Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis: Tough Tenor Saxophonist

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

“Davis straddles bop and swing in his phrasing; if anything, with his swallowed notes, sandpapery tone and sudden shrieks, he’s already a genre unto himself. … Davis was to become one of the most honest, no-nonsense soloist in the music. The knockout power of Davis’ blowing is thrilling.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“Eddie Davis is what you would call a natural musician for he never took a lesson in his life; not one that he didn’t administer himself, anyway. When Eddie decided that he wanted to play the tenor saxophone, he bought one second-hand and with it an instruction book which he studied diligently for eight months. At the end of this period, he played his first job [1942] at Clark Monroe’s Uptown House, one of the first bastions of modern Jazz.”
- Ira Gitler

“He talked the way he played. He was glib, and his silver-tongued, pleasantly confrontational style always elicited a great audience response.
There were players who were better known, more influential, whatever; but they weren’t any more confident or fearless than Jaws. He came to play, and if you were smart you didn’t mess with him. He brought a street-fighter’s instincts to the bandstand.”
- Joel Dorn

Okay, no shilly-shallying around: Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis’ tenor saxophone playing just knocks me out.

“Jaws” constantly delivered a brand of intensity and excitement on the instrument which aptly earned him the reputation for being one, tough, tenor saxophonist.

Whatever the setting – soloist with the Count Basie Orchestra, in Hammond B-3 Organ trios with Shirley Scott or co-leading a quintet with fellow tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin – Eddie barreled through them all with a temerity and a boldness that would characterize his career.

“His sound was, on reflection, a surprisingly complex matter. Unlike many of the players working in the organ-combo format, where Jaws made his biggest impact, his phrasing had an elongated quality that he broke up only with his matter-of-fact brusqueness; as if he was masking emotion with a temperament that told him to get on with it.” [- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.]

Jaws was a blustery soloist who came to prominence in the world of Jazz at a time when had you had to “make your bones” by engaging in “cutting” sessions with other tenor saxophonists.

Such “duels” might include only another tenor sax player, or perhaps two others or even a stage full of them; some were known to go on all night, ending in the wee small hours of the morning.

The creative sparks flew when tenor saxophones engaged in such battles, and Eddie “Lockjaws” Davis was often tested, but rarely bested in these competitions.

Whether he was playing the blues or a ballad, Jaws spun solos of flat-out exuberance and exhilaration. His sound was always inimitable and accomplished.

We found a nice overview of the salient features of Eddie’s career in the insert notes that Michael Cuscuna prepared for Eddie “Lockjaw” David: The Heavy Hitter [32 Jazz 32057].

“Eddie Lockjaw Davis, more commonly known these days as Jaws, is a thorough master of his instrument and his art. He is a warm, articulate, no-nonsense person who dispatches his business with a flair and a near perfection.

At the beginning of the session that produced this album, I made reference to the second night of recording. Jaws looked at me with surprise and said, "Second night! I'm only sup­posed to do one album. We'll do that now." As we had had no rehearsals and he had never played with the pianist or drummer before, I was skeptical, to say the very least.

But watching Jaws at work was an education. He was affable and encouraging with his sidemen, yet always in charge. He kept things moving without any trace of hurry or tension. Minutes after the rhythm section arrived, everyone was in his place and ready to go. Jaws would quickly talk out an arrangement, never allow a run through, saying, "Save it for the take. Don't give it away now." And every take was a first take with everyone sounding excel­lent and Jaws sounding nothing short of brilliant.

It is a testament to these musicians' abilities and professionalism and a miracle to me that such performances could come out of first takes without one sheet of music or one rehearsal. For the second tune of the night, Jaws turned to the rhythm section and said, "Okay 'Old Folks' and then we'll go into 'Out Of Nowhere.' Do you know the changes to these? I'll take a chorus and a half, the piano for the bridge and the last eight bars of that cho­rus. Then the bass and drums lay out and the piano has four bars to modu­late up to C for 'Out Of Nowhere.' We play 'Old Folks' in F. I'll play this phrase. (He plays it.) Got it? Okay, let's take it."

Jaws' tone is big and rich. He is of that generation and school that makes every note meaningful and beautiful in and of itself. He can burn earnestly without working up a sweat, and he can seduce a ballad without resorting to sentimentality. His solos seem to flow casually out of a bottomless reservoir of creativity and feeling.

Although Lockjaw is chronologically in the age of be-bop, his primary influences were Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins and Herschel Evans. Born in New York in 1921, he made his first mark in 1942 and '43 with Cootie Williams, Lucky Millinder, Andy Kirk, Louis Armstrong and other band leaders. The be-bop revo­lution was not one that passed him by as is evidenced by the lovely Fats Navarro date on Savoy in which he was featured. But his soul and spirit was and is firmly entrenched in the style and sound of the swing mas­ters. During the post war era, he recorded prolifically on a variety of labels. His first session as a leader was for Haven Records. The originals on the date were ar­bitrarily given the names of diseases. One tune, "Lock­jaw," was a hit. It established Davis and gave him a nickname that remains to this day a part of his moni­ker.

In 1952, Lockjaw joined the Count Basie organiza­tion for the first time and quickly became an attrac­tion as the band's cooking blues soloist. The excite­ment that he generated matched Illinois Jacquet's his­trionics with Lionel Hampton in the forties, but Eddie was a thoughtful soloist who never relied solely on grandstanding. Lockjaw would slide in and out of Basie's band as tenor saxophonist and road manager through the years, his longest stint lasting from 1966 to 1973.

After that first go-round with Basie, Eddie led his own groups around New York, until 1955 when he as­sembled a permanent working band with organist Shirley Scott. That group lasted five years and pio­neered the tenor-organ format in jazz. The group's life span is well documented on a string of soulful, intimate albums on Prestige, many of which included Lockjaw's longtime associate George Duvivier.
In 1960, Eddie joined forces with Johnny Griffin, tenor master with a more modern, bop-oriented bent. For the next two years, they battled it out on many recordings and bandstands in the great tradition of Stitt and Ammons or Dexter and Wardell.

When declining public and eco­nomics took their toll on jazz, Griff moved to Europe, jaws was soon to make the startling announcement that he was giving up the saxophone and taking a position as a booking agent with Shaw Artists, one of the heaviest jazz agencies of the period. Thank­fully, although successful in that ca­pacity, Jaws ultimately found the horn too irresistible and returned to play­ing. His "comeback" was in full force by 1966 when he joined the Basie band in both business and musical capaci­ties.

In 1973, Eddie left Basie again, played with Ella Fitzgerald for a time and then stepped out as a leader and a featured soloist in a variety of settings and circumstances around the planet.

In his later years, Lockjaw often recorded with Harry "Sweets" Edison and he remained a busy soloist up until his death in 1986.”

In this video tribute to Eddie which was developed with the assistance of the crackerjack graphics team at CerraJazz LTD, Jaws performs Body and Soul with Shirley Scott, Hammond B-3 organ, George Duvivier, bass and Arthur Edgehill, drums.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Johnny Griffin and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis: Tough Tenors

The title of this tune as played by the Tough Tenors - Johnny Griffin and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis - is Abundance!

Talk about understatement.

Joining Johnny and Eddie are Norman Simmons on piano, Victor Sproles on bass and Ben Riley on drums. This track is from their Battle Stations recording.

Max Ionata is Making Jazz

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

“Good stuff.  It's nice to hear someone who appears to be under 60 who doesn't play one clichĂ© after another.”
David Scherr, Composer and Saxophonist

Max Ionata is not a familiar name in Jazz circles.  He should be.

Max’s Jazz tenor saxophone playing is accomplished and refreshingly unique.

To be fair, he’s very well-known in his native Italy and thanks to Matteo Pagano, the owner and proprietor of Via Veneto Jazz, his two recent CDs for that label offer more of Max’s marvelous music which should garner him even more appreciation, both at home and abroad.

You can locate more information about Via Veneto Jazz by going here.  And while currency exchange rates and foreign postal services may be expensive and time-consuming, the good news is that the Via Veneto Jazz CDs Dieci and Kind of Trio along with other of Max’s recordings are available as Mp3 downloads.

For many years, the two signature instruments associated with Jazz were the trumpet  - Pops, Bix, Diz and Miles – and the tenor saxophone – Hawk, Pres, Sonny and Coltrane.

Trumpet and tenor saxophone are the two front-line instruments in most Jazz combos and their sounds blend particularly well when played in unison.

The human ear seems to have an affinity for the tenor saxophone which may, in part, be due to the fact that its sounds are very close to that of the human voice. It has been said that the tenor sax has an almost vocal quality.

Given the imposing stature of the Jazz greats who have played the instrument over the almost hundred years of the music’s existence, a great deal is expected of those who pick up “the big horn” and follow in this tradition.

Max Ionata doesn’t disappoint.

Whether he is featured in quintets that he co-leads with trumpeters Fabrizio Bosso and Flavio Boltro, or evoking the dueling tenor tradition of the great Dexter Gordon & Wardell Gray, or Al Cohn & Zoot Sims or Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt in combination with Danielle Scannapieco, another of Italy’s rising young tenor sax stars on their Tenor Legacy Albore CD, or as a member of drummer Roberto Gatto’s quintet on the Remembering Shelly CDs recently issued on the Albore label, Max Ionata always plays with presence, power and passion.

His sound is robust and yet mellow, his phrasing is long and continuous, and he generates a steady sense of swing.

Max doesn’t overreach the range of the horn to litter his solos with squeaks and squawks nor does he take lengthy solos whose most appealing quality to the exhausted listener is that they have finally come to an end.

When Max is making Jazz, his solos are so artfully constructed that you don’t want them to end, at least, not too soon.

He incorporates just enough harmonic extensions to make his solo melodies interesting, but these never become ends in themselves.

Max doesn’t come to impress, he comes to play.  What you hear in his music is the fun of making Jazz; the music as an expression of a good time being had by all concerned.

Nothing laborious or contorted: nothing elaborately diminished, augmented or raised.  Just a beautifully played and very swinging tenor saxophone.

When a musician like Max comes along, other musicians can’t wait to have the chance to work with him. He brings out the best in them. In his presence, Jazz is once again accessible and yet still an adventure.

The following video features Max performing Astrobard from his new Via Veneto CD Dieci with Fabrizio Bosso on trumpet, Luca Mannutza on piano, Nicola Muresu on bass and Nicola Angelucci on drums.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Stefano Di Battista: "Goodbye Mr. P."

Something "easy-on-the-ears" from Stefano. Click the "X" in the upper right hand corner to close out of the ads.

Soprano saxophonist Stephano di Battista performing his original composition "Goodbye Mr. P" with Daniele Scannapieco on tenor saxophone, Flavio Boltro, trumpet, Julian O. Mazzariello, piano, Dario Rosciglione, bass and Andre Ceccarelli, drums.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Tiny Kahn: Over 300 But Less Than 30

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

“Tiny's ears are what really got to me. I don't know if he had absolute pitch. Very likely he did—or came very close to it. He instinctively knew how to read an arrangement. Right off he would find what to do with a chart. Another thing—Tiny tuned his drums assiduously. He was concerned with the pitch of each drum. And he was very particular about cymbals; each one had to serve a particular purpose. He was like a modern Sid Catlett. He would have had that kind of influence, had he lived.

Tiny was very advanced harmonically. His arrangement of Harold Arlen's "Over the Rainbow" for the Barnet band indicates where he was going. He wrote it in Salt Lake City in two days.

The loss of Tiny Kahn was devastating He meant so much to music and to those who knew him. Everybody learned some­thing from Tiny. If you talked to or hung out with him, played in one of the bands that employed him or analyzed his writing, you came away with something.”
- Manny Albam, composer-arranger

“Tiny was melodic on drums ….. He probably was the most melodic drummer of all time. And the most economic. He made every stroke mean something. A whole school developed around his style.

Tiny could do so many things easily. When I was in the Army, the leader of the dance band at my base in Dallas told me he couldn't buy the "Jump the Blues Away" and "Wiggle Woogie" Basie stocks anywhere. I wrote Tiny about the problem—how all the cats in the band, including me, wanted to play this music. What did he do? He just copied all the music off the record­ings and sent the transcriptions to me. And that was an eighteen-year-old guy who had never taken a lesson.

How about this? When I came home on furlough, as World War II was winding down, Tiny hipped me to what Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were doing and explained their music in detail. He knew every note and what to do with it. He would sit at the piano and play complete tunes for me, in some cases including all the solos. He always knew what was going down before anyone else.”
- Terry Gibbs, vibraphonist and bandleader

“Tiny Kahn was really a gigantic influence to all of us. Es­pecially all the young white players who were in the big bands and still trying to play jazz. He was such a marvelous musician. He was a dy­namic drummer with great time. He didn't have great hands, great feet, he wasn't really a showy drummer. He was just a real father time-type drummer. And he was a self-taught arranger, piano player, ….. Tiny knew how changes went from one to another. He was a tremendous influence on me and many others too.”
- Red Rodney, Jazz trumpet player and bandleader

“He was a very rare talent. Completely natural. He was the most unstudied musician in the whole world. And yet he wrote some excellent charts. He was a swinging drummer. A very unstudied one. But yet a natural swinger. He really wasn't a pi­anist. He would just sit down and kind of noodle away in the most illegitimate, unschooled way. But what came out was beautiful.”
- Frankie Socolow, Jazz saxophonist

“Tiny, believe it or not, was with Kenny Clarke, I believe those were the two distinct changes at that time. Tiny changed it from the Buddy Rich sound, from Gene Krupa, Louis Bellson. He came in with an opposite sound, and Mel [Lewis] came in right on the heels of Tiny, every one of us knew that.”
- Chubby Jackson, Jazz bassist and bandleader

“ Tiny never let anything deter him. He wanted to know! And he wasn't shy about it. He was curious about certain fills that I used when I worked with Parker and Dizzy. He dug their sound and feeling. So he just came up and asked. ‘How do you do those things? Show me how to play them.’

“Tiny was the one who led the way into the soft pulse—not a hard edge to it, [Ed. note — Stan more than suggested this concept in his own work, partic­ularly with small bands.] Drummers changed because of him, making their approach to sound and comment more musical, less percussive. Tiny had a rare understanding of the inner workings of a band because he was a writer. He knew how to control the time feeling, the tempo, how to take hold of the sections, the entire orchestra.

Everyone borrowed or stole from him. For a guy to die at the beginning of a great career is criminal. I know musicians who can't play or write who live into their nineties.”
- Stan Levey, Jazz drummer

[All of the above quotations by musicians and friends of Tiny are excerpted from Ira Gitler, Swing to Bop: An Oral History of the Transition in Jazz in the 1940s or Burt Korall, Drummin’ Men, The Heartbeat of Jazz: The Bebop Years].

The subtitle in our feature about Tiny Kahn refers to the fact that for much of his brief life, this terrific composer, arranger and drummer weighed over 300 pounds [at one point, he topped out at 415 lbs.!], but didn’t live to reach the age of thirty [30].

Perhaps the two were related?  It would seem so for according to Johnny Mandel: “Tiny had warnings before he passed. He almost died in the late 1940s of a bad blood clot in his leg. Coronary problems, difficulties within the vascular system, were common for several years”.

During his tragically short lifetime, Tiny Kahn influenced and impressed just about everyone he performed with during Bebop’s nascent decade [1943-53].

So much so, that when news of his death reached drummer Stan Levey, a big, brute of a guy whom I never knew to fall prey to easy emotion or sentimentality, it caused this reaction:

“The day he died I was in Europe with Stan Kenton. We were about to begin a concert in Copenhagen for a tremendous audience. Somehow the word got to us that Tiny had died. Well, I just totally broke down. I finally pulled myself together and thought: ‘I'll play this one for Tiny. He gave me and other musicians so much.’”

Other than such references about his reputation from other musicians, I never knew much about Norman “Tiny” Kahn. I had heard him on the 1951 recordings that he made with Stan Getz Jazz impresario George Wein’s Storyville nightclub then located in Boston’s Copley Plaza Hotel and I had even played on a few of his big band arrangements such as T.N.T and Tiny’s Blues.

So when the marvelous Dutch Jazz drummer, Eric Ineke, suggested Tiny for a feature on JazzProfiles, I thought it would be great to do a bit of research into Kahn’s career and to “get to know him better.”

Here are just a few testimonials about how Tiny was universally loved and respected:

Johnny Mandel: “The first time I came across Tiny Kahn was late one night at Child's Paramount, after we had finished the last set. There he was, standing around in an overcoat, indoors. Tiny sat down at the piano and started playing some funny stuff. I said to myself: ‘Oh, what's this?’ Then he got into some good things, and I was really impressed. I remember mumbling: ‘Oh,  my God!’ I didn't know until later that he was a drummer and arranger. I so admired Tiny's ideas and musicality and his qualities as a person that we were pretty much inseparable for eight years—until he passed.

He probably was one of the most honest and humorous people I ever met. Certainly that came out in his playing and writing. He was unlike anyone I've ever met. You can't compare him to anyone else. He was just different.”

Stan Getz: “Tiny was one of my favorite drummers of all time. He was the closest thing to Sid Catlett. He would musically get underneath you and lift you up. Most drummers batten you down from the top. And he wrote as well as he played. He was just the best!”

Elliot Lawrence: “Everyone insisted I hire Tiny. He was a great, ego-free player and a writer who knew how to develop material in the most meaningful I way. His charts almost played themselves. Everything swung.

He and Buddy Jones, our bassist, laid down what felt like a new kind of time. It was light and flew along. It didn't feel like the band touched the ground. The band was marvelous and wanted to make a new statement. Tiny, Al [Cohn], Johnny Mandel, Al Porcino, Nick Travis—a whole bunch of wonderful guys—had so much to say. This was a band that wanted to roar every night.

Tiny and I were together the better part of four years, …. It was going so well for him. And suddenly he was gone.”

[All of the previous quotations excerpted from Burt Korall, Drummin’ Men, The Heartbeat of Jazz: The Bebop Years].

© -  Burt Korall, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Burt goes on to give this overview of the prominent aspects of Tiny’s brief career:

“Norman "Tiny" Kahn, one of Brooklyn's major gifts to jazz, has assumed legendary proportions since his untimely death in 1953, at twenty-nine. The drummer-composer-arranger-pianist-vibraphonist-humorist was a natural— a musician who had great instincts and a well-developed sense of what worked best in every circumstance. Had he lived, he certainly would have had an increasingly meaningful career in jazz and very possibly in other areas of music as well.

His sudden death was most deeply felt in New York, where he did some of his best work. But the impact extended through the country to Europe, where his recordings with George Auld, Stan Getz, Serge Chaloff, Red Rodney, Chubby Jackson, and Charlie Barnet and Lester Young certainly had more than a passing effect.

Kahn is remembered not only for his talent but for his warmth and sensitivity as a person. He was liked by everyone. He didn't have an evil bone in his rather large body.

Music consumed his waking hours. All kinds of music. He listened, then analyzed and evaluated what he heard. He had his own concept when it came to drums. Outside of instruction with drum teachers Freddie Albright and Henry Adler, covering sixteen months in all, at different times, Kahn was self-made—as a drummer, composer and arranger, pianist, and vibraphonist.

His drumming made bands sound better than they ever had before, particularly during his last years when he had all the elements of his style in enviable balance. His time was perfect—right down the center. He wasn't too tense or too laid-back. Kahn had his own sound and techniques on drums and could be quite expressive, using his hands and feet in a manner that was his alone. Certainly not a technical wizard, he transcended his relative lack of technical ability by developing a manner of playing that not only made up for this but raised his and his colleagues' performance level.

His primary contribution as a drummer was the inspiration he provided, motivating musicians to feel good and give the best of themselves. He played a classic supporting role in small and large bands, bringing a small band approach and flexibility to his work. He concerned himself with giving players the security and the wherewithal needed to free them. Kahn had so much going for him that was not immediately apparent. You had to listen and listen some more before it became completely clear what he could do for music. Then the revelation came in a rush.

Kahn the writer gave you much to hear and think about. Often his compositions and arrangements practically played themselves. Musicians remember how easy his charts were to perform; they felt right for all the instruments and never failed to communicate and make a comment. His unpretentious writing mirrored his concern for expressing ideas in an economical, telling, swinging manner.

It was immediately apparent to all who knew him, as a kid in Brooklyn and later on as well, that Kahn had music within him. As he grew older and ad opportunities to share his views and ideas with others, he became a great source to the many musicians drawn to him. He was a leader without ever desiring to be one.

Kahn set an example not only when it came to playing and writing but i how he lived. While others turned to hard drugs, drink, and an underground life, he moved ever more deeply into music. His only harmful habit" was food. A food junkie, he ate often and excessively. His need and great capacity for food could well have been the basis for more than a few sessions with a therapist. Many of his close friends feel he would have lived much longer had he managed to deal more logically with this problem.

Tiny Kahn's life had unusual consistency. He immersed himself in music early and did everything he could to further his knowledge and under­standing of all of it. …

Kahn hung out where the music was happening. He got to know players and writers in all the bands. Many of his friends around town loved Basie, Lester Young, and Jo Jones — the Basie band of the 1930s and early 1940s. A little later, they became fascinated with the innovations of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Max Roach, and Bud Powell. They sought a rapprochement between the floating rhythm and musicality of Pres and Jo, the economy of the pianist Basie and the relaxed swing of his band, and what the modernists [i.e.: Parker and Gillespie] were doing. …

1949 was a key year for Tiny Kahn. He helped organize and rehearse the Chubby Jackson band, for which he wrote almost the entire library of arrangements. The band lingers in mind, even though it didn't last too long. Kahn played and wrote for the Charlie Barnet modern band that year. He also briefly became involved —because of Gerry Mulligan's strong recommendation — with Benny Goodman's bebop band. But the leader's peculiarities, when it came to drummers and things in general, negated a regular working relationship with the drummer-arranger. …

‘The Chubby Jackson band was the greatest band I ever played with,’ Kahn told Pat Harris. "The records give you a poor idea of how it sounded. Columbia didn't put as much effort into the record date as it could have - poor balance, etc. The idea seemed to be to get the date over as soon as possible. The band did ... the date before it ever had a job… .

The Jackson band had extraordinary impact for its size - fourteen piece - and swung with unusual ferocity. It really communicated! Kahn's charts were among the best examples of bringing together elements of bop and Basie. The soloists - tenorist Ray Turner, altoist Frank Socolow, trumpeter Charlie Walp - were unstintingly pulsating and creative. Kahn brought unusual life to the band from the drums. Jackson was a supportive, enthusiastic leader. He had all that was needed to make it. Unfortunately, poor business practices and the time [late 1940s] - which was notable for the decline of interest in big bands - denied the band the success it deserved. …

Swing Idol Charlie Barnet also hired Kahn in 1949 …. The Kahn-Barnet legacy is small – six Capitol recordings - … - 5 are arrangements by Manny Albam and the sixth is the imaginative ballad treatment by Kahn of “Over the Rainbow.”

All these Albam charts have a number of things in common: modern coloration, warm voicings, unfolding, developmental linear qualities. The rhythmic line provided by Kahn is uncluttered. His comments around the drums provoke yet remain a matter of telling simplicity. He's inspiring without disturbing the balance and forward motion of the band. …

Phil Brown, who replaced Kahn in the Stan Getz group in 1952., has an excellent grasp of what Kahn did as a drummer. He loved his playing back then and remains fascinated by it to this day.

Tiny was the first drummer to play matched grip almost all the time. He deviated only when brushes were called for; then he would revert back to the traditional/French grip in the left hand. Tiny was more comfortable with matched grip because his hands were on the fat side and he couldn't easily accommodate to the traditional grip in the left hand: the stick is lodged a fulcrum between the thumb and index finger and extends through the opening between the second and third finger.

Matched/timpani grip really worked for him. He was able to get around the drums more easily. His solos had their own sound because he used the tympani grip. Many of the guys performing back then didn't get the strokes  [Ed note: —in Tiny's case, mostly singles] to sound as even as Tiny did. He played some unusual things, and they were drummistic to a certain point without being technical.

What made him different? He let the time flow and roll along. He didn't play "four" on the bass drum. He didn't emphasize the "2-and-4" clicking sound of the hi-hat.

I got the best shot at him, in person, at the Showboat in Philadelphia, shortly before I joined Getz's band [Ed. note—Al Haig (piano), Curly Russell (bass), Jimmy Raney (guitar)]. I noticed he left beats out of his right-hand ride rhythm. It made it possible for him to rest, particularly on up-tempos, and add to the fluidity of the pulse. He was a precursor of today's rock drum­mers; they also skip beats in the ride rhythm.

To balance things out, he would comment with his left hand, on the snare or a tom-tom. He divided the ride rhythm while bringing into play other elements of the set. By breaking up the rhythm, he made the time more relaxed, more exciting and provocative. The way he used his left hand on the snare and how he played accents increased the rhythmic interest of his performances.

Some drummers said he played the way he did because he couldn't execute the traditional ride rhythm in fast tempi. But what he did was better, different. He was the first free drummer—in that he didn't strictly stick to playing time. What he thought and how he executed his ideas may have been dictated by lack of technique, but he proved necessity is the mother of unusual invention.

There was great honesty in Tiny's playing. He wasn't trying to copy. He wasn't into commenting on Max Roach or being like him. So many other people did that. He was just pure Tiny Kahn. He was one of truly great drummers. I'm including everyone in this comparison.

Tiny was the embodiment of a very singular time in jazz. He personified a generation of guys who grew up listening to Basic and Pres and then shifted a little bit to Charlie Parker and started to come up in the bebop world.

I was very conscious of the way Tiny sounded in Stan Getz's band and how effective he was. I wanted to see if I could perpetuate that tradition.

Others worked in this tradition. Osie Johnson is frequently mentioned as someone who took this manner of performance and brought to it his own vision. But Mel Lewis was Kahn's most widely listened-to disciple. He found himself within Kahn's style and enhanced and built upon it in a major way, emerging with something that had his stamp on it.

“My relationship with Tiny began when I came to New York from Buffalo with the Lenny Lewis band in the late 1940s. I heard and liked the recordings Tiny had made with Red Rodney for Keynote. We got together frequently. He came to hear me at the Savoy Ballroom. Soon after that I returned the compliment and went to hear him with the Boyd Raeburn band.

We got a chance to really talk during the afternoons we spent drinking egg creams on Broadway. I realized we liked the same drummers and the same sort of music. Apparently we were two of a kind. He even used low-pitched cymbals—same as I did. He tuned his drums in a highly individual way. I came to realize, by hearing Tiny, that I needed nothing larger than a twenty-inch bass drum.

Tiny was an innovator in so many ways. He brought a looseness and the improvisational feeling of small band drumming to the big band. I heard him every time I could. I loved what he did. He played great fills and lead-ins to explosions that kicked a band along. I must admit I even stole a few.”

My thanks to Eric Ineke for without his suggestion, I might never have looked into the creative brilliance of Tiny Kahn.  After reading about his story, is it any wonder that those musicians who knew him during his relatively brief lifetime were crushed by his untimely death?

Here’s a video which was filmed at the Los Angeles Jazz Institute’s 4-day East Coast Sounds May 30, 2010 concert of The Terry Gibbs Big Band Plays the Music of Tiny Kahn. The audio is Tiny’s arrangement of his original composition of Father Knickerbopper.

And this single slide video has an audio track featuring Tiny’s drumming that is taken from Stan Getz’s 1951 Storyville recording. The title of the tune is 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Didier Lockwood: Jazz and the Violin

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

Not everyone likes Jazz played on a violin.  For some fans, the music seems out of place when performed on this instrument.

Those who disapprove of it view the violin as falling into a category that broadly includes the Hammond B-3 organ, the accordion and the harmonica; instruments which are better suited to other purposes like the circus or some form of novelty entertainment than to Jazz.

These dissenters think the sound of the violin is more befitting a 19th century drawing room than a 20th century Jazz club.

I have been a fan of Jazz violin for many years, ever since the first time I heard the music played in the capable hands of violinists like Joe Venuti, Ray Nance and Stuff Smith.

When it comes to Jazz violin, however, the French have made it into something of an institution.

In France, the name that readily comes to mind when Jazz violin is mentioned is the work of Stephane Grappelli, especially the recordings he made with guitarist Django Reinhardt and The Quintette du Hot Club de France primarily in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

Grappelli’s successor is Jean Luc-Ponty who brought the French Jazz violin tradition into modern Jazz and beyond with his adoption of the electric violin and his interest in Jazz-Rock fusion.

Ponty moved well beyond Jazz to become a recognized star on the World Music stage, but not before passing the French Jazz violin “baton” [bow?] to Didier Lockwood who made his debut recording – New World - in 1979 for MPS’s PAUSA division [#7046].

But whereas Ponty had made the jump to Jazz-Rock fusion from an earlier career deeply rooted in the Jazz tradition, Lockwood came to Jazz from Rock and always viewed the two as one style of music - in other words – fused.

Irrespective of the instrument in question, this was the case with many Jazz musicians whose apprenticeship was essentially formed in the 1960s; Rock was not alien to them, but rather, was accepted as having something legitimate to offer as a way of putting their own stamp on Jazz.

From its earliest days, Jazz had always been a melting pot as the Creole music from which it developed combined elements of African and European musical traditions in its place of origin, New Orleans.

Why not meld or infuse Jazz with a Rock “in-the-pocket” beat or use its melodies and more simplified chord structure as the basis for Jazz improvisation?

To Jazz musicians coming-of-age in the 1960s and 1970s, there was no need to search for an answer to this question. They question wasn’t even raised.

Enter Didier Lockwood and his Jazz-Rock, electric violin, both of which I first heard on the aptly named New World LP.

On this recording, Didier is joined by a rhythm section made up of Gordon Beck on piano, Niels-Henning, Orsted-Pedersen on bass and Tony Williams on drums, who all serve to lend authority to its more Jazz-oriented selections.  The quartet is augmented by three additional musicians for the Rock themes on the LP.

As Didier’s career has progressed over the past 30 years, the three dozen or so recordings that Didier has issued under his own name pretty much follow the same pattern, although some such as the 1996 Storyboard [Dreyfus FDM  36582] with Joey DeFrancesco [organ], James Genus [bass] and Steve Gadd on drums and the 1999 Tribute to Stephane Grappelli [Dreyfus FDM 36611-2] with guitarist Bireli Lagrene and bassist Niels-Henning, Orsted-Pedersen have a stronger, “pure” Jazz orientation either due to personnel or themes, or both.

Didier’s magnificent playing on the Grappelli tribute dispels any question about his Jazz roots. What he lays down in his solos on this recording would be startling for their conception, originality and execution on any instrument, let alone a violin.

Lockwood’s recordings are all adventures in sound as he seems to want to experiment with everything that’s been going on in popular instrumental music over the past, three decades.

And, to varying degrees, they all come together successfully in Didier’s music primarily because “Lockwood is an immensely gifted player, combining a virtuosic technique with an attractive musicality.” [Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.]

For some of the reasons expressed at the outset of this piece, Lockwood’s music is not “everyone’s cup of tea.”

If you are not into Jazz violin, they you won’t be into the extremes to which the sound of that instrument is taken in some of Didier’s music.

Not a fan of electronic instrument, then don’t go near Didier’s stuff.

Heavily laid-on Rock beats, simplified chords and musical structures that occasionally unravel into free form not your thing? Best to take a pass, then, on Lockwood’s music.

But should you like to hear Jazz violin in a new dimension, a sampling of Didier’s music is a “ticket” [billet?] to a thrilling and innovative series of adventures.

Simply put, Didier Lockwood is an exceptional Jazz musician, whatever the context: straight-ahead or fused with other musical motifs.

Most of the cover art from Didier’s recordings are on display in the video tribute to him which you will find at the end of this piece. Fittingly, perhaps, the video uses as its audio, the title track from his New World LP.

And here are some excerpts from the insert notes by album’s producer, Joachim-Ernst Berendt:

“Of all lands, France is the country of great jazz violinists. The first was Michel Warlop who died in 1947. He - not Django Reinhardt or Stephane Grappelli - was the ‘Chef d'0rchestre’ when these two made their first big-band recordings in the early thirties. In 1937, when Warlop became aware that Grappelli was the better violinist of the two, he gave one of his violins to Grappelli.

In so doing, he established a tradition - the Warlop violin keeps being passed on to the most pro­mising French jazz violinist. Grappelli passed it on to Jean-Luc Ponty.

And in January, 1979, Ponty and Grappelli decided that Didier Lockwood would be the violinist most worthy of owning Michel Warlop's instrument. Grappelli presented it to him during a concert at the Theatre de la Ville de Paris.

Didier, born in 1956 in Calais, comes from a French-Scottish family in which there is an ‘abundance of musicians.’ His father was a professor of violin at the conservatory in Calais. His brother is a pianist. A cousin is a bass player at the Paris Opera. Didier studied at the famous Ecole Normale in Paris. When he was only 16 he received a first prize from the French copyright society SACEM.

He had composed modern concert pieces in serial and twelve-tone form. Through English blues music he first discovered Rock, then Jazz. For three years he belonged to the French Rock group, Magma. He was, understandably, influenced in the beginning by Jean-Luc Ponty.

But then Zbigniew Seifert became important. When this record was made, we were all feeling the impact of the death of that great Polish violinist, who had died only five days previously in Buffalo, New York. Didier dedicated his composition, Zbiggy, to his memory.

He said, ‘No other violinist has moved or influenced me more strongly.’ Stephane Grappelli has used his insight and knowledge to help Didier quite a bit. He has, wherever possible, presented Didier in his concerts. They have often played together in violin duos.

Didier Lockwood has been heard for years at many of the important festivals. He played in Montreux in 1975 and 78, in 1976 at the Castellet Festival (where he met Tony Williams!), in 1978 at the festivals in Antibes and Donaueschingen. Impressed by his success at Donau­eschingen, we decided to make this recording. It is Didier's first.

Didier Lockwood: ‘l have always tried to play with the best musicians. The greatest way to learn is to play with the best, because in this way you're obliged to give your best.’ Hence the personnel on this record. Here Didier truly has the best.  …”

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Gordon Beck: From Two Perspectives – Solo & Duo

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

“It concerns me that, now, at the time of his passing, he won't be accorded the place he's so clearly earned. The proof is there in the records. The literature exists. It's self evident.

… his music is all about color and light, shards of amazing brilliance, real earthy moving soulfulness and fire  - and he did have that glorious and singing keyboard sound.

Gordon Beck was a musician apart, he was special and he was great.”
-Colm “Red” Sullivan, 01/09/2012

“There cannot be many jazz musicians who have simultaneously possessed a flying phobia and a pilot's license. That has long been a favorite anecdote about Gordon Beck, the lean, stonily impassive and technically awesome pianist, who has died aged 76.

Beck had the license because his first career was in aeronautical engineering, and the phobia because his complex personality mixed deep-seated anxieties with a fearless appetite for freefall adventures, evident in his jazz improvisations.”
- John Fordham – The Guardian, Nov. 14, 2011

“Gordon Beck can do it all!
- Phil Woods, alto saxophonist

By the late 1960s, Jazz was on a collision course with anonymity.

The Halcyon Days were waning, the music was slipping into obscurity and Jazz musicians were sliding into the recording studios to make TV commercials, radio jingles and “full orchestra” albums for rock stars. As the late alto saxophonist and flutist Bud Shank remarked about this transition from performing in clubs to on-call playing in the studios: “It was a matter of survival: you gotta eat and pay the rent.”

Clubs like Shelly’s Manne Hole and The Lighthouse had moved away from resident groups to book “big names” such as Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley in order to keep the clientele flowing and their doors open.

One such marquis appearance occurred at Shelly’s in the Fall of 1969 when alto saxophonist Phil Woods came to town for a week-long stint at the club.

I should say of Phil’s visit that is was more a triumphal return to the states with his European-based quartet as he had left the country a few years earlier to take up residence in Paris after becoming totally disgusted with what he saw as Jazz’s march into oblivion.

Phil named his quartet “The European Rhythm Machine” and I suspect that he may have chosen this appellation to quiet the critics who were always disparaging the quality of European rhythm sections. The Irishman in Phil never ran away from a good argument or failed to stand its ground to make a point.

“The European Rhythm Machine” was a quite exceptional rhythm section with George Gruntz on piano, Henri Texier on bass and Daniel Humair on drums. I couldn’t wait to hear it in person.

Except when I got to Shelly’s on opening night [along, it seems, with every alto saxophone player in the city], Phil introduced his pianist as “Gordon Beck” and his bassist as “Ron Mathewson.”

Changes in the personnel that make-up Jazz groups are very common, and Daniel Humair, one of my all-time favorite drummers was still a part of the group, so I just sat back with my glass of vino and waited for Phil and the group to let it happen.

And boy, did it happen, but not in the way I expected.

Phil called a blues to open the set, a not uncommon occurrence as playing on its simple structure is a typical method to get the group to relax and into the flow of things.

Making music isn’t like making anything else: you have to adopt a mind-set that follows its conventions but, most of all, you have to concentrate.

Phil took the first solo, but instead of Gordon Beck being up next, the solo order moved on to Ron Mathewson on bass and to trading 12-bar breaks with Daniel before Gordon took over.

And did he ever – take over!

The rhythm section laid-out and Gordon played a series of unaccompanied 12-bar choruses that were at once - riotous, rollicking and riveting – he totally knocked us out.

It was one of the most gripping performances I had ever heard by any musician, anywhere.

I may not have known who “Gordon Beck” was when I went into Shelly’s that night, but I never forgot who he was afterwards.

Gordon went on to make two recordings with Phil’s Group Phil Woods And His European Rhythm Machine [Inner City 1002] and Phil Woods And His European Rhythm Machine At The Frankfurt Jazz Festival [Embryo SD-530].

And in 1978, I came across Gordon’s The French Connection which Jean-Jacques Pussiau produced for Owl Records [#11], the same producer and label that was to issue some of the recordings involving Gordon’s famous collaboration with singer Helen Merrill.

It is a solo piano album and it contains many examples of the brilliance and originality that Gordon put on display that night at Shelly’s as a member of the Phil Woods European Rhythm Machine.

Almost twenty years later, I “met up” with Phil and Gordon again this time courtesy of their two CD “Complete Concert: Live at the Wigmore Hall in London” [JMS 18686-2] for which Phil wrote the following insert notes.

“I first met and played with Gordon Beck in April, 1968. Gordon led the house trio at Ronnie Scott’s London club that included Tony Oxley on drums and Jeff Clyne on bass. Ronnie’s was my first stop when I began my five-year expatriate existence.

The European Rhythm Machine was formed right after this gig and George Gruntz was the first pianist. When he left after the first year, Daniel Humair our drummer, and bassist Henri Texier, both agreed with me that Gordon was the perfect choice to replace George.

And he was the perfect choice!

Gordon and I have shared many musical and life adventures. We always dined with [tenor saxophonist] Ben Webster when we were in Ben’s neighborhood, we hung with Dizzy [Gillespie] and Dexter [Gordon], we triumphed at the Palermo Pop Festival, no mean feat in the early seventies.

We recorded with [vocalist] Lena Horne playing the arrangements of the master, Robert Farnon, and with Mel Torme playing the exquisite orchestrations of one of England’s best, Chris Gunning.

Gordon also played on three of my albums done in London with a large orchestra. Gordon can do it all!

We were together at the last riot-torn Newport Festival and most memorable to me, we hung with Shelly Manne when the European Rhythm Machine played his great club and I saw GB make his first dive in Shelly’s swimming pool, a perfect one and a half gainer that garnered a perfect 6.

If you don’t believe me call Ron Mathewson, he has the films to prove it. Yes Gordon and I have been around the block a few times.

Our friendship has withstood the test of time and, at last, we are able to realize one of our dreams, and dear listener, you hold the results of our warm encounter in your hands.

This concert is complete and unedited. What you hear is what happened. We did not “fix” anything.

Perhaps, a seam shows, but to these old ears, it sounds like two old friends [who have plied their craft for decades] getting together to share in one of life’s greatest pleasures, improvising music.

There are great moments on this CD. When I used to ask Dizzy how he was doing he would disarmingly reply: ‘Well, I don’t think I’m getting any worse.” I think the same could be said for Gordon and me.

Thank you Gordon. Thank you Jean- Marie [Salhani, the producer of the CD for JMS Records] for documenting our humble efforts and than you for buying this CD.

June 18, 1996

Phil Woods”

Should you like more detailed information about all facets of his career, Gordon has a website devoted to him which you can locate a

I thought it might be interesting to feature musical examples of Gordon’s work in support of this feature about him from two perspectives: his solo piano work and as a duo with Phil Woods.

The ace graphics team from CerraJazz LTD has once again come to our assistance in developing the following video tributes to Gordon and to Gordon with Phil Woods to enable me to do just that.