Totam Silberstein: Cheryl

In a tune that shares the intensity and misdirections of Parker's “Scrapple From The Apple,” Yotam Silberstein burns right through the changes. Supported by a muscular band that's still very light on it's feet, this young guitarist has a pile of ideas – and he employs them in a very natural way. So the angular passages, quickly shifting arpeggios, and comping breaks are not showy in the least, much like Mr. Parker himself.

While I do enjoy hearing that guitar negotiate those twisty runs, the episode of tradin' fours that comes midsong is just too much fun to ignore. Coming off the guitar solo, tenor player Chris Cheek and organist Sam Yahel really get it on as Silberstein and drummer Willie Jones III keep up the swing. Tremendous.

April 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Dexter Gordon: A Night In Tunisia

Discouraged by the palpable lack of appreciation throughout the first twenty years of his career, Dexter Gordon relocated to Europe from 1962-1976. Even though he was still under contract with Blue Note and returned to the States for sessions and occasional gigs, Gordon appeared both fulfilled and re-energized by the European scene in the 1960s and recorded some of his finest live music at the Montmartre Club in Copenhagen—handfuls of which have been released on disc.

Dexter was certainly not the only American in Europe during these years, and it’s the reunion of Dexter Gordon with fellow expat Bud Powell (from their classic bop session seventeen years earlier) and famed American swing-to-bop drummer Kenny Clarke that combine to form one of Gordon’s finest studio efforts during his decade-and-a-half in Europe. A super relaxed solo-break begins Gordon’s improvisation over this bebop staple, but this serene atmosphere doesn’t last long. In the blink of an eye, Dexter has committed to one of his more heated improvisations—complete with repetitive Coltrane-esque yelps that make us wonder if what we’re hearing is stemming from a place of joy or ferocity, or perhaps a bit of both. Challenging and entirely musically rewarding, Our Man in Paris comprises an album’s worth of fascinating listening.

April 14, 2009 · 0 comments


Dexter Gordon & Wardell Gray: The Hunt

Two of Wardell Gray’s and Dexter Gordon’s tenor duels, “The Chase” and “The Hunt,” rank among the all-time highlights of west coast jazz. While “The Chase,” recorded a month earlier on June 12, was the seven-minute top-seller, “The Hunt” is an all-out 18-minute jam session where several Cali pioneers skip the melody altogether in order to roll up their sleeves and get down and dirty with their improvisations. This track represents so many things at once: bop that doesn’t really sound like Bird and Diz; a rare jazz performance where audience interaction plays an important role in the tune’s development; and two leading west-coast tenors proving that they can jam as hard as any of those dominant east coasters. The track’s importance is encapsulated by a singular moment of jazz history intersecting with another landmark of American cultural history, when Dean Moriarity himself, of Kerouac’s On the Road, remembers “listening to a wild bop record…’The Hunt,’ with Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray blowing their tops before a screaming audience that gave the record fantastic frenzied volume.” A historically significant track featuring Gordon at his most vibrant.

April 14, 2009 · 0 comments


Dexter Gordon: Dexter Rides Again

Directly following performances with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker in 1945, Dexter Gordon capitalized on his bop momentum by recording this classic date as a leader with the top-notch bop rhythm section of Bud Powell, Curly Russell, and Max Roach. Digging into the changes here more than ever before, Gordon’s solo on “Dexter Rides Again” strings together several genuine, stand-alone bebop lines without sacrificing a traditional overarching storyline. Check out 00:51-00:59 for one of the strongest developmental lines from the middle of his solo.

There are two other important points to note here. First, the true enormity of Gordon’s trademark wide-open tone is more evident here than ever before. Perhaps because the Pres aesthetic, the Hawkins/Jacquet-inspired strong tone, and the bebop vocabulary have finally coalesced into a unified “Dexter Gordon sound” for the first time here, there’s a jovial, declaratory quality to these proceedings. Fortunately, this atmosphere is not a one-time offer, as these magnetic Gordon characteristics govern all of his future sessions.

Finally, the famous “Jingle Bells” quote should be pointed out—not because it’s necessarily his most creative, but because it’s yet another example of a major Gordon mainstay. Not only does he find a witty quote that works, but, as all capable quoters do, he artistically alters the final few notes to begin a new improvised line over the next chord without missing a step. All things considered, “Dexter Rides Again” is an ideal three-minute encapsulation of the newly arrived and fully defined Gordon style.

April 14, 2009 · 0 comments


Dizzy Gillespie: Blue ‘N’ Boogie

This vital track from early 1945 captures the various levels of bebop sophistication during its prime years of formulation. Pianist Frank Paparelli, who co-wrote this tune with Diz, is stuck between stations throughout his improvisation—trying his very best to create a bop-ish statement and…let’s leave it at that. Dexter Gordon comes next, and offers a mostly horizontal improvisation where he is fast approaching the creation of an inimitable bop statement without necessarily copping the double-timed rhythmic styling of Bird or Diz. The master-class is in session upon Gillespie’s blistering first line, and his comfort level with the bebop vocabulary is, of course, flawlessly executed and exciting as heck. No less crucial than Dizzy’s rightness, though, is Dexter’s overall approach and thought-process. His contrasting style offers the more discreet, minimalist, thinking-through-the-changes approach to bop that would come to define Gordon’s career and provide an enormous influence on the bop and hard-bop worlds.

April 14, 2009 · 0 comments


Zaid Nasser: You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To

Like many if not most of the artists identified with the New York nightclub Smalls and its affiliated record label, Zaid Nasser is a solid, unpretentious latter-day bebopper of the type who seems to have learned his craft by careful listening and practical application ... not from the pages of a jazz method book. Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To" seems to attract alto players. It's been a part of Lee Konitz's repertoire for ages, and Art Pepper recorded a masterful version with Miles's rhythm section, to name two examples. Nasser takes a gritty approach to the tune. His sound is hard and almost uninflected, his articulations slight, his phrasing pleasantly unpredictable. He's somewhat reminiscent of a young Jackie McLean. He seems to possess McLean's guilelessness, if not the same levels of chops and intensity. Pianist Sacha Perry is very much the same type of player—he speaks bebop like he learned it at the feet of a master. Bassist Ari Roland takes an excellent, limber arco solo that's notable for a lack of ponderousness (hurray for that!), and drummer Phil makes tasteful, swinging contributions. It's difficult if not impossible for contemporary players to put a stamp on a tune as familiar as this. While there's certainly nothing indelible about this performance, its modest charms are enjoyable enough. Its utter lack of affectation cures most of its ills.

March 06, 2009 · 0 comments


Charlie Parker & Lennie Tristano: I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me

This rare private recording finds Bird visiting Lennie Tristano at 317 E. 32nd St., where the pianist had set up a modest recording studio (with some help from Rudy Van Gelder). Kenny Clarke joins in on brushes, playing a phonebook instead of a drum kit.

There is a miscommunication between the two players eight bars into Bird's solo—the altoist seems ready to go into the bridge, while Tristano has returned to restate the A theme. But after that, the performance is wonderfully relaxed, with Parker taking on more of a Lester-ish flavor than usual. Tristano once commented that Bird's pianists didn't challenge him enough in their comping, yet his own accompaniment here is smooth with only occasional harmonic sparks thrown in Parker's path. But for his own solo, Lennie gets more baroque in a delightful way.

Parker and Tristano apparently discussed starting their own record label around this time, but unfortunately we have only a handful of tracks documenting the chemistry between these two players. Tristano revered Parker, and marveled at the altoist's ability to hear and respond to his substitute changes. And Bird returned the props, at a time when many critics were hostile, stating: "As for Lennie Tristano, I would like to go on record as saying I endorse his work in every particular. . . He has tremendous technical ability and you know, he can play anywhere with anybody. He's a tremendous musician."

I wish we had several hours of Bird and Lennie in musical dialogue. This track is more an appetizer than a main course, but still an important document in the history of modern jazz, demonstrating the complementarity of two approaches that some would have you believe were incompatible.

December 31, 2008 · 0 comments


Dexter Gordon (featuring Leo Parker): Dexter's Riff

Performing with Billy Eckstine, Dizzy Gillespie, and Illinois Jacquet in the 1940s, Leo Parker looked to be prepping for a leading spot in the evolution of the modern baritone saxophone, but a drug habit halted his progress. Nonetheless, this defining track features extended trading between the gritty, rhythm-and-blues-infused Parker and the big-toned tenor legend-to-be Dexter Gordon. Both young guns are overflowing with (borderline sloppy) energy here, and the matchless rhythm section of Dameron, Russell and Blakey is simpatico to the proto-hard bop that these men were experimenting with. Note Parker's amalgamation of brief, bluesy riffs, longer bebop lines, and repeated single-note runs throughout his solo – all of which have come to spell out the modern baritone saxophone vocabulary.

Editor's Note: Lest anyone surmise that the cover photo of Dexter Rides Again scooped Sonny Rollins's Way Out West as the earliest image of a jazz tenorman posed as a cowpoke, be advised that Savoy's compilation of three sessions from 1945-'47 was issued in 1958, a year after William Claxton's classic shot for the Contemporary label, posing New York City slicker Theodore Rollins in a Brooks Brothers suit 'neath the blue sky in California's Mojave Desert. Moreover, the horseman pictured on Dexter Rides Again, reconnoitering Manhattan's Central Park on an overcast day, is not even Dexter Gordon, who was then reconnoitering San Quentin on a heroin bust. If anyone knows the story behind Jos. Bottwin's cover photo (click here for a larger view), please fill us in. – Alan Kurtz

December 22, 2008 · 0 comments


Bud Powell: Just One of Those Things

Bud Powell, like most of the first generation of bop keyboardists, tended to favor bass and drum accompaniment, and rarely recorded in a solo piano setting. But Powell's February 1951 session for Norman Granz finds the pianist on his own, and the results include some of the finest playing of his career. On "Just One of Those Things," Powell has eliminated all the Tatumesque trappings and cocktail piano mannerisms that sometimes bog down his solo work. Instead, he plays with a slashing right hand supported by sporadic left-hand voicings. The sound is stark and hollow, almost as if Powell follows an imaginary bassist and drummer in his head that the rest of us are not allowed to hear. It would be easy to pick out the flaws in this performance -- Powell's execution is a little sloppy -- but the pianist's intensity and sense of urgency demand our attention. This is bop in extremis, completely purged of the slightest sentimental tendency. Even today this music presents a prickly, avant-garde exterior that has not been dulled by the passing years. This is not jazz for casual listeners. But those who want to appreciate how the modernists shook up folks back in the day may want to check out this track for a sense of the revolutions promised by the bop pioneers.

June 03, 2008 · 0 comments


Dizzy Gillespie: Leap Frog

Bebop pioneers Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker were first recorded together playing "Sweet Georgia Brown," accompanied only by bassist Oscar Pettiford, at a private jam session in Room 305 of Chicago's Savoy Hotel on February 15, 1943. Diz & Bird's last joint recordings came little more than 10 years later. Both men were in top form at the legendary Massey Hall all-star concert in Toronto on May 15, 1953, and eight days later Bird made a special guest appearance with Diz's regular band for a live broadcast from Birdland that has been preserved. Sadly, within two years Parker would be dead at age 34.

In the interim, however, bebop's greatest tandem played a game of "Leap Frog," not to be confused with the bouncy theme song (and mid-'40s bobbysoxer hit) of Les Brown and the Band of Renown, which in turn should not be confused with the similar but even bouncier retro theme song of Dick Clark's late-'50s American Bandstand, namely Les Elgart's "Bandstand Boogie." If all this is nonetheless confusing, you can imagine how we felt upon learning that Diz & Bird's "Leap Frog" has, six decades after its first jump, become the basis of a hit YouTube video.

Say what? Diz & Bird a hit on YouTube! It's true. "Jazz Dispute" is a brilliantly conceived, spectacularly executed, fall-on-the-floor hilarious piece of performance art by 28-year-old actor/director Jeremiah McDonald (aka Weeping Prophet), of Portland, Maine. Although billed as "a heated debate between Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie," the two biggies of bebop never actually appear. Instead, the beret- bedecked Weeping Prophet enacts both sides of the putative debate, pantomiming to "Leap Frog" in its unremitting 2½-minute entirety. The Weeping Prophet's dexterity in this stupendous feat must be seen to be believed. We're not wholly persuaded that Diz & Bird were in a disputatious mood that June day in 1950, but given jazz's long and fabled history of testosterone-laden "cutting contests," Weeping Prophet's extrapolation makes perfect sense.

Hopefully, it will also make new friends for jazz, as elliptically orbiting eyeballs gravitate from "Jazz Dispute" to check out Diz, Bird and "Leap Frog" on And even if you have sworn off YouTube as being more kitschy than cool, be sure to check out this track. Disputatious or not, it's a bop classic.

May 29, 2008 · 0 comments


Red Norvo: Congo Blues

In the 1950s, best-selling author Jack Kerouac godfathered the Beat Generation, an unwashed gaggle of ofay deadbeats who lamely tried to appear hip by pretending to dig jazz. Kerouac brought to jazz the same intellectual carelessness he flaunted in his literary output. ("That's not writing," Truman Capote famously observed of Jack's Benzedrine-fueled scrolls of nonstop prose. "It's typing.") Kerouac routinely misspelled such essential jazz names as Charley [sic] Parker, Thelonius [sic] Monk, and Billy [sic] Holliday [sic]. In one magazine column, citing "hundreds of great soloists" as "sign of a great jazz resurgence," Jack mangled the monikers of more than two dozen jazzmen. (Altoist Hal McKusick emerged through Kerouac's Benzedrine fog as "Al Macusik.")

Kerouac often couldn't even recall what instrument a giant played, as in this description of vibist/drummer Lionel Hampton: "Lionel would jump in the audience and whale [sic] his saxophone [sic] at everybody." Jack thought bassist Carson Smith was a guitarist, baritone sax man Pee Wee Moore was a trombonist, and both trumpeter/arranger Quincy Jones and drummer Dave Bailey were "bassplayers" [sic].

On those rare occasions when he spelled a musician's name right and matched him with the correct instrument, Kerouac still managed to make a fool of himself. Jazz fans have no doubt heard, for example, "the sudden squeak uninhibited that screams muffled at any moment from Dizzy Gillespie's trumpet." Say what? An uninhibited squeak that screams muffled! Oh, yeah, far out. Not only does the squeak scream, it's so uninhibited it's muffled. Hey, pass those bennies over here, man.

Max West

All of which brings our roundabout safari to "Congo Blues." In his magnum opus On the Road (1957), Kerouac cites this track as an early Dizzy Gillespie record with Max West on drums. Who?  For working stiffs without the benefit of bennies, Max West was a baseball player, not a drummer. For that matter, "Congo Blues" was not a Dizzy Gillespie record. It was by Red Norvo & His Selected Sextet. What's especially galling, though, is Kerouac's reference to this "valued" record. Sure, so valued Jack can't recall the bandleader, and thinks the drummer hit a game-winning 3-run homer for the National League in the 1940 All-Star Game.

This is a sad fate to befall an important Swing-to-Bop transitional track. Recorded on the first anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion during World War II that signaled the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany, "Congo Blues" signaled the beginning of the end for the Swing Era. But besides its historical importance, this track is more fun than a barrel of beatniks washing over Niagara Falls.

Heard first is J.C. Heard, playing drums only because Max West was still in the Army (where he spent what would otherwise have been his peak playing years). Next bassist Slam Stewart contributes some vocally doubled bowed whole notes, atop which Dizzy Gillespie enters for a brilliant high-speed cup-muted solo, particularly impressive at the start of his second chorus. Then Bird takes flight, displaying the same audacious originality as Dizzy.

Following two such groundbreaking beboppers, Teddy Wilson's stride-style piano and Flip Phillips's Ben Webster-ish tenor are inevitably anachronistic. Red Norvo, though, always one of jazz's most adventurous souls, both bridges this confluence of Swing and Bop and sails past it, anticipating what theorist George Russell would later call pan-chromaticism.

After Slam butts back in for one of his typically annoying fiddle-faddle hum-along arco bass solos, Diz & Bird in unison restate the theme, bringing this wacky Odd Couples convention to a rousing finale. Except for the disappointing absence of a sudden squeak uninhibited screaming muffled from Dizzy Gillespie's trumpet, this track makes you wanna jump up and whale, man. You dig?

May 15, 2008 · 0 comments


Charlie Parker (with Dizzy Gillespie): Ko Ko

Portraying a tenorman named Progress Hornsby, ex-musician and cornerstone of 1950s TV comedy Sid Caesar good-naturedly spoofed modern jazz by leading a group consisting of six musicians and a radar operator. Asked what the latter did, Progress explained: "He warns us in case we get too close to the melody!" The joke was apt. The first take of this track had to be whistled to an abrupt halt when Diz & Bird absentmindedly got too close to the melody of "Cherokee," upon which "Ko Ko" (a title nodding to cocaine) was based and royalties for which Savoy Records was loath to pay. The guys got it together for this take, however, capping Bird's first session as leader. Aside from Max's drum break near the end, "Ko Ko" is all Bird. Gillespie plays only on the head, and cup-muted at that, switching to piano to back Parker's dazzling solo, among the most influential in modern jazz. Nobody warned us Bird could soar this close to the Sun.

March 13, 2008 · 0 comments


Charlie Parker: Moose the Mooche (live in Montreal)

Recorded live in Montreal, this date is a superb example of Bird playing at his high-speed best. Whether Parker’s velocity on this tune had anything to do with his ever-growing heroin addiction is not known. Parker had traveled north to appear on a Canadian television broadcast and in a concert presented by a Montreal jazz musicians’ society. On this particular night he was playing at the Chez Paree, and he roars through this tune—named ironically for his mid-1940s drug dealer. The recording provides a sense of what Bird sounded like wired and live in front of an enthusiastic club crowd.

March 13, 2008 · 0 comments


Charlie Parker (with Miles Davis): Milestones

This session is significant for three reasons: Miles Davis is the leader and composer, Bird is playing tenor sax rather than alto, and the tune is technically one of the first “cool jazz” ensemble recordings. By the summer of 1947, Miles was coming under the influence of Claude Thornhill arranger Gil Evans, whose apartment on 55th St. was a crash pad and music-theory think tank for Bird, Miles and Gerry Mulligan. In the summer of 1947, Miles certainly was exposed to Evans’ radical charts for Anthropology and Robbin’s Nest. Miles’ interactions with Evans intensified in the months that followed, resulting in the Birth of the Cool nonet in late1948 and early 1949. Unlike many straight bop rave-ups based on the blues or Tin Pan Alley chord changes, Milestones in 1947 embraced space and featured a cooler, Evans-like melody line. Listen to Miles’ solo and you’ll hear the 1950s Miles breaking through bop's shell. Swing, bop, cool—call it what you will, it was all the same to Bird, who turns in a fabulous solo on tenor.

March 04, 2008 · 1 comment


Charlie Parker: Parker's Mood

Bird’s playing on "Parker’s Mood" is often referred to as the greatest saxophone solo ever recorded. Parker opens with a fanfare, and John Lewis follows with a piano intro. Then Parker maintains a constant thread throughout, sustaining the song’s tension and purity, never doubling back or repeating a phrase. Lewis’ solo features touches of Bud Powell’s lush technique, and Parker returns on the back end, winding down the tune and ending with the same opening fanfare. But Lewis has the final say, finishing oddly on an unresolved chord. Bird is completely exposed here, and his emotional pain is all too evident. Five years later, in December 1953, King Pleasure added words to the song, grimly foreshadowing Parker’s own funeral. "Parker’s Mood" remains one of Bird’s most lyrical and enduring blues lines.

March 04, 2008 · 3 comments


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