Art Pepper: September Song

Art Pepper had performed and recorded this song many times with the Stan Kenton band in the early 1950s, but this 1979 version is nothing like anything you will find from the Innovations Orchestra. Pepper himself had undergone a sea change. He was ravaged by years of incarceration and drug abuse, and his alto playing had been equally transformed from the sweet, innocence of 1950s West Coast jazz into a post-Coltrane cauldron of jagged lines, surprising feints and thrusts, and occasional moments of hard-won tranquility.

Pepper was in the midst of a comeback. His previous Galaxy release, Art Pepper Today, had pushed him back into the limelight, especially with his inspired workout over the closing vamp of his composition "Patricia." Pepper probably had that performance in mind, as he tries to create a similarly dramatic ballad-plus-vamp on "September Song." He doesn't reach the same level here, but he still delivers a gripping performance, and sent a message, to all who were listening, that Art Pepper was back.

May 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chet Baker (with Phil Urso): To Mickey's Memory

Chet Baker's collaborations with Gerry Mulligan made jazz history. Baker's work with pianist Russ Freeman also are widely admired and still sell well more than 50 years later. But let's not forget Chet's work with tenor saxophonist Phil Urso, featured on this hot and swinging track from their Chet Baker & Crew LP. Urso was a Prez disciple with a knack for hard-bop phrasing, and his presence tended to prod Chet into a more aggressive frame of mind, a nice change-up from the more ethereal Mulligan sides. Bill Loughborough's contribution on his homemade "chromatic tympani" is another highlight here. Somebody should track down that contraption and bring it back into the studio! All in all, "To Mickey's Memory" is a great performance, one of the neglected gems in Baker's Eisenhower-era discography.

April 08, 2008 · 1 comment

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Bill Holman: You Go to My Head

By 1958, Bill Holman was a composing/arranging heavyweight, and the second album of big band music under his own name contains several masterpieces. "You Go to My Head" is an excellent example of re-composition using a short, improvised-sounding riff. A four-note phrase frames a presentation that begins with the melody being broken up and explored by the saxes, while the brass play the riff as underpinning—all with minimal rhythmic support. Eventually the whole band takes off, swinging both melody and riff leading up to solos by Charlie Mariano and Stu Williamson. An uneasy transition leads to the leader's solo. The whole thing ends with similar uneasiness, but we have been on quite a journey. That riff may have gone to Holman's head, but by the end it has been thoroughly explored. The setting of the song sounds as if it had been made up on the spot, which is part of Willis's compositional gift. This track is one of his greatest achievements.

March 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Shorty Rogers: Didi

Before West Coast cool jazz turned ponderous and overambitious, in the same spirit that tainted Stan Kenton’s work, the music of writers like Shorty Rogers drew heavily from the Miles Davis “cool school” band. An early sample of California cool, “Didi” hews very close to the spirit and instrumentation of Miles’ nonet. The tune is just plain fun, too, building up from rapid, alternating cascades of notes from Rogers and Art Pepper. The alto saxophonist’s light tone perfectly parallels the leader’s lyricism, even at a fast pace. Shelly Manne already demonstrates the facility that made him L.A.’s first-call drummer.

January 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chet Baker: There Will Never Be Another You

With jazz performers, we crave the person behind the persona. Usually what you see is what you get. Sometimes, though, it's Jekyll-&-Hyde. The seemingly mild-mannered bandleader turns out to be a tyrant. The happy-go-lucky singer throws herself off a bridge. Such was The Strange Case of Dr. Chet and Mr. Baker. In 1954, he looked like the choirboy who mows your lawn and calls you Sir/Ma'am. Behind the angelic façade, however, lurked a vagabond junkie-in-waiting. This track (no pun intended) gives us the captivating, cup-muted choirboy on his best behavior. Hopefully, there will never be another Chet. Thankfully, there was one.

December 05, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dave Brubeck & Paul Desmond: You Go to My Head (1952)


    Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond at Birdland, photo by Marcel Fleiss

This is the quintessential cool jazz duet. A quarter of a century after this recording was made, Brubeck and Desmond had such fond memories of "You Go to My Head" that they resurrected the song for their 1975 duet session on the A&M label. But this 1952 meeting-of-minds will not be topped. Desmond was never more lyrical, Brubeck never more sensitive, and the rapt attention of the audience is palpable. This 1952 Storyville session, which also produced a stunning version of "Over the Rainbow," stands out as a landmark event, the refinement of a new aesthetic attitude toward jazz. Desmond slyly quotes Charlie Parker mid-solo, but the performance subverts the bop conventions in every measure. Jazz fans who want to understand the chemistry between these two artists should start right here.

December 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Chet Baker: But Not For Me

The late Richard Bock, who produced this recording (and so many other classic West Coast jazz sessions) once confided to me that Chet Baker, in his opinion, played his very best trumpet on this debut session as a vocalist. It's hard to disagree. Not since Lester Young accompanied Billie Holiday had a jazz soloist managed to add such melodically succinct interludes to a vocal date. And those who have only heard Chet Baker sing on records made late in his career need to go back to this 1954 date to experience the magic of this music. One of the great moments for jazz on the dream coast.

November 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Shelly Manne: Pas de Trois

Concurrent sentences under warden Stan Kenton left Shelly Manne and Shorty Rogers, like career criminals acquiring new tricks of the trade in prison, hardened musical adventurers. By contrast, Jimmy Giuffre's "Four Brothers" sojourn with Woody Herman scarcely foretold his subsequent avant-gardism. Only after falling under the sway of composer/mystic Dr. Wesley La Violette did Giuffre grow cerebral, rigorously applying formal compositional devices to chamber jazz. While much mid-'50s West Coast jazz was contrapuntal, Giuffre's "Pas de Trois" takes full advantage of Manne's melodicism, integrating his drums into an extraordinary tripartite fugue. Abstract, controlled, fascinating—Third Stream for three, please.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bud Shank & Bob Cooper: Sweet Georgia Brown

A longtime jazz favorite, "Sweet Georgia Brown" (1925) became beloved by millions after the Harlem Globetrotters made it their theme in 1952. Amazed crowds worldwide, watching the Globetrotters' comic basketball wizardry, whistled along with "Sweet Georgia Brown." Likewise bouncing with skill and surprise is this quintessential 1950s West Coast jazz track. Although classical composers had long paired flute and oboe, Shank & Cooper here demonstrate the tandem's superior jazz IQ. With Cooper's call-&-response arrangement coyly teasing the melody, "Sweet Georgia Brown" tips off tiptop players at the top of their game.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Stan Getz & Gerry Mulligan: That Old Feeling – as heard in Woody Allen's <i>Husbands and Wives</i> (1992) and <i>Celebrity</i> (1998)

In the 1950s, owning a mere record player was not enough. Audiophiles grew so obsessed with turntables, cartridges, styli, preamps, power amps, woofers, tweeters and graphic equalizers that many dispensed with music altogether, preferring entire albums of sports cars in action. Fortunately, Getz Meets Mulligan in Hi-Fi retained "That Old Feeling" of two great jazzmen jousting one another, and it was sleeker than Jaguar jockeying with Ferrari at Le Mans. To justify the Hi-Fi tag, reverb is added to the horns, but it doesn't mar a performance in which both sax men play more robustly than usual. This is topflight 1950s modern jazz.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Chet Baker: You Can't Go Home Again


  Chet Baker, artwork by Michael Symonds

Don Sebesky takes composer credit here – and also handles arranging, conducting and electric piano duties – but the song is based on the slow movement of Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto. (Eric Carmen borrowed the same theme for his pop hit “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again," released one year before the Baker LP.) This is a classic track by any measure; however, I would have preferred this performance without the string orchestra. Do you really need to enhance a rhythm section built around Ron Carter, Tony Williams and Kenny Barron? Baker delivers a top notch solo here, but Desmond steals the show with one of the most incisive improvisations I have ever heard. The altoist would be dead, from lung cancer, before the album was released, and he hardly had enough breath for his brief solo. But he makes every note count in this moving swan song.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gerry Mulligan: A Ballad

As chief arranger and co-principal soloist, Gerry Mulligan helped deliver Miles Davis's obstetric triumph Birth of the Cool (1949-50). Three years later and on the opposite coast, Mulligan added a second trumpet and baritone sax to the 1950 BOTC octet lineup for an ad hoc "Tentette" that proved nearly as influential as the earlier band. Gerry contributes a lovely solo to this track, but its appeal is his gorgeous arrangement, answering Gil Evans's miraculous "Moon Dreams" chart for BOTC. "A Ballad" is deficient only in its title—rather like naming your newborn "A Baby." Otherwise it's three minutes of perfection.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Shorty Rogers: Martians' Lullaby

On the cusp of the Space Age, many otherwise well-informed people believed in Martians. Orson Welles's Halloween 1938 radio enactment The War of the Worlds panicked the unsuspecting with breaking news of Martians invading New Jersey. Fourteen-year-old Milton Rajonsky may have been listening that night. Years later, as the Orson Welles of West Coast jazz, Shorty Rogers fixated on the Red Planet for "March of the Martians," "Martians Go Home," "Martians Stay Home" and "Martians Come Back." Only with "Martians' Lullaby" did he discover that Martians were lulled by trumpets and trombones blasting a 12-bar blues. If only New Jersey had known!

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Terry Gibbs: Opus One

Terry Gibbs played vibraphone in many big bands, including Benny Goodman’s and Woody Herman’s, but for a while around 1960, he led a fine band of his own that contained many of the best players in Los Angeles. Its verve and gusto are evident in Marty Paich’s arrangement of “Opus One,” which features, in addition to solos by Gibbs and valve trombonist Bob Enevoldsen, a rousing cutting contest between Charlie Parker-modeled altoists Joe Maini and Charlie Kennedy. The band is kicked by Mel Lewis, whom many of his peers considered the best big band drummer of them all.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Shelly Manne: Sorta Blue

Conte Candoli was Superman's sibling. Pete Candoli, lead trumpeter in Woody Herman's mid-1940s First Herd, would charge onstage costumed as the comic-book hero for high-note shenanigans. Kid brother Conte's cool was closer to mild-mannered Clark Kent. By concentrating on note selection instead of huffing and puffing to blow the house down, Conte became the most interesting West Coast trumpeter following Chet Baker. Here, ensconced in the bathysphere of Victor Feldman's marimba (played with felt-tipped rather than rubber-tipped mallets) and with Shelly Manne's typically splendid support, Conte shows why he could be counted on for Truth, Justice and the American Way.

November 07, 2007 · 1 comment

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