Monday, August 31, 2020

“Mulligan – The Man Behind The Sound” - Herb Kimmel - an unpublished rejoinder to Will MacFarland

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

Herb Kimmel read MacFarland’s article in [January, 1954] Theme and sent the editor a response that he hoped would be published as well. Both of these essays can be found in James Harrod’s book on the Jazz:West label which can be ordered via this link.

Whereas the previous MacFarland article is written in a style that can best be described as self-affected pomposity at its finest, Kimmel’s article is well thought out and penned in a cogent and concise manner. 

“Will MacFarland had written a piece for Theme Magazine (“Mulligan – The Sound Alone”) in which he argued that Gerry’s bad-boy behavior during concerts and club performances (and drugs) must be overlooked when assessing his contribution to American music. Mulligan was well known for turning his back on audiences, scowling, snarling, even making hostile comments whenever he was displeased. MacFarland used artists like Ezra Pound to make his point — rejecting the idea that Pound’s anti-semitism and anti-Americanism should be considered in evaluating his contribution to poetry. It was an interesting article. I wrote a rejoinder (“Mulligan – The Man Behind The Sound”), in which I argued that jazz lovers would appreciate Gerry’s music even more if they knew more about him as a person (son of a wealthy Philadelphia Republican family, etc.) I thought my article was a very positive endorsement of Gerry Mulligan and his work. But Jimmy Valentine made the mistake of showing it to Arlene [Brown Mulligan, Gerry’s wife] just before it went to press and she had a fit. She threatened to sue him (for what?) and make his life miserable if he went ahead and printed it. I remember that she said that she (and Gerry) wanted the world to just let him play and "fuck everything else!" Anyway, from then on she never spoke to me again. But Gerry and I continued to "get along" (for Mulligan, that’s as much as could be hoped).”24

Here is Herb Kimmel's unpublished rejoinder, “Mulligan – The Man Behind the Sound.”

“Whenever an attempt is made to evaluate the work of a creative artist whose private life or personality traits tend to vary markedly from the ordinary, the question is raised whether it is advantageous to attempt to separate the artist as a human being from his work itself, even for the sole purpose of making this evaluation. A recent magazine article concerning the music of Gerry Mulligan answers this question affirmatively, proposing a temporary suspension of the "law of gravity," so to speak, in order to objectify an analysis of Mulligan’s relative position in the 1953 jazz spectrum.

For the purpose of inverse comparison: It may not be necessary to visit the grounds of St. Elizabeths sanatorium or study the psychiatric reports on Ezra Pound’s mental condition in order to be able to read and enjoy his poetry. But, if we wish to understand and critically evaluate this poetry, or if we propose to determine Pound’s position among his predecessors and contemporaries, we cannot do so honestly without observing that the society in which this work was done (and is being done) has declared him legally insane. Our observation does not lessen the impact of Pound’s work; it has not diminished the influence he has had upon contemporary poetry. Nor should it.

If there has been confusion in the minds of some who may be vaguely aware of Mulligan's individualities, this confusion will not be cleared by suppressing the details of his different-ness. Rather, as is the case in any attempt to understand the end results of artistic endeavor, the only fair way to assess the creator’s worth is by understanding him as a person.

Mulligan has been called "Peck’s bad boy" of music; this appellation refers more to his musical changeability than to whatever personality peculiarities he may have. When the great majority of his musical fellows were still floundering in the sea of early bop, his work with Miles Davis, which produced the now well-known "Move" [which have come to be known as “The Birth of the Cool” recordings] recordings, was the signpost which indicated the direction jazz men could and did take. Now, after having been the object of much public criticism regarding the recorded work in 1952 and 1953 of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, criticism specifically concerned with the so-called reactionary, old-fashioned, or even square harmony in the arranged portions of these records,

Gerry may comfort himself in the knowledge that any number of current magazine articles and books on the subject contain bold announcements that bop is dead or dying. Again, his work indicated the direction the new
metamorphosis would take.

The quartet's newest album suggests that, as far as Mulligan is concerned, even the Bach-like improvised two-horn counterpoint, which caused so much controversy until it was finally accepted generally, (accepted to the degree that the Dave Brubeck Quartet, which has exaggerated this type of sound considerably beyond Mulligan’s farthest experimental excursions, was named the nation’s number one small combo for the second consecutive year
in the Down Beat poll), may have outlived its meaningfulness with respect to jazz. The one consistent motivating idea, which seems to have determined each of these directional changes, is an extremely acute sensitivity to the most subtle indications of the point of diminishing returns as regards the innovation in question. Mulligan seems to know just how much any of these ideas is part of the main stream of American jazz; he knows when to stop and reverse his field.

The key to this flexibility is what should concern us. If we desire to test the validity of the changes themselves and understand them, we must take a closer look at Gerry Mulligan, the man.

To do this we might start at any one of several diverse points. For sheer pleasure let’s lean close to the small bandstand at the Haig in Los Angeles and silently follow the thin line of baritone background as it winds in and out of the trumpet solo. Just a vague wire for the horn to cling to, tight-rope-wise, as the changes are spanned. The man behind the reed, eyes closed, is listening as well as marching along; he smiles appreciatively at a long low note and raises a curious brow when a new invention is born of the horn. Then he stops blowing and frowns at some people at the bar who have become noisy. He may even, as he has in the past, silence the whole group and leave the stand; or, more embarrassingly, wait for attention to refocus on the music, presenting the strange scene of four quiet musicians idly standing around, waiting. For these actions he has been criticized. He has been called arrogant, insulting; but not by those of us who were leaning close and listening. Ask him about it later and he gives the simple answer you wanted to hear: "If they didn’t come to hear the music, okay. But shouldn’t the people who care get a chance to enjoy it?” This is quite the opposite of arrogance. And he’s right. It may be unfortunate that jazz is to be heard, for the most part, in bars where liquor is sold. But there
are so many other available drinking places for the noisemakers and loud talkers; let them do their drinking to the tune of juke box jingles or cocktail lounge stylists.

Gerry has also been chastised for being antisocial, for not seeming to have any interest in the glib conversational between-numbers social graces which have filled up so many minutes more profitably spent making music; for example, the opposite extremes of this diversion represented by Dizzy Gillespie and Buddy DeFranco, the former being an expert blender of the ridiculous with the sublime, the latter, although a thoroughly personable fellow, not always able to achieve as subtle a verbal mixture as he is reed-wise. Gerry just wants to blow, that’s all.

Except for a rare reference to the fact that the next tune is in fulfillment of a request (probably made two weeks previous), the most he ever says on the stand is typified by his usual verbal sign off, "Shortly." This is certainly more appropriate than the perfunctory routine about a short intermission and so forth, so boringly mouthed by many well-meaners who are less rebellious than Mulligan.

Let’s not make any bones about it, Gerry Mulligan is a rebel. Starting with his extreme departure from the Philadelphia Republicanism of his boyhood home to his insistence on not using a piano in any group he fronts, he has sought constantly to scuttle the old when it stands in the way of the new, or to revert to it for a fresh start when the new has become everyday and over-used. There were no pianos in the marching bands of New Orleans as they paraded to the cemetery, mourning the loss of a beloved side man, nor in the trucks and wagons in which so much of their earliest swinging was done, and there is no reason today to nail side men to this keyboard crucifix which limits the very aspect of music in which they should be most unrestricted. If the Mulligan sound is rare and pleasing, can it be coincidence that the harmonic limits placed upon the horns is nothing more than the whispering thump of Carson Smith’s bass line? Of course not; the freedom given to Gerry’s saxophone and Chet Baker’s trumpet are their lifeblood. Without it the quartet would be just another group with the same old sound. Audiences do not shoutingly urge this group to play “Perdido” or “How High the Moon.”

Many of Mulligan’s fellow musicians feel he is too critical of their mistakes, too quick to point the finger of blame on him who goofs. This may be true, but only in the case of competent jazzmen. Every artist has the right to demand equal observance of the discipline of his particular medium, especially jazz musicians. Unlike their counterparts in poetry and painting, musicians work in groups, and each member is measurable by the member who is the weakest link in the chain. How many magnificent solos have never made their way out of the recording room because one of the other instrumentalists committed some accidental slip? 

Would Arthur Miller tolerate a Spade Cooley score for one of his plays?

This writer has seen Gerry take a group of fumbling amateurs and pour hours of patient urging and instructing into the tedious task of polishing and shining their musical wares, and their horns as well. At times the sound they would make was almost unbearable, but after many weeks of coaching and showing them how, nursing their temperamental outbursts, Gerry made them sound like an ensemble, and he glowed like a proud first-grade teacher. The difference is obvious; the sophisticated musician should be above goofing, and when an accident occurs it is his responsibility alone. There is no reason to pretend it didn’t happen. It wouldn’t have happened if someone hadn't been sloppy or careless.

Gerry’s rebelliousness has done harm to none but himself and his immediate family. Perhaps we listeners have reason to complain that his recent absence from the jazz scene is our loss too. A newspaper music critic claims that Gerry’s prominent role in contemporary jazz demands that he give up certain of his more troublesome habits or forfeit his position of leadership. This is ridiculous and indicative of a callousness beyond description in this article.

If there are reasons why Gerry should change his ways, and this writer thinks there are, they relate to the effect on Gerry Mulligan, the person, not his listeners. It’s almost like saying to Kenneth Patchen, "Please stop having arthritis; it’s interfering with your poetry production." It goes without saying that they would both stop if they could; and, given another chance, Gerry

Even at this moment, when Gerry’s production necessarily is at its lowest point, when the harm may seem to have outweighed the good, the Mulligan rebelliousness must be evaluated in a larger time-framework. The accomplishments he has already produced stand as an ineradicable monument to his past value; they cannot be undone, and without them jazz would surely have a different face today. The Mulligan contributions of the future are impossible to estimate. We can only be sure that he will continue to swing as he has always swung in the past, and that he will never stop trying to keep his fellow musicians swinging. How do we know this? Simply because that’s the kind of person Gerry Mulligan is; that’s the kind of man
behind the sound.”

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Gerry Mulligan: Then and Now

"Mulligan - The Sound Alone" - Will MacFarland

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

In existence for about a year, the “original” Gerry Mulligan Quartet featuring Chet Baker disbanded in June 1953, about six months before this article was published in January 1954 in Theme magazine.

Unfortunately, this piece by Will MacFarland is written in a very pretentious style - one that takes itself too seriously, one that likes showing off and one that takes all the fun out of Jazz.

It's “Beatnik” kitschy, at times almost sophomoric and definitely overly ambitious in its attempt to inject serious insight into something so simple as music made by a Jazz quartet - in this case - one led by Gerry Mulligan that featured Chet Baker on trumpet.

But the article and the magazine that printed it represents a rare find and the editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it might be fun to share it with you on these pages in its ongoing efforts to draw more attention to the career and the music of Gerry Mulligan.

MacFarland’s piece will be followed by a never published rebuttal by Herb Kimmel [who founded the JazzWest label in 1954] which was sent to Jimmy Valentine, the editor-owner of Theme and Arlyne Mulligan’s retort - “Make Mine Mulligan” which was published in the March, 1954 edition of Theme magazine.

Both the MacFarland and the Kimmel response can be found in James Harrod's book on the Jazz:West label which can be ordered via this link.

“This complimentary copy of our initial issue of Theme is being presented to you to acquaint you with our magazine. If you are pleased with our basic plans and wish to see us continue, we request you subscribe to Theme at your earliest convenience. Your interest and support is necessary in aiding us to publish further issues.”

Theme magazine got off to an auspicious start with Stan Kenton writing a column for each issue. Bill Claxton joined the magazine in the October 1953 edition as staff photographer and Woody Woodward (future right-hand man at Pacific Jazz Records) signed on to contribute record reviews in the fourth edition in December-January 1953 / 1954. That same issue featured this profile of Gerry Mulligan written by Will MacFarland, entitled, “Mulligan – The Sound Alone.”

“That hot summer of 1573, Veronese the painter was brought before the Inquisition Tribunal in Venice and questioned sharply about a picture that the Holy Office found objectionable. This was not the first instance of confusing the artist with the art. As to the last instance, we will not live to see it. I needn't list the myriad boards and committees in both East and West that are today asking, in the same breath, for an accounting of the artist’s human behavior and the "meaning" of his works. Perhaps this is to be expected of governments: their functions tend to press toward conformity, in opposition to that heterodoxy which is the artist’s lifeblood.

But, in this aspect at least, officialdom is mirroring the will of the people. Consider the housewife who says, "I never go to his movies, he beats his wife." And, who among us can refrain from asking for a little history of the composer on hearing a new piece of music? Inevitably, this concept of the artist alters our concept of the music. It is hard to say whether this pattern of reaction has been occasionally useful or just overwhelmingly destructive. Certainly, the colorful personalities and legend-making crotchets of a Gillespie or a Wagner have attracted youth to healthy music . But each in his time must have frightened away his share of the hesitant, discouraged a gang of potential proselytes, and supplied endless fodder for conformist critics. (In Dizzy’s case, the imbalance of attention further served to bushel, somewhat, the needed lights of Navarro and others.)

But rather than hang this harangue on the neck of an erring world, let’s, for the moment, suspend gravity and consider an art as if without human origin. Not that there is anything unsavory about Gerry Mulligan— as humans go, he is probably above average. But like musicians and painters everywhere, he has, when so moved, talked and written (with a commendable seriousness) about his art, about his theory of approach. Like poetry, its kithiest sister, music is dangerously touchy about prose-analysis. It has been said of Stravinsky that he "musics well and theorizes badly." 

Without implying that this is Mulligan’s story, do you believe it illogical to endorse a man’s music while rejecting his ideas as to what his music is? For most of us, Mulligan or Muggsy remain as non-corporeal as, say, Palestrina ornSchoenberg: a sound on a record augmented by a picture and a quote or two. True, the photographs of jazz people are taken from an angle rather than straight on, and the visual orientation may be abetted by an evening’s staring at a thin face on a big city bandstand, but other than that, we, the jazz listeners, should be admirably conditioned to listening with a useful degree of purity, throwing out the window all those programmatic dilutions of physical history and statement. When I use the word Mulligan I mean a sound; either the gargling, roomy baritone sound or the aggregate sound of a Gerry-piloted ensemble.

First, I submit that the sound emanating from the horn is more important than the arrangements—worthier of studied consideration. "No," some demur, "Gerry writes great charts, but he is limited on his horn . . . lacks technique . . . not as brilliant as his writing . . . nice, folksy solos; hardly exciting."

Nonsense. If you number among these, I suspect you have only a surface acquaintance with the arrangements. Like a Hindu deity, Mulligan’s music has many arms, and in each arm’s hand is a goodie that pleases many: witness his notable quantitative success. But to embrace the body of the goddess herself, the journey lies through the winding paths of the horn

You're in a room, listening to the sound from the machine: A baritone saxophone solo. How does it sound; what are the adverbs? "It is bumptious," someone says. "He is clownish, Rabelaisian," says another. (Rollicking or Olde Englishe or satirical, you think). While one or all of the gropings may strike home, they maneuver on the fringe of the sound’s true field. Mulligan has a veneer, a surface which conceals the core; so have the other arts, particularly painting. His is a neo-primitive veneer. He conceals behind a wall of fumbling simplicity, the only true sophistication available in jazz today. He has backing for this practice from the older arts: Invariably when a popular magazine such as Life offers a Braque print someone writes in, "I have a three-year-old daughter who could do as well with a bent spoon." This bent-spoon gambit is as adaptable to the suspicious ear as it is to the untrained eye. This apparent lack of technological discipline seldom fails to draw a cry of chicanery from the laity. But it is the proper cast of today’s art to appear rough-surfaced and it will survive these cries.

Now, on the other hand, we have the surface - sophistication found in the more suspicious aspects and bulkier voting of followers of Tristano, Brubeck and some few others. A thin crust of pseudo-orientation and adaptation from non-jazz composers gives a scintillating aspect to some new music that appeals to an amazing number of jazz dilettantes. These artsy-craftsy folks, who, but for chance, would find a home in the extreme right-wing of the Tory-Dixielander camp, wallow in the ersatz-Impression-ism, the pseudo-Stravinsky, the sort-of-Bach, and the general aura of apparent Kultur that pervades this loose school of present-day jazz. The Jazz-Sophists employ a promiscuous, self-devouring, eclecticism which results, as promiscuity always does, in a watering-down, a shambles. Their music is so full of learned quotations and sputtery runs that it never has time to swing. It is a prolix music that must be labeled 'prosy' because it talks instead of sings. If the logical retrograde comes out with mulligan-music as poetry, make the most of it.

If it falls into a formula it is this: The sophisticated surface conceals a quaint, naive core; the bucolic veneer cloaks the truly oriented heart. Who would deny that sophistication in an art springs from an intensifying of its congenital subtleties? In other words, what’s clever in the classics can become what’s corny in jazz. Jazz, to become subtle, must hone itself to its own fine edge. If there is a test of validity in inversion, Gould’s jazzy compromises or some Gershwin ablution should serve as proof-positive. (Admittedly, the Pacific Jazz sides are not without their choruses of that counter-pointed-business; at least the two voices retain the obligation of swinging: as two jazz voices moving horizontally—an aspect of motion not discernible on other labels).

If you concede that jazz can't move forward by compromise—that another idiom’s trappings dilute its blood— then whither? In Mulligan’s direction is my conclusion.

Another aspect of the Mulligan movement toward purity has drawn fire from the ceramicist-jazzbos. They find his insistence on spartan tone-clusters completely anathematic to their goal for jazz. It is curious and sad that many Tory jazzophiles (buffs, they call themselves) refused to accept the idea of progress in what they wanted to pigeon-hole as a folk art, and then
moved forward into an insidious jazz-synthetic. "Barbershop harmony," they say of Mulligan.

This is simple to refute: This sound wants to move forward, not bloat in place. That’s part of swinging. Overly involved chords tend to emphasize the stationary as opposed to the mobile aspects of jazz— the static as opposed to the kinetic. Mulligan-sounds break down into phrases, and the tacits and fillips are of an import not assigned to the width of the chord. Ernst Krenek, the twelve-tone savant, has hinted that his works for solo instrument unaccompanied are his purest. Rightly so: the restriction of tools ensures clarity, proscribes emotional, meaningless extravagance. Paul Klee seldom needed more than black and white to express himself. Wallace Stevens requires no 3-D.

Returning to the horn, it would be folly to maintain that Mulligan has unlimited virtuosity. Al Cohn and George Wallington have a similarly fumbling élan, but their musicianship is not questioned. Since Mulligan has a parallel academic background to the jazz-sophists, his restraint from name-dropping permits a bit of laxity practice-wise. Or more candidly, he bungles 10% and adjures 90%. Ready for a 100%? Here it is: the degree to which Mulligan swings. What is to swing? That, of course, is a subject of monograph calibre. But it would be an odd declension of the verb "to swing" that did not include this man’s work; it would be a unique personal definition of swinging that left out Mulligan. In his swathe, he swings orthodox, tory, mock-tory, and mockorthodox. His is figuratively an inverted two-beat, a kidding of the game, the big game (Remember those adverbs?). Yes, to an extent, he builds his solos—more so than some sophists.

But jazz has never been a completely spontaneous affair; more a combination of today and yesterday, and all the yesterdays. Admittedly, Mulligan has constructed no cities of glass. His work, in fact, far from being transparent, has varied from translucent to opaque. If the whole metropoli silica mish-mash has slipped by his door without staining the stoop, we, his contemporaries, can only sigh our relief. We want our jazz to swing Asperin Era, but we remember Charlie Christian and even Pud Brown—not just Prokofiev. Surely the Neo-Elizabethan Age need not usher in Neo-Nonsense, jazz-wise.

If a positive statement is pending, it must be praise. If praise is needed, it is this: Mulligan reflects his aesthetic times as ably as Bird does, as Collette does, as Saul Steinberg and Tennessee Williams do. He has fostered a useful purity in his work and improved the health of jazz. In this way, he appears to be the legitimate link between what has gone before and what is to come after: the ineradicable influence.

If Mulligan is a step in the journey, where is jazz going? That’s bootless. Art doesn't progress like the American auto: Chris-Craftier every year. Many people, many factors, many years it will need — Jazz will get foxier and foxier and appear to progress less and less, maybe.

This much seems clear enough: Cities of glass with their chromey suburbs of hot and cold running sixteenths, their tall false facades of quasi-classicism, will tinkle fleetingly, shatter, and dissolve back to the sand on which they were built. Whether the Mulligan sound towers interminably is of no great
consequence. But the wiser of those who pass through the rooms of his school of thought will build as he did: on refinement, not mixture.

For the Mulligan foundations are laid on the solid bed-rock of the earth itself. They involve thump and hint of thump. And so long as worlds insist on swinging around suns, and blood keeps veining through listening flesh, so long will man want jazz to swing. Ah, but does Gerry swing? Many think so,

Saturday, August 29, 2020

A Tribute to the Music of Stefano di Battista

Charlie Parker Tribute - Peter Herbolzheimer Big Band - "Au Privave"

Charlie Parker’s Scorching Innovations - John Edward Hasse


"Born 100 years ago this week, the saxophonist pushed bebop to jazz’s forefront and set a lasting benchmark for virtuosity and style.

By John Edward Hasse
Aug. 26, 2020 Wall Street Journal

"Charlie Parker blazed through American music like a meteor, burning out in his early 30s. Yet the alto saxophonist ranks high in the pantheon of American genius for his artistry, innovations and impact. A larger-than-life figure, he changed jazz forever.

Born in Kansas City, Kan., on Aug. 29, 1920, Parker evoked more passion, pro and con, than any of his jazz predecessors or contemporaries. Many of the negatives reflected his behavior as a societal outsider. His alcohol and drug dependency, instability, and periodic hospitalizations promoted a stereotype of jazz musicians as misfits and social deviants. But Parker’s prodigious positives are why he matters and why we still remember him.

While a teenager, Parker jumped into jazz, listening with open ears. He absorbed the blues-drenched swing of Bennie Moten, Jay McShann, Count Basie and other Kansas City notables, but sought his own musical way. He later claimed that for three or four years he practiced for 11 to 15 hours a day. Parker picked up the nickname “Yardbird,” shortened to “Bird.”

After permanently moving to New York in 1942, Parker joined late-night Harlem jam sessions, where players exchanged ideas, honed skills, and tested themselves against talented contemporaries. He bonded with the brash trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, just three years older. Like research scientists, Parker, Gillespie and a few colleagues experimented in their jamming lab. They didn’t invent a new style—bits of it were in the air—but their efforts made it whole.
Parker and Gillespie promulgated a complex new approach to improvising jazz melody and rhythm. Before them, the fundamental pulse of jazz was the quarter-note: a bar divided into four parts. The young musicians subdivided the bar into eight parts: The basic unit became an eighth-note, dramatically changing the feel of the music. In addition, they added triplets (dividing each beat into three parts) and a heavy dose of syncopation.

Parker’s 1945-49 recordings such as “Klactoveedsedstene,” “A Night in Tunisia” and “Parker’s Mood” reveal a musical innovator of the first rank, one who helped create a paradigm shift for jazz music, a fresh language for improvisation, and a new genre, dubbed “bebop” or simply “bop.” Though their sound reimagined rather than denied the past, listeners used to swing music found it startling and radical.

Parker could spew hot ideas like a geyser: fluid but knotty and asymmetrical melodies with unusual, often dissonant harmonies. He became the greatest exponent of formulaic improvisation, manipulating what jazz players call their “licks”—a repertory of motifs internalized so deeply that they can be seamlessly inserted into a solo at will. Parker wondrously employed over 100 such patterns in his playing—for example, in his milestone “Koko” of 1945. The challenges of this approach? To select and apply the formulas at the speed of thought but avoid turning them into clichés. Parker did all that.

In different iterations of the same song, the solos of more than a few jazz musicians reveal similar shapes and patterns, more habit than pure spontaneity. But listen to Parker’s two successive October 1947 takes on Gershwin’s “Embraceable You” and you marvel at how completely different they are. Seven decades later, his imagination still dazzles.

Capable of jaw-dropping speed, he could push the envelope of tempo, taking “Shaw ’Nuff” (1945) at a blistering 280 beats per minute—more than four beats per second! He raised instrumental wizardry, as epitomized by pianist Art Tatum, to a new level. Parker created a touchstone of virtuosity and velocity for succeeding generations of players. But he never used his chops just to show off—they always served the music.

Like other Black musicians, Parker faced deep, dogged systemic racism and discrimination, a white-controlled music industry that often took advantage of musicians of color, and gigs where entertainment met the underworld. That he was able to make such enduring art despite crushing constraints and personal demons is cause for veneration and gratitude.

Parker pointed the way for countless musicians, among them pianist Bud Powell, trombonist J.J. Johnson, and saxophonists Sonny Stitt, Cannonball Adderley and Phil Woods. By creating a new benchmark of excellence, Parker gave later musicians something to respond to and build on.

If the prevailing swing sound had been a dancer’s music, Parker and fellow boppers struck a blow for modern jazz as a listener’s music. Their changes furthered the growth of jazz nightclubs for listening and benefited scrappy, independent record labels such as Savoy and Dial that couldn’t muster the money to record big bands, but could memorialize quintets such as Parker’s. The boppers considered themselves artists more than entertainers.

When Parker died in 1955 at age 34, the attending physician thought he was 53. Defiant graffiti popped up all over New York and in jazz nightclubs across the country: “Bird Lives.” Parker was immortalized in sculpture, paintings, fiction, films, postage stamps in 11 countries, and an opera, “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird.”

In the cultural memory of Kansas City and Harlem, in his enduring new approach, in the standards he heightened, in dozens of compositions, in more than 1,500 recordings, in the playing of countless acolytes, and in the current centennial commemorations, truly Bird lives…and thrives."

—Mr. Hasse is curator emeritus of American music at the Smithsonian Institution. His books include “Beyond Category: The Life and Genius of Duke Ellington” (Da Capo) and “Discover Jazz” (Pearson).

Friday, August 28, 2020

Solitary Moon: Ginger Berglund & Scott Whitfield Sing The Johnny Mandel Songbook

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

It’s always great when developing a review of a new recording to have someone do the “heavy-lifting” in terms of preparing all of the pertinent details.

It allows me to jump in at the outset with my impressions of the recording.

Such is the case in this instance.

Holly Cooper and her fine publicity team at developed detailed track listings, annotations and personnel information for Solitary Moon: Ginger Berglund and Scott Whitfield Sing The Johnny Mandel Songbook which was released on Bi-Coastal Music [Bi-Coastal Music BCCD-1401] and I have posted these below. You can purchase a copy via Scott's website by going here.

So here are my impressions

Some recordings put a smile on my face and  Solitary Moon: Ginger Berglund and Scott Whitfield Sing The Johnny Mandel Songbook [Bi-Coastal Music BCCD-1401] does so from a number of perspectives.

It all begins with the gorgeous sound of Ginger Berglund and Scott Whitfield’s voices and the control they have over them as instruments.

Someone once wrote that the human voice is the most beautiful of all  instruments and after listening to Ginger and Scott on this recording, it is difficult to argue with this assertion.

From every standpoint - enunciation, range, timing, phrasing, dynamics, blending, lyric expressiveness - the sonority of Ginger and Scott vocalizing individually and together is so very pleasing to the ear.

No straining, no over-convincing, no crassessing of lyrics to the point of strangulation, no histrionics - all the things that make the listener wince when a vocalist is trying too hard - it all just flows because Ginger and Scott are accomplished singers. And they make it sound so effortless.

It helps, too, that the context that they have chosen in which to display their vocal talents is the music of Johnny Mandel.

No one writes more captivating music than does Johnny Mandel especially when his melodies are combined with lyrics by the likes of Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Dave Frishberg, Arthur Hamilton, Paul Williams and Johnny Mercer.

The high level of musicianship that is maintained throughout the recording - whether it is presented in big band fashion, small group setting or individual accompaniment - takes all the music sung and performed on Solitary Moon: Ginger Berglund and Scott Whitfield Sing The Johnny Mandel Songbook to a level of professionalism that only skilled studio musicians can achieve.

Over the years, I’ve always marveled at the way in which studio musicians can read down complicated arrangements and literally play them off to perfection within the span of a normal recording session [usually 3 hours]. Some of them are required to solo as well and I smiled again and again when the likes of tenor saxophonist, Pete Christlieb, trumpeters Steve Huffsteter, Anne King and Carl Saunders, clarinetists Ken Peplowski and Donnie Shelton, the alto saxophone of Rusty Higgins, the solo guitar work of Jack Petersen and, of course, Scott Whitfield on trombone, was brought into the solo spotlight.

The rhythm section of Corey Allen on piano, Jennifer Leitham on bass and Kendall Kay on drums provide a beautiful “heartbeat of Jazz” throughout and Airto Moriera does percussion on some tracks in the inimitable, graceful style that has made him such a special player for so many years.

The performances on this CD ooze the competence that only seasoned studio musicians can bring to a date. This stuff is hard to play, but you’d never know it from the way that everyone on these dates reads the charts down.

And speaking of “charts,” the arrangements are all written by Scott and they are a perfect compliment and complement to Johnny Mandel’s music. Johnny’s melodies, a half-century later, are familiar to all of us and yet you've never heard them sung and played quite like this before.

That’s true originality: to take music that has become familiar almost to the point of being taken for granted [Heaven forbid], and make it sound fresh by imbuing it with a new sense of vitality and energy. It is almost as though Johnny Mandel wrote these themes yesterday instead of, in some cases, over fifty years ago.

Kudos must also go to Andy Waterman and his assistants Ashburn Miller, Luke Fackler, Steve Wilk and Dustin Higgins for the brilliant audio quality that they have crafted which serves to further enhance, highlight and refine the music and the musicianship on this CD.. As a result of their engineering skills, the music pops, sparkles and envelopes the listener in the richness of its sound.

If you are looking for something to beam about, you need look no farther than Solitary Moon: Ginger Berglund and Scott Whitfield Sing The Johnny Mandel Songbook.

I can almost guarantee that you will come away from a first listening of the music on this CD with a huge smile of approval on your face.

© -  Holly Cooper/Mouthpiece Music, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


"Solitary Moon - Ginger Berglund and Scott Whitfield Sing The Johnny Mandel Songbook is a labor of love and a remarkable tribute to one of the most iconic composers and musicians of the last 60 years. It pairs both well-known and rare gems composed by Mandel with innovative arrangements by Whitfield.

From the big band sound of Cinnamon and Clove to the small combo grouping on Little Did I Dream to the intimate interplay between Berglund and Jack Petersen's solo guitar on You Are There, "Solitary Moon" is a marvelous tribute to a seminal composer, performed by an esteemed collective of top-notch musicians and led by the formidable team of Ginger Berglund and Scott Whitfield.

Berglund and Whitfield are a world class musical duo, whom critics have often compared to the legendary jazz vocal duo Jackie & Roy (Jackie Cain and Roy Krai). All About Jazz said, "Like Jackie & Roy, Ginger & Scott sing with warmth, awareness and sincerity, combining urbane lyrics with enchanting melodies and sharp interplay to create music that ensnares the mind as well as the heart."

Ginger Berglund is a highly regarded vocalist who has recorded for Steve Allen, the original host of the Tonight Show, and with the great pianist Paul Smith. She has sung with Kenny Rankin and cut her teeth in the music business working for the great Brazilian jazz vocalist Flora Purim and her husband, the premiere fusion jazz percussionist Airto Moreira. She performs with the Stan Kenton Alumni Band, The Modernaires, the Tracy Wells Big Band, and the Jumpin' Joz Band. Berglund has also acted and sung in commercials and has recorded for many songwriters, both classical and popular.

Scott Whitfield is a much admired trombonist, arranger and singer. He is internationally recognized for his work with many contemporary big bands, including the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra, The Clare Fischer Big Band, The Bill Holman Band, The Phil Norman Tentet, for which he also arranges, and his own Scott Whitfield Jazz Orchestras (East and West). Whitfield's discography includes 10 recordings as leader and more than 50 recordings with other artists. His compositions and arrangements have been performed and recorded by many instrumentalists and vocalists.

Among his many musical adventures, Whitfield also plays trombone for the Johnny Mandel Orchestra. He says, "I'm lucky to call Johnny a friend and experience his music on a personal level. He's a giant in the music world, and I wanted to salute him on a grand scale for his incredible contributions to American culture."

Berglund and Whitfield chose 15 tracks for this project, which Whitfield arranged in a variety of styles, from big band to small group, from vocal duets to a cappella five-part harmony. Berglund notes, "Johnny has written so many beautiful melodies to choose from, and Scott's arrangements are a study of melody and harmony." No matter the style, Whitfield's arrangements imbue each composition with heart and an infectious swing feel.

Berglund and Whitfield are also part of the Modernaires, the legendary vocal group famous for performing in the 1940s for Glenn Miller's band. Whitfield is also the group's musical director. Here they perform a poignant a cappella version of Where Do You Start. Whitfield is also a member of LAVA (Los Angeles Vocal Alliance), a new vocal group of brass players who sing in four-part harmony. They make their recording debut on Whitfield's swinging version of the enduring classic Emily, and they wonderfully capture the humor of Dave Frishberg's droll lyrics for El Cajon.

Each of the musicians on this CD is a stellar performer with his or her own long list of accomplishments. According to Berglund, "There are so many world-class musicians in Southern California, we wish we could have showcased even more of them... but Scott did an amazing job working around their busy schedules to get them into the studio to achieve the sound he wanted."

The core of the music is the rhythm section made up of Corey Allen on piano, Jennifer Leitham on bass, and Kendall Kay on drums, who are all busy, in-demand players and long-time friends and collaborators of Whitfield. Listen to the bluesy give-and-take between Whitfield and Leitham on Vacation From The Blues to hear two masters play off each other with seamless familiarity. The wonderful Bergman lyrics on the title track, Solitary Moon, are beautifully evoked by Airto's beguiling rhythms and Allen's pensive piano solo.

The musicians on this project are: Ginger Berglund, voice; Scott Whitfield, voice, trombone; Airto Moreira, percussion; Anne King, trumpet, flugelhorn;; Billy Kerr, alto sax; Carl Saunders, trumpet; Corey Allen, piano; Don Shelton, clarinet; Ira Nepus, trombone; Jack Petersen, guitar; Jamie Hovorka, trumpet; Jennifer Leitham, bass; John Dickson, horn; Ken Peplowski, clarinet; Kendall Kay, drums; Kye Palmer, trumpet; Linda Small, trombone; Nancy Newman, baritone sax; Pete Christlieb, tenor sax, clarinet; Rich Bullock, bass trombone; Roger Neumann, tenor sax, baritone sax, bass clarinet; Rusty Higgins, alto sax, flute, alto clarinet; Stephanie O'Keefe, horn; Steve Huffsteter, trumpet; THE MODERNAIRES (Julie Dickinson, Ginger Berglund, Jimmy Stephens, Joe Croyle, Scott Whitfield); LAVA (Jonathan Dane, Larry Williams, Scott Whitfield, Rich Bullock), vocals.”

Track Listing
1.  Cinnamon & Clove (6:13)
2.  Little Did I Dream (4:19)
3.  Solitary Moon (5:04)
4.  First (4:53)
5.  The Shadow Of Your Smile (3:56)
6.  El Cajon (4:05)
7.  Close Enough For Love (3:53)
8.  A Waltz From Somewhere (4:24)
9.  Where Do You Start? (3:08)
10.  Vacation From The Blues (4:40)
11.  You Are There (4:07)
12.  Sure As You're Born (4:23)
13.  I Never Told You (4:01)
14.  Emily (5:16)
15.  I Won't Believe My Eyes (4:41)

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