Thursday, October 31, 2019

Zoot Sims with Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band Apple Core

An Afternoon with Benjamin Francis Webster

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

“Look at those two heavyweights!.”

The speaker was Jack Marshall a guitarist who was perhaps best known as a composer-arranger in Hollywood recording circles. He composed TV series themes and wrote the arrangement for Peggy Lee’s big hit Fever which featured drummer Shelly Manne, one of Jack’s closest friends.

The “two heavyweights” in question were drummer Stan Levey and tenor saxophonist Ben Webster.

The venue for this two-brute-sighting was The Manne Hole, Shelly’s Hollywood Jazz club, which also happened to serve great soup for lunch. [“Brute was one of Ben’s nicknames.]

Just about every studio musician in the greater Hollywood area - which extended north into the eastern San Fernando Valley to include both Warner Brothers [Burbank] and Universal Studios [North Hollywood] - tried to stop by Shelly’s for lunch during their breaks from recording.

It was our way of “throwing some business his way” as we all knew the kind of stress and sacrifice Shelly went through to keep his club open for 12 years in order to give local Jazz musicians a place to play, including many studio musicians who relished the opportunity to play Jazz whenever it presented itself.

I recorded with Jack as a drummer and/or percussionist on a few occasions and we had just finished a TV commercial that morning when Jack suggested we “go up to Shelly’s for some soup.”

By way of background, I gather that one of Stan Levey’s first gigs as a drummer was working with Ben Webster’s quartet which “Frog” [another of Ben’s nicknames] had formed shortly after leaving Duke Ellington’s Orchestra in the early 1940s. They instantly took a liking to one another and became lifelong friends. Each of them were “big men” and they formed an imposing sight when they stood together.

Now here they were a little over twenty years later talking to Shelly and Rudy Onderwyzer, the manager of The Manne Hole, about Ben’s quartet playing a gig at the club for a long weekend with a local rhythm section to be led by Stan. [If my memory serves me right, not always the case these days, Jimmy Rowles was going to be the pianist.]

Scheduling conflicts at Shelly’s were compounded by the fact that Stan Levey was still traveling often as a member of Peggy Lee’s trio, so the two-big-men-of-Jazz reunion gig never happened and Ben went back to New York and eventually formed the quartet that Stanley Dance described in this essay/interview about Benjamin Francis Webster (March 27, 1909 – September 20, 1973) which appeared in the May 21, 1964 edition of Downbeat magazine.

“Stride piano, the left hand fast and precise, filled the telephone receiver.



"Yeah. Wait till I turn my waking-up music off."

The sound of James P. Johnson's piano was abruptly diminished.

"You downstairs? Come on up."

One of tenor saxophonist Ben Webster's afternoon musicales was in progress. A tape on which the Lion, the Lamb, James P., Fats Waller and Art Tatum strove mightily together — his waking-up music —  was still on the Wollensak [tape recorder], but an album by Tatum was now placed on the phonograph. A facet of that pianist's genius was about to be demonstrated to Duke Ellington's bassist, Ernie Shepard, and drummer Sam Woodyard — who occupied nearby hotel rooms and had come in to discuss the previous night's activities.

Webster had sat in for a set with the Ellington band at its Basin Street East opening, and he was happy about the experience. Chuck Connors' arrival having been delayed that night, Webster had taken Connors' seat in the trombone section and been duly introduced to the audience by Ellington as an expert on claves in cha-cha-cha. When the saxophonist came down front later, Ellington had suggested he play "Cottontail," Webster's best-known recorded performance during his principal stay with Ellington, 1939-'43. The performance ended with a chase between Webster and Ellington's regular tenor saxophonist, Paul Gonsalves. It had been a kick.

"If Duke likes you," Webster said, "you're home free." There were bottles of beer sitting on the windowsill outside, cold and ready to drink, and ale on the dressing table, but the main business this afternoon was music and reminiscence. A tape of a 1940 Ellington performance at the Crystal Ballroom in Fargo, N.D., was produced.

"It was so cold there that night," Webster remembered, "we played in our overcoats, and some of the guys kept their gloves on!"

The music coming from the tape had an exciting kind of abandon — the abandon, perhaps, of desperation.

"Sometimes," he added, "when you've traveled all day in the bus, and had no sleep and are dead tired — that's when you get the best playing out of a band. It just happens. And sometimes the opposite."

The material was inspiring. After "The Mooche" came "Ko-Ko," "Pussy Willow"...
"I learned a lot from Rab [Johnny Hodges], but you know what his only advice to me was when I came in the band? 'Learn your parts.'"

The tape continued rolling. "Chatterbox," "Harlem Airshaft," "Jack the Bear," "Rumpus in Richmond," "Sidewalks of New York," "The Flaming Sword," "Never No Lament"...

"That's why Duke leaves his mark on you, forever," Webster said.

"Clarinet Lament," "Slap Happy," "Sepia Panorama," "Rockin' in Rhythm," "Cottontail"...

"Sonny Greer, and he's swinging!" Webster exclaimed in admiration of the drummer who worked with Ellington from the '20s to the '50s.

"Conga Brava," "Stardust," "Rose of the Rio Grande" and "Boy Meets Horn" preceded the finale, an uproarious version of "St. Louis Blues," on which trombonist Tricky Sam Nanton took over from Webster and carried through to the coda.

"We were drinking buddies," the saxophonist said, and laughed, "but you heard how he tore right in on me there."

After a few jokes, the conversation came back to piano, steered by the host, and the striding hands of yesterday stretched out again on tape and vinyl. Often they belonged to Fats Waller.
All that fun but never a wrong note," Webster remarked. "If only he could have lived until TV!"

Contemporaries were considered and Ralph Sutton commended as "a wonderful cat." Earl Hines, too: "Earl swings his head off."

A memory of the Beetle [stride pianist Stephen Henderson] intervened, the diffident-seeming Beetle who took part in the piano battles uptown and seldom played anything less than an easy, rocking, medium tempo but who triumphed nevertheless. Another memory returned, of the Lamb — Donald Lambert — who came to the battlefield once or twice a year, astounded everyone, and then retired to New Jersey again. From that point, it required little urging to get Webster to tell of his first experience with the Harlem piano school.

"I shall never forget the time when I met Count Basie," he began. "It was while he was in Kansas City with Gonzel White, and he used to stop the show. I always did like Basic, and I always did want to play the piano. He bore with me for a long time, and he told me that in the event I ever got to New York, I was to be sure to find the Lion—Willie Smith. He had already told me that the bosses were James P. Johnson and the Lion, and that then came Duke, Fats and Willie Gant. I don't remember all the names, but there was a gang of great piano players in those days.

"Clyde Hart and I managed to get with Blanche Galloway. Clyde was a friend of mine, a piano player, and Edgar Battle sent for us in Kansas City We played the Pearl Theater in Philly, at 22nd and Ridge, I think it was, and Clyde and I got on the train the first day we had off and came to New York.

"Basie had briefed me. 'Go to the Rhythm Club,' he said, 'and that's where you'll find the Lion. He knows all the piano players and all the good musicians. They hang out there, and the Lion will introduce you right. Naturally, I wanted to hear people like Benny Carter, Johnny Hodges and Coleman Hawkins too. Basie had also told us how to approach the Lion so that he would bear with us. Basie said he liked a little taste every now and then, that he loved cigars, and that maybe he would play a little for us.

"So we walked up to the Rhythm Club on 132nd Street and Seventh Avenue, and we met the Lion. There was a cigar store right on the corner, and in those days they had great big El Productos, three for a half-dollar.

'"Mr. Lion,' we said, 'would you care to have some cigars?'

"The Lion rounded on us and said, 'Say, you are pretty nice kids. Yes, I'll have a cigar or two.'
So we walked with him to the corner and asked him how many could he smoke.

"'Oh, maybe two.'

"So we bought him half a dozen, and then he smiled and said,' You kids are really nice kids!'

"Then we asked him, 'Would you care for a little drink, Mr. Lion?'

"'Yeah,'he said.

"Then we told him we would like to hear him play, and at that time there was a place right across from the Rhythm Club, and he took us over there, and he got in the mood with his cigar and a little taste in between.

"It was one of the greatest experiences of my life to hear a man play like this. Though I had heard James P. Johnson around 1925 in Kansas City, that was a little early, and I think I could understand more of what I was listening to when I got to the Lion.

"He played for us for three or four hours, and we kept buying him a little taste, and he kept saying we were nice kids. I had a beautiful day and I never will forget it."

Until about a year ago, Webster had resided for several years in Los Angeles, taking care of his mother and grandmother, but when they both died within a year's time, he had no family reason to stay in California, and he moved to New York City.

He has brought back to the ingrowing New York scene the good humor and expansive generosity of spirit that have been dwindling for some time among its hard-pressed musicians. Webster is big physically — broad-shouldered and
straight-backed — and he is bigger than the rat race. One is soon aware that music occupies his mind far more than money— music as, above all, a means to enjoyment.

Ellington's wasn't the only band he sat in with during the winter. Gerry Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band found it had an impulsive new pianist one night in Bird-land, and at the Metropole on another occasion, Webster took Marty Napoleon's place at the keyboard for a set.

The appearances with his own quartet at the Shalimar, Birdland and the Half Note have proved popular. His material, consisting mostly of the better standards and well-known Ellington numbers, is strong on melodic content. Just as he did 20 years ago, with men like pianists Marlowe Morris and Johnny Guarnieri and drummer Sid Catlett, he likes to open and close a performance with a statement of the theme. Good melody, well phrased, communicates as strongly in the jazz idiom as in any other, and there are distinct advantages from the audience's viewpoint to having the melody established in the mind when following the variations. Webster recognizes this, plus the importance of good tempos.

Stylistically, he illustrates the evolutionary process always at work within the music.
The jazz audience was probably first made aware of him in 1932 on the several explosive records that indicated the musical ferment in Kansas City—those made by Bennie Moten with Basie, trumpeter Oran (Hot Lips) Page, trombonist Eddie Durham and reed man Eddie Barefield, in addition to Webster — "Moten Swing," "Lafayette," etc.

In his subsequent recordings, there was uninterrupted development, but up until the time he joined Ellington, listeners generally recognized the influence of Coleman Hawkins rather than the personality of Ben Webster. Yet, as Hughes Panassie perceptively noted, "The grace of his melodic line makes one think of Benny Carter." In fact, it is Carter whom Webster names first among saxophonists—then Hawkins, then Johnny Hodges ("the most feeling") and then Hilton Jefferson ("the prettiest").

Established stylistically in 1940, Webster himself became an important influence. Prominent among those to acknowledge it was Eddie (Lockjaw) Davis, at one time known as Little Ben.

When Paul Gonsalves took the tenor chair with Ellington, his ability to play solos in Webster's style profoundly surprised the leader, but in the 14 years that have followed, Gonsalves' musical personality has developed on strongly individual lines, a fact evident when he and his early mentor played "Cottontail" at Basin Street East. It was even more evident in a jam session at Count Basie's bar in Harlem, when Webster, Gonsalves and fellow tenor man Harold Ashby were together on the stand. Ashby is a close friend of Webster's who proudly proclaims his friend's influence, but all three were individually and instantly identifiable by tone and phrasing.

"He's improved so much he scares me," Webster said of Ashby's playing, using his most admiring epithet.

Gonsalves, too, he esteems highly. One of the records often played on his phonograph is "I've Just Seen Her," from Ellington's All American album, a Gonsalves performance that never fails to impress saxophone players.
At Webster's musicale, Gonsalves reminisced about the first time he heard Tatum. He had gone to a club with Webster, Basie and trumpeter Harry Edison to hear Tatum, but the master didn't feel like playing that night. So Webster sat down at the piano and played awhile. Then Edison played, and finally Basie. With that, Tatum decided to play—"Get Happy" at a very fast tempo. What astonished him, Webster said, was the way Tatum's left hand took care of business while the right reached for a drink.

Perhaps this anecdote passed through Webster's mind at the jam session at Basie's club. He called "Get Happy" They took off, lightning fast, and Gonsalves went into a furious and fantastically devised solo.

"Paul's getting so hot," Webster exclaimed with mock alarm, "I don't think I should have called this tune!"

Another afternoon visitor was tenorist Budd Johnson, who had first shown Webster the scale on saxophone and how to play "Singin' the Blues." Webster had been taught violin, but had not liked the instrument. There were two pianos in the Webster house, his mother's and his cousin's ("I ruined my cousin's piano playing blues"), and when he should have been practicing violin, he was usually busy on one or the other of them. Pete Johnson, who lived across the street, taught him how to play the blues.

"If you lay the violin down a week, you're in trouble," Webster said, "but you can lay a horn down a year and be OK." So when he switched to piano, it was the end of the violin phase.

He was playing piano in a silent-movie house in Amarillo, Texas, when Gene Coy's band came to town, and he met Budd Johnson and his brother, trombonist Keg. The saxophone fascinated Webster, and in 1929, when he was 20, he heard that the Young family band needed another saxophone player; he went to see Lester's father.

"I can't read," he said.

Mr. Young was amused.

"I haven't got a horn," he added.

Mr. Young was then even more amused, but he provided Webster with an alto saxophone and taught him to read.

"Lester's father mostly played trumpet, but he could play anything, and, what's more, he was a master teacher," Webster recalled.

Lester played tenor, and Webster insists he was playing wonderfully even then. Lee Young and his sister, Irma, were also members of the band and played saxophones at that time, too.

The group went to Albuquerque, N.M., for some months, and it was there that Webster, a strong swimmer, helped save the lives of both Lester and Lee. Lester got into difficulties in the Rio Grande and was carried away, tumbling over and over in the water until Webster and guitarist Ted Brinson rescued him. On another occasion, Lee stepped off the bank into a deep sand hole, and Webster managed to haul him out.

"Lee dived right in again," Webster remembered, "but Lester didn't want to think about swimming for a long time after that."

Some months later, after Budd and Keg Johnson had left it, Webster got a call to join Gene Coy's band ("about nine or 10 pieces") in which Harold Coleman was playing tenor. That was really the beginning of the professional career as a saxophonist that brought him, experienced and mature, into New York City, 1964.

“I think I’m playing better than ever right now,” he said. Then he repeated, “I think.”

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Conte Candoli & Lou Levy West Coast Wailers

The 1965 Stan Getz Quartet Tokyo Concert

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

Highly regarded as a vibraphonist and percussionist, the years 1963 - 1965 were particularly busy ones for Larry Bunker as a drummer.

Although Larry’s years as a notable Jazz drummer dated back to 1953 when he took over for Chico Hamilton in the original Gerry Mulligan, as Larry explained it: “Work for Jazz drummers in Los Angeles usually went to Shelly Manne, Stan Levey and Mel Lewis. I got the rest.”

He made that remark on more than one occasion and at times I wasn’t sure if it was made in frustration or was just a reflection of the sarcastic side of his personality which did show itself from time-to-time.

Not one to sit on his hands [pun intended], during the decade of the 1950s, Larry was well on his way to becoming a vibraphonist of considerable talent and a versatile percussionist who would ultimately develop into a world class tympanist. He was also a capable pianist.

In my long association with his work as a Jazz drummer, first as a student, and later as a fan, what was especially evident was how fluid, powerful and controlled his drumming had become during the three years from 1963-65.

There are a number of examples of these qualities in his playing, but none better in my opinion than the solo he played on All God’s Children Got Rhythm as a member of the Stan Getz Quartet along with Gary Burton on vibes and Steve Swallow on bass at a concert that took place on July 18, 1965 at Kosei Nenkin Kaikan, in the Shinjuku District of Tokyo, Japan.

The music from this concert was recorded but never released commercially. A Jazz buddy in New Zealand sent me the music and when I played it for Larry a couple of years before his passing in 2005, he commented: “I really had it together in those days.”

When I asked him “Why?” he said: “You gotta remember, I was playing a lot of drums, back then - almost exclusively. I was on the road with Bill [Evans] for almost two years, then Gary [Burton] and I formed our own quartet and then I went out with Gary and Getz through the summer of 1965.”

For those Jazz fans who may not be aware of Larry’s talents as a Jazz drummer, I have included a Soundcloud audio file at the end of this posting along with a video of Stan Getz’s performing Con Alma, both from the unreleased music from the July 18, 1965 Tokyo concert at Kosei Nenkin Kaikan.”

Here’s more background information on this version of the Getz quartet and the music from the concert.

“When guitarist Jimmy Raney decided to leave the Stan Getz band in late 1963, Stan had difficulty finding a pianist to go with the Quartet on a three week tour of Canada in January 1964. He was persuaded by Lou Levy, the pianist, who was not available, to audition young vibraphonist Gary Burton-who he then hired. It was some time before the new quartet found its musical feet, although Verve did record the new quartet in April and May 1964. The April performances were never issued, but the six May tracks, with Astrud Gilberto’s vocal later dubbed in, and were issued on Verve V6-8600. "Getz Au Go Go".

In October 1964 a concert at Carnegie Hall, again with Astrud Gilberto was issued on Verve V6-8623, "Getz/Gilberto #2" but no further recordings by the Getz/Burton group were issued by Verve until 1994 when the company released "Nobody Else but Me" - Verve CD 5621 660-2. This was the group's studio session from 4 March 1964, recorded a few scant weeks after Burton became a member of the Getz quartet.

The group was also recorded in concert in Paris, France on 13 November 1966, with Roy Haynes on drums in place of Larry Bunker. French Polydor/Verve issued eight tracks spread over three Lp's. In 2002 six of those tracks were issued on French Gitanes Jazz CD 517 049-2 "Stan Getz In Paris", together with a previously unissued Stan's Blues.  But these albums have (so far) been the only commercial albums released of the Getz/Burton quartet. Gary Burton left the group to form his own quartet shortly after the 1966 European tour.

A number of unauthorized recordings have been made at various concerts of the group - but this recording is significant for several reasons. Firstly, the performance come from the mid-period in the life of the group, when it had really settled as a working band. Secondly, it is the first time (according to discographer Arne Astrup) that Getz performed both Sweet Rain and Con Alma and especially with this rendition of Con Alma the seeds of the magnificent performances of the two songs on Verve V6 8693 - Verve CD 815-054-2, "Sweet Rain" of March 1967, can be heard. And thirdly, for the most part the recording quality is very good.

Astrup notes that "parts of this very excellent concert was scheduled for release on Verve, but the album was never issued." One track, Waltz For A Lovely Wife, was issued on Italian Philology W 40.2 "Sweetie Pie" - an anthology of twelve 'pirate' Getz performances, but the Philology track is in less than ideal sound.

-W T Choy June 2002”

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Lou Levy: A Most Musical Pianist [From The Archives]

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

For many years, George Ziskind, a friend who resided in New York City, was one of the biggest fans of these pages. He was constantly sending me supportive messages and these "at-a-boy's," "way to go's,"  and "well done's" meant a lot to me, especially during the early going when the blog was on less surer ground.

George wasn't one to let an error go by and his encyclopedic knowledge of Jazz and its makers often rescued my miscues and mistakes, but he always did so in a kind and gentle way. What made this soft approach to correction so remarkable was that George could be a pretty gruff guy who didn't suffer fools - gladly or otherwise.

"What you're doing is important," he would say. "You're a musician, too, and you know how hard it is to play this stuff," he often remarked. "People need to learn to appreciate that. You can't just pour it our of a can. Don't they know how many people died for this music?" 

He never let up. One of his fondest expressions was "America is about three things: [1] The US Constitution, [2] Baseball and [3] Jazz. Ken Burns [documentary film maker for the Public Broadcasting Services] got the first two right, but he messed up on Jazz." 

He especially like my features on Jazz piano players, I suspect, in part, because George was one [and a darn fine one at that.]

George died in 2014 at the age of eighty-six years old. The JazzTimes carried an obituary about him which you can locate by going here.

He was very close friends with Lou Levy and I thought it might make a sort of tribute to George's memory to reprise this piece about his old friend.

I miss my old friend.

“For all of his modesty – and it is real, not affected – Lou, in an instrumental setting, is a fleet, inventive and brilliant soloist.”
Gene Lees

“Lou Levy is quite a musician. Long an established and a highly respected pianist among his fellow musicians, he has been woefully neglected by the public and even by jazz fans. In his approach to the piano, there is always a great sense of assurance, of playing on a larger scale; there is intensity, reflection, humor and showmanship.”
- Andre’ Previn

Lou Levy is two things that seem incom­patible: the archetype of the bebop pianist and the most sympathetic possible accom­panist for singers.”
Gene Lees

Like so many other teenagers growing up in the 1940s, Lou Levy was captivated by the language of Bebop.

Unlike many of those teenagers, however, Lou Levy developed the facility, skills and melodic inventiveness to play piano with the best of the Beboppers.

Lou’s Dad played piano by ear and, as a result of his father’s encouragement, he began studying piano at the age of ten in his hometown of ChicagoIL.  Lou’s early idols were Bud Powell and Art Tatum.

In 1945, at the age of seventeen, Lou took his first professional gig with Georgie Auld’s band. Thereafter he performed with artists like Sarah Vaughan, Chubby Jackson and Flip Phillips and bands like the Boyd Raeburn Orchestra and Woody Herman's Second Herd, the bop band that featured saxophonists Zoot Sims, Stan Getz and Al Cohn.

He joined Tommy Dorsey’s band in 1950. Tommy fired him after telling him: “Kid, you play good. But not for my band.”

In recounting this story to Gene Lees, Lou went on to say: “And he was right, I didn’t like it and he didn’t like it.”

Lou never got fired again.

In the early 1950's Lou dropped out of jazz for two years to live in Minneapolis and work in the medical-journal publishing business.

However, it has never been possible to keep a natural and accomplished a musician as Lou away from his chosen instrument for too long a time, and in 1954 he capitulated to numerous requests to return to music and opened at Frank Holzfeind's Blue Note in Chicago, playing solo intermission piano.

Woody's band was booked into the club, and suddenly the sidemen were paying Lou one of the great musi­cians' compliments: they were using their intermissions to sit around the stand, listening closely and passing the word around that Lou was back and in great form. On the last Sunday of their engagement, Al Porcino, the wonderful trumpet player, lugged in his tape recorder and took down some fifteen or twenty of Lou's solo efforts.

These tapes soon achieved almost a legendary status. Musicians all over the country heard them, some had them copied, others remembered them in detail, and "Hey, did you hear those Blue Note Lou Levy tapes?" became the opening gambit of many a jazz discussion.

In 1955, Lou moved out to Los Angeles and began gigging around: with Conte Candoli, Stan Getz and Shorty Rogers, on record dates and one-nighters.

He also began an 18-year association (including some breaks to take other jobs) with the singer Peggy Lee. From then on he became known as a particularly sympathetic accompanist for singers. Like Lester Young, one of his idols, he believed that a musician should know the lyrics of a song he was interpreting and said that a bandleader -- even if not a singer -- should be considered a voice.

As Gene Lees has observed: “Lou Levy is two things that seem incom­patible: the archetype of the bebop pianist and the most sympathetic possible accom­panist for singers, including three of the best: Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, and Peggy Lee. Peggy calls him ‘my good gray fox,' both for the color of his hair and the clever yet sympathetic nature of his accompaniment.”

After settling in California, Lou became a staple of the studios.   

And he worked with a number of other singers: June Christy, Anita O'Day, Lena Home, Nancy Wilson, Tony Bennett, and Frank Sinatra.

He played with the big bands of Terry Gibbs and Benny Goodman, and with Med Flory’s group, Supersax, which specialized in the solos of Charlie Parker orchestrated for five saxophones.

When Gene Lees asked him about those jazz pianists who are reluctant to accompany singers, Lou simply said, "They're crazy.”

Gene observed: “Lou has a love for the words of songs. It is manifest in the way he plays. He has had a long personal rela­tionship with Pinky Winters, a subtle and sensitive singer little heard outside Cali­fornia.”

Over the years, Lou had a very close and long working relationship with composer, arranger and trumpeter, Shorty Rogers. Along with Pete Jolly, Lou was Shorty’s pianist-of-choice for his own quintet as was drummer Larry Bunker.

In the 1950s, Shorty was hired by RCA to become the head of its Jazz artists & repertoire department and, not surprisingly, Shorty signed Lou to a recording contract with the label.

Thank goodness that Shorty stepped up with the RCA offer as the limited discography of recordings under Lou’s own name would have been significantly smaller.

In addition to a solo piano recording and a trio LP, Lou put together a quartet album for RCA with Stan Levey on drums, whom Lou had worked with dating back to their days together with the Boyd Raeburn Orchestra in 1947, bassist Leroy Vinnegar, everyone’s favorite bassist on the West Coast Jazz scene in the 1950s and Larry Bunker, who in addition to being an excellent drummer, was also an outstanding vibraphonist.

Lou’s quartet album for RCA was entitled Jazz in Four Colors: The Lou Levy Quartet [reissued on CD as Fresh Sound ND-74401].

Here’s what Shorty had to say about the evolution of the album:

“In planning this album, Lou and I spent much time try­ing to figure out a "different" instrumentation. This was no small problem in face of the fact that so many albums are being made today. While trying to figure out an instrumentation, Lou went to work on a job that enabled him to renew one of his favorite musical acquaint­ances: Larry Bunker on vibes. Lou and Larry enjoyed playing together and made a wonderful nucleus for a quartet. This also presented the possibility of forming a group that could record and appear in public.

This album could be called "the birth of the Lou Levy Quartet," and I must say that it was a privilege and a great thrill to be a witness to the birth of this swingin', tasty, musical baby.”

The following video has all audio tracks from Jazz in Four Colors: The Lou Levy Quartet [Fresh Sound CD; ND-74401] as performed by Lou Levy on piano, Larry Bunker on vibes, Leroy Vinnegar on bass and Stan Levey on drums. 

Monday, October 28, 2019

“Music: A Subversive History” by Ted Gioia

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

—This essay is adapted from Mr. Gioia’s new book, Music: A Subversive History, published by Basic Books.and was printed in The Wall Street Journal.
By Ted Gioia
Oct. 19, 2019 
“Popular songs are big business nowadays, the driving force behind a $10 billion industry. But it all started in the humblest way possible. The first documented song in the English language came from the mouth of an illiterate cow herder. More than 1,300 years ago the Venerable Bede, a medieval scholar known as the “father of English history,” wrote down the words sung by Caedmon, who tended animals at a Benedictine monastery in North Yorkshire. Bede marveled over the miracle that allowed an untutored servant to create such a remarkable hymn.
Caedmon’s song might have seemed like a miracle, but in the long history of music this kind of surprise is actually the rule, not the exception. Innovative songs almost always come from outsiders—the poor, the unruly and the marginalized.
The scholars Milman Parry and Albert Lord confirmed this fact in the 1930s, when they set out to trace the origins of ancient epics like the Iliad and the Odyssey. Their research took them to Bosnia, where they met Avdo Mededović, an illiterate peasant farmer they dubbed the “Yugoslav Homer.” Accompanying himself on a one-string instrument, Mededović performed a single story-song that took seven days to complete and went on for 12,311 lines—roughly the same length as the Odyssey. He performed entirely from memory, aided by patterned improvisations of the kind used by jazz musicians.
Parry and Lord later declared that every one of the great singers of tales they encountered during their field research was illiterate. The ability to sing an epic poem was not only a skill that couldn’t be taught in college, but a formal education would almost certainly destroy it.
Other researchers have found similar performers, almost always among the poor and outcast. Song collector John Lomax was so impressed with James “Iron Head” Baker, discovered during a 1933 visit to record prisoners at Huntsville Penitentiary in Texas, that he later described him as a “black Homer.” Or consider the case of the Russian epic singer Vasily Shchegolenok, who amazed Leo Tolstoy in the 1870s with his storytelling and influenced the famous novelist’s own writing style; or the herder Beatrice Bernardi, who astonished the famous art critic John Ruskin in Tuscany in the 1880s with her ability to sing lengthy tales by memory.
History books sometimes acknowledge the “low” origins of our more popular genres of music. The association of musical innovation with enslaved people, for instance, is well known in the Americas, where the descendants of slaves shaped the provocative sounds of jazz, blues, samba, salsa, reggae, soul music and numerous other genres. But in many other instances, such origins are obscured or ignored. Most music students are taught, for instance, the Lydian and Phrygian modes, invented by the ancient Greeks, without ever realizing that these terms came from the ethnicities of the enslaved performers who created these sounds.
Likewise, the love-song tradition associated with the troubadours of southern France actually originated with female slave singers in the Islamic world. These songs entered Europe via the Iberian peninsula, and their distinctive poetic themes were adopted by the nobility, who often sang about being enslaved to love. The idea that a feudal lord could be a slave seems incongruous, until you realize that actual slaves originated this style of singing.
As these examples suggest, such visionary outsiders are eventually imitated and assimilated by cultural elites. Sometimes, if they live long enough, they become elites themselves. In the 1960s, many parents were shocked by their first encounters with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones—but those bad boys eventually were knighted and turned into Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Mick Jagger. Bob Dylan was a leader of the counterculture in 1966 but honored as the Nobel laureate in literature in 2016. The album “Straight Outta Compton,” by hip-hoppers N.W.A., was banned by many retailers and radio stations in 1988 and was even denounced by the FBI. But in 2017, the album was chosen by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry for its cultural merit.
These humble origins can be traced in almost all song genres. In the early days of the U.S. music industry, record labels had to undertake field trips to the most impoverished areas of the South whether they were seeking out blues musicians for black audiences or country stars for white audiences. And the same linkage can be seen in other parts of the world, in the history of Jamaican reggae, Brazilian samba, Argentine tango, Greek rebetiko and a host of other world-changing song styles.
Alas, the very process of legitimization involves distortion—obscuring the origins of music and repurposing it to meet the needs of the powerful. Today, the most popular songs still come from outsiders—just look at hip-hop or rock or R&B or outlaw country music and see how the same pattern plays out in different contexts. Whether we are dealing with the troubadours, the Beatles or Snoop Dogg, an officially cleansed public image is promulgated while the disreputable past is shuffled offstage and out of view.
The institutions that sanction and preserve musical culture will never be able to guide us, however, to music that is new or different. The purified musical heritage that they preserve may be highly respectable, but it leaves out too much.
Outsiders are especially well positioned to disrupt old traditions and create new ones, for the simple reason they have the least allegiance to the prevailing manners and attitudes of the societies in which they live. In music, we crave this disruption and the excitement it brings. Again and again, we turn to bohemians, rebels and others who operate on the margins of society to provide us with songs we can’t find elsewhere.
For the same reason, we ought to celebrate diversity—not because it’s fashionable or politically expedient but because it brings creative outsiders into the musical ecosystem. We often fear strangers arriving in our midst, but they serve as catalysts that spur new forms of artistic expression. Just look at the port cities and multicultural communities, from Lesbos to Liverpool, that have played a key role in the history of song.
In a sense, the internet has turned all of our neighborhoods into virtual port cities, giving us immediate access to a world of sound outside the purview of powerful interests. We shouldn’t take that for granted: It’s almost certainly where the next musical revolution will begin.”
Here's a link to Basic Books should you wish to purchase a copy of Ted's new book.