Saturday, February 29, 2020

Ahmad Jamal on Mosaic Records

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

Kenny Washington: “How did you come up with your concept of less-is-more?”

Ahmad Jamal: “… I think it has to do with philosophy and how I approach the disciplines. There’s a discipline in music. There’s an amount of showiness and showing off in front of musicians, which is always a mistake. So I kind of backed off sometimes and I think it’s part of the discipline that I’ve employed through the years. I still have that. Some people call it space, but I call it discipline.”

“These sides are glistening examples of the polished skill and remarkable interplay that are the hallmarks of the Jamal trio.  Israel Crosby is on-hand to give imaginative and rock-steady support. Vernel Fournier is, as ever, fluid and quick as mercury. Jamal displays all the qualities that have elicited so much vociferous respect from fellow musicians, critics and records buyers ….”
- Jack Tracy/Original liner notes to Jamal at The Pershing, Vol. 2

“The mid fifties was a fertile time for Jazz; fresh, original ensembles were taking shape all over the country. The Modern Jazz Quartet, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, The Jazz Messengers and the Ahmad Jamal Trio immediately come to mind. Among musicians, each group had its imitators and its creative disciples who took its innovations one step further.

But no group in this era was as pervasive as the 1957 incarnation of Jamal’s trio with bassist Israel Crosby and drummer Vernel Fournier. Like the Nat King Cole Trio of the previous decade, its influence penetrated so many different aspects of music.

Jamal is first and foremost a pianist with a natural gift for the instrument. His technique, dynamics and control are something to behold, but the mind that manipulates what comes out of the piano is extraordinary.  Like only the greatest of improvising artists, Jamal is a master architect, realizing with his mind conceives with seeming ease.”
- Michael Cuscuna, Mosaic Records


My feelings about the music contained in this nine-CD set [MD9-246] can be summed up with the expression on Ahmad’s face in the following photo:

Around 1958, when I first heard pianist Ahmad Jamal on many of the trio LP recordings that make-up the Mosaic boxed set, I was immediately reminded of Erroll Garner.

I was vaguely aware that both Ahmad and Erroll were born and raised in Pittsburgh, but I didn’t know that Garner was his “biggest influence” [Jamal speaking to drummer Kenny Washington during a 2003 KBGO radio interview, a transcription of which is included in the insert notes to the Mosaic boxed set].

For those readers who are not familiar with Erroll Garner’s inimitable piano playing, perhaps the following description of it may prove helpful:

Unique is an inadequate word to describe Erroll Garner. He was a musical phenomenon unlike any other. One of the most appealing performers in jazz history, he influenced almost every pianist who played in his era, and even beyond. Self-taught, he could not read music, yet he did things that trained pianists could not play, or even imagine. Garner was a one-man swing band, and indeed often ac­knowledged that his main inspiration was the big bands of the thir­ties—Duke, Basie, Lunceford, et al. He developed a self-sufficient, extremely full style that was characterized by a rock-steady left hand that often sounded like a strumming rhythm guitar. Juxtaposed against this was a river of chordal and single-note ideas, frequently stated in a lagging, behind-the-beat way that generated terrific swing.”
- Dick Katz, Pianists of the 1940’s and 1950’s in Bill Kirchner, ed. The Oxford Companion to Jazz [New York: Oxford, 2000, p. 365]

The point in comparison between Garner and Jamal styles had to do with this part of the above quotation: “rock-steady left hand that often sounded like a strumming rhythm guitar. Juxtaposed against this was a river of chordal and single-note ideas, frequently stated in a lagging, behind-the-beat way that generated terrific swing.”

But why did this comparison between Ahmad and Erroll come to mind as Jamal does not do what Garner does with his left-hand?

The “…river of chordal and single-noted ideas, et al.” struck a responsive chord [bad pun intended] as both pianists seem to gush forth with improvisatory ideas, but only Garner emphasized the rhythmic pulse of a piece by playing four-beats to the bar with his left-hand.

And then it dawned on me!

Jamal had substituted bassist Israel Crosby and drummer Vernel Fournier in place of Garner’s left-hand thus freeing up both hands so that he could dart in and out of the time and play over the time using astounding runs, arpeggios, quotations from other tunes, counter-melodies and even counter-rhythms.

What sets all of this off is Jamal calculated use of space, something that rarely enters into Garner’s style because Erroll is always playing – there is no space.

As you can hear in the audio track to the above video, Garner can’t wait to finish one improvised phrase before starting another while Jamal, on the other hand, might play an idea, let it linger, leaving a space in which the bassist and the drummer continue to play before coming back into the tune again and exploring how other ideas might work. Jamal now had both hands free to build Garner-like orchestral creations.

Put another way, no Erroll Garner no Ahmad Jamal: Ahmad replaced Erroll’s always driving left hand with the always driving Israel Crosby-Vernel Fournier rhythmic pulse that he darted in and out of or played Erroll like orchestral phrases over.

But this wasn’t just any rhythm section that Ahmad was abandoning responsibility for the time to. With bassist Israel Crosby and drummer Vernel Fournier he had a well-oiled rhythm machine.

Crosby was a master of the walking bass which Gunther Schuller defines as: “In Jazz, a line played pizzicato on a double bass in regular crotchets in 4/4 meter, the notes usually moving stepwise or in intervallic patterns not necessarily restricted to the main pitches of the harmony. The style arose as the use of stride piano patterns declined, …, it has since become lingua franca for Jazz bass players, allowing them to contribute pulse, harmony and countermelody simultaneously.” – The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz [p. 1257].

John Voight describes Crosby as “… one of the earliest virtuoso double bass players, capable of improvising melodic solos, rhythmically exciting accompaniment and scalar walking bass lines.”  – The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz [p. 257].

Although he was one of the busiest drummers in Chicago by the time he joined Ahmad in 1958, Vernel Fournier was born and raised in New Orleans and his drumming never lost some of the syncopated, cadence feeling associated with the famous marching bands of the Crescent City.

According to Jack Chambers in Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis:

“Despite his exposure in Ahmad’s trio, Fournier never received full credit and remains relatively unknown, but he is a percussionist of extraordinary delicacy. Jack DeJohnette, a much younger Chicago drummer says, ‘One day I heard Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing [a Chicago nightclub], and I heard Vernel Fournier on drums. His brushwork was so incredible – I mean just impeccable.’” [New York: William Morrow, 1960,p.202]
Vernel’s drumming has a bounce, a jauntiness and a swagger to it that seems so characteristic of New Orleans in its heyday.

His brush work has a big fat, meaty sound, his stick work is clean and crisp and his time is flawless.

Fournier is from a  period in Jazz drumming when it was almost an inviolable rule that whatever rhythmic figures you played on the snare and bass drum, you had to intersperse them within the cymbal beat.

No matter what else you played as accents, you had to keep the insistent chang-a-dang, chang-a-dang, chang-a-dang going.

This was also true of licks, kicks and fills; you played these in such a way as to return the music as neatly to the cymbal beat as possible.

[When using brushes on the snare drum, the “cymbal beat” was replicated with by crossing the right brush over a swirling pattern being made by the left brush.]

Momentum, swing, metronomic time – whatever you want to call it – were all driven off of a cymbal beat, preferably one that was in lock step with a walking bass line.

No bassist and drummer in the history of Jazz ever locked-in better in a trio format than Israel Crosby and Vernel Fournier.

Vernel also feathers the bass drum, another technique that was very much a part of modern drumming before the advent of the Elvin Jones and Tony Williams freer or looser style.

Feathering involves using the bass drum petal and the beater ball to lightly tap the bass drum, four-beats to the bar.  It is a vestige of the earliest time in the history of Jazz when drummers carried the beat on the bass drum in a more pronounced manner.

Beginning with the bebop era in the 1940s, especially with some of the more frenzied tempos associated with bop, drummers took carrying the beat off the base drum and brought it up to the ride cymbal, using the hi-hat or sock cymbal to heavily accent only the second and fourth beat of each bar.

In effect, this loosened up the sound and the feel of the rhythm so that it fit better within bebop’s melodic and harmonic framework.

It also helped prevent the poor drummer’s foot from falling off while trying to play the bass drum constantly during some of bebop’s wickedly fast tempos.

Some drummers got caught up in the changer-over from traditional Jazz and swing to bop with the result that while they could play the looser feeling time on the cymbal or with brushes, they never got away from playing four-beats-to-the-bar with the bass drum.

Instead, they toned-it-down, hence the advent of feathering.

Given how quietly it is played, the feathered bass drum generally went unnoticed particularly with the loudness of brass and reed instruments in a bop combo.

However, in a piano-bass-drum configuration, the net effect of the feathered bass drum was to give depth to the pulse of the beat, make it more insistent and drive it more.

I always thought that that the combination of Israel Crosby’s superb walking bass and Vernel’s fat sounding brush work gave Ahmad’s trio a driving propulsion and forceful swing that other trios rarely achieved.

But whether it was due to my wonky ears, the manner in which the original LPs were recorded, or my under-performing audio playback system,  I missed actually “hearing” the added ingredient in the Jamal’s trio swing: Fournier’s feathered bass drum.

However, because of the improved sound quality made possible by Mosaic’s digital transfers, the feathered bass drum is no longer hidden and is revealed throughout these recordings.

For example, as the time switches from a “two” feeling to a straight "four," you can hear Vernel’s feathering of the bass drum beginning at 1:55 on Angel Eyes, the Matt Dennis tune from the Mosaic series which is used as the audio track for the following YouTube tribute to the classic Ahmad Jamal Trio of 1957-1962.

Here’s are Kenny Washington’s thoughts about the tune:

“The Matt Dennis song Angel Eyes is one of the great torch songs of all time. Ol' Blue Eyes owned this one. I especially love the last lyric "scuse me while I disappear." A year earlier, Gene Ammons had had a hit with this standard. This tune is usually done as a ballad, but Ahmad takes it at a nice medium tempo. Ahmad reshapes the form of this standard like a sculptor, to fit the needs of the trio playing a chorus and a half of the melody. He uses the intro as an interlude. For the first chorus of his improvisation, he switches to the regular A-A-B-A song form of the tune. He then goes directly to the bridge and last A section with the interlude. This form is repeated again (bridge, last A and interlude). Listen to how he changes his dynamics to a pianis­simo and brings back the bridge melody. The Gershwin classic It Ain't Necessarily So is quoted for a second time at the last A before the intro is again stated for a powerful ending. This is another one of those performances where there's a lot happening. This marvelous arrangement sounds so natural and the trio pulls it off with such ease.”

Listening to the recordings on the Mosaic 9-disc set, it’s hard to understand why a number of critics rejected Ahmad and the trio’s music at the time of their original release. John Hammond put it more strongly when he stated that Ahmad’s music during the period from 1957-1962 was “scorned by the critics but worshipped by musicians and public alike ….”

Even the enormous appeal of his music to the likes of Miles Davis was derisively described by the noted Jazz critic, Gary Giddins, as an “… overbaked … fascination.”

Martin Williams, another Jazz literary luminary, went even further when he stated that:

“Pianist Ahmad Jamal is a success: he has several best-selling LP's, a supper-club following (which otherwise displays little interest in jazz), and several direct imitators. He has also re­ceived the deeper compliment of having admittedly affected the work of an important jazzman. His success should surprise no one, and his effect on Miles Davis should prove (if proof were needed) that good art can be influenced by bad.

Clearly, Davis responds to some of Jamal's interesting and very contemporary harmonic voicings and the very light, and impecca­bly accurate rhythmic pulse of Jamal's trio, particularly in the support he got from his bassist, the late Israel Crosby, and from his drummer, Vernel Fournier. Further, Jamal has the same interest in openness of melody, space, and fleeting silence that Davis does. But for the trumpeter these qualities can be aspects of haunting lyric economy. For Jamal they seem a kind of crowd-titillating stunt work. Indeed, in a recital like "Ahmad Jamal at the Blackhawk," recorded in a San Francisco night club, it appears that Jamal's real instrument is not the piano at all but his audience. On some numbers, he will virtually sit things out for a chorus, with only some carefully worked out rhapsodic harmo­nies by his left hand or coy tinklings by his right. After that, a few bombastic block chords by both hands, delivered forte, will absolutely lay them in the aisles. And unless you have heard Ahmad Jamal blatantly telegraph the climax of a piece, or beg applause en route with an obvious arpeggio run which he drops insinuatingly on the crowd after he has been coasting along on the graceful momentum of Crosby and Fournier, then you have missed a nearly definitive musical bombast. …” Jazz Changes [New York: Oxford, 1992, p. 281].

But while Giddins, Williams and others thought Jamal’s approach to be limited and limiting, drummer Jack DeJohnette observed:

"Ahmad's always been his own man - way ahead of his time in terms of using space and chord voicings, which is one of the reasons Miles liked him so much. Ahmad knew how to get the most out of his instrument, so that a piano trio sounded like a symphony orchestra. He's a great organizer, and his concept is so sophisticated and intelligent, yet so loose and funky." [Jack Chambers, Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis, pp. 202-203]

And Jack Chambers offers these engaging explanations by Ahmad:

To his persistent critics, Jamal replies, "Sometimes people don't identify with pur­ity - that's what my music was then and that's what it is now. I've endured some of the harsh statements, but for every harsh statement there have been 99 compli­mentary ones. What I've done and am still doing is a product of years of blood, sweat and tears, and as long as I am completely secure in the knowledge that what I am doing is valid, then eventually even the most stupid critic has to acknowledge the validity of my work."

Part of the problem critics have with his music, according to Jamal, is that it is understated. "Anybody can play loudly," he says. "It is more difficult to play softly while swinging at that same level of intensity you can get playing fortis­simo. To swing hard while playing quietly is one of the signs of the true artist." Almost completely overlooked by the most negative critics is Jamal's flawless technique. It is a virtue that other musicians, especially piano players, talk about with reverence. Cedar Walton says, "I never heard Ahmad even come close to playing anything without a great deal of technique, taste and timing. When he goes across the piano, he just doesn't ever miss a note - there's never any question. For me, that's still a great thrill, just to hear somebody do that." Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis, p. 203]

Summing up Jamal genius, his influence and the significance of the Mosaic set, Michael Cuscuna offered these observations:

“He certainly exercised a profound influence on pianists and his trio set a new standard for what the piano trio in jazz would aim for and achieve. His knack for finding obscure but viable material which lent itself to a jazz treatment was equal to that of Sonny Rollins and Jimmy Rowles. But when Ahmad put an overlooked tune into circulation, it often stayed in the jazz repertoire forever thereafter. And with songs like "Poinciana" and "Billy Boy," it was Jamal's unique and imaginative re-arrangement of the tune which would become the standard form with which to play the piece.

Much like Miles Davis (who incidentally was greatly influenced by him), his influence is felt in music that attempts to replicate his and in great music that sounds nothing like his. But unlike musicians of similar or even lesser impact, the music of the 1957-62 Ahmad Jamal Trio has been mysteriously and distressingly hard to come by, even in the "reissue everything" era of the Compact Disc.

Literally years in the making, this set introduces 23 previously unreleased gems approved by the artist himself. It was delayed by a fire on the Universal Studios lot in California which took much of the original Jamal trio LP masters with it and our search to reconstruct the music on the set from a variety of analog and digital sources sitting in vaults around the world.

It's been a heck of a long time coming and we hope you enjoy The Complete Ahmad Jamal Trio Argo Sessions.”

Friday, February 28, 2020

Dearly Beloved by Ruth Price


Wayne Shorter - Virgo

Norman Granz - The Man Who Used Jazz For Justice: A Book Review

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

“Granz brought a benevolent order to what previously had been a poorly governed and especially venal sector of the music business, where musicians were all too frequently the biggest losers. His money was about as clean as it gets in show business, especially because of his unstinting personal and financial generosity toward musicians who were in his tours at the time—and often much, much later. He proved that jazz could put bread on musicians' tables and provide him with a livelihood as well.

The record of his business conduct is virtually unblemished, despite the dubious assumption that any promoter who made money on jazz was ransacking others' talent. This book discloses few surprises or unreported scandals regarding his business affairs to contradict the consensus that Granz, although tough and shrewd, was entirely above board in his dealings.

To be sure, his legendary brusqueness, which often carried with it a naive, blunt honesty, put off many natural allies. But he combined his entrepreneurial ambition with self-discipline, love for the music, devotion to its most visible and important artists, and a sense of fairness.”
- Tad Hershorn, Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz for Justice [Prologue, p. 7]

No one in the Jazz World has ever been more deserving of a first-rate biography than Norman Granz, who passed away in 2001 at the age of eighty-three.

Norman Granz may have waited a while, but he got one with the publication in 2011 of Tad Hershorn’s Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz for Justice [Berkeley, CA: The University of California Press].

And it was certainly worth waiting for as Tad's bio is a model of objectivity and comprehensiveness in terms of its treatment of Norman Granz’s life story.

Tad is a Public Services and Reference at the Institute of Jazz Studies, John Cotton Dana Library at Rutgers University and the extent and the quality of his research does both he and Norman credit for if it is true that an unexamined life is not worth living, then its corollary - a well-lived Life is worth examining - serves Mr. Hershorn well as the modus operandi of his account of Granz’s life.

A chronology of the highlights of Norman’s career, thirty-six pages of footnotes a selected bibliography of archival sources, newspapers, magazines and trade publications, primary published sources, secondary sources and liner notes puts Mr. Hershorn’s Granz biography in another league from the standard, adoring fare that makes up many of the early life histories of important Jazz personages.

Or as John McDonough observed: “The musician-centered view of Jazz has driven many chronicles of Jazz history …. But turning Jazz history into a string of musicians’ bios is like telling American history through the presidents. It may be basic, but it is hardly the whole story.” [Prologue, p. 4; John McDonough, “George Wein: An Impresario’s Life,” Down Beat, October 2003, p. 80].

Many of the major themes that Mr. Hershorn peruses while detailing Granz’s life are contained in the following quotations from the book’s Prologue and Epilogue chapters.

“To tell the Granz story, I have explored how he fulfilled the three oft-repeated aims on which he founded his reputation: presenting good jazz, challenging segregation, and showing that good money could be made by bringing the two together. Granz's brilliance and toughness, along with the era in which he emerged — a confluence of circumstances never to be repeated — made him successful in all three aims and shaped the music business that came after him.” [Prologue, p. 5]

“Granz built up national and international constituencies for his artists, concerts, and recordings as part of his dual mission of making money on jazz and raising its status as an art form. Jazz concerts, intermittent until Granz came along, were packaged as seasonal fare with a strong band name identity in much the same way that classical music had long been handled. In the hands of Granz and others who followed in his wake, these concerts became commercial juggernauts. But it was Granz alone who possessed the concert mechanism—some of the best talent in jazz, the financial resources, and the vision—that permitted him to maintain a near-monopolistic status in hiring, concert presentation, and recordings for a decade beginning in the late 19405. He used that financial leeway to release volumes of JATP records, along with art pieces such as The Jazz Scene and The Astaire Story, precursors to the Ella Fitzgerald songbooks. New York Times jazz critic Peter Watrous,' writing in 1994, said that his "particular genius was to make show business subservient to jazz." [“A Label. A Vision. A Golden Anniversary.”, New York Times, April 3, 1994]

Jazz at the Philharmonic's financial success, which Granz had built up for his concert and recording empires, showed the way to such generational successors as Newport Jazz Festival impresario George Wein and later Wynton Marsalis, artistic director for Jazz at Lincoln Center. Like Granz, they captured the biggest stages for presenting (and defining) jazz in their day, although Granz was the only truly financially independent operator. For their labors as well, some critics denigrated their views of jazz and its direction and meaning and questioned the commercialism of their efforts. But they too secured large, grateful audiences and helped make jazz a viable living.

Granz's saga is far more than just an industry story or the biography of a figure on the music's sidelines. His bold interaction with culture and ideas over decades gives his life the dimensions of a great American story. If history is late in getting to that story, it is partly a measure of the conflicted emotions with which Granz viewed the prospect of such a work. It may be due as well to the broad and layered scope of the story, the fact that the world of this well-known international impresario was populated by giants within music and beyond. Whatever the reasons, Granz became embittered, feeling that America was usually “a little late” to honor her cultural contributions.” [Prologue, pp.7-8]

“The delay in honoring Granz may also stem from the fact that he did not endear himself to writers and others in and beyond the music business. He did not—to put it mildly—glad-hand his way through life. His humanistic values existed in tension with a keen intelligence that deterred fools and discouraged the well-intentioned and well-informed as well.” [Prologue, p. 7]

“His friend Benny Green put it another way when he said that "Norman hasn't got the slightest interest in his reputation. He doesn't care about people's opinions, only the musicians. He looks upon himself as a kind of conduit down which the music has flowed, that's all. In that sense, he has no ego at all." [Prologue, p. 8, Benny Green interview with Elliot Meadow for the BBC2 radio production of Out of the Norm: The Life and Times of Norman Granz, aired December 2003-January 2004].

“If Norman Granz had hoped to be left to rest in peace, the obituaries and tributes that poured forth upon his death would have annoyed him. He had expressed contempt for late honors anyway, and these were as late as they come.

"Granz was a true visionary, plain and simple—as a manager, a producer and a promoter," wrote Jon Thurber in the Los Angeles Times. [Epilogue, p. 387]

"And the man's manner—typically called 'surly' and 'arrogant'—earned him countless enemies and may help explain why his mantel was devoid of industry honors. There were legitimate reasons for his disenchantment. . . . His standards were higher than everyone else's, which may explain why he achieved as much as he did." [Chicago Tribune critic, Howard Reich, Epilogue, p. 387]

"I may not have always liked him, but I did respect him for the implacable belief he had in what he was doing. His achievements between the early 19405 and the late 19808 remain unparalleled. As a label owner, record producer, concert promoter and personal manager he was the perfect middleman in bringing the artist to the public and vice versa on a worldwide basis."[Elliot Meadow, Jazz writer, critic, and editor; “Norman Granz: The Man Who Promoted Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington,” Herald [UK], November 21, 2001; Epilogue p. 387]

“As he saw things, he had merely deployed his energy and intelligence to improve his financial situation over time, as when he had used money from his jazz concerts to purchase a Picasso painting for tens of thousands of dollars and later sold it for millions. ‘When I worked in jazz, if I never did another thing but stay with jazz, you could properly say that I became a rich man in jazz. The reality is that you save your money in an effort to better yourself.’” [Epilogue, p. 389; author interview with Norman Granz, ca. 2000]

“Quite simply, Norman Granz accomplished everything he set out to do. He presented good music, demonstrated that jazz could be a rewarding commercial venture, and enforced his code of personal integrity and social justice within his far-flung jazz kingdom. He was a lone wolf and could be unpredictably brutal or benevolent. These traits shaped how he presented music, as well as how he fought racism. [Epilogue, p. 389]

“Granz could be bluntly and almost vengefully honest; the truth was a core value he rarely made time to dress up or redress. Things were right or wrong; he liked something or somebody or he didn't. He forgave few slights, mistakes, or breaches of integrity. Quickly breaking ties and moving on, he left no small amount of hurt in his wake over the years, though many expressed fierce loyalty and admiration for all he had accomplished. His love was expressed in the shadows of his shyness and accompanied by great generosity. That he could be at once so calculatedly entrepreneurial and so staunch an upholder of human welfare and dignity remains the unsolvable riddle of his life. Piecing together his complicated life is a task that fills many pages but leaves many more that can never be written. He wouldn't have had it any other way.” [Epilogue, p. 391]

Granz was largely a self-educated and self-made man, a point not lost on musicians. He jammed his way to the top with his integrity intact, along with a vision that has stood the test of time for almost seventy years. … [Ibid.]

Norman Granz explained how his philosophy had been shaped by watching the spontaneity of jazz musicians. "I happen to like the jam session, because I'm a great believer in the role of the individual in any art. I don't think it's difficult to argue that each day we have more and more conformity in our lives and less and less opportunity for the individual, whether it be in the state politically, or in business economically. And the same with music. I really feel that jazz as I know it will vanish, because where is the young player going to get an apprenticeship? Where is he going to go sit in? Where is he even going to get a sound playing in a band? There won't even be any bands. It's a question of standards. I'm not looking backwards or being nostalgic. I just don't know how the environment in the future can nurture the individual." [Epilogue, pp. 391-92; transcript of Elliot Meadow 1977 interview with Norman Granz].

Interspersed between these opening and closing reflections are twenty-two chapters detailing all of the significant aspects of Norman Granz’s career from the formation of the first Jazz at The Philharmonic concert in 1944 and all of the subsequent JATP concerts both domestically and internationally, the formation of Clef and Norgan Records beginning in 1947, the management of the careers of Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald, the founding of Verve Records in 1956 and the development of the Ella songbook albums, working to help Duke Ellington obtain movie scoring assignments for Anatomy of Murder, Paris Blues and Assault on a Queen, the sale of Verve Records to MGM in 1960, his interest in collecting modern art and his developing friendship with Pablo Picasso, the formation of Pablo Records in 1973 and the receipt in 1999 of a Lifetime Achievement Award from Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Norman Granz not only rode the crest of the wave of Jazz popularity, both at home and abroad, from approximately, 1945-1965, he was responsible for creating and preserving a large chunk of the music that was performed and recorded during this period.

The Jazz World from 1945-1965 would have been unimaginable without him let alone a far poorer place.

I suppose that it is understandable from a man who had to deal with contentious criticism during every step of his career, but the part I find most difficult to reconcile is Granz’s bitterness, largely, it seems over being unappreciated.

Although understandable to some extent because of the way in which he was hacked and wacked over his career for what he didn’t do [or should have done, according to some], and rarely praised for what he did do, it seems to me that Norman Granz made the human and distressing mistake of expecting gratitude.

I mean as is written in The New Testament’s Saint Luke, Jesus Christ healed ten lepers in one afternoon, only one stopped to thank him.

And the Roman Emperor and Philosopher, Marcus Aurelius wrote in his diary: “I am going to meet people today who talk too much - people who are selfish, egotistical, ungrateful. But I won’t be surprised or disturbed, for I couldn’t imagine a world without such people.”

It’s natural for people to forget to be grateful; so, if we go around expecting gratitude, we are headed straight for a lot of heartache.

Besides, Norman had the last laugh, for as Mr. Hershorn explains:

“[Norman Granz]... was not so burdened with work that it could interfere with his enjoyment of the good life in an environment rather like that of Southern California, where others shared his zest for fine art, music, food, wine, clothes, and a bohemian pace of life. After the sale of Verve Records, he enjoyed an unprecedented degree of financial independence, and numerous European cities became personally familiar to him. He maintained tastefully appointed apartments in London, Paris, and Geneva, and he had places to stay at La Colombe d'Or in Saint Paul de Vence in the south of France, the Algonquin Hotel in New York, and the Beverly Hills Tennis Club when he was in town on business. The south of France, where some of the country's (and the world's) most renowned artists were living, was not far from Geneva, so he could regularly mix with them as well as with film stars, musicians, writers, and restaurateurs.” [p. 296].

There are few who have lived the Jazz life and ever enjoyed such amenities.

But then, as Mr. Hershorn’s biography superbly reveals, Norman Granz was a one-of-a-kind; he was the epitome of sui generis and as such he created a world for himself a world in which such comforts and joys were the rule rather than the exception.

Order information on Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz for Justice is available by going here.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Pete Rugolo’s Sensibilities

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

“Pete Rugolo was a soft-spoken, self-effacing man, which may be one of the reasons he has not been given his due as the pioneering jazz composer he was. Kenton managed to be a controversial figure for the scope of what he attempted, which was often denounced as pompous. And it could be, particularly in its later manifestations. But the band for which Pete first wrote had a blazing quality, particularly in its slow pieces, which a lot of young people found moody, almost mystical, and melancholy, an emotion appropriate to the fragile years of adolescence.”
- Gene Lees

Every so often, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles enjoys revisiting with one of its heroes.

It is our way of saying “Thank You” to those who helped make our entrance into the joys of Jazz possible.

Such reconsiderations are especially pleasurable when we can do so through the perspective of the late Gene Lees, whose writings on Jazz collectively form one of the great gifts to the music and its makers.

Imagine our delight, then, when we uncovered the following essay by Gene on arranger-composer Pete Rugolo whose sensibilities brought us the brilliant music he wrote for both Stan Kenton’s and his own orchestra, Miles Davis Nontet’s  Birth of the Cool when he served as the head of Jazz artist and repertoire for Capitol Records and a whole host of marvelous movie and television music.

© -Gene Lees, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“I've told this before, but this is how I met the man. If you have reached "a certain age," as the French delicately put it, sufficient to remember the big bands in all their brassy glory, you will recall how the true believers would cluster close to the bandstand, listening to soloists whose names we knew, while the mere fans — some distance behind us — did their jitterbug gyrations. Since I was always one of these ardent listeners, I never learned to dance worth a hoot. But I heard a lot of good music. …

Yet another of the bands I admired came through, playing in the red-brick Armory on north James Street [in Hamilton, Ontario where Gene began his career as a newspaper reporter on the Hamilton Spectator]. As usual I was standing in the crowd of listeners near the bandstand. I was startled to find that the young man (older than I, but about thirty-three at the time) standing next to me was the band's chief arranger, whose bespectacled face I recognized from magazine photographs. I got up the courage to tell him how much I admired his writing; which had grandeur. He was polite to me, and suggested we go up to the balcony to listen. We sat through a long evening looking down at the band and discussing the music. Maybe I don't even know how much I learned that night.

A few years ago, I was at a party given by Henry Mancini. I found myself in conversation with one of Hank's closest friends, Pete Rugolo. I told him the story about the arranger and said, "Do you know who the arranger was, Pete?"

And he said, "No."

And I said, "You."

"Pete Rugolo was the architect of the Stan Kenton band," said one of Pete's friends of many years, composer Allyn Fergu­son, who also wrote for Kenton. Among other things, he wrote Passacaglia and Fugue for the Neophonic Orcherstra. "Pete had the academic background that Stan lacked."

And of course it was the Kenton band I was hearing the night I met Pete. That had to be in 1948 or '49, because Stan broke up the band in '49 and Pete went out on his own, at first as an a&r man with Capitol Records. He would have a place in jazz history if only because he is the man who signed the Miles Davis group that featured writing by John Lewis, Johnny Carisi and most of all Gerry Mulligan to record a series of "sides" for Capitol.

It occurs to me that I already had met Kenton when I met Pete. That must have been in 1947.1 held my first writing job at a broadcasting magazine in Toronto, and for some reason of union politics, Kenton was not allowed to make a certain radio broadcast. I was sent to his hotel to get his side of the story, and I imagine that I was. as a serious fan of that band in its main Artistry in Rhythm period, rather in awe at the idea of meeting him.

I knocked on his door, and he answered, fresh out of the shower, naked but for a towel around his waist, still drying his hair. Since he was about six-foot five, with a long, handsome, craggy face, a semi-nude soaking wet Stan Kenton was a figure to conjure with. He invited me in, I did my interview, and left. I think I was nineteen. It was about twelve years later, when I was editor of Down Beat, when I met him again. He said, "Hello, Gene, nice to see to see you again." So help me.

"Stan could do that," Pete said.

"The only other person I ever knew with a memory for names like that," I told Pete, "was Liberace."

Stan Kenton was an enormously nice man. I mentioned this to arranger and composer Bill Kirchner, who said, "Everyone I've ever known who played in that band said the same thing. Even Mel Lewis, who was, as you know, a man not easily pleased."

The relationship between Rugolo and Kenton has been compared to that between Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn ."That's what they all say, "Pete said. "I really don't know how close Strayhorn was with Ellington. But I think it was similar because Stan never had time to write any more. Every time we'd get to a hotel for a few days, we'd find a piano and discuss different arrangements. We'd call it making menus. He'd say, 'Well, we'll start off with eight bars, and then we'll do this or that.'
We wrote a few tunes together. Collaboration was one. Most of the time he just let me alone. He said, 'You know what to do.'"

On Christmas Day, 2001, Pete Rugolo turned 86, though he looked far younger than that. He is a soft-spoken, self-effacing man, which may be one of the reasons he has not been given his due as the pioneering jazz composer he was. Kenton managed to be a controversial figure for the scope of what he attempted, which was often denounced as pompous. And it could be, particularly in its later manifestations. But the band for which Pete first wrote had a blazing quality, particularly in its slow pieces, which a lot of young people found moody, almost mystical, and melancholy, an emotion appropriate to the fragile years of adolescence.

Pete was born in Sicily in a little mountaintop town near Messina called San Piero.
Another pioneering jazz writer of the 1940s, when the music was expanding its harmonic and rhythmic language, George Wallington, was also born in Sicily. He first studied piano with his father, who was an opera singer. His name was Giacinto Figlia, and the family moved to New York from Palermo when he was a year old.
Pete's family made the move when he was five.

"The only thing I remember about it is seeing the Statue of Liberty from the boat," Pete said. "We didn't stop in New York. We went right on by tram to Santa Rosa, California, where my grandfather was, my mother's father. He came years before we did. And he bought, like, a country store up by the Russian River, Santa Rosa, Sonoma County. When he had enough money, he sent for his children, two sons and a daughter, my mother. My dad had a degree as a stone mason, but when he came here he couldn't get work as a mason. My uncle was a shoemaker, and he taught my father the shoe business. He had a little store in Santa Rosa, and when he repaired shoes, they were like new. It was just a little busi­ness. We were very poor people. My dad finally bought a little house. My mother worked in a cannery. We all worked. I remember picking hops in the fields. And apples. There were a lot of Italian people in Santa Rosa.

"I walked a couple of miles to school every day, and then started playing all the instruments. My dad would fix people's shoes and if they couldn't pay him, they would bring him things. Someone brought him a mandolin, and I started playing the mandolin. One time I got a banjo, and I started playing that. And then somebody, who must have owed my dad a few hundred dollars, brought a beautiful grand piano. I learned to play by ear. I would play these Italian tunes, O Sole Mio and things like that.

"There was a little town near Santa Rosa called Petaluma. Later on I would hitch-hike to a teacher there for piano lessons. She taught more or less from the jazz books.

"I went to high school and junior college in Santa Rosa. From there I went to San Francisco State College to be a teacher. I never thought I'd make a living in music. I studied classical piano for the first time. I had to play some Beetho­ven for my graduation. I went for four years, got my B.A. I played in dance bands in San Francisco. My favorite piano players were Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum. I played at Sweets Ballroom, where every week they would have a name band. Benny Goodman came in with Harry James playing the trumpet. Sinatra came in singing with Tommy Dorsey. We would play the first couple of hours and then we'd hear Duke Ellington or Jimmie Lunceford or Gene Krupa. I remember giving Gene a couple of arrangements.

"I learned the hard way, and I got to be pretty good, I must say. Everybody wanted to use me to play piano in dance bands. In those days in San Francisco, what they called tenor bands were quite popular. I had to play like Eddie Duchin and people like that. I didn't go for the Freddy Martin type things. Gil Evans was my favorite band."

Gil Evans had a highly regarded regional band that played in a Benny Goodman style. It was heard on the radio.

"I liked Fletcher Henderson," Pete said. "Eddie Sauter was one of my favorite arrangers. And Bill Finegan. They were to

One of the best things on the band that I have read is in a liner note by Pete Welding for a reissue CD that he produced, Kenton: New Concepts in Artistry in Rhythm. Acknowledging the later criticisms of Kenton, Welding wrote:

"But the 1940s and most of the '50s belonged to Kenton. His was one of the most vital new bands to have emerged during the war years and, as the decade advanced and put behind it the hit-oriented vocals and novelty fare that initially had enabled it to sustain itself, its music became ever more venturesome in character as its approach was more clearly defined. This stemmed almost solely from Kenton, through the many attractive themes and striking arrangements he fash­ioned for the band and . . . through supervising . . . the other orchestrators who from the late '40s contributed to its book."

"A lot of the things in the book I did not write," Rugolo said. "Stan wrote Artistry in Rhythm, although I did different arrangements of it. He'd been using it as a theme, the slow version. I did Artistry Jumps. Stan wrote Concerto to End All Concertos and Opus in Pastels." Indeed, Kenton wrote and arranged a lot of the material that defined the band by the mid-1940s, including Eager Beaver, Painted Rhythm, Collaboration, Theme to the West, Minor Riff, and Southern Scandal. 'They were all things he wrote before I joined the band," Pete said. "I wrote Elegy for Alto and a lot of things. I wrote most of the original tunes for the band.

"We were supposed to record Ravel's Bolero. But we couldn't get a copyright clearance. Stan said, 'Can you write a new bolero?' So I wrote Artistry in Bolero. Ten out of twelve things in those albums are mine."

One of the things he wrote was an arrangement of Benny Carter's Lonely Woman, featuring a trombone solo by Milt Bernhart. He also wrote an arrangement on All the Things You Are for June Christy. The tune itself is beyond the scope of her chops, and the boodly-oo-debe-bop scat solo in the up-­tempo second chorus is particularly inept. But then my views on scat singing are by now a matter of record. He also wrote a piece called Three Mothers, a sort of homage to Woody Herman's Four Brothers. The players were Art Pepper, Conte Candoli, and Bob Cooper. Bebop was in full flower, and Pete sounded very much at home in it.

Kenton had an acute ear not only for arrangers, Bill Russo and Bill Holman among the most important, but for players. The alumni included, as well as those already mentioned, Stan Getz, Eddie Safranski, Kai Winding, Shelly Manne, Laurindo Almeida, Conte and Pete Candoli, Maynard Ferguson, Shorty Rogers, Lennie Niehaus, Frank Rosolino, Sal Salvador, Bill Perkins, Lee Konitz, Richie Kamuca, Herb Geller, Zoot Sims, Stan Levey, Bill Perkins, Charlie Mariano, Carl Fontana, Pepper Adams, Red Mitchell, Jack Sheldon, Bud Shank, Rolf Ericsson, Jimmy Knepper, Al Porcino, and Red Kelly. A lot of these men also played in the Woody Herman band

There was no great love between Woody Herman and Stan Kenton. Because I liked both men, and Woody was almost a father to me, I tried to soothe things, telling each of them (I lied) something nice the other supposedly had said about him. It didn't work; they either knew each other too well, or they knew me too well. Bassist Red Kelly, one of those who worked in both bands, proposed a theory. "They didn't trust each other," Red said. "Woody didn't trust anything that didn't swing. Stan didn't trust anything that did."

Shelly Manne was quoted in Down Beat as saying that playing drums with Kenton was like chopping wood. Al Porcino, one of the greatest of lead trumpet players, was yet another of those who had played in both bands. A legend has grown up around a remark attributed to Porcino. Stan would sometimes give pep talks to the band. In one of them Stan said (and he had a wonderfully sonorous voice), "We've had the Artistry in Rhythm orchestra, we've had the Innovations in Modern Music orchestra, we've had the Neophonic Orchestra. We've got to try something new."

From the back of the band came the slow bored voice of Al Porcino, "We could try swinging, Stan."

Bud Shank told me a few years ago:

"I had and still have a lot of respect for Stan. He really encouraged the guys in the band to do whatever their thing was. I was hired to be lead alto player, not to be a soloist. That was Art Pepper's job. Whatever your position in that band, Stan encouraged you to do your thing.

"But that band was too clumsy to swing — because of the instrumentation and the voicings. On the other hand, the sounds that came out of it were big noises, really impressive. That's what that band was all about, making those really big noises. As far as swinging, it never did swing. Maybe it wasn't supposed to. I don't know. There sure were some players in it who swung.

"The Contemporary Concepts album, with those Bill Holman arrangements — that's one of the best big-band albums I've ever heard."

And, with Mel Lewis driving the rhythm section, it assuredly swung.

Confirming Bud's statement that Stan let the musicians do their thing, Pete said: "We played a lot of theaters in those days. Stan needed a fast opener. He'd tell me things like that. He changed hardly a note of what I did. He paid me so much a week. At first it was fifty dollars a week, or something like that, but he never said, 'You have to write so many arrange­ments.' When we traveled I never had time to write. But when we'd get to L.A. I'd write five arrangements. I learned to write pretty fast in those days. One tune a day.

"I traveled on the bus. We had to pay for our own room and board. We were on the bus a lot, playing one-nighters. We'd play one place and the next night we'd be two hundred miles away. I loved playing Canada."

"Yeah, that's where I met you. You were so kind to me."

"I'm glad. I think all the people I met were nice to me. I met Duke Ellington. He would talk to me. In fact he'd call me at four o'clock in the morning and say, 'When are you going to write something for me?' I couldn't write for him. He was my favorite, and I'd think, 'What if I write something and he doesn't like it?' The other guy I did the same thing to was Frank Sinatra. I got to be a buddy of his. I kept company with him, especially during his bad years when he couldn't sing. He was always after me to do an arrangement for him. And I could never do it. He was my favorite singer, and I thought 'Suppose I do something and he doesn't like it?' So those two, Duke Ellington and Frank Sinatra, I could never write for them. Anybody else asked me, and I would do it. Charlie Barnet. Whatever they wanted. But those two, I never could force myself to write for them.

"After Stan broke up the band in '49,1 stayed two years in New York. I went to work for Capitol records, producing. I recorded all the Capitol people that came to town. In those days, New York was wonderful. It had 52nd Street and all the jazz. I did some arrangements. I wrote for Billy Eckstine. All the good singers liked my work. A lot of artists were coming into New York to record. Capitol had an office there. I did Mel Torme's first things, Blue Moon. I found Harry Belafonte singing some place, and signed him. He could sing jazz, but he didn't sell and Capitol let him go. He became famous singing calypso. We've remained friends.

"I produced the Miles Davis sessions they later called Birth of the Cool. I didn't make that name up. I heard them rehearsing down in the Village one day. I liked the idea of this band, so I signed them. We made some dates. Nobody knew it was going to be that popular until Capitol released it as The Birth of the Cool.

"It was a thing we all loved doing. We had all those good players, like Gerry Mulligan and Lee Konitz. Capitol put the records out, and the musicians started collecting them. I produced them all. I stayed in the booth and I really was tough with them. I made them do things over and over until they were just right. Stan taught me that. Stan would take a half hour tuning, making sure everything was just right. We really spent time on things, and that's why those records are so good."

"What is remarkable about that Miles Davis band," I said, "is that it only ever played two public engagements, a week at the Royal Roost and a one-nighter at Birdland, and made what was collected into one ten-inch LP, and it has had this immense influence on American music."

'That's right," Pete said. 'The musicians bought the records. It was word of mouth."
It is a more than likely that without Pete Rugolo, those records would never have been made.

He also produced — and wrote — a considerable number of the Nat Cole records, including one of the most famous of them all. "I did about forty things for Nat. For a couple of years, I did all his things. One of the things I was proud of was Lush Life. When it first came out, Capitol didn't like it. They didn't release it for a whole year. They finally put it out as a B side on a real commercial tune. And people started really liking it. That was the first recording of the tune. Billy Strayhorn gave it to me. He said, 'I've got a tune here. I wish you'd show it to Nat.' I loved the tune. I made like a tone poem out of it. I made it about twice as long. But for a long time I got criticized for it.

“Nat was so nice to work for. He never told me what to do. He would give me a list of songs. I knew his keys. And then we'd do a record date two or three times a year. We'd do something here or something in New York. He let me write nice things. I wrote some pretty string stuff. "

Pete wrote for a dizzying variety of singers during his Capitol years, including the Four Freshmen.

"They came to my office in New York," he said, "and they sang Laura for me and a few tunes and I loved them. I talked Capitol into signing them. When I came back out here, I got together with them. They liked the sound of Stan's trombones. So I talked them into recording with five trombones. I wrote the arrangements, I conducted, I produced it. We called it Four Freshmen and Five Trombones. It made a big hit. Later on we tried it again, but it wasn't as successful. I was close friends with them. They were all wonderful guys.

"When I moved here to L.A. from New York, I went through a divorce. She took every cent out of the bank. When I arrived, I didn't have a nickel. I stayed at June Christy's place for a while. I got a call from a publisher, Mickey Goldsen. He said, 'Pete, you know, your royalties are really good. If you want, I can give you so much a month until you get settled.' I was looking for work. I was ghosting, I was writing things for Les Baxter for fifty dollars an arrangement. I did a whole album with Yma Sumac. I was doing a lot of things for Ray Anthony. So when Mickey Goldsen called me, he said he could give me $200 a month to live on. Many years later he told me, 'Pete, I have to tell you. That was Stan's money. He was supporting you.'

"Stan published my songs, and he got the money back in time, but Stan did things like that. Stan had a couple of publishing companies with Mickey. Mickey said, 'Stan was the one. He wanted me to take care of you.'"

(Mickey Goldsen headed Capitol's publishing division during Johnny Mercer's presidency of the company. Later he set up his own publishing companies, under the general head of Criterion Music. He has a considerable jazz catalogue, including many works of Charlie Parker and Gerry Mulligan. He is probably, along with Howie Richmond, the most respected publisher in this business. Howie is now semi-retired, but Mickey is still very active, working ever day and playing tennis every morning. And he is eighty-six.)

"For a while I was an a&r man with Mercury," Pete said. "Stereo was just coming out. I did an album with ten trom­bones and two pianos. Then I did ten trumpets. I took all the famous trumpet tunes and made arrangements. Then I did one with two basses. I was allowed to do anything I wanted to. I produced Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington.

"I got a call from Johnny Green, who was head of music at MGM in those days. They were making a movie with Mickey Rooney playing the drums, called The Strip. I wrote sort of a jazz score. That was my first movie. I got to meet Joe Pasternak, who was producing all the musicals, and I did all the Esther Williams pictures. I stayed almost five years at MGM.

"Then one day I got a call from Stanley Wilson at Univer­sal. They said they were doing a TV series with Boris Karloff called Thriller and they thought I'd be good for that kind of score. They wanted a real kind of modern score. So I went to Universal and I did the pilot and they really liked it a lot. I met Roy Huggins, who became a very dear friend, and he used me in everything. I did The Fugitive theme and the music and everything Roy Huggins did. And I did other things at Universal. I stayed at Universal for fifteen years. I did one show after another. I wrote, like, forty minutes of music every week. I don't know how I ever did it. I learned to write real fast! And I never had an orchestrator. I orchestrated all my own music. I did a lot of those movies-of-the-week, as they called them. I did some of the Hitchcock TV shows."

"Were you and Mancini at Universal at the same time?"

'Yeah. By then Hank was doing movies. He didn't do any television then. He'd already done Peter Gunn. We were very dear friends. We had dinner together, we liked to cook together. For a long time he never got the credit he deserved. It went to Joseph Gershenson at Universal. Hank would get an orchestration credit. Gershenson would take the music credit. That was going on a lot in those days."
I said, "Hank did things like Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the royalties are still coming in. As Hank said, 'Movies are forever.'"

"Oh sure. I was griping all the time because Roy Huggins wanted music under everything, fires, machine guns, wrecks. And I was saying, 'I don't have time to write all that music!' But now I'm so glad I did, because the residuals are by the
minute. And they took time to do, automobile races, and all that. Now I'm glad I did it"

I asked Pete, who retired some time ago, if he could, in so storied a career, cite high points in his life and work. He said:

"I wrote a lot of television shows. I did movies. I did some jazz albums for Columbia Records. I'm very proud of all the things I did with June Christy, Something Cool.
"And the years with Stan. They were wonderful. Stan was wonderful. We were very close friends, almost like brothers."

Some years ago, Henry Mancini went to the mountain village where his father was born. The road was rough and danger­ous. There was no hotel in the village, and he and his wife turned around and went back down the mountain. Now, Hank told me, a freeway ran to the village, and it had evolved into a ski resort. He said it's where the Italians go to ski.

Pete made a similar pilgrimage, but in his case to the village in which not his father but he was born. Again, the road up the mountain was dangerous. And again, there was no hotel, and he never did find the house in which he was born. He and his wife Edie told their driver to turn around, and they went back down the mountain. They went on to Messina.

Sicily was far in Pete's past."

You can listen to an example of Pete’s writing for television on the audio track to the following video. The tune is entitled The Teaser and it would be played for the short “teaser” action you see first at the beginning of each Richard Diamond Private Detective television show starring actor David Janssen.

The Teaser is a stirring example of Rugolo’s thrilling Latin Jazz. Larry Bunker plays both bongos and (later) vibraphone. The irrepressible Bud Shank plays the Jazz alto solo. Buddy Collette and Bob Cooper are briefly heard on flute and oboe respectively.”