Maxwell Chandler - - Your Jazz Music Connection - - Your Jazz Music Connection Mon, 22 May 2017 20:21:10 -0500 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Oh Yeah by Joe Baione There are probably many practical reasons why vibraphone is still in the minority out of all the instruments usually associated with jazz. The difficulty of just spontan…

There are probably many practical reasons why vibraphone is still in the minority out of all the instruments usually associated with jazz. The difficulty of just spontaneously jumping into a jam session, and logistics of touring if one has not yet "made it," instantly come to mind. The good side effect from mallet instruments still being in the minority is that stylistically the field is wide open.

Although there have been others, when one thinks of the vibes, instantly the big three come to mind Lionel Hampton, Milt Jackson and Bobby Hutcherson each separated by a generation. With almost any other traditional jazz instrument in any given era the list of soloists who have artistically influenced others is at least three times as long.

Both in cadence and mannerisms the way is still wide open for the vibes, giving musicians exciting potential to really make it their own.

Oh Yeah is musician/educator Joe Baione’s second album. Here Joe works with a sextet featuring the interesting front line of tenor sax and trombone. The band has all worked together on Joe’s last album Superhero, which had featured Richard Lee in the front line on trumpet, here substituted by Jorge Castro’s tenor.

The album is made up of some standards and originals. Throughout the album, the sound is pristine. The producer for the album, Todd Barkan, had worked with vibraphone’s big three in the past. His knowledge of how to layer the sound makes it so that every voice is heard whether soloing or speaking ensemble, which further adds to the album’s appeal.

The album opens with an original, the album’s name sake "Oh Yeah." After a brief statement made by Joe, Toru Dodo’s piano takes flight. The bass is featured prominently, not in soloing, but in keeping an up-tempo pulse along with the rainstorm of Jerome Jenning’s hi-hats. What is interesting is that lately I have noticed bands that soar or groove, but you do not often get studio recordings where a band will do so together without solos being involved in the majority of the conversation. From the get-go, this band joyously flies together, not merely being linked by solos or waiting for a chance to. Towards the end of the song, Joe has a solo which shows not only his ability to do rapid runs, but to keep a shimmering crisp articulation.

"Down Fuzz" is a tribute to a lesser known Delaware vibraphonist Lem Winchester who had also been a policeman. The song, written by Lem, was arranged by Joe and his saxophonist father, Jim. It has a slinky blues feeling, established initially by vibes and piano. The piano conjures up the grit of the city which can always be washed away temporarily with a drink or two. The horns enter in and it is a crowded bar where everyone is in the same mood, the crowd and conversation, a nocturnal hipness. The sax solo is the lament we have all had, casually told at the table, the trombone picking up the conversation, a weary bee buzzing in agreement. Throughout the piece, the solos are never overly showy, which could wreck the tension of the piece. Joe’s solo at the end of the song shows that he and the rest of the band have the chops and taste, which comes with restraint, two elements not always found together even in some of the best players.

"The Stranger," one of the album’s originals, finds Joe playing Marimba. It starts in a sort of caffeinated samba, the horns dramatically slur in unison. With the piano comping, the steady tink-tink of drums and steady groove of bass, there is a tropical/tribal feel to the piece. The trombone returns mid-way through the piece, speaking in long lines, which fit in perfectly with the drama of the piece. The saxophone follows with a solo, which continues along the same line of thoughts. There is a bass solo accompanied by the galloping tin of hi-hats, after an increase of tempo the whole group rejoins in the main theme. This song shows too, that Joe as composer and bandleader is willing to take risks with diversity of style and execution, not merely offering up an album of fun blues-based heads, which would guarantee a certain audience.

Milt Jackson’s "Bag’s Groove" ("Bags" having been his nick-name) is covered, a daunting task for any vibe player, not so much for technical demands as song association. The best covers always retain the spirit of the song and composer, yet also incorporate the musician’s identity. In this way, to some extent every cover is a sort of collaboration. The song starts not with the familiar bouncing gait as one would expect but with a sanctified blues tinged piano statement. Then horns and vibes come in unison, piano punctuating in same feel as that with which it started the piece. There is a buoyant solo by Corcoran Holt’s bass, which leads back to the piano. As is performed here, I imagine this would be one of the band’s crown jewels in a live set.

There is a cover of Duke Ellington’s "Prelude to a Kiss." Here it is offered up as stately and blue. There is something almost vocalesque about Joe’s tone at different points in the song. Sometimes with ballad-type covers, they can fall apart with the slower tempos or become overly maudlin, also due to lack of momentum. With this song, the band shows its comfort zone is not merely in one type of tempoed piece. Also, rather than use flashy solos to demonstrate their interplay, it is with this slower number in a subtle way one realizes while listening how much then musicians are not just playing the piece, but truly with each other as well.

With vibraphone and this album, it is nice to hear good music and not think "This is good, it sounds like..." Here is the second album from an artist adding to a body of work on an instrument still in the minority.

]]> (Maxwell Chandler) Straight-Ahead - CD Reviews Wed, 09 Apr 2008 19:00:00 -0500
Infinite Search by Max The Max Perkoff Band San Francisco and New York are probably two of the best cities to see jazz in, stateside. Both cities get many of the remaining living legends, plus artists who rarely t…

San Francisco and New York are probably two of the best cities to see jazz in, stateside. Both cities get many of the remaining living legends, plus artists who rarely tour (America) and things of a more eclectic nature.

Both cities wear their cosmopolitan label with pride and, jazz-wise have the pedigree to back it up. New York had the 52nd street scene, Birdland, The Village Vanguard. San Francisco had Bop City, The Blackhawk and The Keystone Corner.

While I take full advantage of the great jazz available with its line-up of legends, lately I have been also looking towards the future. A little game a bunch of us play is "who will we be seeing in concert ten, twenty, thirty years down the line, when all the remaining legends are gone? "

With this in mind I have been checking out some of the younger players on the scene. I first discovered Max Perkoff as a guest star during one of the Monk’s Music Trio performances. The trio features his piano playing father Si, but since my initial discovery I have seen Max play in other ensembles which proved to be different but equally enjoyable.

What I have come to learn about Max is that a key component of his art is a diversity of palette. This is true of his various live concert situations and now too of his albums as well.

His new one is the sixth as a leader and the first to feature a program of all original compositions. The CD is full of stylistic shifts, but manages to encompass various influences seamlessly. The exploration of different genres is not done out of commercial considerations, but from the band’s inherent desire and ability to explore different fabrics of the vast tapestry known as jazz.

The organic mélange of moods prevents the CD from being a soundtrack regulated to specific times, places or conditions. There is never a patchwork feel, but more one of shifting ideas and moods as one would encounter in a good conversation.

Of late, trombone is used as part of large ensembles and given brief moments to speak up and shine. Smaller combos which eschew other brass on the front line aside from a ‘bone often tonally give the sense of something missing. The band is Max’s regular working/road band and their familiarity with one another prevents any sonic holes or dead spaces from appearing.

While all the compositions are Max’s each band member contributed ideas for their parts and this too adds to a fuller sonic cohesion. Not once do you get the feeling you are listening to a lead instrument’s album where the others are allowed token moments to speak out.

One of the pleasures of this album which is immediately apparent are the Sonics involved. It sounds like a band playing, together, they avoided the frigidity which can occur on modern jazz recordings when things are "too clean." There is an ambient reverb which harkens back to jazz’s pre-digital age and will allow the album to age well.

The other aspects of the album’s sonics are tied in with the musicians playing and are equally as pleasing.

While his personal style is ever present, the cadence of Max’s ‘bone changes from piece to piece over the course of the album. Some of the best moments, conjuring up a drunken bumble-bee, fully articulate as he joyfully sings his song. Over all, Max’s tone and playing are built off of some of those who came before (J.J Johnson) but incorporating his own thing with an influx of inspirations not available to his artistic forefathers. I find that he has progressive leanings, but never so much as to alienate the more casual jazz listener.

Some pieces find Max at the piano bench where he displays a limpid, percussive style which, live shows a bright punch. When Max is back to his ‘bone though, its sonic spot on the bandstand is replaced by guitar. There is a tastefulness in everything Randy plays, whether it is the throaty tube inflexed solo found on "Dr. King" or the almost organ like chime that subtly announces his presence on "New Life."

It is also almost becoming a forgotten pleasure for a guitar to just sound like a guitar without it being pumped through all the au-current studio gadgets available. There is a liter or two, at least, of soul jazz to be found in Randy’s blood, devoid of any potential clichés of the genre.

The song "Just Enough" is the blues by way of Bossa Nova. There is a bass solo which is a thing of beauty, a fat rich tone which manages to not waste any time. Sam can play, but does not have to overly prove it with every solo statement and this furthers the strength of what he shows us. Witness the guitar coming in, a perfect Gemini twin. Two artists speaking in one voice. The effect of the drums, the time passes without notice.

"Sunset in Sienna" is a short dramatic track, perfectly placed, it serves as a sort of prelude to Memories of Lady Day. The tone of Max’s ‘bone, the mood of the piece, a beautiful woman, melancholy, who laughs despite herself.

Aside from pieces dedicated/inspired by other artists (J.J Johnson, Barry Harris, Billy Holiday) there is one to Dr. King and one for Rosa Parks. These pieces are completely devoid of dogma and are as enjoyable to a listener unaware of their inspiration/dedication.

The start of "Death of Democracy" finds the drums taking a lead role without putting ones ears at risk and without any monotony at all. Indeed, throughout the album he provides a subtle spark to each piece. Max’s description of the piece reminded me of the print/quote by Goya "The sleep of reason produces monsters." The piece has an almost free-bop feel to it, it manages to switch emotional gears in an effortless sonic stream.

In a live situation, I imagine this song being a great launching off point. A traverse across emotional landscapes of then, that moment. One of the great, unending aspects of jazz, an amalgam of in the moment, being birthed within the established structure of a piece.

The song "J.J’s Backroom Part 1" is a successful exercise in solo virtuosity. A reminder that a great musician can create compelling music, singing in only one lone voice.

The album clocks in at just under an hour. It has many other memorable moments including guest vocals on track four by Cami Thompson whom Max has worked with over the years. The liner notes are by Max and offer brief explanation of each piece. The sound is pristine and the packaging features cover art by Sara Goren (Max’s mother) which is reminiscent of some of the duo-chrome work of Franz Kline.

Information on where to find the album can be had at Max’s site,

I will lament when all the original jazz titans are gone, but will still find joy in all those who I am discovering now.

]]> (Maxwell Chandler) BeBop / Hard Bop - CD Reviews Tue, 23 Jan 2007 12:00:00 -0600
That Devilin Tune Vol 4 by Various Artists There is a pecking order to recorded jazz. Of course, first and foremost are the musicians who must be possessed of a talent which makes you want to be captured, to list…

There is a pecking order to recorded jazz. Of course, first and foremost are the musicians who must be possessed of a talent which makes you want to be captured, to listen. Then would come the engineers, it does not matter what a cat is playing if you can not hear him. After these first two things are a few of equal importance, although in appearance not immediately so. The producer who wears many hats during a recording session and the jazz theorists/critic who, once Jazz was out of its infancy, would often provide the liner notes when the artist or producer did not.

Another thing which grew out of jazz as it aged was the phenomenon of the anthology. The anthology is usually used to present a broad cross section of an artist’s oeuvre or to try to define the music’s history or various eras. Inherently containing a large degree of subjectivity, this is far more difficult task than one may imagine.

Which cuts by an artist are the best examples of what they are about? When trying to convey the history of an art or an era, who should be included and/or how many tracks? Ironically, as difficult of a task as this is, when it is done correctly, the producer’s hand is barely perceptible.

The dichotomy of a difficult task combined with, when done right, subtle results, has made the mantle of anthology producer an art unto itself.

Alan Lowe has achieved fantastic results with volume four of a four volume (36 CDs) anthology. Part of the reason for this is because he is not only a producer but a jazz theorist with a strong grasp of the jazz family tree and its many branches and complex roots system.

The set is arranged chronologically, recording dates by year. Initially, looking through the accompanying book I bemoaned to myself what seemed to be an imperfect way to arrange each disc’s tracks. This methodology meant that a pre-saccharined Doris Day appeared a few tracks away from Bird and Diz.

But there is a subtle magic afoot. Bop, modern-jazz was radical, but also inevitable. If Bird and Diz the two most visible progenitors had not come to midwife this art, then someone else would have. That is not to take away from what they achieved or to say that jazz would have progressed along the exact same lines.

The way the discs are arranged you see modern jazz’s Rosetta stone, bop, as it had emerged from all the forward thinking elements of big band and its sub genres.

Just as Picasso’s ground breaking Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) seemed a total, radical break with the past and a launching pad for modern art, so too did bop. But, a closer look at the painting after the shock of the new is gone and one detects influences from the past, progressive elements from some of the forerunners whom he had admired mixed with more primal sources such as oceanic and African art, all of which he used to synthesize something new and uniquely his own. This set brings forth in an organic way many forward thinking elements which were to be found not just in big band, but also country-swing, tango, Dixie-land and even a nascent version of R&B. Showing us once again, that to be in any artistic vanguard an artist does not necessarily have to use all which came before, but a knowledge of it and perhaps cherry picked elements are both a must and the derigeur.

The big band era can really be broken up into several strata. Unfortunately it is usually all lumped together so that early dance hall things make a listener who may have grown up on later jazz player/works avoid Claude Thornhill for fear of merely getting another "Take the A Train" type of work.

Too often too, when jazz histories are written big band and orchestral ensemble history is truncated. Duke Ellington was leaning towards the symphonic and Count Basie deeply swung. Then there will be a few paragraphs of the more obscure trinity of band leaders Stan Kenton, Claude Thornhill and Woody Herman, each being inserted into either the Basie or Ellington slot.

Jazz was seen as an American thing, a young art from a young country. It was sometimes a by-word for modernism and optimism perhaps tinged with a little bit of decadence.

In Europe during the early part of the century composers began to let jazz elements creep into their compositions. What is interesting is there was, to some extent a boomeranging of ideas and inspiration. It was part of a not always direct cross pollination. Modern classical composers such as Le Sixe member Darius Milhaud would use some of jazz’s idioms in his compositions. Darius had first heard jazz on a trip to Brazil as part of a government attaché. He would later teach at the Paris conservatory and Mills College in Oakland, California where one of his students would be the young Dave Brubeck.

There are many other examples, Kurt Weil and his Weimar/Berlin cabaret songs, the discordance and satirical modern machine gone amok marches which occur in some of Shostakovich’s works et al.

The inspiration of classical stateside was for a more musical complexity. It is often said that the bop musicians were the first musicians who really wanted to be considered artists, shedding the entertainer moniker, but there were some band and orchestra leaders who also did not want to settle for merely making the people dance.

When discussing the first wave of boppers, their day jobs filling the seats in big bands to some extent paints an inaccurate picture, that they were forced into a musical drudgery with nothing to absorb. While that was the case sometimes, such as Dizzy Gillespie and his stint in Cab Calloway’s band, the latter who kicked him out for, among other things, "Playing that Chinese music", there were leaders whose certain aspects rubbed off on the up and coming artists, becoming important parts of modern jazz’s overall palette. Stan Kenton had Dizzy do the arranging for a piece titled "Interlude" which would become one of the crown jewels of bop when renamed "A Night In Tunisa".

Claude Thornhill (1909-1965) was a piano playing bandleader/arranger who strove to merge the big band vernacular of the day with a more European classical complexity.

He showed musical talent from an early age and had a formal education from the Cincinnati Conservatory and The Curtis Institute in Phildelphia.

His first professional gig with the Austin Wylie Band, found him sharing the bandstand with friend and future big band great Artie Shaw.

After this band they both cut their teeth further in Irving Aaronson’s Commanders which led to them both becoming New Yorkers. From very early on, the big apple had become a sort of jazz promised land. With the end of his touring obligations Claude filled his time with various studio dates.

During this time he worked with many of the popular big bands including Benny Goodman. From a growing reputation as a hard worker, plus an obvious talent in dealing with multi-instrument charts, he worked for two years with Glenn Miller before emigrating to the West Coast.

There, he found work as the musical arranger for the Bob Hope radio show. Singer Maxine Sullivan’s songs "Loch Lomond" and "Gone with the Wind" were both made famous during this time with his help.

In 1940 he recorded as leader. Knowledge gained from having worked for bands of various size and talent helped crystallize in his head what he wanted for a sound and how to get it.

Records during this time were not made to last, they served more almost as a tangible souvenir of moments witnessed on stage, or as a sort of mental foreplay for what was to occur at the dance hall. Part of this reality, bands had to hit the road.

Initially his orchestra filled in for Glenn Miller’s at the Pennsylvania Hotel and Sammy Kaye’s band at The Commodore. Both groups were different than what Claude wanted to do, but he made his music fit without compromising his artistic vision or disappointing the audience.

From these two fill in slots they embarked on a seemingly cursed tour where every true road cliché seems to have occurred, including a ballroom fire which almost broke the band’s spirit and will.

A booking at the Glenn Island Casino (1942) provided a heaven sent reversal of fortune. After this two month residency the band toured, although not keeping up visibility via the usual route of radio broadcasts, which might have also left us with some scratchy if not compelling snap shots of how the music grew as it became more road tested.

Having hit the rest of nation, the band ended up in California with some line up changes, including significantly, arranger/pianist Gil Evans.

Before further momentum could be built how ever, Claude was drafted. He could have joined the coast guard as a chief petty officer. He instead opted to join the navy as an apprentice seaman (lowest rank). Despite claiming that he wanted to "Get away from music" he ended up in Artie Shaw’s navy orchestra.

After his tour of duty, he was able to reassemble his band with most of the original members.

During the war, a lot of big bands and orchestras had lost many of their members to the armed forces. The bands which managed to tour during these years were often drastically scaled back.

Bop with its quartet/quintet line up was in its infancy just passing its theoretical stage but, showing ways of creating sonic complexity without the need of as many voices.

Claude could not keep the orchestra going, he would still play, but with smaller ensembles. He died in 1965 and it is a wonder he found little employment after the late 50’s when one considers how much of what he did figured into the equations of many of jazz’s sub genres, if even indirectly.

Claude’s personal style of playing showed a classical feel to great effect. It was all cool Ravelian blues which would come and go, delicately skimming over his bands interesting and then unique tone. His laconic way of playing was a precursor to the "cool" school and some of its main figures such as Lee Konitz would find themselves on his band stand.

He had perfected a way of his band playing with very little vibrato for greater articulation and also the ability to do more complex layering of sound.

The charts were some of the most forward thinking and still offer an emotional pay off when heard today. One of the main arrangers was Gil Evans, who would figure prominently in not only the advent of Miles Davis’s nonet and the creation of third stream music (The Birth of the Cool) but also a trio of albums symphonic in scope and which, shades of Claude’s orchestra, find Miles adopting a vibratoless way of playing and lack of string section.

Gerry Mulligan, baritone sax player was another to supply charts and also be around for Miles’ nonet adding both his voice and charts for him too.

The track of Claude’s here is "Polka Dots and Moon Beams", now a West Coast/cool jazz staple. It has a melancholy bent and the piano manages to be prominent yet delicate. The arrangement is by Gil Evans and for most of the piece the woodwinds and brass merely blow a warm, soft breath under Claude’s lines. As an interesting counterpoint the piece is followed by one by Harry James. If it is not apparent during the course of Claude’s track, then after hearing this one you realize how different and how far leaning towards the European classical tradition Claude had been.

As bop was forming there was a recording ban going on (1942-1943). For an art movement which would have such far reaching effects, it came together relatively fast. We do not have an audio evolutionary chart, but there are little pieces of the puzzle available.

Bud Powell or Thelonious Monk, both are often referred to as high priest of bop piano. It does not have to be an either or though. Both had formal training, Bud studying the classical cannon as a child while Monk studied briefly with a student of Austrian modernist Arnold Schoenberg. While to some extent, they both had a percussive touch, there were many differences in their uses of harmonic structure and composition . They actually socialized and it was because of an unwillingness on the part of Monk to compromise Bud to the police that Monk had lost his cabaret card, then all important for a musician to be able to play in clubs.

Both were on scene around the same time, some people implying that Monk took more of a mentor role, although he only had seven years on Bud. This anthology captures one of, if not the first appearance of Bud in a bop setting. Sitting at the piano bench for The Bebop Boys which also featured Kenny Dorham and Sonny Stitt.

Bud’s sui generis has always been more his playing than song writing. He did write some songs which became modern standards, outliving bop (Tempus Fugit, Dance of the Infidels, Bouncing with Bud et al). Aficionados say that after "X" year there was a decline in his playing as to make it unlistenable, a tragic shade of his former self. I have never agreed with this, actually enjoying some of his last Blue Note and Verve dates. I do think he may have lost a step and not been as dependable after a certain year.

Here though, he is to be found just entering his prime. He plays with speed but also a concise articulation not all those at the ivories seeking such speed seem to manage. Like Monk, there are brief glimpses of stride which they were both well versed in. Kenny Dorham, who would make a successful transition into the post-bop world of the next generation’s jazz scene, most notably working over the course of several compelling albums with tenor-sax player Joe Henderson, is found here playing with a tarter tone then he would later have. If he were to eventually become "Quite Kenny" here he displays a percussive snap, similar to peer Fats Navarro’s, showing an early precursor to the splatter school style of playing. Sonny Stitt who is sometimes written off as merely a Bird clone shows here, if not having yet found his own way, then the promise of great things to come.

The next piece is by Stan Kenton (1911-1979) who seems sometimes to be put up upon the cross for the occasional populist ambitions. Some of his pieces do verge on the cocktail exotica, conjuring up images of suburban wood paneled rec-rooms. But it is easy to overlook that Count Basie had in his body of work albums such as "Basie Meets Bond" and "Basie Meets The Beatles" both of which being exactly what they sound like.

Stan started doing professional arranging in L.A as a teen. Initial recognition came during his band’s residency at The Rendezvous Ballroom (Balboa beach, CA), this notice allowing them to record a series of singles for Decca Records.

Stan had the practice of absorbing all that was going on around him to see not only what he liked, but what he did not like. His album "Artistry in Rhythm" was one of Capital Records first releases and a popular one at that.

Although never merely a big-big band, Stan did use vocalists on occasion. Anita O’Day was his first popular singer. His forward looking charts and her late night sensuality were a perfect mix. In time she would leave the band to be replaced by a singer who had initially been inspired to sing professionally from hearing her, June Christy.

June had that big city cool about her. Hers was a hip grace that was the shimmering coolness of night lights diffused through a martini glass.

As bop was morphing, Stan, along with Dizzy, were among the first to inflect Latin American nuances into their pieces.

He employed arrangers, who like himself wanted the music to serve as more than a catalyst for dance floor motion. In an early 50’s tour which also featured a string section they purposely did not play in any dance halls. Many of his soloist would become band leaders in their own right, Stan Getz, Zoot Sims Art Pepper. Lee Konitz and Gerry Mulligan would appear with both Stan and Claude Thornhill.

These complex arrangements were given extra depth by Stan’s unwavering practice of demanding his star soloist play something different, in the moment, every night. A practice which later, that Charles Mingus would also constantly utilize for his intricate neo-symphonic pieces.

Stan’s piece Ecuador has that hipster exotic vibe about it much the way some of the better versions of Duke’s "Caravan" do. The piano with descending bass beginning is brief but immediately caught my interest. There are some great horn parts including a theme played out by trombone, an instrument Stan always favored. The piece winds down with same bass/piano pattern with brass speaking up a final time.

Stan spent most of his life on the road to the point of not being a home owner. L.A was considered his home, but during downtime his address would more often than not, be a hotel. This CD made me want to explore more of his work. Of course care must be taken in which albums to buy, but with any artist whose catalog is large and who made it a point of continuing to artistically evolve the same caveat exists.

There are some pieces by messianic pianist Lennie Tristano (1919-1978). He has become one of the trump cards in the "Name the musicians’ musician" game. While he had always, to some extent, taught, later in life he devoted himself almost solely to teaching. With his cult of personality, he took on students, often the way a guru would disciples. He had some advance theories on improvisation and his own playing was dark hued and modern calling to mind some of the solo piano works of Leos Janacek. I prefer his solo or trio work as opposed to the work he did with Bird and other horn players.

In teaching he seems to mainly have taught horn players. Much like surrealist figure head Andre Breton, there would be his equivalent of trials and excommunications of anyone that deviated from the established do’s and don’ts of his group. Lee Konitz was one of his star pupils, excommunicated for his seemingly populist recordings and stints with both Stan Kenton and Claude Thornhill. Through the lens of time all of that seems unimportant now, the passionate battles which occurred within this group making for interesting reading, but holding very little importance in the here and now.

Inspired partially by the improvisations of Bird and working with many who would be absorbed into the cool and third stream genres, Lennie is one of few to be found on this anthology whose influence would leap ahead a generation if only in certain aspects, to the free jazz genre. His use of space was different than that of Ahmad Jahmal’s and combined with a classical counterpoint and dense chord clusters. The Lee Konitz trio album "Motion" further shows the influence on the yet to come free jazz.

The track "Yesterdays" in this anthology is solo piano. There are some with Bird and some with Lee Konitz. Here though is Lennie Tristano, undiluted. The tone is dark and beautiful, a drifting storm cloud getting stuck on the apex of a mountain as it floats by. This piece is sixty years old, yet it is still très modern, and not merely in a shocking way such as to be felt upon first hearing some of the later free jazz lexicon. This is both modern and beautiful.

With most artists or heroes, a close look with much scrutiny most likely, would reveal feet of clay. Life choices and personality aside this is an artist of highest caliber worthy of exploration.

Throughout this anthology can be found, lightly peppered, some Dixieland and country swing. The Dixieland is of a later model, being as far as the soloist go, more sophisticated than was the norm for that genre. The country swing represented here was when the genre was wide open with none of the rigid stylistic restrictions that it and "regular" country music would later have.

Occasionally in jazz (and perhaps music in general) art would, by pure happenstance, mix with popular culture, such as the initial introduction of samba on the Getz/Gilberto albums, Miles doing "Someday My Prince Will Come" and John Coltrane’s irony free take on "My Favorite Things".

Successfully mixing these two seemingly divergent elements over many of his band’s incarnations was Woody Herman (1912-1987).

As a child he was, like future band-mate, Zoot Sims, in vaudeville. Woody was a singer/alto sax/clarinet player who spent his formative years playing with the Isham Jones Orchestra. Upon dissolution of the band he poached members to create his own band.

When writing about the various incarnations of his band, they are referred to as "herds" The first herd, The Second Herd and later The Thundering Herd. His first ensemble and the one appearing in this anthology was called "The Band That Plays The Blues".

Woody was always more than willing to directly incorporate new musical ideas into what he did. This first band did not catch on right away, having such a sonically advance bend. Success finally came with their Decca Record (and theme song) "Wood Choppers Ball" This band lasted about five years.

One of the most important 20th century classical composers Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) was a fan of this first ensemble. He wrote "Ebony Concerto" specifically for them even participating in some of the rehearsals.

It is an excerpt from this concerto which is to be found on disc one. What I, as a fan of a lot of the 20th century composers noticed was that the band does not play like a jazz ensemble playing classical, but as if one were listening to a smaller orchestra.

"Ebony Concerto" is not nearly as proto-third stream as some of what can be found in Claude Thornhill or Stan Kenton’s books, although, here too there is no string section. The music has the same feel as Stravinsky’s "L’Histoire du Soldat" which he had written for a small touring ensemble during the war with the troupe’s portability in mind and war time budget constraints.

Woody Herman is not always considered as progressive as the other two aforementioned bandleaders, but his modernism was in really absorbing and embracing the best of what was current. His bands’ next incarnations would feature many of the bop and burgeoning cool school of players such as Stan Getz, Zoot Sims and Al Cohn. Like his peers Woody used the best arrangers seeming to allow more bopish inflections in his music in arrangements by Neal Hefti, Al Cohn and many other up and coming notables.

While always of the times, Woody never completely submerged his musical identity for the sake of being au current. He left a large body of work, with some definite misfires but more gold than lead.

Frank Zappa once said "Jazz is not dead, it just smells funny." In some respects, new jazz has lost its way. There are young players coming up with much dexterity, some with soul too. But jazz has forgotten that a lot if what is now established music/genres at the time was railed against by a large part of the music intelligentsia. The new Bird, won’t be the one who can solo or improvise as fast, it will be the one who brings something new to the table. This anthology shows the vanguard drawing from the past, but also forging ahead in a new way. Once again jazz needs to do this, drawing this time from modern classical and ethno-world music or risk losing one of its main components, that of the unknown, the new, as it becomes a staid nostalgia.

This collection aside from the things I mentioned has many other things in it. There are glimpses too of what was going on elsewhere only seen peripherally if at all by musicians in the states, things like Argentinean tango master Astor Piazzolla and Cuban percussionist/bandleader Chano Pozo. There are a few, very few clunkers in this anthology, things just not to my taste, but even those have their moments. I found that although some of the usual suspects appear(Monk, Duke, Miles), as well they should, it is not the standard tracks one hears again and again in jazz anthologies.

The CDs have all been remastered. None of it sounds bad, out of nine CDs there are a few tracks with minor sound drop outs or some slight hiss, but if the newly discovered Bird and Diz live at Town Hall does not bother you, then possessing better sound, this definitely won’t.

The actual individual CD packaging is no frills, just plain white envelops with clear cellophane windows into which the CDs slide. I do not mind that though, as it is easier to use than some of the more fancy packaging I have encountered. The CDs themselves are labeled and numbered along with the time length on each, a practice I wish were more common. These all fit into a cardboard box along with a large informative booklet with notes by Alan. I do not agree with everything thing he says, but there is logic to it all and he makes no absolute pronouncements which are completely left of field.

A perpetuating beauty of this anthology is that you can return to it again and again and even with the terrain you have already traversed, discover new things to inspire and entertain.

This anthology manages to offer up in a logical and entertaining way, the how and why of modern jazz. I recommend it.

]]> (Maxwell Chandler) Various Jazz Styles - CD Reviews Wed, 19 Jul 2006 07:00:00 -0500
Herbie Nichols-The Complete Blue Note Recordings by Herbie Nichols There is a little dark bar I like to go to where people know things. We wile away the nights in friendly arguments. Which phase of Bergman’s career gave us the best movi…

There is a little dark bar I like to go to where people know things. We wile away the nights in friendly arguments. Which phase of Bergman’s career gave us the best movies, where in Mexico is Ambrose Bierce living and who are the all time greatest jazz pianists? What is interesting is that now, one of the main ingredients in determining "the best" seems to be their level of exposure.

Perhaps the greatest accolade and curse an artist can be given is to be termed "an artist's artist." The label which seems to resign them to obscurity except among the most hard core aficionados. This has largely been Herbie Nichols’ fate.

Herbie Nichols (1919-1963) started formally studying piano at the age of nine. Early on he mainly played in Dixieland bands, a start akin to two other fonts of progressive improvisation, Steve Lacy and Roswell Rudd. These two would also later prove to be two of the most talented interpreters of his music. For all of them, these early Dixieland years were more of a financial necessity than an aesthetic choice.

Herbie also played in The Savoy Sultans while mingling with the early progenitors of Bop. Aside from a friendship with Thelonious Monk, he did not get much joy out of the then fertile 52nd Street scene. During this time there was still a misplaced nobility associated with jazz musicians and addiction(s). Herbie, ever the tea-totaler was shunned. Another off-putting aspect of this quite young man was his intellect. Herbie played chess, wrote and appreciated poetry. He also wrote insightful jazz articles. Well before jazz aficionados gleaned onto him, he wrote an article on Monk for Dial Magazine.

In 1941 he was drafted into the army. It would be another two years before he was demobilized, partially eating up the time by writing poetry and lyrics.

Upon his discharge, he found himself back in New York where he had to play piano for burlesques in Greenwich Village to make rent.

Pianist Mary Lou Williams was the first to record one of Herbie’s songs (1951) "Stennell," which was re-titled "Opus Z."

Starting in 1947 he would send his music to Blue Note’s Alfred Lion. For various reasons it would take nine more years before Herbie would be signed. Herbie was one of three all time great pianist-composers signed by Alfred Lion (Thelonious Monk and Andrew Hill being the other two).

Things seemed to be looking up for Herbie. Also around this time (1956) Billy Holiday fell hard for his piece "Lady Sings the Blues" writing lyrics for it and making it her own to the point of using it for the name of her autobiography, too. The piece, originally titled "Serenade" has become an important part of the jazz lexicon and a totem of longing and heartache.

Herbie wrote over 170 songs. After his death much of his writing which was then stored at his father’s house was lost in a flood. We owe much of our knowledge of his pieces to Herbie himself, he had always been diligent about supplying the library of congress with his scores.

He would record three albums for Blue Note Records and one for Bethlehem. This would be followed by five years of studio inactivity, when jazz was in a constant frenzied state of flux. At the end of this period Herbie would die way too early of leukemia. A factor in Herbie’s long standing obscurity would seem to be lack of recorded sideman appearances. He did share the stage with some established heavy weights, but unlike another "obscure" pianist who also recorded for Blue Note, Elmo Hope, there is not sideman documentation on record for fans to hunt down or the casual listener to come across. An artistic ascension established without wax pedigree save for his own recordings.

The Blue Note boxed set collects all of his Blue Note output. It comprises thirty songs with eighteen, previously unreleased alternate tracks. Unlike some alternate tracks to be found on other musical omnibus, these alternate tracks will appeal to more than just the jazz completionists. Often it is subjective which is the "better" version of a track. The liner notes make mention that it sometimes took lengthy discussions to decide.

The packaging is aesthetically pleasing and avoids some of the more impractical concepts of other boxed sets. A cardboard slip case houses three CDs and a booklet. The tracks and musician information are listed on back of the slipcase and in the booklet itself. The CDs each go in a slim case which contains a different image on each by Francis Wolf, the man responsible for some of jazz’s most iconic images. The booklet contains the album’s original liner notes by Herbie himself and an informative essay by Frank Kimbrough and Ben Allison; the founders of The Herbie Nichols Project which is a group seeking to further appreciation of Herbie’s work through recordings and concerts.

The sound is pristine, the entire collection having been remastered by Michael Cuscuna, a man behind many important reissues over the years and a man who has made the remaster an art unto itself. The Super Bit Mapping process was used which allows the music to retain its ambient warmth while combining it with digital clarity.

From the start, Herbie’s intellect and formal training had given him an appreciation for 20th century composers. It is not too much of a stretch to see similarities between some of Herbie’s oeuvre and turn of the century French pianist/composer Erik Satie, whose deceptively simple melodies and their daydream inducing properties (Gymopedies, Gnossiennes) Herbie’s own compositions sometimes mirrors.

Also in the classical tradition, much of Herbie’s music was Programme music, music which like some of Debussy’s and Liszt’s was inspired by and describes a specific thing. Song titles were given much thought and an important part of the overall creative process for Herbie.

Although a contemporary of both Monk and Bud Powell, Herbie has often been referred to as a "disciple of.... " His playing does have some percussive aspects to it, the earliest most visible proponent of such technique being Bud Powell. I have found though, that one of the marvels of Herbie’s playing is his ability often contained within one piece to change tempos, touch and the actual cadence of his pianos tone. While there is definite joy to be had listening to the percussive school of playing, after awhile a formula is detected in a song’s structure. This never occurs with Herbie’s playing and pieces.

His friend Monk is a noticeable influence but no more so than the jagged lines to be found in the rhythmic works of Hungarian composer Bela Bartok who Herbie also greatly enjoyed.

Too often it is the easy thing to call any pianist/composer with odd time signatures or jagged note/chord clusters "Monk-like". Cecil Taylor and Andrew Hill also frequently get this adjective. What the three have in common is that they represent separate artistic evolutions stemming from the same instrument and to some extent the same inspiration of Monk. It is a new modern classical. Jazz is sometimes referred to as American classical, but these three provide a more literal example. To really listen to their music is to realize they are from jazz but not of jazz.

It is not a case of "better than" but of the three Herbie is the more accessible style wise. While he remained his own man, he drew from diverse sources such as the previously mentioned classical idiom. There was of course the vernacular of jazz in many forms to be found too in both his playing and composing, elements of bop, stride and things yet to come, but also Caribbean rhythms which made up some of his ethnic background and Indian music which was another key to his works rhythmic complexity. Cecil Taylor’s music is amazing and complex as is Andrew Hill’s, even now their music seems ahead of the curve; musical taste makers still not having caught up to them. A modernism which in its newness and containing cerebral aspects, manages to intimidate many. Herbie’s manages to be cerebral but often with a playful sense of humor.

Before these sessions, as was Blue Note’s habit, the artists were allowed ample rehearsal time. In general, this practice led to the freedom to do more complex pieces and not have to have non-touring/working bands rely on jazz standards for lack of knowledge of a new piece.

There are no weak links in what is essentially two trios. Another practice of Blue Note’s was to put a more established musician from their stable on a session by a new guy. While this has never been disastrous it had made for some odd and uncomfortable pairings, such as some of the session men of Thelonious Monk’s Blue Note Debut "The Genuis of". Al McKibbon had been the house bassist at Birdland and often played with Thelonious Monk. He is able throughout the recordings to provide a solid bottom without any hint of boredom inducing repetition.

While it is easy to lament the fact that Herbie never got to play with the likes of Elvin Jones or Tony Williams, to name but two top notch skin-men, here, Max Roach is a perfect fit.

Like Herbie and many other greats of jazz’s next era, Max formally studied at the Manhattan School of Music. At the age of eighteen Max had been the house drummer at Monroe’s Uptown House, which along with Minton’s Playhouse was ground zero for bop. Here he came into contact with jazz’s vanguard.

He and Kenny Clark were directly involved with the creation of bop. Max was one of the first, true percussion stars who helped change the way his instrument was played. Instead of keeping time and then impressing during solos with pure speed, Max created the now well known technique of creating pulse points not with the base drum as had been the standard but utilizing the cymbals. This allowed for great freedom for the other instruments’ solos as well as his own. It also allowed for more dramatic and supple tempo changes.

Max would perfect his voice initially on the early important records of Charlie Parker’s, who he was with 1945, 1947-49 and 1951-53. He would appear with the who’s who of jazz. It was not until 1953 however that he finally recorded a date as a leader. Like many of his peers, he now saw bop as becoming formulaic but still a worth while jumping off point. With Miles Davis and a host of others there would be the "Birth of the Cool" sessions where he would participate in the birth of third-stream music, a sort of hybrid of symphonic big band mixed with intricate solos which organically grew out of the main body of a piece. There was ever an ongoing process of things being added to Max’s palate, the common factor throughout it all was an intricate forward thinking bent.

Around the time he was doing the sessions with Herbie he had also had his own group, co-led with trumpeter Clifford Brown and Bud Powell’s younger pianist brother, Ritchie. The group would last for only two years, a fatal car crash taking both Clifford and Ritchie. Max would continue the group with Kenny Dorham on trumpet and Sonny Rollins replacing Harold Land on tenor sax. These two versions of his group showed him the way to naturally meld impressive solos with more intricate arrangements, arrangements which did more than serve to fill time between the musicians' solos.

With Herbie you hear a most successful partnership not born of touring but sharing the same combination of daring and highly polished talent.

On disc two "House Party Starting" contains subtle tempo changes and a long snaking rhythm which is trance inducing, like watching candlelight reflect off the polished wood of a bar. The song seems to almost stop time without relying on mere repetition. This was actually the first song I ever heard by Herbie and every time, still, I marvel at not just the song structure but his ability to seamlessly change himself within the body of one piece.

Teddy Kotick throughout his career took great pride in sticking with the rhythm section and avoiding solos. He had a rich tone which has been heard on many important jazz records from the 50’s and 60’s. What is interesting is the subtle difference in the pieces which feature him as opposed to Al. Too often if a bassist does not specialize in solos or does not take his obligatory turn during a piece, people seem hard pressed to notice a difference. But notice the subtle changes in Max’s playing on pieces which feature him with Teddy instead of Al. Both bassists add to the pieces which already contain kinetic aspects to them.

The other drummer on the sessions is Art Blakey. Art had gotten his start in the big band circuit including time in the forward thinking Flecther Henderson group. He naturally gravitated towards the bop players brining the steady funky groove concept to this new jazz.

Art felt that with the possibilities of this new music being made, a band should work as a cohesive unit, not just providing back up for whom ever was soloing. He appeared on many seminal albums before forming a sort of jazz collective, The Jazz Messengers.

Art was one of the first jazz musicians to be interested in what would later be known as world music, mixing in aspects of it in his playing. Aside from leaving a legacy of adding to percussionists over all palette, he left what could possibly be considered jazz’s version of an ivy league school, The Jazz Messengers.

Many of his band members would go on to lead groups of their own. There were many incarnations of this band and the roster reads like jazz royalty role call.

Even while working with various versions of his own ensemble, Art was frequently to be found on other artists’ dates. He played on Thelonious Monk’s first Blue Note dates (now available as two separate remasters Genuis of Modern Music vols 1&2.) Similar to this Herbie Nichols collection, he and Max split drum duties on the still amazingly powerful album "Thelonious Monk Trio (Fantasy Records 1952.)

Around the time of the Herbie Nichols session, Art and an incarnation of the Jazz Messengers which featured Clifford Brown, Horace Silever, Lou Donaldson and Curly Russell were recorded live at Birdland. (A Night at Birdland Vols 1&2 Blue Note Records). Aside from being a compelling live document of a version of the Messengers which was as powerful as it was short lived, it manages to capture if not the birth, then the infancy of what would become known as hard-bop.

Both Max and Art had always been polyrhythmic, but Art ‘s was more an emphasis on setting up a funky groove.

On the first CD "It Didn’t Happen" which Herbie wrote just four days before going into the studio. It was inspired by an unrequited romance and Art shows that funky can also be accomplished with great subtlety.

Like Monk, Herbie did not often do covers and usually when done they would be lesser known pieces that could be made their own. Here Herbie tackles Gershwin’s "Mine" from a musical revue "Of Thee I Sing".

All the music to be found on these three discs is thoroughly engrossing, but not in a way that demands one listens in silence or alone.

When it comes up again, and I am looked at with skepticism by those who have yet to discover Herbie’s art, is he one of the greatest?

All I can do is paraphrase Joyce’s Molly Bloom:

"Yes, yes.."

]]> (Maxwell Chandler) BeBop / Hard Bop - CD Reviews Sun, 29 Nov -0001 18:09:24 -0550
The Mix My first week back in a rainy Paris. The large old style windows in the bathroom are frosted a milky white. Below they look out onto the courtyard and above similar windows with their boxes of Geraniums drooping their heads in this heavy rain. There is something hypnotic about how the lone light over the entrance to the courtyard door, used to lead one out of the courtyard, is diffused through the panes. I can not just hang out in here, it is odd, so I take baths. Foreve …

My first week back in a rainy Paris. The large old style windows in the bathroom are frosted a milky white. Below they look out onto the courtyard and above similar windows with their boxes of Geraniums drooping their heads in this heavy rain.

There is something hypnotic about how the lone light over the entrance to the courtyard door, used to lead one out of the courtyard, is diffused through the panes.

I can not just hang out in here, it is odd, so I take baths. Forever in my mind’s eye, I want to capture the dreamlike light, a shimmering grey dusk.

I rest the radio on a pile of towels, not too near the tub. I read Gautier while Poulenc plays. She pokes her head in the door to see if I had seen one of the dominos which had escaped from the box last night. Under water, I shrug my shoulders.

She listens to the music for a moment.

"Careful, you will mix your metaphors."

A lot of the great American songbook and indeed a large part of early cabaret seemed to effortlessly mix high art with a crowd pleasing populist bent. Humable tunes mixed with lyrics which encompassed social commentary yet, could pass for poetry.

Initially cabarets were like a café, but with more of a leaning towards alcohol. The twin birthplaces were Germany and Paris. Café culture seemed to start in both places simultaneously although with decidedly different flavors emanating from each place.

Right before and immediately preceding both wars, émigrés from all over Europe converged on Paris. Bringing their music, their poetry and different ethno-national takes on the current world situation.

Le Chat Noir in Montmartre (Paris) was a saloon descended from the type of small venue in which some of the romantic era artists would have given readings of their poems, tried out some of their smaller musical pieces or maybe even displayed a painting or two.

Le Chat Noir, unlike its predecessors though, gave off a more relaxed vibe. There was an exchange of ideas, an artistic cross pollination. With the inexpensive price of drinks, the live entertainment and the peasant stews usually bubbling on the stove it attracted not just artists, but a ready made audience of workers as well.

The small, intimate seating combined with an atmosphere more casual than what was to be found at the theater was one of the initial appeals of what would become known as cabaret.

At first, composers such as Debussy would play songs and works which, while written for smaller venues, still had the more formal sheen of respectability and a night at the theater. After World War I , the Weimar Republic (Germany) was a hot house of artistic freedom. A freedom which lasted up until change in the political climate and an oppressive regime, with policies which followed suit.

Cabaret was still loose, sexy and fun but a more satirical aspect crept in too. There were still image rich lyrics, but also some social commentary.

In Germany Kurt Weil began a successful collaboration with author/playwright Bertolt Brecht. They poked fun at the battle of the sexes, the seven deadly sins and all the other foibles of modern day man.

While in Paris a group of young, like-minded composers dubbed Le Six (Germaine Tailleferre, Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honneger, Louis Durey, Francis Poulenc, Georges Auric) began their careers which had gestated from within the walls of a cabaret.

Technically speaking, Weil/Brecht wrote mainly operas while Le Six wrote ballets, chamber music and symphonies. All these artists though, started in cabarets and even when not writing in the strictest definition of the word, cabaret songs, would often keep the stripped down instrumentation so often a prerequisite for the small stages of a cabaret.

There was in common too, the mix in lyrics between the literate and the things to be found in every day existence. Poetic words used to describe the heartache we all must experience, sung by but a few voices and accompanied by accordion and maybe a clarinet.

Cabarets would start to pop up in America as well during the early decades of the 1900’s. They quickly morphed however, sacrificing some of their intimacy for large dance floors on which one must be seen. There was music still, but it contained none of the socio-political elements to be found in the European artistic forbearers.

The Volstead act (prohibition) made selling alcohol illegal and was the death knell, at least temporarily, for America’s large clubs. This birthed the speakeasies which were smaller and closer in spirit to Europe’s cabarets. The silhouette of a tiarra’d woman lamenting the blues was a great distraction from the low quality of the bathtub gin patrons would overpay for the privilege to secretly drink.

After prohibition was the great depression, but the big cities in America wanted to celebrate, in denial. The Big clubs were back, cabaret’s rich relatives, referred to as a "supper club". The female singers were the same, although they must have felt out of place among so many glamorous penguins with their bejeweled wives or mistresses on their arms.

During this time, over in Europe were variations on all these types of nocturnal entertainment, from the cabarets which harkened back to its original conception to a more American concept, big clubs with overly iced Whisky Campbells.

Cabaret continued to morph, drawing from its past while also embracing the vernacular of a changing world both musically and lyrically. Kurt Weil, fleeing Nazi Germany would end up in the United States writing successful Broadway shows and some more of what could be considered cabaret songs.

Genres began to blur, torch song, saloon song, jazz singer. What was the difference and did it matter? The best art forms do not exist in a vacuum but draw from all which preceded it and what is current. In this way, cabaret at its best had much in common with jazz. Somewhere along the way though, cabaret lost something. There are still some good singers, but the overall genre itself brings forth to the layman, images of former music theater majors over-singing Gershwin a la American Idol to old ladies taking a break from the nickel slots. Cabaret has become in most people’s minds interchangeable with the more loathsome "dinner theater" genre just as the public often confuses the genre names of Cool Jazz (West Coast) with the Kenny G type of Smooth Jazz.

Yet, if one looks hard enough there are singers worth discovering and song writers who are, artistically directly descended from the initial intent of cabaret.

I have been lucky to discover recently both, combined together in one project.

Like the word genius, "Renaissance Man" is often over used. However, Oscar Brown Jr fits the description perfectly.

Oscar Brown Jr, (1926-2005) ever his own man, would have more in common with the European cabaret tradition than initial appearance would lead one to believe.

Oscar’s emotional and intellectual make up were very much formed from his experiences as an African American, but to some extent his music transcends issues of race alone. His song "’Bid Em In" about a slave auction can effect a person of any color or class much as Kurt Weil’s chamber maid Jenny’s longing for an account of her bosses in "Red Sails". Both too, share socially relevant message peppered with a wry humor. Oscar always managed to inform while also entertaining and never letting his art become merely rhetoric. In his art, his disenfranchised could be of any color.

His political activism alternated with songs about his children, about men and woman together, apart and yearning for what they do not have. A similar approach to cabaret and troubadours in the best sense of the tradition. Also like Kurt Weil and members of Le Six, Oscar drew upon many musical genres, incorporating them into his art to forge something familiar yet new.

Into his sonic crucible could be found elements of jazz, early blues-folk and aspects of protest songs.

The delivery too had much in common with the cabaret. Here were worlds and people vividly brought to into existence, their joys and pains experienced all within the life of a song. He had an actors ability to switch emotional gears with the cadence of his voice and a jazz musicians sense of timing.

Oscar’s mother was a teacher. His father was a successful lawyer and property broker who wanted his son to follow in his footsteps.

From an early age Oscar showed an interest in the written word. In grade school he was double promoted, starting the University of Wisconsin at the age of sixteen. It was also during this time Oscar performed on the radio show "Secret City".

School could not hold his interest and he was soon back home.

He found himself returning to the world of radio broadcasting, hosting the Negro News front, often being citied as the nations first African American news caster.

Ironically, he was sometimes considered too controversial by a show whose very nature and existence was hotly debated in some parts of the country.

Oscar left radio for a foray into politics, running for Illinois legislator (1948). While it was a failed bid, it began a lifelong participation in politics which also included a run for a state senate position under the Republican party.

In the future his politics would sometimes become less formalized, but at the root were always a concern for the rights and dignity of the working class and minorities.

His interest in the condition of the working class and desire to make everything equal and better for all was also shown by joining the communist party. An affiliation which lasted some ten years, ending with his famous quip:

"I was too black to be red."

All during his political activities and radio days Oscar had continued to write. He wrote songs, plays and prose.

He was neighbors with "A Raisin in the Sun" playwright Lorraine Hansberry. Through her he met Robert Nemiroff, her husband, who was a music publisher and early supporter of Oscar’s songs.

Initially, Oscar shopped his songs around, hoping for someone else to sing them. Columbia Records offered a contract, wanting to sign Oscar not as a songwriter, but a singer.

Although he sat on the offer for a year, he did eventually sign. During this time he would appear on Max Roach’s civil rights album "Freedom Now Suite".

His initial Columbia album "Sin and Soul" contained one of his most powerful songs "Bid ‘Em In" along with modern jazz instrumental standards to which he added lyrics and vocals to great effect (Bobby Timmons "’Dat Dere" and Mongo Santamaria’s "Afro Blue").

The songs were sung, but also because of his background in radio and his own innate abilities, acted. His songs were now being covered by other singers (Lena Horn, Mahalia Jackson et al).

He began to play some of jazz’s hallowed halls (Village Vangard, The Jazz Workshop). Using the exposure he was garnering and feeding off the excitement, he wrote a musical "Kicks and Company" (1961). Like some of the best modern theater/musicals, songs from "Kicks.." all go together to form a larger picture, but can also be enjoyed singularly.

The need for finances was a catalyst for this play becoming a broadcasting first and last when at the invitation of Today Show host Dave Garroway, Oscar was allowed to take over the full two hours to raise funds for his show.

The show received mixed reviews only being more appreciated now, when looked back on through the lens of time.

Oscar was not forever reinventing himself, but as a man and as an artist, constantly evolving adding to his palette even as he added to his output. His body of work is widely varied. Not made up of "good" and "bad", but encompassing change and growth while still retaining the familiar voice of the artist. He would write more plays, incorporate Brazilian music, seventies funk inflections, work with inner city youth gangs, write, act and of course sing.

Towards the end of his life he seemed to have been discovered by a new generation of fans through things like appearances on Russell Simmon’s Def Poetry and appearances with his daughter Maggie, also an accomplished singer.

Linda Kosut was born in New York where she studied piano and dance at an early age. Like many modern day artists she had to turn to the business world for her daily bread, yet never stopping her musical studies. The mid 90’s found her publicly performing again, getting back into the stream of things at open mic nights and piano bars. A 2003 album "Life is But a Dream" was voted one of the top female vocalist recordings that year by Cabaret Hotline Online in New York.

Three years later she founded The Kitchenettes, an ensemble who sing about delights both gastronomical and of the heart. They toured San Francisco and Italy. On her own Linda traveled, performing her show about following one’s bliss, "My Own Kind Of Hat".

"Long as You’re Living" is the new CD by Linda Kosut. It encompasses a cross section of the work of Oscar Brown. One of the many compelling aspects of this CD is that it does not merely present all the familiar songs, there are some penned later in Oscar’s career which even an established fan may not know. Although this is not the first major work in her oeuvre, Linda initially encountered his work as a young girl in the 60’s and the thrill of that discovery has stayed with her through the years. The project came about when originally she was searching for the lead sheet for one song, "Humdrum Blues". An unexpected "yes" from the publisher led to the formation of a full fledged show. In her research, Linda started a correspondence with Maggie Brown, Oscar’s daughter. Maggie gave the show her blessing and the two have since performed together also appearing on the morning television show "View From The Bay". (Nov. 16, 2007)

This album is almost like a collaboration, Linda’s voice is definitely one of the stars of the show, yet Oscar’s personality is ever present. His lyrical intent is never lost or buried even as Linda manages to artistically sit by his side. Is she a cabaret singer? The semantics of such a thing are a moot point. She is a singer of great ability who could sing cabaret (proper traditional) too. A simple thing which I found impressive is the organic strength of her voice which is deftly wielded so that she can handle complicated passages without any dead spaces being created from having to rein back.

There are many highlights on this CD. The first track "A Tree and Me" has the narrator mixing his ashes with a sapling tree in lieu of a headstone. The song has a melancholy beauty and should be heard by anyone who would write off Oscar as merely an afro-centric artist. Lyrically too, this song is perhaps a good metaphor for Oscar’s art and jazz in general, the ashes of one generation providing for growth of the next. The song is the perfect introduction to the sonic delights to be found on this album.

A lot of contemporary vocal albums have either the voice way too far up front or to compensate, everything is blaring, coming at you all at once. Here, there is a delicate layering of instruments and vocals. The soft tinkling of Max Perkoff on piano with a rich bass bowing, a chamber music like tinge, from Tom Shader. Aside from painting lyrical pictures, the voice here is treated as another instrument. There is also none of the frigid digital perfection that can make it sound like everyone came in at different times to record their parts. Towards the end of the piece Paul Van Wageningen provides the rain like patter of the cymbals, wrapping themselves around the voice without any danger of distraction. There are some drummers who can play soft and delicate, others who swing madly. Paul effortlessly can change gears adding to the emotional landscape of each piece regardless of tempo and timber.

The album is not a concept album embodying the linear view of only one story, but a theme one. There is a perfect balance in the programming of the songs’ orders. The slower tempo and melancholy bent of the first song gives way to the quicker paced "Mr. Kicks". The varied feel of each song keeps the album from ever becoming dull, yet taken all together they form a coherent picture of two artists’ distinct voices. "Mr. Kicks" is a deceptively happy song and following in a long tradition, presents temptation and the devil as sexy and fun even as you are being warned.

My favorite track on the album is "Hazel’s Hips". A bluesy tempo valentine to a waitress whose appeal makes the narrator eat "six meals a day in a crummy café" just to see her shapely charms. Linda’s voice shows its strength here in such a subtle way that upon first listen it is deceptively simple in how she uses it to convey romance combined with a more earthy heat. The trombone is the come hither of Hazel but also the panting of a lunchtime crowd completely under her spell. Throughout the album the bass changes its cadence, here it thickly bubbles. A big man humming the blues as the story unfolds.

"The Snake" starts with a muted horn playing in a hot jazz mode with the cymbals acting as the dancers. Lyrically it is a variation on the folk tale of the scorpion and the frog at the river (it doesn’t end well for any concerned). Here Linda demonstrates, much as Oscar used to, the ability to act the story from within the confines of a song.

There have been many treatments of the music of Thelonious Monk and modern jazz standards in general. Unlike some cases, here the added vocals to the Monk standard "Round Midnight" do not seem superfluous. The lyrics, initially a weary requiem for the end of day. Half way through the piece, the piano pulses and the Oscar Brown poem "The Beach" is recited, seamlessly integrated into the body of the song. A lament for friends and a generation gone, storming a beach which is the youth of us all. Each generation, despite our victories, is destined to fall to age, time, the winner always in a fatal game.

The CD is forty seven minutes long. A mark of a good album is how abstract one’s sense of time becomes while listening, the album seems neither too short nor too long. The sound quality, while completely possessing the (for me) important organic quality, is pristine. The liner notes are brief and by Linda. The band is small, a trio with Max doubling up on piano and trombone, and containing no weak links. Tom’s bass manages to have a distinctive voice, yet like the cadence heard over the course of a good conversation, it changes from piece to piece. Both Max and Paul I have seen in different ensembles. Without submerging any of their identity, both here have further expanded their palettes bringing something different to the table.

"Old Lover’s Song" sounded familiar to me. Trying to recall where I had heard the melody was like an itch I could not scratch. It is a Jacques Brel song. Lyrically, it is a couple with a history, grown comfortable with their battle, the battle of the sexes and the suspicion that the fight might very well be part of their life long courting.. Here it is sung in English with a brief refrain in French. Jacques Brel, like Oscar wore many hats. The inclusion of this song reiterates what we should all learn; good music need know no color; and troubadour, cabaret et al, the only music labels which matter are good and bad.

Long As You’re Living: The Songs & Poetry of Oscar Brown JR

Linda Kosut

Linda Kosut-vocals

Max Perkoff- piano, trombone

Tom Shader-bass

Paul Van Wageningen-percussion

-Maxwell will return with more adventures in sound-

]]> (Maxwell Chandler) Jazz Viewpoints Sat, 29 Jan 2011 20:34:28 -0600
Dream of the Red Door: Erik Satie (1866-1925) envisioned "furniture music". The nascent genre was, by half a century, an early precursor to the modern (techno) ambient genre. A concept of music heard in the background adding to the mood but not demanding the full attention of its listeners. Erik Satie’s music, upon first listen would seem deceptively simple; often made up of a repetitive pattern, somewhat trance inducing. It was this seemingly simplistic approach which made the influence …

Erik Satie (1866-1925) envisioned "furniture music". The nascent genre was, by half a century, an early precursor to the modern (techno) ambient genre. A concept of music heard in the background adding to the mood but not demanding the full attention of its listeners.

Erik Satie’s music, upon first listen would seem deceptively simple; often made up of a repetitive pattern, somewhat trance inducing. It was this seemingly simplistic approach which made the influence of his music not fully realized nor appreciated in his time. With never any official recognition within his lifetime, he largely remained an artist’s artist.

Directly, he influenced his near contemporaries Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) and Claude Debussy (1862-1918). They took aspects of some of his concepts, incorporating it successfully with what was already in their artistic palette.

The use of non-musical objects, such as gunfire and the clacking of typewriters from his ballet score for Parade would in various ways influence the early wave of modernists in music and literature. Chief architect of the Dadaist, Tristan Tzara (1896-1963) was a fan and friend as was Surrealist "pope" Andre Breton (1896-1966). A group of young composers out of Paris called Le Six gathered together under the wing of Jean Cocteau initially cited Erik Satie as their spiritual forefather. Within a few years of their association some of them would break with their artistic forefather, but all would cherry pick different aspects of what he had been doing, incorporating it into their own works.

Satirical titles and instructions were also often included in Erik Satie’s compositions, early precursor to some of the initial works of John Cage (1912- 1992). Indeed, John Cage’s 4’33 was a piece in three movements in which not a single note was played. Instead the ambient acoustics provided the music and sound. Every venue in which it was performed offering a different version. This element of chance would be emphasized even more in later John Cage works, the "in the moment" not a dissimilar aspect to live jazz solos. The 4’33 piece could be seen as the offspring of Erik Satie’s instruction for the performer to immerse themselves in "utter silence and grave immobilities" and other such directions as he often wrote in the margins of his scores.

Minimalism is another genre which can trace some of its origins back to the solo piano work of Erik Satie. The steady repetitive pulse point or drone upon which a musical pattern is formed then built off of without losing the thread of the main theme can be glimpsed in such Erik Satie pieces as "Gymnopedies" and "Gnossienes".

In the 1960’s the concept was refined and perfected by composers on both coasts of The United States: Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Phillip Glass who studied under John Cage. Minimalism seems to exist now in the public’s awareness in only one form. There is the oversimplified synth heavy works often used in background of commercials or when showing a montage of things being done on police procedural programs.

No longer being a "new" thing, the possibilities and works are not readily promoted to the more casual listener. This is a musical medium which still, when utilized correctly has much potential. One of the obvious appeals to both composer and listener would be the protean quality inherently found within minimalism’s framework. It can jump not just a music’s genre, but the actual category too, Jazz to modern classical. From a performer’s point of view the ability to improvise ad infinitum over the established pattern allows for much potential.

The Transhumans’ album "Into the Maelstrom" Shows that minimalism is far from played out. Strictly speaking, this trio is not rigidly minimalistic nor jazz. Does it matter? Not at all.

The Transhumans are a trio consisting of Justin Cassidy on electronics, Bob Sterling on drums/electronics and Patrick Rodriguez on electronics. Despite mainly being electronic in nature the music sounds less techno and more improvisational.

I really like this album. I could not just pick it up and listen to it at any time of the day, but that can be said of a lot of the challenging music I treasure; Schoenberg, Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman.

Throughout the album are stylistic elements from many aspects of music both jazz and non-jazz.

"Part One: Adrift" could be free jazz. It starts with a voice real low in the mix, giving the effect of eavesdropping on a secret daydream. The drums set up a pattern over which feedback and other electronic blips serve as the "solo" voice. The music does achieve a type of climax with the drums increasing the tempo towards the end. The way the pattern is slowly built over thirteen minutes, gaining momentum in a subtle way is almost reminiscent of various North African pieces of trance music and traditional upper Egypt percussion works.

"Part Two: Descent" is not dissimilar to works by The Aphex Twins (Richard James) from "Selected Ambient Works Volume 2". A greater sense of tension is achieved not just on this piece but throughout the album by the presence of acoustic drums. It lends an organicness to the overall feel. In no way though do the Transhumans merely ape or rift off of The Aphex Twins. If two people say they had a dream of a red door, chances are the dimensions of the door may be the same, but ornamentation, hue of color and where the door leads will be completely different.

There is some discordance to be found throughout the album, when you are in the mood for this type of music though, it does not detract at all. The Theremin like waves of static in this piece could easily have been an alto during the "New Thing" hay days of the mid sixties.

Often throughout the album there is a repetition, a pattern is established over which the trio further builds. This is not an album to listen to casually or if you have distractions. It is headphone music. This is the best way to notice, as they build their sonic Mandala, one pattern begins to fall apart even as a new one is being formed.

Over all I do enjoy techno-ambient music. Sound wise though, what a lot of albums eventually suffer from is a certain sterileness. All the sounds are digital or sampled in nature and recorded using cutting edge studio perfection which does not age well. Here though, while this is not a lo-fi, neither is it overly done in the vernacular of today’s studio technology. Throughout the album the sound is overall excellent.

"Part Three: Drunken Boat" starts with a sort of trancy bass and hi-hats setting up a pattern over which among other things a sort of electric bowing can be heard. This is probably the most "accessible" track on the album. It best illustrates too, the potential of The Transhumans’ music to be enjoyed by a wide spectrum of music fans providing they do not get bogged down in worrying about genre names. There is what sounds like the slurring of reel to reel tapes and a "tiny voice" which could be someone’s conscious riffing on street life observed from within the head.

Erik Satie always preferred to be called a Phonometrograph (someone who measures and writes down sound) and that may also be one of the best ways to describe this compelling trio.

The packaging is professional, but no liner notes, which is actually pretty standard for a lot of techno-ambient music. The cover is good, three figures looking as if they are on their way to a chorus club meeting via an alien abduction.

Jazz for most of it’s life-span has always built off of its past while ever looking ahead. If jazz is going to continue to survive it must shake off its lethargy and embrace not just its past, but what is new now, world music elements. What is going on in the underground utilizing techniques and instruments which do not necessarily come immediately to mind when one thinks of jazz. I still find much joy and inspiration from listening to all the original masters, but maybe the next Charlie Parker is in a cellar club with a midi enabled turntable.

Maxwell will return with more adventures in sound

]]> (Maxwell Chandler) Jazz Viewpoints Sat, 29 Jan 2011 20:34:28 -0600
Further Evolutions: Dana Leong, Downtown, Loft and Nu-Jazz There is a tradition as old as jazz itself of musicians finishing a gig, and then instead of going to bed, finding a little club or party where, safe among their fellow musicians and the equally appreciative faithful, they cut loose. Aside from providing a type of release, these after hour jam sessions sometimes allowed them to work out new theories. Like a lot of developments in modern art such as Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) using Ripolin house paint in his works (1912) one factor of i …

There is a tradition as old as jazz itself of musicians finishing a gig, and then instead of going to bed, finding a little club or party where, safe among their fellow musicians and the equally appreciative faithful, they cut loose. Aside from providing a type of release, these after hour jam sessions sometimes allowed them to work out new theories.

Like a lot of developments in modern art such as Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) using Ripolin house paint in his works (1912) one factor of innovation has always been money or lack of. Downtown music started in the 1960’s. It directly was born of the 1950’s artists of various mediums, who unable to live, work or have their art seen/heard anywhere else began using the then still inexpensive lofts as de-facto base of operations for everything.

This concept was further adapted by the Fluxus Movement, which was an international movement that borrowed from the most forward thinking aspects of what had gone on before it (surrealism/Dadaism) and continued its modernization with a multi-media aspect. These small intimate concerts/theater/concept pieces were known as "happenings".

The Downtown sound did not have one specific aesthetic or feel. There was a cross current of styles to be found which blurred not only genres of jazz, but categories of music as well. Initially, there were elements of free jazz, modern classical and world music. All this diverse music had many differences but also some key elements in common. There was political/intellectual/spiritual aspects to all of it, mixed to varying degrees. Since this music was very much outsider art there was a sense of kinship between all the artists regardless of the fact that one may lean more towards the western (modern) classical and another more towards the (free) jazz aspects of playing and composing.

The loft venues themselves were smaller than most clubs and this also created a feeling of collaboration between the audience and artists. There was not an overall hierarchy in regards to composer/performers. Freedom to pursue one’s muse without tempering it with commercial considerations meant that many artists whose work is now seen as integral to the cannon of modern music at least briefly could be found on this scene.

The Loft Jazz movement naturally evolved out of the downtown sound scene. By the early 1970’s Acoustic (‘classic") jazz was an endangered species. The record buying youth were voting with their dollars on rock and roll’s future. Some of jazz’s most visible figures like Miles Davis more and more embraced rock’s rhythms and sonic devices. Those who wanted to cast out in a different less populist direction either set out for Europe (Mal Waldron, Eric Dolphy, et al) or emerged themselves in the downtown/loft scene.

Multi-reedist George Braith opened a basement club in New York (also one of first stateside vegetarian restaurants) called Musart. This was an important venue for the forward thinking elements of jazz. Performers who were already established and up and comers pursuing a deeper, freer muse which were all lumped under an avant garde category could meet and perform there. Around this time too, Ornette Coleman began giving concerts out of his loft on Prince Street (NYC) and multi-reedist Sam Rivers had Studio Rivbea (NYC) which became focal point of a sort of sonic "art for art’s sake" where concerts were given and some recordings were also made.

As the downtown sound organically morphed into loft jazz an electric element became more frequently used in instrumental line ups. Unlike what was going on in jazz however the instrument was made to fit the music not vice versa.

The loft music scene never died, it did however morph as even now it continues to. The term itself fell into a sort of disuse as some of the composers who had been in on the scene found their works slowly gaining exposure and recognition to more than just those in the know. While there was never a sudden whole sale acceptance of this music, it did start to reach more of the casual listening public even if only as cursory inspiration and provider of devices used as flavoring in more palatable music.

Another factor of change to the scene was the onset of new venues which were not strictly downtown or even lofts that began featuring concerts of this music.

One thing which had always hindered downtown/loft music from gaining wider acceptance more easily was the dizzying array of genres and subgenres which were all occurring at once. Jazz with all its genres usually was easier to categorize as they all followed specific sonic formulas and modes of creation and although no type of jazz ever completely disappears, often one came after another in the music going public’s conscious. Loft music had many things going at once as artists like some modern seers on the dole, pursued their new muses concurrently in many directions some well outside of jazz and connected only tenuously to jazz by an improvisational aspect or lack of general recognition outside of specific circles.

Just a quick glance reveals under this one musical umbrella, Conceptualism, Minimalsim, Free Improvisation, Totalism. It was hard to know where to start one’s exploration or sometimes, for store owners, where to put the albums. Later, turnbulism based music would suffer the same disadvantage (Techno-ambient, Low-beat- jungle, house et al).

The spirit of downtown/loft if not the actual theories has fully carried over into ensuing generations, in the early days of hip-hop with its interesting sound loops and in the DIY of early waves of the punk explosion. More recently the Lo-Fi movement can be seen as more of the initial scene’s progeny. Loft Music, Downtown sound are no longer restricted to one specific location in or around NYC or even to one country. It is now sometimes used as a short hand to describe any multi-influenced/component music done with all commercial considerations secondary thing.

To say that later Loft musician/composers sometimes mixed the high with the low art is to sell short the touches of the day’s vernacular which sometimes found their way into the art. It speaks if even unintentionally of a type of sonic gag which was often not the case. One of many examples would be John Zorn (1953) who would combine the discordant and cerebral aspects of free/avant jazz and modern classical with inspiration gleamed from cartoon soundtrack music of Carl Stalling (1891-1972) and spaghetti western maestro Ennio Morricone (1928). Such divergent sources combined to make music which packed an emotional punch.

Today there is an even greater influx of influences from things aurally observed in the everyday. From rap to world music, it is all easier to get and sample thanks to the internet. Recordings are more easily made, home recording equipment having become smaller, cheaper and simpler to use which is resulting in anther loft type of movement, not necessarily in location but spirit. People are mixing genres, combining inspirations while not worrying about categorization.

A good example of this is multi instrumentalist Dana Leong. Dana can be seen as a direct artistic descendant of the Downtown/Loft pedigree. It is not so much that he tries to build off of someone like John Zorn, but what Dana has in common with not just him but the scene in general is a sense of freedom and exploration and a willingness to draw from a multitude of diverse sources simultaneously.

A child prodigy, Dana started playing piano at the age of one. By the age of six he was taking lessons and by eight entering into international competitions. Dana’s older brother Eric plays violin and trumpet. At the age of eight, Dana’s mother would inspire Dana to switch his instruments to cello and trombone. Still a strong multi-instrumentalist, it is these two instruments along with his composing with which Dana is making his mark.

His initial exposure to music was classical, but steadily he would enlarge the musical terrain upon which he traveled. It is perfect symmetry that Dana was born and spent his early years in San Francisco, then as now a cultural melting pot as his music perfectly mirrors the diversity of sounds upon which he draws for inspiration.

1998 saw Dana expose himself further to new inspirations and explorations as he moved to New York. It was here that he made his first album Leaving New York (2006 Tateo Sound) while fronting his own band The Dana Leong Quintet.

This album is the perfect place to start discovering Dana’s music. The group is his working group and the pieces reflect this in the interplay of the band. It sounds as if they are having a good time even on the more somber pieces. Another benefit which arises from the band is that all the members of the ensemble are composers in their own right so what is played or left out of a piece never feels as if it is merely filler.

Whether he is playing cello or trombone Dana shows an equal amount of finesse. A nice effect and one which allows the album stand up to repeated listening is that none of the pieces feel like merely a sonic back drop for Dana to solo over. The album has seven tracks with three making up a suite titled Mother Nature Suite. A track before the suite and three after break things up without destroying the overall tension of the album.

Some of the many stand out moments from the album:

The first track starts off with a spoken word intro by Baba Israel. It has a poetic feel while avoiding the now atypical slam style cadence which seems to be the derigeur for anything not delivered in a straight out rap style. Throughout the album when Baba’s vocals appear, it is never a distraction. On pieces where his delivery veers more towards the rap side, it is not rap in its current incarnation of bling and Kristal, but a rhythmic delivery showing another way while still managing to encompass the energy of the street. The vocals give way to flute which have a sort of soul-groove cadence as a contemplative cello takes the main theme over plinking of violin sounding almost harp like.

Although not part of the Mother Nature Suite, the first track seamlessly transitions into the next track, the start of the suite. The album has several guest stars and the start of the suite features the first, bassist Christian McBride. His bass sounding full and rich plays over soft in the mix strings at the introduction. Violinist Christian Howe merges his voice with Dana’s cello to create a thing of subtle beauty. This first part of the suite manages to conjure up a sense of building tension in a subtle way, avoiding some of the usual devices such as merely increasing the tempo or volume of certain instruments. Even while still in the first movement of the suite; there is a sonic metamorphous. The bass re-emerges from the trio it had been in with the other strings to play a bouncing figure which is joined by a classic organ combining with Aviv Cohen’s light touch at the drums. The movement changes several more times in feel as Dana lays down solo statements behind Jason Linder’s piano. Jason has a chance to solo towards the end in a bright and percussive style. During his solo, like the music on this album in general, there is a fusion of styles as is evidenced by the occasional soft blossoming of electro "wahs" during his solo and the hard edged guitar solo which takes over the lead from him. There is a constant mixing of electric and acoustic instruments which lends this album a perfect headphone element.

The second part of the suite, Storm Warning starts off with an Asian feel one lone instrument as if being heard on an old transistor radio. Cascading piano and sawing strings take over, which along with rolling drums create drama. This part of the suite very much has a modern classical feel to it. So well do the instruments create a picture in the mind’s eye that even without knowing the title of the piece, one calls up appropriate images. Like the other parts of the suite, this movement changes in what instrumental voices are heard in the lead and the cadence of their voices. It also serves to show that it does not take a large number of instruments to effectively create and perform an extended suite. In this piece Dana is heard on trombone. His playing possesses a tone both well rounded and articulate. It has that bumble bee quality with just the right amount of treble.

The piece ends with the soft song of birds, the storm warning over and giving way to the next movement Amen. The piece stars with a hushed grace. There is a slow building of organ, cello and trombone. There is a Sunday Morning sanctified feel which is apropos for the movements title. This is the shortest section of the movement and throughout the trombone has an almost baroque tone and the organ a vintage sound and feel devoid of kitsch and hollow nostalgia. The suite ends in a state of grace or at the very least, a sun soaked dawn.

The last track on the album Insatiable has a guest appearance by eight time Grammy winner Paquito D’Rivera on clarinet. The song’s start has a sort of klezmer meets Argentinean Tango feel; the mix of reed with strings playful and with soul. The song changes with introduction of a quicker tempoed percussive part before changing yet again showing Paquito’s innate ability to switch styles while keeping his voice always recognizable. Paquito does not hobble the band, never forcing them to remain in one style. In his own work he has been known to effortlessly switch sonic gears a few times over the span of one piece. He has great chemistry with Dana’s band which is not a surprise. Dana has played in Paquito’s Jazz Chamber Trio sometimes filling in Yo-Yo Ma’s spot. This too makes sense as Dana, like Yo-Yo has certain cinematic aspects to his playing and compositions.

The album has no weak moments nor links in the band. The sound is pristine with all sorts of small interesting things occurring within a piece aside from the main instrumentation. Dana’s music is a perfect place to start for someone who is seeking music not easily pigeon holed and which will outlive current musical fads. It shows an aspect of what was Downtown/Loft sound while being more accessible to the casual listener than some of those who came before him. That is not to imply Dana’s music is simpler or watered down, he just pushes less discordant elements to the fore of his compositions. A musical freedom he takes full advantage of to create something which moves forward even as he takes the occasional glance back.

]]> (Maxwell Chandler) Jazz Viewpoints Sat, 29 Jan 2011 20:34:28 -0600
Sharing the Joy Growing up, both of Holly Yarbrough’s parents were artists. This meant that she had an untraditional, nomadic youth. In lieu of the typical steady friendships, Holly developed a special relationship with music. It was a source of comfort and inspiration with different songs to soundtrack every mood and activity. After an odyssey which found her singing classical arias and performing and recording with her folk stalwart father, Glenn Yarbrough ("Baby, The Rain Must Fall" 1965) came the …

Growing up, both of Holly Yarbrough’s parents were artists. This meant that she had an untraditional, nomadic youth. In lieu of the typical steady friendships, Holly developed a special relationship with music. It was a source of comfort and inspiration with different songs to soundtrack every mood and activity.

After an odyssey which found her singing classical arias and performing and recording with her folk stalwart father, Glenn Yarbrough ("Baby, The Rain Must Fall" 1965) came the desire to discover her own artistic voice and way.

She found herself in Nashville immersing deeply into the local jazz scene and participating in jazz workshops.

It was in Nashville among an inspiring and supportive community that Holly decided to finally record as leader. Keeping with her philosophy that all music should have elements of intimacy and create an emotional response Holly chose the music of Fred "Mister" Rogers for its inherent joy called forth in the zeitgeist of most people’s childhood memories.

The album’s initial description would make it seem a thing of kitsch or at best an ironic thing for hipsters to put on during a cocktail party. Not at all, aside from the words to the well known "Won’t You Be My Neighbor" this is a legitimate album free from all camp. Someone devoid of knowledge of Mister Roger’s music would just think it is a really good jazz album. An odd starting off point for a project, to be sure, but one which surprisingly succeeds.

Although this is the music of Fred Roger’s, the album is not meant to "teach life lessons". It has been said that a good singer could sing the phone book and it would sound good. What could in other people’s hands come across as overly saccharine; works here. Throughout the album Holly’s voice gives off a sexy but fun vibe similar to June Christy in a good mood.

When the casual music fan thinks of Nashville it conjures up images of cowboy hats and lap steel players. There is actually a strong community of musicians who easily jump genres with great understanding of the various musical terrains upon which they tread.

Nashville is famous for its recording studios and music stores. Before recording began various vintage mics were tested. This worked to great advantage for the album, creating a warm ambient sound akin to how the Verve label late 50’s recordings sound. Here you get the best of both worlds; pristine sound but with that organic feel so often missing in newer recordings.

The core band for the album is the Lori Mechem Trio (piano, bass, drums) with guest stars on trombone, saxophone, fiddle, trumpet and cello. Holly met most of the players through the jazz workshop or contacts she made through them.

Both the sound and interplay of the band further emphasize that this is no mere ‘two listen then forget’ album. The band all play well off each other and with Holly. There is never a forced or phoned in moment.

The album has a unified feel but never at the risk of all the tracks being selfsame. The album clocks in at a little under an hour. The mark of a good album, the time passes by quickly. While I enjoyed the entire album, there were some definite standout moments for me.

The first track, the well known theme song "Won’t You Be My Neighbor" shows off the fullness of the horns with Richard Smith’s classic sounding hollow body jazz guitar. Here, on Holly’s opening shot she shows that this is no mere hobby for her. It is nice to see the trend of up and coming singers actually singing, not doing that talk-sing and not over selling it, the "American Idolization" of singing. Her time singing in other genres has given her the ability to create a sort of intimate, hushed intensity.

"You’ve Got to Do It" has plunged wah-wah horns. Their joy is perfectly matched by buoyant dancing piano of Lori Mechem. This album was also one of the last recorded appearances by the popular saxophonist Boots Randolph. Here he provides a honking blues soaked solo, the ghosts of a thousand honky tonk juke boxes smiling down with approval.

"I Like to be Told" adds a sultry component to the album. Here is Mister Rogers with a martini in his hand, breaking hearts. Without overacting or burying the original intent the song is subtly changed in Holly’s hands. There is a laconic blues, the piano softly tinkling in the spirit of the best saloon songs.

"Sometimes People Are Good" starts off with a duet between Roger Spencer’s brightly colored bass and Chris Brown’s snappy brushwork. There is a great guitar break which embraces aspects of country swing and Charlie Christian. This track best illustrates the album’s over all theme of cheer. Happiness without the faintest whiff of cheese. Even though it is a trio with guest stars added there is a cohesiveness to the interplay among the musicians that allows for no short cuts to have to be taken in arrangements or improvisations.

"It’s You I Like" begins with a wistful piano and hushed vocals. It comes across as a torch song without being bogged down in lack of subtlety. Being just piano and vocals, it shows the trueness of not only the talent to be found on this album but the fullness of sound. The pacing is spot on leaving no sonic holes for the listener’s attention to fall through.

Sound aside another distinguishing thing about this album is the packaging. Instead of going with a diamond case and glamour shot cover photo there is a well constructed cardboard triple gate case, the center panel of which holds the CD. It has that vintage album cover look to it and is very well made. Each CD case is numbered with no liner notes but a postcard reproducing the album art work.

"When Day Turns To Night" is a light samba with George Tidwell’s muted trumpet meshing with Holly’s sustained vocals. In keeping with the samba spirit the song is lightly peppered with some acoustic guitar which practically makes one feel the beach sand under feet. Both the lyrics and arrangement of the piece give it a sort of timeless feel, it sounds as if it is a standard.

The album over all is happy but manages to switch emotional gears; although always within the realm of the positive. When called for, Holly’s vocals have a romanticism without an overly burning immediacy which would effect the delightful organic sense of tension. The slow smolder makes Holly’s magic all the more potent.

Jazz has commercially become marginalized. Long ago rock replaced it as the music of youth and rebellion. And now even with rock, things ain’t what they used to be. The budgets and attention go to pop confections which have little more importance or staying power than that of flavor of the month. The bottom line has largely won out. Anyone thinking outside the box must release their works independently or play the game. An advantage of Holly’s first project being so left of field is that she prevents any kind of artistic/stylistic branding or pigeon holing. With interviews and promotional materials she will not be forced into a role by some marketing department, adopting a persona "Earth mother", "The Bluesy one" et al. There was also great foresight in not trying to promote the album as a quirky thing as it is a true thing of beauty merely birthed from a quirky idea. This album allows one to visit an old childhood friend in a new way.

Mister Rogers Swings (Vintage Disc)

Holly Yarbrough-vocals

Richard Smith-guitar

Lori Mechem-piano

Roger Spencer-bass

Chris Brown-drums

Roy Agee-trombone

George Tidwell-trumpet

Boots Randolph-saxophone

Julie Adams-cello

Stuart Duncan-fiddle

]]> (Maxwell Chandler) Jazz Viewpoints Sat, 29 Jan 2011 20:34:21 -0600
Bright Young Things New Orleans is often claimed to be jazz’s birthplace. While that point may be arguable to some, it was definitely, if not the birthplace, then the all important incubator. Being an active seaport and a multi cultural way station, it was the perfect place for an art form that would incorporate so many diverse elements. Initial jazz bands were largely an entertainment phenomenon. Typified by the brass bands such as could be found playing dances, bars and other colorful places in the Story …

New Orleans is often claimed to be jazz’s birthplace. While that point may be arguable to some, it was definitely, if not the birthplace, then the all important incubator. Being an active seaport and a multi cultural way station, it was the perfect place for an art form that would incorporate so many diverse elements. Initial jazz bands were largely an entertainment phenomenon. Typified by the brass bands such as could be found playing dances, bars and other colorful places in the Storyville area of New Orleans. The structure of this early music was very simple, a specific rhythm was set up and people would shake their thing on the dance floor or march down the streets in a funeral procession. Slowly, soloists and their distinctive voices started creeping into the music, playing a more prominent part and serving as catalyst for the arrangements to reach for more complexity.

Kid Ory (1886-1973) and Joe "King" Oliver (1885-1939) were among the first star soloists, hot on their heels was Louis Armstrong (1901-1971) and Bix Beiderbecke (1903-1931). Their innovations brought jazz closer to the art form as we today know it. The tempos and rhythms still strongly emphasized dancing, but now too there were the beginnings of more formalized arrangements for the band.

Like the music itself, several things went into creating "The Jazz Age" which was to last, roughly a decade, providing a soundtrack for the 1920’s. At this time Chicago began to attract many southern state African Americans, musicians among them, with the promises of work. All the initial progenitors of jazz soon found themselves in Chicago serving residency at its various clubs. Earl Hines, Sidney Bechet and Jelly Roll Morton all found themselves working this city. They started to gain a wider recognition through records they were now able to cut, bringing jazz to the national consciousness.

The First World War had ended there was a collective sense of relief and the need to celebrate. Almost mirroring aspects of the Italian Futurists movement, anything which was mechanical was modern, which became a byword for good. The entire country seemed caffeinated and the rhythms of this hot jazz gave cause to create kinetic sculptures on the dance floor. Just as instrumental soloists had crept into jazz, further evolving it, so now too did vocalists. For such early singers as Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters and Ma Rainey, there were innuendos, slang and amusing anecdotes for people to keep up on if they wanted to be hip. The number of musicians in an ensemble now also increased too. Pop music was the dance music, almost every song seemed to have a dance for it, the Charleston, The Lindy Hop (created in the Savoy ballroom and named after Charles Lindbergh who was first to cross the Atlantic Ocean, solo flight) the fox trot, et al. Not everyone in the country had places they could go to check out the latest dances. Records began being made with increased frequency and radio shows broadcasting from the various ballrooms also got their start around this time. Coatrooms at all the clubs now had corset checks too, so the bob haired flappers could dance unencumbered. Everyone was geared up to attend a big party that was far too good to last. With the brilliance of a shooting star, it was over, gone. The era had gotten its Jazz Age moniker from the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald whose roman a clefs and own biography perhaps paint one of the most memorable pictures of the age.

The Jazz age gave way to the big band era. Not all the artistic greats imploded or used up all of their cache of social/artistic relevance. People like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway along with many others who had just been getting their starts during the jazz age would go on to flourish in the coming decades, contributing greatly to the jazz cannon. The big band era saw a further complexity of arrangements and technological advances in both records and radio broadcasting.

While the big band era was going there were other genres, tributaries which flowed from the same wellspring. Stride piano, a usually rapidly played solo piano piece which was made up of equal parts blues and classical components mixed together with improvisation, jazz’s lifeblood. Another genre which came up at the end of the jazz age and was inspired by big band was Country Swing.

Country swing was best exemplified by Bob Willis and His Texas Playboys. Inspired by what he had heard on the radio, Bob Willis (1905-1975) cut his first seminal recordings in 1935. Within these twenty four tracks, done in a homemade studio in Dallas were stylistic elements which would serve as, if not always obvious, key components to the more progressive elements of this big band sub genre.

Country Swing, like the musical genres of blues and country was not, in its nascence as rigid in its performance or compositional elements as it was later to become. Bob Willis would, like Duke Ellington, gather top notch musicians around him to both record and perform in live situations with. Where as the big band music which Bob Willis admired from the radio incorporated both the blues and the already diverse cultural elements from the southern practitioners, Bob Willis added western influences such as fiddle music and components from south of the border. There was to be found also a European feel not dissimilar to what people like Django Reinhardt (1910-1953) and his Quintette duo hot Club de France were doing over in Paris. In both cases it was one of the occasional and rare occurrences in music when popular culture and art seem to perfectly align, the artists achieving stardom on an international level.

Aside from mixing the different regional influences which included horns, fiddle and lap steel, Bob Willis’ music also incorporated vocalists. This cemented their popularity and also made them more accessible to the more casual, non-dancing listener. From his initial recognition when he and his group were known as the "Aladdin Laddies" (Aladdin Lamp Co was their sponsor) until well after he had received many accolades, Bob Willis always referred to his music as "Western Dance Music" not "Country Swing".

As much as I often refer to genre names, it is easy to get too bogged down in labels. This emphasis on genre can hinder or prevent ones enjoyment and exploration of all the music which is out there to discover.

I recently had the pleasure of discovering the music of a sextet out of Portland, Oregon called The Midnight Serenaders. Are they hot jazz, country swing? It does not matter, they incorporate many early jazz elements. Their album Magnolia is a pleasure to listen to. It manages to be both fun and art.

When the cocktail/swing revival of the late 1990’s came about there were many retro/novelty bands popping up in every major city, running the full gambit from swing to cocktail to hot jazz. Now these bands are mostly all gone, having briefly had their moment in the sun. Those that remain or whom are newly minted now do it for an affection for the music. The Midnight Serenaders manage to transcend being merely kitsch/retro, all the music capturing with emotional authenticity, the stylings of the early years of jazz.

All the band members are fully committed to the music and this translates into an authenticity which while managing to offer a sonic glimpse of jazz’s early years, is never a thing coldly trapped under museum glass. The execution is so well done that it avoids completely the risk of the Serenaders being merely a nostalgia act. Never once on the album do you get the feeling that you are listening to musicians doing a side project which allows them to play in a style outside their day-job métier to break up professional monotony.

In their promotional material and musical execution The Midnight Serenaders avoid pigeon holing themselves by strictly aligning themselves too specifically with one particular musical school, incorporating aspects of hot, swing and other early musical components. It is all seamlessly merged.

The songs on Magnolia are covers which run the full gambit of early jazz oeuvre, from "A Porter’s Love Song to a Chambermaid" (James P. Johnson) to a saucy "My Handyman" (Eubie Blake). The vocal chores are shared by Dee Settlemier who doubles on ukulele and Doug Sammons who also plays guitar. Dee’s singing throughout is strong and you never get the suspicion that studio wizardry is involved with any aspect of her performance. She is one part Louise Brooks mixed with one part Anita O’Day for the perfect vocalist cocktail. Doug’s vocals too are good, he sounds completely at home with the music never once stumbling or having to ever resort to the sort of "talk/singing" some do when out of their depth. On the songs where they sing together the contrasts are made interesting and work because they can both actually sing and their sense of fun and knowledge of the music clearly comes through on every song.

"I Must Have That Man" largely associated with Billie Holiday, here is given a new spin, surely the way one should approach any song already "owned" by a great. The Serenader’s version is melancholy, but unlike Lady Day’s, the romantic yearning is a temporary, minor setback. Here, one gets the feeling that the song’s protagonist will eventually get her man.

David Evans doubles up throughout the album on clarinet and saxophone. He gets a rich, laconic feel during some of his solos on saxophone such as can be found on "My Handyman". His clarinet playing is as equally satisfying letting out a low purr during some of the quieter moments on the album or playfully bubbling elsewhere.

Garner Pruitt on trumpet manages to encompass a compelling and varied technique throughout. He sometimes plays with mute other times does a trebled brass bumblebee shaking with mirth. It is nice too to hear someone play on a mute in a way other than how Miles Davis approached it.

The song "Sand" has some nice soloing on Hawaiian steel guitar by Henry Bogdan. The entire band plays but towards the end there is a sort of duet between clarinet and the Hawaiian steel which can easily set one to day dreaming. Hawaiian steel/lap steel is not that old of an instrument. I am surprised that it is not encountered more often in jazz. Much like vibraphones, part of the instruments power is in its ability to rapidly shift from helping to provide a sort of sonic ambient back ground support to one of lead solo voice. When soloing it can easily shift emotional gears, allowing for more varied expressions in its musical statement.

The bass played by Pete Lampe is tasteful and a perfect fit. There are no overly fancy solos of a style not congruent with the rest of the music. There is no drummer in the band, instead the various stringed instruments mixing with what Pete is doing shades of Django Reinhardt and his Quintette duo hot Club de France.

A lot of the lyrics tell stories and are fun to listen to, Tin Pan Alley’s wry humor now being largely forgotten by modern lyricists. Lyrically too, the innuendos are clever and often fun sexy but all delivered without over doing it. The vocal stylings and the way the music meshes with it make it so this album stands up to repeated listening. There are no weak links in the band and you never get the feeling you are listening to a singer’s album where a few token solos are thrown to the band.

The sound throughout is pristine. All the instruments and their layering can be heard even in a car with lackluster stereo. There are no liner notes, but the CD pamphlet is styled to look like an old magazine music ad. Throughout the album, the music is fun and all the band member’s personalities clearly come through. There is never any sense of gimmick or stale nostalgia. These are good musicians who have decided on a slightly different path. Expand your palette, have a drink and take a turn out on the dance floor with the Serenaders.

Midnight Serenaders - Magnolia

Doug Sammons - guitar& vocals

Henry Bogdan - Hawaiian steel guitar

Dee Settlemie - ukulele& vocals

Pete Lampe- upright bass

Garner Pruitt - trumpet

Davis Evans - clarinet& saxophone

-Maxwell Chandler will return with more adventures in sound-

]]> (Maxwell Chandler) Artist Biographies Sat, 29 Jan 2011 11:56:42 -0600
James Spaulding James Spaulding's pedigree is an impressive one. He has been called upon to add his touch on both alto saxophone and flute for countless classic 60's Blue Note albums. Now, as a leader and owner of Speetones label, he continues to add to his rich legacy. The Early Years Jazz Review: Your father was a professional touring musician. Did he encourage you to take up music? James Spaulding: I was strongly influenced by my father but it …

James Spaulding's pedigree is an impressive one. He has been called upon to add

his touch on both alto saxophone and flute for countless classic 60's Blue Note albums.

Now, as a leader and owner of Speetones label, he continues to add to his rich legacy.

The Early Years

Jazz Review: Your father was a professional touring musician. Did he encourage you to take up music?

James Spaulding: I was strongly influenced by my father but it was because of the recordings he brought home for me to listen to: Charlie Parker, Illinois Jacquet, and Dizzy Gillespie, and I wanted to play like Bird. Unfortunately, my dad's music career was interrupted by his responsibilities of supporting a family. I was the third sibling of seven children. I remember his selling insurance to pay the bills, but he also often played his guitar, while I listened. By the time I was born in 1937, my dad no longer traveled with his band. You could probably say that I was given a bugle to play by my dad at 5 years of age and from that first encounter, I knew that I would play a musical instrument. It was like a fish takes to water.

Jazz Review: In Indianapolis, your father's band ("The Original Brown Buddies") was the first integrated band. This was in the 1920's, a brave thing to do and I imagine not an easy road to travel. Did he ever discuss this with you? Had his actions affected your world view?

James Spaulding: I really have no vivid remembrances of my dad's band leading days. I'm sure it must have been rough because even to this day, it's not easy to be a fulltime musician and support a family. Just think about it, here my dad was, now a family man, with three children, living under segregation and the after effects of a recession. My father thought that I should try to seek a good education. To him, education was uppermost in importance. Another hindrance in being a musician was that my community thought jazz was the Devil's music.

School Days

Jazz Review: In grade school you played bugle. Did you formally study the instrument? How long did you play bugle for?

James Spaulding: Most of my training is self-taught. I continued to play the bugle, added the trumpet, tonette, and alto saxophone (I was shown the saxophone fingering by a classmate, Albert Walton, recently deceased, 2007). What I did acquire in school was more skills in reading music, and in sight reading. If it were not for the band room at school, and being allowed to practice there and to borrow the instruments, my life would probably have taken a rather unfortunate turn. I was not very interested in sitting in the classrooms or studying academic subjects.

Jazz Review: Eventually you switched to clarinet. It seems that, in jazz a lot of the great multi-instrumentalists early on learn clarinet. Is there something about that instrument that would allow one to more easily learn others? Had you dropped playing bugle by this time?

James Spaulding: My playing the clarinet was due strictly to the music instructor's need for more clarinet players for the Crispus Attucks Marching Band. As a sophomore, I played the clarinet, led the marching band and played in the senior band, and the woodwind quintet and jazz combo. I also taught myself to play the flute. Fortunately, during that time students were able to check out instruments and take them home to practice.

First Gigs

Jazz Review: Your earliest gigs were in Indianapolis with a rhythm and blues group. To a lot of jazz aficionados that genre would seem almost too populist. Had you ambitions to be playing this type of music or was it merely a first job to pay your dues?

James Spaulding: I began performing professionally at a very early age; I must have been around 10 years old when my father escorted me around town to play with professional musicians, who played Swing, the style of the time, for dances. I also played with the Shriners’ Organization, Marching Band.

The evolution of this music (commonly called jazz), comes out of the life experience of the Africans' introduction and indoctrination into the sociopolitical structure of American culture, and it's traumatic effects upon our psychic being. There are quite a few texts that explain the progression of the music: Eileen Southern ("The Music of Black Americans: A History") and Amiri Baraka ("Blues People"), both are black scholars: Prof. Southern, a trained musicologist; and author. Amiri Baraka was concerned with the music's political connotation. I have no such elitist concepts about the music; it's an integral part in my development. I would not be the musician I am today, without having the actual experiencing of these invaluable music styles that are at the roots of the African American black life and culture

Flute and Alto

Jazz Review: Your first recorded appearance was an unaccredited flute solo on an album by Jerry Butler. Had you been playing much flute before this? Was there formal study on your part to be a flautist?

James Spaulding: Well, adding the flute was strictly by my choosing. I met musicians while out playing in jam sessions, and someone mentioned me to Jerry Butler's A & R man for the recording session.

Jazz Review: At what point did you decide to make flute and alto sax your main instruments?

James Spaulding: The decision, I'm afraid was made for me; that I would be playing my alto saxophone and no longer performing with my tenor because I naively loaned my tenor to a fellow musician who neglected to bring it back, and I couldn't afford to buy another. My flute has always been a favorite second instrument, it’s great not having to prepare a reed and the flute has such a beautiful sound.

Jazz Review: In the late 1980's Bud Shank who also plays alto and flute put aside flute to concentrate solely on alto. Do you still play both? Is there a different way of thinking needed in regards to constructing solos on either instrument?

James Spaulding: I believe that I approach each instrument differently because I hear each sound differently.

Jazz Review: For both your instruments have you main brands? Did you go through much trial and error in determining which to use?

James Spaulding: If I had only been that fortunate, my King with silver bell was stolen from me when I first came to New York from Chicago. I had another alto stolen from me when I was playing in Max Roach's band and as luck would have it, I purchased a Statler, made in East Germany and have been playing it now for the past thirty-five years. My flute is an Alds Professional model.

Sun Ra

Jazz Review: 1954-1957 saw you in the army playing in service bands. During this time did you play only on base or had you a chance to play clubs too.

James Spaulding: Yes, I was 17 when I joined the army and 20 when I was discharged. During this period I also played professionally with a group of young Indianapolis musicians which included Freddie Hubbard and Larry Ridley - we called ourselves the "Jazz Contemporaries."

Jazz Review: After leaving the army you moved to Chicago and became part of Sun Ra's Arkestra. What had made you choose Chicago over New York with its then vibrant 52nd street scene?

James Spaulding: I moved to Chicago to go to school on my G.I. Bill (more than likely thinking of my father's advice) where I attended the Cosmopolitan School of Music and also to test the waters of really being on my own. I lived with my cousin and her husband, went to school and gigged. I studied flute for about six months under the tutelage of Professor Emil Eck. I also led my own group playing in local clubs and freelanced.

Jazz Review: How had you made the initial connection with Sun Ra?

James Spaulding: I would play at the jam sessions and I met John Gilmore and Pat Patrick, who were both members of Sun Ra’s Arkestra. I met Sun Ra when I was taken there by John and Pat.

Jazz Review: In later years Sun Ra would have his own personal mythos and imagery, some cosmic and Egyptian motifs. In these early years was he already projecting a specific persona to the public?

James Spaulding: Sun Ra was a mystic and I think clairvoyant. He would say to me:.. "Play," And I would respond: ... "Play What?" He would say: ... "Just Play" At first, I was rather resistant; it was totally strange from my previous music training. He encouraged me to play notes without structured time. This was my first excursion into the style known as "Free Form." As a personality, Sun Ra was rather peculiar, I thought, especially when he spoke of space travel. He also predicted travel to the moon before the Russian Sputnik. I played with his band (musicians really had to be in tune and have simpatico) on and off during the period 1957 1958/59.

Jazz Review: Did Sun Ra have you playing both your instruments? Were there any recordings made while you were in his band?

James Spaulding: Yes, if anyone is interested they can check my discography on my website at

Jazz Review: Some of his band seemed to stay with him forever (John Gilmore et al). Were any of his long term players in his band during your stint?

James Spaulding: I played in the band with both John and Pat.

Jazz Review: You briefly moved back home before finally taking the plunge and heading to the then holy land of jazz, New York. What was the impetus behind this?

James Spaulding: I was only in my early 20s and I started to miss my family, so I went back home for some of my mother’s home cooking and spirituality, which I needed to recharge my battery.

From 1957-1959 I played rhythm & blues with The Sonny Thompson Band (dance rhythms and blues singer).

The Blue Note Years

Jazz Review: Whenever one reads the biography of an artist, it is easy to read "so and so was with this band for these years " but often overlooked by the reader is that those dates represent part of a person, the artist’s life. Is it hard moving onto another band? I sometimes think it may be akin to breaking up with a girlfriend.

James Spaulding: Mostly, it’s just great to be working. I guess you could miss certain band leaders more than others. The one good thing is that you’re not married to the group.

Jazz Review: Although your later body of work is equally as compelling and rewarding, you are perhaps best known for the large body of work you did under the Blue Note label. How had you initially come to the Blue Note roster?

James Spaulding: Duke Pearson was the A & R man for Alfred Lion at Blue Note records. He liked my playing and called me for the sideman dates.

Jazz Review: Whose was the first session on which you appeared? Did Blue Note try to promote or emphasize one of your instruments over the other?

James Spaulding: My first recording session was as sideman with Freddie Hubbard on an album called Hubtones. I was what you’d call a musician that "doubles." This way sometimes the producer got two instruments while paying for only one. If a song called for flute or called for alto saxophone, I was your man.

From 1962 until 1964 I was playing Hard Bop/Cool with the Freddie Hubbard Quintet, and recorded with the band on several Blue Note dates. One recording in particular, The Night of the Cookers, has now become one of the classics. I was the only saxophone on that date.

Jazz Review: You were on so many Blue Note albums in the sixties, to ask everyone their favorite would produce a diverse list of titles. Which is your personal favorite?

James Spaulding: I think Wayne Shorter’s albums were my favorites - There was great energy and creativity: The Soothsayer, The All Seeing Eye, Schizophrenia, I contributed one of the songs "Kryptonite" to Schizophrenia.

Randy Weston

Jazz Review: Randy Weston was your first New York job. How long where you with him? After the 1950’s he often seemed to have larger ensembles, what was his band comprised of at this time?

James Spaulding: I think there were six of us. I was with Randy on and off for about 2 or 3 years, from 1963 1966. Randy Weston (Third Stream Music) was my first encounter with polytonal and polymodal musical elements accompanied by African drums and instruments for an extended period of time. This was an extremely important and invaluable addition to my music vocabulary

Jazz Review: There was a European tour with Randy. Had this been your first time in Europe? Do you recall where you played and the reception you received from the audience?

James Spaulding: I think the people in Europe have always been more receptive to our music. They would bring us flowers and show us so much appreciation and acceptance. My first trip was to the country of France.

Jazz Review: Both in his music and interviews there has always been a spiritual aspect to Randy Weston, I imagine there must have been some interesting conversations on the road.

James Spaulding: Randy was like a teacher to me, I admired him so tremendously for his music, rooted in our African heritage. It was my first time of being accompanied by African drums and instruments for an extended period of time. My regret is that when Randy offered to take me to Africa to perform with the band, I missed the plane. We were going to Morocco.

Max Roach

Jazz Review: Was there ever any specific thing which dictated when you would leave a band?

James Spaulding: Jazz is experimental, sometimes you prefer playing another style or the leader hears a different instrument for his music. It’s not like a day gig, as you can imagine. Also, some bands are hired more than others, and this is great for the rent.

Jazz Review: A George Wein tour next brought you to Europe. You were part of Max Roach’s band. Was this one of the Jazz at the Philharmonic package tours? You seem to have a deep appreciation of bop, building off of it, adding your own ingredients. It must have been exciting sharing the band stand with one of the genres main progenitors.

James Spaulding: Although I dreamed I would play with Max before I met him, it was probably one of the most important points in my career, being a member of Max’s band. It was so hard to say goodbye when he passed this year. He was one of my heroes.

Jazz Review: The JATP tours have their detractors, the main criticism being that the large roster of great artists made it hard for anything except blowing sessions to be done on stage. What was an average set list comprised of? Were individual groups on stage or was there a sort of "house" band backing star soloists?

James Spaulding: I think that certain artists are privileged to bring his/her own group, some prefer to go as a single and pick up sidemen, others have already worked with the other musicians before and have no problem performing together. I think that the most versatile rhythm section is put together for just the purpose of the ability to accompany all the great artists.

I imagine that some tours might just be put together in a sloppy fashion not for the music, but for the money.

Jazz Review: What were you listening to at this point and how did it affect your playing and artistic ambitions?

James Spaulding: In 1966, I was introduced by Bobby Hutcherson to higher harmonies the extensive use of ninth, eleventh, thirteenth chords and beyond. In the African tradition of oral learning, I continuously evolved. In 1967, I was recommended to Max Roach by Charles Tolliver, and this is when I experienced playing hectic tempos and rapidly moving chords. It was very challenging and required that I acquire a thorough knowledge of harmony and had to practice technical skills.

Also, in 1967, I worked with Leon Thomas, the great musician that used his voice as an instrument. Leon had developed a unique vocal yodel sound, and sang the blues, jazz and African rhythms. It was fortunate, that in my previous music encounters, I had acquired musical idioms that were necessary to accompany Leon's unique vocal style. From 1974-1975 I became a member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, under the leadership of Mercer Ellington, this was mostly swing arrangements and individual players taking improvised solos. I was hired to be a member of this legendary band because Mercer Ellington liked the way I played, "In a Sentimental Mood." During 1987 2000, I became a part of David Murray's Octet and Big Band. David's use of expanded harmonies came as a natural progression to add to my music vocabulary.

Genres and Suites

Jazz Review: I have written extensively about a small group within the group of Blue Note musicians in the sixties whose playing and composing was progressive and forward thinking. As an example, something like Wayne Shorter’s The All Seeing Eye, to me, seems almost like a new form of modern classical, but using jazz instruments and leaving space for the soloist to improvise. Chamber music, but not using the traditional chamber instruments and not "chamber jazz" which is a genre well exemplified by both Chico Hamilton and the Modern Jazz Quartet. On any of the more progressive dates did anyone theorize or discuss names for this new genre or was it not an issue?

James Spaulding: I’m not sure the music was categorized. But it certainly can be defined as "a work of enduring excellence." I loved doing the albums. I believe playing Wayne’s music was the most creative and fulfilling that I’ve ever felt on recording dates.

Jazz Review: How much of what was going on in the mid-sixties socially and politically influenced the more cerebral albums you were on?

James Spaulding: I think that Max Roach and Leon Thomas’ music were quite politically influenced by the rhythms of unrest and upheaval. I also wrote my Song of Courage Suite. Many musicians were influenced by the volatile and restless energies permeating the atmosphere. James Brown wrote several songs to encourage black people to embrace themselves. One in particular, which you may know: "Say It Loud, (I’m Black and I’m Proud.)"

I think we all know the tragedies that occurred during the ‘60s. Pres. J.F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Dr. King, Fannie Lou Hamer, the four little girls in Birmingham and many more atrocities.

An Emotion of Notes

Jazz Review: Whether you were doing one of the more forward thinking sessions or a more straight-out hard bop date, I have always noticed a cerebral aspect to your playing. Cerebral but with a fire which is what I think attracts people. For your playing or writing do you have any particular process?

James Spaulding: I think that I’m an emotional player, and I express myself to the people through my instrument. Everything seems to swell inside of me and explode through my instrument. I’m very intense when I play and I can feel the energy in the room, and that’s what motivates my creative nature. When I write, I just choose an instrument and wait for the melody that comes out.

Jazz Review: It seems like by the mid-sixties anyone who was trying to stretch the form of jazz, but not incorporating rock influences was just labeled avant-garde. For these people and the more out right traditionalist live and studio work was hard to come by. The so called avant-garde seemed to have it worse, not even being able or willing to land television jobs as some had to. People like Eric Dolphy, Steve Lacy, Mal Waldron and Archie Shepp emigrated to Europe. Did you ever consider that an option during this time?

James Spaulding: Maybe they met someone that invited them to stay and that offered them work? I didn’t seem to run into anyone like that. I got married in 1963, and both my daughters were born in the sixties. I wonder if these guys had someone in the states that interested them? I think that many variables have a lot to do with your choices, not so much that we were traditionalist and weren’t able to find work here.

We lived in a segregated society and it’s still very largely that way. Black musicians still are in the minority in being hired for studio work or able to live by playing music alone.

Have you asked Archie Shepp why he still lives in Europe, even today?

Leading and Teaching

Jazz Review: Surprisingly, it was not until after you left Blue Note in 1975 you made your first recording as a leader titled The Legacy of Duke Ellington. Why so long a wait?

James Spaulding: I think I was waiting for an offer. Alfred Lion thought I should record for Blue Note, but he wanted me to play commercial music, like boogaloo, and I was not interested in playing that kind of music. I was perfecting, or trying to perfect my jazz progressions and vocabulary. I thought it was like telling an opera singer, or Frank Sinatra to sing rock and roll. Fortunately, a fellow came along named Howard Gabriel, while I was still at Livingston College, and asked me to do a record date of my choosing, thus my first recording date on a very small label called Storyville, which probably no longer exists. {The label is still alive and can be found at MC}

Jazz Review: This was also the year you received a bachelor’s degree in music from Livingston College. You were also teaching flute there at the same time. How long had you been teaching and what made you first get into the educational aspect of music?

James Spaulding: I returned to school on the G.I. Bill because Larry Ridley had structured and become the chairman for Livingston College, Rutgers Univ. first Jazz Department. I was hired as an adjunct professor for about two years. I enjoyed teaching the students and often taught them by performing songs with them, as opposed to just teaching theory.

Song of Courage

Jazz Review: The National Endowment for the Arts honored you with an award. You used the funds to finance the performance of your suite A Song of Courage. This was performed with full orchestra and choir at the Voorhees Chapel at Rutgers University. This was a suite inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King. You have in your oeuvre, several other pieces also inspired by other civil rights leaders.

James Spaulding: I was very pleased to receive this grant, and was able to have a performance of the suite as you mentioned, at Voorhees Chapel, at Rutgers. It was not recorded but I did get a write up by the Livingston College Newspaper. I think of that presentation as a trial run. There was just not enough money to do justice to the presentation, although there were some inspired moments. A Song of Courage is dedicated to our heroes and sheroes, but particularly mentions Dr. Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X. This suite tells the story of the sixties, as I felt the vibrations.

Jazz Review: How long did it take to rehearse and get the various components, voice, and orchestra up to speed?

James Spaulding: I spent quite a bit of quality time working with an arranger musician friend, Sam Brown, I would go over to his house, (my wife Jean and I) and we would work together for hours on end. He did his best with the resources we had but it simply was not enough. I have recorded several songs from the suite: "Time to Go," "Oracle," "Gotstabe A Better Way," "Give It Up," "New World Comin’," and more. There were about ten songs written for the suite. It was never recorded on one album, but songs were played individually, with different musicians and on different labels.

Jazz Review: Will we get to now hear your suites via release through your label?

James Spaulding: I hope so. Ubiquitously.


Jazz Review: You have your own record label now, Speetones. Artistic freedom has to be one of the main appeals for you. How do you now approach recording?

James Spaulding: I recorded live at a club in Brooklyn, owned by Bob Myers. It had such great vibes at the space but it really didn’t have enough space for the engineer to listen to the sound so that basically it what you’d call au natural. I am the owner, producer (along with my family) and the artists. But who knows, it’s a start!

Recent Happenings

Jazz Review: In 2006 you went to France to do a trio recording with Pierre Christophe Trio. How did that date come about? The album is fantastic. For anybody not familiar with your post Blue Note work, it is the perfect place to start. Your tone is nice and tart, like a good calvados, without ever being shrill. Underlying that is a certain muscularity without the usual accompanying discordance. The album has a lot of familiar covers, who chose the program?

James Spaulding: In July, 2006, which is also the month of my birthday, I was booked by Alain Dupuy-Raufaste of Jazz Friends Productions, in France to perform at several venues. Alain recommended the Pierre Christophe Trio as my rhythm section. This turned out to be a great collaboration. I felt very much in tune with all of the musicians. Gerard Terrones of Disques Futura et Marge, contacted me through Alain to make a live recording of us while we performed at SUNSiDE Jazz Club in Paris, and the rest is the history of the Down With It recording.

Jazz Review: You recently did a three night stint in April at the club Iridium (NYC) with Freddie Hubbard which garnered some good reviews. How did the reunion come about? How long had it been since the two of you had played together?

James Spaulding: David Weiss is working with Freddie and he asked me to be a part of this. It’s a little different now, we’re both older and the vicissitudes of life obviously have played their part. I don’t think we’ll be playing together again in the near future but one never knows, does one?

Russian Tour

Jazz Review: You just did a tour of Russia, what did you do over there?

James Spaulding: I was booked by a man named Arkadi Owrutski for events in Kiev and Ukraine. It wasn’t really for me because it was not really about the music as much as I would have liked. Nevertheless, it was an experience and I had the opportunity to see another (not so familiar) part of Russia.

The Future

Jazz Review: Where can fans keep track of your touring schedule and new releases?

James Spaulding: I hope to be listing my schedule on my website: or via jamesspauldingexpressions at myspace.

Jazz Review: Well, this is my one stock question. I always ask because it always interests me. Do you have any dream project which you have yet to do and what is it?

James Spaulding: I would like to get the funding to have my suite A Song of Courage, perfected and performed at Lincoln Center.

Jazz Review: This has been a great honor for me. In my columns I have always tried to steer people towards jazz that has been overlooked or slipped through the cracks. While your sixties body of work is compelling and still gives great pleasure, I hope this serves to get notice to the equally as rewarding later body of work you which you continue to add to. Thanks for it all.

James Spaulding: Happy New Year! I hope to fulfill all my aspirations I’ve been distracted from doing previously, and to live up to the fans’ belief in my musicianship qualities.

Selected Discography

James Spaulding & Pierre Christophe Trio, DOWN WITH IT! Live at The Sunside (Disques Futura & Marge, 2007)

James Spaulding, Round To It (Speetones, 2005)

Billy Bang, Vietnam: Reflections (Justin Time, 2005)

Sun Ra, Spaceship Lullaby - Chicago 1954-60 (Unheard Music Series , 2003)

Dwight O. Carson, For My Brothers (Nappy Edges, 2003)

Alvin Queen, Ashanti (Nilva Records Stereo NQ-34,2002)

Eddie Landsberg, Remembering Eddie Jefferson (Berghem,2002 )

James Spaulding Quintet, Blues Up and Over (Speetones, 2001)

David Murray Octet, Octet Plays Trane (Justin Time, 2000)

James Spaulding, Escapade (HighNote, 1999)

James Spaulding, Blues Nexus (Muse, 1993)

World Saxophone Quartet, Moving Right Along (Black Saint, 1993)

David Murray, David Murray Big Band Conducted by Lawrence "Butch" Morris (Columbia, 1991)

James Spaulding, Songs of Courage (Muse, 1991)

Bobby Hutcherson, Ambos Mundos (Landmark Records, 1989)

Sun Ra, Purple Night (A&M Records, 1989)

James Spaulding, Gotstabe A Better Way! (Muse, 1988)

James Spaulding, Brilliant Corners (Muse, 1988)

Sun Ra, Somewhere Else (Rounder, 1988)

James Spaulding Plays the Legacy of Duke Ellington (Storyville, 1976)

Charles Tolliver, Impact (Strata-East, 1975)

Archie Shepp, Kwanza (Impulse, 1974)

Archie Shepp, For Losers (Impulse, 1971)

Pharoah Sanders, Karma (Impulse, 1969)

Freddie Hubbard, The Black Angel (Atlantic, 1969)

Leon Thomas, Spirits Known And Unknown (Flying Dutchman, 1969)

Bobby Hutcherson, Patterns (Blue Note, 1968)

Wayne Shorter, Schizophrenia (Blue Note, 1967)

Freddie Hubbard, High Blues Pressure (Atlantic, 1967)

McCoy Tyner, Tender Moments (Blue Note, 1967)

Duke Pearson, Prairie Dog (KOCH, 1966)

Larry Young, Of Love and Peace (Blue Note, 1966)

Freddie Hubbard, Backlash (Atlantic. 1966)

Duke Pearson, Sweet Honey Bee (Blue Note, 1966)

Freddie Hubbard, Blue Spirits (Blue Note, 1965)
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