Sonny Rollins: I'm an Old Cowhand

William Claxton, who took the cover photo of Sonny Rollins in cowboy attire in a desert setting, confirms that Mel Brooks got the inspiration for his film Blazing Saddles from this striking image. But this is only one of the many peculiarities of this recording. After all, who expects Sonny Rollins to cover a Roy Rogers song? But a more welcome innovation is the absence of piano on this track. Rollins would emerge as the master of the sax trio—just bass and drums, and no chords to clog up the middle. And it all started on this legendary session. Solidly swinging tenor with a dollop of good humor.

November 24, 2007 · 0 comments


Paul Marshall: Cowboy Jazz

If your idea of cowboy jazz is Sonny Rollins's "I’m an Old Cowhand" or Stan Kenton's "Take Me Back to My Boots and Saddle," ponder agin, pardner. According to country singer Paul Marshall, cowboy jazz is yippee ki-yay giddyup sons of pioneers tumbling tumbleweeds cool water home on the range and don't fence me in. It's a campfire glowing under a silvery moon, harmonica bleating, coyotes yowling and prairie dogs yodeling in 5-part harmony. In other words, it's Wyoming, our least populated state, with half a million people scattered across 100,000 square miles. On second thought, we'll stick with Sonny.

November 24, 2007 · 1 comment


The Great Guitars: On the Trail

"Basically just a big hole in the ground," scoffs our friend who's never seen it. Well, yeah, but as big holes go, Arizona's Grand Canyon is a mother. Anyone blessed to have witnessed it will appreciate composer Ferde Grofé's awed response, which inspired his Grand Canyon Suite (1931). "On the Trail," best known of five movements, is here traversed by the Great Guitars. Aroused before dawn, the group rustles up grub, breaks camp and by sunrise hits the trail. Herb solos first, next Charlie, then Mundell—just three American coots finding new wonders in familiar terrain. What could be grander?

November 19, 2007 · 1 comment


George Russell: Concerto for Billy the Kid

Every important theorist needs a worthy practitioner. The collaboration between composer George Russell and pianist Bill Evans began in 1955, and soon struck pay dirt with Russell’s “frame to match the vigor and vitality” in Evans’s playing. "Vigor and vitality" may puzzle those who know Evans only by his later, introspective work, but “Concerto for Billy the Kid” more than justifies Russell's adjectives. The band is stellar and Art Farmer's solo is characteristically fine. But Russell's advanced modal writing focuses on Evans, who flawlessly executes a difficult passage in octaves and then delivers a long, muscular single-note solo. Dazzling stuff.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments


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