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


Sonny Stitt: I Got Rhythm

The two albums that Sonny Stitt recorded in 1972 for respected producer Don Schlitten's Cobblestone label were among the finest of the 150 or so sessions that Stitt led during his prolific career. Coming off a very successful international tour with the Giants of Jazz, a group that included Dizzy, Monk and Art Blakey, Stitt was in top form. Add a highly compatible rhythm section and a no-gimmick concept, and you were almost assured of hearing Stitt at full throttle, rather than on autopilot as was too often the case when he entered the studio.

What makes this over 9-minute version of "I Got Rhythm," originally from the Tune Up! release, so memorable is that it showcases at length Stitt's equally formidable proficiency on both alto and tenor. Stitt commences on tenor in a bluesy loping fashion, sounding almost like a big band sax section all by himself, before going up tempo with a clarion call. His swift, fresh extended lines, rhythmically varied attack, and artful resolutions continue throughout this exhilarating, romping improvisation that defies all expectations, in that it jumps from peak to yet higher peak. You may find yourself sitting there shaking your head from side to side in disbelief, while tapping your foot uncontrollably. Harris, Jones and Dawson are in rousingly tight formation behind him all the way, and Harris delivers an inspired, eloquent bop proclamation of his own before Stitt returns on alto for a second, shorter solo. Again, Stitt's dexterity and imagination are in perfect sync, with nary a wasted note. Stitt moves back to tenor for the winding down, a testifying, soulful ending to a masterpiece.

October 23, 2008 · 0 comments


The Esquire All Stars: I Got Rhythm

The time was January 1944, and the first bebop band (led by Dizzy Gillespie) had just been hired on 52nd Street. Meanwhile the masters of the old school were assembled at the Metropolitan Opera House, blissfully ignorant of the cataclysmic changes that would transform the jazz world over the next several years.

But let's forget the coming revolution for a moment, and instead enjoy the world that was about to end. The greatest soloists of early 20th-century jazz are assembled on a single stage, and engage in some gentlemanly one-upmanship on the most familiar jam session chord changes of the day, courtesy of George Gershwin. Everybody has a chance to shine, but I especially like Eldridge (who seems inspired by his chance to go toe-to-toe with Louis Armstrong), the drumming of Sid Catlett, who energizes the whole proceedings, and the lead-off soloist on the track, the underappreciated Red Norvo. And what a delight hearing Art Tatum, pulled out of the solo and trio settings where he could run roughshod over his accompanists and forced to adjust to a roomful of talents—and egos—as large as his own. If I could bring back one rhythm section from the era for a command fantasy performance, it might very well be this Tatum-Catlett-Pettiford unit.

I am reminded here of the claims of ardent medievalists, who will tell you that the waning of the Middle Ages was a time in which many great things came to fruition, and that the Renaissance spoiled much of the beauty of what went before. You could make a similar case for this final flowering of Swing Era majesty, put on display at this historic concert. Soon these same players would be considered passé, but you would never guess it by listening to this performance, which represents a type of perfection that bop and free and all the other later styles can never dispel. They got rhythm.

May 24, 2008 · 1 comment


Art Tatum: I Got Rhythm

Jazzmen have recorded "I Got Rhythm" >600 times, and based so many of their own tunes on its chord progressions that "rhythm changes" are second in familiarity only to the blues. But for sheer virtuosity, this 1944 piano/guitar/bass trio recording stands out from the crowd. Showing off both his hyperkinetic right hand and stride-style left hand in alternating flashes of brilliance, Tatum also swings mightily—a quality sometimes left at the starting gate in his never-ending race to bedazzle us with technique. Given accompanists not in his league (who was?), Tatum turns "I Got Rhythm" into a frenetically ornamented set piece, demonstrating that jazz doesn't have to be spontaneous to be historic.

February 10, 2008 · 0 comments


Spirits of Rhythm: I Got Rhythm

While "I Got Rhythm" has merited >600 jazz recordings, even that understates the song's ubiquity. So many tunes have been based on its chord progressions that "rhythm changes" are rivaled only by the blues. In any case, the Spirits of Rhythm were qualified in more than name only to assert "I Got Rhythm." With their tippling tiples (oversize ukuleles), scuttling scatting and rousing rascality, the Spirits gave voice to America's Depression-era resilience, which banished Old Man Trouble from 'round their doors on the very reasonable grounds that "I got my gal. Who could ask for anything more?" Who indeed.

December 03, 2007 · 1 comment


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