Bud Shank: Over the Rainbow

The doctors told him no driving, no flying. Even on ground, he required a wheelchair to get around. Yet Bud Shank continued to play and perform at a high level, and had lost none of his passion, his humor, his frankness, whether playing the horn or in his other dealings with the world around him. When I had lunch with him a few months before his death, Shank told me how much he still enjoyed playing the old songs, and talked about the inspiration he could find in the same standards he had worked over for decades. Then he went on to recount his touring schedule, a world-crossing itinerary encompassing Japan, Europe and many parts between. So much for doctor's orders.

Here, in a recording made shortly before his death at age 82 on April 2, 2009, Shank delivers another interpretation of a song almost as old as the altoist himself, and plays it with even more raw intensity than he would have as a young man. As pianist Bill Mays, who also plays at a high level here, has commented: "Bud was always willing to let the music go where it wants and set minimum controls on the players." The process by which Shank moved from the cool to the hot is a fascinating one, and could make a subject for a treatise, but here is the end result: a wondrous in-the-moment approach to the music that sounds more like a clarion call to action than the final musings of a jazz elder statesman. Shank will be missed, but other players will also perforce envy an artist who could go out playing at this level.

September 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ann Hampton Callaway: Come Rain Or Come Shine

Unlike many vocal albums, Ann Hampton Callaway's Easy Living was recorded live in the studio, with Callaway and the instrumentalists all performing together in the same room, rather than laying down individual tracks in isolation booths. The result is one of Callaway's finest recordings, with superb performances from all parties. She approaches "Come Rain Or Come Shine" as a song of seduction, but rather than taking it in a slow torch tempo, she finds an absolutely perfect medium tempo that maintains a light rhythmic feel against the intense lyric. She purrs through the melody at an intimate volume, raising the level only to emphasize particular words. Urged on by the alto saxophone of Nelson Rangell, she raises the intensity bit by bit so that Rangell's solo becomes a natural outgrowth of the theme statement. Rangell is best known for his smooth jazz recordings, and his vibrato seems out of place in this straight-ahead context, but his melodic ideas work just fine in the setting. Benny Green provides a funky piano solo before Callaway returns for a full-voiced and soulful melodic variation, and she and Rangell wail together before the sudden coda.

September 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ray Charles: Come Rain Or Come Shine

The Genius Of Ray Charles is an essential album and an important cornerstone in Charles’ career. The last album he made for Atlantic, Genius features Charles with a combination of the Count Basie band and his own small group on the first side, and a string-heavy orchestra on the second side. “Come Rain Or Come Shine” is the closing track on the second side and it, along with its session-mates, shows the direction that Charles would take when he recorded his albums of country/western songs for ABC-Paramount. Ralph Burns provides a background that seems deliberately square, with a very white chorus included with the strings. Just as Louis Armstrong had proved with his big bands in the early 30s, black music innovations stand out in bold relief against an extremely white background. I can only assume that Bob Brookmeyer’s presence was to add to the jazz quotient, but despite his fine playing, he’s not really needed: Brother Ray adds all of that himself. What makes “Come Rain Or Come Shine” stand out from the rest of the tracks is Ray’s impassioned delivery of the song. His style, so completely integrated that it’s difficult to isolate individual components, totally envelopes the song and even though he makes several changes to the melody, it sounds as if his version is the way the song was originally written. As has been said many times, when referring to Ray Charles, the word “genius” was not a superlative, but merely accurate.

May 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers: Come Rain Or Come Shine

I’m not sure who wrote this groovy little arrangement of “Come Rain Or Come Shine” (and while musical director Benny Golson is the most likely arranger, it could have been anyone in the band), but alongside “It’s You Or No One”, this is one of the best versions of a standard ever recorded by the Messengers. The band was in top form on this day and everyone sounds inspired and in a deep groove. The arrangement skips along happily in a medium tempo, but still maintains a slight touch of the song’s intensity without bringing down the mood. Bobby Timmons’ piano solo is almost entirely composed of block chords, and then Golson devours the changes as if they were a turkey dinner. Morgan’s solo shows his Clifford Brown roots, but played with a fiery tone as only Morgan could do it. Merritt’s bass solo is melodic and well-constructed with a downward motive used as a recurring idea. The horns return for a full chorus of melody and at the coda, the final phrase of the melody is repeated and then taken up a third as an acknowledgement of the song’s dramatic nature.

May 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Woody Herman: Come Rain Or Come Shine

If I had to pick a favorite version of “Come Rain Or Come Shine”, it would be the Woody Herman version. Despite the 1970s trademark of electric piano and electric bass, it is a recording that sends chills up my spine every time I hear it. When I think of the song, it is always this version that comes to mind.

It begins innocently enough, sounding like an adaptation of Neal Hefti’s “Li’l Darlin’”. It seems content enough to just focus on the lovely shifting harmonies and to be a cushion for solos by Woody on alto sax and Dennis Dotson on flugelhorn. Yet near the end of the first chorus, we get our first taste of a restlessness growing below. There’s a big crescendo to the days may be cloudy or sunny line with the trumpets going up an octave on we’re in or we’re out of the money. But then Dotson appears and things calm down again. The tempo moves into a light double-time with minimal support from the horns. The block chords and shifting harmonies return with Dotson taking the lead.

Then suddenly, with the crack of a rimshot, the band comes together for a powerful statement of the final 8 bars, as if it were time to stop holding back and show their true feelings. But there’s still a bigger ending to come: a brief saxophone and flugelhorn figure temporarily brings the intensity down for a few seconds, but everything builds up again, climaxing with an impassioned figure based on the song’s main motive. The figure is taken up an octave by the trumpets, and then everything starts to dissipate, as if the sudden display of emotion was too much. Marin Alsop’s jazz string ensemble String Fever has an excellent version of this arrangement in their book, but Woody Herman’s original is an undisputed classic.

May 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bill Evans: Come Rain Or Come Shine

In many ways, Bill Evans’ version of “Come Rain Or Come Shine” is about abstraction and dissonance. The dissonances show up in the very first chords Evans plays, a set of tightly-voiced chords with minor seconds (the smallest interval on the keyboard) fighting each other all the way. The abstraction starts there too, as Evans plays a very fragmented and sometimes unrecognizable interpretation of the Arlen melody. Indeed, the first chorus is as much improvised as written, with Evans stretching the harmony further and further out, and only implying the melody as the chorus continues. In the second chorus, Evans starts out with single lines and then a minor second shows up at the end of a line. Whether or not it was a fingering mistake, it seems to have a life of its own, and Evans stabs away at it as if he were trying to exorcise a demon. He returns to the abstract single lines until the middle of the second chorus, when he returns to the melody. This time, the melody is clearer and a minor second that turns up is let to pass without incident. However, on the final chord, Evans fills with a tag comprised of minor seconds, effectively giving them the last word.

May 17, 2009 · 2 comments

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Billie Holiday: Come Rain Or Come Shine

I wonder if Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer were thinking of Billie Holiday when they wrote “Come Rain Or Come Shine”. It is a perfect fit for both her voice and her personality. In this recording, Billie’s voice is in very good shape and she seems very comfortable with the song. The sound of her voice provides all of the intensity the song needs, and there are no theatrics or mannerisms in the way. The tempo is relaxed and utterly perfect, Harry Edison and Benny Carter provide discreet obbligatos along the way, and Billie makes the song her own without making great changes to the melody. In fact, Billie repeats one of her melodic variations and it still works because she makes it sound like a natural outgrowth of the melody. Whatever Arlen and Mercer’s original inspiration, they could have hardly asked for a better interpreter of their song than Billie Holiday.

May 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Sonny Clark: Come Rain Or Come Shine

“Come Rain Or Come Shine” is usually played in ballad tempo, but it is not an ordinary ballad. Because of the intensity of the lyric, it demands that intensity, even when performed as an instrumental. Here, an extraordinary group of jazz all-stars plays the song in standard ballad fashion and they fail to extract the emotion that the song contains. Curtis Fuller’s opening trombone chorus is loving and tender, but Clark’s solo is self-consciously funky and fails to hold interest. John Coltrane is up next, and even such a master of intensity can’t bring this performance to life. Donald Byrd also brings intensity, but as with Coltrane, it seems that he cannot get away from the melody, but also can’t make the melody work for him. It’s hard to say how this performance could have been improved, but the ultra-slow tempo doesn’t help, and perhaps a double-time chorus for Coltrane might have provided the necessary sparks. At any rate, it is a disappointing conclusion to an otherwise exemplary album.

May 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Joe Williams with Count Basie and His Orchestra: Come Rain Or Come Shine

The Greatest!! was the second album by Joe Williams with the Count Basie Orchestra. It was designed to show that Williams was more than just Basie’s new blues shouter, and that he was a superb interpreter of ballads and standards. Williams’ mastery at ballads grew more sophisticated in his later years, but on this version of “Come Rain Or Come Shine”, his simple and straightforward approach hews to Harold Arlen’s original tempo marking of “slowly and very tenderly”. What is not tender is Buddy Bregman’s arrangement, which leans too heavily on sudden blasts from the brass. Perhaps Bregman was attempting to create a contrast with Williams’ earnest delivery, but the idea just doesn’t work. Instead, the mood created by Williams is disrupted by the band. Still, Williams makes the best of it all with a very fine vocal performance.

May 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown: Come Rain Or Come Shine

Recorded right before he left Paris with the Lionel Hampton band, this impromptu session was a rare opportunity for Clifford Brown to perform in a quartet setting. This relaxed version of “Come Rain Or Come Shine” was made near the end of the session, and the trumpeter, who was the only soloist throughout the session, was showing signs of lip fatigue. Yet the ideas were flowing as fast as ever, and Clifford created an amazing collection of beautiful lines on this take. (This is the longer second take, designed for 10” LPs rather than for 78 singles.) He starts his solo with a handful of short phrases before launching into a long run that takes him through the middle and upper registers of the horn. Next, he combines the two approaches with a long run based on a repeated short idea. He continues to use this concept throughout the recording and although the actual motives change as the solo progresses, the concept unifies the entire solo. And all this from a 22-year old musician! In the 32 months that remained in his career, Clifford Brown’s tone would become richer, his ideas even more creative and his endurance legendary. Still the promise of Clifford’s future greatness appears in this casual recording session.

May 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Art Tatum: Come Rain Or Come Shine

“Come Rain Or Come Shine” was not a regular part of Art Tatum’s considerable repertoire. There were only 3 private recordings of it prior to this studio version, and even though this would be his last recording of the song, Tatum seems uncharacteristically unsure of himself through most of the performance. There are wrong notes here and there, and Tatum’s trademark runs seem to appear as filler instead of confident musical commentary. Tatum’s harmonic vocabulary was very deep and dissonant by this point in his career, and what starts as occasional hints of that tonal richness in the first two choruses comes to the fore in Tatum’s final chorus. Here, he seems to feel like himself at last, and he takes control of the song, making dramatic changes to the harmony and forcefully stating the melody. Perhaps producer Norman Granz should have sensed the shift from hesitancy to confidence, and asked for a second take. However, the discographies show that this was the 20th song recorded on a one-day 35-song session(!) and Granz’ apparent desire for quantity rather than quality seemed to override the obvious need for a second take.

May 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Wes Montgomery: Come Rain Or Come Shine

Full House was Wes Montgomery’s first live album, and the album title refers both to the overflow crowd at the Berkeley coffee house, Tsubo’s, but also, in a figurative manner, to the all-star lineup of the quintet. The rhythm section had been the core of Miles Davis’ quintet since 1959 and had just started performing on their own, and Johnny Griffin had a stellar reputation as one of the finest soul tenor saxophonists on the scene. While Griffin and Wynton Kelly both play superb solos on this medium-up version of “Come Rain Or Come Shine”, it is Montgomery who provides the highlights. Montgomery plays both melody statements without Griffin, and takes the central solo, so the arrangement is set up as a guitar feature, but it is when Montgomery moves into parallel octaves at the end of his second solo chorus that he grabs the spotlight. He creates powerful lines and effectively repeats them for emphasis. Moreover, he plays closer to the top of the beat, driving the rhythm section by example. The excitement leaps through the speakers, and it’s if you’re right there in the audience. This was the second take attempted on that night and although producer Orrin Keepnews claims that it was a close call between the takes, the first version is slower, less inspired, and no match for this one.

May 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Oscar Peterson: Come Rain Or Come Shine

“Thoughtful” and “sensitive” are not adjectives usually used to describe the playing of the late Oscar Peterson, yet the pianist was very well-spoken, and although he could play in just about any mode he wanted, he obviously preferred an exuberant and flashy style. His playing took on an intimate quality when he performed solo, and this performance of “Come Rain Or Come Shine” is solo for much of its duration. Here, Peterson tamps down the Tatum influence and creates a beautiful re-harmonization of the Arlen standard. He rarely leaves the melody, even when Herb Ellis and Ray Brown enter in the second chorus. Indeed, the biggest surprise is when Ellis and Brown suddenly drop out in the 5th bar of the second 8. Peterson finishes the phrase with a flourish and then brings the supporting players back in. The Peterson trio was praised for its members’ wonderful ability to listen to each other, and there’s a wonderful example on this recording: After the guitar and bass return, Ellis improvises a 2-note response at the end of the first phrase. Peterson immediately picks it up and adapts it to fit the chord structure. At the end of the chorus, Peterson returns to solo piano and closes the performance with an extended coda.

May 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Frank Sinatra: Come Rain Or Come Shine

Frank Sinatra always seemed to have one foot planted in jazz and the other in pop, and there are few better examples of his straddling of genres than this classic rendition of “Come Rain Or Come Shine”. The recording starts with a string introduction which sounds fairly standard on first listening, but on re-examination, reveals considerable dips into the blues. Then Harry Edison comes in and we’re firmly in jazz territory. Sinatra’s first 8 bars are in free tempo with Edison on obbligato. Sinatra stays close to the melody here, and interprets solely with his phrasing of the words I’m gonna love you…like nobody’s loved you…come rain or come shine, but when the tempo starts in the next 8, Edison drops out and Sinatra eases into melodic variations over the orchestral background. By the next 8, Sinatra makes several changes to the melody, and adds a few incidental words: We’ll be happy together; Won’t that be just fine. Instinctively, Sinatra moves into the jazz mode when he doesn’t have a jazz musician playing behind him and veers away from it when there is one there. Don Costa’s arrangement compliments the singer’s balancing act perfectly. As Sinatra closes the first chorus, the orchestration swells and the strings play a riff that comes straight out of the vocabulary of electric blues guitar. Costa places this riff against the big band’s statement of the melody and the emotional effect is only heightened by Sinatra’s return. He is in top form, with an intense delivery of the lyric and a swaggering performance of the melody. He hits the last word as with a whiplash, and although I don’t think he hit what he aimed for, the slight imperfection speaks to the vulnerability that also lies within the lyrics of the song.

May 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Tierney Sutton: It's Only a Paper Moon

Jazz singers are supposed to put their own stamp on the old songs, but too often these days the song controls the singer. The task of interpreting a standard such as "My Funny Valentine" or "Body and Soul" is approached by many new-millennium vocalists as an act of veneration, one more tribute in a jazz scene that is dominated by tributes.

In this context, Tierney Sutton's achievement here is all the more impressive. "It's Only a Paper Moon," a hit for Paul Whiteman back in 1933, is hard to modernize, with its nursery rhyme melody anchored by chord tones, its old-fashioned two-beat feel and Prohibition-era harmonic movement. Sutton doesn't just update it, she completely re-creates the song from the ground up, with admirable help from her band, yet she maintains absolute fidelity to the emotional temperature of the lyrics. The arrangement is smartly crafted—you know something special is happening from the outset, with the interplay between the crickets-in-the-meadow drum part and the floating piano lines. But Sutton is the star, and impresses with her spot-on intonation and honeyed delivery. She takes the performance through several distinct moods, each one well conceived and artfully executed.

This is a standout track on a CD that will certainly rank among 2009's finest jazz vocal releases. No cardboard seas here; this is the real thing.

February 24, 2009 · 0 comments

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