Lee Morgan: The Sidewinder

Morgan spent the majority of 1962 and 1963 in Philadelphia in the clutches of a heroin habit he picked up while in the Jazz Messengers. After a brief (and not totally successful) stint in rehab, he returned to Van Gelder Studio on December 21, 1963 to record The Sidewinder. A surprise hit, it peaked at number 25 on the Pop LP charts in early 1965 and snuck into the R&B Top 10, becoming Blue Note’s greatest commercial success.

The rhythm section’s bouncy groove on “The Sidewinder” is so irresistible and the melody so catchy it’s possible to neglect what is one of Morgan’s most impressive recorded solos. It’s meticulously constructed with logic and clarity, and Morgan displays a modesty that he often lacked in his ostentatious youth. His phrasing is especially noteworthy; the spaces he leaves between his concise ideas serve as timely punctuations that enhance the efficacy of each statement, creating three bluesy choruses that breathe and build organically. It’s also Morgan at his coolest and funkiest, grooving like none other.

The unexpected success of “The Sidewinder” left Blue Note determined to produce another hit single. Dozens of mid-1960s LPs kicked off with bluesy R&B-tinged tracks in an effort to place the label back on the charts. Though most of these tracks were solid, none would ever duplicate the success of Morgan’s original.

July 09, 2009 · 0 comments


Herbie Hancock: Rockit

It might be safe to say that pianist Herbie Hancock has the most open ears of any jazz musician. He has reinvented himself stylistically many times throughout his career. In 1983, with its skeleton-inspired video, "Rockit" took off from left field and ended up becoming one of the biggest songs of the 1980s. Featured beside Hancock's catchy synthesizer melody is the scratch work by Grand Mixer DST. This marked one of the first times a popular song had utilized DJ scratching, and the song still screams 1980s when you hear it today.

August 07, 2008 · 0 comments


Ray Bryant: Little Susie

Ray Bryant's "Little Susie" spent 6 weeks among the Cash Box Top 100 singles in 1960. No kin to "Wake Up Little Susie," a #1 hit by the Everly Brothers in 1957, "Little Susie" peaked at #81, far behind 1960's #1 hit "The Theme From A Summer Place" by Percy Faith & Orchestra. Yet even this relatively modest success was remarkable for a jazz piano trio. The tune, dedicated to Bryant's young daughter, had been recorded twice previously by Ray and his bassist brother Tommy under the leadership of ex-Count Basie drummer Jo Jones, once for the Vanguard label and again for Everest, neither of which made a splash. Still, Bryant's simple medium-tempo 12-bar blues was catchy, and in the fall of 1959 the brothers Bryant covered it twice again, with a different drummer each time, first for entertainer Steve Allen's Signature label and three weeks later for major label Columbia. Moreover, as if four "Little Susies" recorded within two years were not enough, Signature released a 45-rpm single with "Little Susie (Part 2)" as its A side and a slightly shorter alternate take, "Little Susie (Part 4)," on its flip side, sans explanation of missing Parts 1 and 3. Then, to further glut the marketplace, Columbia released its own single to compete with Signature's, which by then was gaining traction. When "Little Susie" charted the following spring, Cash Box (clueless as to which version was selling more) threw up its hands and credited both Signature and Columbia.

Like Signature's "Little Susie (Part 2)," Columbia's "Little Susie" was distinguished from "Little Susie (Part 4)" by in-studio handclaps added on beats 2 and 4 for part of the take. Columbia's audio is better, as expected; but the performance seems a tad calculated compared to Signature's livelier version. For this 2007 EU import CD, which includes both Signature takes, "Little Susie (Part 2)" appears as "Little Susie (2)" and "Little Susie (Part 4)" as "Little Susie (1)." (Confused yet? Welcome to the club.)

Bryant's 2-handed funk may remind listeners of Vince Guaraldi's "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" (1962), and the clapping, while contrived, foreshadows such festive piano-trio party favorites as Ramsey Lewis's "The 'In' Crowd" and "Hang on Sloopy" (both 1965). But "Little Susie" has its own identity and, as one of the few jazz hit singles of its day, a place in history.

July 13, 2008 · 0 comments


Ramsey Lewis: The 'In' Crowd – as heard in Woody Allen's <i>Mighty&nbsp;Aphrodite</i> (1995)

The mid-'60s pop avalanche split jazz in half. One side slid OUT, exploring the crowd-abatement effects of what author Stanley Crouch calls “one-dimensional screeching and honking.” Another side followed the IN crowd, scavenging the pop charts for fresh roadkill. Recorded live before an IN-thusiastic crowd, Ramsey Lewis's cover of “The ‘In’ Crowd” unexpectedly outdid Dobie Gray’s original, becoming one of 1965's top hits. Lewis, whose first gig was backing the choir at Chicago's Zion Hill Baptist Church, adds hard swinging to gospel roots, and shows remarkable dynamic range. Sure he played to the crowd, but they loved it. We still do.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments


Norah Jones: Don't Know Why

This lovely ballad, composed by Jones' guitarist, helped catapult the vocalist's Blue Note debut to the stratosphere. "Don't Know Why" won the Grammy for Record of the Year (one of five Grammies awarded to Jones that year), and was a major reason for the twenty million copies sold of this landmark CD. Everything clicks here - the wistful melody, Jones' impeccable phrasing, the understated accompaniment. This unexpected success for such a nuanced performance restores our much shaken (and sometimes stirred) faith in the taste of the mass market.

November 16, 2007 · 1 comment


Moe Koffman: The Swingin' Shepherd Blues

As Canadian flutist Moe Koffman's 2-minute "Swingin' Shepherd Blues" swung for three months on the U.S. pop charts, he and his swingin' shepherds flocked their hit on TV robed as Franciscan friars, cowls and all. Although the connection between flutes, shepherds and Franciscans was never explained, Moe's follow-up "Little Pixie" sold well enough to make him a 1˝-hit wonder. As for why "Swingin' Shepherd Blues" became the token totem of late '50s jazz, it was probably the reverb. This track appears to have been recorded deep in the echoic catacombs of Carlsbad Caverns. Maybe the cowls were protection against bats.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments


Hugh Masekela: Grazing in the Grass

In 1961, Hugh Masekela fled his native South Africa's apartheid to graze in America's greener grass. By the summer of 1968, he was leading the hit parade. Is this a great country or what? Replete with 4-alarm cowbell, "Grazing in the Grass" pastured 13 weeks among the Top 100, chewing its way to #1. Contentedly masticating an endlessly regurgitated 2-chord vamp, "Grazing" made the perfect party music for urban cliff-dwellers who wouldn't know a cow pie from a Big Mac. As approving teenagers liked to tell Dick Clark on American Bandstand, "It's got a good beat and you can dance to it."

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments


Stan Getz: Desafinado

“Desafinado” first appeared on the 1962 Jazz Samba album that launched the bossa nova craze and stayed on the charts for 70 weeks. The song was created to mock the off-key singers in Rio (“Desafinado” means “out of tune”), but its famous blue note made it jazz. Like the album, the single became a massive hit, and brought Stan Getz a Grammy for Best Jazz Performance. Getz swings hard over Charlie Byrd’s insistent rhythm, while maintaining a sexy tropical feel. Always elegant and fresh, this remains the definitive version of the tune.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments


Cannonball Adderley: Mercy, Mercy, Mercy

During a 1964 Playboy panel discussion, Cannonball Adderley contemplated jazz's economic predicament. "There is an audience out there now, a sizable audience. But you have to play for it." As good as his word, Cannonball never failed to reach an audience with his urbane but populist funk. His biggest hit, recorded boisterously live in 1966, was "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," a deep-dish, down-home gospel tune surprisingly written by Adderley's white pianist. "When Joe plays on a record," said Cannonball, "I defy a layman to determine his race." When Cannonball plays on a record, we defy anyone to resist his grace.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments


Artie Shaw: Begin the Beguine

"I hate the music business," groused Artie Shaw. "I’m not interested in giving the public what they want." This from a man with eight million-selling singles in the 1930s and '40s. His first such hit, "Begin the Beguine," left him rich, famous and utterly disgusted with the "morons" who insisted he play it at every appearance. Count us among the morons. Cole Porter's song is enchanting. Jerry Gray's arrangement is beguiling. The band's execution is immaculate. Shaw's clarinet is unashamedly romantic. So what's to hate? Jazz's greatest ingrate preferred every cloud to its silver lining. Some guys just can't say thanks.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments


Ramsey Lewis: Hang on Sloopy

Recorded live at The Lighthouse in full nightclub party mode, Ramsey Lewis’s cover of “Hang On Sloopy” faced an uphill battle. The McCoys’ original had been four months on the charts, including a week at #1, and was still hanging on. Moreover, Lewis’s preceding cover, “The In Crowd,” was also charting. No way "Sloopy" could dislodge the real McCoys and Ramsey himself. Right? Wrong. “Sloopy” quickly overtook both competitors and spent two months in the Top 100. Sure it was formulaic. But here were actual people actually listening to jazz, and damned if they weren’t actually having actual fun! A revolutionary concept.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments


Peggy Lee: Fever

Peggy Lee not only swings you into bad health, she gives you "Fever" to boot. For her signature 1958 hit, Peggy slyly transposed the mood of R&B singer Little Willie John's 1956 original from aggressively raw to suggestively smooth. In contrast to Little Willie's lesson in primal lewdness, Lee leads a postgraduate seminar in hip seduction. The entitlement of Willie's "I know you're gonna treat me right" becomes Peggy's inviting "You know I'm gonna treat you right." With Shelly Manne's clairvoyant support, Miss Peggy Lee raises room temperature and makes sophistication sizzle.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments


Stan Getz: The Girl from Ipanema

The bouncy “Girl from Ipanema” is Jobim’s most universally recognized composition; one of the most recorded tunes of all time, it’s also been Muzaked deeply into the public mind. The vinyl debut of “Ipanema” features vocals by both Joao Gilberto and his then-wife, Astrud; Joao’s two-minute part was edited out of the hit single, while Astrud’s girlish, amateur vocal catapulted her into a career. This version sounds less dated than the one Jobim would soon record with strings (on his first album as leader), but too many bad performances have dulled the original sheen of this tune.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments


Vince Guaraldi: Cast Your Fate to the Wind

Pop Quiz: when issued as a 45-rpm single in late 1962, "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" was side B. What was side A? Proving record companies don't know good from gold, "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" finished among the bestselling singles of 1963, carried its album release to similar success, and won a Grammy as Best Original Jazz Composition. Alternating pedal point and Latin beat before breaking into 4/4 jazz, combining a funky left hand with Floyd Cramer-style right hand, Vince shows the virtuous simplicity of less is more. And, oh yes, "Samba de Orpheus" was side A.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments


Eddie Harris: Exodus

3400 years after Moses led the Israelites out of bondage, Leon Uris's novel Exodus (1958), about modern Israel's founding, became a runaway bestseller and basis for a Hollywood epic. The movie in turn opened a promised land to the lowliest slaves—namely, musicians. Dual pianists Ferrante & Teicher's overwrought theme cover was 1961's top-selling single, and Ernest Gold's soundtrack tied for bestselling album. Even jazzman Eddie Harris scored a Top 50 single and Top 10 album. Recalling Stan Getz circa 1950 except for a freakish falsetto (clarinet-like upper register), Harris's effete, straggling "Exodus" makes one wish the Red Sea of opportunism had closed sooner.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments


Previous Page | Next Page