Back in 1954, pianist Richard Twardzik was an unusual artist for Pacific, Richard Bock's boutique label focusing on West Coast jazz. Twardzik was a little-known Bostonian with an avant-garde sensibility, far removed from the cool stylings of Bock's usual releases. But based on a glowing recommendation from Russ Freeman, Bock gave the go-ahead for a session featuring a pianist he had never heard. Thank goodness! This would prove to be Twardzik's only leader date in a commercial studio session - he would die from a drug overdose the following year - and the results rank among the most spectacular jazz trio work of the era. The pianist takes Cole Porter's standard at a fast clip. Although one can hear his debt to Bud Powell (and probably his close listening to Powell's veering-out-of-control February 1951 recording
of this same standard), Twardzik's lines construct odd patterns across the barlines in a manner beyond Powell's typical bop semantics. No gossamer wings on this track: instead hear the teeter-totter construction at the 1:20 mark in the right hand, and another pattern to the stars, at 1:35, now in the left hand. Along the way, he tosses out Americana quotes (John Philip Sousa and Ringling Brothers), proving that jazzistas can wave the flag at any tempo. The coda lands with all of the subtlety of a hand grenade. One of those crazy
Twardzik, dead at age 24, left behind a small body of work, but enough to justify his inclusion in the short list of jazz piano masters of his generation. At a time when most of his peers were paring down their chords, Twardzik was adapting a modernistic orchestral palette to the keyboard. His melody lines were brittle with Bartokian bite. His rhythms were a higher order of syncopation, breaking free from the typical tyrannies of 4/4 swing. "A Crutch for the Crab" starts as a stately march suitable for a military procession, but soon deteriorates into a lopsided skirmish, and finally a free-for-all. There are many surprises here: hints of deranged Harlem stride, oddball walking chords, falling snowflakes of harmonic color alighting on the high register of the keyboard. Only a few jazz pianists of this period would have been able even to imitate this futuristic style back in 1953, let alone create it afresh.
Twardzik is a name unfamiliar to most younger jazz fansâ€”or perhaps at best a name recognized but not an artist heard. What a shame! For this pianist understood, even better than Garner or Shearing or Peterson or the other stars of the early 1950s, the shape of jazz to come.
Fans are advised the supposed "alternate take" of this song, is in fact the same as the master take, and that both have lost their opening measures on most extant copies of this recording.
December 23, 2008 · 1 comment
With jazz performers, we crave the person behind the persona. Usually what you see is what you get. Sometimes, though, it's Jekyll-&-Hyde. The seemingly mild-mannered bandleader turns out to be a tyrant. The happy-go-lucky singer throws herself off a bridge. Such was The Strange Case of Dr. Chet and Mr. Baker
. In 1954, he looked like the choirboy who mows your lawn and calls you Sir/Ma'am. Behind the angelic façade, however, lurked a vagabond junkie-in-waiting. This track (no pun intended) gives us the captivating, cup-muted choirboy on his best behavior. Hopefully, there will never be another Chet. Thankfully, there was one.
The late Richard Bock, who produced this recording (and so many other classic West Coast jazz sessions) once confided to me that Chet Baker, in his opinion, played his very best trumpet on this debut session as a vocalist. It's hard to disagree. Not since Lester Young accompanied Billie Holiday had a jazz soloist managed to add such melodically succinct interludes to a vocal date. And those who have only heard Chet Baker sing on records made late in his career need to go back to this 1954 date to experience the magic of this music. One of the great moments for jazz on the dream coast.
A longtime jazz favorite, "Sweet Georgia Brown" (1925) became beloved by millions after the Harlem Globetrotters made it their theme in 1952. Amazed crowds worldwide, watching the Globetrotters' comic basketball wizardry, whistled along with "Sweet Georgia Brown." Likewise bouncing with skill and surprise is this quintessential 1950s West Coast jazz track. Although classical composers had long paired flute and oboe, Shank & Cooper here demonstrate the tandem's superior jazz IQ. With Cooper's call-&-response arrangement coyly teasing the melody, "Sweet Georgia Brown" tips off tiptop players at the top of their game.
Not to be mistaken for The Rippingtons’ guitarist of the same name, pianist Russ Freeman was a mainstay of 1950s West Coast jazz. He was also a composer of small but splendid output. "Summer Sketch," among the loveliest original ballads in modern jazz, was his masterpiece. It's mainly Freeman's showcase, but Chet's fragile open horn is haunting, and Manne's restraint is telling. If you believe jazz "don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing," skip this track. If, however, your jazz encompasses as much pathos as the other great arts, then this pensive, plaintive track must be heard.
On radio during the 1940s and TV in the '50s, comedians Burns & Allen
closed each show with cigar-toting George telling his ditzy wife, "Say goodnight, Gracie." To which she'd respond, "Goodnight, Gracie." You hadda be there. Anyhow, Chet Baker crisply swings their theme song as proof that Miles Davis's closely miked, Harmon-muted trumpet style worked at fast tempos as well as on ballads. Pianist Russ Freeman (no relation to The Rippingtons
’ guitarist) steadfastly insisted to naysayers that, uneven as Chet Baker could be, when he was on there was nobody better. In "Love Nest," Baker was ON. Say goodnight, Chet.
In 1960, when producer Richard Bock conceived a blues anthology for his Pacific Jazz label, he called Jim Hall, who'd nailed the bluesy "Things Ain't What They Used To Be
" for Bock in 1957 using just guitar, piano and bass. Bock asked Hall and bassist Red Mitchell to reprise their roles, but pianist Carl Perkins, having died two years before, was hard to reach. Not to worry! Mitchell could switch to piano, and his pal Red Kelly would play bass. What? Switch to piano?
Be cool. Red has chops. So in they blew, cooking up a tasty, swinging blues. Once again, jazz saves the day!
In Los Angeles during the summer of 1952, transplanted New Yorker Gerry Mulligan inaugurated a new era of West Coast jazz. The bright, upbeat music of his pianoless quartet with 22-year-old trumpet phenom Chet Baker was noticed even by Time
magazine. Coming in the wake of what Time
called "the frantic extremes of bop," Mulligan & Baker's melodicism, focused solos and thoughtful counterpoint, jostled along by Chico Hamilton’s nimbly brushed snare and firmly booted bass drum, made jazz listenable again. Their signature "Bernie's Tune," a brilliant conceptual breakthrough, has long outlived the movement for which it served as a template.
Chet Baker, artwork by Michael Symonds
Chet Baker was to singing what Marilyn Monroe was to acting. His vocals had the same naturalness, limited range, vulnerability and come-hither charisma as early Marilyn. If you remember the long-running (but alas now retired) intro to Turner Classic Movies' Sunny Side of Life
features on cable that carried Chet's "Look For the Silver Lining" on the soundtrack, then you already have a soft spot for this track. Admittedly, considering the heroin-gorged shambles of Baker's personal life, his singing “A heart full of joy and gladness / Will always banish sadness and strife” is a tad more irony than the market will bear. Nevertheless, his wistful optimism carries the day. Forget Chet's backstory. Relish the music.
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