THE DOZENS: JAZZ FOR THE BIRDS by Alan Kurtz

It’s only fitting. Since birds inspire us with their songs, composers return the favor, dedicating music in every genre to our feathered friends. From drill-field march (“Under the Double Eagle”), Viennese waltz (“Phoenix’s Wings”) and Liverpool pop (“Blackbird”) to Cleveland polka (“Dance Little Bird”), Chicago blues (“The Red Rooster”) and Nashville country (“May the Bird of Paradise Fly up Your Nose”), birds have left their mark more indelibly than pigeons upon monuments.

For its part, jazz has produced numerous luminaries with avian monikers, including Charlie Byrd, Donald Byrd, Bill Crow, Leonard Feather, Boyd (ouch) Raeburn, Otis Finch, Wingy Manone, Dodo Marmarosa, Gary Peacock, Gene Quill, Steve Swallow and Chick Webb; but please don’t invite Cat Anderson, Dick Katz or Fred Katz to that reunion.

We’re here concerned, however, not with musicians’ names, but with their tributes to birds. Our survey begins with the first mechanically recorded jazz band’s 1917 “Ostrich Walk,” continues through the 1930s Swing Era, ‘40s bebop, ‘50s modern and early-’60s bossa nova—different squawks for different flocks.

So here’s the proof: Jazz is for the Birds. And if your favorite species is missing, please don’t get in a flap. Leave that to the birds. They’re better equipped.


Original Dixieland Jazz Band: Ostrich Walk (1917)

Track

Ostrich Walk

Group

Original Dixieland Jazz Band

CD

The Creators of Jazz (Avid 702)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Nick LaRocca (clarinet), Eddie Edwards (trombone), Larry Shields (clarinet), Henry Ragas (piano), Tony Sbarbaro (drums).

Composed by Eddie Edwards, Nick LaRocca, Henry Ragas, Tony Sbarbaro & Larry Shields

.

Recorded: New York, August 17, 1917

Albumcoveroriginaldixielandjazzband-thecreatorsofjazz

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

After recording "Ostrich Walk" annually from 1917-1919, the ODJB did so again in 1936, 1943, 1945 and 1946. It took an Act of Congress to make them stop. This track, from record-making's infancy, introduced a tune that's remained a revivalists' favorite into the 21st century. Yet even through the gauzy swaddling of primitive technology, the ODJB's original commands our attention as forcefully as a newborn's wails. This band unashamedly made music for the moment, and the moment demanded novelty. If Shields's plucky clarinet, presiding over sundry stop-time breaks, resembles a large, flightless bird strutting forgetfully— well, isn't that the point?

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Raymond Scott: The Penguin

Track

The Penguin

Artist

Raymond Scott (piano)

CD

Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights (Columbia/Legacy 65672)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Raymond Scott (piano),

Dave Wade (trumpet), Pete Pumiglio (clarinet), Dave Harris (tenor sax), Ted Harkins (bass), Johnny Williams (drums)

.

Composed by Raymond Scott

.

Recorded: New York, December 20, 1937

Albumcoverraymondscott

Rating: 97/100 (learn more)

Being as flightless as an ostrich, and by comparison a clumsy walker, doesn't deter the Emperor Penguin from maintaining the dignity of a headwaiter whilst wintering in Antarctica. Here one poses imperially for a portrait by the 1930s master of musical obscurantism, Raymond Scott—no kin to British polar explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott. (Obviously, Falcon's a bird of a different feather.) Some listeners mistake Scott's jagged syncopations and goofy disjointedness for a joke. Yet like a tipsy penguin teetering on ice skates, Scott gets where he intended, and in so doing makes the adventure as endearingly loopy as . . . well, an Emperor Penguin.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Glenn Miller: Bluebirds in the Moonlight

Track

Bluebirds in the Moonlight

Artist

Glenn Miller (trombone)

CD

The Popular Recordings 1938-1942 (Bluebird/RCA 9785-2-RB)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Glenn Miller (trombone), Paul Tanner (trombone), Hal McIntyre (alto sax), Tex Beneke (tenor sax), Al Klink (tenor sax),

Marion Hutton (vocals), Leigh Knowles, Clyde Hurley, Dale “Mickey” McMickle, John Best (trumpet); Al Mastren, Tommy Mack (trombone); Wilbur Schwartz (clarinet, alto sax), Jimmy Abato (alto sax, baritone sax); Chummy MacGregor (piano), Dick Fisher (guitar), Rollie Bundock (bass), Maurice Purtill (drums)

.

Composed by Ralph Rainger & Leo Robin. Arranged by Benny Carter

.

Recorded: New York, October 9, 1939

Albumcoverglennmiller-thepopularrecordings-1938-1942

Rating: 85/100 (learn more)

Although "Bluebirds in the Moonlight" scoffs at its own title as a silly idea, some bluebirds are early risers, singing a predawn moonlight serenade. What is silly, though, is that five weeks after Nazi Germany started World War II, Americans were (judging from this recording) going about their daily lives as if nothing had changed. This track isn't great jazz, but it's a revealing snapshot. The boogie-woogie piano intro, sweet sax section, punctuating trombones, rousing trumpets and winsome female songbird trilling empty-headed lyrics to a cheerful tune at an agreeable tempo—this innocent formula was so appealing it carried us to Hiroshima in the daylight.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Duke Ellington: Flamingo

Track

Flamingo

Group

Duke Ellington

CD

Ebony Rhapsody: The Great Ellington Vocalists (RCA 63863)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Herb Jeffries (vocals), Rex Stewart (cornet), Wallace Jones (cornet), Ray Nance (cornet), Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton (trombone), Lawrence Brown (trombone), Juan Tizol (trombone), Otto Hardwick (clarinet, alto sax), Johnny Hodges (alto sax), Barney Bigard (clarinet), Ben Webster (tenor sax), Harry Carney (baritone sax), Billy Strayhorn (piano), Jimmy Blanton (bass), Sonny Greer (drums).

Arranged by Billy Strayhorn. Composed by Edmund Anderson & Ted Grouya

.

Recorded: December 28, 1940

Albumcoverebonyrhapsody-thegreatellingtonvocalists

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

In 1940, the star of such Westerns with a black hero as Bronze Buckaroo (1938) and Harlem Rides the Range (1939) became the hippest singing cowboy ever by joining Duke Ellington and charting with "Flamingo." Herb Jeffries was a far yodel from Gene Autry. For rounding up lonesome dogies, Autry's hayseed tenor was fine. But Herb's manly baritone rounded up more doggone ladies than would fit in the O.K. Corral. (Not that ladies should be kept in a corral, mind you. It's just a figure of speech.) Apart from short solos by trombonist Brown and altoist Hodges, this track belongs to Jeffries—and to Billy Strayhorn, whose vibrant orchestration befits one of the world's most colorful birds.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Woody Herman: Goosey Gander

Track

Goosey Gander

Artist

Woody Herman (clarinet)

CD

Blowin' Up A Storm: The Columbia Years 1945-1947 (Columbia/Legacy C2K 65646)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Woody Herman (clarinet), Sonny Berman (trumpet), Pete Candoli (trumpet), Bill Harris (trombone), John LaPorta (alto sax, clarinet), Sam Marowitz (alto sax, clarinet), Flip Phillips (tenor sax), Marjorie Hyams (vibes), Ralph Burns (piano), Billy Bauer (guitar), Chubby Jackson (bass), Dave Tough (drums),

Charles Frankhauser, Ray Wetzel, Carl Warwick (trumpet); Ralph Pfeffner, Ed Kiefer (trombone); Pete Mondello (tenor sax), Skippy DeSair (baritone sax)

.

Arranged by Ralph Burns. Composed by Woody Herman

.

Recorded: New York, March 1, 1945

Albumcoverwoodyherman-blowinupastorm

Rating: 97/100 (learn more)

This track takes its name from a nursery rhyme, but don't let Woody Herman's First Herd anywhere near the nursery. True, "Goosey Gander" starts tamely enough, with Woody's clarinet waddling like a gosling, followed by Flip Phillips's casually watchful tenor sax. But then somebody wakes up Bill Harris, and the geese go a gaggle. Harris was so powerful, Woody's 3-man trombone section could out-blast Ohio State's Marching Band at halftime in Columbus. Not to be outdone, Pete "Superman" Candoli leads the trumpets blowing all-out for Truth, Justice & the American Way. If birds evolved from dinosaurs, "Goosey Gander" was Tyrannosaurus rex.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Claude Thornhill: Yardbird Suite

Track

Yardbird Suite

Artist

CD

Gil Evans: The Real Birth of the Cool – Studio Recordings (Jazz Factory JFCD22801)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Claude Thornhill (piano), Lee Konitz (alto sax), Red Rodney (trumpet), Bill Barber (tuba),

Louis Mucci, Ed Zandy (trumpet); Allan Langstaff, Tak Takvorian (trombone); Sandy Siegelstein, Walt Weschler (French horn); Danny Polo (clarinet, alto sax), Mickey Folus, Jerry Sanfino (tenor sax); Billy Bushey (baritone sax), Barry Galbraith (guitar), Joe Shulman (bass), Billy Exiner (drums)

.

Composed by Charlie Parker. Arranged by Gil Evans

.

Recorded: New York, December 17, 1947

Albumcovergilevans-realbirthofthecool

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

Once the Swing Era expired like a lapsed subscription to The Saturday Evening Post, many big-name bandleaders became bopycats. Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa, Woody Herman, Artie Shaw and even King of Swing Benny Goodman jumped on the bebop bandwagon. For his part, pianist Claude Thornhill tinkled amiably along to Gil Evans's arrangement of Charlie Parker's "Yardbird Suite." It's a remarkable chart, with an especially distinctive solo by Lee Konitz—seemingly oblivious to Bird's otherwise pervasive influence. Even so, there's no mistaking bop's overall impact. Within two years of its 52nd-street debut and Diz & Bird's first great recordings, bop ruled the roost.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Charlie Parker: Bird Gets the Worm

Track

Bird Gets the Worm

Artist

Charlie Parker (alto sax)

CD

Charlie Parker/Miles Davis – Birdsong (Savoy Jazz 17180)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Charlie Parker (alto sax), Duke Jordan (piano), Miles Davis (trumpet), Tommy Potter (bass), Max Roach (drums).

Composed by Charlie Parker

.

Recorded: Detroit, December 21, 1947

Albumcovercharlieparker-milesdavis-birdsong

Rating: 97/100 (learn more)

This track has no pretense of melody. The red light comes on, Parker sets a furious tempo, and the musicians take off on the chords of "Lover Come Back to Me." Of course, boppers often copped the changes from some standard and overlaid a thinly disguised tune to create an "original" (wink, wink) composition. Here, however, Bird seems impatient. Perhaps, four days before Christmas, he's anxious to finish his last-minute shopping. Whatever, Parker's leadoff solo is one of his most jaw-dropping on record, and Miles's assured cup-muted follow-up is the ideal complement. With improvising like this, who needs a melody?

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


George Shearing: Lullaby of Birdland

Track

Lullaby of Birdland

Artist

George Shearing (piano)

CD

The Definitive George Shearing (Verve 314 589 857-2)

Buy Track

Musicians:

George Shearing (piano), Al McKibbon (bass),

Joe Roland (vibes), Dick Garcia (guitar), Marquis Foster (drums)

.

Composed by George Shearing

.

Recorded: New York, July 17, 1952

Albumcoverdefinitivegeorgeshearing

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

In 1952, inspiration struck George Shearing just as he was biting into his char-broiled steak. "What's wrong?" asked his wife, afraid he didn't like her cooking. George dashed to the piano and, within 10 minutes, finished a theme song for midtown Manhattan's "Jazz Corner of the World." The royalties kept him in gravy for decades. His tasty tune was char-broiled >400 times by jazz artists, with countless warm-overs by non-jazz chefs from Pérez Prado and Bill Haley to The 12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic and The Muppets. Early birds may get the worm, but latecomers can still enjoy steak.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


The Poll Winners: When the Red, Red Robin

Track

When the Red, Red, Robin Comes Bob, Bob Bobbin' Along

Group

The Poll Winners

CD

The Poll Winners Ride Again! (Contemporary OJCCD-607-2)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Barney Kessel (guitar), Ray Brown (bass), Shelly Manne (drums).

Composed by Harry M. Woods

.

Recorded: Los Angeles, August 19, 1958

Albumcoverbarneykessel-thepollwinnersrideagain

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

In an odd leap from ASCAP to NASDAQ, the Red Robin gourmet burger chain took its name from the founder's 1940s barbershop quartet singing of this 1926 song. (You'll thank us if ever there's a Tin Pan Alley Edition of Trivial Pursuit.) Here, perennially popular 1950s jazzmen Kessel, Brown & Manne use the same vehicle to summarize their their generation's accomplishments. Just as robins are the last birds left singing at dusk, these three superlative musicians were the final, triumphant standard-bearers before Wes Montgomery, Scott LaFaro and Tony Williams changed the playing field for their respective instruments.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Charles Mingus: Eat That Chicken

Track

Eat That Chicken

Artist

Charles Mingus (piano, vocals)

CD

Oh Yeah (Rhino R2 75589)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Charles Mingus (piano, vocals), Rahsaan Roland Kirk (tenor sax, manzello & stritch), Booker Ervin (tenor sax), Jimmy Knepper (trombone), Doug Watkins (bass), Dannie Richmond (drums).

Composed by Charles Mingus

.

Recorded: New York, November 6, 1961

Albumcovermingusohyeah

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

Many 1950s jazz modernists considered such forebears as Jelly Roll Morton and Fats Waller old hat. Not Charles Mingus. Here he sets aside the bass in favor of piano and vocalizes his homage to Waller, with whom he had much in common. Both were overlarge men, virtuoso instrumentalists and topflight composers; each had a devilish sense of humor. But don't overdo the similarities. If Waller had sung "Eat That Chicken," his tongue would've been firmly in cheek. Mingus, by contrast, doesn't so much invite us as dare us to touch his chewy morsel. With Mingus, danger lurks even in parody.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd: O Pato

Track

O Pato [The Duck]

Artist

Stan Getz (tenor sax) and Charlie Byrd (guitar)

CD

Jazz Samba (Verve 314 521 413-2)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Stan Getz (tenor sax), Charlie Byrd (guitar), Keter Betts (bass),

Gene Byrd (guitar, bass), Buddy Deppenschmidt, Bill Reichenbach (percussion)

.

Composed by Jayme Silva and Nevza Teixeira

.

Recorded: All Souls Unitarian Church, Washington, DC, February 13, 1962

Jazzsamba

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

Everyone associates early-1960s bossa nova with Stan Getz, and rightly so. But Charlie Byrd brought back Brazilian records and scores from his 1961 tour, sketched out the material, shopped the idea and recruited Getz's uniquely romantic instrumental voice to carry the lead. Like a pelican scooping up a school of fish, Byrd did the heavy lifting. Yet what most impresses about this track is how easily six waterfowl swimming together for the first time fit together. The idiom might be new, but there's no trace of experimentation. Just two old ducks named Stan & Charlie quietly, lyrically, sublimely making history.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz


Check out more ‘Dozens’ here