer and also is working on getting either Big Joe Turner or Jimmy Witherspoon to go along and sing the blues.”

Ah, the Jazz world in 1961.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Hank Mobley - Soul Station

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

“Hank has also carried a liability around with him for a long time-a liability, that is, as far as commercialism is concerned: he is not easily classified. Everyone knows by now how writers on jazz like to trot out phrases like Hawkins-informed, Rollins-derived, Young-influenced and the like, and then, having formed their pigeon-hole, they proceed to drop the musician under discussion into it and fill the dirt over him. That is not easily done with Hank Mobley. He is, to be sure, associated with East coast musicians and material, but he has never had the so-called "hard bop" sound that is generally a standard part of the equipment of such tenormen.

At the same time, Charlie Parker was certainly a greater part of his playing than Lester Young, which is often enough to label a man a bopper, so what was Mobley doing? The answer is so simple as to be completely overlooked in a mass of theory, digging for influences, and the like: he was working out his own style.”
- Joe Goldberg, insert notes to Soul Station [emphasis, mine]

Continuing with my MobleyQuest [an effort to get anything of importance from the Jazz literature available on Hank posted to my blog], I am returning to individual Mobley album features, this time with a focus on Hank’s Soul Station  Blue Note LP which was released on CD as 95343-2 for as Richard Cook and Brian Morton state so explicitly in their Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.:

“Mobley fans are divided as to whether Soul Station or Roll Call is his masterpiece, but the Rudy Van Gelder Edition of the former is a welcome reminder of how creative a player Mobley was, here transcending his normal consistency and making a modest classic. Good as the other drummers on his records are, Art Blakey brings a degree more finesse, and their interplay on This I Dig Of You is superb. Hank seldom took ballads at a crawl, preferring a kind of lazy mid-tempo, and If I Should Lose You is one of his best. Dig Dis is a top example of how tough he could sound without falling into bluster. A virtually perfect example of a routine date made immortal by master craftsmen.” [Wynton Kelly on piano and Paul Chambers on bass round out the quartet on this date].

Cook and Morton also go on to address the two main issues that critics [in the negative sense] seemed to persistently underscore throughout Mobley’s career: his tone and his style of improvising:

“Mobley's music was documented to almost unreasonable length by Blue Note, with a whole raft of albums granted to him as a leader, and countless sideman appearances to go with them. … A collectors' favourite, his assertive and swinging delivery was undercut by a seemingly reticent tone: next to his peers in the hard-bop tenor gang, he could sound almost pallid. But it shouldn't detract from appreciating a thinker and a solidly reliable player. Despite frequent personal problems, Mobley rarely gave less than his best in front of the microphones.”

As a contemporary of blustery tenor sax players such as Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and Johnny Griffin, to cite only a few, Hank was wrongly condemned for using a lighter tone which allowed for a very fluid expression of ideas. Sometimes one wonders what these [negative] critics were listening to because there was so much original invention to be had in Hank’s solos.

In the following insert notes to Hank’s classic Soul Station LP, Joe Goldberg stresses another significant point that many of the critics may have missed in their all-too frequent critical assessment of his playing and that is - “He was working out his own style.”

I always thought that developing an individual voice, one that is instantly recognizable by the listener, is something that a Jazz musician strives to achieve and that Hank’s successful efforts in this regard were often overlooked.

Joe Goldberg elaborates on this point and other significant features [including how Hank’s style forms a parallel alliance with “the music of the dance”] of Hank’s playing in the following insert notes to Soul Station, Blue Note CD 95343-2.

“RECENTLY, it has become more and more incorrect to pass off a jazz record as a "blowing date" (a term, by the way, that has become at least semi-derogatory) simply Because there are only four or five musicians involved. The days of men coming into a studio and "just blowing" (a practice that only the very greatest jazzmen have ever been able to get away with) are apparently over, for the most part. At one time, you could safely assume that a forty-minute LP had taken, at most, an hour to put together. No more.

What has this to do with Hank Mobley? Quite a bit, to judge from this LP, Soul Station. On the surface, it contains all the elements of a blowing session - tenor sax and rhythm, a few originals, a couple of seldom-done standards, and a blues. But the difference is to be heard as soon as you begin to listen to the record. And let us take things in what might seem to be reverse order for a moment, and discuss the reasons for the difference before we even talk about the difference itself. Hank has always been a musician's musician - a designation that can easily become the kiss of death for the man who holds it. Fans and critics will reel off their list of tenor players, a list that is as easily changed by fashion as not, and then the musician over in the corner will say, "Yes, but have you heard Hank Mobley?" The musician saying that, in this particular case, might very well be a drummer. The groups Hank works with are often led by drummers  - Art Blakey and Max Roach, to name two men who need, as they say, no introduction, and the first of whom contributes in a great degree to the success of this album.

One might suppose, considering this, that Hank is possessed or an unusual rhythmic sense, and one would be right. In a conversation I had with Art Blakey while preparing the notes for his two Blue Note LPs caned Holiday for Skins (BLP 4004-5), he was discussing the fact that while many songs are written in complex rhythms, the solos generally revert to a straight four. His reason for this was that most soloists probably could not play them any other way. "Hank Mobley could do it, though" he said. But even while possessing this definite asset, Hank has also carried a liability around with him for a long time-a liability, that is, as far as commercialism is concerned: he is not easily classified. Everyone knows by now how writers on jazz like to trot out phrases like Hawkins-informed, Rollins-derived, Young-influenced and the like, and then, having formed their pigeon-hole, they proceed to drop the musician under discussion into it and fill the dirt over him. That is not easily done with Hank Mobley. He is, to be sure, associated with East coast musicians and material, but he has never had the so-called "hard bop" sound that is generally a standard part of the equipment of such tenormen.

At the same time, Charlie Parker was certainly a greater part of his playing than Lester Young, which is often enough to label a man a bopper, so what was Mobley doing? The answer is so simple as to be completely overlooked in a mass of theory, digging for influences, and the like: he was working out his own style.

But - and here again, he suffers from a commercial liability - he did not do it in a spectacular way. He did not, in the manner of Sonny Rollins, in 1955 emerge from a long self-imposed retirement with a startling new approach. Nor did he, in the manner of John Coltrane, come almost completely unknown under the teaching influence of the great Miles Davis (for how many men has that recently been the key to success). Instead, he worked slowly and carefully, in the manner of a craftsman, building the foundations of a style, taking what he needed to take from whom he needed to take it (everyone does that, the difference between genius and hackwork is the manner in which it is done), and finally emerging, on this album, not with a disconnected series of tunes, but with a definite statement to make.

Evidence of that, to get back to the idea with which these comments began, is to be found in the care with which this set has been assembled. First of all, there are the sidemen-Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Art Blakey. To discuss Blakey again on each new record release is almost to insult him and his contribution to jazz, particularly since he says it himself very well, clearly, and with great authority in his solo on This I Dig Of You. But about Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers, for a moment. It is probably no accident that both of them are members of Miles Davis' group -I hesitate to call it a quintet or sextet, since that is so often in doubt. Miles has been famous for the superb quality of his rhythm sections as much as for any of his other contributions, and some of the ideas that started in his group or in his observance of Ahmad Jamal's group are to be found on this record. The basis of these ideas - pedal point, rhythmic suspensions, a general lightness of approach-all have their basis in one underlying idea - the best music is never very far from dance.

This concept can be found not only in Miles' work, but in the solo albums made by Coltrane, in those of Sonny Rollins, and even in the work of Thelonious Monk, who has taken to doing his own extremely expressive dance in front of his group. This is not to say that any of these men, or Hank Mobley either, "play for dancing" although whal they play is certainly more conducive to dancing than the music of Freddy Martin or Guy Lombardo but that the qualities that are essential to dance - a lightness, flow, and flexibility, all within the confines of a definite form and overall sense of a structure - are essential to their music.

The unusual sound of Mobley's tenor might very well come of this idea of dance. Jazz is rich in legends of unknown saxophonists, celebrated only in their immediate area, but having an enormous effect on men who went on to much wider acclaim. These men being small-town on-the-stand musicians, playing for dances, for the most part, have had, in all likelihood, a sound very much like the sound of Mobley's tenor, or like Coltrane's or Rollins' for that matter. And it would take a man with a knowledge of dance music to pick as fine and unlikely an old song as Irving Berlin's Remember to start his set with. (Monk, incidentally, also has a penchant for old Berlin tunes.)

I think also, that dance must be behind as charming, lightly swinging and immediately attractive a song (song is the right word here, not "tune" or "original") as Hank Mobley's composition This I Dig Of You, which brings out the best of all the musicians - Blakey's solo has been mentioned before, and I am particularly charmed by Wynton Kelly's solo, with its ever-present echoes of The Party's Over.

These ideas are present, but the four men involved are all excellent craftsmen, so the ideas do not intrude upon the music as sometimes happens with the sometimes over-self conscious Modern Jazz Quartet. You do not think of dance, or rhythmic shifts, or the changing approach to the tenor saxophone, or the old tunes, or the inevitable funky blues. You simply hear, at first, four men swinging lightly, powerfully, and with great assurance and authority. You relax, listen, and enjoy yourself. And then later, when you think about it, you realize just how much of an achievement this apparently casual LP represents. And you think with new admiration and respect about Hank Mobley, because you realize how much of that achievement he has been able to make his own.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Bill Crow: Memories, 1950-1953

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

Bill Crow has had such a long, distinguished career, both as a bassist and writer, that it’s sometimes difficult to believe that he just didn’t appear fully formed on the Jazz scene.

And yet, as he nostalgically reminds us in the following piece, we all have beginnings in the music.

In describing how his own career evolved, the late author Ray Bradbury commented: “You Make Yourself as You Go.”

From his own pen, here’s how it was for Bill when he first arrived in New York in 1950 and how he made himself “go” [grow] during his first three years in the business.

© -  Bill Crow: copyright protected; all rights reserved; used with the author’s permission. [Paragraphing modified in places.]

“When I left Seattle to live in New York City in January of 1950, I got off the bus with 50 dollars in my pocket, carrying a suitcase and a valve trombone. My friend Buzzy Bridgeford, a drummer, had convinced me that if I wanted to be a musician I had to be where the music was. In his estimation, New York was the only place to be.

I didn't see any reason not to believe him. When we arrived, Charlie Parker was playing with his quintet at Birdland, with Red Rodney, Bud Powell, Tommy Potter and Roy Haynes, and opposite him was a house band made up of Max Roach, Al Haig, Miles Davis, J.J. Johnson, Curley Russell and Sonny Stitt. The admission price was 95 cents, and you could listen to great music all night long without spending another dime.

After our first tough winter scuffling in New York, Buzzy wound up with a summer gig in the Adirondacks, at the Altamont Hotel in Tupper Lake, N.Y. It was originally Gene Roland's gig, but on opening night Gene had a fight with the boss's wife and walked off in a huff. Buzzy salvaged the job, and a week or two later he got me hired as a trombone player.

The boss wouldn't hire a bass player... he felt that piano and drums were enough rhythm. So Buzzy found a local kid who owned a Kay bass and paid him 20 bucks to rent it for the summer. Then he told me, "When you're not playing the trombone, you've got to try to play the bass. I can't stand playing without a bass player."

The other musicians sort of gaslighted me into staying with the bass... they didn't give me any positive feedback about my trombone playing, and constantly encouraged my bass playing. "Wow, on that last tune, you sounded just like Ray Brown!"

By the time I got back to the city, I had taught myself to play the bass well enough to accept gigs. I would rent a bass when I got work. It took a while to find one of my own.

As soon as I met a few New York musicians, I began to discover all the places where jam sessions might take place. Nola Studios, on Broadway in the 50s, was a main location.  (Not to be confused with Nola Penthouse, the recording studio on 57th Street.) Nola's had a number of small rehearsal rooms, each with a piano, and one large room that could hold a big band. That was the room where jam sessions were often held, with a collection being taken up to pay the rental.

I found out about Nola's during a visit to New York City while I was still in the Army, stationed at Fort Meade, Md. I looked up a friend of a friend, who took me to a session there. About 20 people were in the big room, but only five or six were playing. A good rhythm section, a trumpet player, and Brew Moore on tenor. Brew had finished most of a gallon jug of Gallo wine, and was lying on his side on the floor, playing, with a lit cigarette tucked into his octave key. I was impressed with his ability to still swing when so far into the bag.

There were several private lofts and back rooms of bars where we could play, and on one nice afternoon when no one had any money for studio rental, Gerry Mulligan rehearsed some of his big band arrangements on the shore of the 72nd Street lake in Central Park. Until I got my own bass, I would hang out at sessions and rehearsals until the bass player got tired, and then would get a chance to play his bass. I played a lot on Teddy Kotick's bass, and on one owned by a Spanish bassist, Louis Barreiro.

Another great location was a room at 136th Street near Broadway. It was a basement that extended out under the street, so you could make noise all night without bothering anyone. A baritone player named Gershon Yowell found the place, and when he moved out, it was taken over by Joe Maini and Jimmy Knepper. We played there a lot. Sometimes Charlie Parker would drop by just to hang out, and he would occasionally play. 1 was too shy to play while he was around, but I enjoyed getting to know him. A very sweet, funny, intelligent and generous man, no matter what Miles Davis said about him in his book.

Whenever Bird played, Jimmy Knepper would turn on his tape recorder, and then, during the next day, he would listen to the tapes and write out Bird's solos. Those transcriptions became Jimmy's practice material.

A club date bass player in the Bronx let it be known that he had a bass for sale, and I heard about it at Charlie's Tavern. I went up to look at it, an old Kay that was in good shape, and he said he wanted $75 for it. I only had five dollars to give him, but he agreed to hold the bass for me until I got the rest of the money together.

I wasn't making much profit at the time... a club date might pay $15 or $20, and I had to pay five bucks to rent a bass for the weekend, and maybe another five to rent a tux. But I was also finding other work. Dave Lambert, who was also scuffling at the time, would come up with jobs we could do together, like moving somebody from one apartment to another, or painting someone's apartment, or babysitting, or doing minor carpentry jobs. I took a traveling job for a few months with Mike Riley's trio playing drums and singing, and even with the low pay I was getting, I managed to save a few bucks and send them to the bassist in the Bronx.

When I finally paid off the $75 and took possession of my bass, I quit my job with Riley and started working with Teddy Cohen's trio, with Don Roberts on guitar. After I'd been with Teddy for a couple of months, he told me one day that he was changing his name to Charles. "Charles Cohen," I said. "That sounds pretty good." He laughed, and said it was the Cohen he wanted to get rid of. He felt that the Jewish name was holding back his career.

He did all right with the new name, so maybe he was right. Other friends had already done the same thing: Donald Helfman became Don Elliott, Julius Gubenko was now Terry Gibbs, Herbert Solomon became Herbie Mann, and Anthony Sciacca became Tony Scott.

We rehearsed every day, and worked occasionally. Teddy taught me the right changes to all the bebop standards of the day, and playing with no drummer helped me develop a strong sense of time. I'd invented my own fingering system for the bass, which was a little awkward, but I didn't know any better. I improved it several years later when I began studying with Fred Zimmerman, of the New York Philharmonic.

Don Roberts got a better job and left us, and Jimmy Raney replaced him. Jimmy had been working with Stan Getz, but Stan had gone alone for some work on the west coast, and so Jimmy was available for a job we had on West 46th Street in the Iroquois Hotel, playing jazz and accompanying Amanda Sullivan, who was billed as "The Blonde Calypso."

At the end of that summer, Jimmy got a call from Getz. "I've got a week at the Hi-Hat in Boston. Roy Haynes is living up there, and says he'll do it. And I got Jerry Kaminsky on piano. So find a bass player and come on up." Jimmy asked me if I wanted to do it, and of course I did.

We got together at his apartment one afternoon and he taught me Stan's tunes, and then we took the train up to Boston.

I met Stan at the hotel where we were staying, and he said, "Do you mind if I check into your room with you? I'll split the bill with you, but I won't be staying there... I've got a chick in a room upstairs. This is just for the record." I agreed, and became Stan's roommate, on paper.

On opening night, we started the first tune and my D string broke during the first chorus. I tried to play around it, but was having a terrible time. There was another bass under the piano, which belonged to the house group that was playing opposite us. I decided to quickly switch basses, hoping the other guy wouldn't mind.

But when I began to play it, I discovered that it was set up for a left-handed player, with the strings in the opposite direction from mine. I fumbled through the tune, making many mistakes; and at the end Stan gave me a minute to put a new D string on my bass, and the worst was over.

By the second night I was pretty comfortable with the quintet, and the music went smoothly. But I was amazed at Stan's love life. In addition to the girl in the room upstairs, he was spending time during the day with another girl he had met at the club. And on the weekend, his wife came up for a surprise visit, and checked into the hotel. At the club that night all three women were sitting at a table in front of the bandstand, and each one was sure she was the one with Stan, and the other two were just friends.

When we got back to New York the next week, Stan called and said he had a week at Birdland. Jerry Kaminsky and Roy Haynes had stayed in Boston, so he hired Duke Jordan and Frank Isola. During that week we also played a concert at Carnegie Hall opposite Charlie Parker's quintet. Then Stan found us a week each in Baltimore and Washington, and we came back to New York for a week off.

That Tuesday, Stan called to say Birdland had a last minute opening for a week, so I went there and found Kenny Clarke setting up. I assumed Frank had already booked something and wasn't available. We began to play, and I got along with Kenny very well. We played the radio broadcast that was always done on the first set of opening night at Birdland each week.

When I got up for the second set that night, I looked over in the Peanut Gallery, the seating area beside the bandstand, and saw Frank Isola there. "What's up, Frank?" I asked. "I don't know," he grinned. "I turned on the radio and discovered I was fired!" Stan pretended not to notice him.

We did a recording session for Norman Granz and another for Teddy Reig, and then Jimmy Raney left us to take a steady gig at the Blue Angel with Jimmy Lyons. So we worked a couple of weeks as a quartet. Then Duke and Klook left to do something else, and Stan said, "Well, I guess I have to form a new quintet." So he hired Bob Brookmeyer, John Williams and Alan Levitt, and I stayed on bass.

That was an interesting group, but the rhythm section never really jelled. John wanted the time feeling to be up on top, and Alan wanted it more relaxed. I was too inexperienced to have a strong point of view, and Stan and Bob weren't comfortable with us. So Stan decided to go back to his original bass player, Teddy Kotick, and that was the end of my six month tour with Stan. Teddy had been doing one-nighters with Claude Thornhill's band, and I wound up taking that job for the next summer, and my musical education continued. I learned a lot from playing with Stan and with Claude, and had a lot of fun doing it.”