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


Charlie Barnet: Over the Rainbow

Norman 'Tiny' Kahn was a prodigy who was self-taught on piano, drums and vibraharp. He became a mainstay of 1940s modern jazz as a drummer and composer, and it is Johnny Mandel's opinion that Kahn would have become an important composer had he lived. But Kahn had a weight problem and passed away of a heart attack at too early an age. He left several Basie-inspired original pieces for the Elliot Lawrence Orchestra, and this gem for Charlie Barnet's short-lived bebop band. Even Barnet wrote that this arrangement was one of the best items in the book at the time.

While this version of "Over the Rainbow" was clearly written to be danced to back in 1949, it offers a valuable musical experience for the listener. After an introduction of two muted trumpets playing moving lines against each other and an unusual cadence by the full band, the trumpet soloist (I believe this to be Wetzel, although it could be just about anybody in the section) plays the melody against a contrapuntally based reharmonization of the song. Barnet's soprano lead introduces a six-man reed statement of the melody, and he continues while the remainder of the section plays pyramid-type figures under him. Full brass takes over (Dick Kenney has a lovely solo here), and there is a short transition to a key change. At 2:07, there is a cut of eight bars; the original score continued with the bridge in the new key, which included a written baritone sax solo. The recording picks up with another key change, a statement of the last part of the song, and a repeat of the beginning of the arrangement to tie things up.

The arrangement is a lovely original statement of a standard which continues to speak to us. Even college students raved about it when my college jazz orchestra played my restoration of it some years ago.

July 10, 2008 · 0 comments


Steve Grossman: Over The Rainbow

This is exactly the kind of song that suits Steve Grossman's deep, lyrical tenor sound. He tackles it in a basically old-fashioned way while playing the theme, but when it's time to improvise he shows that his inspiration is rooted in the art of such modern elders as Sonny Rollins. When he's in top form, as he is here, Grossman delivers some of the most satisfying interpretations you can hear on standards in the mainstream to hard-bop styles. His reputation as a former alumnus of the "electric" Miles Davis shouldn't fool anybody about that aspect of his playing. Surrounded as he is on this track, Grossman sounds like one of the '50s masters who didn't matriculate from jazz schools, but had their own style that attracted countless followers and admirers.

June 24, 2008 · 0 comments


Stanley Jordan: Over the Rainbow

Stanley Jordan was Mr. Ubiquity in 1990. It would not be unusual to see the jazz guitarist on The Tonight Show on Monday and on the David Letterman Show on Friday. He was probably even on Oprah. He was the flavor of the year. But the unusual aspect was that he was a jazz guitarist. If you don't have a pop song with vocals, you don't get on these shows in America. But Stanley Jordan had something else going for him. He had a unique approach to playing his electric guitar. He would set the amplification gear in a certain way and tinker with his guitar controls to allow his (touch) tapping of the fretboard to ring loud and clear. He was able to play a bass line, melody and add chord shadings simultaneously by using this method because he created a special tuning that facilitated such. It was fascinating to watch, and because of his virtuosity, entertaining to listen to. He wasn't the first to employ this tapping technique on the guitar. But Jordan certainly took the art up about a hundred notches. He is the Jimi Hendrix of this technique.

It didn't hurt Jordan's popularity either that he would choose to play many standard tunes. He would perform tried and tested oldies such "Autumn Leaves," "Stolen Moments," and in this case "Over The Rainbow." He would do so with the taste and aplomb of two seasoned jazz guitar pros. This version of the oft jazz-interpreted "Rainbow" soon became among the most popular in his tapping arsenal. The chord shadings are beautiful. The arpeggios are delicate yet performed with the speed of a 78-rpm record. His use of harmonics is nothing short of brilliant. He hits all the right musical and emotional notes of this touching ballad. At song's end, the live crowd at the Blue Note sighs.

Technique, no matter how well developed or unique, will only get you so far. So after the initial thrill of watching Jordan play, his career took a noticeable downturn as fans got use to his style. This wasn't a disastrous downturn by any means. Jordan still has a loyal fan base, but it is more in keeping with a jazz star following than a rock star. I think this is a good thing. I went to a concert in Los Angeles in the early nineties and was surprised to see that Stanley Jordan was the opening act. He had two guitars set up on special stands on stage. I was expecting an hour of "Over the Rainbow"-type ballads. I expected he would be good and entertain me. But I also expected to become bored at a certain point. Instead, he played one of the hottest jazz-fusion sets I have ever heard! The guy is a monster! NO! Make that a wizard!

March 26, 2008 · 2 comments


Art Pepper: Over the Rainbow

During his announcement to the audience, Art Pepper says that his producer Lester Koenig asked him to do this solo number, and he adds with some humor that it is going to be "one of these Anthony Braxton trips," but "a short thing." Well, it lasts more than seven minutes and, whether you like Braxton or not, I'm not sure you'll see the connection. Lyrical, though sometimes impaired by a hissing reed; dramatic, even if he often fills in with virtuoso licks; adventurous, though respectful of the melody—such is Pepper's solo vision of this song. The vision of a man and musician who, during his lifetime, obviously went several times "over the rainbow," and came back with a different point of view on our world.

February 04, 2008 · 0 comments


Jane Monheit: Over the Rainbow

Coincidentally, two months after Jane Monheit recorded it, "Over the Rainbow" was voted the 20th century's favorite song in the Recording Industry of America Association's survey of hundreds of music lovers from all walks of life across the U.S. Whether or not the 23-year-old Monheit's cover will become as iconic to our new century as 16-year-old Judy Garland's original was to the last, only time will tell. As the emotional centerpiece of Hollywood's most beloved family film, Judy's track has enjoyed a promotional advantage, not to mention a 62-year head start. But don't sell Jane short. A stirring, uplifting, charismatic performance.

December 10, 2007 · 0 comments


Dave Brubeck: Over the Rainbow

Twenty years after this performance was recorded at Boston's Storyville nightclub, a host of musicians (most of them associated with the ECM label) began playing jazz without relying on syncopation -- that essential rhythmic device that had propelled jazz performances since the birth of the art form. But Brubeck showed how to do it back in 1952. In this pioneering performance, Brubeck weaves a hypnotic web without relying on a single jazz cliché or any of the familiar devices of swing or bop. It was almost as if he were trying to construct an entirely new way of improvising at the keyboard. Brubeck pulls it off through the sheer brilliance of his reharmonization, and the shifting chiaroscuro textures of his reconfiguration of the Arlen standard. Paul Desmond joins in at the end -- almost as if he couldn't resist the allure of Brubeck's spell. But for all intents and purposes, this is a solo piano performance, and a telling reminder of why Brubeck caused such a stir with his early recordings.

December 01, 2007 · 1 comment


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