Joe Mooney: Tea For Two

In September 1946, composer and critic Alec Wilder proclaimed in Downbeat that the Joe Mooney Quartet was one of the finest small groups in the history of jazz. Mooney built this intimate quartet after successfully translating the advanced harmonies of bebop to the accordion(!) A stylish, hip songwriter in his own right, Mooney loved creating humorous parodies of standard pop songs, as in this winning update of “Tea For Two”. While the opening chorus delights with lines like Do you long for oolong like I like for oolong, baby? the final chorus updates the story nearly 40 years in the future: Flash! 1983; See! Chick still on his knee .For all of its obvious values, the quartet may have been too intimate for its own good. Existing far before the days of jazz concerts, the understated style of the group couldn’t compete with the rowdy clientele of the average nightclub. Within three years, the quartet was no more.

For Mooney, it was another in a series of failures to catch the public’s attention. He had toured with his brother Dan as “The Sunshine Boys” in the early 1930s (the name was ironic since both brothers were blind). After the quartet’s demise, Joe switched his primary instrument from accordion to Hammond organ. He made recordings in 1952 (both on his own and with the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra), then full LPs in 1957 and 1963-1964. Although he performed in New York nightclubs as a result of these recordings, he was never able to generate enough popularity to keep him in the Big Apple. When work dried up for him in New York, he retreated to his home in Florida where his local fans provided the loyal following that had eluded him up north.

July 05, 2009 · 0 comments


Gil Scott-Heron: Winter in America

Today, proto-rapper Gil Scott-Heron is acknowledged as a major influence on several developments in Black Music and soul jazz, and it is easy to imagine that such artists as Cassandra Wilson considered the poet-vocalist's music before finding her own path. One of Scott-Heron's finest statements is "Winter in America," an image-driven portrait of the icy stasis gripping the nation in the early seventies-after the assassinations, riots, Watergate, and Vietnam.

First, there was an album of that name but no song, as Scott-Heron considered the three words simply an evocative image and not a subject for music. Then, he composed an actual "Winter in America" for his Arista debut, The First Minute of a New Day. Live performances and recordings subsequently crystallized the recording's powerful message.

Featured as a bonus track on the New Day CD reissue, this version of the song is distinctive because Scott-Heron performs alone on it. His keyboard work is more staccato and basic and the melody is slightly flattened out. Despite the changes, the cold, hard facts remain: "...Democracy is rag-time on the corner, hopin' for some rain...all of our healers have been killed or betrayed...ain't nobody fighting because nobody knows what to save."

The scenario is bleak but Scott-Heron's compelling music and verbal tropes continue to resound thirty years farther (or maybe no farther) on.

May 14, 2009 · 1 comment


Susannah McCorkle: Chattanooga Choo-Choo

Recorded to fill out the U.S. release of a Harry Warren collection, Susannah McCorkle’s version of the chestnut “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” strips away the familiar Glenn Miller arrangement and places it in the realm of boogie woogie. Keith Ingham, who was Susannah’s husband and musical director, is the sole accompanist here, and he uses his fine sense of jazz history to integrate the two styles. After an intro that seems inspired by the Clifford Brown/Max Roach version of “Take The 'A' Train,” Ingham goes into a boogie background as Susannah glides in with a slightly adapted version of the lyric. Susannah’s interpretive gifts grew as she matured, but even at this early stage of her career, she was able to float lines above the beat. At the end of the first chorus, Ingham effortlessly segues into Meade “Lux” Lewis’s “Honky Tonk Train” and because of the boogie pattern he played earlier, there is no jolt as he changes from a pop song to the blues and back again. Susannah’s final chorus includes some of the same interpretive figures she had used earlier, but the coda is very effective with Susannah singing the “whoo-whoo” as a train whistle and Ingham continuing the boogie figure as the track fades out.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments


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