Benny Goodman Quartet: I Got Rhythm

If you just heard the record, you might think this performance was taped surreptitiously at some back room jam session. But, yes, this is Carnegie Hall, and a transgressive moment when swing music—unapologetic and racially integrated—was allowed on to its venerable stage. Goodman was so unfamiliar with the setting that, when asked how long he wanted for an intermission, he replied 'I dunno. How much does Toscanini get?"

But if these four musicians are intimidated by the house Andrew Carnegie built, they don't show it here. The tempo, a blistering 320 beats per minute, is fast even by the standards of the Swing Era. This is one of Krupa's finest moments, and he clearly relishes the "go for broke" attitude of the moment. Bebop didn't exist when this concert took place, but you can tell how performances of this sort—loose, fast, aggressive—made its arrival inevitable. There is only a tiny distance between Teddy Wilson's solo here and what Bud Powell would be doing a few years later. Goodman, for his part, also seems to need only a nudge here to become a bopper; if he would only add a bit more chromaticism and float more over the ground beat, he would be ready to shake things up at Minton's Playhouse, which would be opening its doors in a few days.

The marvel is that a performance that starts out with such fire can actually build to something bigger. But the last ninety seconds here get about as bacchanalian as anything you will have ever heard at Carnegie Hall. And judging by the roar of the crowd—so loud that, finally, you know this isn't some backroom jam—they realize they've just heard something special.

September 12, 2009 · 0 comments


Benny Goodman: Blue Skies

The star of this performance is Fletcher Henderson's chart. The intro starts with an Ellingtonian growl that morphs into a fanfare. From the opening A theme statement, Henderson coyly plays with Irving Berlin's melody, adding syncopation and fills that could serve as a classroom model for "jazzing" a melody. Before long he is constructing a fresh variations, new ways of looking at those blue skies. The section work is excellent, and the rhythm section wisely underplays to let the horns stand out all the more. All in all, it's a great moment in swing, and one that deserved its moment on the stage of Carnegie Hall.

September 12, 2009 · 0 comments


Charles Mingus: C Jam Blues

Jazz composers usually bring their most polished and ambitious scores when they are invited to play at Carnegie Hall. Not Charles Mingus. He organized the loosest, most free-wheeling jam on the simplest changes for his January 1974 concert, and I'm confident no one demanded their money back after the show.

When the back room cutting contests are translated to the concert hall, they usually come across as hollow and staged, lacking the spontaneity that is essential to these kinds of performances. But not on this track, which ranks among the finest recorded jam sessions in the jazz annals. Handy starts out hot, and sets the bar high for the following soloists with a 15-chorus excursion over blues changes. Hamiet Bluiett takes a few steps outside the changes, but George Adams makes the plunge with an ear-scorcher of a solo that is a panzer attack on the authority of the tonal center. You may think that there is nowhere else to go at this point, but then Rahsaan Roland Kirk steals the show by dipping into Adams' own bag and playing it better than Adams himself. And that is just the appetizer for a whirlwind solo of heroic proportions. . .

If you had any doubt that this was a real cutting contest, the blood on the reeds should dispel any doubts. Rahsaan was notorious for these kinds of in-your-face attacks. Two years before this concert, he had pulled off a similar stunt at a Radio City Music Hall event amidst a high profile cast that included Dexter Gordon and Zoot Sims. "Rahsaan could be competitive," Steve Turre has commented. "Don't mess with him at a jam session because he didn't play just one way. He could shift gears on you and take it in another direction. He could destroy people at a jam sessions if they tried to get competitive."

Faddis and McPherson try to pick up the pieces and bring some decorum back to the blues. But by the time you get to the end of this 24 minute track, all hell has broken loose. C Jam Blues is done broke and don't wanna to go back to the key of C no more. Yet I'm sure the composer, who always brought his big scores to this hall, would have been on his feet screaming and clapping along with everyone else.

August 28, 2009 · 0 comments


Dave Brubeck: Southern Scene

As well as roaming the world, the Dave Brubeck Quartet rollicked and rolled across America; and some "regional" albums resulted, with portraits of the South and New York City en route. One mostly forgotten tune of Dave's is "Southern Scene" from the album of the same name. The original version was pleasant but reserved (the LP lacks a CD release for good reason), but the Quartet revisited the tune during their acclaimed and happily recorded night at Carnegie Hall in February 1963.

Dave's bluesy opening is apropos if unexpected, nearly two minutes of lazily swaying piano, with maybe a hint of Fats Waller in slow-mo, bolstered by Joe Morello's brushwork and cymbal taps, and rock-solid Eugene Wright. Paul Desmond takes a sweetly piping, succinct-as-ever solo; then Dave keys in for several minutes more, to play the blues with feeling – a little taste of the broader jazz skills he mostly kept tucked in his hip pocket like a flask. Maybe the definitively swinging "St. Louis Blues" that opened this concert inspired Brubeck to head farther South and dig deeper, in the process shaping a surprise highlight on a night rife with them.

March 02, 2009 · 0 comments


Paul Whiteman: Blue Belles of Harlem

Paul Whiteman's final "Experiment in Modern Music" featured Artie Shaw, Whiteman's large orchestra, and a lot of new music written by old friends (Ferde Grofé) and new ones. Whiteman commissioned six composers to write pieces based on bells to be combined into a suite. Besides Ellington, contributions were made by Bert Shefter, Walter Gross, Fred Van Epps, Roy Bargy and Morton Gould. "Pops" took these concerts seriously (he was always hoping to discover a work comparable to Rhapsody in Blue, the standout of the first experiment back in 1924), and by including Ellington, Whiteman clearly believed Duke to be an important composer. As it turned out, "Blue Belles of Harlem" (aka "Blue Belle of Harlem") is a minor work at best; notice the spelling of "belles" not as noisemakers but as young women, a singularly Ellingtonian touch. A lead sheet of the piece was given to arranger Fred Van Epps to prepare for Whiteman's mammoth orchestra, and Charlie Teagarden, Al Gallodoro (one of the most technically amazing musicians of the 20th century), Miff Mole, Jack Teagarden and Sal Franzella are all heard playing bluesy written and improvised short statements at one time or another. (Whiteman certainly featured his all-star musicians at these concerts.) The piece would be substantially reworked by Billy Strayhorn into a mini-concerto for Ellington's piano and orchestra for the 1943 Carnegie Hall concert when Black, Brown and Beige was premiered.

January 10, 2009 · 0 comments


Buena Vista Social Club: Chan Chan (Live at Carnegie Hall)

The late 1990s success of the Cuban ensemble known as the Buena Vista Social Club was remarkable from several different angles. The wide crossover success in the United States of any band not singing in English is always a cause of surprise. But even rarer is a hit album by a group of senior citizens. Add to it the global political implications of overnight stars traveling from Havana to New York to perform at Carnegie Hall, and you have all the ingredients of a made-for-TV movie.

Certainly there was more than a little hype involved in the popularity of this band. After all, these musicians had been largely forgotten even in their native land, before becoming international stars of World Music. Yet this ensemble delivered the goods onstage, as they demonstrated at their July 1, 1998 Carnegie Hall concert, finally made available on CD ten years after the event. "Chan Chan" captures a world-weary, bittersweet temperament that most fans would hardly associate with Cuban music. But these musicians had seen many ups and downs in their long careers, and something of the wisdom of the tribal elder is distilled in this song composed by the late Compay Segundo. Alas, many of the other stars of this band have now departed, but this record still makes for compelling listening long after the hype has faded.

November 03, 2008 · 0 comments


George Benson: Octane

This recording lacks synergy due to the fact that live and studio performances were merged to create it. There are imperfections, such as the intonation between guitar and bass. But Benson still plays like he has something to prove, and the inclusion of a Hubert Laws flute solo does not put out the fire despite the coolness of that instrument. Benson delivers the goods, and his performance will whet classicists' appetites for original, unaltered tapes that may never see the light of day. Even so, this recording stands as proof of Benson's instrumental prowess.

October 23, 2008 · 0 comments


George Benson: Take Five

Some tuning discrepancies exist here between guitar and bass, but it doesn't matter much, because the track is energetic and Benson's playing has obviously reached its peak. The flaws could be due to the track's genesis, as the original rhythm section was replaced in the studio by Will Lee and Steve Gadd in a last-ditch attempt by CTI to generate sales. Their presence ignited a spark that led to major chart success, and this pre-pop stardom cover version, recorded live at Carnegie Hall, is a clear indication of Benson's mass appeal and strengths as a top concert draw.

October 23, 2008 · 0 comments


George Benson: Sky Dive

Every set needs a burnout tune. At this 1975 Carnegie Hall concert, this was it. Benson takes Freddie Hubbard’s "Sky Dive" to the stratosphere!

He states the melody as though he wrote it himself, using both single notes and chords, and I’m amazed every time I hear the knuckle-busting fills he twists between the phrases of the melody in the second and third A sections. His solo is nothing but masterful. He uses all the tools available to him—single lines, double-stops, octaves, octaves with an added note (which would soon become one of his trademarks) and block chords—to the most dramatically powerful effect, and evokes an incredible feeling of excitement on his instrument. Near the end of the solo, he reaches spiritual heights, wailing repeatedly on bent notes, in effect crying out. He had played everything else. There was nothing left to do.

I don’t think there is another guitarist in jazz who has shown us how much emotional range and depth is accessible on the instrument. Because of the inherent characteristics of the classic jazz guitar sound (i.e., sans effects), at its best it’s a satisfyingly warm, mellow and beautiful listening experience. But when it’s time to burn or get down, often guitarists turn to effects to bolster themselves against the clean-toned guitar’s physical challenges. This tune is a perfect example of the soaring heights that Benson could reach without the use of effects, via his superior talent, singular vision, musicianship and style.

October 20, 2008 · 0 comments


Stan Kenton: Ennui

Kenton took his Innovations in Modern Music concert jazz orchestra on two tours throughout the U.S. Although there were sellout crowds at many of the venues it played, the tour lost a lot of money. Even so, it confirmed Kenton’s belief that audiences would pay to hear modernistic jazz-tinged orchestral music. Many composers were asked to contribute, including a young trombone player/leader who had studied with Lennie Tristano in his hometown of Chicago. William Russo would become a distinguished composer, teacher and writer. "Ennui," one of the earliest modal compositions for jazz orchestra (phrygian to be precise), was described by its composer as a study in a quiet and relaxed mood. Harry Betts is the soloist.

January 09, 2008 · 0 comments


Duke Ellington: Do Nothin' Till You Hear from Me

Duke Ellington was both artist and entrepreneur. The composer who premiered his 45-minute tone poem Black, Brown and Beige at Carnegie Hall in 1943 was, within a few weeks, performing "Hayfoot, Strawfoot" at the Hurricane Restaurant (49th & Broadway, Dinners $1.50) from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. Presently, Duke's "Concerto for Cootie" (1940) acquired lyrics to compete with what he called the "popular, sentimental ballads" then driving the music business. His Hurricane run concluded, Ellington returned to Carnegie Hall in late 1943 to memorialize his latest juxtaposition of art and commerce with a sweeping and sensitive performance.

December 04, 2007 · 0 comments


Tony Bennett: Sometimes I'm Happy

FLASH: Tony Bennett scats! True, it's scarcely four bars, but that's the least of what makes this track remarkable. Here's a Ring-a-Ding workhorse at Carnegie Hall just as his all-time biggest hit was breaking (something about forgetting his luggage at SFO). Yet instead of the expected oodles of strings, mountains of floral arrangements and molehills of musicality, Bennett joins a jazz sextet, trading fours with Kenny Burrell and giving solo space to the underappreciated Eddie Costa (whose rattling vibes break up the band if not the house). Tony Bennett is a gas. We sure hope he got his luggage back.

November 21, 2007 · 0 comments


João Gilberto: Bim Bom

While Jobim’s is the name most people associate with bossa nova, he himself attributed its creation to João Gilberto. Gilberto’s approach represents a clear break from the comparatively unsophisticated samba tradition. His style, which remains unique and instantly identifiable, is composed of his soft, smooth voice, with its signature lack of vibrato; his graceful rhythm guitar; and his impeccable time, which enables him to tinker with phrasing without sacrificing any swing. Essentially a one-man band, Gilberto’s singular artistry makes the bass and drums nearly superfluous on his playful little tune.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments


Duke Ellington: Black, Brown and Beige (live 1943)

Preserving Duke's Carnegie Hall debut (attended by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, no less), this 3-part, 45-minute masterwork is subtitled "A Tone Parallel to the History of the Negro in America." Only Ellington would dare such epic ambition, for only he could pull it off. With customary aplomb, Duke introduces each movement. Black, echoing familiar themes ("Just A Sittin' & A Rockin'," "Jump for Joy"), is highlighted by Nanton's plunger-muted trombone. Brown showcases Betty Roché's authoritative vocal. Beige provides a wide-ranging, uplifting conclusion. Audio is awful, but musically and historically this is an American cultural landmark. There's no tone parallel to Duke Ellington.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments


Jazz at the Philharmonic: Leap Here

Beginning with a concert at Los Angeles’ Philharmonic Hall in 1944, Norman Granz produced a long-running series of tours, both in the United States and abroad, that often consisted simply of crowd-pleasing all-star jam sessions. The personnel on this 1949 Carnegie Hall recording of Nat Cole’s “Leap Here,” with the exception of the long-forgotten trombonist Tommy Turk, is indeed the cream of the crop. It is especially interesting to hear altoist Sonny Criss follow his model, Charlie Parker, with both of them reiterating many of the phrases that Parker created years earlier.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments


Previous Page | Next Page