Benny Carter: Angel Eyes

Back in 1954, Benny Carter was on the same label as another altoist you might have heard of: Charlie Parker. If Carter himself had ever heard Mr. Parker, he does a good job of disguising the fact on his recordings from the period. On this evocative rendition of "Angel Eyes," Carter's warm, big alto tone presents a stark contrast with Bird's biting sound, and his solo conception is not linked to any progressive ideology. In fact, the strong point of this track is Carter's interpretation of Matt Dennis's original melody. He extracts every last bit of loneliness and melancholy from this oft-played song, and after he has finished stating it no extended improvisation is really necessary. And, yes, Oscar Peterson is hidden away in the dark recesses of this track, but he plays so few notes you might think Norman Granz had imposed a quota.

September 17, 2009 · 0 comments


Herb Ellis: Tin Roof Blues

In October 1957, as the final tour of Jazz At The Philharmonic was winding down, Norman Granz brought many of the JATP musicians into his Los Angeles studios for a flurry of studio recordings. The Stan Getz/Oscar Peterson summit comes from this period, as does Ella Fitzgerald's "Like Someone In Love" (with Getz as major soloist), Ben Webster's "Soulville" and Herb Ellis' "Nothing But The Blues", a wonderful collection of original and classic settings of the blues. As the blues were (and are) the great common ground of all jazz musicians, the front line of swing master Roy Eldridge and cool icon Stan Getz was a very effective team and the piano-less rhythm section of Ellis, Ray Brown and Stan Levey fit together seamlessly. "Tin Roof Blues" was the oldest of the songs recorded for the album, and Ellis' melody statements consist of only the song's second strain. Ray Brown plays a scintillating vamp to open the track and after one chorus of melody, Eldridge (in cup mute), Getz and Ellis plays single-chorus solos that seem complete despite their brevity. Eldridge's solo starts simply and grows more complex as it goes, Getz elegantly works over an old blues riff, and Ellis plays a straight-forward primarily single-string solo with perfectly balanced phrase lengths. This tune was probably considered a quick throw-away that would go down in one take, but the musicians involved were such masters they could create a little gem like this with very little planning.

September 17, 2009 · 0 comments


Sonny Stitt: Blues for Pres, Sweets, Ben and All the Other Funky Ones

Sonny Stitt was in prime form during his 1959 recording session with the Oscar Peterson Trio, perhaps partly because of the planned nature of the set, as opposed to a totally spur-of-the-moment selection of overplayed tunes. Sonny pays tribute to Charlie Parker with "Au Privave" and "Scrapple from the Apple," to Count Basie, Ben Webster, and Lester Young with "Moten Swing," and sums up his salute to "the fine funky ones: Bird, Pres, Sweets, Ben, Louis, Basie and those," with the original composition spotlighted here. This was the last time Stitt would record with Peterson, and the two monster technicians subdue their egos and work in highly effective accord, anchored by the responsive, classic rhythm team of Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen.

Stitt's on tenor for this track, but while it allows him some distance from his ever-present Parker influence on alto, he still sounds very little like Young or Webster. Instead, saxmen like Gene Ammons, Wardell Gray and Paul Gonsalves come to mind as Stitt plays the Kansas City Swing / jump blues theme and navigates his relatively old-school, riffing solo, with his usual intricate bop vocabulary kept mostly under wraps. Peterson in his solo utilizes a lissome touch of the George Shearing variety, as well as sparse Basie-derived patterns, in order to retain the reverent approach initiated by Stitt. Brown and Thigpen in turn drive the action, the flawless drummer having only recently joined Peterson, with whom he'd remain for the next seven years. All this is heard with crystal clarity thanks to the superb remastering of Kevin Reeves.

September 15, 2009 · 0 comments


Billie Holiday: Love is Here to Stay

Because of the prominent inclusion of this song in the Oscar-winning biopic on Holiday, it has become closely associated with her. But Lady Day did not sing it at a recording session until shortly before her death. By then this upbeat tribute to eternal romance was strikingly out of synch with both her private life and public persona. Yet Holiday delivers a moving and believable performance of the Gershwin standard. Hear how her phrasing accentuates the meaning of the lyric—she elongates the 'going a long, long way' while the 'crumble' and 'tumble' get the more abbreviated treatment. This singer will always be associated with saxophonist Lester Young, but her Verve pairings with Ben Webster are also deserving of high praise. Webster takes the opening melody statement on this track, and by the time Holiday enters, the mood is already established and there to stay. No, Holiday didn't often sing this song, but she puts her claim on it here, and i don't see another vocalist wresting it away from her.

September 11, 2009 · 0 comments


Oscar Peterson: C Jam Blues

In a sense, Duke Ellington’s “C Jam Blues” is the jazz equivalent of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Both pieces are based on a pair of pitches, but the miracle is how much music is created from those two pitches. Oscar Peterson’s version of “C Jam Blues” is from his LP Night Train, and like the title track of that album, Peterson makes an arrangement for his trio rather than just blowing through a few choruses of blues and going on the next tune. The arrangement is rather modest, since Peterson solos through the entire track save for an 8-bar intro by Ray Brown. Peterson incorporates Ellington’s original 4-bar breaks at the start of his first four choruses (which is actually two more than we really needed—the effect gets a little tiresome). After a couple of choruses of straight playing, he incorporates a shout chorus figure which is quickly picked up by Thigpen. Peterson takes two more solo choruses then goes back to the tune, played first in block chords and then in single notes.

September 01, 2009 · 0 comments


Stan Getz & Dizzy Gillespie: Lover Come Back to Me

Back in 1953 Getz and Gillespie battled it out at a very intense session, and it seemed like Dizzy was picking very fast tempos and deliberately trying to unnerve the cool school tenorist with an immersion into the boiling hot. Is it relevant that Dizzy, writing in his autobiography, griped that cool jazz was "white people's music," played by those "who never sweated on the stand"? Or is there no connection between that sentiment and the intense jousting that always took place when these two artists met in the frontline? In any event, if Dizzy tried to cut him in 1953, Getz did not bleed and fought back with some very aggressive playing of his own.

Fast forward three years, and Gillespie is ready for a rematch, and this time he brings along alto speedster Sonny Stitt to try to put even more pressure on Mr. Getz. Again the tempos are faster than normal, and Stitt sets the pace here with all of his usual double time licks. Gillespie follows, and though he is not quite as prepossessing over these changes as he would have been a decade before, he still makes a very strong statement. But Getz's playing here is the real revelation. Those who have only heard his bossa or ballad work may not know how much technique this artist had at his command, and how well he responded in pressure situations on the bandstand. I especially like Getz's overall sound on this track—his tone keeps its warmth and full body even when he increases the intensity of his attack. Give the nod here to Stan, who shows how deep his bebop roots went in this must-have performance for Getz fans.

August 31, 2009 · 0 comments


Lester Young & Oscar Peterson: Stardust

Lester’s alcoholism had caught up with him by the early ‘50s, robbing him of his prowess on the saxophone. “Stardust” finds his hold on the notes wavering, his gait is stiff and heavy, and he’s audibly blowing much harder to get a sound from his reed. Indeed, there are only glimpses of the recognizable Prez, such as in the first four bars of his second chorus. Nevertheless, Young captures the wistful, dreamy romance of Hoagy Carmichael’s melody, even if it’s a little bit sadder than the nostalgia Carmichael wrote about. The accompaniment is appropriately subtle, too—Oscar Peterson unusually subtle, while Kessel, Brown and Heard spend much of the record in imperceptibility. Like Parker’s “Lover Man,” Young’s “Stardust” is a portrait of an artist at his most tortured, managing to wring fine work out of his own sudden ineptitude.

August 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Lester Young: I Want To Be Happy

Many critics and writers still insist that Lester Young’s artistry was in decline when he was dishonorably discharged from the Army in December 1945. “I Want to Be Happy” begs to differ. From the bright introductory phrase of his first solo, it’s clear that Prez still has spring in his step and joy in his phrasing. The only difference to speak of is a breathier tone and a slightly lower pitch—probably more attributable to his use of a plastic reed than to a broken spirit—and they don’t stop him from swinging harder than ever before, especially on his second (closing) solo. No doubt he’s helped along by the impeccable timing of Cole’s piano and the unswerving brilliance of Rich’s drums. Despite his revolution in the ‘30s, it was this postwar period that would be Young’s most successful, and “I Want to Be Happy” shows why.

August 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Roy Eldridge & Dizzy Gillespie: Pretty-Eyed Baby

In an interview, Jon Hendricks asked Dizzy Gillespie to demonstrate the evolution of styles by singing a riff as Louis Armstrong would sing it, then as how Roy Eldridge would sing it, and finally how Dizzy would sing it. Dizzy replied with a simple rhythmic idea from Louis, an intense, agitated version for Roy and then an arhythmic flurry of fast notes for himself. Although Dizzy was joking around, he admitted that his example wasn’t too far from reality. The similarities and differences between Roy and Dizzy are better illustrated in “Pretty-Eyed Baby”, a light-hearted duet from Roy And Diz, which features both principals on trumpet and vocals. Although the recording is in mono, it’s very easy to tell the difference between the two players, as Eldridge plays a Harmon mute throughout and Dizzy plays in a cup mute. Further, each man’s scat singing style echoes their trumpet work: Roy with a pronounced rasp and powerful rhythm, Dizzy smoother with very complex rhythmic combinations. The trumpet solos that follow the scat are 8-bar exchanges (probably kept short as both trumpeters had played in their high registers for most of the date). The improvised 2-part vocal harmony on the coda doesn’t really work—I doubt they rehearsed the number before recording it—but the recording is an important historical document of two of the best trumpeters (and scat singers) in jazz history.

August 06, 2009 · 0 comments


Stan Getz (with Chick Corea): Litha

Stan Getz's name is often linked with that of Zoot Sims, Al Cohn and other disciples of Lester Young who came of age in the period following World War II. But Getz always had a more daring temperament than these others, and greater willingness to put himself in unfamiliar settings, trusting that his musical instincts would guide him through unscathed. And, unfailingly, they did just that.

Getz's occasional collaborations with Chick Corea are a case in point. Corea was himself in the midst of a fertile period of experimentation and threw many curveballs at the tenorist, including proto-fusion and neo-Latin charts. Getz was on the heels of his own huge bossa nova success and could have easily continued in that vein indefinitely, but here he digs into Corea's intricate "Litha," which includes meter changes (6/8 to fast 4/4), modal interludes and some unconventional harmonic movement. Needless to say, nothing in Getz's formative experience with Jack Teagarden, Benny Goodman or even Woody Herman prepared him for this. No matter . . . Stan positively flies over this chart as if he had written it himself.

This is exhilarating music. The rhythm section of Corea-Carter-Tate is as good as any Getz would ever employ; they challenge the leader at every step along the way, and he asserts himself in return. In short, there is not the slightest touch of saudade anywhere on this track. I wish Getz had undertaken more sessions of this sort, but I am grateful this one took place before Corea went off into fusion-land and the tenorist went through his own period of musical redefinition in the late 1960s and 1970s.

August 05, 2009 · 0 comments


Stan Getz (with Bob Brookmeyer): Rustic Hop

In the mid-1980s, Stan Getz helped raise money for his own salary as artist-in-residence at Stanford University by giving one concert per quarter. He brought in a host of guest artists for these events, including Bob Brookmeyer, who showed up on campus to meet students, rehearse the campus jazz band (I still recall him exhorting the horns to play with more energy—repeating the advice "make BIG mistakes" as though it were some strange mantra from a new religion), and then pair up with Getz for a concert in Dinkelspiel Auditorium.

For their gig, Stan and Bob played a number of charts they had recorded more than thirty years earlier. After the performance, I expressed my surprise to Brookmeyer that Stan played all the compositions, some of them quite intricate, without looking at any music. After all, Getz had recorded these charts before I was born, and the Stanford concert was a one-time event—yet Getz dug into these pieces as though they were on his set list every night. Brookmeyer shrugged his shoulders and commented "Well, that's Stan Getz."

The Brookmeyer partnership was just one of many musical relationships for Getz during the mid-1950s. The Cool Sounds album finds him in five different line-ups. But the interplay with the valve trombonist is especially effective. The chemistry between Getz and Brookmeyer is in the same league as those other ultra-cool period pairings: Mulligan & Baker, Marsh & Konitz, Sims & Cohn, heck maybe even Bogart and Bacall. Hear Getz riffing behind Brookmeyer's solo, then starting his own improvisation with a variant of the same riff before launching into a slick, thematically-cohesive workout over the changes. Getz was a master at these medium-up tempos, and knew better than any tenorist of his generation how to be hot and sweet at the same time. I can't find much rusticity in this "Rustic Hop"—which sounds to me more like a joyride in city traffic—but it does keep hopping for the duration. A stirring example of a band that could have been far more influential if it had stayed together longer.

August 04, 2009 · 0 comments


Stan Getz & João Gilberto: Doralice

While familiar, "Doralice" still sounds fresh today. This version, recorded for the seminal jazz album Getz/Gilberto, features straight ahead guitar chords, an understated atmosphere, and warmth that sounds carefully plotted out.

The musicians create a lot of space and their contributions remain equally important to the mix. Once Stan Getz's no-frills sax solo winds down, it trades places with Gilberto's vocals, and both sing out in a similar manner. Instruments are panned hard left and right, and the track was rendered in the best light possible due to the multifaceted talents of each participant. It is a session of international repute, and you are immediately aware of its importance from the moment the cut kicks in because of the familiarity of the players with each other's skills.

Even if you do not understand a word of Spanish, you will feel as if you are able to follow the lyrics and message, and the warm, romantic sensitivity that the players convey is the reason for the track's approachability. It is a standout cut on one of the most important Latin jazz albums of all time, and it effectively symbolizes what else occurs within the grooves of the Stone Flower CD.

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments


Stan Getz & Gerry Mulligan: Scrapple From The Apple

Recently reissued in a spanking fresh, restored digital recording, the inevitable summit meeting between the formidable tenor and bari sax masters has never sounded better. With a crack rhythm section hand-picked by Getz and Mulligan’s bold suggestion that they trade horns for some of the tunes, these Capitol sessions produced moments of brilliance. Though “Scrapple” didn’t make the original release due to time constraints, it was clearly one of those moments.

Happily, on Charlie Parker’s up-tempo bebop anthem Getz and Mulligan are back on their principal instruments in a lively, flowing dialogue in which they seem to complete each other’s musical sentences, two leading proponents of the West Coast cool movement speaking fluent bopish with the intensity of a 52ndbn Street cutting contest on a Saturday night.

July 13, 2009 · 0 comments


Gerry Mulligan-Ben Webster: Tell Me When

The Gerry Mulligan Meets Ben Webster album is best known for its exquisite version of Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge," but Mulligan's endearing gem of a ballad, "Tell Me When," should not be overlooked. The fact that Mulligan and Webster are so relaxed and in sync with one another on both of these tracks (as well as the other nine selections) is largely due to their friendship and having played together in Los Angeles prior to going into the studio. As Mulligan told Phil Schaap in 1990: "Ben and I were a focused, near-functioning little band. That's why it it worked and of course it's all related to our mutual esteem and musical rapport."

Jimmy Rowles' short-lived, but dark and slightly foreboding intro does not prepare the listener for Webster's luscious, buoyant recital of the winsome "Tell Me When" theme, as Mulligan plays tenderly apt obbligatos along with him. Webster's solo is generally evocative of his main influence, Coleman Hawkins, in the effervescent contours of his lines, but Ben's creamy tone is unmistakably his own. The glorious interweaving of tenor and baritone as they renegotiate the melody is unforgettably poignant and soothing. Unlike on "Chelsea Bridge," Mulligan regrettably does not take a solo, but Webster more than makes up for the omission.

July 06, 2009 · 0 comments


Ella Fitzgerald: Blue Skies

“Blue Skies” was originally recorded for (and eventually omitted from) The Irving Berlin Song Book, and it was first issued as part of an all-star jazz compilation album created by Playboy magazine, and later appeared on a Verve compilation of assorted bits and pieces from Ella’s many sessions for the label. The recording is still not well-known, but it features one of her finest extended scat solos. Like her famous “Oh, Lady Be Good” recording 9 years earlier, the big band arrangement exists only to support Ella, and she’s never asked to interrupt her improvisation for ensemble figures. Ella opens with 4 virtuosic cadenzas, and then jumps to a medium tempo for the opening chorus. Harry Edison provides pithy commentary during the melody statement, and then Ella launches into a two-and-a-half chorus scat solo. She starts out by adapting the saxophone riff playing behind her, and as the solo continues, she repeats and develops ideas with uncanny fluency. Encouraged on by the magnificent accompanying group, Ella builds her solo in a natural and unforced manner. There are plenty of quotes (“Here Comes The Bride” near the beginning, “Rhapsody In Blue” as the solo peaks), but mostly this is Ella, joyously creating music on the spot and spreading that joy to her audience.

July 05, 2009 · 0 comments


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