A History of New Orleans Music in 100 Tracks (Part One)

Edited by Ted Gioia

New Orleans does not rank in the top 50 cities in the US, when measured by population. It has fewer inhabitants than Tucson or Anaheim. In area it is roughly five percent of the size of Kern County out in California. The city's economic importance in the US reached its peak back in the nineteenth century, and never really recovered from the railroad replacing the steamboat as a preferred method of transporting people and freight.

New Orleans Second Line by Bob Graham

          New Orleans Second Line (artwork by Bob Graham)

Yet if one could measure the influence of its music on the global soundscapes, New Orleans's importance would be off the charts. Its significance as the likely birthplace of jazz is well known, but New Orleans also has a rich history of R&B, funk, pop, blues, rock and roll, and even classical music. From Gottschalk to Galactic, the city has produced fresh exciting sounds that have captured the hearts and souls of the rest of us. And we're not even including the Cajun and zydeco sounds from elsewhere in the state of Louisiana that have often made themselves felt in its environs and beyond. The history of New Orleans music is, in truth, a vibrant microcosm of American music as a whole.

Hurricane Katrina, which arrived in New Orleans almost exactly four years ago as I write this, made many realize just how much history is centered in this compact space, and how fragile it can be in the face of hostile elements. But fortunately much of that history can also be experienced from afar by means of recordings. Below is the first installment of a two-part article that highlights 100 memorable moments in this musical history of this city.

I'd like to thank the contributors to jazz.com whose work is included in this article: Scott Albin, Dean Alger, Rob Bamberger, Thomas Cunniffe, Peter Gerler, Ethan Iverson, Alan Kurtz, Ed Leimbacher, Jared Pauley, Cliff Preiss, Thierry Quénum and David Sager.

Below are the first fifty tracks which cover more than a century of music-making from 1848 to 1956. Each title links to the full review, with complete personnel and recording info, as well as a source for a (legal) download.

Click here for part two—which continues the story of New Orleans music to the present day.




A History of New Orleans Music in 100 Tracks

Part One: The Tradition (1848 to 1956)



#1

 Louis Moreau Gottschalk

Louis Moreau Gottschalk:
Bamboula, Opus 2 (Danse des négres) (1848)
 Reviewed by Ted Gioia

A letter from 1786, written by a visiting Spanish bishop, denounces the slave dances in New Orleans, lamenting "the wicked custom of the negroes, who, at the hour of Vespers, assemble in a green expanse called Place Congo to dance the bamboula and perform hideous gyrations." But by 1849, a Paris newspaper proclaimed that "everyone in Europe knows Bamboula," thanks to Louis Moreau Gottschalk, the New Orleans pianist-composer, who has "brought a host of curious chants from the Creoles and the Negroes; he has made from them the themes of his most delicious compositions." Chalk up a loss for the New Orleans would-be saints—and a victory for the sinners in Place Congo.

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#2

 Basile Bar�s

Basile Barès:
Los Campanillas (late 19th century)
 Reviewed by Ted Gioia

"Los Campanillas" is the only unpublished piece by the black New Orleans composer Basile Barès (1845-1902) to survive in manuscript—and what an intriguing work it is. Even those few scholars who have written about Barès don't seem to comprehend the significance of this score. The habanera rhythm employed here is the same that Scott Joplin would later rely on for "Solace," Jelly Roll Morton for "The Crave," and W.C. Handy for "St. Louis Blues." Indeed, the dark and brooding second theme of this composition is strongly reminiscent of the minor key section in Handy's path-breaking song published 12 years after Barès's death. "Los Campanillas" is all the more surprising given the fact that Barès's published works steer clear of minor tonalities, and reveal a marked preference for grandiloquent and derivative waltzes in a style reminiscent of Johann Strauss. This composition, in contrast, reflects a deeper, more personal, more futuristic musical conception that leaves the listener wishing for more. I also wish we knew more about the personal history of this composer, who was apparently born into slavery in 1845. A piece of sheet music published in New Orleans in 1860 is credited to a "Basile"—no last name. If, as is commonly assumed, the composer was Basile Barès, it is remarkable both as a work created by a slave and published while he was still a slave, but equally for the fact that the copyright is assigned to the composer....

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#3

 Edmond Dédé

Edmond Dédé:
El Pronunciatiamento: Marche espagnole (1886)
 Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Edmond Dédé

Edmond Dédé, born in New Orleans in 1827, was one of small group of "free black" composers from the Crescent City who managed to earn a livelihood from concert hall music during the 19th century—although mostly overseas. Dédé's 1852 song Mon pauvre coeur is the oldest surviving published piece of music by a Creole of color from New Orleans. Yet at that time, the composer needed to supplement his income with work as a cigar maker. In 1857 he left for Paris, where he studied music, composed, conducted and, in 1864, married a French woman, Sylvie Leflat. Most of his career was spent in Bordeaux, where he wrote around 150 dances, 6 string quartets, and almost 100 songs—virtually all of this music forgotten after Dédé's death in 1901. He only made on trip back to New Orleans, in 1893, where he performed as a violinist and was accompanied by William J. Nickerson—who was later a teacher to Jelly Roll Morton. . . . But even more than personal ties, Dédé's compositions also anticipate Morton—who spoke of the importance of the Spanish tinge in his pianism—and other later currents in New Orleans music. One of the key achievements of the New Orleans musicians was their ability to transform the march beat into something less rigid and military, tapping into a more liberating current hidden inside the rhythm. Hints of that same spirit can be heard in this March espagnole....

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#4

 Original Dixieland Jazz Band

Original Dixieland Jazz Band:
Tiger Rag (1917)
 Reviewed by Ted Gioia

This band has received plenty of attention from jazz writers, but only occasionally for its music. White musicians making the first jazz record? . . . the very fact seems to invite pointed commentary. Even the name of the band comes across nowadays as an affront, and the feisty attitude of the Nick LaRocca, who made no apologies for his position of precedence, has not helped to endear him to later generations of jazz fans....

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#5

 Kid Ory

Kid Ory:
Ory's Creole Trombone (1922)
 Reviewed by David Sager

This pioneering recording of the first African-American New Orleans jazz band on record both stands on its own merit and confirms the authenticity of Ory's 1940s recordings. Much is the same: the joyous, uncluttered ensemble work and Ory's familiar swagger (notice his delightful anticipatory attacks, often a full beat ahead) are present. Carey's impassioned sweet-hot lead is also heard, just as it would be 23 years later....

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#6

King Oliver

King Oliver:
Dippermouth Blues (1923)
 Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Early New Orleans jazz was about the quality of sound rather than the quantity of notes, and Oliver was the great master of getting the cornet to speak with a vocal tone. His range is limited here, and his phrases are built on only two or three notes of the scale. But his down-and-dirty sound captures the ethos of jazz as it emerged at the dawn of the American century....

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#7

 New Orleans Rhythm Kings (with Jelly Roll Morton)

New Orleans Rhythm Kings (with Jelly Roll Morton):
Mr. Jelly Lord (Take 4) (1923)
 Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Jelly Roll Morton was quick to boast of his achievements. He was a crack shot with a gun; had a winning stroke with a pull cue; he was the first to use brushes (fly-swatters in this instance) on the drums; he was the first master of ceremonies with witty sayings; and, of course, he claimed to have invented jazz. If you give half of Morton's claims some credence, he was a whole Tonight Show—host, band, and guest put together—on his own. I'd even let him do the commercials, given his skills at peddling his own stuff. But Morton never bragged about participating in this first racially integrated jazz recording session—which left us this track, and a handful of others from a 1923 date in Richmond, Indiana. Yet this is a milestone event, much more important than anything you can do with a fly-swatter....

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#8

 Sidney Bechet

Sidney Bechet:
Wild Cat Blues (1923)
 Reviewed by Dean Alger

This was Sidney Bechet's first recording. Beyond the start of a tremendously important recording career, this track was historic because Bechet was the featured player, rather than simply serving as part of the ensemble in classic New Orleans style, and this recording was made more than two years before the first of the Louis Armstrong Hot Five tracks that are usually credited with the landmark step of featuring a solo artist...

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#9

New Orleans Rhythm Kings

New Orleans Rhythm Kings:
Weary Blues (1923)
 Reviewed by Alan Kurtz

Whereas the Original Dixieland Jazz Band scrolls across history's stock ticker as a nondescript ODJB, their contemporaries New Orleans Rhythm Kings suffer the maladroit acronym NORK, suggesting a merger of nerds and dorks. This band deserves better. . . .

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#10

Fate Marable

Fate Marable:
Frankie and Johnny (1924)
 Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Fate Marable (1890-1947) is a magical name in the annals of New Orleans music—he was the most famous of the riverboat bandleaders who spread the sound of jazz up and down the Mississippi. Marable was also an early employer of Louis Armstrong and other New Orleans jazz pioneers, and mostly remembered by them as a stern taskmaster. Marable's fans were legion, and even Teddy Roosevelt was seen dancing to his band's performance of "Turkey in the Straw." Yet few alive today have heard Marable's music, and even fans who recognize his name may be unaware that the pianist left behind two tracks from a 1924 session. . . .

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#11

 Jelly Roll Morton

Jelly Roll Morton:
Grandpa's Spells (1924)
  Reviewed by Ethan Iverson

"Grandpa's Spells" is nearly a rag in feeling, except with a swing beat and a generally rougher feel. A lot of the time Morton plays overtones in the left hand (usually the fifth note up from the bottom) that imply drums while the brilliant graces on top imply New Orleans-style clarinetists. The F-major trio features a left-hand smash, a dark cluster tossed off casually like a whiskey bottle kicked under the piano. . . .

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#12

King Oliver

King Oliver:
Riverside Blues (1923)
 Reviewed by Peter Gerler

A work of joy and salvation, this stirring piece sets the stage with four funereal minor-key measures, then emerges into a triumphant relative major, where it stays for the duration. . . Armstrong takes the last testament, his cornet seeming to herald the arrival of a king. . . .

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#13

 Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five:
Heebie Jeebies (1926)
 Reviewed by David Sager

"Heebie Jeebies" is a typically rambling Hot Five performance with pedantic ensemble, some wrong notes and chord problems. So why is it a must for any introductory course on jazz and why the high ranking here? The answer is: Armstrong's pioneering scat singing during his second vocal chorus, of course. But Armstrong's first chorus is equally striking -- he sings with such naturalness that this alone would ensure the disk's reputation as a timeless performance....

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#14

 Jelly Roll Morton

Jelly Roll Morton:
Black Bottom Stomp (1926)
 Reviewed by Rob Bamberger

This recording was added to the Library of Congress National Sound Registry in 2006, and it sums up in three minutes the essence of New Orleans jazz—and what differentiates it from "Dixieland." New Orleans style had, at its center, a reliance on ensemble polyphony. The instruments in the front line—trumpet, clarinet and trombone—have different but complementary functions that, in the hands of musicians skilled in the tradition, allow all three instruments to play simultaneously without creating a musical hash....

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#15

 Freddie Keppard

Freddie Keppard:
Stock Yards Strut (1926)
  Reviewed by Ted Gioia

The most famous Freddie Keppard recording session is the one he didn't make. In early 1916, the Victor Talking Machine Company tried to convince the New Orleans cornetist to record for their label—this would have been the first jazz session anywhere if Keppard had agreed. Instead he responded nothin' doin' because (according to the most famous account) he feared other players would "steal his stuff". . . . Less attention is paid to the music that Keppard actually recorded—albeit more than a decade later. But in "Stock Yards Strut" he plays with vigor and swing, and one can understand the claims of those who saw him as the great interregnum ruler of New Orleans cornet between the reigns of King Buddy (Bolden) and King Joe (Oliver)....

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#16

 Jelly Roll Morton

Jelly Roll Morton:
Sidewalk Blues (Take 3) (1926)
 Reviewed by Dean Alger

Jelly Roll Morton's Red Hot Peppers sides of 1926 are among the greatest early jazz recordings. This track, in my judgment, is one of the three best. It opens with vaudeville-style sound effects and a silly-fun spoken dialogue (between Morton and Johnny St. Cyr), then a piano phrase, some fine trombone and clarinet work lead into a beaut of a clarinet solo (probably by Bigard). Thereafter the band romps through this marvelous number....

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#17

 Johnny Dodds

Johnny Dodds:
Perdido Street Blues (1926)
 Reviewed by Ted Gioia

In the hierarchy of New Orleans jazz, the trumpet / cornet players are at the very top of the heap. They were often given nicknames like King (Joe Oliver, Buddy Bolden, Freddie Keppard) or Pops (Armstrong) or Papa (Mutt Carey) to emphasize their role as pater familias. In contrast, the most famous New Orleans drummer was known as "Baby" and the leading trombonist was called "Kid." And the clarinetist in the band? He certainly wasn't called King—or even Earl or Squire. Every traditional jazz band worth its sassafras needed one, but they usually got no nickname at all...

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#18

 Jelly Roll Morton

Jelly Roll Morton:
Dead Man Blues (Take 1) (1926)
 Reviewed by Dean Alger

"Dead Man Blues" opens with a vaudeville-style, stagy humorous spoken exchange between Jelly Roll Morton and Johnny St. Cyr—"Somebody must be daid; must be a fuunral, I b'lieve ah hear that trambone-phone"—which is followed by a rendition of the classic New Orleans music played for the marching procession going to the cemetery. A pure tailgate trombone slide transitions into the main body of the song.... "Dead Man Blues" is a gem of classic New Orleans-style ensemble jazz, with superb solo breaks....

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#19

 Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven:
Potato Head Blues (1927)
 Reviewed by Ted Gioia

"Hello Dolly" and "What a Wonderful World" may get the airplay. "West End Blues" might receive more praise in the jazz history books. But, frankly, "Potato Head Blues" encapsulates Louis Armstrong's artistry as well as any recording he made during his half-century long career. The authority of his phrasing and the grandeur of his tone dominate the soundspace, and his stop-time chorus stands out as the most impressive solo of its time. I dare say no other horn player in the Spring of 1927 could have matched this achievement, and one merely need compare Armstrong's performance here with Oliver, Keppard and his other predecessors to see how far he pushed the art form ahead at this critical juncture....

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#20

 Papa Celestin's Original Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra

Papa Celestin's Original Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra
Sing On (1927)
  Reviewed by Ted Gioia

The band is called the "original" Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra, but there is little original about it. Papa Celestin had actually started performing at the Tuxedo Dance Hall on North Franklin Street (near Storyville) back in 1910, and the venue had closed long before the first jazz records were made. Celestin, for his part, was in his forties before he had his own chance to preserve his music on disk. A full history of this ensemble, if it could be traced with any depth, would likely serve as a primer on early New Orleans jazz. Louis Armstrong joined the Tuxedo Band back in 1921, and later described it as a "thrilling pleasure." Other band members, such as Johnny St. Cyr and Zutty Singleton, went on to play on many of the most important jazz recordings of the era. This track sounds like a throwback to an earlier period when jazz was still in an embryonic stage. The opening statement seems better suited to a procession than a nightclub, and like Jelly Roll Morton's "Dead Man Blues" from the previous year, begins by evoking a funeral march, before shifting into raw and lowdown jazz....

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#21

 Breaking Out of New Orleans

Sam Morgan's Jazz Band
Sing On (1927)
  Reviewed by Ted Gioia

If you judge by the locations of the recording sessions, you would be forgiven for thinking that New Orleans jazz took place mostly in Chicago. For all the splendor of its homegrown music scene, the Big Easy sent its star players packing—and they needed to leave home if they hoped to make their name in the jazz world. How sad to see Sam Morgan's amazing jazz ensemble left behind in obscurity because it stayed in New Orleans . None of these artists ever became a star or even moderately well-known beyond the inside circles of New Orleans music. But take my word (or better yet, listen yourself and discover): this was one of the finest jazz bands in the world, circa 1927. The ensemble sound is perfectly balanced, and the rhythm section is more advanced than any you will hear in New York or Chicago groups from this period....

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#22

 Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five
Struttin' With Some Barbecue (1927)
  Reviewed by Alan Kurtz

If jazz had a Mount Rushmore, everybody knows who would have pride of place. Washington was Father of His County, and Louis Armstrong was Pops of Jazz. Consider as evidence this track made at the end of a two-year span in which Pops defined by example the solo as jazz's principal means of expression. Yet, as luminous as his solo is here, Pops shines brightest while leading the opening and closing ensembles....

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#23

 Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong:
West End Blues (1928)
 Reviewed by Alan Kurtz

"I felt," said trumpeter Max Kaminsky after hearing Louis Armstrong's leadoff cadenza, "as if I had stared into the sun's eye." He wasn't alone. Two weeks before, Louis's mentor Joe Oliver had waxed this tribute to a cherished venue along New Orleans' Lake Pontchartrain. Nobody was blinded. But when the King's heir apparent traded his trusty cornet—better suited to traditional ensemble jazz—for the more penetrating trumpet, 26-year-old Armstrong's clarion call set off a solar flare that dazzles to this day....

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#24

 Lonnie Johnson & Eddie Lang

Lonnie Johnson & Eddie Lang:
Have to Change Keys to Play These Blues (1928)
 Reviewed by Dean Alger

By 1928, Eddie Lang, ethnic Italian from Philadelphia, and Lonnie Johnson, African-American from New Orleans, were recognized as top guitar masters. This track, one of 10 extraordinary duets they recorded in 1928-29, proceeds at a rather stately tempo, unlike some of the other duets. As Johnson said, on this track, as in the other duets, "Eddie could lay down rhythm and bass parts just like a piano." This song shows how the two guitarists took the basic music and bent notes and slurs of the blues, and added sophisticated and intricate interweavings of Lang's solid rhythm and harmonics with Johnson's lead work. Lang occasionally takes the lead, as in the fourth chorus here (sounding more heavy-handed than Johnson), but usually it is Johnson in the lead, managing to combine an often light, jazzy skipping quality with a rich tone and bluesy feel, as his inventive melodic lines soar above Lang's foundation.....

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#25

 Jimmie Noone & Earl Hines

Jimmie Noone & Earl Hines:
Four or Five Times (1928)
 Reviewed by Alan Kurtz

During the Roaring Twenties, jazzmen didn't try to live down their profession's red-light legacy; to the contrary, they played it up. On this track, everyone has a gay old time (well, that's the co-composer's name) spreading mayonnaise (the other co-composer's name) about how heavenly it'd be, even "if I die," to do it four or five times. Mind you, this was decades before performance-enhancement drugs, so obviously numerical standards have changed. Nevertheless, with inspired playing from Noone and Hines, this classic of wishful thinking is as insouciantly promising as a wink from Mae West....

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#26

Henry �Red� Allen

Henry 'Red' Allen:
It Should Be You (1929)
 Reviewed by David Sager

After a brief cadenza, Allen launches into the first chorus of this 32-bar original (no bridge) accompanied by a righteous-sounding ensemble that evokes a gospel choir. Anchored by Foster's booming bass and Barabarin's sly drumming (accenting at delightfully unexpected moments), this performance imparts a 'rolling' ensemble sound reminiscent perhaps of Louis Armstrong's recording of "Mahogany Hall Stomp." Higginbotham tackles the brisk 230 beats per minute with fire, articulating on the trombone as no other—fast and loudly without blasting. Allen presages bebop using frequent and deliberate "off-chord" tones, suggesting alternative harmonies....

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#27

 The Boswell Sisters

The Boswell Sisters:
Shout, Sister, Shout (1931)
 Reviewed by Alan Kurtz

In his book Jazz Singing (1990), Will Friedwald calls The Boswell Sisters "the greatest of all jazz vocal groups." Preternaturally attuned, they could start singing independently in separate rooms, gravitate towards one another, and find upon meeting that they were not only at the same spot in the same song, in tempo and in key, but in perfect harmony! This spooky synchronicity is well displayed in "Shout, Sister, Shout"—part jazz, part gospel, with shifting meters dramatizing its morally prophylactic message: One thing the Devil can't stand is a hallelujah song....

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#28

 Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong:
Chinatown, My Chinatown (1931)
 Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Louis Armstrong's path-breaking recordings from the 1920s get most of the attention from jazz experts. But the trumpeter's recordings from the early 1930s include many of the finest performances of his career, and deserve to be far better known. Satchmo starts off this track with some lighthearted banter, and he won't let you forget that he is an entertainer as well as a jazzman. But there is no shortage of artistry here for those who listen. He dishes out one of his finest vocals, relaxed and off-the-cuff, but also full of swing. Then he follows up with a bravura solo, spiced with plenty of high notes. He had just turned 30 a few weeks before this date, and was at the top of the jazz world, unchallenged by any serious rival....

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#29

 Sidney Bechet

Sidney Bechet (with Tommy Ladnier):
I've Found a New Baby (1932)
 Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Bechet's band, at this celebrated session, was called the "New Orleans Feetwarmers"—but it's clear from the opening chorus that no one in this ensemble has cold feet. They plunge into "I've Found a New Baby" with gusto, and it would be hard to find a more driving example of New Orleans jazz. This style of music, with its interweaving counterpoint lines, was already old-fashioned by the time of this 1932 session, but Bechet and company were not ready to become museum pieces....

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#30

 Lester Young

Lester Young:
Way Down Yonder in New Orleans (1938)
 Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Although Lester Young will forever be associated with Kansas City jazz, he came from a Louisiana family and spent much of his childhood in New Orleans, a city he celebrates in this classic track from 1938. It is fascinating to speculate on how much hot music Young might have heard in the Crescent City, back in those days before the first jazz recordings. Some commentators have suggested that Young was inspired by Keppard, Oliver, Armstrong and a host of other jazz pioneers at this time. Yet, based on what we know of Prez's childhood and personality, it is hard to imagine him hanging out at Funky Butt Hall soaking up the sounds of early jazz. The future tenor star was put to work by his family at age five, and took on a host of menial jobs—polishing shoes, selling newspapers and distributing flyers—when he wasn't trying to run away from home (which he did "ten or twelve times" whenever his dad "would raise a belt to him," according to his brother Lee). By the early 1920s, Young had moved on as a member of the family band, but years later he would revisit his New Orleans roots as a sideman in King Oliver's ensemble of the early 1930s. Can we detect the lingering influence of New Orleans style in Young's later sound? The clarinet, not the tenor saxophone, was the king of the reed instruments in early jazz, and here Young plays both—and in a manner which emphasizes the similarities rather than the differences between the two horns. I love Prez's clarinet work, which reminds us of his New Orleans origins, and wish more of it were available on record, but this is one of his finest tenor solos....

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#31

 Jelly Roll Morton

Jelly Roll Morton:
The Crave (1939)
 Reviewed by Ted Gioia

"If you can't manage to put tinges of Spanish in your tunes," Jelly Roll Morton famously asserted, "you will never be able to get the right seasoning, I call it, for jazz." Here Jelly Roll demonstrates what he means at the keyboard with his sultry and simmering habanera classic "The Crave." Latin jazz was still in its infancy, but on the basis of this performance alone you could have predicted a promising future for this mode of trans-genre cross-dressing. The composition is a gem, one of Morton's finest efforts, and I wonder why it isn't played more often. You could serve it up as a stylish encore at a classical piano recital or let it rip at a juke joint—it works either way....

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#32

 Sidney Bechet

Sidney Bechet:
Summertime (1939)
 Reviewed by Thomas Cunniffe

Sidney Bechet's version of "Summertime" is one of the great recordings in jazz history. Bechet takes the Gershwin song's 16-bar form and simple harmonic structure and treats it like an extension of the 12-bar blues. With Teddy Bunn providing single-string commentary on his guitar behind Bechet's soprano, it is as if Bechet and Bunn were playing the parts of Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong from a classic blues recording. Bechet solos throughout the 4-minute recording (certainly one of the longest jazz solos recorded to that time), utilizing much of his unique musical vocabulary, including rasps, growls and various speeds of vibrato. . . .

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#33

 Jelly Roll Morton

Jelly Roll Morton:
King Porter Stomp (1939)
 Reviewed by Rob Bamberger

It's difficult to imagine Jelly Roll Morton and the City of New York sitting down together over a glass of beer. Their respective musical outlooks never charted the same course. Yet, in late 1939, his optimism renewed, Morton made one last assault on the burg he once described as "that cruel city." Morton made a fresh recording of his "King Porter Stomp" that has a free and unfettered joie de vivre. Named for Porter King, a pianist Morton met in his travels, Jelly Roll dated its origin to 1906. The composition had been a hit for Benny Goodman and served as a major anthem in the launch of the Swing Era four years earlier....

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#34

 Champion Jack Dupree

Champion Jack Dupree:
Junker's Blues (1941)
 Reviewed by Ed Leimbacher

A New Orleans favorite since never-recorded pianist "Drive 'Em Down" (Willie Hall) played it in the streets in the Twenties, "Junker's Blues" was finally put on disc in 1941 by Hall's protege, Champion Jack Dupree. Jack's rough barrelhouse style fit the down-and-dirty drug-user lyrics to a T, and NOLA musicians such as Fats Domino ("The Fat Man"), Lloyd Price ("Lawdy Miss Clawdy"), and Professor Longhair ("Tipitina") have been casually borrowing lines from it ever since Dupree's original 78 RPM record was released....

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#35

 Edmond Hall

Edmond Hall:
Jammin' in Four (1941)
 Reviewed by Cliff Preiss

Hall was one of the great New Orleans clarinetists, but he was a fixture of the New York jazz club scene at the time of this recording. Don't be fooled by the instrumentation of this drummer-less ensemble: this isn't quiet chamber music, but a swinging romp driven by Crosby's bass and Christian's acoustic rhythm guitar. They back the unique sweet and sour sonic combination of Meade Lux Lewis pounding out boogie-woogie on celeste with Hall's hard-edged clarinet blues....

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#36

 Bunk Johnson

Bunk Johnson:
You Are My Sunshine (1944)
 Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Bunk Johnson should be remembered for his music, but instead he will forever be a figure of contention and controversy. When he was rediscovered in the early 1940s, his fans tried to enshrine him as the real deal, the exponent of how jazz once sounded in New Orleans before jazz got corrupted by lindy hoppers, arrangers and—heaven forbid!—the saxophone....

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#37

 Sidney Bechet

Sidney Bechet:
Blue Horizon (1944)
 Reviewed by Dean Alger

This is the ultimate mellow Sidney Bechet blues track. He gives us the richest, most sumptuous clarinet tone of his recording career, especially in the earlier going and at the end. In later parts of the song, his range of tone and timbre also adds wonderful nuance and texture. He offers one chorus after another of beautifully rendered and shaped lines, creatively developing one thematic variation after another....

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#38

 George Lewis

George Lewis:
La Marseillaise (1945)
 Reviewed by Ted Gioia

People often talk about the "Spanish tinge" in New Orleans music, but what about the "French tinge"? After all this city—named for Philippe II, Duke of Orleans—was founded by the French and remained under their control far longer than than it was a Spanish territory. George Lewis (1900-1968) rectifies matters with his rendition of "La Marseillaise," a sweet and swinging trio performance from the New Orleans revival of the mid-1940s. Lewis was a forgotten figure, a dock worker whose musical talents were virtually unknown outside of his home town. But the attention given to his friend Bunk Johnson, the darling of the revival movement, got Lewis a sideman gig and then his own record date. Lewis was unhappy with the results of a session with a larger band, and volunteered to record again—without pay—with this clarinet-banjo-bass trio. The resulting session is one of my most cherished moments from the New Orleans revival....

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#39

 Papa Mutt Carey

Papa Mutt Carey:
Ostrich Walk (1947)
 Reviewed by Ted Gioia

With two Papas (Papa Mutt Carey and Pops Foster) and a Baby (Dodds) on hand—each of them a New Orleans pioneer of the music—you will either get plenty of family feeling or a nasty paternity suit. Fortunately no DNA testing is required here. Carey runs the band with a light touch, and gives ample solo space and plenty of breaks to his colleagues. Clarinetist Albert Nicholas is especially impressive, both for his lovely tone and his coherent improvisation. Carey thrives on the New Orleans counterpoint, although you can also hear the influence of the Swing Era aesthetic on this track. But make no mistake: unlike other trad jazz wannabes of the era, these fellows were there at the start. Carey was working with Kid Ory long before the first jazz recordings were made, and was a participant at the first session to feature African-Americans playing jazz music. But you don't need a history book in hand to enjoy this track...

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#40

 Fats Domino

Fats Domino:
The Fat Man (1949)
 Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Those who contend that rock 'n' roll was invented in New Orleans will present this track as Exhibit 1A for the prosecution. This spirited single hit the Billboard chart on April Fools Day in 1950, and three years later "The Fat Man" had racked up enough sales to earn Mr. Domino a gold record. Certainly there weren't many songs from the Truman administration so raw or uninhibited. Perhaps that other Fats (Waller) had created piano music that sounded like an invitation to a party, but this new Fats (Domino) was opening up the doors to a downright bacchanalia....

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#41

 Professor Longhair

Professor Longhair:
Longhair's Blues-Rhumba (1949)
 Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Professor Longhair, born as Henry Roeland Byrd in 1918, influenced a host of New Orleans piano players who sold more records than he ever did. The rap against the Prof is that his music was too strange for the general public. His love songs seemed constructed to inspire celibacy (an example of his lyrics: "Lookie there / She ain't got no hair"), and his piano playing would have resulted in jail time if the keyboard could file charges for battering and physical abuse. In fact, 'Fess's whole career looks like a joke CV of oddities and eccentricities. He started his professional music-making helping to pitch a patent medicine, then he turned to tap dancing, then guitar, then drums, and finally—almost as an afterthought—he settled on the piano. For a while he was working as Little Lovin' Henry. And when he finally got a recording contract, 'Fess decided to call his band . . . the Shuffling Hungarians? Don't try to make sense of it, just enjoy it....

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#42

 Eureka Brass Band

Eureka Brass Band:
Just a Closer Walk With Thee (1951)
  Reviewed by Ted Gioia

With the possible exception of Mardi Gras, no New Orleans tradition is more revered than the time-honored brass band funeral and parade. The longevity and flexibility of this institution are striking: in more recent days, hip-hop or funk oriented brass bands bring this ritual into the modern age (see example here), and often still include "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" in the mix. Looking backward, this ritual can be traced to African and early diaspora traditions, and if Samuel Floyd is correct, the famous second line of the funeral procession is merely a "straightening out" of the old ring shout. Many outsiders still scratch their heads in puzzlement at the festive tone of these processions, but one need only recall that what some see as a burial others view as a resurrection. This is fitting music indeed for passage into that proverbial "better place"....

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#43

 Sharkey Bonano

Sharkey Bonano:
Royal Garden Blues (1952)
  Reviewed by Ted Gioia

The celebrated maestro Arturo Toscanini, according to legend, once invited Sharkey Bonano to a rehearsal of the New York Philharmonic, asked him to play for the orchestra, and afterwards berated his trumpeters because they couldn't get as big and beautiful sound from their horns as the lowly jazz musician. I'm not sure if this ever happened, but Bonano certainly had a full-bodied tone, perfectly suited for New Orleans lead playing, which requires the trumpeter to cut through the layers of counterpoint, both working the melody line and swinging the band at the same time. Fans sometimes dismissed his musicianship because of his on-stage antics and skills as an entertainer. On this live recording, he is clapping and exhorting and setting the festive tone from the bandstand. But he works over "Royal Garden Blues" but good....

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#44

 Dave Bartholomew

Dave Bartholomew:
My Ding-a-Ling (1952)
 Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Dave Bartholomew ranks among the most important individuals in the history of New Orleans music, but his name never became widely known among the general public, and most of his influence was exerted behind the scenes. He was a songwriter, talent scout, arranger and general man-about-town, whose greatest successes came via his partnership with Fats Domino, which resulted in some 40 hit songs. Yet Bartholomew also recorded his own material, as he demonstrates on this 1952 track. "My Ding-a-Ling" became a huge hit, but for another rock legend—Chuck Berry, in this instance, who brought it to the top of the charts in 1972. In fact, this was the only number one hit in Berry's career. Bartholomew might have grumbled that he deserved the big success, but he would only be foolin' himself. In 1972, many deejays refused to play Berry's version because of its thinly-disguised double meaning, and there are still lots of oldies stations that won't touch it even today....

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#45

 Fats Domino

Fats Domino:
Swanee River Hop (1953)
 Reviewed by Ed Leimbacher

Singer/pianoman Fats Domino and arranger/bandleader Dave Bartholomew took the polished loping rhythm of Professor Longhair into the studio, added some pop standards patina, and emerged with scores of regional and national hits, from "The Fat Man" to "Let the Four Winds Blow." Some of Domino's best early Fifties recordings were collected on his second album, not-quite-aptly titled Rock and Rollin'. Tunes like "Second Line Jump" and "Fats' Frenzy" are great piano-sax instrumentals—perfect New Orleans r&b exemplars—and "Swanee River Hop" is a blistering, killin'-the-keys classic. Roll over, Stephen Foster, and tell young Antoine the news!...

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#46

 The Hawketts (featuring Art Neville)

The Hawketts (featuring Art Neville):
Mardi Gras Mambo (1954)
 Reviewed by Ted Gioia

This classic carnival tune was originally recorded by country artist Jodie Levens in 1953, but his incongruous steel-guitar backed version fell flat. Enter the Hawketts the following year with their light R&B version, enhanced with a bit of Caribbean flavor, and a Mardi Gras classic was born. It's hard to believe that Art Neville was only sixteen when he delivered this confident vocal—he sounds like a full-grown man with many Fat Tuesdays under his belt. But though he may not have been old enough to buy alcohol, his paean to Mardi Gras has inspired lots of drinkin', partyin' and fraternizin' with the opposite sex over the years. There is no bass on this track—drummer Boudreux chalks that up to the Hawketts' inexperience: "We didn't know that a band was supposed to have a bass player." But the horns, piano and drums lock together so perfectly that you may not even notice its absence....

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#47

 Fats Domino

Fats Domino:
Ain't That a Shame (1955)
 Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Fats Domino had already started to attract national attention back in the late 1940s with his recording of "The Fat Man." But "The Fat Man" was a 98-pound-weakling compared to the buffed-up success of "Ain't That a Shame," which broke out of the segregated world of R&B and became a huge pop hit in 1955. The record was a million seller and remains a perennial favorite of those who demand that old time rock and roll. Pat Boone—the Vanilla Ice of the 1950s—had a successful cover version, borrowing his creativity from New Orleans in this instance, just as he would do again with "Tutti Frutti" and "Long Tall Sally." But those who like plenty of rhythm in their rhythm-and-blues will go straight to the original source. You'll have a hard time finding a better groove on a 1950s rock-and-roll medium-tempo tune, and I'm convinced that the switch in and out of stop-time played a major role in making this tune a hit—Mr. Boone smartly appropriated this part of the arrangement along with the rest of the chart. But Fats' vocal soulful vocal is the main course here, and no imitator was capable of stealing that....

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#48

 Little Richard

Little Richard:
Tutti Frutti (1955)
 Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Little Richard had entered Cosimo Matassa's recording studio on Rampart Street in New Orleans with hopes of becoming a star, but the slow blues he was performing weren't going well. Richard Penniman was setting himself up for a return ticket back to a day job and dashed dreams. But during a break, Richard sat down at the battered piano at the Dew Drop Inn and let loose with a boisterous semi-nonsense lyric he had honed at rowdy performances across the South. Producer Bumps Blackwell was dumbstruck and (according to one version of the story) enlisted the service of Dorothy Labostrie to clean up the questionable lyrics. "Good booty" was replaced with "all rooty," and a few other changes made "Tutti Frutti" suitable for America's teenagers. They loved it, and everyone wanted a scoop of "Tutti Frutti." Even Pat Boone had a hit with his cover version, but his "Tutti Frutti" is plain vanilla when compared with Little Richard's tour-de-hoarse rendition. This definitely ranks among the most uninhibited vocals in the history of rock and roll, up there with John Lennon's throat-abrading version of "Twist and Shout" and Roger Daltrey's nightmarish scream in "Won't Get Fooled Again." The future of popular music is prefigured here, but you can also hear the echoes of the past. "Tutti Frutti" belongs to that great tradition of New Orleans pseudo-gibberish party-time songs—from "Heebie Jeebies" to "Iko Iko." It just feels so fine ricocheting off the lips: Womp-bomp-a-loom-op-a-womp-bam-boom!....

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#49

 Louis Prima

Louis Prima:
Jump, Jive, an' Wail (1956)
 Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Louis Prima's success in crossing over has led many to forget his strong jazz and Crescent City roots. If he is connected in the public's mind with a city, it is probably Las Vegas, not New Orleans, where he worked the casinos and kept the partyin' festive and the slot machines spinnin'. But the boisterous, uninhibited quality of his performance of "Jump, Jive, an' Wail" would be equally at home on Basin Street or in the heat of a Mardi Gras celebration.

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#50

 Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong:
When the Saints Go Marching In (1956)
 Reviewed by Dean Alger

From the first notes of that famous melody flowing from Satchmo and the All Stars, you just can't help but get a smile on your face, the toe starts tapping, and spirit of Ol' New Orleans begins to take hold of you. Blessedly, despite the fact that Louis Armstrong had played this essence-of-New Orleans tune two or three thousand times, and the members of the band had played it hundreds of times, they play it with verve and passion, carrying the Crescent City spirit on a wave of song to their delighted and responsive audience for this live recording. In his autobiography, the great clarinetist Barney Bigard said of Armstrong and the All Stars, "The band bridged the gap between show business and art." This tune, like that other essence-of-New Orleans song, "Basin Street Blues," was an ultimate demonstration of that'something you can clearly hear in the recording, as the audience is obviously highly entertained; but they are also hearing that supreme master of his instrument and singing, the one and only Satchmo, make musical art, with help from this great band...

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Click here for part two—which continues the story of New Orleans music to the present day. You will find classic tracks from the Neville Brothers, James Booker, Wynton Marsalis, Dr. John, Professor Longhair, the Meters, the Wild Tchoupitoulas, Galactic, Louis Armstrong, Henry Butler, Al Hirt, Pete Fountain, and much, much more!

August 26, 2009 · 0 comments

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The Young Lionesses: 10 Future Female Jazz Stars

by S. Victor Aaron

The face of jazz is changing, largely because the gender makeup of jazz is changing. The stereotype of jazz women strictly being torch singers has always ignored their instrumental contributions to the art form, from Mary Lou Williams and Marian McPartland to Shirley Scott, Emily Remler and Jane Ira Bloom. But today, that stereotype is being torn asunder evermore with perhaps the largest crop ever of serious women jazz players. And these ladies, hailing from all corners of the world, bring both a faithfully deep respect to the tradition and the daring to make a new tradition. What's more, their abilities as both performers and composers are at such a level to demand a recasting of the word "acu-men." This isn't a man's world anymore, J.B.

Women in Jazz

Some of these performers of the fairer sex have already achieved notice. You've likely already heard of Esperanza Spalding, Grace Kelly and Tal Wilkenfeld. Nonetheless, there are plenty more behind those poised to bubble up into the jazz public's consciousness because they are simply too good to be kept under wraps much longer. Below is a list of ten of the under-forty (with most under thirty) cadre of women jazz instrumental players, each of whom is ready to make that next step toward wider acclaim.

It's by no means an all-inclusive list, but the range of instruments, styles and nationalities of these ten illustrate that this trend is a broad-based one. And, in this writer's opinion, a very welcome one. Whenever you introduce more competition into a marketplace, the customer usually comes out the winner. And these ladies are tough competitors:




Sharel Cassity

Sharel Cassity

By the time Oklahoma City native alto saxophonist Sharel Cassity got around to recording her own album last year, she had already accomplished a lot. Holding a Master�s in Music from Julliard and having served as a sidewoman for Ingrid Jensen, Jimmy Heath and Mark Whitfield, Cassity piled up the kudos, like the 2007 ASCAP Young Composer Award and a couple of Downbeat Music Awards. In addition to the preferred alto, Cassity is also proficient with other saxophones (baritone, soprano and tenor), as well as clarinet, flute, alto flute and piccolo.

2008 saw the release her first CD as leader, the traditionally minded Just For You. While the up-and-coming trombonist Michael Dease produced the record and contributed three of the seven songs, it�s Cassity�s amazing alto that takes center stage. She�s got Parker�s vocabulary down pat with a sweet and sassy style. Whether it�s her commanding note runs on the perennial yardstick �Cherokee, � the intricate interplay on Lennie Tristano�s dynamic �Wow,� or the sublime reading of �Lover Man,� Cassity�s got the goods for a wide range of situations.

The joy evident in Sharel Cassity�s horn in turn makes her a joy to listen to. Whenever she focus more of her award-winning songwriting talents into her records, we could well see a full flowering of a talent that�s ready to conquer the bebop world.

Featured Track:
Sharel Cassity: Lover Man




Anat Cohen

Anat Cohen

Anat Cohen is part of a family of talented jazz and world fusion musicians from Israel that includes brothers saxophonist Yuval and trumpeter Avishai. The three have even made a couple of albums together as The Three Cohens, but with four albums already to her solo credit, sister Anat has shown without a doubt that she can stand on her own.

Cohen�s primary weapon of choice is the trusty old clarinet, but that doesn�t hold her back from tearing it up on just about any other woodwind available, whether that�s a bass clarinet, tenor saxophone, or a soprano saxophone. Her music of choice is jazz that�s world-flavored, particularly that part of the world where her native Israel is located. But she doesn�t constrain herself to some form of klezmer as some world-jazz clarinetists are prone to do these days; other elements such as Latin rhythms and classical arrangements often play a role in her musical tapestry, too.

This Berklee School of Music grad have brought home several accolades, such as Downbeat Magazine�s Rising Star-Clarinet for 2007 and 2008, as well as the Jazz Journalists Association Clarinetist of the Year for the same two years. Cohen�s latest album, 2008�s widely acclaimed Notes from the Village, is arguably her best, revealing continued growth as a bandleader, interpreter, composer, and multi-instrumentalist. At the rate Anat is going, she may soon overtake brother Avishai�s high stature. Sometimes, sibling rivalry is a good thing.

Featured Track:
Anat Cohen: Washington Square Park




Kait Dunton

Kait Dunton

A 2008 graduate of the well-regarded Jazz Studies at the University of North Texas, pianist Kait Dunton wasted no time in recording her first album, Real & Imagined, one in which she led a trio through eight songs that she composed herself. She also produced and arranged the album, and released it herself.

It�s one thing to do all these things, it�s quite another to do it all so impeccably as she did here, the first time out. While her meter and mood shifting compositions reveals an amazing amount of breadth and depth coming right out the gate, she also demonstrates restraint in all the right places. What�s more, she always leaves room in her carefully constructed pieces for human emotion, allowing them to groove, prance and meditate.

For these and other reasons, Real & Imagined is one of the top two or three jazz records I�ve heard put out by anybody in the past year, a statement I don�t make lightly. Dunton now resides back at her native Southern California, one of only a couple of our young lionesses not to work out of New York City. It�s not a question of if she�s ready for NYC, however. Rather, the question is, is NYC ready for Kait Dunton?

Featured Track:
Kait Dunton: Phase Faze




Hiromi

Hiromi

Hiromi Uehara, better known as simply �Hiromi,� is unquestionably the furthest along in her career of these ten artists, having already made five albums as a leader. And this year�s records�her co-headlining a dueling pianos live set with Chick Corea (Duet) and her key appearance in the Stanley Clarke Trio�s Jazz In the Garden�are raising her profile even further.

A piano prodigy from Shizuoka, Japan, Hiromi had a chance encounter with Corea at 17 that quickly led to her performing with him the following evening. When Hiromi was studying at Berklee School Of Music, Ahmad Jamal discovered her from a demo tape and promptly got her into the studio, where he produced her first album, the mostly piano trio Another Mind. Subsequent records find her exploring an aggressive and technically demanding brand of fusion jazz. All of her releases reveal a talent not just at the piano, but also at composing, arranging and band-leading. Her stamina at piano is seemingly endless, as well as the depths she plumbs in harmonic complexity and dexterity.

So it might be a stretch to suggest that Hiromi has yet to arrive, when she is already garnering some attention for playing with the big dogs at an equal level. Her eagerness for challenges at a still-young thirty years of age suggests that she could go much further still, however.

Featured Track:

Hiromi: Sakura Sakura

See also
In Conversation with Hiromi by Larry Appelbaum




Anne Mette Iversen

Anne Mette Iversen

Born and raised in Denmark, double-bassist Iversen studied classical piano at The Royal Danish Academy of Music and then bass for four years at the Rhythmic Conservatory of Music in Copenhagen, graduating in 2001 from The New School University with a BFA degree in Jazz Performance. Then she moved to New York to supplement her formal music education with hands-on experience in arguably the best location on Earth to get that. With only her third release, Iversen last year put forth a rather ambitious project: a two-CD album which showcases her quartet on one disc (Many Places) and the same quartet supplemented by four string players on the other disc (Best Of The West).

Iversen�s presence on bass is assertive without being overbearing and her tone and timbre is precise. Both sets come from a composer who understands how to maximize the potential of each instrument, while making the whole add up to greater than the sum of the parts. Leveraging both classical and jazz backgrounds, Anne Mette Iversen has that ability to create vibrant, intelligent compositions and then make them come to life from behind the front line.

Featured Track:
Anne Mette Iversen: Many Places




Hailey Niswanger

Hailey Niswanger

Of our Terrific Ten, only multi-reedist Hailey Niswanger (pronounced �NICE-wonger�) is not yet out her teens. But she has proven her ability to learn quickly after first trying out a clarinet at the age of eight�and her talent has earned her a full scholarship to the Berklee School of Music, where she recently completed her first year of studies.

She will undoubtedly learn so much more there in the next few years, not to mention from some great gigs awaiting her when she graduates. Yet, she�s already come far enough to share the stage with or study under the likes of Terri Lyne Carrington, Christian McBride, Taylor Eigsti, Phil Woods, McCoy Tyner, George Duke, Maceo Parker and Wynton Marsalis. In 2008 she won the saxophone competition at the Mary Lou Williams Women In Jazz Festival and was invited to return this year as a headliner act.

If that wasn�t enough, she has also already recorded her first record Confeddie with a trio of fellow Berklee students backing her up. On sale since the end of June, Confeddie presents Niswanger exclusively on alto sax (although she can also play soprano sax, flute and clarinet). With the help of her professor�s suggestions, Niswanger made some nice choices for the seven songs she covered, and threw in one of her own, her Eddie Harris tribute which serves as the title track. As an album, Confeddie is proof that Niswanger has already mastered many of the nuances of post-bop jazz with a saxophone style that swings and grooves with proficiency. The arrangements stick close to the traditional renditions of the songs, and give you a good sense of how she stacks up to her influences and heroes. Let�s just say that she passed these tests with flying colors.

Even though Niswanger has graduated from high school near Portland, Oregon only last year, she looks back as she looks ahead. She has spent this summer teaching piano to five to seven year olds at the same arts camp where she first picked up that clarinet. It�s a rare trait for someone to give back to the art form while she still has so much of her own art ahead of her.

Featured Track:
Hailey Niswanger: Oliloqui Valley




Linda Oh

Linda Oh

Linda Oh is a young female bass playing wiz from Australia, a description that immediately brings to mind Tal Wilkenfeld, but it�s there that the comparisons end. Born in Malaysia and raised in Western Australia, Oh moved through a wide variety of instruments in her childhood, from piano at age four, to woodwinds and electric bass throughout high school. She finally settled on the bass full time, playing acoustic bass for the first time in college. She later moved to New York, picking up her Masters at the Manhattan School Of Music.

She has tremendous composing abilities, having scored for films and big bands, and winning an ASCAP Young Jazz Composers Award. She currently performs on both electric and acoustic bass around NYC, leading bands that range from big band swing to political rock. Last year she recorded her debut album Entry, which is due out this October. It�s a very unique sounding recording, utilizing a standup bass-trumpet-drums trio, and featuring free-form melodies with dark, serious overtones. It�s firmly in the jazz idiom, but there are some rock intonations, perhaps a spillover from Oh�s influences from such rock acts as the Red Hot Chili Peppers. There�s even a RHCP cover at the end of her record.

It�s Oh�s uncompromising approach in forging her own sound from the start, combined with a very modern, advanced style of bass playing that will make her stand out easily from the crowd.

Featured Track:
Linda Oh: Patterns




Iris Ornig

Iris Ornig

�Her grasp of harmony, sound and rhythm place her in a select group of musicians who are ready to tackle whatever comes their way. I am always happy to hear a young bassist who has studied the tradition but has moved on to make their own form of contemporary music. Iris is such a musician.� Those are words of high praise for Iris Ornig, made more meaningful by the fact that they came from one of today�s top bassists Larry Grenadier. Like Iversen, the German-born Ornig applies her formal European training to the swing and vibrancy of jazz in New York, both as a performer and educator.

Her debut album New Ground, out last May, shows not just her ability to assemble tight distinctive melodies, but the ability to drive them with precise cadence and note selection. Even on the three tracks featuring vocalists, Ornig shows that she can swing confidently in concert with the singer. In NYC since 2003, she has been playing regularly at many of the top clubs there. It probably won�t be long before many jazz lovers will discover what Grenadier already knows.

Featured Track:
Iris Onig: It's Time to Say Goodbye




Matana Roberts

Matana Roberts

Alto saxwoman Matana Roberts is Chicago born and bred and a proud product of that town's vibrant improvised music scene. This associate member of Chicago's seminal Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians burnished her alto saxophone chops playing alongside such Chicago jazz heavies as Fred Anderson, Jeff Parker and Nicole Mitchell. Eventually she formed a local collective with bassist Josh Abrams, and drummer Chad Taylor called Sticks And Stones, which released two, well-received albums in 2002 and 2004.

In 2002, Roberts moved to New York and in 2008 perked up a lot of ears when she presented her first solo album The Chicago Project. Produced by Vijay Iyer, Chicago Project reveals how well she has grasped some deep harmonic concepts while injecting a great deal of humanness and spirituality into her work. For that reason, it is quite listenable while also being so adventurous. When Roberts solos, it�s more of a soliloquy rather than a bunch of scales and chords. That album helped to get her the attention in the Big Apple that she previously earned in the Windy City: Downbeat named her the Rising Star Alto Saxophonist for 2009, and in 2008 she just missed out to Lionel Loueke in being named Up and Coming Musician of the Year by The Jazz Journalists Association.

Roberts isn�t content to merely compose and perform small-group jazz; her epic Coin Coin is a musical narrative account of her rich family history, going back seven generations. �Matana� is the Hebrew word for �gift.� Roberts� music is just that for fans of avant garde jazz.

Featured Track:
Matana Roberts: Love Call




Ada Rovatti

Ada Rovatti

Italian native Ada Rovatti is a specialist on tenor and soprano saxophones who went to Berklee College of Music on a full scholarship before cutting her teeth in Paris. She�s since settled in New York, working with a dazzling roster of major jazz and fusion artists that includes Joann Brackeen, Miroslav Vitous, Bob Mintzer, Randy Brecker and John McLaughlin.

There are at least two reasons to pay close attention to Ms. Rovatti. First of all, she�s got really terrific chops and she knows when to throttle back and when to kick it into overdrive. Secondly, with the release earlier this year of her fourth album, Green Factor, she�s pushing her art into daring new territory with a delicious blend of jazz, fusion and Irish/Celtic forms. Rovatti arranged traditional Irish songs or wrote her own, as well as produced the record. It�s adventurous, advanced and alluring all at once.

An accomplished multi-talent like Ada Rovatti with a zeal for trying out fresh approaches is just the type who can make big waves. Surf�s up!

Featured Track:
Ada Rovatti: The Untold Story





August 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Octajazzarians Profile: Jon Hendricks




For the first time in jazzs brief century, many leading artists are staying active beyond their eighth decade. OctoJAZZarians is an on-going series celebrating these living legends, pioneers who were first-hand participants in the evolution of America's greatest art form.

Our subject this month is singer/composer Jon Hendricks.



By arnold jay smith



                      Jon Hendricks by Suzanne Cerny


Many years ago, Jon Hendricks told me that a tune is remembered by its lyrics. "You can hum a tune forever, in the shower, or cleaning your apartment, and never know its name. But once you sing the words [he snapped is fingers], you got it!" Hendricks posed this thought: Would Duke Ellington have been as famous without all those songwriters? At the time Hendricks was in the throes of writing lyrics to many of Thelonious Monk's compositions (which were hard enough to remember as they were), then copyright them and become co-author. According to copyright law, once words are written to a melody and the title is taken from those words, both composer and author receive royalties, even if it was originally an instrumental. For "I Got Rhythm" it was George Gershwin's brother Ira; for "My Funny Valentine," Lorenz Hart; for "Maria," Stephen Sondheim, and so on. Sometimes the line is blurred, as with Lennon and McCartney. I once asked Betty Carter why she insisted upon putting the original composer and lyricist on her re-rhythm-ed, re-melodicized, and re-harmonized versions, as they were so unique as to warrant new ownership. Her reply was simply, "I owe them." (Meaning the songwriters.)

Hendricks was adding new life to Monk. "Monk had told me that 'the only motherfucker I want to write my lyrics is [you],' meaning me," Hendricks said. So he wrote new lyrics, even to "Round Midnight," which already had lyrics written by Bernie Hanighen (Carmen McRae once made an album of Monk tunes with new words and titles by Hanighen). "Do you know that Monk didn't even know [I wrote] lyrics to that one?" Hendricks remarked. "And that pisses me off! If it was Johnny Mercer, you know they'd bow and scrape. It's a racist thing man." Hendricks sent the new words to Nellie, Monk's widow, who approved.

There's the infamous case of "Moody's Mood for Love." Eddie Jefferson wrote new lyrics set to James Moody's brilliant improvised alto sax solo on "I'm In The Mood for Love" (perhaps the first recorded example of "vocalese," which we'll talk about below) and gave his version its new title. The courts preposterously decided that the Moody/Jefferson version of the tune still belonged to Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh. Moody only gets a taste.

Hendricks as written words to some of Horace Silver's eminently funky and lyrical tunes, and sung them with Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, among others. Silver decided he wanted all the royalties ("He's entitled; they're his songs," said Hendricks). Silver re-wrote new words with new titles for a Dee Dee Bridgewater CD called Love and Peace. Hendricks' name is nowhere to be found, posing the legal question: Can there be two sets of lyrics on one tune? "The answer is yes," Hendricks emphatically said. "You can have as many sets of lyrics you want, and collect the royalties on a 50-50 basis, provided yours are the ones that are sung. Horace just wants it all. Frankly, his are silly. Mine are better." I concur.

[ASIDE : Which brings to mind an apocryphal story. Mrs. Jerome Kern and Mrs. Oscar Hammerstein II are in a knot of people at a cocktail party when Mrs. Kern says proudly, "My husband wrote 'Old Man River.'" To which Mrs. Hammerstein replies, "Oh no he didn't. Your husband wrote (she vocalizes 'dah dah dah-dah,' the famous opening refrain sans words). My husband wrote 'Old Man River.'"]

Hendricks (b. 1921) does not have to fret about royalties. His lyrics to composers such as Louis Armstrong, Randy Weston, Miles Davis, Mongo Santamaria, Joao Gilberto, Duke Ellington, Lester Young, Count Basie, Bobby Timmons and Antonio Carlos Jobim, ("Would you believe 'Desafinado' was turned down by three major writers, so I did them," Hendricks said; history knocked, Jon answered] are sung seemingly endlessly in clubs, concerts, on recordings, and in elevators and supermarkets. There are even printed parts for vocal ensembles.

It's all because of something called "vocalese," the writing of real words telling real stories set to previously recordedand often well-knownimprovised instrumental jazz solos. Vocalese differs from scat singing, which is improvised vocal jazz using nonsense syllables, mimicking instrumental jazz technique.

Did Hendricks invent vocalese? Hardly. Remember "Jumpin' With Symphony Sid," a Prez solo by King Pleasure? Then there's "Twisted," a Wardell Gray solo by Hendricks' former partner Annie Ross. Both predate Hendricks' foray into the form, as did another Lambert, Hendricks & Ross colleague, Dave Lambert. Even Mel Torme and his Mel-Tones checked in. Hendricks' accomplishment was in making vocalese a separate, completely acceptable and popular form of vocalizing. Not a fad, but a trend.

It was December 2008 in Lower Manhattan. Jon and Judith Hendricks were in New York during a winter recess from his professorial duties in Toledo, his birthplace (also the birthplace of Art Tatum and home of the minor league Mud Hens). In their upper floor aerie overlooking New York's glorious harbor, we dined and chatted for hours on a groaning board prepared by Judith, and didn't get the whole job done. Due to Hendricks' phenomenal memoryand his long digressionswe needed another session. That took place the following June, when Jon was in town being inducted onto the ASCAP Jazz Wall of Fame (Annie Ross and the late Dave Lambert were among the other inductees).

It was during this second go-round that Hendricks opined on a variety of topics. "I was on a college jazz radio station with and for Mark Morganelli's Jazz Forum's 30th Anniversary (see www.jazz.com)," he began, "and for one full hour there was no Ellington, no Basie, no Dizzy Gillespie, no Charlie Parker " he trailed off only to pick it up again. "[The classical station] plays music by dead people from three hundred, four hundred years ago. Why the fuck can't we? Ours is newer, just about a hundred. Oh, the music will survive, but these little shits [the CD spinners he wouldn't dignify them by calling them DJ's which is more-or-less a profession] are going to stomp it into the ground.

"There's only one radio station around here [NYC], and that's over there." He pointed out the window across the river to New Jersey. "WBGO. They've got some real culturally attuned professionals like Michael Bourne; he plays the masters." In truth, 'BGO has a plethora of jazz personality riches: the regulars Gary Walker, Rhonda Hamilton, and Awilda Rivera. I got Hendricks to admit to being shortsighted as regards the station's DJs; even the weekenders: Rob Crocker, Monifa Brown and Sheila Anderson. "Ok. They've got a cultural center, but so many others have no sense as to how the culture came about."

Another favorite topic to which we returned a few times is education. "I have 200 students per section [at the University of Toledo]," he said. "That's 400 souls listening to Jon Hendricks expound from his soapbox on Jazz in American Society. I tell them on the first day that it is ludicrous that I should be standing here, 'telling you about your culture when it should be you telling me. You know everything about rock, which is bullshit, but at least it came from the blues, and nothing about jazz.'"

Hendricks' political suspicions became evident when he blamed the British intelligence services MI-5 and MI-6 for fomenting the [white?] rock revolution. He also alleged that the C.I.A. is responsible for killing some 18 people who were supposedly on a list kept by Jack Ruby, who himself killed Lee Harvey Oswald, John F. Kennedy's accused assassin. According to Hendricks, the list consisted of people who were privy to some uncomfortable truths. Ruby died of cancer in prison. Hendricks believes Ruby was injected with the disease.

We eventually got to musical improvisation, after more riffing through religion, social geography, and some Hendricks historical revisionisms.

"There was this hamburger joint on Indiana Ave. between Collingwood and Division, run by Stanley Cowell [father of the jazz pianist]," he began. "[Cowell] hung out with my brothersI had eleven brothers and three sistersas they were the same age. It was during the Depression. Nobody had any money. Movies were a dime, so [when I had bread], I could take at least two or three of my bothers and sisters to the movies with me. Even my father [who was a minister] had to take a day job cutting hair."

How did he get that bread? Jon, with time to spare, would hang around the Cowell jukebox all day. He learned the whole jukebox, "every tune on it, the arrangements, the solos, everything," he said. As other patrons approached the box, Jon would intercede. The colloquy went something like this: Jon: "Whatcha gonna play?" Coin holder: "What's it to ya?" Jon: "Gimme the nickel and I'll sing it." His goal was to make enough to take his and his brothers and sisters to the moviesremember, they cost a dime. "I think they were curious to hear what I was gonna do," he confessed. One tune was a hit penned by a young Gerald Wilson for the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra called "Yard Dog Mazurka."

"I remember that tune to this day," Jon said. "That's where Stan Kenton got his 'Intermission Riff.' Copped it directly from Gerald." Jon would proceed to sing the chart, to the delight of the burger joint's diners. (He sang it for me.) "They would stop to listen. It became a regular floor show." (I wonder what Mr. Cowell thought about his patrons not buying his burgers.) The words would come later. "I wasn't there yet," Hendricks said. "I was laying the foundation for the tune, singing what [the potential juke players] wanted to hear." The vocal group the Ink Spots was big in the jukes then. Hendricks sang all the parts, some of which were vocalized instrumentals.



           Erroll Garner and Art Tatum at Birdland, 1952
                                   by Marcel Fleiss

He was a cute eleven year-old with a high-pitched voice. People dropped into that joint to hear this kid do Glenn Miller''s "Juke Box Saturday Night." The word got out that "little Johnny Hendricks does all the solos, too." Not only could he now afford to go to the moving picture shows, but also got the notoriety he needed for a paying gig at the Waiters and Bellmen's Club at the urging of fellow Toledo native, Art Tatum. Hendricks was billed as "Little Johnny Hendricks: The sepia Bobby Breen." [Breen was a very popular white motion picture and radio singing personality.] "I met [Breen] on the vaudeville circuit with Benny Kubelsky, who told bad jokes and played very bad violin. I thought, 'he needs to go back to Waukegan and take more fiddle lessons, or learn some new material.'" (Kubelsky did neither; he changed his name to Jack Benny.)

Hendricks gives credit to his "press agents." "I had the best of them. Art Tatum was plugging me in Toledo, and then when Charlie Parker came through and heard me, he set me up in New York just by telling about me." But it took its toll. As his usual happy tone turned a bit more somber, Hendricks related that "it had an effect on my growing up. I ran to sing right after school. I missed not having a girl friend to play 'sticky finger' with, like the other boys." (You'll have to figure out what sticky finger is by yourself. I remarked to Jon that if I ever did that I would have gotten the taste slapped out of my mouth by, not only her parents, but by my parents as well. He replied, "That's because you're a nice Jewish boy." True dat; we were saving our doing dirty nasty things for the woman we loved and respected!)

He missed going junkin' and taking [the stuff] downtown to sell it. But he was learning to communicate with Tatum through the music, of which he knew nothing. "[Tatum] would say, 'sing this.' And he would play something. Eventually, I could." Because of Tatum's teaching technique, the use of ears rather than eyes, Hendricks never learned to read music. "Art was blind and I was dumb," he quipped. "Illinois Jacquet once said of Tatum, 'he could hear a gnat piss on cotton.'"

While Hendricks loved singing to instrumental parts, it was this communication aspect that piqued his interest. He thought that if he would sing real words and tell stories he could better get his message across. "It was like carrying a storyboard around in your throat," he explained. "I never tried to proliferate it, as there was a lack of understanding."

With it all Hendricks never skimped on education. He was an English major with a History minor. The former stood him well when it came to vocalese lyrics. It was his father who insisted that he keep up with his studies. "He knew that one day I might want to continue my schooling," he said. "My [preacher] father taught me 'parabalic (sic) poetry' based on parables. You could tell a story; Shakespeare used that. That is where my style came from. It's reviewing and hiding material."

[A HENDRICKS DIGRESSION: "I started reading the Book as a collection of beautiful poetry. King James I chose Sir Francis Bacon to write a Bible, while in 'exile' at the Court of Navarre. Seems Sir Francis was James' bastard son." Here's where Hendricks historical references took an enervating turn. "It is rumored that 'Loves Labor Lost' was written in France, by Bacon. In fact, there is no one Shakespeare," he asserts. "It is spelled seven different ways and there are five signatures. All have been attested to be false. There was such a man who was a horse holder at the 'Globe' (as in the Earth) Theatre." According to Hendricks, Bacon is also said to have written works attributed to Spencer, Peele, Greene and Ben Johnson, who lived in Bacon's house.]

At this point my patience ran out. I interrupted and asked sharply, "Are we ever going to get to vocalese?" He laughed. But he went on and on, quoting Genesis, as I drew astrological circles on my pad. "In the Beginning God " [The words he was to introduce on Ellington's First Concert of Sacred Music at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco. Read on.] I was aboard for a ride, yet Jon was taking me someplace I did not care to go. But I could not stop his train of thought. A stop along the route was "words, Bacon did it with words," he said with emphasis. At last, I thought. We're back on the track. Was I ever wrong. The Bacon track led to astrology, which led to politics, more C.I.A., the Bushes and the Kennedy deaths.

We were talking about live radio and the couples who broadcast out of their homes, like actor, director, and producer Richard Kolmar and columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, who hosted WOR's "Breakfast With Dorothy and Dick." History buff Hendricks turned the conversation to the President Kennedy assassination and the "quick, sudden deaths of those who knew something other than what was reported," Hendricks said. One such was Kilgallen, who is now considered by some responsible journalists to have been murdered. "Her body was only discovered in bed and we were told that she died there," Hendricks observed.

Meanwhile, back in Toledo, "Little Johnny" had seen the movie Hurricane starring Jon Hall. "Hey," he thought. "That's a cool way to spell my name." He became Jon Hendricks and lost the "Little" sobriquet. We almost picked up the music trail when Jon began telling war storiesnot the road kind; the Army kind.

"The Army was going to hang me and four fellows from the neck until dead as we were AWOL," he began. "We were running from race riots in Epergne, France. Some white MPs come to town andseeing we had all the girls[they] wanted in on the action. Now you know, even if they started something, us niggers were going to get the worst of it. They wrecked the place and left."

The next day there was friendly fire being rained down on their position. Hendricks and the aforementioned four guys tried to requisition rifles. Black soldiers were not armed during WWII. Did I forget to mention that Hendricks was the Quartermaster? The Captain refused, saying that he wasn't going to give them rifles so they could fire on American troops. "Then what are we?" Hendricks shouted and slammed the door. "We packed our bags, plus I took all the passes I could carry, two deuce-and-a-half's, a jeep, carbines and 45s with ammo, and we split." They approached the Swiss border, commandeered a hotel and figured to stay there for the duration and perhaps beyond.

"We made friends," Hendricks continued. "By going into a field and killing a cow and bringing it back to town where the butcher took care of the rest. It was wartime remember? They hadn't tasted meat in years. We were heroes!" The residents protected them by not allowing just anyone, including army personnel, into the hotel. "They had to be the right kind of people, if you catch my drift."

The C.I.D. caught up with them, after more than a year and the accumulation of beaucoup Swiss Francs. Hendricks drew three years of which he served 11 months, got a dishonorable discharge (which was later changed to honorable), regained his T5 rank, but was kept in the army. "I fell in love with a girl in Bremerhaven; then they sent me home." He winked after that statement.

Once back in the states, the Tatum connection kicked in. It was the late 1940s and the music was changing. "I had a quintet in Rochester, N.Y. It was white kids who were doing the bebop thing at the time, and they were good," he said. "I had this drummer who couldn't get it, so I demonstrated. He said to me, why don't you play? So I did, for eight years, just to show what a bebop riff was. I was singing the riffs. [He scats.] Words came later at a club in Toledo called the M & L. The first one was 'Anthropology.'" He did not copyright those lyrics. "I did it for creativity; I became a businessman later." All his lyrics are now published by Hendricks Music, which is administered by Music Sales, "the biggest in the world," he said proudly.

The first L-H-R album, , Sing a Song of Basie, was brought to ABC/Paramount Records producer Creed Taylor as a fait accompli. The story of how they got together is a tale told many times. Herewith some inside stuff:

"Dave Lambert was working in Hollywood doing backgrounds, such as a Hawaiian album for Jo Stafford, stuff like that. Later, we worked for left-handed violinist and bandleader Johnny Long doing backgrounds for four singers, Lambert, Hendricks, Bunny Briggs, the dancer and a trumpet player to be named later. Davey handed out the music and we were about to begin when I said to him that I couldn't read. He told me to stand next to Bunny, which I did, and sang a third away from his vocals. Afterwards I approached Bunny and thanked him. He asked me for what. I said for allowing me to follow your lead, as I can't read. He said, 'I can't read either.' Seems he had memorized the parts.

"Starving time, no food, credit overextended. I said to Davey that before we die we ought to do something great, leave a legacy. Certify to people that Dave Lambert and Jon Hendricks had been here. We came up with ten Basie songs that he would write words to and I would write the arrangements. He asked if I realized how long that would take. I replied, 'Do you have anything else to do?' The titles lent themselves to story lines, 'Down For the Count,'" which they were. "'Blues Backstage' became the Pagliacci story."

The word "vocalese" was coined by author/journalist Leonard Feather to mean a large expanded unit singing the solos as well as the backgrounds. Judith and Jon Hendricks are rather narrow in their definition. "King Pleasure and Eddie Jefferson are vocalese-ish," they exclaimed. "They may be included, but they weren't in the original evaluation. They gave single horn interpretations."

But so did Ross, who preceded them with her interpretation of "Twisted." "Annie was already a singing entity," Jon said. "She had done the London and Broadway stages, nightclubs and had some recordings. She was the pro who melded the whole thing." He went on to say that he and Lambert wondered why she didn't write more. "Dave told me that she didn't want to compete with me. I said that there was no competition here. I'm just writin' the best I can, and she can write the best she can, and it's going to be gorgeous."

About Sing a Song of Basie Creed Taylor, a frustrated trumpet player who was doing sound effects, told me (I was writing the company bio as its publicist) that his days at ABC were numbered until L-H-R brought the completed project to him. "I had nothing whatever to do with the production," Taylor humbly admitted. "I was in the studio, just in case."

The overdubbing was a mutual idea amongst the trio. "There were no machines to overdub our voices back then," Jon said almost lamentably. "No tracking devices; no multiple layers. We did isolate the 'Basic Rhythm Section' [a name Creed liked because if you read it fast it looked like 'Basie.'] But that was it. Every track had to be re-recorded over the previous one, in real time," Hendricks emphasized. "Four tracks each, three times," he said to elicit a gasp effect. In case you can't immediately recall your multiplication tablesand you haven't listened to a Bob Dorough recording in a whilethat's 12, plus rhythm. [Nat Pierce was the pianist.] "It took three months for us to sing and record four trumpets, three trombones, and five reeds," Hendricks recounted. (Three months is small potatoes for a rock recording, but a very long time for jazz.) Sing a Song of Basie has been available on CD (Impulse) for some time and still sells.

There was a second recording along those same lines called Sing Along With Basie (Roulette), which included not only the New Testament Basie Band but also their singer, Joe Williams. The album was Basie's idea after having heard L-H-R live. Awards quickly followed. Imitators, too. The Pointer Sisters, the Manhattan Transfer, Take Six, the New York Voicesso many, in fact, that there came to be a separate dedicated category in the polls called "Vocal Group." Prior to L-H-R there were the Hi-Lo's and the Four Freshmen. Period.

The group recorded many times since then. They're all classics and still available, but one in particular bears notice here. "We recorded an album of Ellingtonia," Hendricks said. "Duke heard it and called me in San Francisco to tell me that he liked it so much he wanted me on a new project he was writing with Billy Strayhorn. At first I didn't even believe it was Duke on the phone. When that passed, we settled into business. He explained the project that was to become a concert of sacred music [the first of three]. He and Strays were writing a recitative with the working title of the first four words of the Bible, 'In The Beginning God.' [It remained as such.] When I told him later at a run-through, 'Edward, I don't' read music,' He thought I was joking and laughingly said, 'Hey, if you don't want to do it just tell me. No need to make up stories.' After a while he told me that it didn't matter; he wanted me no matter what.

"Every singer within the free world, and some from outside, wanted that part, from Andy Williams to Joe Williams," Jon said. Hendricks suggested Billy Eckstine with his deep rich baritone to Ellington. "'No, Jon,'" Ellington said. "'Too many people sing about God without authority; you sing about God with authority.'" There was silence in Hendricks' apartment for that one moment, as there must have been on the phone that night. Then he said, "I was high when I took his call, but I was now sitting bolt upright. Breath had left my body. I was flabbergasted when Edward said that."

The First Sacred Concert premiered in 1959 at the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, with Jon Hendricks as the lead singer. [Brock Peters replaced him at New York's Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church and made the recording (RCA). The lines outside that church on a bitterly cold day-after-Christmas Night were so long that there was a quickly cadged second performance and not a moment too soon for one young freezing fan and his even younger brother.]

At this moment in time Hendricks' base was the City by the Bay. In September of 1960 another extraordinary event took place that was to color a good part of the rest of his life. "Evolution of the Blues" sprang into being, Muse-like from the head of Zeus, er Hendricks.

"It all started when we completed the 1959 Monterey Jazz Festival. Founder/producer Jimmy Lyons approached me and said, 'Why don't you do something with the blues next year?' [Bear in mind that Judith and Jon were still newly weds having married that preceding March.] I thought, let's see. The whole thing has got to be in rhyme. And it has to be what the blues is, all-encompassing. It also marked the introduction of Miriam Makeba in America. Harry Belafonte brought her here, but she first stopped in San Francisco."

Hendricks credits forces from the cosmos. "I wrote Evolution in about 20 minutes. It entered my brain and flowed through my upper body to my arm to my hand to the pencil to the paper." He gesticulated as he spoke. It was a work-in-progress even up to its premiere.

Hendricks describes the scene best: "John Lewis, then Music Director at Monterey, a very punctilious and artistic person, seeing that I was still writing, was asking me about when it was going to go on. I told him calmly not to worry, but he wasn't having any of that. 'What do you mean?' he would bellow. 'We've got a Festival going on here, schedules to meet, performers waiting their turn.' To look as his vein-bulging head and neck and ever-reddening face it looked for all the world that John was going into apoplexy." After the premiere concluded Jon said that the crowd was initially silent. "Then without warning they were on their feet and chairs cheering."

"Evolution" was not the first rhyming epic poem Hendricks had done. There was "New York, N.Y." with George Russell. Rhymes like New York, New York, a town so nice they named it twice. And get to the wicket and buy you a ticket.

At that time Hendricks was on staff at the San Francisco Chronicle as a critic for two years. He replaced Ralph J. Gleason, who left to co-found Rolling Stone Magazine. At one staff meeting, editor Alfred Frankenstein pronounced him "the greatest writer we have ever had." Understand he was the only black face in that room. "I was like a fly in a glass of buttermilk. [Pulitzer laureate] Herb Caen, who was also a staffer, had his door open. When he heard what Frankenstein said, he closed it.

"I heard that Herbie Hancock had booked himself into Mill Valley, where I was living at the time," Hendricks went on. "I went out to review him. I didn't hear Oscar Peterson, or Tatum. I heard rock music!" That set off a firestorm of an argument. "On no you didn't," says I. "You may have heard something you weren't used to hearing, but it was not rock." "It was rock music," he said with increasing emphasis. "What's wrong with that?" I asked. "I'll tell you what's wrong with that. When you advertise yourself as a jazz piano player and you don't hear shades of the mastersno Hank Jones, no Erroll Garneryou're playing bullshit!" he said angrily. "I put that in my article and Herbie and I didn't speak for about 18 months." They still are not exactly buddies.

Evolution opened in 1959 at the On Broadway Theatre in San Francisco where it remained for five years. Then "Evolution Is Coming to Broadway" blared a Chronicle headline. The story went on to say that the San Francisco hit which had been performed at the Kennedy Center in D.C. was on its way to a Broadway theatre to be determined. Later other stories said "the producers had stolen it from us and were taking it to Broadway," Hendricks noted. "Lawyers told us that if we didn't sue before it got to Broadway it would be too costly. The miscreants were drug smugglers and whoremongers and they offered the judges drugs and whores. [I wish Jon would speak his mind.] Now the show had run for more than a year at a place, Westwood Plaza, where nothing ran more than six weeks. The judge asks, 'who is this Jon Hendricks and what's this Evolution of the Blues anyhow?' He then suggested that we take it out of the courts and into arbitration meaning it would be less racist and more of a labor dispute." The ruling was that the producers would keep the rights but would award Hendricks $200,000 in legal fees, in effect buying him out.

"Not satisfactory," Jon told his lawyer and asked for their phone number. "There comes a time when a man has got to do something himself," he told the counselor. He told the thieves that he would turn over the $200g's for the rights to Evolution, in effect buying it back from them. They readily agreed to that happy ending. "They didn't care about the revue; they made $200,000 for doing nothing! And now I got a guy who wants to revive it." Every time it plays it's a hit. It is a proven masterpiece that needs virtually no updating. "After all, it's the Blues for crissake." I remarked that he could make a DVD and make back all of the historical investments, television, Amazon.com, even Starbucks. "We'll make a DVD only after it has run its course all over the world the way every show does," he said stubbornly.

"Evolution" had run its course for the moment, and L-H-R were turning away overflow audiences all over the world. Then suddenly, personnel changes took place. Annie Ross is out, and a revolving door of other voices took her place. Hendricks picks it up from there: "Annie got sick in Frankfurt [ostensibly drug related] and was shunted off to London. [Her family is from Scotland, but living in England. Among them was international stage star Ella Logan.] Davey and I valiantly trudged on, he singing what of her parts he knew, and me the rest. Some promoters, especially that cat from Frankfurt, were worried about refunds. No one asked for money back. We reluctantly tried Anne Marie Moss; we introduced Carol Sloane at Newport, and we recorded and toured with Yolande Bavan."

It appeared to be time to try something different: the family Hendricks, which he calls "Hendricks & Co." There were daughters Michelle and Aria, wife Judith, singer and "mouth trumpeter" Bob Gurland, plus rhythm. Others passed through, notably Bobby McFerrin, whose career began with Hendricks & Co. Now, Kevin Burke is the second male voice. Michelle is a singing wife and mother living in Paris; Judith has retired, at least for the moment. Their repertoire also expanded to include more than the classics, Basie, and the rest. Jon grew an affinity for bossa nova, and that is now an integral part of his show, with the occasional addition of acoustic guitarist Paul Meyer.

"Desafinado" was offered to Johnny Mercer for English lyrics, who turned it down. Ned Washington demurred, as did Sammy Cahn. Hendricks doing his own call and response: "Someone in New York asked the publisher if he'd tried Jon Hendricks. 'Who's that?' 'Lambert-Hendricks & Ross! 'I heard of them.' That's how I got to write "Desafinado," by default. That guy was a real schmuck."

Everyone wants to sing with Jon Hendricks. Vocalist Kurt Elling, who is a huge fan, sits-in with the Company every now and then. But Jon's personal favorite recording is the one he did for and with the Manhattan Transfer, Vocalese (Atlantic). He wrote and arranged the entire CD and he guests with them. He sometimes does the same with the New York Voices. To these ears, they owe their very existence to L-H-R.

Another project is his Vocalstra, "a 16-voice 'orchestra' from among my students in Toledo," he proudly noted. "I wrote arrangements from the [Miles Davis and Gil Evans] Sketches of Spain collection, which we performed at the Sorbonne in Paris."

REGRETS: "Not a one!" I've done it all. I might want to do some things over, but only to improve, not eliminate."

UNFINISHED: "Yeah. I've got some of those. I want to complete more of the Miles and Gil collaborations. ["Summertime" was done by L-H-R on The Hottest New Group In Jazz (Columbia) and some of Sketches by the Vocalstra.] But first there's a project near and dear, and that's a complete vocal arrangement of the original Miles Davis 'Round About Midnight LP. I mentioned the project to George Avakian who asked if he could produce. After that we'll Sing Another Song of Basie. There will be more projects; I've got backers.

August 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Guitarist and Inventor Les Paul Passes Away at 94

New York, NYAugust 13, 2009Les Paul, acclaimed guitar player, entertainer and inventor, passed away today from complications of severe pneumonia at White Plains Hospital in White Plain, New York, surrounded by family and loved ones. He had been receiving the best available treatment through this final battle and in keeping with his persona, he showed incredible strength, tenacity and courage. The family would like to express their heartfelt thanks for the thoughts and prayers from his dear friends and fans. Les Paul was 94.

Les Paul

One of the foremost influences on 20th century sound and responsible for the worlds most famous guitar, the Les Paul model, Les Pauls prestigious career in music and invention spans from the 1930s to the present. Though hes indisputably one of Americas most popular, influential, and accomplished electric guitarists, Les Paul is best known as an early innovator in the development of the solid body guitar. His groundbreaking design would become the template for Gibsons best-selling electric, the Les Paul model, introduced in 1952. Today, countless musical legends still consider Pauls iconic guitar unmatched in sound and prowess. Among Pauls most enduring contributions are those in the technological realm, including ingenious developments in multi-track recording, guitar effects, and the mechanics of sound in general.

Born Lester William Polsfuss in Waukesha, Wisconsin on June 9, 1915, Les Paul was already performing publicly as a honky-tonk guitarist by the age of 13. So clear was his calling that Paul dropped out of high school at 17 to play in Sunny Joe Wolvertons Radio Band in St. Louis. As Pauls mentor, Wolverton was the one to christen him with the stage name Rhubarb Red, a moniker that would follow him to Chicago in 1934. There, Paul became a bonafide radio star, known as both hillbilly picker Rhubarb Red and Django Reinhardt-informed jazz guitarist Les Paul. His first recordings were done in 1936 on an acousticalone as Rhubarb Red, as well as backing blues singer Georgia White. The next year he formed his first trio, but by 1938 hed moved to New York to begin his tenure on national radio with one of the more popular dance orchestras in the country, Fred Warings Pennsylvanians.

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Tinkering with electronics and guitar amplification since his youth, Les Paul began constructing his own electric guitar in the late 30s. Unhappy with the first generation of commercially available hollowbodies because of their thin tone, lack of sustain, and feedback problems, Paul opted to build an entirely new structure. I was interested in proving that a vibration-free top was the way to go, he has said. I even built a guitar out of a railroad rail to prove it. What I wanted was to amplify pure string vibration, without the resonance of the wood getting involved in the sound. With the good graces of Epiphone president Epi Stathopoulo, Paul used the Epiphone plant and machinery in 1941 to bring his vision to fruition. He affectionately dubbed the guitar The Log.

Les Pauls tireless experiments sometimes proved to be dangerous, and he nearly electrocuted himself in 1940 during a session in the cellar of his Queens apartment. During the next two years of rehabilitation, Les earned his living producing radio music. Forced to put the Pennsylvanians and the rest of his career on hold, Les Paul moved to Hollywood. During World War II, he was drafted into the Army but permitted to stay in California, where he became a regular player for Armed Forces Radio Service. By 1943 he had assembled a trio that regularly performed live, on the radio, and on V-Discs. In 1944 he entered the jazz spotlightthanks to his dazzling work filling in for Oscar Moore alongside Nat King Cole, Illinois Jacquet, and other superstars at the first of the prestigious Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts.

By his mid-thirties, Paul had successfully combined Reinhardt-inspired jazz playing and the western swing and twang of his Rhubarb Red persona into one distinctive, electrifying style. In the Les Paul Trio he translated the dizzying runs and unusual harmonies found on Jazz at the Philharmonic into a slower, subtler, more commercial approach. His novelty instrumentals were tighter, brasher, and punctuated with effects. Overall, the trademark Les Paul sound was razor-sharp, clean-shaven, and divinely smooth.

As small combos eclipsed big bands toward the end of World War II, Les Paul Trios popularity grew. They cut records for Decca both alone and behind the likes of Helen Forrest, the Andrews Sisters, the Delta Rhythm Boys, Dick Hayes, and, most notably, Bing Crosby. Since 1945, when the crooner brought them into the studio to back him on a few numbers, the Trio had become regular guests on Crosbys hit radio show. The highlight of the session was Pauls first No. 1 hit and million-seller, the gorgeous Its Been a Long, Long Time.

Meanwhile, Paul began to experiment with dubbing live tracks over recorded tracks, also altering the playback speed. This resulted in Lover (When Youre Near Me), his revolutionary 1947 predecessor to multi-track recording. The hit instrumental featured Les Paul on eight different electric guitar parts, all playing together. In 1948, Paul nearly lost his life to a devastating car crash that shattered his right arm and elbow. Still, he convinced doctors to set his broken arm in the guitar-picking and cradling position. Laid up but undaunted, Paul acquired a first generation Ampex tape recorder from Crosby in 1949, and began his most important multi-tracking adventure, adding a fourth head to the recorder to create sound-on-sound recordings. While tinkering with the machine and its many possibilities, he also came up with tape delay. These tricks, along with another recent Les Paul innovationclose mic-ing vocalswere integrated for the first time on a single recording: the 1950 No. 1 tour de force How High the Moon. This historic track was performed during a duo with future wife Mary Ford. The couples prolific string of hits for Capitol Records not only included some of the most popular recordings of the early 1950s, but also wrote the book on contemporary studio production. The dense but crystal clear harmonic layering of guitars and vocals, along with Fords close mic-ed voice and Pauls guitar effects, produced distinctively contemporary recordings with unprecedented sonic qualities. Through hits, tours, and popular radio shows, Paul and Ford kept one foot in the technological vanguard and the other in the cultural mainstream.

All the while, Les Paul continued to pine for the perfect guitar. Though The Log came close, it wasnt quite what he was after. In the early 1950s, Gibson Guitar would cultivate a partnership with Paul that would lead to the creation of the guitar hed seen only in his dreams. In 1948, Gibson elected to design its first solidbody, and Paul, a self-described dyed-in-the-wool Gibson man, seemed the right man for the job. Gibson avidly courted the guitar legend, even driving deep into the Pennsylvania mountains to deliver the first model to newlyweds Les Paul and Mary Ford.

Les played it, and his eyes lighted up, then-Gibson President Ted McCarty has recalled. The year was 1950, and Paul had just signed on as the namesake of Gibsons first electric solidbody, with exclusive design privileges. Working closely with Paul, Gibson forged a relationship that would change popular culture forever. The Gibson Les Paul modelthe most powerful and respected electric guitar in historybegan with the 1952 release of the Les Paul Goldtop. After introducing the original Les Paul Goldtop in 1952, Gibson issued the Black Beauty, the mahogany-topped Les Paul Custom, in 1954. The Les Paul Junior (1954) and Special (1955) were also introduced before the canonical Les Paul Standard hit the market in 1958. With revolutionary humbucker pickups, this sunburst classic has remained unchanged for the half-century since it hit the market.

The world has lost a truly innovative and exceptional human being today. I cannot imagine life without Les Paul. He would walk into a room and put a smile on anyones face. His musical charm was extraordinary and his techniques unmatched anywhere in the world, said Henry Juszkiewicz, Chairman and CEO of Gibson Guitar. We will dedicate ourselves to preserving Les legacy to insure that it lives on forever. He touched so many lives throughout his remarkable life and his influence extends around the globe and across every boundary. I have lost a dear, personal friend and mentor, a man who has changed so many of our lives for the better.

I dont think any words can describe the man we know as Les Paul adequately. The English language does not contain words that can pay enough homage to someone like Les. As the Father of the Electric Guitar, he was not only one of the worlds greatest innovators but a legend who created, inspired and contributed to the success of musicians around the world, said Dave Berryman, President of Gibson Guitar. I have had the privilege to know and work with Les for many, many years and his passing has left a deep personal void. He was simply put remarkable in every way. As a person, a musician, a friend, an inventor. He will be sorely missed by us all,

With the rise of the rock n roll revolution of 1955, Les Paul and Mary Fords popularity began to wane with younger listeners, though Paul would prove to be a massive influence on younger generation of guitarists. Still, Paul and Ford maintained their iconic presence with their wildly popular television show, which ran from 1953-1960. In 1964, the couple, parents to a son and daughter, divorced. Paul began playing in Japan, and recorded an LP for London Records before poor health forced him to take time offas much as someone so inspired can take time off.

In the 1977, Paul resurfaced with a Grammy-winning Chet Atkins collaboration, Chester and Lester. Then the ailing guitarist, whod already suffered arthritis and permanent hearing loss, had a heart attack, followed by bypass surgery.

Ever stubborn, Les recovered, and returned to live performance in the late 1980s. Even releasing the 2005 double-Grammy winner Les Paul & Friends: American Made World Played, featuring collaborations with a veritable whos who of the electric guitar, including dozens of illustrious fans like Keith Richards, Buddy Guy, Billy Gibbons, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, and Joe Perry. In 2008, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame paid tribute to Les Paul in a week-long celebration of his life which culminated with a live performance by Les himself. Until recently Les continued to perform two weekly New York shows with the Les Paul Trio, at The Iridium Jazz Club in New York City, for over twelve years where a literal whos who of the entertainment world has paid homage. It has been an honor to have Les Paul perfrorm at The Iridium Jazz Club for the past twelve years hosting such luminaries as Paul McCartney, Keith Richards and others and is a tragic loss to owner Ron Sturm both personally and professionally. Iridium intends to celebrate Les Paul's music and legacy every Monday night.

Les Paul has since become the only individual to share membership into the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Les is survived by his three sons Lester (Rus) G. Paul, Gene W. Paul and Robert (Bobby) R. Paul, his daughter Colleen Wess, son-in-law Gary Wess, long time friend Arlene Palmer, five grandchildren and five great grandchildren. A private Funeral service will be held in New York. A service in Waukesha, WI will be announced at a later date. Details will follow and will be announced for all services. Memorial tributes for the public will be announced at a future date. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Les Paul Foundation, 236 West 30th Street, 7th Floor, New York, New York 10001.

CONTACTS:

Caroline Galloway GIBSON GUITAR 615-423-4904 o 440-318-1202 caroline.galloway@gibson.com

Jim Eigo IRIDIUM 845-986-1677 jazzpromo@earthlink.net

Michael K. Braunstein Braunstein & Co. 212-687-3939 mkb@braunsteinandco.com

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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In Conversation With Hiromi

By Larry Appelbaum

Hiromi Ueharas career burst wide open in 2003 when Ahmad Jamal discovered her demo and produced her successful debut for Telarc Records. Since then, the 30-year old pianist, composer and bandleader has recorded five CDs as a leader, including the most recent, Beyond Standard, featuring her group Sonicbloom. Earlier this year, Hiromis live encounter with Chick Corea at the Tokyo Blue Note was released as the double-disc Duet (Concord), and her session with Stanley Clarkes trio has now been issued as Jazz In The Garden (Heads Up). This conversation took place during a live radio broadcast on WPFW-FM, in Washington D.C.







                                      Hiromi


Youve worked frequently in a trio setting. How has the addition of guitarist David Fiuczynski changed your vision or concept as a composer?

Ive been a huge fan of Davids for many years, and I love his band, Screaming Headless Torsos. He was a guest on my debut album and I knew that I wanted to make an entire record with him. So I had him in mind when I wrote all those songs.

The new CD, unlike your previous records, consists mostly of compositions written by others. What drew you to these specific songs?

I wanted to collect the songs that Id been listening to and playing for at least the past 10 years. These are the songs I grew up with and kept playing in many different ways. And with this band I have now, playing standards is like the furthest thing from what wed been doing before. So I thought its a great combination [laughs].

Youre from Shizuoka, the part of Japan known for motorcycles (Suzuki) and musical instruments (Yamaha). Did you grow up with a piano in your house?

Yes, but I went to my piano teachers house to take lessons.

Did your teacher work through classical repertoire first?

Yes, and she was also the one who introduced me to jazz. When I was eight, she played these records of Erroll Garner and Oscar Peterson, and I instantly fell in love with them. She saw me dancing to the music, so she kept playing me jazz records and I kept imitating what they were playing.

Did she teach you how to improvise?

No, she never did any studies for jazz. She was purely a classical teacher and she taught me to play the piano. The other things I just learned by ear.

You were already a professional musician when you enrolled at the Berklee College of Music. With whom did you study?

At Berklee, I was studying jazz composition and arrangement, so I had writing teachers more than deep piano teachers. I did take some lessons from Ray Santisi, but my main study was orchestration and big band arrangement.

You can buy books written by arrangers explaining their methods. What did they teach you that you couldnt find in books?

Basically, I was studying about instruments that I dont play. It started with horns and strings, then quartets and larger ensembles. The best thing about Berklee is that right after I wrote something, I could hear it live. Every week you could bring your new piece to the Project Band and you can have it played. When you hear what it sounds like, you can fix your charts.

Did you initially think you would be a studio composer or arranger? Or did you always have it in mind to be a soloist and a bandleader?

I always knew I would be a pianist. And I knew I would play what I would write or arrange. Ive been writing since [I was] six years old. I kept a musical journal and every day I would write something that touched my heart. So its not a special thing for me to do, it is daily life.

Do you look through the journal periodically to see if you can use something from years ago?

Yes, because a lot of those things are not completed. They may be fragments of songs that were just 16 bars, and I hope to finish those things while Im still alive.

Do you ever dream about music?

I would love to play with an orchestra.

No, I mean when youre sleeping, do you ever hear music in your dreams?

All the time.

Do you wake up and reach for notation paper?

Like John Lennon? [laughter] Maybe once or twice, its not that easy.

How did studying composition and arranging help you as a trio or quartet leader?

To know the instruments you dont play definitely helps. I dont just write the chords. I write all the lines so that it can be contrapuntal.

Do you write out the drum parts?

I do write rhythms when I want orchestrated parts, and I have specific ideas of rhythms. I have completely locked parts and complete freedom parts, with just one or two chords where you can go where ever.

In the locked parts, is the band allowed to make changes during performance?

Yes, but it depends on the parts. Id rather not change the parts that have more classical elements.

The reason I ask is because youve been on this tour for a while and youre playing material from the new record. Surely the music undergoes changes on the road, or is it just the solos that change?

The improvisation for me is not only the notes. Its also about dynamics, how you play the melody, how you phrase it. Even if youre playing the same melody, its never the same. So I tell the band to look at each other to see what kind of breathing we take today.

Are you a tough leader?

I think so [laughs]. My band once told me that the band should be called Hiromis Boot Camp. When you see or create an image of what you want in your music, you have to be tough, I guess.

What do you think makes a good leader?

[The] Most important thing is you have to respect your musicians. Then you have to respect the music to be able to say what you have to say, and make the music closer to what you want it to be. But you also have to be open for what musicians might suggest, because they know about their instrument more than me. And it helps to be flexible, because sometimes I can be stubborn [laughs].

Have you always been a leader, or did you ever work as a side woman?

I just did. I recorded for Stanley Clarkes trio, with Lenny White on drums.

So how is that different, when you just show up as a hired gun?

Its very different, because I have to sense what Stanley wants and what hes looking for, what kind of motion picture he has in his brain. When I play, I like to have a certain visual image in my head. And I have to fit with what the bandleader wants it to be. So, its a lot of sensing.

Do your collaborators ever explain or describe what they have in mind? For example, how did it work with Chick Corea?

With Chick, it was 99% improvised.

Did you discuss which tunes youd play?

Yes.

Who would take first solos?

No. It just happened. Wed just look at each other, and when I dont hear him start soloing for the first two seconds, then Id go, or sometimes hed go. It was very organicnothing was fixed. It was quite an amazing experience.

It requires trust to do that. How did you and Chick establish that trust?

I met Chick for the first time when I was 17. I lived in Shizuoka and I was taking some lessons in Tokyo. That same day, Chick happened to be in the building where I was taking lessons. I got so excited and I wanted to say hello. I knocked on his door and told him: 'Wow, Im a big fan, Im so happy to meet you in person, thank you so much for the inspiration,' blah, blah. He asked me what I played. I said piano, and he pointed to the piano there and said, 'Play something for me.' So I played one of my pieces. There were two pianos there, so when I finished he began to play and we started to play together. When we finished, he asked, are you free tomorrow night? Do you want to play in my show? That was one of the craziest events of my life. I wasnt planning to spend the next day in Tokyo, so I had to book a hotel and stay over. I was only 17 and I called my mom and said, I dont know what happened but I think Im playing with Chick Corea tomorrow night. And he called me at the end of his show and I went up and played with him. It was a completely improvised song, kind of a call and response thing. Then, ten years later, the Tokyo Jazz Festival asked me to do a duet concert with Chick. So we played together for about an hour, and this time he asked, do you want to make a record? [sighs] He always surprises me.

So of course you said yes.

I said yes, and then I left his room and ran down the hallway going AHHHHHHHHH! I was running all over the place, I was so happy.

How was the second experience with Chick different from the first time?

When I was 17, I didnt understand anything. I dont even remember what I played, it was too much for me, I guess. But when I was 27, I was more controlled and I understood what was going on in each bar. I could do my best to respond to what he played and get the best out of the duet experience. I enjoyed it very much. And a year later we did this duet session at the Blue Note in Tokyo. That was an amazing experience because it was the first time I played with him three days in a row, two sets each night. Every minute of it was a learning experience.

Did you prepare?

A couple of emails; like what do you want to play, which originals do you want to bring?

How does it feel to play with your heroes? Is it ever intimidating?

I think my happiness and excitement wins, I guess. Playing with Stanley and Lenny was just a gift. Theyve been playing together for 40 years, so its amazing. They dont have to talk about anything; they know what each other needs. Its like a 40-year married couple.

When you record with Stanley and Lenny, or with your own band, is it all done live in the studio? Are they first takes, or do you do any editing?

No, its all done live. I live for performance.

You seem to have fun on stage.

I do.

Can you say what the best part is?

When I see people smile. The day I knew I would be a pianist, I was 12 years old. I did my first concert abroad in Taiwan. I didnt speak a word of Chinese and I didnt know what the MC was talking about. I just knew when they tapped my shoulder I should go out and play a couple of songs. When I finished the first song, all these peoples faces just lit up. They were so happy, and I said, 'Wow.' I had heard about this, the power of music. It transcends everything. So I wrote this sentence in my journal: 'I want to make people happy with my music.' And thats always been my goal.

Audiences who spend a lot of time with your recordings, they want you to play just like the record, because that will make them happy.

[laughter] Right, thats true.

So how do balance making your audience happy, and making you and your musicians happy too?

I never play the same thing I play on the record. I believe in the things that can only happen on that very day.

You have strong technique on all your instruments. Do you ever write things for yourself that you cant play?

All the time [chuckles]. All the time, thats why I keep practicing.

Do you then create the technique to play it?

People tell me that Im technically good, but I never thought so because there are so many things I cannot play. I never feel like I conquered the piano.

No one ever does, do they?

But seeing all these amazing pianists that I love, like Vladimir Horowitz, they have a deep understanding of the piano. Im not even close. Theyre really the masters and Im far from it, so I have to keep practicing.

Whats the difference between somebody whos good and someone who is a master?

The masters have very colorful voices. They have millions of voices in piano. Like in dynamics, they have a hundred different ways of playing pianissimo.

What do you do on the road to keep your technique up?

I bring a keyboard with me, and I can always practice on the table, for dexterity and to keep the muscles working [demonstrates by tapping her pinky on table top]. Sometimes I do this on the airplane and the person who sits in front of me gets so annoyed, so I try not to do that.

What are you listening to these days?

Michael.

Michael?

Jackson [laughter]. I have to.

Your favorite Michael Jackson tune?

'Smooth Criminal.'

Why? What do you like about it?

Everything. I dont know I just love that piece so much.

Have you thought about trying to incorporate it into your show?

No. To do the piece that you didnt write, you have to have a version thats as unique as the original. And I cant think about making a unique arrangement of 'Smooth Criminal.' Its perfect.

So you grew up listening to Michael Jackson?

Yes, singing the songs and trying to imitate his dancing. I was always hoping he would do another record. I had huge respect for how much skill he had: as a singer, producer, writer, his dancing and how he dressed. He was a complete package, in his own world. It wasnt just music. Michael Jackson was one art piece. Hes everybodys hero, I guess. You have to go through him somehow.

Who are your heroes outside of music?

Bruce Lee [laughter].

Do you study martial arts?

No I dont. But I think martial arts and improvised music are similar because you need the conscious effort and discipline for practicing, and you have to improvise when you fight against enemies, right? And for me, the enemy is myself, because I have to play against what I played yesterday. Im always trying to play something I didnt play in the past, so Im always fighting against myself.

And who wins?

It depends on the day [laughs]. Its hard, especially if I see the beautiful landscape of music the day before, then its more difficult the next day. But I love it. I love taking risks in music, to not take the same route. Its like if youre mountain climbing and you see a beautiful waterfall. And youre tempted to go back the next time and take the same route and see the same waterfall, but its never as beautiful as it was yesterday. So I try to go somewhere else in the bush, and maybe there is nothing in there, but its better than repeating the same route.

Youve collaborated with other pianists, not just Chick Corea, but also Michel Camilo and Ahmad Jamal. Which other pianists would you like to play with?

Oscar Peterson.

That will be difficult. Did you get to know Oscar?

Yes, we met, and then later I opened for him when he did a 4-city tour of Japan.

But you never played a duet with him, not even backstage?

No, and I never played with Ahmad, either. He produced my first record and hes the one who opened my career in the States and everywhere else. Thats another crazy story that happened to my life. I was studying at Berklee and one of my teachers really liked what I did for my mid-term project. So he asked me to bring some more things in and I brought my demo tape. Then he asked me, who is this piano player, because he only knew me as an arranger. When I told him it was me, he said he wanted to have his best friend listen to it. His best friend turned out to be Ahmad Jamal, and he played it for Ahmad over the phone. And Ahmad called me for lunch, we talked, and he introduced me to Telarc Records. And all these things happened suddenly. Wow, it was crazy.

As a pianist and musician, how do you measure success?

[long pause] I dont know. I dont really have a big picture. I only have every day a very simple goal, to make people smile. Thats success for me. Its the hardest goal, but I just have to keep doing that every day.

Larry Appelbaum interviewed Hiromi on August 2, 2009.

August 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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In Conversation With Keith Jarrett

By Stuart Nicholson



                          Keith Jarrett by Rose Anne Jarrett


In 1999, in a major broadsheet feature, Geoff Dyer—author of the acclaimed, genre-defying book on jazz, But Beautiful—referred to Keith Jarrett as "The greatest living jazz musician." It was not the first time, and it certainly will not be the last time Jarrett has been referred to in such terms. He is, after all, one of just a handful of jazz musicians who have become a legend during their own lifetimes.

Jarrett's recording career neatly divides itself into three periods: the early Atlantic years, the Impulse! years, and his ECM years. It's fair to say that his Atlantic and Impulse! periods (and a dalliance with Columbia in-between) represent a portrait of the artist as a young man, while his career as documented by ECM—from Facing You in 1972 to the present day—reveals the flowering of an astonishing talent, not just in jazz, but in improvised music and classical music, as well.

The solo concert format established by Jarrett in the 1970s has been particularly influential. It led to some of his best loved recordings, including 1975's K�ln Concert, which has now sold well over three million copies. In 1988, a Bach/Jarrett keyboard cycle was initiated by ECM's New Series classical imprint, beginning with The Well Tempered Clavier Book 1 (piano) and Book 2 (harpsichord). In 1991 he went on to record Shostakovich�s 24 Preludes and Fugues to worldwide critical acclaim.

In 1983 Jarrett embarked on a new jazz venture, the formation of a jazz trio with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette. For some while he had been playing "Over the Rainbow" as an encore at his solo concerts, and he decided to form a group to explore the American Songbook�and beyond�explaining to Musician magazine that year, "Some of the things you hear with the group are fun: the fun of being able to relate to something and not care what it is, and just take it. But when you play alone, whatever you hear, you can�t have fun with it because you just have it to yourself." After the success of his solo concerts, Jarrett, it seemed, was missing human interaction with other musicians.

In 2008, ECM celebrated the trio's twenty-fifth anniversary by issuing Setting Standards, a boxed set re-release their first three albums, recorded in January 1983 at New York�s Power Station studio. As the Swiss jazz writer Peter R�edi said in the liner notes: "From the very beginning Jarrett emphasised two imperatives: they must take the standards seriously as great if unrecognized art on a small scale, and they had to do so from an up-to-date and radically improvisational vantage point. Once the musicians entered the studio the effect was astonishing. The old tunes unleashed a rush of emotions, a delight in streams of collective communication, without preconditions, following not only the skeletal changes but the melodic lines of force in the originals."

After recording enough material for two albums of standards, the trio was so elated, they decided to try something else. It resulted in the third album in the ECM box set, Changes. Apart from Jarrett�s composition "Prism," the music they recorded for this album was totally improvised. Since then, what has become known as "The Standards Trio" has built a substantial discography on ECM, including two more albums of spontaneous interaction.

With the recent release of Yesterdays, a 2001 session capturing the trio in top form, it seemed appropriate to begin Keith Jarrett�s Jazz.com interview by talking about this latest release, before briefly reflecting on a over quarter-century of music-making with the trio in both its "Standards" and free/collective improvisational guises. He also talked frankly and engagingly about the importance of melody and meaning in jazz improvisation, the transferability of skills from classical music to jazz, his practice regime, and more. What gradually emerged was a portrait of an intensely dedicated musician, restlessly challenging himself to achieve the highest standards he can possibly attain.





Yesterdays was recorded in 2001, and to me it�s at once intense, creative yet playful, and seems to encapsulate your remarks in the LA Times that jazz musicians don�t have to break down doors all the time. So what is your rationale when you select pieces to perform with the trio?

Rationale? I don�t have one; I don�t have a conscious concept. Just to give you an example: Tribute [the double CD set of standards, plus two Jarrett originals, recorded October 15, 1989 at Philharmonie, K�ln] was a tribute to Nancy Wilson, Charlie Parker, Coltrane, and people like that in jazz. There was quite an in-depth review of it�I�m not sure if it was a German reviewer or could even have been British. Anyway, it was very in-depth, and he had developed this theory that as we were playing each song we were quite aware of who the recipient of this tribute was. I had to debunk his whole theory when he talked to me a little bit. I said, not only have you developed this theory, painstakingly probably, and worked it out, but I have to tell you that you�re absolutely not correct. There was no thought of these singers and players at the time we did the playing. That came after the fact, when I realized there was a connection between the songs and what someone had done. For example, when I think of 'All the Things You Are' I think of Sonny Rollins, and so on. So there is no rationale, no game plan with the trio.

So you just hit on songs?

That�s about as in-depth as you get! I hit on them, like baseball or something. For example, if you take Yesterdays, if I were to analyze the different facets of it and say what was the rationale for those particular choices, I couldn�t. I remember we were coming out of three or four concerts that were all free music, and then we did a sound check in the hall [April 30, 2001 at Metropolitan Festival Hall, Tokyo], and it seemed like songs would work better than free stuff and we had not played any tunes at all on this trip, yet. So one of the things you hear [on the album] is relief. We were just relieved not to have to be in charge of every split second. So answering your original question, we didn�t feel we had to push the envelope as we had been pushing the envelope at those other four concerts for every split second. Rather than rationale, there are reasons that provoke us into saying 'yes, this works, no this doesn�t work, this hall is good for this, it�s not good for this,' and then the music arrives in a certain package.

For example, the whole music of The Survivor�s Suite [recorded Ludwigsberg, Germany April 1976 and released by ECM] was written (and this is something that�s perhaps not known widely at all) � that suite of pieces was written specifically for Avery Fisher Hall in New York, because I knew we were going to play there. I think it was opposite Monk as part of the festival. I knew from playing in Avery Fisher Hall many times the sound was not precise enough onstage to play fast tempos�[the sound] got blurred�so I decided to write the music for that evening. I felt it was important as an evening of music, and that�s the first place we played it and it was written for that hall. And then it became something we did at other places. So there was a rationale to that, but I think very few people would ever say, 'Would you conceive, Mr. Jarrett, of writing for a specific hall?' I probably would say, 'No.' But the answer lies in the fact that I knew the hall to be very poor for certain kinds of things, and if you listen to The Survivor�s Suite you�ll notice there are no fast tempos.

Interesting. Religious music, of course, is conceived entirely with the acoustic space in mind.

That�s right. Anything on that record was 'free' speed, not tempo speed, so that was that story. I think that explains more or less how we go about this stuff.

Yesterdays � you mention you did four 'free' concerts beforehand, but 2001 was actually a very rich period for the trio.

Ah, yes. I was the first person to notice, of course, because I have a list of 'must come out' releases. 'This tape must come out; this tape � forget it, we don�t need this.' So I had recordings from all over the place from a few different years, and I made list on a couple of sheets of paper in case my plane went down or something silly like that, and someone would see that and know what I wanted next. And it�s a funny thing. I noticed that in the end, although I was choosing from over several years, I kept choosing pre-9/11 in the year 2001. And I have no explanation for that.

Well, I was going ask if the inner man was celebrating putting that awful illness behind you [Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which afflicted Jarrett for over two years, beginning in the autumn of 1996].

Yes. That could be. If that�s true, then there�s something going on now, too. It started at the end of [2008] at Carnegie Hall with the trio and everything jumped, skyrocketed!

Well, I hope it�s being documented. Can we go back to the beginning of the trio, and the ECM three-CD boxed set, Setting Standards, which documents its beginnings [Standards Vol. 1, Standards Vol. 2, and Changes]? What was the ethos of the trio then, and how it has evolved?



          Peacock, Jarrett, and DeJohnette by Sven Thielman


Well, interestingly, it evolved all by itself, as long as we keep the same principals just not possessing the music as though it�s ours and just going in as a player in a group. It evolved like that. It depends on the purity of Gary and Jack and I at that time, and that�s all it depends on�plus our health of course. But really the purity of intent. There�s not another group that has this M.O., at least I�ve never heard of one, but it�s not that we�re casual, we�re the exact opposite. I�m not hearing any more, like I heard ten years ago, 'Why are they still playing standards?' I�m not hearing this from critics. I�m seeing them saying 'just listen to them playing.' Not so much 'that�s the third time they�ve played this song,' but the fact we�re changing without any preconceived notion of what kind of that change should be.

Equally, the Standards Trio has always had its alter ego, The Changes Trio.

Yes.

And later albums such as Inside Out [recorded at London�s Festival Hall in July 2000] and Always Let Me Go [the two-CD set recorded in Japan in April 2001] prompt me to ask about this aspect of the trio�s performances. Sometimes you impose form, sometimes the roles of the instruments change, and I was wondering if you get the same degree of fulfilment playing in the freer realm as you do playing�for want of a better word�'inside.'

Well, we�re a little bit busier, so it�s a little harder to feel fulfilled! But Gary told me something interesting after he heard Always Let Me Go, he said, 'Really this is the only group I�ve ever played with'�and he�s had a lot of free experience; he was with Albert Ayler and playing with a lot of guys playing free music�he said, 'this is the only group where it constantly changes inside of the freedom and it�s not boring. It isn�t like you start out in high gear and that�s where you stay and no colours ever shift.' But it�s not something I�d want to do constantly, because it�s like going outside your planet, at some point you�ve got to come back.

Can you expand on how you collectively approach this area of improvising?

Well, to me it�s like applying the solo gestalt to three people, and trying to lead, without being a leader. If the bottom feels like it�s going to fall out, finding some little spice to throw up in the air, so there is some element � it isn�t typical free music, it�s more like three streams-of-consciousness. I�m more in charge when we�re playing free stuff than when we�re playing tunes, because I�ve had such an enormous amount of experience playing from zero in solo concerts. So I know I�m hearing the guys looking to me for little road signs. It�s good, because what it means is those are the moments when the music does shift and the colour does change, otherwise it would be just be like sweating and playing triple forte! Maybe Jack starts it by playing something and I have to find a way in, and since I have the only instrument that has to do with harmony per se, I�m the one who has to deal with structure also, they don�t necessarily. All through my jazz listening life, I was always more interested in listening to piano-less groups than with piano, so its hard to be a pianist in a free situation because the instrument itself is looking at you and saying 'Why aren�t you using combinations of my notes?' So it�s a kind of give-and-take. A lot of free players will probably not consider those albums really free music, but my answer to them, if they were ever to say that, is the answer I gave someone when I gave a Bach transcription as an encore for a solo concert. He came backstage and decried the fact that it was not completely improvised, and I said 'Yes it was.' And he said, 'No it was a Bach piece.' And I said, 'But I didn�t plan on playing it!'

Touch�! One important aspect of your playing is your respect for melody, both written and improvised. I wonder if you could let me have your perspective on the importance of melody, which, to me at least, is often being lost in jazz in favour of patterns.

Yes, I agree. I would say the 'cleverness' syndrome has taken the place of melody. It�s like everyone has come down with this terrible disease in jazz. First of all you are always expected to do your own material, which is a strange thing to do if you�re a poor composer but a great player. If you are a great player and luckily you know what great melody is about things can happen that can�t happen otherwise. There was a class on melody when I went to Berklee school, I didn�t learn anything in that class but I thought it was an immensely innovative idea. I already felt I knew what melody was and what good melody was. It was held by a guitarist and I can�t think of his name; I think he was from the Southwest. The deal was, you�d go in and it was like a melody class, melody writing. And it was like 'Jeez, what�s this about?' And that was exactly the point. It was boring in its concept but it provoked the awareness that � in other words, if you need to be made conscious of something, the only way to do that is by finding how bad you are at it. One of the first exercises we were given was eight bars and you could only use whole notes and half notes and you�re supposed to write a melody and bring it in.

It�s almost what I�d tell piano students, they�d play a lot of licks I could tell they were not coming from them; they were coming from mechanical patterns. And they would say, 'How do you do what you do?' And I would say, 'Don�t even ask that question. Ask yourself why do you do what you do? Do you like what you just played or not?' 'Well no. Not really' And I�d say, 'Okay, I want you to play a fifth in your left hand, C and G, any fifth, anywhere, in your left hand. And just wait, and if you don�t hear anything in your head to play, don�t start playing. And when you do start playing, if it�s not something you like, stop.' And they come back and say, 'You know, I never discover anything I like and I wait forever and nothing happens and nothing goes through my head.' And I�d go, 'Okay, that�s the first stage. Keep doing it.'

With melody, Ornette is a good example. There�s naivety in his music, but there�s something natural there that you can�t teach. It�s either there or it�s not, and I�m not sure there are rules, like there are in architecture. If you graph a good melody, it probably looks good as a graph. I�m working on the Bach violin concertos now to play with a violinist, and some of the slow movements�if you just look at the intervallic motion and the immense amount of juice that�s there is in the shapes�[there's] something very, very meaningful in the shapes, even on the page. When I look at music, I can tell by looking at it if there is anything to do with melody in this music, because there should be a shape there that gets you intrigued, and it has to be asymmetrical. A really good melody stands out as a perfect thing, and it couldn�t be bettered. If it can�t be bettered, then it�s a good melody.

And then there�s the harmony. It depends on how a person writes, but what I used to do was, I�d have the melody start on paper. I just was so involved in getting it down the way I heard it, I�d just write a bass note just so I�d know what the contrapuntal relationship is. I would say that people who write using chords and melody as a guide are most of the time going to be bad melody writers. Because chords are vertical and melodies are lateral, so if you start thinking of chords too early in the writing of something, you may overlook the one great thing you could have come up with in the melody. And then there is this mystery place in the melody where you don�t know what chords should be there, and that�s what you have to discover later. You just have to come up with voice leading or some chordal � there�s a piece I wrote called 'So Tender,' which is on a couple of our albums. The trio recorded it, and I did it with Airto. And when I did it with Airto, Ron Carter was playing bass, and it was in the studio and he looked at the music and said, 'This can�t be right.' And I said, 'What do you mean Ron?' And he said, 'Well, the second eight bar phrase starts with a dominant chord,' and I said, 'That�s right Ron.' He said, 'How can that be? It�s just not�' He was thinking from his rule book. I said, 'Ron, wait until you here the whole piece, you�re looking at the chords. Wait until you see how the melody and chords connect, and then tell me it�s wrong.' And he didn�t say a word after that! It�s a matter of how the multiplicity of elements connect that makes the melody and the voices below the melody make perfect sense, and that is something you might never guess from only looking at one of those elements.

One of the problems for pedagogy, of course, is that there is no such thing as a definition for 'a beautiful melody.'

Many, many great composers�let�s say Prokofiev, for example. An incredible melodist, he strings the melody out over a longer period of time than you would expect, and because of that you become intrigued. Like, we thought this would resolve itself last week! But it�s still going on and there are still more chords to be found there, more groundwork that somehow makes sense. That�s a certain kind of magic and I don�t think you can teach it.

I think so too. Today you have to have the instant melody, or instant hook, for instant gratification. We have spoken in the past about Mozart, who was a supreme melodist.

Yes.

And I wonder how his concertos have helped in terms of touch and expressivity in your jazz work, the transferability of skills from one discipline to another.

Well, if you take a slow movement in a concerto by Mozart�almost any one!�there are phrases that are so simple and so profound at the same time, that you realize that if you can apply this to a song � I discovered something recently that took me my entire life to get to this realization, I�ll tell you what this was in a second � if you take this concept that maybe you have learned from playing Mozart, where you realize it can sound like nothing or it can sound like the most beautiful thing in the world, and it depends on your touch and phrasing on, let�s say, three notes that are basically quarter notes ascending in a, let�s say, a C# minor triad up to the octave. If you discover the secret in that music, its meaning, you can apply it to other things. So if I want to play a ballad and I know the words, then I can�I discovered this recently�I can actually do more to the song and the meaning of a song on piano than a singer could do if they are singing it and using the words.

For example, it�s hard to know what to do with this one phrase in 'Over the Rainbow' where you have to go down low and you say, [sings] 'Birds fly over the rainbow,' how do you get anything out of 'birds' as a singer? And you have to go down for a low note! But on piano, since you�re doing an instrumental version you can actually continue to keep the whole meaning of the song intact while you�re playing the note that would be the word 'birds.' No mater how good the singer, they�re always going to be stuck with the sound [of 'bird'], as an instrumentalist you�re not stuck with that sound, so the integrity can come closer to the song than anybody could sing it.

So I guess one of the things I took from Mozart is that it further refined my touch to the point where I could play 'words' without having to say 'birds' or, say, 'if.' It�s hard to sing 'if' as anything other than a short sound, but on piano you can make 'if' mean something�the meaning of 'if,' not the sound of 'if'�and I just discovered that, let�s say three, four months ago. I was doing a private project for myself in the studio, trying to get into a state of mind that would provoke�I was intending a state of mind, let�s put it that way�and I realized that much of what I was doing was from pieces I had heard sung, so I knew the words. So I�m not playing these songs like a jazz musician wanting to play jazz on them, this was an attempt at playing them even straighter than The Melody at Night, With You, for example [the 1999 album which marked Jarrett�s return to performing after suffering the debilitating effects of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome] and have it be the loss of love, and have it be this rubato place that was sad and lonely, like the Frank Sinatra album Only the Lonely, which I consider one of his greatest things.

Almost all these songs came to me from vocalists' versions. In other words, I heard them sung by somebody, and this is the weird thing. I brought the tapes into the house, then I played the record�it was mostly records�and then I put the tape on [I did of the same song], and then I thought, 'Keith, this is idiotic. It�s going to blow your thing and you�re going to give up the project because the singer is always going to beat the piano out; the piano goes �clang, clang, clang� and the singer is singing the words, and I always wanted the piano to sound like a voice.' I�m getting ready to get depressed, but I think, 'it�s worth it, I have to persevere, I have to listen to this.' And in every case I tried, the reference singing version of these songs was inferior to what I had just done with it on piano in the sense of the meaning of the song. My whole theory all along had been to try and get as close to the vocal version as you can because the words are what the song is about, and the words describe the entire feeling and you gotta get that right. But I never realized you can surpass the words.

That's very interesting, because you tend to think of the voice as being the most direct expression of human emotion.

Yes, and I still think it is, but the problem, I think, is we�re stuck with words and I was playing this clanging semi-percussive instrument called a piano, and it was more convincing than the references I was reviewing.

In terms of emotion.

In terms of emotion. I just thought, I don�t even have to release this stuff, I have just performed an experiment that nobody else has performed, to my knowledge, and succeeded in challenging myself to a challenge I didn�t realize I was challenging myself to!

Just returning to Mozart�s slow movements � there is a problem for me with young (and not so young) musicians rushing as soon as possible to the sanctuary of double time when playing ballads, it seems.

Yes, oh yes. And also like in conversations, people don�t know when to be quiet�including me. When I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, you brought that up earlier, I had the unfortunate luxury of listening to everything I recorded � if I wanted to! And I found out I was not at all impressed and not at all satisfied how things had � it wasn�t that I didn�t like it, [but] there was so much more I had to do that I hadn�t got around to correcting, and that takes a lot of experience.

[So when I returned to playing after the illness] I�d hear myself play something on the piano and I�d think, 'No, that�s not the me that�s sitting at the piano, that�s the previous me that liked that chord so much and kept playing that chord forever.' Now I knew that because going through the Chronic Fatigue thing I had listened to tapes of myself and I realized I wasn�t as aware of this as I wished I was. I wasn�t as conscious [of that] as I wanted to be.

If there�s one thing I don�t think young players of today realize. [it's] how much more important it is to look at what they�re not doing than what they are doing. Somebody I know in London said she knows a lot of jazz players, and they go hang out. While they hang out, they�re playing music, and the music that they�re playing is basically what they�re learning. Like the Rolling Stones, they must have listened to hundreds of blues guys because that was what they were trying to do. But what you have to do is listen to everything�listen to what you�ve never heard before. When I was a kid, I already knew this somehow. I think my curiosity saved my soul, because I spent every penny of what little money I had on a record of a composer I had never heard of, or go to the library and get something I never knew existed. If your ears are not open to everything possible, then they literally don�t know what is possible.

Well, yes, in jazz the last twenty years certain area of jazz have become very self referential.

Yes. Well the same girl said 'I wish I was around in the Sixties.' And I said, 'I�m glad I was!'

Manfred Eicher too, has said musically it was such a creative time.

Yes, he has.

Melody can be a lifeline to an audience in improvised music, do you think there is any balance to be struck here, between melody and improvisation, if at all?

I don�t think there should be a balance. Everybody has a blood stream, emotions, a heart. If musicians are open to everything they can hear, something is going to connect to someone, everybody in the audience will have a moment when they are connected to what is going on, and at that moment they will wonder 'What else is going on? If that�s so great, then I had better pay attention to the rest of this, even though I�m not sure what I think of this.'

If you have some limitations, or you�re not working on your instrument, or you�re not really serious, that�s when you have to worry what you present to the audience, because somehow you have to maintain a career and you�re not doing the work. One of my friends said to me a couple of weeks ago, he said, 'You know what really makes me happy? When you say I have to go practice. I don�t know if people know how much work you�re doing, but I know it�s paying off.' That was his take on it. This is an ancillary topic to what we were talking about, but I think it is connected. Musicians think in general, and what I used to think years ago, is that you have to find your voice. That is what you work on for I don�t know how many number of years.

The things you like are the things you want to play and when you find yourself playing something you don�t like, that means it�s not you, so you eliminate it from who you are on the instrument, so you end up with a so-called voice of your own. But the fallacy in that � first of all, you end up lumping yourself in with the average audience member, who will hear something they like and they�ll hear something they don�t like, and they�ll say that was good because I liked it, and that was not good, because I didn�t like it. What a player has got to do is get the ability to drop all that stuff.

I remember walking on stage, we took a break in Belgium, it was with Aldo Romano and the French bass player J. F. Jenny-Clark�he�s not alive anymore. And as we walked back onstage, I realized I had found my voice, and now I could play the piano. And that�s really just step one. So now you have to step up to your instrument and you have to have absolute faith that who you are who you are. But you can�t restrict what you play because of that, and you can�t play only things you think you like, because I had this experience, starting with Radiance [the solo concert recorded on October 27, 2002 at Festival Hall, Osaka], and from then on it�s more conscious since then, that if I don�t let my fingers find things to play that I have never heard, I�m actually not satisfied. I have to play something that surprises me too, not something I either 'like' or 'don�t like,' but just the element of 'What is that???' kind of thing. Like you can�t freeze it in time, it has just gone by. And I started to realize there�s a key here, that there is no freedom until you get to that place. The rest of it is like putting barbed wire around yourself and saying this is my voice now, I�m protecting it from all the bad guys. And the audience is going to recognize that if I play the same way all the time.

I see what you�re saying; how can you expect the audience be surprised with what you are playing if you�re not surprising yourself?

The audiences are pretty hip when they are sitting in their seats. They�re aware of the fact they don�t really want to hear the same thing. Not exactly. And if I give them an encore and it happens to be a song they�ve heard they will applaud, but I know they�re there primarily for an experience, and not primarily to have nostalgia.

You mentioned the quartet earlier. Do you see a role for that again in your music?

I am basically never thinking of the future. I actually have things from the past. Believe it or not there�s a sequel to Spirits that was done on all electric instruments: two guitars, electric bass, drums, percussion, voice and occasionally something else.

When did you do this?

Shortly after I did Spirits in the late 1980s, and this has been resting in my house ever since and I played it for a couple of people recently and they go, 'Oh my God! This has to come out, because nobody is going to believe this stuff!' And one of the things about it is, I�m playing all the instruments, but the thing I really get a kick out of it every time I hear it is how tight the rhythm section is. It�s like the best feel on some of these things I could ever get because I knew what I wanted. When you�re with percussionists, their sense of time is slightly different. Every drummer is different, and you�re playing piano and you�re trying to blend and find where the rhythmic point is, and it�s a blend of all those guys. But here, it's so contagious because [the rhythm section] was all me. And I�m not saying this from an egotistical standpoint. It�s � I guess the word is contagious. It�s like hearing Miles� rhythm section at the Blackhawk, and you hear how they are at one. Every beat at exactly the same precise place, and for me it was all my sense of time. The reason I bring that up is there is not just a future, there�s [also] a past. At the moment the Trio is going to go the length. The next release is going to be the Paris and the London concerts together; there was something special going on there.

If you were to take this last twenty-six years of the Trio from Setting Standards until now, what was your practice regime then and what is it now? And how did it affect your music, en route, so to speak?

This could be an entire book! Well, I�ll take it as bookends. I didn�t use to practice at all [when I was younger], as I was so busy working, and when you�re busy working you don�t notice. You can�t change habit patterns when you�re gigging constantly. Most of the early time, I didn�t feel the need to practice. I�d practice, of course, but when I felt like it. Now, I practice every day. That�s the bookend version. I practice at what would be concert time.

That is interesting.

Yes. That�s the major practice portion of the day, and sometimes before dinner. I�m working on Bach also, but now the weather is getting nicer it�s harder to do! It�s based on instinct. When I was working on preparing the harpsichord recordings of Bach, the piano got closed up and I played nothing but harpsichord for months, because those two instruments are not even similar at all. When I was working on Mozart, all I was practicing was Mozart, when I am working on this Bach project until after this weekend I�m not practicing anything but that. Then two weeks before a concert in Naples, which is a solo concert, I will try and let my fingers remember that they are not playing Bach anymore. The different muscle groups involved with solo, they are immensely different�the muscle groups, the posture, everything changes�so really it depends on what I am about to do.

If I was about to go on tour with the Trio�which will be true when I�m home in June�I will be practicing by playing or discovering whether there are some tunes I feel like initiating with the Trio. Somebody once said, some jazz player once said, 'Don�t practice. Play!' And that�s what you do when you prepare for that. It�s not like you�re practicing anything, you just have to play through things forever and you find out if you are innovative that day or not, and you have to assess yourself, 'Why didn�t I have a good practice session that day?' It�s like being your own psychiatrist.

And finally, solo concerts, the ultimate challenge. Can you talk a little about your philosophy and approach to the solo concert?

Those things are like commissioned works. I�m paid to turn up and to create a brand new thing. That�s the most serious thing I do in terms of focus and craziness and impossibility and you don�t know [in advance] if you have anything to show. People should know this. When I won the Polar Prize [in 2003, awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music], they had a seminar there and the first thing I said was, 'I know you are all mostly music students and I want you to know it does not get easier than it is right now.' Because basically the freer you are, the more you are in charge, and the more you�re in charge�unless you�re willing to be a mediocre critic�you don�t put up with any bullshit from yourself. And that�s basically the essence of coming up with stuff that�s worth paying a ticket price for. The rest is noodling, I would say, and if there is anything the world does not need at the moment, it�s noodling �.

It�s hard to do music and to make a mark in some way � when you get a letter from two people in Beirut saying your music kept them alive through the war there, or you get a phone call from a Swiss painter to say I saved his life�myself and Bach, that is�these are not the things to take lightly. It�s a serious job, and the world doesn�t understand it because they�ve seen entertainers so often, they think musicians are entertainers. But they�re not.

An important note to end on. Thank you for speaking to Jazz.com.

A pleasure.

August 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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