Bud Powell: Un Poco Loco

On “Un Poco Loco,” Max played one of the greatest beats ever on a jazz recording, in the same category as the beat Vernell Fournier plays on “Poinciana,” or the beat that Art Blakey plays on “Pensativa.” Max told me that in the studio, he was playing some variations on Caribbean-Afro Cuban rhythms, and Bud said, “You’re supposed to be Max Roach. Can’t you come up with anything slicker than that?” So Max went home and shedded it out, and he came back with this phenomenal beat. Months later he ran into Bud in the street after not seeing him for a while, and Bud said, “Man, you fucked up my record!” I didn’t understand it. I was wondering what about what Max did destroyed it for Bud Powell, because it’s one of my favorites.

A lot of people have studied the “Un Poco Loco” beat, because it’s in phrases of 5 over the 4, which was way ahead of the curve at the time. Also, that he’s using that cowbell; the sound he’s getting out of the cowbell. It’s obvious that he spent some time dealing with those rhythms. Max had been spending time in Haiti, where he went to study with a guy named Tiroro, who had told him that he was greatest drummer in the world. The guy would tell him, “Come here, meet me right here on this corner at 2 o’clock,” Max would get there at 2, and the guy wouldn’t come until 7—he’d leave him waiting! But he said that the guy gave him invaluable information.

Max did a lot of teaching, but he treated his one-on-one drum instruction like oral tradition. He studied from books, and I’ve studied from books, but that’s only a small component of it. Books will give you the facility to execute the stuff that you hear and feel already, but it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the creativity. This is a perfect example. Max distilled all this stuff and immediately hooked it up into an original beat—you’d never heard anything like it before. It’s the beginning of all those phrases based on rhythmic permutations of five over the four—a step into the future in 1951. A lot of people are playing those types of rhythmic permutations now, almost sixty years later. It sounds like he pulled it together the night before, because it’s right on the edge of almost sounding fucked-up. Then when he comes in, what he plays isn’t clean, the way it was clean with Clifford Brown and that band. It’s right on the edge of almost second-take quality. I’m talking about everybody. It sounds like it’s not quite settled and comfortable. But I think that quality is what makes it a great recording, and the fact that he was able to superimpose that feeling and beat at that particular time and have it work, keep it happening for almost five minutes. Amazing.

January 28, 2010 · 0 comments

Tags:


Charlie Parker: Donna Lee

I could have accessed so many pieces from this era, but I really like “Donna Lee.” It’s a great band, a revolutionary band, with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Bud Powell and Max, each a legend in the creation of jazz music. And it’s a great piece of music. It’s an abbreviated song—Charlie Parker takes two choruses, Miles and Bud split one, and then they take it out. I like the fact that everyone was able to say so much within that period of time.

The horns were so much out in front on recordings from this time, it’s almost difficult to hear what everybody else was doing! But still, you can hear so well on this tune how Max could propel a soloist—the way he builds through the course of the song, the way he accompanies the melody and then the soloist. He always pays attention to dynamics; when the piano solo comes, Max takes it down. But during Bird’s solos, he’s never playing anything corny, like when an accompanist uses exclusively the same rhythmic language as the soloist to converse. They’re congruent with each other, but they aren’t necessarily using the same language. It’s almost like they’re parallel and connected at the same time. So they’re cross-sectioning, but they’re also parallel—Max is egging Bird on and answering his phrases, like they’re speaking different languages but talking about the same thing. I find that fascinating.

Max was such a risk-taker. He had to have received a lot of criticism for playing that way, because nobody else was playing like that in 1947. He was playing with the people who were at the edge of creativity, and he himself was pushing it forward. Where he was placing his phrases was completely unconventional as far as the rhythmic language of the day. As I listen, I keep wondering, “where is the impetus for you to do that?”

On “Donna Lee,” even when the melody is being played, Max is playing a kind of counter-melody against it. Arthur Taylor used to talk about “Confirmation,” how there are hits in the course of tunes like that, that are the tune. That’s how Max is playing that in “Donna Lee.” He’s playing off of the melody, playing in the holes of that melody, almost like he’s creating an alternate melody, an accompanying rhythmic melody.

October 15, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Art Tatum: Elegie

This was the side of Tatum that drove his critics mad. Instead of trying to raise jazz composition to the next level, he was out there "ragging the classics" like the old stride players. And not even the serious classics. The numbers he favored, such as "Elegie" and "Humoresque," are more often played by clumsy piano students than real concert hall artists. But Tatum snubbed his nose at the highbrows, adding flourish after flourish in his grandiloquent reworkings of middlebrow parlor favorites.

Respect "Elegie" you must, however, since no one has ever topped this way of one-upping the virtuoso tradition of the classical world from an outside perspective. Tatum at age thirty was a monster at the keys, and his dynamics, tone control, and clarity of execution are little short of stunning here. The performance itself may be more a game than a serious attempt to grapple with the potential of jazz, yet even games have their masters and moments of profundity. If you want to understand Tatum, you need to sample this side of his multifaceted musical persona.

October 10, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Art Tatum: Sweet Georgia Brown

Jerry Newman was a student at Columbia University with a passion for jazz and—even more important!—a portable disk-cutting recording machine that he brought to some of the most exciting jazz events of the early 1940s. His archive of amateur recordings is a treasure trove of historically important material, but his documentation of pianist Art Tatum's work in casual after hours sessions is a revelation. André Hodeir and other critics have accused this pianist of playing elaborate set pieces rather than improvising, and true many of Tatum's recordings reveal the rote delivery of set arrangements. Yet the artist captured here is a different one entirely. After hearing this music for the first time, New Yorker critic Whitney Balliett concluded that there must have been "two Tatums": "one was the virtuoso who moved with consummate ease through a world owned and run by whites, and the other was the secret genius who went uptown after his regular hours and played unbelievable music for his own pleasure in black clubs for black audiences."

Balliett thought that Tatum might have been parodying the beboppers in the opening passages of "Sweet Georgia Brown," yet it is just as likely that Tatum was simply showing that he knew more tricks than the new cats on the scene. Based on the amused laughter from the audience, I assume that some bop player had been playing the piano shortly before Tatum took over the keys. But even more ear-shattering is a passage at the 2:10 mark that can be only described as a taste of Free Jazz, circa 1941. Trumpeter Frankie Newton tries vainly to follow Tatum's solo, but Art doesn't make it easy. He throws out substitute harmonies from another dimension, sometimes four to a bar, and even reprises his avant-garde bag in the background. There is plenty more here worth hearing—indeed, a whole alternative piano vocabulary that you won't encounter on the better known Norman Granz recordings of this artist. At more than seven minutes, "Sweet Georgia Brown" ranks as one of Tatum's longest recorded performances, but it still seems all too brief.

October 10, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Kid Ory: Muskrat Ramble

Kid Ory is best known as the original proponent of the New Orleans tailgate trombone style, but he is often overlooked as one of the important composers of early jazz. "Muskrat Ramble" was his biggest hit, made famous during his tenure with Louis Armstrong.

This version, recorded almost 20 years later, has the hallmarks of the Dixieland revival style that Ory helped launch in the late 1930s: clean ensemble interaction, exposed sections for various soloists, and a more polished feel than the original recordings. Ory's trombone style had changed little; however, what he lacks in virtuosity and innovation, he compensates with a bright, exuberant tone, impeccable rhythmic sensibility and emotive growls and effects.

Although Ory never takes a solo per se, he gets many moments to shine, often shouting and growling through the trombone during breaks and belting out counterpoint underneath each melodic strain. His triumphant arpeggio after the final chorus gives him the last word, followed only by the final hit that ends the tune.

October 04, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Duke Ellington: Never No Lament

I wonder how Duke Ellington reacted when he was asked to turn his instrumental "Never No Lament" into the pop song "Don't Get Around Much Anymore". While the opening phrase was catchy enough, his recording was not set up like a pop-song-in-waiting. There was a main section and a bridge, all right, but the bridge only appeared twice amongst 9 appearances of the A section. And the bridge, as it is was originally written, had a snappy motive of a descending minor second that did not translate to the vocal version.

Ellington loved to play formal games during this period, and it's fascinating to listen to the 1940-42 Victor sides just to hear how Duke changed the standard patterns. The recording starts with the trumpets playing the melody over the saxes' retorts. In the next eight, Ellington plays a variation with Lawrence Brown filling in the gaps. So, 2 eight-bar A sections, so it's time for B, right? Not for Ellington. He goes right back to the top of the form, giving two more A sections to Johnny Hodges before heading to the bridge. (This is risky, because the B section of most songs are in a different key, and the modulation prevents listener fatigue. If you've ever heard Jim Croce's song "I'll Have To Say I Love You In A Song" and wondered what was odd about it--other than the grammatically incorrect title--it's that the song doesn't have a bridge, so it goes on and on in the same key ad infinitum). Ellington's ensemble plays the bridge and Hodges plays another A section. As Cootie Williams takes over, the song starts to behave like a normal pop song with Lawrence Brown taking the bridge after 2 A sections. The trumpets play the final A, but that's not the end of the record. Ellington closes the side by going back almost to the beginning of the arrangement, combining his piano variation from the second eight with the sax retorts from the first eight, thus tying up the recording with a elegant variation.

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Duke Ellington (featuring Al Hibbler): Don't Get Around Much Anymore

As most Ellington fans know, "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" was the pop song version of Duke's 1940 instrumental "Never No Lament". What is lesser known is that there are quite a few differences between the two versions.The song was in the standard AABA form, but the instrumental didn't adhere to that form, with as many as 4 A sections in a row before the bridge. The bridge of the song maintains only the first phrase of the instrumental bridge (which is a little surprising since the song's bridge seems like such a natural creation). In keeping with the title, the 1940 recording of "Never No Lament" is jaunty and laid-back; the definitive 1947 vocal version of "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" is aggressive and menacing. Johnny Hodges' wailing saxophone and Ray Nance's growling trumpet lead the way for Al Hibbler's stunning vocal. In Hibbler's voice, we can hear all kinds of emotions at the same time: frustration at his inability to enjoy a night out and loneliness for his lost love. Hibbler's emotionally direct vocal style made him a big hit on the R&B scene, but jazz fans loved him for his fine rhythmic approach. After Hibbler, Hodges and Harry Carney exchange thoughts for a half-chorus with Nance jumping in for the bridge. Hodges comes back for a few bars, but Hibbler returns for the exuberant coda, "Do-on't Gey Hay Round Much Hen-ty Mo-ah".

September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Sidney Bechet/Muggsy Spanier Big Four: That's A Plenty

The pairing of Sidney Bechet and Muggsy Spanier was the brainchild of Steve Smith, the president of the Hot Record Society. HRS was a conglomeration of record store, record label and publisher, and the original 124 sides they recorded are now treasured collector's items. By the time their co-led band recorded in 1940, Bechet had, like Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter, returned to the States after an extended stay in Europe. Spanier, meanwhile, had recorded a series of 16 sides with his "Ragtime Band", which despite the name, was quite progressive in its mix of Dixie and swing styles. In a way, the Bechet/Spanier group was a refinement of the Ragtime Band. By leaving out the piano and drums, which seemed to be the clunkiest parts of the Ragtime Band's rhythm section, the group had a streamlined rhythm team of guitar and bass, superbly manned by Carmen Mastren and Wellman Braud. While bassist Braud was from New Orleans, he was well-trained in swing during his tenure with Duke Ellington. Mastren was a superb guitarist who had worked with Spanier before as well as with Tommy Dorsey. The Big Four (as the Bechet/Spanier group was billed) recorded 8 sides in two sessions, and only "China Boy" and "That's A Plenty" could really be considered Dixie standards. On "That's A-Plenty", we hear a fascinating mix of current and old styles with Bechet and Spanier playing traditional Dixie horn roles over the smooth swing style of the rhythm section. Bechet starts off the side on clarinet and takes the first solo with Spanier offering simple counterpoint. Bechet is clearly inspired by the burning tempo and I suspect he would have played longer if not cut off by Spanier and restricted by the length of the recording (and this is on a 4-minute 12-inch 78!). After the interlude, Spanier quickly pops a mute on his horn and blows a fierce chorus. While we're wondering how Spanier managed to set that mute so quickly, Bechet does a quick change of his own and suddenly he's playing soprano sax in the background! Braud walks one before Bechet takes over. While his trademark vibrato is the same on both horns, his rhythmic feel is quite different with a choppy arpeggiated style on clarinet, and a broader, long-lined approach on soprano. As the side comes to a close, Spanier becomes more aggressive and the solo turns into a duet with both hornmen playing contrasting but driving lines.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Duke Ellington (featuring Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton): It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing

This rendition of "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing" from the band's 1944 Carnegie Hall concert, is an updated version of the original 1932 recording. Despite the differences--Ray Nance taking the vocal chorus out front, the high-energy tenor solo from Al Sears and subsequent shout chorus-- the plunger mute work of trombonist Tricky Sam Nanton is what makes this track soar. His signature sound is the "ya ya" effect, but here he shows his musical growth beyond that plunger trick. He alternates between high-pitched, closed-plunger riffs and "ya ya" phrases as if having a musical conversation with himself. He also demonstrates a prodigious command of his upper register, which he uses for melodic contrast. Few musicians have been able to achieve the range of timbre in a single solo that Nanton does here. Sears starts his solo with a sense of understatement that provides excellent contrast before building it up into the climactic final shout section.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


King Cole Trio: One O'Clock Jump

Nat King Cole must have been quite a Basie fan. The King Cole Trio had quite a few Basie tunes in its repertoire, and in its set of transcriptions for Capitol, there are versions of "Lester Leaps In", "Rock-A-Bye Basie", "Swingin' The Blues" and "One O'Clock Jump", The latter piece may be the best illustration of how Basie's style melded into bop. Cole was a proto-bopper at best, but his harmonic language was allied with the new music, and here, as Cole performs his best Basie imitation, we hear the spareness of Basie with richer chords than Basie would have played. Oscar Moore's guitar solo shows his roots to Charlie Christian, and Johnny Miller follows the example of Walter Page in walking a chorus under the light touch of his pianist/leader. There is an interesting mix of material in the closing riffs. The first chorus is an original line, supposedly designed by the trio but based on a line from the band arrangement, the second and third choruses are from the original band arrangement and the last is a boppish variation that moves the piece into a new harmonic direction. Basie was aware of the harmonic evolution that was occuring in the music at this time, but I wonder if ever heard this side, and if so, what he thought of it.

September 05, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Art Tatum: Blue Skies

Art Tatum’s solo sides for Capitol were recorded on three dates in July-September 1949. Except for a few old favorites like “Sweet Lorraine”, the tunes he recorded were new to his repertoire. Surprisingly, “Blue Skies” was one of the pieces he had never recorded before, and save for a 20-second live snippet on a Storyville CD, his only other recording was part of the marathon solo sessions recorded for Norman Granz. On the Granz recording, Tatum creates a wonderful re-harmonization of the song, but he is plagued with fingering problems throughout. The Capitol version is breezy and confident, but not as daring. While Berlin’s lyric is as carefree as one can imagine, his melody is in minor. Tatum brings out the minor tonality in his slightly menacing introduction, but lightens the mood as soon as he starts playing the melody. In the first 24 bars, he presents the melody interspersed with minor filigrees and subtle reharmonizations. But in the final 8 bars of the first chorus, the melody is obscured amidst Tatum’s dazzling runs. Tatum wants to keep his listeners with him, so in the next 2 choruses, he refers back to the melody in the first 2 A sections, moves away from it in the bridge and barely touches it in the final A. Throughout the performance, Tatum keeps everything in balance, with lighter textures in the first A of each chorus, long runs in the second A, call-and-response set figures in the bridges and more aggressive improvising in the final A. In the final half-chorus, the bridge he offers a fine variation on the tune, and the final eight includes a quote from the children’s song “In & Out The Window”, which also appeared in the Granz recording. Not an undiscovered masterpiece, but a lovely reading of a great American standard.

September 04, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Benny Goodman Sextet (with Charlie Christian): The Sheik Of Araby

This performance by the Benny Goodman Sextet was originally issued as “The Sheik”, as the original melody of “The Sheik Of Araby” is barely referenced by anyone in the group, but the chord sequence is clearly that of the old standard. Nick Fatool starts the proceedings with a tom-tom introduction, there is an original line played by clarinet, guitar and vibes, and then Goodman and Hampton engage in a fascinating duet where each plays the key notes of the original song, but never enough to be an actual reading of the tune. Hampton takes the next solo, and it starts with a phrase out of the key. However, he uses the old trick of repeating the phrase, as if to say “I meant to do that”. He keeps toying with notes outside of the key, but he never completely convinces us that he means it. There’s no doubt about Charlie Christian’s harmonic sense, though, and his brilliant, self-assured solo makes everything before sound hopelessly old-fashioned. Johnny Guarnieri provides a sparkling solo that reflects Count Basie and Basie’s root style of stride. The performance ends of a chorus of 4-bar exchanges between the four soloists, with each player listening intently and commenting on the phrases played by the preceding soloist.

September 02, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Louis Jordan: Let the Good Times Roll

Louis Jordan by all accounts was one of the biggest crossover musicians of the 20th century. His swing tinged rock n' roll appealed to many kids of the late 1940s and 1950s and he scored hit after hit with the help of pianist/arranger Wild Bill Davis. On "Let the Good Times Roll," we hear a slow, but swinging blues groove, which is Jordan's preferred style. Jordan sings with assurance and confidence but doesn't overdue it as he rides the music with his words perfectly. The jukebox singles recorded by Jordan during 1946-1949 were all big hits in their day and I can see why. Jordan would go on to trail blaze the path for rock n' roll musicians but his first contributions were with jazz music. I suggest you sit down, go grab something to drink and "Let the Good Times Roll," because they always do with Jordan.

August 20, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Lester Young: Crazy Over J-Z

Two months before his fortieth birthday, Young is having the time of his life at the Royal Roost—unaware, perhaps, of his impending undoing via his ever-present whiskey bottle. Still, “Crazy Over J-Z” (a reference to New York jazz radio station WJZ) ranks easily with Lester’s work in his prime. Even the heavier touch he’d exhibited just after the war is gone: The sax is merrily agile, dancing over the rhythm section’s comping and darting between horn riffs. He even toys with the new sounds of bebop: Some licks in his responses to the riffs, and one early in his second solo, sound suspiciously like phrases from Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology.” (Incidentally, behind Young is the early snap-crackle of drummer Roy Haynes, who would in a few months would join Parker’s quintet). The fact that it would go downhill so fast from here may amplify its effects, but either way the record catches Prez in a moment of inspiration.

August 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Lester Young: I Want To Be Happy

Many critics and writers still insist that Lester Young’s artistry was in decline when he was dishonorably discharged from the Army in December 1945. “I Want to Be Happy” begs to differ. From the bright introductory phrase of his first solo, it’s clear that Prez still has spring in his step and joy in his phrasing. The only difference to speak of is a breathier tone and a slightly lower pitch—probably more attributable to his use of a plastic reed than to a broken spirit—and they don’t stop him from swinging harder than ever before, especially on his second (closing) solo. No doubt he’s helped along by the impeccable timing of Cole’s piano and the unswerving brilliance of Rich’s drums. Despite his revolution in the ‘30s, it was this postwar period that would be Young’s most successful, and “I Want to Be Happy” shows why.

August 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Tags:


Previous Page | Next Page