Count Basie: April in Paris

It’s almost May in Paris by the time the song concludes. Basie leads his band through two fake endings until finally bringing the song to its boisterous conclusion. Organist “Wild Bill” Davis contributed the arrangement, but never made it to the recording session. But the organ is not missed and the band swings with authority. Basie hit the pop charts with this now-famous performance, and kept the song in his repertoire for the rest of his career.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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Dave Brubeck: Take Five

Columbia Records balked when Brubeck proposed an entire album in odd time signatures. Even Paul Desmond considered it "a dubious idea," but complied with Dave's request to write something in 5/4. Dave unified the two fragments Paul brought in and, keeping it simple, made the experiment fun. Assisted by Guinness (the beer, not the World Records), we determined that Dave plays a steady 2-chord vamp 162 times, even behind Joe Morello's unfettered drum solo. Released as an abbreviated single in 1961, "Take Five" became the first million-selling modern jazz hit, a landmark at the intersection between jazz and pop culture.

October 25, 2007 · 1 comment

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Mongo Santamaria: Watermelon Man

“Watermelon Man” was an enormously successful hit for both Mongo Santamaria and its composer, Herbie Hancock. The trumpet player, Marty Sheller, plays the only solo in a song that features a groove-oriented melody in an arrangement favoring more Latin percussion than the Hancock original. This song anticipated the bugalu movement in Latin jazz that would take hold later in the 1960s. Bugalu (or boogaloo) incorporated elements of Cuban and Puerto Rican music, as well as American soul and R&B.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Ahmad Jamal: Poinciana (1958)

Written by Nat Simon and Buddy Bernier, “Poinciana” ranks among the loveliest upbeat numbers in the jazz canon. Pianist Ahmad Jamal popularized it, and it is perfect for Jamal’s spare, pensive style. It appears midway through the first disc of the two-CD set “Cross Country Tour,” but it actually closed his first set at the Pershing Lounge in Chicago and surely sent the crowd floating out of the room. All three musicians give the tune plenty of bounce and plenty of space. Vernel Fournier barely taps the drums, and Israel Crosby skips down the neck of the bass like a child running home from school. Jamal, for his part, gently massages the keys, drawing prettiness out. Just when you think he’s going to conclude a thought, he doesn’t, and his reticence makes it all the lovelier.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Cal Tjader: Soul Sauce (Guachi Guaro)

Quite possibly the most famous non-Latino Latin jazz musician, vibraphonist Cal Tjader recorded a very popular remake of Dizzy Gillespie’s and Chano Pozo’s “Guarachi Guaro” (or "Guachi Guaro" as Tjader calls it). Tjader’s band featured a style of Latin jazz that was more subdued than some of his contemporaries, although on this track the stellar cast of musicians—including percussionists Johnny Rae, Armando Peraza and Willie Bobo—pay homage to the song’s composers with a very lively performance. Lonnie Hewitt’s piano vamp may remind listeners of a similar one featured in Tito Puente’s song, “Oye Como Va.” Tjader’s virtuosity is at the forefront of this track—another great, groove-oriented bugalu of the early 1960s.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Grover Washington, Jr.: Just the Two of Us

You’ve undoubtedly heard this intimate boudoir ballad a trillion times on your local soft-rock station, but the single version edits out most of Washington’s performance. A shame, because during the instrumental break he turns in a muscular extended solo that sends the song in an unexpected direction before returning it to the original melody. Washington is heard again at the end, but overall this isn’t one of his more dominant performances.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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Lee Morgan: The Sidewinder

Having been a member of both Art Blakey’s and Dizzy Gillespie’s bands at age 18, the prodigious trumpeter Lee Morgan, at first a disciple of Clifford Brown, was well into the development of a personal style at his untimely death at age 33. The Sidewinder is one of numerous recordings he made under his own name in the mid-1960s. Its hip-shaking title selection, with its funky bassline, strong backbeat, and Latinesque accents underpinning an earthy blues line, became a major hit and helped usher in the soul jazz/ boogaloo style.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments

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