Roger Kellaway: Killer Joe

Dedicated to Oscar Peterson's 1950s drummerless trios, Roger Kellaway's 2006 CD Heroes also by implication pays homage to the King Cole Trio, which pioneered the piano/guitar/bass coterie in 1937. We should immediately reassure law-&-order types, however, that the title of Benny Golson's "Killer Joe," first vamped by The Jazztet in 1960 and covered to hit effect by Quincy Jones in 1969, is a misnomer. Counselor Golson's opening recitative on the original track identifies Killer Joe merely as a ne'er-do-well ladies' man and smalltime gambler. There's no evidence that Joe is a hardcore criminal. Even so, he's obviously not someone you'd want hanging around the local schoolyard. Unless, that is, he's escorted by parole officer Kellaway with two husky deputies on guitar and bass. In that case, even the kiddies will dig this arresting (ouch!) evidence, which proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that, after a 70-year stretch, Nat Cole's instrumentation still sounds as copasetic as the day it was arraigned.

February 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Freddie Redd: O.D.

The New York Times called Jack Gelber's off-Broadway play The Connection (1959) "a farrago of dirt, empty talk and extended runs of cool music." Dirt and empty talk aptly described a stage full of scruffy addicts awaiting their heroin dealer. The Times was wrong, though, about "cool music." Freddie Redd's score (no pun intended) was hard-core hard bop performed by onstage jazzmen. Sadly, Jackie McLean, his understudy Tina Brooks, and Dexter Gordon in the L.A. production were true-life junkies cast to type. Having once accompanied fictitious felons, crime jazz now supported real ones. If this be progress, progress be damned.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments

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Joshua Redman: Jazz Crimes

The exploration of swing within funk and funk within swing created by Redman’s Elastic Band is something to witness live. However, the rapport of this working band is just as apparent on record. The terrain of “Jazz Crimes,” with its serpentine melody, is split wide open for some of the most well-constructed improvisation heard in jazz today. Yahel is first to lay down some deep, bluesy phrases, and Redman takes that ball and runs with it. Blade is all groove and then some. For the total experience of development and interplay, this record is a must-have.

November 08, 2007 · 1 comment

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Ray Anthony: The Peter Gunn Theme

When Peter Gunn premiered on NBC-TV in 1958, it was a breath of smoky air. Suave leading man Craig Stevens breezed through the title role of a hip private eye with a sexy, jazz-singer girlfriend. Naturally this clicked with trumpeter Ray Anthony, who knew all about sexpots, having married Mamie Van Doren and costarred onscreen with Jayne Mansfield. Ray's quickie cover of "Peter Gunn" beat Henry Mancini's original to the punch. Oh, Hank gussied his up with French horns, but jazz criminologists weren't fooled. Ray's grittier Gunn had more pop. Maybe it came from hanging out with blonde bombshells. Gussied French horns were no match for Ray Anthony's gleaming trumpet.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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Elmer Bernstein: Frankie Machine

The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) was the squalid story of a junkie card dealer and wannabe drummer played by Frank Sinatra. Even non-moviegoers made the connection between narcotics and jazz, thanks to this hit single in which Elmer Bernstein's trumpets evoke an urban seediness as unforgiving as a junkie's need. Plus, how's this for spooky synchronicity? Golden Arm was released the same year as Charlie Parker's death, leading to the irony (if that's the right word) of clean-armed Sinatra being nominated for an Oscar, and tracks-aplenty Bird winding up on a slab at the morgue. Man, sometimes crime jazz is just plain criminal.

November 08, 2007 · 0 comments

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John Zorn: The James Bond Theme

Jazz, surf, rockabilly, jump blues, punk – all served up in one blistering take on this classic spy movie theme. Zorn's penchant for the musical equivalent of Burroughs' “jump cut” style is perfectly illustrated by this whirlwind tour of genres. As the introductory theme is laid out by Frisell's barely contained guitar, Zorn unleashes short squalls that are only a diversion: the main theme is actually well-behaved and swings like mad. Ah, but that diversion foreshadowed a free play section where the entire band does, well, whatever it wants...only to drop back perfectly into the head. An exhilarating display of both athletic thought and performance.

November 04, 2007 · 0 comments

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Benny Golson: Killer Joe (1960)

At the beginning of the 1960s, The Jazztet was one of the leading hard bop ensembles, due not only to its outstanding personnel, but also to the appealing compositions of tenorist and co-leader Benny Golson. Along with such Golson compositions as “Stablemates,” “I Remember Clifford,” “Along Came Betty,” and “Whisper Not,” the strutting “Killer Joe” has become a part of the standard jazz repertory. This first recorded performance of the tune is among the best of many.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Skip Martin: Riff Blues

Man, that Mickey Spillane. Talk about your hardboiled crime scribblers! Mickey turned trash to cash faster than the mug what invented landfill, and spent it, too. Never spotted in public without which a flashy dame was draped around each arm. "Riff Blues" gets it right, with brassy bluster and silky saxes followed by a romantic interlude of flute and tinkling piano to keep the girls interested, then a big swell with kettledrums to wake up the goodfellas, all done with the slow sway of a savvy stripper sashaying down the runway. Highbrows call this ambience. Lowbrows, knowing better, call the ambulance. Either way, it's made music.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Modern Jazz Quartet: No Happiness for Slater

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) was the best heist film since The Asphalt Jungle (1950). Singer Harry Belafonte plays a hip, blues-singing vibist who's also a compulsive gambler and aspiring bank robber. In other words, your typical modern jazzman. John Lewis's music is more pensive than pandemonium, as in this 16-bar blues tailored to Milt Jackson. It's telling that whenever Hollywood hacks ran the show, crime jazz was loud and blustery. When sophisticates such as Miles Davis, John Lewis and Gerry Mulligan called their own shots, crime jazz turned as calmly calculated and coolly effective as a heist with a clean getaway.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Buddy Morrow: Staccato's Theme

Staccato (1959-60), starring John Cassavetes, eliminated the middleman between jazz and TV gumshoes. Based in a Greenwich Village nitery, pianist Johnny Staccato, like so many real-life musicians, doubled as a streetwise private eye. Elmer Bernstein's theme, recalling his earlier crime jazz classic The Man with the Golden Arm, is déjà vu all over again. Same bunco-squad tempo, jailbird shuffle beat, stiletto-in-the- eardrum trumpets and oversexed saxes. Given Hollywood's passion for formulas, which exceeded Mme. Curie's, crime jazz became so self-referential that everything started blurring together. What are you watching, dear? Mickey Spillane's Wild One With the Staccato Golden Gunn. That's nice.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments

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Shelly Manne: Fallout

On his two albums of Peter Gunn music, Shelly Manne's streamlining was to Henry Mancini's hulking originals what California hot rods were to their Detroit assembly-line progenitors. Not merely an esthetic improvement, but reconstituted vehicles for individual expression. Manne doesn't just redo Mancini's material, he rethinks it. "Fallout" is a salient example. Victor Feldman's mallets were all over Mancini's music, but always on vibes. In those days the marimba was a rara avis, being spotted only on field trips to exotica. But Feldman's playing is striking (ouch), as he interlaces with Shelly's trademark melodic tom-toms for a crime jazz safari to Shangri-La.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Henry Mancini: Peter Gunn

For TV's hip private eye Peter Gunn (1958-1961), its producer demanded a “distinctive element to invest the series with something extra.” Enter the Klepto Kingpin of Crime Jazz, composer Henry Mancini. Just as Willie Sutton robbed banks because "that's where the money was," Mancini pilfered jazzmen such as Count Basie because he saw dollar $igns. For the show's theme, Mancini also filched Claude Thornhill's French horns and rock 'n' roller Duane Eddy's twangy guitar. In turn, Eddy himself had a hit cover of this tune, but for a truly smoking "Gunn," check out blues-rocker Roy Buchanan's six-string live-wire act.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Count Basie: The M Squad Theme


Count Basie, photo by Herb Snitzer

Pound for pound, the toughest 1950s TV cop was Lt. Frank Ballinger of Chicago PD's M Squad. No, the M didn't stand for Lee Marvin, who played Ballinger. M stood for murder. During its first season the show's theme was nondescript. Then the producers sprang for 2½ minutes of mayhem by Count Basie and his mob of heavies blasting away like the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, aided and abetted on the soundtrack by squealing tires and gunfire. Go ahead, listen if you have the guts. Just don't go runnin' your mouth when the coppers pump you. You never heard of me. Got it?

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments

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