Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Just in Time - Joe Morello

"Just in Time" with Joe Morello - drums; Phil Woods - alto saxophone; Gene Cherico - bass; John Bunch - piano; Gary Burton - vibes.

The rub on Joe was that he didn't swing.

 After listening to this cut, all I can say to that is Bull Puckey!!

Quintetto Basso Valdambrini: A Tribute

Stan Getz - "From Swing to Bop"

© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“The fourth movement of "Summer Sequence" was just something tossed in front of us, an afterthought by Ralph Burns . . . and there was a solo on my part. And then "Early Autumn" was another record date. . . . Ralph designated that he wanted me to have the solo on that. So I played that, and it's just a record date. So, there are no visions of grandeur.

You know I've heard the "Summer Sequence" solo maybe three times in my whole life. Because I don't possess my own records. I don't remember what I played on it

"Early Autumn" I've heard, because it's played on the radio enough for me to hear it. And it's okay. It's a nice solo. But, I don't get it. I don't understand why it was such an earthshaking thing. It's just another ballad solo for me.... 

My music is something that's done and forgotten about.”
- Donald Maggin, Stan Getz: A Life in Jazz

"I DIDN'T compromise one bit, I've never played a note I didn't mean, and I'd like that written on my tombstone. In life I may be a liar, but I can't lie in music."
- A quotation from the Stan Getz obituary for The Independent by Steve Voce

Apologies to Ira Gitler for commandeering the title from his expert and fascinating book on the subject, but I’m always irresistibly drawn to another account on the subject of how The Big Band Swing Era transitioned to the Small Group Bebop Era.

There are many elements about this transition that I find intriguing in terms of how the striking differences between the two styles of Jazz came to be.

And I’m especially fascinated by the fact that there were three major developments that seems to conspire to obscure the stylistic transformation that was taking place between circa 1940-1945:

[1] the Second World War
[2] a recording ban on all instrumental music enforced by the national musician union 
[3] the locus for the development of the music that came to be known as Bebop was largely the work of only five relatively obscure Black musicians - Charlie Christian, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Kenny Clarke - jamming in two uptown New York clubs - Minton’s and Monroe’s!!

Of course, it’s not surprising that revolutions in the arts are not recognized while they are taking place and that their “act of creation” is pieced together with the benefit of hindsight.

The Jazz literature contains a number of descriptions of how the music moved from Swing to Bop and each one offers a slightly different point of emphasis. The following reconstruction is taken from Donald Maggin biography of Stan Getz entitled Stan Getz A Life in Jazz.

Stan is a particularly appropriate figure as a source for this transition as he was rooted in both the Swing Era and the Bebop styles of Jazz.

“Although many contributed, the bebop revolution has five principal leaders. One of them, Benny Goodman’s guitarist Charlie Christian, died of tuberculosis in 1942. The other four were Charlie Parker, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianist Thelonious Monk, and drummer Kenny Clarke. The revolution was rooted in the frustration these men felt when they could not express their emotions with the rhythmic and harmonic materials at hand in the early 1940s. So they radically transformed these materials.

The most fundamental changes were rhythmic. The beboppers had all listened to Lester Young and, following his lead, they made rhythmic displacement an integral part of their music. And they changed the fundamental role of the drummer from a timekeeper to a voice in the ensemble equal to that of the horn players. They replaced the insistent timekeeping beat of the bass drum with a shimmering, fluid pulse, played by the drummer on a cymbal. Over this light pulse, the improvisers indulged in the utmost rhythmic freedom. They created angular, asymmetrical phrases of varying length, placing their accents wherever they would delight or surprise. And the drummer, with his free hand and his feet, created poly-rhythmic effects to blend with the lines that the soloists were playing.

Before bebop, jazz harmony (with notable exceptions such as Duke Ellington and Art Tatum) was at about the level of mid-nineteenth-century classical music. This frustrated the beboppers; they were determined to use any and all combinations of notes available in Western music, and they opened harmonic floodgates. Though they did not model themselves on the classical composers, their music encompassed the dissonances of Stravinsky, the brooding chords of Debussy, and everything in between. During four years of experimentation, they moved jazz harmony from Brahms to Bartok.

In order to expand their harmonic resources, they were forced to place great emphasis on chordal structure; they achieved many of their effects by augmenting chords with dissonant notes, substituting new, more complex chords for written ones, and changing chords more frequently to speed up the harmonic pace of a tune. While they became deeply involved with chords, they did not forget the lessons of Lester Young; they remained open to his rhythmic concepts and his practice of playing free melodies across the harmony.

The main accomplishment of the beboppers was to expand radically the resources available to the jazz improviser, and young musicians such as Stan Getz were prime beneficiaries. Instead of the purely primary colors of the swing palette, they were now able to choose from an entire rainbow of musical hues.

The revolution was hatched in several places, but its main venue was a Harlem nightclub called Minton's. Henry Minton, the proprietor, was a sax player and an official of the musicians union, and he made his place a musicians' hangout. He employed former bandleader Teddy Hill as musical director, and Hill in turn hired Clarke and Monk as the nucleus of the club's band. Gillespie was usually on the road with Cab Calloway and other big bands, but when he came to New York, he hooked up immediately with his fellow rebels. Parker, who was freelancing all over New York, sat in regularly.

Hill gave his musicians the freedom to play anything they wanted. He thought it would be good for business, and he turned out to be correct, as customers — including Benny Goodman — flocked to Minton's to hear the new sounds.

Bebop burst out of Harlem in 1944 and found a new home midst the teeming club scene on Swing Street, Fifty-second between Fifth and Seventh Avenues in midtown Manhattan.

With the exception of the very large Hickory House, the now legendary clubs — the Onyx, the Three Deuces, Jimmy Ryan's, the Famous Door, Kelly's Stables, the Downbeat, the Spotlite — were not designed for the claustrophobic. They were low-ceilinged, windowless saloons squeezed into the twenty-foot-wide ground floors of what had been brownstone residences. The bar inevitably ran half the length of a sidewall, and the bandstand shared the rear wall with the entrance to the restrooms. The bandstand could comfortably accommodate five or six musicians but was frequently required to do service for more; when the fourteen-piece Basie aggregation played the Famous Door, the men were squeezed together like rush-hour subway passengers, and the music blasted the audience with gale force.

The Swing Street jazz fans squinted at the bandstand through a haze of cigarette smoke as they sat at tables the size of large soup plates and rubbed shoulders with drug dealers, hipsters, hustlers, and pimps (customers were often serviced by prostitutes in the men's room). 

Cocktails were Seventy-five cents, a beer cost thirty-five cents, and the bar patrons had to hold their glasses tightly because the bartenders loved to run up their tabs by replacing half-finished drinks with fresh ones. The musicians usually drank between sets at the White Rose Tavern, around the corner on Sixth Avenue; the drinks were cheaper there.

If you were a fan, you endured all the aggravation because the music was so good, and you never planned to hit just one club since every joint featured a star or two. On November 1, 1945, for example, Charlie Parker was at the Spotlite with a sextet featuring Miles Davis and Dexter Gordon, Billie Holiday had just replaced Art Tatum at the Downbeat, and Ben Webster and Sarah Vaughan shared the billing at the Onyx. Pianist Erroll Gamer held forth at the Three Deuces, and the Fletcher Henderson trumpeter Henry "Red" Allen was the headliner at Jimmy Ryan's.

With all this talent packed into two blocks, the musicians couldn't resist locking horns with their peers, and they constantly crisscrossed Fifty-second Street to sit in with each other. Shorty Rogers remembered Dizzy Gillespie:

He was playing with Benny Carter, he was a sideman in the band, and he was so obsessed, thinking, "I want to play, I want to play." He'd get this hour intermission and he couldn't stand it. And I actually would see him walking down the street in the middle of the road dodging cars, with his horn, and he'd look in each club, like, "I can go in this one and sit in." And he would find a place and jam.

And drummer Shelly Manne recalled expanding his musical horizons on Swing Street:

It was beautiful because you'd play all kinds of music. I remember one night playing with Diz at the Onyx, going across the street playing with Trummy Young at the Deuces, and then sitting in with Billie Holiday at the Downbeat. And then you could go into Jimmy Ryan's if you wanted to play. It was like a history of jazz on one street, for that time.

It was really healthy for musicians. . . . Possibly, even thinking about all the music that's happened since, I think that was . . . one of the most creative times in jazz.

To be continued in future posting about Stan Getz as based on the Maggin biography.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Paul Horn - Profile of a Jazz Musician - 06 - Fun Time

Paul Moer's Fun Time returns the combo to its more customary habit of toying with bar-lines. Here the measures in the chorus run 3-3-5 (four times) followed by 5-5-3-3-5. "These things sound so complicated." says Paul, "that it may scare people: yet the fact is that if you find a pattern that flows, if you get in the right groove, you can swing consistently. We try not to become too involved intellectually or harmonically: this compensates for the fact that our time signatures may be unusual, so instead of having to worry about a lot of fast-changing chords the soloists can blow freely."


JAZZ: The Iconic Images of Ted Williams.

© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“The best Jazz photographer in the world.”
- Julian “Cannonball” Adderley

“In Chicago, if you weren’t captured by Ted, it was like you were never there.”
- Ira Sullivan

“His images were published in major magazines—including Playboy, Ebony, and Life—but he himself remained largely unknown.” 
- Robert Morgan, Iconic Images


“The field of jazz music provides one of the most fascinating challenges to a photographer of any that I know.

The compositions are infinitely varied, involving as they do intriguing patterns set up by microphones, mike booms, and light and shade bouncing off brass instruments.

The moods are just as variable, running the gamut from bright outdoor scenes of summer jazz festivals to the smoky dimness of some of the low dives in which too much jazz is still heard.

And character? Jazz musicians are among the world’s most ruggedly individual inhabitants, and you can have a photographer's field day capturing the facial expressions of these men.

Yet remarkably few photographers get good pictures from jazz. Too many are satisfied with routine shots - head-on pictures of the star (perhaps with the bell of his horn obscuring his face). Or they are hindered by the mike booms and other paraphernalia, instead of taking advantage of them. And, evidently, not enough photographers are yet sufficiently adept at available light shooting to get all the mood possibilities out of dim rooms and spotlights, or concert hall lighting.

As managing editor of DownBeat. I've almost given up on most photographers, even those who are jazz fans and should be able to get good stuff. I stick with Ted Williams, who blends all the elements of jazz into stirring, story-telling pictures.”

The above serves as a Foreword to JAZZ: The Iconic Images of Ted Williams and was written by Eugene 'Gene' Lees a music critic, writer, biographer and lyricist who worked for DownBeat magazine from 1959-1962, part of that time as the magazine’s Managing Editor. Gene also contributed liner notes for the recordings of numerous musicians including Stan Getz and John Coltrane, wrote biographies of Oscar Peterson and Woody Herman and served as the editor and primary writer of the Jazzletter since its inception in 1982.  After a long and distinguished career, Lees passed away in 2010.


“With a tangible sense of pride, Ted Williams once declared that ‘I just have a deep love for the music, the people and photography’" His feeling for, and knowledge of, the jazz world ran deep and lifelong, and this passion suffused his photographs of the jazz scene with sensitivity and energy. Jazz and Ted Williams formed something approximating a duet; dovetailing near perfectly across four decades.

Most of Ted Williams' archive, comprising both original negatives and photographs, has never been seen before - until now. This book celebrates Williams' jazz photography, one of the richest unseen archives from the jazz era. It's an archive that charts the sweep of jazz and the creative souls who brought the art form to life during the heart of the twentieth century.

During the final years of his life, Williams edited the photographs and began providing captions that detailed where and when an image had been taken. It was a work in progress that he was unable to see through to completion. Williams' jazz photography has been widely celebrated for the way in which it takes viewers on a heartfelt journey into both the on- and off-stage lives of touring, hardworking and often legendary - jazz musicians.

Born in 1925 to an African-American father and a Mexican father, Williams, and his brother Bobby, grew up in a close-knit family. His widow, Adrienne, later recalled ‘When I first met him, he was kind of introverted." She has made the point, however, that although shy, Ted "loved life."

It's perhaps not too much of a leap of the imagination, then, to say that Williams' love of life was the heartbeat in the work for which he would be rightly celebrated.

After World War Two, during which he served in the US Coast Guard, Williams studied saxophone and clarinet before shifting creative gear and attending the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago. At that time, the city was the epicenter of American jazz, with Maxwell Street - Williams' territory - at its heart. He became one of the first African-American students to study at IIT, where he pursued photography under the teaching of three key innovators in the tradition of American photography: Aaron Siskind, Harry Callahan and Art Siegel. He was also taught by visionary designer, Buckminster Fuller.

Between the 1940s and the 1970s, Williams' images were published in the iconic American magazines, The Saturday Evening Post, Newsweek, Time, Playboy and Ebony. Not only did he craft pictures that captured the spirit of a jazz performer and the spontaneity of their performance but, beyond the world of music, he also photographed a number of iconic moments in America's Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 1960s.

Williams' images of the jazz scene captured the playful and the impassioned, the intense and the intimate, and were featured in the essential music magazines, DownBeat and Metronome. It was DownBeat that commissioned his first major piece: a 21-page feature documenting the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958. This spread included now-classic and enduring Williams images of such artists as Lester Young, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong. Williams' photographs also made the cover of DownBeat on a number of occasions, enshrining Duke Ellington. Mahalia Jackson and Lambert. Hendricks & Ross in the pop-culture pantheon. Williams' talents were also later engaged for album cover images for record labels Vee-Jay and Mercury.

Typically working only with available light, Williams' images emanated an intimacy and spontaneity towards his subjects, and it's in that dynamic where the honesty and truth of his photos is to be found. His longer-term ambition had been that the general public would get to view his images in exhibition settings. In this way, Williams believed that the photographs would offer some illumination on mid-twentieth-century African-American culture.

Williams images captured the focus, the energy and the delight of jazz artists. He pictured jazz legends in their creative element and in doing so he honored a form that has been described as one of America's great contributions to the world's happiness. He photographed virtually every major name in jazz and blues: Dizzy Gillespie. John Coltrane, Sarah Vaughan, Thelonious Monk. Dinah Washington. Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker. Indeed, he photographed Charlie Parker performing on two occasions, one of which was a set at the Persian Room in Chicago, in 1949.

Williams worked as a freelance photographer and he travelled across the US. Europe, Latin America and the Far East on assignment. In the late 1960s, he settled in Los Angeles where he archived his work, storing 100,000 images in shoeboxes and the most modest of files. Critically, Williams' photo archive comprises one of the largest collections of pictures of Duke Ellington taken by a single photographer. The Ellington photos are especially important to jazz history as they include rare images depicting the artist in non-musical situations.

Williams' impassioned work capturing the spirit of jazz also extended to the photographs he took of the American Civil Rights Movement. Perhaps his most recognized photograph from this era is an iconic image of Martin Luther King at the Illinois Rally for Civil Rights, taken on June 21 1964 at Chicago's Soldier Field; King standing with his right fist raised and clenched as he addresses a huge audience. Similarly, as a staff photographer for Ebony magazine. Williams would travel to Vietnam to document the experience of black soldiers during the war.

Recalling Williams' creative impulse. Adrienne has commented that "He just loved shooting. Ted shot different. He loved jazz, he loved music. Most photographers will find a subject and pose their subject. He always liked to jump around, he never sat still. He always carried a camera or two everywhere he went. He'd see something and he'd have to stop."

Williams died from kidney failure on October 13 2009. He remains a figurehead for African-American photographers and a key practitioner in the history of American photography. He has left behind a dazzling photographic odyssey through the world of jazz.

If a picture can capture both the outer and the inner life of a performer then Ted Williams' photographs conjured the magic of an essential American art form.”

The above was written by James Clarke and served as the Introduction to JAZZ: The Iconic Images of Ted Williams.

James Clarke has written several books about movies and writes regularly for major film and media magazines. He has produced and written a number of short-film dramas and documentaries and his work has been screened at film festivals in the UK and the US.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Red Norvo: The All-But-Forgotten Big Red One

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

“Red Norvo, …, presents an especially acute challenge to jazz historians. His various musical associa­tions flew in the face of stylistic categories and conventions — perhaps ultimately to the detriment of his career. How else can we explain why this illustrious jazz veteran remained all but forgotten during the 1980s and 1990s, when other survivors of his generation were receiving honorary degrees and various accolades, and were vener­ated as important elder statesmen of jazz? Certainly one would struggle to find another jazz musician who had made his presence felt in so many different ways as Norvo….

Jazz  history books have poorly served this master of many idioms; their rigid categorizations seem incapable of dealing with his chameleon career. Yet Norvo's skillful ability to navigate across artificial stylistic and racial barriers merits both praise and emulation.”
- Ted Gioia, The History of Jazz [pp. 84-85]

Fortunately, on behalf of all of us, based at Fort Riley, KS, the First Infantry Division – aka “The Big Red One” is still in existence and the music of Red Norvo – whom we shall refer to as the “All But Forgotten” Master Mallets Man – continues to live on through compact disc and other digital reissues of his recorded legacy.

For the most part, however, Ted Gioia is correct is his assessment of Red Norvo’s undeserved obscurity in Jazz lore, especially considering his huge contributions to the genre as a musician, band leader and composer.

Thankfully, there are lots more details to be found about Red’s career in Richard Sudhalter’s Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz, 1915-1945, pp. 653-705. Here are Mr. Sudhalter’s opening thoughts on Red.

“Otis Ferguson, whose commentaries on jazz and other lively arts for the mid-19305 New Republic can still surprise, wrote with particular insight about Red Norvo. ‘A special conception of music’ was Ferguson's verdict in a 1938 review. ‘Balance, restraint, clean ensembles and no tricks . . . And under a complete del­icacy of taste he had the urgent carrying beat without which music like this must be sick or pseudo.’1 [“Red and Mildred,” New Republic, August 17, 1938].

No tricks. How better to describe a musical orientation, an aesthetic, of such utter purity? Just how pure, in fact, becomes clear with the realization that Red Norvo's way of playing music on the xylophone (or, as later, the vibraharp) had no recognizable precedent—and, once formed, it never really changed. From 1933, when he made his first records, straight through to the 1980s, when physical infirmity finally put an end to his playing career, his basic concept re­mained firmly, radiantly, in place.

Fashions changed around him. Ways of dealing with harmony, melodic lines, laying down a beat, and, starting in the World War II years, even the inner aesthetic of music-making underwent startling transformations. But Norvo's mu­sical sensibility seemed equal to all of it, able to acknowledge and absorb every­thing without compromising itself.

‘All his music is its own signature’ was Ferguson's way of putting it—and that is a statement of incontrovertible fact. It also places Norvo in the small and ultra-select circle of jazz innovators, true originals.” [p. 653]

Through a recognition of his originality and genius, Red has also managed to find his way into Gunther Schuller’s definitive The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1935-1945 [pp. 513-527]. Mr. Schuller begins his treatment of Red and his music with the following observations about Red’s significance to Jazz.

“One of the finest and most consistently creative musicians of the Swing Era – still quite active today incidentally – was Kenneth Norville, known to the music world as red Norvo. The fact that Norvo played the xylophone – in later years he played the vibraphone as well (or the vibraharp, as he preferred to call it) — in the early 1930s a highly unlikely candidate for a jazz instrument, makes his selection as a major soloist in this chapter all the more remarkable. But the fact is that Norvo accomplished for the xylophone what Coleman Hawkins achieved for the tenor saxophone: he took it from its vaudeville environment and single-handedly brought it into the world of jazz.

But Norvo was (is) more than merely a superior instrumentalist. In the thirties he was an influential force as an in­novative soloist and a creative orchestra leader, that is to say, one who saw the jazz orchestra as something more than a vehicle for him to front, as Armstrong and Hawkins, for example, saw bands. For Norvo, a jazz orchestra was a collec­tive instrument which through its style, arrangements, and compositions could make important contributions to the music. Norvo has been, through the years, an outstanding uncompromisingly creative improviser, and at times a startlingly gifted (though little appreciated) composer. 22”

[Footnote #22 reads: Norvo destroyed a whole series of early compositions, similar to his Dance of the Octopus (1933), because Jack Kapp, the head of Brunswick Records, in his great business wisdom, regarded such music as meaningless rubbish and tore up Norvo’s recording contract. Given the caliber of Dance of the Octopus, this senseless decision can only be regarded as one of the great tragedies of American music.]

George T. Simon in the 4th edition of The Big Bands begins his five-page treatment [pp. 386-390] of Red’s larger group with these words of praise:

“For real listening thrills, few bands could match the one that Red Norvo fronted during the fall of 1936. It was only a small band, ten musicians plus Red, and it wasn't a very famous one then. But the way it swung in its soft, subtle, magnificently musical way, insinuating rather than blasting itself into one's consciousness, gave me one of the most remarkable and satisfying listening experiences I have ever felt.

I use the word "felt," purposely, because this was a band with an under­lying sensuous as well as musical appeal. Unlike swing bands that overpowered its listeners, this one underplayed its music, injecting into its unique Eddie Sauter scores a tremendous but subdued excitement—the sort of excitement one experiences not during the culmination of something great but in antici­pation of something great. It would swing so subtly and so softly and so charmingly through chorus after chorus of exquisite solos and light, moving ensembles, always threatening to erupt while holding the listener mesmerized, until at long last, when he was about ready to scream "Let me up!" it would charge off into one of its exhilarating musical climaxes. There was never a band like it.”

Although it does not appear to have been reissued on compact disc, Richard Gehman, the fine writer whose work was often featured in Cosmopolitan Magazine, wrote this excellent overview of the first thirty years or so of Red’s career as the liner to the 1957 RCA Victor LP HI-FIve, The Red Norvo Quintet [LPM-1420].


It was the late James Agee, I believe, the poet and critic, who once declared in a review of Oklahoma! that it was not necessary for him to see the play because he knew in advance that it was terrible! This always seemed to me to be criticism of the highest sort, for the critic was not per­mitting himself to be influenced by any of the crass emotion that characterizes so much on-the-spot evaluation we get these days; and for that reason I am happy to report that I am now doing exactly the same. The Atlantic Ocean and the breadth of the United States lie between me and the music enclosed in this sleeve, but I do not have to hear it to know that it is superb, that it is characterized by a bounce at once merry and gutty, that it is backed by a rhythm section that swings as compellingly as the Page-Jones-Green trio did in the old Basic band, that the soloists burst exuberantly from the ensembles and that the back­ground figures are as interesting as the solos themselves. I know, in short, that this is jazz at its very best, for Red Norvo is perhaps the only jazz musician I know who never delivers anything but first-chair goods.

He has been doing it for a long, long time, too. He was born March 31, 1908, in Beardstown, Illinois, where show boats stopped and permitted him to scramble aboard and get his first taste of the music he later was to assist in developing into one of the few contributions this nation has made to world culture. His sister and two brothers, all older, had driven their parents crazy with noodling at­tempts at the mastery of various instruments, and when young Kenneth declared that he wanted a xylophone, his father shook his head. Red's name then was Kenneth Norville, by the way. He had a pony his brother Howard had given him, and he loved it. Unfortunately, the pony couldn't reproduce the sounds that were demanding ex­pression even then; he sold it and bought the xylophone and. to the astonishment of everyone in the family, rapidly became proficient. A girl in Beardstown had organized a small band that played church socials, school entertain­ments, and the like. She had a chance to go to Chicago to audition for an agent and asked Red to go along. His mother gave her permission and off they went. Red was around thirteen. He was utterly terrified and accordingly quite relieved when the man told the group to go back home and practice a little more.

Students of jazz—especially some new English friends of mine, who know every bloody fact about every Ace Brigode record ever made, including what hangers-on were in the studio at the time, how the weather was outside, and who fell down drunk — are going to deplore my next state­ment. I forget what happened to Red after that first Chi­cago trip. I believe he simply returned to Beardstown High and had every intention of going on to college. Then an agent who had heard him in Chicago wrote him, asking him to come up to go on a band he was organizing. It was called The Collegians. The boys wore blazers and, some­times, funny hats. They toured the Midwest, playing dances, fairs and other outdoor gigs, and then returned to Chicago, where they disbanded. The same agent then booked Red with Paul Ash, of Paul Ash and his Quality Serenaders fame. Ash could not pronounce "Norville," for some reason; he said "Norvo" so many times Red finally decided it was better to join it than enjoin the leader. He used the name later when he went out in vaudeville as a single. I wish I had seen him in those days: the stage xylophonist then wore a full blouse, dark trousers and a sash. Some of them affected Mexican mustaches, and they tap-danced in breaks. Occasionally American flags, Teddy bears, streamers and other impedimenta miraculously ap­peared from their instruments. Red went the route. He laughs and shudders when he recalls his act.

By then it was the summer of 1929, and Red's family wanted him to go to college. He had other plans. He played around Detroit until autumn, then went to join Ocky Wes-lin's band in Minneapolis. There Victor Young, who was working in radio in Chicago, heard him and hired him. Red was always rather vague. He took the job with Young despite the fact that he had almost simultaneously taken one with another band. The latter leader let him out, how­ever, and the Chicago period began.

There need be no mention here of what was romping in Chicago in the early Thirties. Condon was there; so were Mezzrow, Freeman. Tough, McKenzie, Sullivan and all the rest. Red never played much with those boys—a xylophone was too heavy to lug around to sessions — but he loved their music and was profoundly influenced by it, and they in turn respected his. Condon later declared that Red was the only man he ever heard who could make the xylophone sound civilized.

Then another influence entered his life: Mildred Bailey. Her soft, subtle voice and Red's delicate, rhythmic playing went together so well it was probably inevitable that they get married. Afterward they went to New York and joined Whiteman. Red lasted a little over a year. He felt buried in the band and decided that unemployment offered more emotional satisfaction. Mildred continued to work with Whiteman. and Red balled around New York with other transplanted Chicagoans. One summer he, Stew Pletcher, Neil Reid and a few other boys were booked into Bar Harbor, Maine, in a band ostensibly piloted by Rudy Vallee. They took along a portfolio of Fletcher Henderson arrangements which, on the first night, considerably di­minished the crowd. On the second night the manager informed them that he was short of cash and would be getting shorter if those Henderson arrangements kept up; the boys told him what he could do and went on blowing. Fortunately, a few of them could fish, which they did; Neil Reid could make pies, and there was an apple orchard nearby. They existed on flounder and apple pie for the remainder of the engagement and were finally sent fare to go home by Mildred.

Back in New York, Red organized a small band and played around 52nd Street. In 1936 he and Mildred formed the celebrated Mr. and Mrs. Swing combination, which in my own private view was the epitome of the style and attitude of the swing-band era that Goodman blew in. How they jumped, and what soloists they were! Even Condon, who ordinarily cannot stand any band made up of more than eight men, listened attentively.  There was Herbie Haymer on tenor, for example, and the wonderful Fletcher on trumpet (Fletcher once told Red he would never play with anyone else—and when that band broke up, he never did)   and Hank D'Amico on clarinet, and Red's gently phrased, softly pushing xylophone playing obbligatos be­hind Mildred's sweet voice. Some band. Some marriage, too, characterized by then by various scuffles and rows—to such a degree, in fact, that one day when Red was telling me of some of the battles he and Mildred had had, Lee Meyers leaned over and asked, "Who are you writing this for, Dick? Nat Fleischer?" They finally broke up but remained close, even after Red married Eve Rogers, Shorty's sister.

In 1943 Red switched to vibes. He was the first of the old Chicagoans, with the possible exception of Dave Tough, to recognize the importance of some things Dizzy, Bird and the rest of the boys from uptown were doing. He felt that vibes offered him a better chance to grow. He began to develop with Goodman and Herman, and finally went out on his own again, first with a small band and then with a trio. He and Eve moved to California and settled down to bring up kids and dappled dachshunds. Meanwhile he continued to work and study, and the results are notice­able in his music. In the summer of 1956 he decided the trio was no longer suitable for the expression of the ideas he had, and added a flute and, sometimes, a tenor saxo­phone. This band is composed of Bill Douglass, on drums; Bob Carter, bass;  Bob Drasnin, flute, clarinet and alto sax; Jimmy Wyble, guitar; and, of course, the Man him­self. It is substantially the same band that kept me going to The Castle, a Los Angeles restaurant, every night of a three-week visit I made to California last October. It is a wonderful band—wonderfully swingy, wonderfully subtle, wonderfully creative. I wish I could hear it right now, as I write this, and I envy every fortunate buyer of this album the privilege of hearing these numbers.”

A fitting conclusion to our brief visit with Red Norvo, one of the legendary figures in Jazz, can be found, perhaps, in these words from Richard Cook and Brian Morton’s The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“Though by no means a one-dimensional figure, Norvo held to a steady course from the early days of bebop to the beginnings of a swing revival in the 1950’s and 60’s. His technique is superb and prefigures much of Milt Jackson's best MJQ passage-work. The early trios are unquestionably the place to begin [Jimmy Raney [g] and Red Mitchell [b]; Tal Farlow [g] and Charles Mingus [b]], but there's plenty of good music later and newcomers shouldn't be prejudiced by the instrumentation. Norvo plays modern jazz of a high order.”

You can hear Red’s trio with guitarist Tal Farlow and bassist Charles Mingus performing Denzil Best’s bebop classic Move on the following video tribute.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

The Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra Featuring Lew Tabackin - "Desert Lady/Fantasy"

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

“The band sounded so good that sometimes when I listen to the recordings I am touched by the performance. I think that’s the way it should be, you are supposed to record after you have spent a lot of time playing it, but in reality it's vice versa — you record first, then play, so I am very lucky that we had the opportunity to do it in the right order."
- Toshiko Akiyoshi commenting on Desert Lady/Fantasy

While listening to Toshiko Akiyoshi’s Big Band do their thing on Desert Lady/Fantasy [Sony SRCS7438], I thought I would write a feature about it for the blog.

And then I read these insert notes by Chris Albertson, contributing editor with Stereo Magazine, and I decided that I didn’t need to anymore as he had pretty much written what I wanted to say about the recording.

Chris’ notes offer insights into the musical attributes that make Toshiko’s big band so special. It also provides a commentary on what Toshiko had to go through to make this unique band a reality.

“Big bands entered the jazz arena in the twenties and kept stomping until they hit the top of the American music scene. The Big Band Era tasted roughly ten years and left an impact that continues to be felt, both directly and indirectly. The most successful orchestras had their own distinct sound and fiercely loyal following, but for every "name" band mere were dozens who stopped short of making the national scene. There was not a night when the airwaves were not filled with wondrous riffs and spirited solo statements from star sidemen, "brought to you live for your dancing and listening pleasure" from some hotel or ballroom.

Big band music was exciting and functional; one could dance to it, romance to it, and Glenn Miller even had them marching to it. The top bandleaders became glamorous figures who received movie star treatment from the press, were courted by politicians, and had young fans clamoring for autographs. Fans often behaved in very much the same frenzied manner as Beatles followers would a couple of decades later, and, as always, an older generation shook its head.

Not surprisingly, interest in the trendy mix of brass and reeds peaked and the Era fell victim to ever-shifting public taste, redirected lifestyles, and a post-war economy. But while the spotlight shifted away from them, the big bands never left the scene altogether; the most successful band leaders weathered the storm, and some were so firmly established that their orchestras continued even after their death — we call them ghost bands. The big bands left a rich legacy, however, for they were breeding grounds for the great soloists of the Swing Era, and there never was better training for individual jazz players.

The Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra owes a debt to the great orchestras of the past, but, as Ellington put it, "things ain't what they used to be.' While Toshiko's band features all the bells and whistles of its famous predecessors, it stomps and swings with a different purpose.

Since the sixties, waning public interest and shrunken budgets have made it increasingly difficult to keep an established band together, not to mention start a new one. In 1973, when Toshiko's orchestra started to take shape, such a venture was labeled foolhardy, at best. So why did she do it?

"It was more or less an accident,'' she explains. The thought first occurred to Toshiko in 1967. "Back then, I wrote five tunes for my Town Hall concert, and when I heard the band play them I thought well, that's what I would like to do; of course I didn't do it, for many good reasons, the main one being the economy — I was barely surviving.” Indirectly, those 1967 compositions led to the band's formation six years later. "We formed it because Lew, then a regular member of the 'Tonight Show orchestra, was very bored with the LA. jazz scene. He had heard the tunes I wrote for my Town Hall concert, back in 1967, and he thought it would be wonderful to have the guys get together and play those tunes — that's how it started.

We had some rehearsals and I heard some great ensemble playing, which inspired me, because I had never been involved with a big band before. So I thought that this might be a wonderful way for me to leave something behind, I could build a library. All these years, up to that point, I was so conditioned to believe that my music was quickly forgotten; my records disappeared fast and became collector's items, because they were so hard to get. I thought, if I dropped dead, no one was going to miss me."

Word of the band's rehearsals got out and almost created a demand. "It was and will always be the music that makes me keep the band going — we all did it for the sake of the music” Toshiko points out. "Fortunately, during the first ten years of the band, in California, I found that the musicians were very enthusiastic, and we would get together regularly, every Wednesday morning. No one expected to go out on the road, but people learned of the band by word of mouth, and they wanted to hear it — so you might say that it was kind of an organic thing, the band was organically grown. Most big bands start out as a business venture, but this one just happened — it was an extension of me, and if s very difficult for me to think of it in any other way."

During its first ten years, in California, the personnel remained fairly intact, but Toshiko finds it more difficult to keep her repertory company together since moving to New York in 1983. "The past four years or so have been more difficult, because of the economy,” she points out. "'I mean, tours are almost a thing of the past, even five-day tours; it's just isolated bookings, single concert dates. Especially here in New York where many musicians are in the same position that I was in 25 years ago, they're barely surviving. So its very difficult to hold a musician for one single concert. Some people think a big band is basically the book, and that you can just take your music anywhere and have it played by local musicians, but that is not how it works. In California, although we met for rehearsal every Wednesday, some of the musicians would look at the music and say that it was as if they were seeing it for the first time, because they had had so many other jobs since the last rehearsal."

Such difficulties belie the precision that is so much in evidence on these recordings. Toshiko explains: "We really lucked out by having a ten-day tour just before the recording. We played at Kimball's East in the San Francisco Bay area and we played these numbers every night, then we went into the studio the day after we came home to New York. The band sounded so good that sometimes when I listen to the recordings I am touched by the performance. I think that’s the way it should be, you are supposed to record after you have spent a lot of time playing it, but in reality it's vice versa — you record first, then play, so I am very lucky that we had the opportunity to do it in the right order."

Toshiko continues to tour as a pianist, with small groups of her own, as does Lew, but one has a feeling that the band's the thing and that they play on — often in separate corners of the world — to feed all that brass and reeds. Toshiko's compositions and imaginative charts are what sets this orchestra apart from others; she likes to paint vivid pictures with her scores.

"My music is mostly programmatic," she explains. "Most of the big band writers were arrangers rather than composers, except for Ellington, of course — they played popular tunes and had a singer, and so on, but their music wasn't programmatic, it didn't tell a story. In my mind, it is very important to tell a story. My music has to have a certain attitude, it must reflect my view of certain things — that's what I like to bring into the music I write — a point of view. That's the difference between a writer and an arranger. Duke was a writer, his music told stories."

"It does not tell a story," says Toshiko of Harlequin Tears, the set’s brightly bouncing opening number, "but I had a certain grand opera in mind when I wrote it." Lew Tabackin's tenor sax and Luis Bonilla' s trombone are featured.

"Lew has a particular thing about ballads,” says Toshiko. "Mainly it's Strayhom, Monk and Ellington, those are the kinds of tunes that he is especially fond of, but he also wrote the only programmatic piece we have in this album, Desert Lady"

Lew's inspiration for this composition — which he originally recorded with a quartet, in 1989 — came from a Japanese film about a woman who lives in a sand dune. He has described it as "a kind of narrative thing that conjures up a vision,” but Toshiko saw something else when she heard. "I thought it had a Near-Eastern feeling,” she says. "It made me think of Morocco or Pakistan, and it reminded me of a documentary film I had seen, about Northern Africa — this film had some Somalian ladies making really incredible sounds. So I turned it into Desert Lady-Fantasy."

Toshiko obtained a tape of the African women making the unusual vocal sounds that had so intrigued her, and wove it into her chart, just before Conrad Herwig's trombone solo — the effect is quite extraordinary. Besides the Somalian ladies and Herwig's trombone, Toshiko's fantasy extension to Desert Lady features Lew's lavishly rounded flute, and adds percussionist Daniel Ponce to the band.

If not programmatic, Toshiko's mellow, straight-ahead Hangin' Loose is certainly a functional piece. "We use it for relief," she explains. "It's a good number to follow up a heavier piece with." A popular number, Hangin' Loose has been in the band's repertory for several years; it was originally written for Lew, "basically to expose my low notes,” he explains. Here, flanked by two Tabackin tenor statements, are solos by trumpeter Joe Magnarelli, trombonist Herb Besson, and altoist Jerry Dodgion.

Hiroko's Delight is named after Hiroko Onoyama, assistant to Mr. Morita, the chairman of the Sony Corporation of America. "She is the one who opened the door at Sony in our behalf,” says Toshiko. "Without her efforts, our 21st anniversary concert (Carnegie Hall Concert— Columbia CK 48805)... would not have been recorded — she was the catalyst, so I thought I'd dedicate a tune to her.” The band's trumpet section is featured prominently on Hiroko's Delight the order of solos being John Eckert, Joe Magnarelli and Greg Gisbert; the tenor solo is by Walt Weiskopf.

“It's very difficult to write for Lew,” says Toshiko, “There was a time when it seemed like we were losing all the great tenor saxophonists, and when Ben Webster died, Lew wrote a very short ballad, 16 bars, called Yet Another Tear. I had that in mind when I asked him to write another such piece for himself to play in this album.” The result was Broken Dreams, a lovely, melancholic tune that features Lew's tenor throughout.

The set's final number is Bebop a tune written by Dizzy Gillespie, who once referred to it as "another tune I stole from myself." Toshiko decided to include it as a memorial to Dizzy, who passed away in 1993. Jim Snidero’s alto and Greg Gisbert's trumpet soar through Toshiko's well-oiled arrangement which has the brass and reed sections cooking up a storm that would have delighted the composer. "I worked with Dizzy several times,” she points out, "and his kind of music is what I was raised on. My orchestra is a concert band, like the one Dizzy had in the late forties, and by now I hope that people who hear my music can tell that it's mine.” Indeed they can.

The following video features Toshiko’s arrangement of Hiroko’s Delight with John Eckert doing the honors on trumpet along with Joe Magnarelli and Greg Gisbert, Walt Weiskopf on tenor sax and Terry Clark on drums.