Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Modern Jazz Quartet - "No Sun In Venice" [From the Archives]

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

It didn’t last very long, but it was fun while it did.

Movies and TV series with Jazz scores written and performed by prominent composers, arrangers and Jazz combos were all the rage for a while.

Johnny Mandel’s score to the movie I Want to Live, Miles Davis’ themes and improvised sketches for  Ascenseur Pour L'Echafaud (Lift To The Scaffold, and one that has always been among my favorites, pianist John Lewis’ original film score to No Sun in Venice which he performs with his colleagues on The Modern Jazz Quartet No Sun in Venice LP/CD [Atlantic 1284-2].

A recent listening of this recording prompted me to do a bit of research about the group and how John Lewis came to write and record the film score in 1957.

I must admit that the cover painting by J.M.W. Turner [1775-1851], one of a series of famous Venetian oils he created about la serenissima, may have had a great influence on my purchase of this recording as I had never heard the music of the Modern Jazz Quartet [MJQ], nor had I seen the movie.

Thus began my enamorment with one of the most unique groups in the history of Jazz.

Gary Giddins provided this background on the formation of the MJQ in these excerpts from his masterful Visions of Jazz: The First Century:

Modern Jazz Quartet [The First  Forty Years]

“‘In creating, the only hard thing is to begin,’ wrote James Russell Lowell [Poet, Harvard Professor, Editor of The Atlantic Monthly]. For the Modern Jazz Quartet, the world's most venerable chamber group in or out of jazz, the beginning was a three-year trial. Few people in the early '50s would have entertained the idea that a small jazz band could flourish over four decades, bridging generations and styles. Big bands had proved durable in part because, like symphony orchestras, they could withstand changes in personnel, and because they counted on dancers to sustain their appeal. No jazz chamber group had ever lasted more than a few seasons.

When the MJQ first convened, American music was in one of its many transitional phases. The public's taste changed with frightening alacrity. A decade earlier, the country was jitterbugging to swing. After the war, bop ruled jazz, while big bands struggled for survival and pop songs grew increasingly bland. In 1952, there was talk of a cool school in jazz, while younger listeners were drawn to rhythm and blues. A couple of years down the road, there would be hard bop, soul, and rock and roll. Then the deluge: third stream, free jazz, neo-romanticism, acid rock, new music, fusion, neoclassicism, disco, original instruments, hip hop, grunge, and more.

Yet through it all, the Modern Jazz Quartet persisted and prospered. We do well to remember that the fortieth anniversary of the MJQ in 1992 was only the seventy-fifth anniversary of jazz on records, if we honor as genesis the sensationally successful 1917 Victor release of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band's "Livery Stable Blues” b/w "Dixie Jazz Band One-Step.” Thirty-five years later, on December 22, 1952, John Lewis, Milt Jackson, Percy Heath, and Kenny Clarke met at a Manhattan recording studio leased by Prestige Records and recorded two standards ("All the Things You Are" and "Rose of the Rio Grande") and two Lewis originals with exotic names: "La Ronde," which had its origins in a piece recorded by the Dizzy Gillespie orchestra, and "Vendome," which prefigured the merging of jazz and fugal counterpoint that became an abiding trademark of the MJQ. The records were widely noted, but less widely embraced. With Lewis spending most of his time working toward a master's degree at the Manhattan School of Music, the first session was — notwithstanding a gig in an obscure Greenwich Village bistro called the Chantilly — an isolated foray.

The world was a different place that chilly day. At the very moment the quartet cut those records, President-elect Eisenhower was at the Commodore Hotel a few blocks away, meeting with a group of Negro clergymen to whom he expressed "amazement" that discrimination was widely practiced; he promised to appoint a commission to study the matter, adding that he was determined to abide by the law even if every Negro in America voted against him. Also in the news: the Soviets accused the U.S. of murdering eighty-two North Korean and Chinese POWs; allied fighter-bombers strafed Korean supply depots; more than seven hundred protesters staged a rally for the Rosenbergs at Sing Sing; Sugar Ray Robinson announced his retirement from the ring. The New York Times''s music pages noted a concert by George Szell and Guiomar Novaes and two debuts by Stravinsky, but, as was customary, expended not a word on jazz or popular music, and devoted twice the space to radio listings as to television.

In jazz, 1952 is best remembered for the formation of the MJQ, but it was also the year Count Basie (a profound influence on Lewis) returned to big band music after leading an octet for two years; Gerry Mulligan started his pathbreaking quartet; and Eddie Sauter fused with Bill Finegan. Norman Granz took Jazz at the Philharmonic to Europe, where Dizzy Gillespie's sextet was also on tour. Fletcher Henderson died, and trombonist George Lewis was born. Clifford Brown went on the road with an r & b band, while John Coltrane played section tenor for Earl Bostic and Cecil Taylor matriculated at the New England Conservatory. Louis Armstrong had two hit records, "Kiss of Fire" and a remake of "Sleepy Time Down South"; George Shearing introduced his "Lullaby of Birdland"; Thelonious Monk recorded with a trio for the first time in five years. Charlie Parker didn't record in a studio, but he kept busy, performing "Hot House" with Gillespie on TV, leading his strings at the Rockland Palace and Carnegie Hall, and working Birdland with four musicians who, one month later, would make their recorded debut as the Modern Jazz Quartet.”

[Connie Kay replaced Clarke in 1954 and remained in the drum chair with the MJQ until his death in 1994.]

In reviewing the MJQ’s recordings from 1955-onward that have been released as CD’s on Prestige, Atlantic and Pablo Records, some of the qualities that make the Modern Jazz Quartet’s music unique are described in Richard Cook and Brian Morton’s The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.:

“Frequently dismissed - as unexciting, pretentious, bland, Europeanized, pat - the MJQ remained hugely popular for much of the last 30 years, filling halls and consistently outselling most other jazz acts. The enigma lies in that epithet 'Modern' for, inasmuch as the MJQ shifted more product than anyone else, they were also radicals (or maybe that American hybrid, radical-conservatives) who have done more than most barnstorming revolutionaries to change the nature and form of jazz performance, to free it from its changes-based theme-and-solos cliches. Leader/composer John Lewis has a firm grounding in European classical music, particularly the Baroque, and was a leading light in both Third Stream music and the Birth Of The Cool sessions with Gerry Mulligan and Miles Davis. From the outset he attempted to infuse jazz performance with a consciousness of form, using elements of through-composition, counterpoint, melodic variation and, above all, fugue to multiply the trajectories of improvisation. And just as people still, even now, like stories with a beginning, middle and end, people have liked the well-made quality of MJQ performances which, on their night, don't lack for old-fashioned excitement.

The fact that they had been Dizzy's rhythm section led people to question the group's viability as an independent performing unit. The early recordings more than resolve that doubt. Lewis has never been an exciting performer (in contrast to Jackson, who is one of the great soloists in jazz), but his brilliant grasp of structure is evident from the beginning. Of the classic MJQ pieces -'One Bass Hit', 'The Golden Striker', 'Bags' Groove' - none characterizes the group more completely than Lewis's 'Django', first recorded in the session of December 1954.

The Prestige [The Artistry of the Modern Jazz Quartet]is a useful CD history of the early days of the band, but it's probably better to hear the constituent sessions in their entirety. Some of the material on the original two-disc vinyl format has been removed to make way for a Sonny Rollins/MJQ set ('No Moe', 'The Stopper', 'In A Sentimental Mood', 'Almost Like Being In Love'), which is a pity, for this material was long available elsewhere.

Connie Kay slipped into the band without a ripple; sadly, his ill-health and death were the only circumstances in the next 40 years of activity necessitating a personnel change. His cooler approach, less overwhelming than Clarke's could be, was ideal, and he sounds right from the word 'go'. His debut was on the fine Concorde, which sees Lewis trying to blend jazz improvisation with European counterpoint. It combines some superb fugal writing with a swing that would have sounded brighter if recording quality had been better. Though the integration is by no means always complete, it's more appealing in its very roughness than the slick Bach-chat that turns up on some of the Atlantics.

The label didn't quite know what to do with the MJQ, but the Erteguns [Ahmet and Neshui, brothers who emigrated to the USA from Turkey] were always alert to the demographics and, to be fair, they knew good music when they heard it. One of the problems the group had in this, arguably their most consistent phase creatively, was that everything appeared to need conceptual packaging, even when the music suggested no such thing. Chance associations, like the celebrated version of Ornette's 'Lonely Woman', were doubtless encouraged by the fact that they shared a label, and this was all to the good; there are, though, signs that in later years, as rock began to swallow up a bigger and bigger market share, the group began to suffer from the inappropriate packaging. Though home-grown compositions reappear throughout the band's history (there's a particularly good 'Django' on Pyramid), there are also constant references to standard repertoire as well and some of these are among the group's greatest achievements.

By the same inverted snobbery that demands standards rather than 'pretentious classical rubbish', it's long been a useful cop-out to profess admiration only for those MJQ albums featuring right-on guests. The earlier Silver collaboration isn't as well known as a justly famous encounter with Sonny Rollins at Music Inn, reprising their encounters of 1951, 1952 and 1953, which were really the saxophonist's gigs. Restored in a fresh mastering, it's clear how much Sonny was an interloper on an already skilled, tight unit. Most of the record is by the MJQ alone, including one of their delicious standard medleys and a brilliant reading of Lewis's 'Midsommer'. The two (live) tracks which Rollins appears on aren't entirely satisfactory, since he cannot make much impression on 'Bags' Groove', already a Jackson staple, and sounds merely discursive on 'A Night In Tunisia'. Overall, this set very much belongs to the MJQ.

Lewis's first exploration of characters from the commedia dell’arte came in Fontessa, an appropriately chill and stately record that can seem a little enigmatic, even off-putting. He develops these interests considerably in the simply titled Comedy, which largely consists of dulcet character-sketches with unexpected twists and quietly violent dissonances. The themes of commedia are remarkably appropriate to a group who have always presented themselves in sharply etched silhouette, playing a music that is deceptively smooth and untroubled but which harbours considerable jazz feeling and, as on both Fontessa and Comedy, considerable disruption to conventional harmonic progression.

Given Lewis's interests and accomplishments as an orchestrator, there have been surprisingly few jazz-group-with-orchestra experiments. More typical, perhaps, than the 1987 Three Windows is what Lewis does on Lonely Woman. One of the very finest of the group's albums, this opens with a breathtaking arrangement of Ornette Coleman's haunting dirge and then proceeds with small-group performances of three works - 'Animal Dance', 'Lamb, Leopard' and 'Fugato' - which were originally conceived for orchestral performance. Remarkably, Lewis's small-group arrangements still manage to give an impression of symphonic voicings.

Kay's ill-health finally overcame him in December 1994 and the following February, the MJQ issued in his memory a concert from 1960, recorded in what was then Yugoslavia, a relatively innocuous destination on the international tour. Whatever its historical resonance, it inspired (as John Lewis discovered when he auditioned these old tapes) one of the truly great MJQ performances, certainly one of the very best available to us on disc. It knocks into a cocked hat even the new edition of the so-called Last Concert. Jackson's playing is almost transcendentally wonderful on 'Bags' Groove' and 'I Remember Clifford', and the conception of Lewis's opening commedia sequence could hardly be clearer or more satisfying. Dedicated To Connie is a very special record and has always been our favourite of the bunch, ….”

Gary Kramer provides this explanation of the turn-of-events that brought about the occasion of John Lewis’ film score for No Sun in Venice in his insert notes to The Modern Jazz Quartet No Sun in Venice LP/CD [Atlantic 1284-2].

“In December 1956 the globe-trotting Modern Jazz Quartet found itself in Paris. Among the enthusiastic Parisians who flocked to St. Germain-des-Pres to hear the group was Raoul Levy, producer of the film And God Created Woman and other international cinema hits. Levy did not come over to the Left Bank merely to spend a pleasant evening digging jazz sounds, but to make John Lewis a business proposition. He was about to produce Sait-On Jamais, a film to star Francoise Arnoul, and wanted to know whether John would be free to write the background music and whether it would be possible to use The Modern Jazz Quartet to make the soundtrack.

John consented to write the score and worked on it assiduously during his scanty leisure hours while he and the Quartet were touring the United States in the first months of 1957. Despite the fact that some of the music was written in Los Angeles, some in Chicago, some of it in New York, the score has structural unity and a high degree of internal organization. It was John Lewis' first film score and represented a special challenge. As he put it, "Jazz is often thought to be limited in expression. It is used for 'incidental music' or when a situation in a drama or film calls for jazz, but rarely in a more universal way apart from an explicit jazz context. Here it has to be able to run the whole gamut of emotions and carry the story from beginning to end."”

Sait-On Jamais (a literal translation of which is One Never Knows) was released in the United States in 1957 as No Sun In Venice by Kinglsey International Pictures.

As I write this feature almost fifty years later, I still have not seen the movie. I noticed that it is now available on DVD, but at $60 bucks, I think I’ll pass.

However, in the intervening half century, I have listened to John Lewis’s score to the film many times and I highly recommend it to you.

The following video contains lots of the renown artist JMW Turner's iconic images of Venice as set to the Cortege track from John Lewis score to One Never Knows.

Connie Kay's use of triangles, finger cymbals, tambourines, open high hats and mallets on cymbals to create gong-like effects almost adds a forbidden sense of joy to this dirge.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Terry Gibbs' Big Band - "Vamp 'Till Ready" by John Tynan

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“The Gibbs bands combined the high-energy swing of Lionel Hampton with the sophistication of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis outfits (Mel Lewis straddled the drum stool during Gibbs's most productive period).”
-Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

As a working musician based in Los Angeles, CA during the heyday of the East Coast Jazz versus West Coast Jazz marketing nonsense which was aided and abetted by Jazz critics and record companies on both coasts, I can honestly say that I never felt deprived living 3,000 miles away from The Jazz Capital of the World [aka New York; aka Birdland].

In terms of the number of Jazz clubs, Hollywood was not the equal of New York, but it had its share. And, although, you had to access them by freeways without the benefit of subways, car rides to the Beach Cities [Santa Monica, Long Beach and Hermosa Beach] and to the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys brought forth contact with a plethora of neighborhood bars and bistros that featured Jazz played by both nationally recognized groups and homegrown talent.

Musicians such as guitarist Joe Pass, tenor sax and flutist Charles Lloyd, pianist Keith Jarrett, bassists Charles Mingus and Herbie Lewis and drummer Billy Higgins first came to prominence on the Left Coast [aka Los Angeles].

Los Angeles also had its “exclusives,” groups that didn’t tour and could only be heard at local venues. In many cases, this was because the musicians that made up these small combos and big bands were also heavily engaged in movie and television work or in providing the music for TV commercials and radio jingles and they couldn’t afford to be away from such lucrative employment for long periods of time.

Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars, which over the years featured many notable Jazz musicians including Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre, Bud Shank, Frank Rosolino, and Victor Feldman, could only be heard at the Hermosa Beach club from which it drew its name.

And the big bands led by vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, Gerald Wilson and trumpeter Don Ellis were for the most part populated by studio musicians who simply couldn’t afford to go on the road.

I felt particularly blessed to be able to take in large amounts of what came to be known as the Terry Gibbs Dream Band. All three of the Hollywood venues that the band played at were a short drive from my home so I was in constant “residence” at this “big band university” for almost two years.

The following piece by John Tynan was written in December, 1962 which sadly was around the time that drummer Mel Lewis left for New York to join Gerry Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band. Bassist Buddy Clarke and trumpeter Conte Candoli would join him.

Sadly, too, the clubs on Sunset Blvd. referenced in the article began to close in 1963 and were all but gone by May, 1964 when lead alto saxophonist Joe Maini accidentally shot himself.

Terry moved on to other things and especially following Joe’s death, the band was but a memory.

Following John’s article you’ll find a video of the band playing Al Cohn’s composition The Big Cat with solos by Terry on vibes, Joe Maini on alto sax and Conte Candoli on trumpet.

“CAN RECORDINGS alone make a successful band? Almost any self-styled sage in the music business will assure you that this is virtually impossible because a band, in order to be a going concern, i.e., a consistently paying business, must work on the road, must hit the one-nighter grind most of the year in order to get the public exposure that can build a national reputation.

The sages may be right, and certainly the success on records of such leaders as Hank Mancini has nothing to do with a permanent Mancini orchestra of the one-nighter variety. But in a more limited way the Terry Gibbs big band is a recording success, too, and so far as the vibist is concerned, his albums keep the spirit of the band alive.

Spirit is the key word here. It has to do with the roaring jazz produced by Gibbs and 16 others when they assemble on a bandstand for an occasional club engagement or concert.

It is certain that jazz spirit, captured in the Gibbs albums, thundered out of the grooves so dynamically it compelled the voters in Down Beat's 10th annual International Jazz Critics Poll to elect the band to first place in the new-star category this year. What is remarkable is that the majority of the critics who voted for Gibbs' band did so without ever hearing the band in person. All they had to go on were three LP albums — Launching a New Band, Swing Is Here, and The Exciting Terry Gibbs Big Band. The few critics who did hear the band in person dug it on its own stomping ground, Hollywood, or perhaps at the 1961 Monterey Jazz Festival.

Pickings are lean in Hollywood for a big band. Thus has it been, of course, since the early 1950s. As has been pointed out on many occasions in the past, a big band cannot expect to remain on the West Coast and make it. This is particularly true of a big jazz band. So the miracle of the Gibbs band's endurance is only partially touched by economic considerations; the real secret is wrapped up in the words spirit and loyalty — the general jazz spirit of the musicians and their loyalty to the idea of this big band.

In the beginning there was a seemingly prosaic domestic decision: Terry Gibbs and his wife, Donna, decided to settle down in California. He bought a suburban home with swimming pool in the San Fernando Valley and from time to time sallied forth with his quartet for engagements in the East.

It had been Gibbs' practice, under his recording contract, to record one big-band album a year. These sessions were made with studio musicians, and the arrangements generally were the first-class work of such as Al Cohn and Manny Albam. It was a nice musical arrangement for Gibbs; he could record and work night-club and concert jobs with his quartet, commanding top money, and then, for kicks, he could cut loose and indulge his real love for big-band jazz.
If the quartet led to the big studio band on record, it led also to the formation of the presently existing aggregation. Gibbs recently recalled the origin.

"A movie columnist friend of mine, named Eve Starr," he said, with his staccato, machine gun delivery, "called me one day in 1959. She told me about this club in Hollywood. Place called the Seville. She said the place was dying and the owner wanted to change the policy. He really didn't know whether he wanted jazz; he wanted anything that would bring customers into the joint. Eve suggested I go talk to him. His name was Harry Schiller."

Gibbs talked to Schiller and signed a contract to work the Seville with the quartet. At this time he was preparing his annual big-band album. He already had a dozen arrangements and planned to cut the LP in Hollywood with a top-notch personnel.

There was the problem of rehearsal. Musicians union rules prohibit unpaid rehearsals for recordings but permit a band to rehearse for a night-club job.

"I made Schiller a proposition," Gibbs said. "I asked him if he'd let me take the big band into the club Tuesday night only for the same amount of money as the quartet was getting. Schiller said it was okay with him if the quartet did business. If the quartet brought in some customers, he said, he didn't care if I brought in a band of apes on Tuesday. So we were set."

The rehearsals began, and it was immediately evident that, in the Hollywood musicians, Gibbs had a group unlike any of his previous studio big bands.
The weekend prior to the band's Tuesday one-nighter, Gibbs did a guest appearance on the Sunday night Steve Allen Show. Allen gave him a hefty plug.

During the next two days an unprecedented telephone campaign added word-of-mouth publicity to the debut. The forthcoming event—for it had indeed become an event— was literally the musical talk of the town.

The band's opening was a sensation. In the jammed Seville, scattered through the audience, was a remarkable celebrity turnout. Among those who attended were Fred MacMurray and June Haver, Johnny Mercer, Stuart Whitman, Ella Fitzgerald, Steve Allen, Dinah Shore, and Louis Prima. The turnout of musicians was unparalleled.

By the end of the evening it was a foregone conclusion that the band would play the following Tuesday too. In a week, those who had not heard the word in time for the debut were ready to come and dig. The second Tuesday was as successful as the first. And so, for nine consecutive Tuesdays the new Terry Gibbs big band made West Coast jazz history.

The fact that the band began that first set with the knowledge that there were only 11 more numbers in the book didn't matter to Gibbs and his men.

"We just kept an arrangement going for 10 or 20 minutes," Gibbs grinned. "With long solos and different backgrounds made up by the guys in the sections, it was no problem."

By the second week, Gibbs recalled, other arrangers, such as Bill Holman and Med Flory, had contributed arrangements to help expand what probably was the smallest big-band book in jazz history.

In retrospect, Gibbs noted the band could perhaps have continued indefinitely at the Seville on Tuesdays had he not received an offer to take it into the now-defunct Cloister on the Sunset Strip for three weeks. He accepted the offer and the owners' proviso that the band must not play any other Los Angeles location on the night off.

The Cloister engagement was a mistake. For one thing, the room was too small. For another, the customers, who largely came to hear singer Andy Williams and laugh with comedian Frank Gorshin, who shared the bill with the Gibbs band, were not prepared for the shock of hearing the band at full throttle. From Gibbs' point of view, the engagement was less than successful.

By now, Gibbs was obsessed with a desire to keep his band working and exposed to a growing following. Morale in the band was possibly unprecedented.

'The guys made a rule," Gibbs said. "Nobody takes off for another job. If a guy did, he was out of the band. And this they did for $15 a night!"

It wasn't long before Gibbs found a new home for the band. This was a club also on Sunset Blvd., called the Sundown, where the band began working Mondays and Tuesdays every week. Soon after, Sunday nights were added.

With time out for a fortnight at the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas, Nev., the Gibbs band remained based at the Sundown for 18 months. Las Vegas was as far east as it ever traveled. For that engagement, Gibbs said, the band was paid $5,000 a week; by the time all the expenses had been settled, he wound up with $111 at the close of the job. "But," Gibbs added, "it was worth it. We had Jimmy Witherspoon with us at the Dunes, making it even more of a ball."

While Gibbs concentrated on building the band, his bank account took a heavy beating.

"I had to give up so much work with the quartet," he explained, ''that I figured it was costing me $1,000 a month to keep the band going. In all, I had to give up about $20,000 in work with the quartet. During the previous years, when tax time came around, I always had to come up with additional money for Internal Revenue. The one year I had the band working steady, I got back a check for $1,100 from the government.

"But I've been in this business 31 years, and I've never been so happy losing money in my life."

ALTHOUGH THE BAND presently is without a home or any reasonable facsimile of steady work, Gibbs refuses to abandon his idee fixe. He has almost 100 arrangements in his library at present, and the albums will shout on. The latest, Explosion, on Mercury, will be released shortly.

Meanwhile, the "guys in the band"—Gibbs refuses to use the term "sidemen"—are standing by in Hollywood, most of them busy with studio work, while the vibist tours with the quartet in the East.

"I must work with my little group," he insisted. "I love working with the quartet. Eventually, I want to have a quartet within the big band but not made up of some of the guys in the band. A separate group.

''And I'm looking for a singer. Probably a girl singer. And I don't know yet what I'd like her to sound like—but I'll know when I hear her.

"I'm going to see what I can do with the big band in the East. Then, if I see something promising, I'm going to call Mel Lewis and the rest of the guys. Of course, it depends on the money I have to work with, so it's very hard to predict what'll happen."

Gibbs' "guys in the band" constitute a unique group in that they are, to a man, musicians skilled in the most exacting studio work, and most derive their livelihoods therefrom, yet they retain a genuine jazz freshness both as individuals and as a unit.

"It's a fun band," Gibbs said. "For example, during our first few tunes of the evening, when the place isn't crowded, the guys applaud one another when they play solos. It's like a ball club. When a player hits a home run, he gets a pat on the back. It's that way in the band."

Mel Lewis, the time-keeping cornerstone of the Gibbs band, made the following flat statement: "This is the greatest swing band I ever played in."

"It saved my life, musically," the drummer continued, "and the same goes for the rest of the guys."

"Who was hiring big bands to work in L.A. clubs," Lewis asked rhetorically, "before we went into the Seville? Since then, several big bands have worked clubs in L.A., but we were the only band that did any business in a club. We started the big-band era in Los Angeles."

Gibbs outlined the most important ingredients in a musically successful big jazz band.

"A drummer!" he explained. "A good drummer to hold the band together. All the great bands had great drummers —Basie had Jo Jones; Tommy Dorsey had Buddy Rich; Woody had Dave Tough.

"And then a good lead trumpet player. These are the guys who sort of run the band. They lay the time down for the band.

"We have a very great brass section. Four of the trumpets play lead—Ray Triscari, Al Porcino, Frank Huggins, and Stu Williamson. And Conte Candoli, along with Dizzy Gillespie, is the best big-band jazz trumpet player.

"Three of the trombones play lead. Frank Rosolino, Vern Friley, and Bob Edmondson keep everything going."

Of the lead alto man, Joe Maini, Gibbs cannot sing enough praises: "Point to Joe — for anything — and he can do it beautifully. Jazz or lead, doesn't matter."

Rounding out the sax section are tenor men Bill Perkins and Richie Kamuca; Charlie Kennedy, second and jazz alto saxophone, and Jack Nimitz, baritone saxophone.

In the rhythm section are pianist Pat Moran, for several years leader of her own quartet; bassist Buddy Clark, who with drummer Lewis toured with the Gerry Mulligan big band during the last two years; and Lewis, who, according to Gibbs, "holds any band together."

Whenever it's necessary to substitute because of illness or other Acts of God, Lou Levy generally gets the call for the piano chair; Frank Capp or Larry Bunker on drums (and the Bunker-Gibbs vibes duets on occasion have been memorable); Johnny Audino, Jack Sheldon, or Ray Linn in the trumpet section; and Bill Holman, Teddy Edwards, or Bud Shank in the saxophones.
Why, in Gibbs' opinion, did the jazz critics vote for a band that is (a) non-full-time and (b) whose appeal outside Los Angeles-Hollywood lies wholly within the grooves of long-play records?

"On the strength of those records, I would think," he said. Then he added, "If they liked the band on the albums, they would like it 20 times better if they heard it in person."

Down Beat
November 8,  1962

The following Playlist features four selections by this once-in-a-lifetime band.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Storytelling Ability - "Thinking in Jazz"

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

I have yet to find a better book at explaining what goes into making Jazz than Paul Berliner’s Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation.

Perhaps one of the reasons this is so is the author’s exhaustive reliance on Jazz musicians to describe what’s involved in the process of improvisation and then to synthesize and categorize some generalizations from these annotations.

There’s nothing like knowing what you are talking about based on experience.

Storytelling Ability

“Once again employing the metaphor of storytelling, the jazz community praises such attributes as the suspenseful development of ideas and the dramatic shaping of sound. These represent values related to those described earlier: the artist's ability to tell personal stories and to convey emotion through music.

Trumpeter Thad Jones likens the experience of listening to Roy Eldridge's solos to "being caught up in a thrilling mystery novel that you can't put down."  Eldridge himself found a comparable model for performance in the playing of Louis Armstrong, who "built his solos like a book—first, an introduction, then chapters, each one coming out of the one before and building to a climax." Similarly, for Dizzy Gillespie, "superior organization"is what makes a great solo: "This leads into that, this leads into that."

When great artists explore ideas with the force of conviction, they mesmerize the audience by moving toward goals with such determination and logic that their direction seems inevitable, their final creations compelling.

Among the "hippest thing[s]" Wynton Marsalis's father showed him was a Coltrane solo in which the whole solo formed a beautiful melodic curve, "and the key points in the phrases he was playing all went in a line."

Greg Langdon compares the gradual acquisition of dramatic precision and skill in executing ideas to the experience of an aspiring baseball player who initially must learn "to meet the ball with the bat" but ultimately strives to learn "how to place the ball."

In musical terms, the first challenge is to "make the changes" by correctly negotiating the structure of a piece and complementing the logic of its underlying progression. Failed improvisations, whether of melodists or drummers tend to be "disconnected demonstrations of technique removed from the pieces form. After a minute, you wouldn't know where a guy was in the solo" I (drummer Art Taylor). One distraught pupil described his frustration at "getting stuck" within particular key centers, "playing up and down" their related scales but unable to figure out how "to get out of" the tonality of one and into that of another. Only after analyzing vocabulary phrases whose movements described key changes and absorbing their general characteristics could he begin to invent new patterns that met the minimal requirements of logical harmonic practice, improvising through progressions with steady streams of harmonically correct pitches.

The second challenge, akin to "placing the ball," is to achieve the expressive treatment of pitches by "breaking up" their streams into interesting ideas "thematically and rhythmically."

An additional aspect of a musical story's logic is the motivic development of material. The insistent intrusion of physical reflexes sometimes complicates this objective. One student remembers, for example, the laughter of players at his improvisatory slip when, at the conclusion of a solo, he inadvertently departed from the bebop figure he had been developing by playing a cadential Dixieland figure. Directives of the verbalized or singing mind that suggest a rigid use of vocabulary can also be a problem. Very early, [trumpeter] John McNeil discovered that "if you try to force something that you've learned into your solos, say a phrase that is real hip, it will sound really contrived, like it doesn't have anything to do with what you just played before it." To avoid the artificial ring of musical non sequiturs, Miles Davis cautions soloists to develop the ideas that enter their imaginations as they improvise rather than being overly dependent on preplanned patterns: "Play what you hear, not what you know," he advises.

While negotiating the practical challenges inherent in thematic maneuvers, improvisers consider various aesthetic issues. One thing [bassist] Chuck Israels notices in a player is "whether he hangs onto a motive long enough to follow his investigation of it, or whether he is just rambling from one thing to another." Naive notions about the search for new ideas sometimes obscure such considerations for novices and lead them to strive for radically different patterns from phrase to phrase. When this tendency deprived my early solos of coherence,

[Alto saxophonist] Ken Mclntyre taught me about melodic sequences. His direction subjected me, for the first time, to the discipline of using discrete melodic ideas as a solo's conceptual basis. Also, I was unaware of how effective subtle embellishments and slight variations on particular musical models could be in transforming them. Thus, I continued being concerned about sounding repetitious.
As I was absorbing Mclntyre's teaching, however, I realized that I had begun to create solos that were not static but unified and distinct. Not long afterward, at a jam session, a young musician familiar with my considerable limitations as an improviser expressed astonishment, "I never heard you sound so together. I'm
not sure what it was, but your solo sounded like something you might even hear on a record."

Too strong a reliance on repetitive devices can, nevertheless, render solos too predictable, bogging down a story. "You need repetition as a basic part of musical form, but what you want is both repetition and development," Israels says. "It's a matter of how much change you want and when you want the change in a solo. Artists are always juggling such things, either instinctively or analytically." In [alto saxophonist] Lee Konitz's view, contemporary learning practices that "overemphasize" sequences cause improvisers to err on the side of repetition, "sounding like they're playing out of exercise books. Two-five-one patterns are essential material certainly, but by itself, it doesn't lead to an organic kind of playing. It's a contrivance."

Similarly, after once composing a solo for students, [pianist] Barry Harris reconsidered its opening phrases, in which the second imitated the first in a different key. "No, let's change that," he remarked, as a prelude to performing a variation on the transposed phrase. "Sequences should not be so obvious." There are times, however, when mature soloists abandon their reservations about repetition in order to create specific dramatic effects. They may perform a short phrase continuously for several measures to create momentum and suspense within a solo, heightening the listener's expectation for change.

Whereas some features of a musical story's logic derive from the motivic relationships of successive phrases and from their complementary relationships to chords, other features derive from the general flow of successfully improvised lines, lines with a continuity of rhythmic feeling and "smoothness" in their contours. They convey an ongoing sense of melodic coherence produced by the adjoinment of especially complementary shapes. In contrast, the early efforts of youngsters to improvise produce characteristically "jagged" lines. They "still sound young" to the experienced artist. In the beginning, "I didn't have the incredible flow of ideas that the players I admired did. You mature into that," [pianist] Tommy Flanagan remarks.

Eventually, learners increase their control over the precise shaping of melodies, "rounding off their edges." In part, this entails figuring out how to extend vocabulary patterns effectively. "If you're putting two phrases together when the chords change, one thing has to flow into the other,"[tenor saxophonist] Harold Ousley says. [Trombonist] Curtis Fuller gratefully acknowledges Barry Harris's crucial role in teaching him and his young friends how to achieve this essential quality in their playing, "how to flow ... the hardest thing to learn." Ultimately, learners distinguish aesthetically pleasing possibilities for expanding melodic shapes that convey a sense of forward motion and momentum, rejecting other possibilities that by comparison would be awkward or illogical — "a fragmented series of things, a bunch of isolated fragments," as [trumpeter] Lonnie Hillyer puts it. Hillyer sometimes keeps "one simple thing" in mind with a solo, "playing it from beginning to end as one complete thing."

Jazz is "real linear music in terms of the way it goes forward," [drummer] Akira Tana says. "You're developing linearly whether you play a saxophone or the drums. Iunderstand more about this conceptually than I did three or four years ago." In the beginning. Tana could "embellish phrases rhythmically, but had no control over where they would end up." Similarly, a young trumpeter routinely "began his solos well, but they always seemed to fall apart very quickly." He could conceive interesting patterns before he began playing, but quickly lost their thread in performance.

Some artists compare the efforts of young soloists to those of children learning to speak. Although periodically producing actual words, correct word groupings, and even credible short sentences within stretches of garbled sound, they cannot yet consistently convey meaning."

Even for experienced jazz artists, control over such features remains a variable of improvisations. Tommy Flanagan "can't say when it became easy because it's still not easy. Sometimes, you still have days when you just don't feel right, like there's some kind of congestion, and the flow isn't there. You're just not playing clearly."

In evaluating the stories that improvisers tell, musicians also consider the overall range of compositional materials in use and their imaginative treatment. "In a good solo, there should be variety in rhythm, melody, form, texture, color, development, contrast and balance, and so on,"

[Pianist] Fred Hersch maintains. "Either that, or one aspect should be worked at so intensely that it transcends the need for all the others." Artists are vulnerable in the latter case, however, when they fall short of their goals. The musician quoted earlier criticizing a bass player for "finding all the common tones" in his solos and "driving them into the ground" adds: "I do it too, sometimes. I run out of steam, sometimes. Okay? I can play the sharp nine on a dominant chord and just sit there playing that and the flatted third degree of a blues for a chorus or two. But I don't do it forever, and at least I look for some rhythmic invention."

Concerned with comparable pitfalls, Barry Harris constantly critiques student solos when their emphasis on particular elements causes the neglect of others. At times, he reminds them to "break up the running of scales" with varied intervals, chords, and arpeggios. "Different intervals are what's pretty!" When student inventions lack harmonic nuance, Harris playfully exhorts them: "Remember to use your diminishes and your augmenteds." Harris, as often, emphasizes rhythmic variety: "Don't forget different rhythms. Rhythm is what's pretty!"

From moment to moment, changes as basic as those produced by introducing sustained pitches and rests within a solo's busier rhythmic activity can provide welcome contrast. Alterations as subtle as periodic repetitions of pitches within a scalar pattern can also be very effective, standing out from neighboring musical shapes. The same principle of variety is likewise found in broader gestures.

A case in point is the style of Booker Little, whose solos characteristically include high sustained vocal cries, short interjections of phrases with speechlike cadences and rhythms, long, rapid passages mixing complex scalar and chordal elements, and melodies with simple singable qualities often treated as sequences.

There are limitless aspects of performance to satisfy the music's insatiable demand for variety, and improvisers are open to them all. Carmen Lundy's accompanist offered invaluable advice about dynamics, reminding her that singing in a "whisper" could be as effective as "screaming to get your message across." Wynton Marsalis recalls, "A cat once came up to me after a solo, and said, 'Well, man, play low.' I said, 'Damn, that's valid. I really don't play enough in the lower register.'" Such feedback keeps improvisation’s infinite considerations before musicians, enhancing the dramatic qualities of their stories.

With criticism received or overheard, learners gradually become more discriminating themselves in their evaluations of players, able to distinguish those individuals whose handling of the language of jazz is sophisticated and varied, replete with clever turns of phrase. "When Tommy Flanagan plays, every note of his is saying something," Fred Hersch remarks. "He doesn't throw a note away. He has his own little language, and you listen for the subtleties in his playing as you would listen to the subtleties in a Mozart piece. Like the way Tommy might make a change of voicing here, a little change of quality, the way a melodic line will kind of halt at a certain moment and turn back on itself, the way he'll extend a little motive. Anybody who has a sense of musicality will hear what he's doing. He's just communicating."

A related concern is the pacing of ideas over an improvisation's larger course. "Does the solo's feeling sustain, mount, diminish, and change from chorus to chorus and within a chorus?" Chuck Israels asks. Reflecting a similar understanding, [guitarist] Emily Remler usually "does the old climb-up-and-come-down action—build and release, tension and resolve. That's a great thing," she asserts. In part, the acquisition of the ability to create increasingly sophisticated and longer musical patterns facilitates this process, thinking "in terms of whole choruses instead of two-bar and four-bar phrases," she continues. "Building the tension over a whole chorus and ending on the 'one' of the next chorus for the release are very typical things to do, but it takes a certain sense of maturity."

Mature soloists constantly balance such factors as predictability and surprise, repetition and variation, continuity and change, displaying the discipline to make choices among different possibilities and to work with them methodically throughout a performance. In one instance, Miles Davis confines one chorus of his solo on "Blues by Five" to the trumpet's middle register, featuring a short, repeated offbeat rhythmic figure and varying the timbres and inflec-

I lions of its restricted pitches. In another chorus, he shifts the emphasis from rhythm and timbre to melody, improvising longer, artfully shaped phrases and climbing slightly higher in range. In yet another, he provides contrast and excitement by leading his melody with an arpeggiated leap into the instrument's high register, gradually descending with intricate chromatic movements (ex. 8.25d). Improvisers also create climactic events in solos by gradually increasing the rhythmic density of their creations.

Before cultivating the mental rigor to handle varied musical elements within a solo successfully, measuring their application, young musicians meet frequent criticism for "trying to play everything they know all the time on every tune." [Trumpeter] Tommy Turrentine refers to "cats who jump out there like it's the last tune they'll ever play. They blow their load even before they're out of the second chorus. That's pitiful." Similarly, Barry Harris criticizes a young player for failing to allow his ideas to develop "organically," instead "forcing" the conclusions of solos with "screaming," contrived intensity. "Endings must come naturally," Harris insists. "You're supposed to let it happen, not just to make it happen like that."

Ultimately, just as jazz musicians differ in their abilities to imbue musical patterns with the subtleties of wit and emotion, they differ in their abilities to control and develop their ideas overall. Some are simply better storytellers than others, Carrying listeners with them through each stage, their solos begin with patterns having the character of "real beginnings," build to a climax, perhaps through a series of peaks, and close with patterns having the character of formal endings."

"Timeless masterpieces," exemplary solos are regarded as works of art equal to the compositions that serve as their vehicles (trumpeter Art Farmer). Some solos even surpass them. Barry Harris praises the young Miles Davis for "improvising his own song over the song he was playing," that is, for "playing beautifully, lyrically, not just playing lines." Similarly, many improvisers strive to create solos that, whether in theory or practice, lend themselves to repeated listening and performance. "You can create new melodies in your solo that can become the melody of a new song," [bassist] Buster Williams says. "I want my playing to have that kind of cohesiveness, that connection, that kind of syntax."

As described earlier, compositions sometimes actually do evolve from the player's own improvisation of solos, and occasionally instrumentalists adopt another player's recorded solo as the basis for a composition. Finally, the vocalese composer's creation of lyrics for improvisations reinforces the narrative features of invention, giving literal translation to the metaphor of storytelling for improvisation, showcasing the dramatic musical content of outstanding solos.”

To be continued ….