Stan Getz (with Bob Brookmeyer): Rustic Hop

In the mid-1980s, Stan Getz helped raise money for his own salary as artist-in-residence at Stanford University by giving one concert per quarter. He brought in a host of guest artists for these events, including Bob Brookmeyer, who showed up on campus to meet students, rehearse the campus jazz band (I still recall him exhorting the horns to play with more energy—repeating the advice "make BIG mistakes" as though it were some strange mantra from a new religion), and then pair up with Getz for a concert in Dinkelspiel Auditorium.

For their gig, Stan and Bob played a number of charts they had recorded more than thirty years earlier. After the performance, I expressed my surprise to Brookmeyer that Stan played all the compositions, some of them quite intricate, without looking at any music. After all, Getz had recorded these charts before I was born, and the Stanford concert was a one-time event—yet Getz dug into these pieces as though they were on his set list every night. Brookmeyer shrugged his shoulders and commented "Well, that's Stan Getz."

The Brookmeyer partnership was just one of many musical relationships for Getz during the mid-1950s. The Cool Sounds album finds him in five different line-ups. But the interplay with the valve trombonist is especially effective. The chemistry between Getz and Brookmeyer is in the same league as those other ultra-cool period pairings: Mulligan & Baker, Marsh & Konitz, Sims & Cohn, heck maybe even Bogart and Bacall. Hear Getz riffing behind Brookmeyer's solo, then starting his own improvisation with a variant of the same riff before launching into a slick, thematically-cohesive workout over the changes. Getz was a master at these medium-up tempos, and knew better than any tenorist of his generation how to be hot and sweet at the same time. I can't find much rusticity in this "Rustic Hop"—which sounds to me more like a joyride in city traffic—but it does keep hopping for the duration. A stirring example of a band that could have been far more influential if it had stayed together longer.

August 04, 2009 · 0 comments


Brew Moore: I Can't Believe that You're in Love with Me

Milton Aubrey "Brew" Moore believed that "Anyone who doesn't play like Lester Young is wrong," and remained faithful to Prez's style throughout his short and sparsely documented career. Unlike his contemporaries Stan Getz and Zoot Sims, Moore's approach remained relatively unchanged over the years. Having said that, at his best he swung very hard and was a nimble and inventive improviser who was rightfully extolled by Jack Kerouac in his novel Desolation Angels (Chapter 97): "Brew Moore is blowing on tenor saxophone...and he plays perfect harmony to any tune they bring up—he pays little attention to anyone, he drinks his beer, he gets loaded and eye-heavy, but he never misses a beat or a note, because music is in his heart, and in music he has found that pure message to give to the world." Plagued by a drinking problem (hence his nickname "Brew"), Moore died in 1973 after falling down a stairway in Copenhagen, just days following his receipt of a large inheritance. He was only 49.

For his first album as leader in 1956, Moore fronted a group of obscure local San Francisco area musicians. On the track "I Can't Believe that You're in Love with Me," his tenor surges confidently through the theme and his solo with a perfectly matched buoyant rhythmic pulse and flowing phraseology, his somewhat foggy tone recalling Zoot Sims. Moore's sidemen acquit themsleves quite well, especially John Marabuto, whose piano solo is played with both a sound and percussive attack similar to that of Eddie Costa.

August 03, 2009 · 0 comments


Charlie Parker: K.C. Blues

"K.C. Blues" benefits from hot blowing and mind bending modality. Each player shines in their surroundings while devising the blueprint that would later be taken to its limit by the personnel featured on Kind of Blue (Miles Davis also appears on this recording).

The force by which Charlie Parker's notes explode from his horn shows why the track is considered among his best. Bird's alto cries out while cutting through the surprisingly clear mix for the era. As Parker blasts off into the jazz ionosphere, a mega-confidence is exuded that symbolizes the influence he still holds on the jazz world today.

The reason Parker's music is still resonant is apparent, and the recording imparts the fact that a complimentary assemblage of participants gives a track its best chance for success on a creative level, because, even though the music never veers away from the blues form and the chord progression and solos are more traditional in nature, it features a sound that is Bird's signature-one that is tough not to recommend The tune is brief, featuring slow, dramatic pacing and a lot of inspiration, and its quirks all fit together in a non-contradictory manner. T

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Stan Getz & Gerry Mulligan: Scrapple From The Apple

Recently reissued in a spanking fresh, restored digital recording, the inevitable summit meeting between the formidable tenor and bari sax masters has never sounded better. With a crack rhythm section hand-picked by Getz and Mulligan’s bold suggestion that they trade horns for some of the tunes, these Capitol sessions produced moments of brilliance. Though “Scrapple” didn’t make the original release due to time constraints, it was clearly one of those moments.

Happily, on Charlie Parker’s up-tempo bebop anthem Getz and Mulligan are back on their principal instruments in a lively, flowing dialogue in which they seem to complete each other’s musical sentences, two leading proponents of the West Coast cool movement speaking fluent bopish with the intensity of a 52ndbn Street cutting contest on a Saturday night.

July 13, 2009 · 0 comments


Miles Davis-Gil Evans: Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio)

This is arguably the finest of Gil's and Miles' collaborations. There are countless details one could highlight, but I would like to touch on two particular points about this piece. It will be more deeply appreciated if you first take the opportunity to listen to the original guitar concerto as composed by Rodrigo. A comparison will illuminate Gil's unique gifts in writing all parts in a linear fashion. It's most notable that he manages to do this even in the bass line. The bass is never just relegated to playing roots, but rather lines—rich melodic lines. If you listen to the tuba line in the beginning, you'll catch one of these lines right from the start. And if you listen to the bottom parts throughout this work, you'll see that part of the translucence that Gil generally gets in his music is from freeing up the bottom and putting air in these low parts. Such attention to line-writing permeates every layer and can be heard throughout this piece. The amount of counterpoint exceeds the original by leaps and bounds. If you listen to both versions back to back, this will be very obvious without me pointing out a thing to you. This piece takes what Gil achieved in “The Troubador” (1947) to a whole other level. The path was certainly well laid in his work with the Claude Thornhill Orchestra.

Gil once expressed to me that the thing that most inspired him about Miles was his sound. This piece perfectly illustrates how beautifully he sets up Miles. Listen to the opening: lines are perpetually moving, the harp undulating in high register, and the castanets fluttering. But the moment Miles enters, sonorities suddenly freeze, motionless—all lines, all undulation, all fluttering stop. This sudden vacuum brings us to focus purely on Miles' horn. It's a stunning moment. It's long been my suspicion that the castanets were supposed to stop a couple of seconds earlier than you'll hear on your recording. And sure enough, if you listen to the out-take on the boxed set, they stop the moment Miles enters, as was most certainly intended. You'll hear many other moments in this piece that showcase Miles in a similarly stunning way.

One of my favorite places in this piece comes at 5:44. I love the low flutes with wide vibrato that play and hesitate (there's a bassoon, French horn and harp voiced in those chords too, with an almost inaudible timpani in the background giving the slightest hint of motion). It's a very rubato (without strict time) section. I love how Gil utilizes Miles’ lowest range on the instrument. It's utterly haunting. There's a wonderful shift of color to brightness when Miles goes to Harmon mute, with cup-muted trumpets and flutes voiced behind him (9:30) giving a tangy sound. When the French horns enter at 10:11, they sound so warm by contrast as they play in sonorous parallel moving triads. That kind of harmonic movement is one way Gil gets the smooth sound that we've come to associate with him. The subtle moan in their parts is so expressive (10:28). Now the cup-muted trumpets, harp and flute all take over before you hear descending lines that slow us down. Here, Gil starts to set up anticipation for the large ensemble passage that will soon become the climax of the entire piece. He leads up to it using parallel triadic French horns again, voiced with flutes and harp. There's a counterline in the bassoon, a wonderful color to be appreciated throughout this piece. The castanets are going along throughout, helping the build. At 12:46 the tambourine color enters, and we are overwhelmed by a wonderful full-ensemble orchestration of the main theme. You'll hear moments of parallel and then contrary motion. I particularly love 13:26, where you can especially catch the essence of the parallel triadic motion in all parts. Listen to the French horns inside the ensemble. That lead note reaches the very top of the instrument range in the lead French horn at 13:36, and it just soars! And the triadic 16-notes at 13:46 are just so exciting. Conducting this section and hearing it surround you in live concert is a trip. Every hair stands on end.

This is followed up by all sorts of detailed, muted, impressionistic "color" accompanying very low lines in the tuba and bass. It comes down to such spareness and fragility with just a lone tuba, harp and bass behind Miles at 15:32. I love the passing of lines from the bassoon, to the Harmon trumpet, and finally to Miles at the very end. Whew!

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments


Miles Davis-Gil Evans: Bess, Oh, Where Is My Bess?

How does one pick a favorite piece from Gil's and Miles' Porgy and Bess album? Tough to do. I've chosen this piece because it so perfectly illustrates another unique aspect of Gil's writing. Sometimes when I listen to Gil, I get a spontaneous visualization of the inside of a watch: the perfection, the detail, all the little parts at work; nothing is there that doesn't contribute to the flow of movement and the perfect passing of time. Every gear attaches and locks another into motion. If you listen to this piece, you can envision a serpentine line being passed from instrument to instrument, color to color, whether it's behind Miles or in front when he's not playing. It's like a thread that never gets dropped. Let's start at the top with the French horns and alto flutes that are playing a flowing passage together. Then the horns hold while the flutes go on their own, giving way to the trombones, who take over, then the flutes pick up a line above them, and then soft brass (the trumpets are in hat mutes with French horns voiced with them). You can continue on through the piece and follow the slow-moving gears as lines pass around the orchestra. This piece also goes into a little swing section where the trombones take on Gil's signature comping role that the piano might have taken if there was piano on the record. That's a unique aspect to these Gil/Miles recordings. There's an absence of piano. It leaves all the harmonic background to the creative hand of Gil.

One further detail. Because these pieces are a suite, their connectivity is really important. Take note how the end of this arrangement suddenly introduces a very stark, open, spare sound. It contrasts all the lushness we've been hearing. That spare sound is achieved by utilizing open-fifth intervals in the ensemble. It also happens to be the same opening interval of the next movement, “Prayer.” So this ending is really more of a "transition" to “Prayer.” Much of the elegance of these collaborative recordings is how each subsequent piece begins with a feeling of inevitable arrival. Gil leaves no stone unturned.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments


Gil Evans: Struttin' With Some Barbecue

This arrangement is a wonderful lesson in the art of building excitement. Gil opens simply and in the low register, with Bill Barber playing the melody on tuba. The accompaniment is warmly voiced and also in a low range. I'm guessing that the trombones are in hat mutes, playing along with the French horn. They play lovely little comping hits as if they're a piano, but with the warm glow that comes from the sound of combined French horn and hat-muted trombones. It's perfectly understated behind the tuba, and Philly Joe Jones plays super light and swingin' on the snare with brushes. Philly starts to open up the volume and adds a little more intensity after the solo trombone break by Frank Rehak. After Frank's first chorus, there's more comping behind him in the lower horns that gets increasingly rhythmically creative. There's also a great little sustained unison cup mute tone that begins at about 1:31. It holds for a good eight seconds.

Now we reach a harmonization of the melody that moves the tune to a higher octave and is harmonized for the first time. This ensemble section flies along with ease, and has a lovely counterline by tuba, trombone and bass clarinet that helps the ensemble feel like it's gliding. When this counterline hits 2:07, it starts making a stepwise ascent. From it, we get a feeling of yet more building, opening up, anticipation and general excitement. The range is now getting really high. It's great, because it heralds even more excitement that's soon to come in the form of Cannonball's entrance. Gil even keeps his creative hand in this solo break, as Cannonball, right at the end of the break, has to modulate and launch us into a new key, which serves to lift us to yet another level of excitement. The rhythms and lead lines of the ensemble comping just keep developing—no shortcuts taken here. The details are simply mind-blowing. At 2:45, Harmon mutes in the trumpets add another fresh new color. This whole piece is essentially passing from dark orchestrational color to bright.

Gil's spectacular sense of rhythm, fabulous feel for bebop, and refreshing sense of harmony is clearly evident at his ensemble passage that goes from 3:01–3:10. I love how he wanders to a rather unexpected corner harmonically and just sits us uncomfortably there for a hair longer than we'd expect, before he gently glides us out. Marvelous! His next two short ensemble passages also have wonderful little lilting cross-rhythmic figures. His rhythms are full of surprises but at the same time are very catchy. On the next figure the ensemble soars to its top and dramatically holds it for a moment before we suddenly drop all the way down to a low pedal tone that lasts to the end of the piece. Over that pedal, Philly Joe and Cannonball continue playing to the finish.

All parts collectively decrescendo in what feels like a big exhale after all the excitement. Gil's written a thousand tiny details into this piece, but each of them contribute to a common goal, and, for that reason, add up to a total experience, an emotional ride. In the hands of someone without such a sense of purpose, so much detail could easily add up to a whole lot of clutter. It never happens with Gil. That's one of the many marvels of this man's writing.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments


Miles Davis-Gil Evans: My Ship

This cut is beauty personified. There's nothing seemingly complex or unusual, but even the simple half-note pads that sustain the harmony behind Miles have Gil's telltale linearity and instrumental color. It's also probably one of his best-known arrangements.

Starting with the intro, you'll hear three layers. There's the top pattern in the cup-mute trumpets that descends. On the very bottom there's the static repetitive bass figure that's also in the tuba. And then, the third layer works in contrary motion to the top line. If you read Miles Davis' autobiography, you'll probably remember him marveling at Gil's use of contrary motion. What it means, in this instance, is that while the muted trumpets have a figure that slowly descends, you'll hear a bass clarinet slowly rising, as if coming out of a mist. When it reaches a rather high range, it drops to a little figure then that sets us up for the tune, which is stated by the low brass. This statement is partly characterized by the warm French horns placed quite high on the melody, the bass clarinet with a lovely line on the bottom, and the sweep of all the ensemble parts in motion with the melody. The ensemble here is voiced in harmony that gives beautiful lines to each player. The passage is lush with a darkly hued color to it.

I remember one day while working with Gil in about 1986, I walked in the door and found him at the piano, totally frustrated as he was trying to figure out what he wrote on this piece. He threw up his hands and said, "I don't know what I wrote!" I was baffled and asked why on earth he'd need to transcribe his own music. That's when he told me how one day he just got tired of his music and threw it out. Ouch! I was dying inside when I heard that. It also got me thinking about how it could be possible that such perfect music could ever, from his perspective, be worth trashing. I also got to witness how, given the distance of years, he seemed to again appreciate its beauty. Thankfully much of Gil's music was found, albeit long after he passed away.

I think one of the stunning moments of this cut is when Miles enters. The chords just feel like they glide, and their brightness, created by the slightly pinched sound of mutes, makes Miles' flugel a beautiful open and dark foil. That's a moment I could loop a thousand times. The double-time feel passage from 2:27–2:45 is voiced in a way that allows it to move fleetly. That's another wonderful ability Gil has. This piece ends how it begins, except this time the rising line of the bass clarinet is now absent, and that makes sense because we're winding down. This piece immediately segues into “Miles Ahead,” another piece loaded with linearity, contrary motion, parallel motion and a light sound, despite a sometimes thick ensemble playing.

July 10, 2009 · 0 comments


Gerry Mulligan-Ben Webster: Tell Me When

The Gerry Mulligan Meets Ben Webster album is best known for its exquisite version of Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge," but Mulligan's endearing gem of a ballad, "Tell Me When," should not be overlooked. The fact that Mulligan and Webster are so relaxed and in sync with one another on both of these tracks (as well as the other nine selections) is largely due to their friendship and having played together in Los Angeles prior to going into the studio. As Mulligan told Phil Schaap in 1990: "Ben and I were a focused, near-functioning little band. That's why it it worked and of course it's all related to our mutual esteem and musical rapport."

Jimmy Rowles' short-lived, but dark and slightly foreboding intro does not prepare the listener for Webster's luscious, buoyant recital of the winsome "Tell Me When" theme, as Mulligan plays tenderly apt obbligatos along with him. Webster's solo is generally evocative of his main influence, Coleman Hawkins, in the effervescent contours of his lines, but Ben's creamy tone is unmistakably his own. The glorious interweaving of tenor and baritone as they renegotiate the melody is unforgettably poignant and soothing. Unlike on "Chelsea Bridge," Mulligan regrettably does not take a solo, but Webster more than makes up for the omission.

July 06, 2009 · 0 comments


Ella Fitzgerald: Blue Skies

“Blue Skies” was originally recorded for (and eventually omitted from) The Irving Berlin Song Book, and it was first issued as part of an all-star jazz compilation album created by Playboy magazine, and later appeared on a Verve compilation of assorted bits and pieces from Ella’s many sessions for the label. The recording is still not well-known, but it features one of her finest extended scat solos. Like her famous “Oh, Lady Be Good” recording 9 years earlier, the big band arrangement exists only to support Ella, and she’s never asked to interrupt her improvisation for ensemble figures. Ella opens with 4 virtuosic cadenzas, and then jumps to a medium tempo for the opening chorus. Harry Edison provides pithy commentary during the melody statement, and then Ella launches into a two-and-a-half chorus scat solo. She starts out by adapting the saxophone riff playing behind her, and as the solo continues, she repeats and develops ideas with uncanny fluency. Encouraged on by the magnificent accompanying group, Ella builds her solo in a natural and unforced manner. There are plenty of quotes (“Here Comes The Bride” near the beginning, “Rhapsody In Blue” as the solo peaks), but mostly this is Ella, joyously creating music on the spot and spreading that joy to her audience.

July 05, 2009 · 0 comments


Billy Eckstine: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Following the breakup of his big band, Billy Eckstine became a major soloist with fans on both sides of the color line. He was billed as “the sepia Sinatra” and was best known for romantic ballads. “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” comes from an extraordinary small group date, and it shows that Eckstine never lost his bebop roots. The performance is one of Eckstine’s most harmonically daring. In the first 8 bars, he sings the song straight, but then he veers away from the melody with a bop harmonic flair at the end of the word “find.” He returns to the melody through a dramatic stepwise progression, peaking on the word "blind". The bridge starts in tempo, but halfway through, Eckstine takes more chances with the melody over a rubato rhythm section. In the final eight, Eckstine starts with a harmonic variation, moves briefly to the melody, uses another bop substitution on the word “dies”, and then concludes with another rising pattern. He holds on a note that could easily have been resolved by the rhythm section, but then he climbs another half-step to end the performance unresolved.

July 05, 2009 · 0 comments


Clifford Brown-Max Roach: Good Bait

When Harold Land left the quintet in November 1955 to tend to an ailing grandmother in California (he also missed his home life), Max and Clifford located the great Sonny Rollins, who was then living in a Chicago YMCA, re-evaluating his life, and practicing with none other than trumpeter Booker Little. They hired Rollins to play the Beehive Club (recordings of this exist also) and he joined the band permanently until the unexpected Pennsylvania Turnpike accident changed the quintet’s fate and direction. This is indeed the final recording of the Max Roach-Clifford Brown Quintet, recorded live at the Continental Restaurant in Norfolk, Virginia (a place where Roach’s relatives had to sit on the stage in order to enjoy the band), just days prior to the deaths of Brown, Richie Powell, and Powell’s young wife Nancy on June 27th while driving en route to the quintet’s next engagement in Chicago. Though it was broadcast live for WIOR radio (as announced by Bob Story), this is actually a private tape done by the owners of the restaurant, which accounts for the poor sound quality (the piano is only slightly audible) and incomplete songs.

I chose this selection (they are all top notch) because Tadd Dameron figured so prominently in Brownie’s early recording career and now on his final recording. As superb as Harold Land was, the addition of Rollins to the quintet pushed it to a new level. The front line horns fed off of each other and you can hear (and feel) the empathy the two had for one another. Rollins once stated in an interview that he and Brown both felt that on this final gig, they were acting as one, breathing and phrasing together, and were constantly inspired by the thematic ideas each created. Clifford and Sonny split up the melody to “Good Bait,” with Clifford improvising into and through the final A section. They play the standard interlude over the next two A sections and Brown starts his marvelous choruses on the bridge, beginning with a march-like feel. He plays a series of florid runs, with exceptional double-timing, bluesy riffs and a good many triplets, at times seeming like he is just barely touching on the notes, as though they were raindrops hitting a tin roof. Rollins starts his five choruses by toying with the melody notes, twisting some to suit his fancy. He also explores the triplet idea introduced earlier by Brown and lays down a few humorous quotes, testing the audience’s listening skill, or maybe just amusing himself and his band mates. Powell entrenches himself in a rhythmic block chord solo and Morrow quickly falls into a two-beat feel for the remainder of his solo in which Powell runs a gamut of quotes, including “I’m Beginning To See The Light” and the “Old Irish Washer Woman.” George Morrow’s bass solo fades in his first chorus—once again, he doesn’t get his proper due!

The quintet had a few days off following this engagement and were to reconvene in Chicago for a job at the Blue Note Club commencing on June 27th. Clifford’s wife LaRue had traveled to California to show off their new son, one of the few times she didn’t travel with her husband on the road. Roach and Powell returned to New York and on June 22nd, the band made the fabulous Saxophone Colossus album together. Brown spent a few well deserved days with family and friends in Wilmington, then, on June 26th, called his wife for her birthday and their anniversary, went to the racetrack and enjoyed a good soul food dinner prepared by his sister Geneva at his parents' home. Pleading that he didn’t want to go, he hesitantly drove his car up to Philadelphia, reportedly played the early Music City jam session, picked up Richie Powell and his wife Nancy, and started out toward Chicago on a rainy summer night. Powell’s near-sighted wife lost control of the car near Bedford, Pennsylvania, and the trio hit a bridge abutment over Route 220, careening down an embankment to their demise. Roach and Rollins were already in Chicago when they received the tragic news—Max retreated to his room with a bottle of cognac, and remembered, while Sonny simply played his saxophone all night long in his room. LaRue was now a widow and Clifford, Jr., was now an orphan. Clifford Brown’s trumpet was silenced for good, with only these fantastic recordings to speak on behalf of his greatness.

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments


Clifford Brown: A Night In Tunisia

This has been Brownie’s most controversial date since its release by Columbia in 1973. For close to 30 years this has been propagated as Clifford’s last session, reportedly done just hours before his death in the horrific turnpike accident. Billy Root himself, in a Cadence interview, said that the date occurred maybe a year prior to his death—because he was out on the road with Stan Kenton when the crash happened. (He was accurate—tour dates show him in Wisconsin at the time of Brown’s accident.) University of the Arts professor Don Glanden and myself tracked down Ellis Tollin, who owned the drum shop in Philadelphia where this jam session took place, and also hosted and played drums on the weekly sessions. They were called “Swing Club” jam sessions and they took place every Tuesday night at 7 p.m. from roughly 1954-1956, mainly for the benefit of the city’s underage musicians and fans to hear and play with the jazz stars who were appearing at Philadelphia’s Blue Note Club. Tollin produced flyers from the session, dated for May 31, 1955, complete with photos and a description listing the tunes and proceedings. The fact that Tollin himself thought these were still the recordings of Brownie’s last night leads me to believe that Brown did indeed play at Music City on his way out of town to Chicago, but this was not the recording of it (he played there many times). Others reported hearing Clifford there that evening as well. The Columbia date is completely erroneous—they list Monday, June 25th as the 1956 session date. The sessions always took place on Tuesday evenings. Also, Clifford’s fatal crash was not on June 26th, as commonly reported, but in the very early morning hours (1 a.m.) of Wednesday, June 27th, according to the Pennsylvania State Police report. That is neither here nor there when it comes down to the music, but I believe that it is proper to set the historical record straight.

It is very appropriate that “A Night In Tunisia” was chosen for the jam. Gillespie was an early champion of Brown after Clifford sat in with Diz’s big band in 1949, in Wilmington, Delaware, and flabbergasted him. He also personally encouraged Brownie to pursue music while he was recovering from his 1950 car accident. After the traditional intro, Brown takes the melody in his inimitable style and plays a four-bar break into his solo which excites the crowd. The rhythm section re-enters a beat late, but this doesn’t faze Brown. His ensuing five choruses (over three and a half consecutive minutes!) are full of blistering high notes, cascading triplets, diminished sequences and patterns, and emphatic repeated figures. He builds climax after climax. It is a solo that makes one pause and thank the stars that it was saved on tape! Root follows with four choruses of feel-good swing, sounding bold, confident and as melodic as Clifford. Sam Dockery, a friend of Clifford’s and future Blakey Jazz Messenger, is up next on piano—unfortunately, his outing is reduced down to just one chorus on most releases. Brown returns for two more ‘fire breathing’ choruses, Tollin providing wonderful support and interplay, and plays through the head into a short cadenza. By this time, Brown’s constant forays into the upper register have taken a toll and it is a struggle for him to get some of his high notes to speak. He must have created a little melodramatic scene during the cadenza because the audience chuckles for a moment. He finally reaches his intended note amidst audience cheering.

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments


Clifford Brown-Max Roach: Blues Walk

When the Max Roach-Clifford Brown Quintet formed in the spring of 1954, Sonny Stitt was its first saxophone player. Not able to support three leaders, this group as such only lasted a few weeks, with Stitt being replaced initially by Teddy Edwards, and he by Land. Sonny left behind a wonderful blues riff tune for the quintet’s repertoire, one that he recorded under the title “Loose Walk” in 1952. Why it has been attributed to Brown is a mystery, since he would never have knowingly taken credit for another’s creative contribution. This particular arrangement, albeit simple, gets to the heart of what the Max Roach-Clifford Brown aggregation was all about—excitement, dynamics, hearty swing and coherence of improvisational thought. It offers the listener the true spirit of jazz in such a way that tugs at their emotions by organizing well-placed moments of tension and release into the overall presentation. It wasn’t to be just a ‘blowing session’ left to chance.

The arrangement is simple enough in its execution, but what the players do within that framework is the true genius. The medium-up punchy riff tune is repeated twice, and Brown has the break into the first solo. He intermixes blues-inflected passages with those that take the twists and turns of a studied bebop master. He builds tension to his fourth and fifth choruses where Land plays a background riff that adds to the tension. Relief comes on the sixth chorus, as Brown backs down again and builds toward the next climax. His seven choruses lead into Land’s eight, where a similar approach is employed, Brown riffing on the fifth and sixth choruses. Land has a wonderful ‘barking’ quality to his tone and, complements Brown’s phrases wonderfully. Powell builds his six-chorus solo to a polyrhythmic frenzy by the final chorus, then hands it to the ensemble which plays a four-bar send off to Roach’s drum solo. The sendoff happens again and Max takes another five solo drum choruses that lead smoothly into a series of trading by the horns. These interchanges are some of the most exciting in recorded jazz. Two choruses of fours lead into a chorus of twos, a chorus of ones, and a chorus of half-bar improvisations. It is a tremendously difficult task for an improviser to coordinate these short interplays into coherent, flowing lines, but these musicians do it admirably. If you compare this to the alternate take, you can hear how things can go quickly awry if the timing happens to get away from you! Clifford misses the downbeat of the melody out, but it in no way detracts from the excitement of the moment. This is recorded jazz done in a brilliant and thrilling fashion.

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments


Clifford Brown: Stardust

The album Clifford Brown With Strings has an interesting ‘behind the scenes’ tale, if we look to his widow LaRue Brown-Watson for the storyline. EmArcy Record’s producer Bobby Shad suggested the project, recognizing Clifford’s beautiful touch with a ballad, and primed Brownie for the session. Clifford didn’t want to do it, but LaRue, who also appreciated when he performed ballads and classical works, encouraged him to do the date. According to LaRue, Clifford began urging her early on in their marriage to have a child—LaRue wouldn’t budge, expressing that she was much too young to take on the responsibility of a child. He would not relinquish his constant requests, and finally, with a little prodding from her own mother as well, agreed to the idea of carrying a child. LaRue fondly remembers that the strings date was his personal gift to her for that blessing bestowed upon him. In December 1955, Clifford Brown, Jr. (she insisted on the namesake) was born to the couple and Clifford enjoyed the company of his little boy for six months, playing for him, talking philosophy to him and teaching him all he knew about music.

Neal Hefti, who was given undue criticism for his lush, sweet and sentimental arrangements for the date, recalls that Brown only hit three ‘clams’ in the entire three-day recording session. Hefti’s string frameworks complement Brown’s glorious tone, which simply needs to be heard to be truly appreciated. No words can do it justice—if something can be perfect in this world, this would come awfully close. Brown is a bona fide singer of songs and his artistry is evident on every track of this album. The reason I chose this particular tune is for the 20-second phrase that is exactly two minutes into the cut. It is a delightful and timeless phrase that brings utter satisfaction with every repeated listening.

Though the album was panned critically at the time, the general listener gleaned its meaning. It opened up a new appreciative audience for Brown. Shad said it was a best seller at the time—one of EmArcy’s biggest money makers. With the passing of time, musicians have gotten the message as well. Wynton Marsalis informs that he learned all of the album’s solos as a young apprentice.

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments


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