Thursday, February 28, 2013

Kandinsky and Kenton: An Artistic Accord


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


“Beginning in the mid-1940’s, Kenton found an enthusiastic, ever-growing, devoted audience. His music seemingly spoke to the postwar young and veterans of World War II. The enveloping, orgasmic sound of the orchestra had a hypnotic quality. The general feeling was that Kenton was hip. And though many critics disagreed vehemently, supporters of the orchestra would have none of that. They loved with a passion this vivid, often stirring, immoderately loud music that made them feel good and seemed to promise something for the future.”
- Burt Korall, Jazz author and critic

There’s a tremendous bond between Jazz musicians.

They know how hard it is to play this music; harder still to create it.

As a result, Jazz musicians have a ready respect for others who demonstrate a facility in navigating the music’s many challenges.

The knowing look; the smile of appreciation; the nodding of the head in approval are all subtle signs accorded to a musician who can make it happen in Jazz.

Jazz doesn’t exist; it has to be brought into existence by the improvising skills of the musician, individually and in combination.

Of course, the melodies, chord structures and blues frameworks that these improvisations are based on are, for the most part, written compositions.

But this notated music only serves as a point of departure.

Jazz is almost impossible to teach, but it can be learned.

In Jazz, one of the sincerest forms of flattery is indeed imitation; copying the work of others in order to get the “feel” of how Jazz is done and to develop one’s own sensibilities for making it.

It’s like trying on our elders’ clothes until one is able to “dress” oneself with originality, assurance and style.

When it all comes together and one finds one’s own voice in Jazz, there’s a tremendous sense of satisfaction and power in what the author Arthur Koestler once described as “The Act of Creation.”

Although I am not at all practiced in other, creative arts, I am told by many who are that artists share a similar affinity with the work of each other be they painters or poets or photographers; essayists or writers or biographers; playwrights or actors or movie directors.

Sometimes these artistic accords cross lines and combine well with one another.

Imagine viewing motion pictures with film scores by Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith or Ennio Morricone, or listening to Leonard Bernstein or Sting read the narrative to Tchaikovsky’s Peter and The Wolf  while the symphony orchestra plays out the sounds of each of the characters or any of the multitude of multi-media experiences that we create for ourselves like viewing photographs or reading a novel while listening to music.

The arts blend and form a concurrence with one another because each in their own way takes us through perception into the world of imagination, emotion and atmospheric mood. 

Artistic expression also satisfies our need to shape our own world; our individualism, as it were.


Part of growing up is rejecting the world of our parents [without, of course, rejecting them] and seeking out our own interests and world view. Artists help us to do this by replacing the powerful ambiguity of imitation with the thrilling assurance of finding our own preferences.

Artists often pave the way for the new. In Jazz, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, and Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives were followed by the big bands of The Swing Era and they, in turn, were followed by Bebop and various forms of progressive or modern Jazz.

In painting, Greek and Roman art was followed by that of Medieval Times, and then the Renaissance, Mannerism, The Baroque and the various schools of Modern Art including, Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism, Post-Impression and the many schools of Twentieth Century painting and sculpture.

Two examples of artists that strike me as constantly searching and probing for new directions while having an artistic unity based in iconoclasm are the painter Wassily Kandinsky [1866-1944] and the composer-arranger-bandleader Stan Kenton [1911-1979].

Put into a simpler form: I like listening to Kenton’s music while viewing Kandinsky’s art. Both are known for their daring.

Kandinsky died in 1944, a few years after Kenton formed his first big band in 1941. As a Russian living in Germany, Kandinsky’s art reflected the chaos of German culture before and between the two, world wars.

A leading member of a group of Munich artists known as “Der Blaue Reiter” [The Blue Horsemen], Kandinsky abandoned representational art altogether.

Using a rainbow of colors and a free, dynamic brushwork, Kandinsky created a completely non-objective style.

Whatever traces of representation his work contains are quite unintentional – his aim was to charge form and color with a purely spiritual meaning [as he put it] by eliminating all resemblance to the physical world.


Not to push the analogy between art and music too closely, but Stan Kenton in his music, as did Kandinsky in his painting, eventually eschewed representational forms of the Jazz while pursuing more abstract forms of the music.

He didn’t want his band to swing or his music to be danced to, he wanted it to be modern, contemporary, and progressive.

But most of all he wanted his music to be listened to, to have an impact, to be felt!

Big, brassy and bombastic, Kenton’s musical conception was orchestral bordering on the grandiose. His music wasn’t mainstream, if anything, it was characterized by a concerted effort to attack established Jazz “traditions.”

Can you imagine standing in front of the Kenton band when it unleashed the power and majesty of its music?

Trumpets screaming, French Horns heralding, trombones blatting, and tuba’s bellowing bass notes – what a rush!

I feel the same flash of excitement when I view Kandinsky’s paintings with their bold, bright colors, non-objective configurations and juxtaposition of shapes and patterns.

Both Kandinsky and Kenton were spurred on by the artistic urge to find their own style; to do it their way.

“Kandinsky's—or any artist's [Kenton?]—ideas are not important to us unless we are convinced of the importance of his pic­tures. Did he create a viable style? Admittedly, his work demands an intuitive response that may be hard for some of us, yet the painting here reproduced has density and vitality, and a radiant freshness of feeling that impresses us even though we are uncertain what exactly the artist has expressed.” [H.W. Janson, History of Art].



Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Big Band Jazz From St. Petersburg … Russia!



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


From viewing occasional photographs of its beautiful buildings, castles and canals and its many parks and open spaces, over the years, I had a limited awareness of St. Petersburg, the charming Russian city often called “The Venice of the North.”

But I had very little idea of how the city came into existence until I received Robert Massie’s Peter The Great: His Life and His World [New York: Ballantine Books, 1980] as a Christmas gift.

I had been very impressed with Massie’s earlier biography, Nicholas and Alexandria, a book that was meticulously researched, definitive and yet, at the same time, extremely readable.

Massie is often referred to as a “popular or narrative historian,” a group that has come to include such distinguished writers as William Manchester for his books on Churchill and J.F.K, David McCullough for his books on Truman and John Adams, and, most recently, Robert Caro for his monumental four-volume biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson.

All have deservedly won Pulitzer Prizes, National Book Awards and many other major literary honors.


Massie’s book on Peter The Great [1672-1725] is a fascinating story about how Peter yanked Russia into the then “modern” world by in effect leading a cultural revolution that replaced the traditionalist and medieval social and political system with a modern, scientific Europe-oriented and rationalist system of government.

The “Window on the West” through which he viewed this transformation was St. Petersburg which Peter created in 1703 on the marshy swamps where the Neva River drains northward into the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea.

Peter The Great: His Life and World is a riveting recounting of the journey of one of the World’s Great Souls. “Impetuous and stubborn, generous and cruel, tender and unforgiving, a man of enormous energy and complexity…,” Peter The Great almost single-handedly transformed Russia into a modern world power before his death at the age of 53.

Almost ten years to the day later, I was once again put in touch with the splendors of St. Petersburg, this time courtesy of the release of the movie The Russia House on Christmas Day, 1990.

This beautifully photographed film is based on writer Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of John le Carré’s book by the same title.


Directed by Fred Schepisi and starring Sean Connery, Michele Pfeiffer, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Roy Scheider and a host of great character actors, the movie was one of the first to be shot on location in Moscow and St. Petersburg by a US film crew.

Topping it all off is a magnificent film score by Jerry Goldsmith, one of the true masters of movie music, that emphasizes the talents of Branford Marsalis and the gorgeous tone that he gets on the soprano saxophone, pianist Michael Lang and bassist John Patitucci.

The closing credits are screened over seven minutes of scrumptious scenes of Moscow and St. Petersburg with Branford, Mike and John improvising in the background following the orchestra’s statement of Jerry’s main theme for the movie.

I was so overwhelmed by the magnificent photography, particularly of St. Petersburg, Jerry Goldsmith’s score and Branford, Mike and John playing that I put together my own video montage using this music in conjunction with selected images of St. Petersburg.


This may be difficult to believe, but the Alexander Orloff photographs of St. Petersburg that I use in the video were drawn from Dimitri Shvidkovsky’s St. Petersburg: Architecture of the Tsars [New York: Abbeville Press Publishers, 1996] which was given to me as a gift on Christmas Day - 2000!


The next interregnum in my involvement with St. Petersburg was to be longer than ten years, but only just, as the city once again entered my life this time in the form of a big band Jazz CD that was recorded there and sent to me by an internet friend who resides there.

His name is Serge Bogdanov and he is one of the driving forces behind and the principal arranger for The Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra, the resident Jazz Big Band in St. Petersburg, Russia!



The CD is entitled The Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra Letter to a Friend [Art Beat Music AB-CD-11-2012-038] and it contains six original compositions, four of them by Gennady Golshtein and three standards, all arranged by Serge. Gennady is Serge’s mentor and some of you may remember a tune that Victor Feldman recorded on his Plays Soviet Jazz Themes entitled Gennadi which Golshtein composed and gave to Victor when he was part of the Benny Goodman Orchestra that toured the USSR in 1962.

Interestingly, the Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra’s Letter to a Friend has a CD release party scheduled for February 27th 2013 at the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Jazz Hall.

Three weeks earlier on February 6, 2013, a concert to celebrate the book Russian Jazz: 90 years of history in two volumes was held in the same venue.

It would seem that Russia has an almost a century-old involvement with Jazz and the Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra’s Letter to a Friend CD is a facet of the continuing evolution Jazz in St. Petersburg and in Russia as a whole.


Printed in 2012 by the Planet Music publishing house based in St. Petersburg, its publication was timed to coincide with the 90th anniversary of Jazz in Russia.

Included in the two-volume collection are materials covering the early stages of Jazz’s development in Russia, a review of formative period of Soviet Jazz in the second half of the XX century and biographical information about current masters of Russian Jazz and young stars of the national Jazz scene.

The book’s chief editors are Alexander Peterson and Kirill and Anna Moshkov Filipeva - founders of www.Dzhaz.Ru [a Russian Jazz portal with news, reviews and festival information]. The work includes essays by leading jazz journalists and critics including Vladimir Feiertag, Alex Batashev, Michael Mitropolsky and many others. 

The concert in honor of the book’s publication included a musical program by Gennady Gholstein and his Orchestra, the "Saxophones of St. Petersburg," trumpet and flugelhorn player David Goloshchekin’s band and vocals by Ella Trafova.

Both Gennady Gholstein and David Goloschkein have played major roles as mentors and patrons to both Serge Bogdanov and the Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra.

Serge’s arrangements reflect a kind of brief history of modern Jazz orchestration. They contain elements that were characteristic of the first three Woody Herman Herds when Ralph Burns, Neal Hefti and Al Cohn were doing the writing for those bands. The lightness and clarity of Neal Hefti’s later writing for the Count Basie New Testament Band [1959-1960] is also apparent in Serge’s work as is the linear writing of the charts that Gerry Mulligan did for the Stan Kenton Orchestra, as well as, Mulligan and Bob Brookmeyer’s scores for the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band of the 1960s

But as Serge himself notes, the most dominant influence on his writing is that of Thad Jones’ conception which had its most complete expression in the orchestra that Thad co-led for many years with drummer Mel Lewis and has right through to the sound of the current Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. I also hear strains of the late Gil Evans in Serge’s voicings. Perhaps these come through Thad who had great respect for Gil’s unique ability to use instruments in unusual combinations.


While myriad influences are discernible in his style, Serge’s orchestrations have their own stamp, their own distinctiveness that make them different than anything you’ve hear before.

For one so young, Serge has developed great skill as an orchestrator. His charts have a particular emphasis on the middle register and a relaxed and easy swing.

He often carries the lead voicing with the soprano sax wrapped in the warm sound of mellow brass played in unison; no screeching in the upper register or bass pedal tones thrown in for effect, the music just flows.

Serge’s writing is based on an uncomplicated swing, but yet, it is full of pep and definition.

The Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra is very adept at playing these arrangements. The sections play well individually but they also easily blend together as a full band. While the band sounds well rehearsed, it doesn’t sound mechanical.

What is so startling about Serge’s arrangements and the playing of the Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra is how professional and mature they both sound.

One wonders how these traits can be so fully developed in a Jazz big band that, judging from its photographs, is made-up of relatively young musicians.

All must have superb teachers, have spent many hours listening to records and even more hours practicing on their individual instruments and rehearsing together as a band.

If something as abstract as music can said to have “qualities,” then two are on exhibition with Serge Bogdanov and the Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra: a vision and a dedication to achieving this goal.

Notating Jazz is a very difficult thing to do because there are aspects of the music that are imprecise. You can’t learn them from a textbook; you have to immerse yourself in learning from listening and from sharing with one another. It takes a lot of time, dedication and effort to master these skills.

The high quality of big band Jazz that Serge and the JPO put on display in Letter to a Friend reflects an enormous passion for Jazz, because without it and a lot of determination, I doubt this recording would ever have happened.

In his insert notes to the CD, the Russian musicologist Victor Feiertag takes some of these points further. Here’s what he has to say about the Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra and the music on Letter to a Friend.


© - Vladimir Feiertag/Art Beat Music, copyright protected; all rights reserved [paragraphing modified and some editing].

“At last, a big band , capable of offering both a vivid mastery and stylish arrange­ments, along with real swing, has appeared in St. Petersburg. And all this is being done by young musicians aged 25 to 30! They never heard live either Duke Elling­ton (whose composition "Love You Madly" is however worthily played on this album), or Count Basie, and didn't catch the orchestras of Joseph Weinstein, Vadim Lyudvikovskiy or the first groups of Oleg Lundstrem. But their influence is obvious.

All the saxophonists of the orchestra were raised and taught to play their instruments by Gennady Golshtein, who at one time defined the style of most Russian orchestras and since the mid-70's helped to found jazz education in St. Petersburg. It was he who assembled and led the unique orchestra "Saxophones of Saint-Petersburg" in the last decade of the past century, having continued the marvelous history of big bands in "Northern Palmyra". It was he who instilled a taste for the art of arrangement in Serge Bogdanov, one of the leaders of the current band.

In fact, the big band has two leaders - the lead saxophonist Kirill Bubyakin (alto, soprano saxophones and flute) and the arranger Serge Bogdanov (baritone saxophone). Both consider Thad Jones an idol, and David Goloschokin - who provided the prestigious stage of the St. Petersburg Jazz Philharmonic Hall to the newly formed band for their rehearsals and performances  - as a patron.

The debut album includes primarily compositions of residents of St. Petersburg: - four dedications to Gennady Golshtein - partly new, partly ones written 30 years ago ("The Time Has Come", Melodiya, 1988). The author dedicated these melodies to his friends: "A Theme For Tima" is dedicated to Teimuraz Kukholev, the first St. Petersburg bop pianist; "A Letter to a Friend" is for George Friedman, a saxophonist and a pioneer ideologist of "jazz ferment" in the Northern Capital; "Sleeping Ships" is a tribute to the memory of his irreplaceable partner, trumpeter Konstantin Nosov; and "In the Westside" is a dedication to Vitaly Dolgov, the best arranger of the last century.

Also included are orchestral versions of hard bop tunes of other natives of St. Petersburg - current Muscovite Alexander Berenson and Ruslan Khain (New York, USA). Also worth noting is an unusual version of the famous "Evening Song" by Vasily Solovjev-Sedov, his original declaration of love for his native city. And this is not a political statement, not a demonstration of patriotism, but a need of a new generation of musicians to interpret the rich musical cultural heritage of Russia and of our city [St. Petersburg].

Serge Bogdanov recognizes that "there were many wonderful melodies among the most popular songs of the Soviet period, especially in the '40's and '50's. They are still an integral part of our life. "Evening Song" by Vasily Solovjey-Sedoy holds a special place. It is simply impossible not to be connected to this tune if one was born and lives in Leningrad-St.Petersburg. Being an unofficial anthem of our city, it can be heard not only on radio and television but on public transporta­tion, as a musical call sign, and recently the anthem of a famous football club [Football Club Zenit St. Petersburg Футбольный клуб «Зенит].

The Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra is completely a modern band. In the orchestra there is no separation between frontmen and sidemen. Everyone can improvise. The debut album of the orchestra also includes some, more experienced musicians as invited guests such as David Goloschokin and Igor Butman (also a resident of St. Petersburg)  as featured soloists to help fill out the overall sound picture. The orchestra has existed for three years and in a small, close-knit jazz world has already achieved fame, thanks to St. Peters­burg concerts and thematic programs (featuring the music ofCount Basie, Thad Jones, and Gennady Golshtein) as well as trips to festivals and work with foreign musicians.

Of course, the path to the hearts of the audience is long and complicated, but this album may find its way to that audience of big band Jazz fans because of its absolutely incredible colors, unexpected dynamics and surging rhythms along with its "modern mainstream" style.

I hope that music fans will pay attention to the debut album of this revived northern capital big band, and exclaim together with the author of the last compo­sition, Frank Wess: "You Made a Good Move!"

The following video features images of the Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra of St. Petersburg, Russia in action. The tune is In the Westside by Gennady Golshtein. Serge Bogdanov, of course, did the arrangement and the solos are by Andrey Zimovets on piano, Kirill Bubyakin on alto saxophone and David Goloschekin on flugelhorn.

The Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra Letter to a Friend [Art Beat Music AB-CD-11-2012-038] will eventually be available via iTunes and perhaps other downloads.

In the meantime, should you wish to purchase a copy, you can contact Serge Bogdanov directly for the details at jazzphilorch@gmail.com or www.jporchestra.com.


Friday, February 22, 2013

Documentary Celebrating the Founding of Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in 1959

Documentary celebrating the founding of Ronnie Scott's Jazz club in 1959. Scott, a rising young saxophone player, opened a club where he and his friends could play the music they liked. Over the following years, the club had its ups and downs, reflecting the changes in attitudes to jazz and the social life of surrounding Soho.




Now Ronnie Scott's is known throughout the world as the hearbeat of British jazz. In this tribute, Omnibus talks to some of Ronnie's greatest admirers including Mel Brooks, the Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke MP and writer Alan Plater, and features rare archive footage of some of the club's historic performances by Zoot Sims, Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald.





Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Abbey Lincoln – A New Beginning


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


“She was never a conventional standards singer, indicating her individuality and occasionally her disaffection in subtle ironies, almost subliminal variations and, even more occasionally, hot blasts of fury. Like John Coltrane and Billie Holiday, she was both respectful of her material and inclined to manipulate it without mercy or apology.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

I once asked the late, Chuck Niles, a revered, long-time Jazz disc jockey on the Los Angeles FM airwaves, how he approached programming his radio show.

Chuck replied: “It’s simple really. Each hour I try to include something old, something new and something sung by either a vocal group or a vocalist.”

He went on to say, “Lately, I seem to be playing a lot of stuff by Abbey Lincoln.”

When I asked him why, he explained: “I missed her the first time around.”

For the most part, I did, too.

If Abbey hadn't been married to Max Roach for much of the 1960's, I might have missed her completely.

Max has always been a drummer that I idolized so I pretty much caught everything her recorded; Abbey sang on Max’s 1960 Freedom Now Suite  [Oscar Brown wrote the lyrics] and that was my introduction to her. The date and the album title may bring to mind more about the social history of this period.

Over the years, I've caught a few other things by Abbey, but in thinking of Chuck Niles’ reference to Abbey, I realize that I really didn't know much about her music.

Richard Cook’s and Brian Morton’s The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed. is always a good place to start and so it was that the following annotations about Abbey Lincoln and her recordings helped make a “new beginning” for me in terms of an appreciation of her music.

“Abbey Lincoln worked as a singer in California under the name Anna Marie, then began recording for Prestige. Recorded with Max Roach (her husband, 1962-70), but her career faded in the 1970’s until a revival of interest in Europe in the 1980’s led to a new and successful contract with Verve. Now a matriarchal influence on a younger generation of female vocalists. …


Lincoln's own emancipation proclamation turned her from a conventional club singer into one of the most dramatic and dis­tinctive voices of the day. To suggest that she owes her creative freedom to one-time husband Max Roach is to say no more than she has herself. Before working with Roach on the powerful We Insist! Freedom Now Suite, she had notched up a number of ses­sions under her own name.

She was never a conventional standards singer, indicating her individuality and occasionally her disaffection in subtle ironies, almost subliminal variations and, even more occasionally, hot blasts of fury. Like John Coltrane and Billie Holiday, she was both respectful of her material and inclined to manipulate it without mercy or apology. …

There has been a tension throughout Lincoln's years with Verve between letting her build a band of young, responsive players who can be molded to her idiosyncratic vision, and surround­ing her with established stars on the label's roster. The 1994 album [A Turtle’s Dream Verve Gitanes 527382] is an almost perfect illustration of the point. One of the joys of the record, as with some of its predecessors, is flicking through and identifying one dream line-up after another - Metheny and house pianist Kendrick, or Metheny and Barron with Haden and Lewis - only to find that the saxophone solo you've just swooned to on 'A Turtle's Dream' or 'Not To Worry' is by the relatively unknown Lourau.

Like Betty Carter, Lincoln has always had the ability to bring on young players. Like every great musician, she has the gift of making everyone around her play better. …

The voice is now so confidently intimate, so easily conversational, that it becomes difficult to think of Lincoln in terms of ‘performance.’…”


Another excellent source for information on Abbey’s uniqueness in the world of vocal Jazz is to be found in the essay entitled Abbey Lincoln (Strong Wind Blowing) by Gary Giddins. It is included in his Visions of Jazz: The First Century [Oxford University Press].

Here are a few excerpts from Gary’s work:

“The reemergence in the early '90s of Abbey Lincoln as a queenly jazz singer and the simultaneous rediscovery of the long retired Doris Day prompted my thoughts about parallels and distinctions between them. In 1991, each was the subject of documentary films: Gene Davis's You Gotta Pay the Band: The Words, the Music, the Life of Abbey Lincoln, which was initially broadcast overseas only, and Jim Arntz's Doris Day: A Sen­timental Journey, which was shown on PBS. Day was the quintessence of blonde: even her golden album covers reflected the sunshiny chirpiness of an unaffectedly sexy voice and approach to song. Lincoln had carried the banner for ebony since the '50s: "A strong black wind blowing/ Gently on and on," Nikki Giovanni wrote of her.” …

Lincoln's most expressive tour de force was to come, however, in 1995, with A Turtle's Dream: nine originals, plus "Nature Boy" and "Avec Le Temps." Allard once again found a fresh means of presentation, com­bining stellar soloists from three generations (Kenny Barron, Pat Metheny, Roy Hargrove, Lucky Peterson, and tenor saxophonist Julien Lourau, who has listened well to Joe Henderson and Stan Getz), top-drawer rhythm sections, and a few strings. At this stage, no one was likely to miss the generic quality of an Abbey Lincoln song, words or music. With rare exceptions, Lincoln writes songs of a woman alone, dispensing ad­vice about cycles and acceptance that might seem trite if not for the enormous emotional resources she draws on as a singer and her ability to intensify lyrics with details that shake up clichés.”

Lincoln is most eloquent in live performance, taking the measure of her audience. On record, the songs often suggest the consequence of loneliness; in concert, they are enlivened by the relief of shared experience  The long, sustained notes, often hit at a pitch just lower than what you anticipate, have the quality of elated drones. Give yourself up to them, and you are lost to her timbre and intonation and then to the world from which they derive. …”

Abbey sings “I Concentrate on You” in the following video with Tommy Turrentine on trumpet, Julian Priester on trombone, Stanley Turrentine on tenor saxophone, Ray Bryant on piano, Bob Boswell on bass and Max Roach on drums.




Monday, February 18, 2013

The Meaning of the Blues - Bobby, Kate and Barry

This is a treat;  too good not to share.

I've never heard Bobby Troup's The Meaning of the Blues as an uptempo bossa nova, but here it is courtesy of the marvelous vocalist, Kate McGarry, with guitar accompaniment by Barry Nolan.

One of the great highlights of Jazz today are the number of truly superb vocalists performing the music and Kate is certainly among the very best.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Jimmy Smith – Breaking New Ground


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



The late Frank Wolff, Alfred Lion's partner in Blue Note, wrote, "I first heard Jimmy at Small's Paradise in January of 1956. It was his first gig in New York— one week. He was a stunning sight. A man in convulsions, face contorted, crouched over in apparent agony, the fingers flying, his foot dancing over the pedals. The air was filled with waves of sound that I had never heard before. The noise was shattering.”

I wanted to expand a bit upon an earlier posting about Jimmy Smith to underscore how great his accomplishment was in bringing Jazz to the Hammond B-3 organ.

You can gain some idea of the magnitude of Jimmy’s achievement from this 1964 Hammond Times  excerpt:

© -Hammond Times, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“I never did take lessons, just taught myself. First, I learned about the drawbars and what each one stood for. As time passed, I experimented trying out all the different sounds. Next came the presets. I tried them out too but I don't use them very much except when playing ballads or something sweet and soft. When it came to the foot pedals, I made a chart of them and put it on the wall in front of me so I wouldn't have to look down. My first method was just using the toe. In the earlier days I was a tap dancer so the transition to heel and toe playing was made without too much trouble. One thing I learned was that you have to have a relaxed ankle. I would write out different bass lines to try for different tempi in order to relax the ankle. One useful learning technique was to put my favorite records on and then play the bass line along with them to see if I could play the pedals without looking down and only occasionally using my chart on the wall. This worked out fine.

When you are properly coordinated, you get an even flow in the bass. Most often, organists are uneven in their playing of the pedals, heavy here and light there. Soon I was putting hands and feet together and achieving co-ordination. My first job with the organ was at a Philadelphia supper club, playing a duo with drums. It was here I began further experimentation with different drawbar settings and using different effects and dynamics. It was before these audiences that the Jimmy Smith sound evolved. People always ask me about this sound. This probably is best explained in my approach to the organ. While others think of the organ as a full orchestra, I think of it as a horn. I've always been an admirer of Charlie Parker, and I try to sound like him. I wanted that single-line sound like a trumpet, a tenor or an alto saxophone.”

And the following excerpt from Kenny Mathieson’s Cookin’: Hard Bop and Soul Jazz, 1954-1965 offers an even broader context in which to view Jimmy’s feat:

© -Kenny Mathieson/Canongate Books, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

In musical terms, … Smith … is the key figure in the evolution of the Hammond organ as a jazz instrument.  As he says, the electric organ had been used in jazz before he first took it up, either on an occasional basis by the likes of Fats Waller and Count Basic, or more regularly by musicians like Glenn Hardman, Doggett, Buckner and Davis. It was Smith, though, who brought the instrument to genuine prominence in a series of recordings for Blue Note in the late 1950s, and established it as a central jazz voice rather than an occasional novelty. Given that he had no instruction, the speed with which he had mastered the instrument by the time of his recording debut early in 1956 was a formidable achievement in itself, regardless of when he started.


The Hammond B-3 organ offered several advantages to the jazz player. Waller and Basic had played and recorded on fixed pipe organs, but the Hammond was relatively portable, although anyone who has ever been lured into helping move one will know that relatively is the correct word. Laurens Hammond had begun manufacturing the instrument in Chicago in 1935, and used a system of rotating steel tone wheels and an electromagnetic pickup to generate both the notes and the additional overtone pitches controlled by the drawbars above the two sets of keyboards (technically, organ keyboards are know as 'manuals'). The introduction of the rotating Leslie speaker in the early 1940s, combined with developments in the Hammond itself (notably the introduction of a percussion stop), helped provide the instrument with its characteristic tremolo sound. Later innovations introduced more technically advanced electronic attributes which eventually led to the tone wheel system becoming obsolete, but the tone wheel models have a distinctive weight and character to their sound which is much sought after, and the Hammond B-3 has remained the classic instrument of choice for jazz players.

Smith achieved a new musical synthesis on the instrument, and took the playing techniques to unprecedented levels. He developed a style which allowed him to play walking bass lines with his feet on the pedals, while playing chordal accompaniment with his left hand, and fleet, single-line melodies (or additional chord punctuations) with his right. The freedom to supply his own independent bass lines obviated the need for a bass player, and he formed what would become the archetypal soul jazz unit in 1955, a trio with organ, guitar and drums (a saxophone, usually tenor, was the optional extra in the equation). His music brought together elements from bebop and swing with blues and rhythm and blues, while the Hammond, which was widely used in black churches, lent itself particularly well to the gospel elements which infused hard bop and especially soul jazz. The combination would prove irresistible. The organ trio flourished in black clubs and bars, and eventually became one of the most popular of all jazz formats.

He brought his trio to New York early in 1956, playing at Small's Paradise in Harlem and at the Cafe Bohemia in Greenwich Village, and left the city's jazz scene buzzing with tales of a new star in the making. Among the jaws dropping were those of Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff of Blue Note, and the latter left a vivid verbal image of the experience (reprinted in the CD insert for The Best of Jimmy Smith: The Blue Note Years) to accompany his many photographs of the organist: 'Jimmy Smith was first with the mostest. I first heard Jimmy at Small's Paradise in January of 1956. It was his first gig in New York - one week. He was a stunning sight. A man in convulsions, face contorted, crouched over in apparent agony, his fingers flying, his foot dancing over the pedals. The air was filled with waves of sound I had never heard before. The noise was shattering. A few people sat around, puzzled, but impressed.'


Blue Note lost no time in taking Smith into the studio for the first time in February, 1956, and made it clear that their new signing was something special, issuing his debut album under the emphatic title of A New Sound - A New Star: Jimmy Smith At The Organ. The first volume, with Thornel Schwartz on guitar and drummer Bay Perry, contained Smith's version of 'The Preacher' and a blistering version of that great jam session perennial, ‘Lady, Be Good', while Volume 2, recorded in March with Donald Bailey taking over the drum chair, opened with an even more famous version of Dizzy Gillespie's The Champ'. The best of this up-tempo material has a raw excitement which still shines through (the ballads are rather overwrought), while Smith's extraordinary facility is matched by a genuine improvisational flair. Schwarz sounds a shade uncomfort­able when soloing at these speeds, and comes across as rather tame by comparison with the pyrotechnics erupting from the organ.

At this point, Smith was still audibly influenced by Wild Bill Davis's big, hard-driving, rather ornate style, and is still gripped by the sheer sonic possibilities of the instrument's effects, sometimes to the point of overkill. He would evolve an even more distinctive and influential voice in the ensuing years, when he began to concentrate more specifically on the horn-influenced, single line approach to soloing which he made his own. When I asked him about influences, all of the players he cited were saxophonists   -Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins and Don Byas. Piano players, he said, 'can't give me the shit I need'.”

[Around 1963, Smith parted company with Blue Note] … leaving a legacy, which, while undeniably formulaic, had not only established him beyond any serious contention as the leading exponent of the Hammond B-3 in jazz, but had done much to lay the foundations of the soul jazz sub-genre. By the time he left, there were numerous organ players plying the same funky fare, but few of them were able to match up to Smith as jazz improvisers. Having established, and indeed patented, his style, Smith rarely departed much from it, but immediately set about varying the kind of settings in which his music had been presented when he joined his new label, Verve Records. Norman Granz had established the label as a major jazz imprint, but he had sold it to MGM in 1960, and the presiding influence at Verve in this period was producer Creed Taylor.”

Jimmy’s output for Verve was very uneven, but while  he was with the label he did make some interesting recordings with guitarist Wes Montgomery and some that placed him in a new, big band setting with imaginative and commercially appealing arrangements by Oliver Nelson.”

Michael Cuscuna offered a succinct synopsis of Jimmy Smith’s rise to celebrity status  in the Jazz world and his early years at Blue Note in the following insert notes to  Jimmy’s Cool Blues Blue Note CD [7243 5 35587 2 7]. They are reprinted below with his permission.


© - Michael Cuscuna, used with permission; copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Jimmy Smith's story is an unusual one because he single-handedly intro­duced an instrument into the modern jazz mainstream and created a sound and a style to go with it. What is most unusual is that he did not even approach the instrument until he was 28 years old, and he did not play a gig under his own leadership or record an album until he was 29.

Born in Norristown, Pennsylvania on December 8, 1926, Jimmy studied piano from his father and later attended the Orenstein School of Music in Philadelphia for three years, studying piano, bass, harmony and theory. A succession of R&B gigs followed until 1955 when Smith began considering the possibilities of the electric organ, having been inspired by the work of Wild Bill Davis.

He made a deal with a Philadelphia organ dealer to play on one of their organs at one dollar an hour until he could afford to buy his own. When he did buy his own instrument, he housed it in a warehouse near his residence and worked out conscientiously everyday, systematically teaching himself the instrument's capabilities and possibilities.

After a year of sweat, he emerged with a style all his own and a facility that could be described as nothing less than complete virtuosity. He formed his first trio with guitarist Thornel Schwartz and drummer Bey Perry. Word of this phenomenon came up to New York via musicians such as pianist Freddie Redd who happened to catch Smith while traveling through Philly. A few initial gigs in New York, uptown at Small's Paradise and downtown at Cafe Bohemia, and this man playing organ was literally the talk of the town. Alfred Lion of Blue Note was quick to check him out and even quicker to sign him. And from his first sessions, which included "The Preacher" and "The Champ," Jimmy Smith's records were commercial ana artistic hits.

Smith recorded for Blue Note from February 1956 to February 1963. And the label put him in a variety of settings during those seven years. He recorded with his working trio, with singers Babs Gonzales and Bill Henderson, with rhythm section guests Kenny Burrell, Art Blakey and Philly Joe Jones, in quartet setting with Lou Donaldson or Stanley Turrentine and with all star sextets that included Lee Morgan, Curtis Fuller, Tina Brooks, Hank Mobley, Donald Byrd, Blue Mitchell, Jackie McLean, Ike Quebec and many others.

He seemed to shine most on live recordings and dates with an assem­blage or challenging horn men. In this album, we have both. Small's Paradise, the legendary Harlem club at 135th Street and 7th Avenue, has contributed to the history of jazz since the twenties. It has special significance to Smith and his relationship with Blue Note. The late Frank Wolff, Alfred Lion's partner in Blue Note, wrote, "I first heard Jimmy at Small's Paradise in January of 1956. It was his first gig in New York— one week. He was a stunning sight. A man in convulsions, face contorted, crouched over in apparent agony, the fingers flying, his foot dancing over the pedals. The air was filled with waves of sound that I had never heard before. The noise was shattering. A few people sat around, puzzled, but impressed. He came off the stand, smiling, the sweat dripping all over him. 'So what do you think?' 'Yeah,' I said. That's all I could say. Alfred Lion had already made up his mind."

"It was in the cards," Wolff con­tinued, "that Jimmy would succeed. He had revamped the jazz organ and come up with a new sound. The sound has now been adopted by almost all jazz organists, but his style remains his own. Right from the start of his recording career, he was in full command of this very complex and demanding machine, the Hammond organ. Apart from his incredible technique, he had fire, feeling, beat, humor— all adding up to a highly personal style. Everything was there, everything was right when he did The Champ' and through the years so many other masterpieces. Jimmy Smith is a great artist— and a beautiful guy."”

Jimmy Smith reveled in the expanded soundscape provided by Oliver Nelson’s big band arrangements as you can hear in the following audio track with its evocative version of Walk on the Wild Side, Elmer Bernstein’s theme from the film of the same name.

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Cab Calloway


© -Oxford University Press, copyright protected; all rights reserved.



- NOW IN PAPERBACK –

"... deftly brings out the band's inner musical dynamics." --Will Friedwald, The Wall Street Journal

"This formidable book opens the door for future books on Calloway's enduring influence." -The Week

"Mr. Shipton's excellent book should convince many readers and, I hope, some
critics, that it might be time to experience Calloway's recordings and movies
again, and try to discover, in part at least, what the hi-de-ho-ing was all about."
--William F. Gavin, The Washington Times

"Enlightening. Thorough." --JJA News

HI-DE-HO
The Life of Cab Calloway - Alyn Shipton

Cab Calloway was a larger than life figure. With his trademark "hi-de-ho" scat routine, his unruly mop of hair, and his combination of charm and sophistication, he won over audiences across the country. HI-DE-HO: The Life of Cab Calloway, by Alyn Shipton, is the first full-length biography of this fanned jazz musician. Shipton brings together his extraordinary research with first-hand accounts from Galloway's friends and family, highlighting Galloway's uncanny musical talent and influence. From his beginnings in obscure Balitimore nightclubs to his time as Duke Ellington's replacement at New York's Cotton Club, Calloway crossed racial and social boundries to become a nationally beloved entertainer. Calloway was also a brilliant talent-spotter, evidenced by his hiring of such jazz luminaries as Ben Webster, Dizzy Gillespie, and Jonah Jones. In later years, after a stint as a musical theater star, Calloway brought his trademark "hi-de-ho" refrain to a new generation of audiences through his cameos on Sesame Street and The Blues Brothers. In this biography, Shipton brings the era of jazz and swing to life, and makes an excellent case for the inclusion of Cab Calloway among the most influential and innovative musicians of the age.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alyn Shipton is the author of several award winning books on music including A New History of Jazz and Groovin' High: The Life of Dizzy Gillespie. He is jazz critic for The Times in London and has presented jazz programs on BBC radio since 1989. He is also an accomplished double bassist and has played with many traditional and mainstream jazz bands.

Peperback
Oxford University Press
February 14, 2013
304 pages
$19.95
ISBN13-97801999931743

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Gerry Mulligan: The New Concert Jazz Band in Scotland


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


For many Jazz fans, Gerry Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band [CJB] was a phenomena of the 1960’s.

Unless you were aware of his earliest roots in the music business with the big bands of Gene Krupa, Elliott Lawrence and Stan Kenton, the CJB seemed to come out of nowhere.

Gerry’s greatest fame seemed to mainly rest with his 1952-1953 piano-less quartet that featured trumpeter Chet Baker.

While musicians, especially those on the West Coast in the decade of the 1950’s were certainly aware of the Birth of the Cool records made for Capitol that Gerry arranged and composed for in 1949-50, the general public was largely familiar with him as a small group leader.

[A sextet followed the quartet and it, too, was piano-less unless Gerry played some piano to give trumpeter Jon Eardley’s and valve-trombonist Bob Brookmeyer’s “chops” a rest].

Formed in New York in the 1960’s, the 12-piece Concert Jazz Band was really a matter of Gerry returning to his big band roots.

Renown as a baritone saxophonist, Gerry’s first love was “… to play the band; I really love expressing my music through my charts “[musician speak for arrangements and orchestrations].

In particular, Gerry was interested in bringing the lightness and airiness of small group Jazz into a big band setting; to put it another way, he wanted to bring the movement and flexibility of Jazz played by fewer instruments into a bigger context.

The Birth of the Cool sessions were an attempt by Gerry and its other arrangers to incorporate the less ponderous texture or sonority that Gil Evans had achieved in his charts for the Claude Thornhill Orchestra.

After his interregnum with small group Jazz in the 1950s, Gerry was picking up where he left off with The Birth of the Cool sessions and some work he had done for a 10-piece group he had organized largely for recording purposes.

The original Concert Jazz Band was a smashing, artistic success and Gerry’s arrangements for it just sparkled.

Sadly, keeping a big band going on a regular basis became such a drain on Gerry that he fell farther and farther away from his main purpose in forming it – he didn’t have time to write for it because he was so busy trying to keep it viable, commercially.

The writing fell to Bob Brookmeyer, Al Cohn a host of other, talented composers while Gerry scrounged around for the schimolies to keep the band happening.

The Concert Jazz Band eventually failed, but fortunately, Gerry and many of the band members were able to keep body-and-soul together with the lucrative studio work then still available in New York.

Gerry put the band back together briefly in 1971 for a recording session which is documented on The Age of Steam album issued on A&M Records [0804].

But he really didn’t bring the Concert Jazz Band out of retirement until 1980 and then he did so with a vengeance.

The resurgence was made possible by the burgeoning European Jazz Festival scene of the 1980s and Gerry and the CJB were everywhere, present.

Whether it was in Holland or Sweden or France or in Scotland, Gerry fans from the CJB’s earlier European tours were ready for more and so was Gerry.

Original compositions and arrangements began flowing out of his pen at a rapid rate, including a series of tiles named after famous train locomotives [The Flying Scotsman and K-4 Pacific] and loving tributes to Dizzy Gillespie and Billy Strayhorn. He also reached back for some Jazz chestnuts like I’m Getting Sentimental Over You, Georgia on My Mind and Satin Doll and gave them gorgeous new treatments.

Even tunes that were written primarily for his quartet and later adopted into the first CJB like Bweebida Bwoobida were spruced-up with new orchestrations. New harmonies and new voicings are in place throughout.

He beefed-up the band by adding a fourth trumpet, a bass trombone and five saxes [including another baritone sax with whom he played in unison on some parts].

Relatively young players like Laurie Frink on trumpet, Bill Charlap on piano and the magnificent Dean Johnson on bass were brought on the band and given a chance to shine in the solo spotlight.

He also added instruments that were new to the band such as flute and soprano saxophone, the latter also becoming a solo vehicle for him.

He sought out Bobby Rosengarden, an “old pro” drummer, who really knew how to kick-the-heck out of a big band by dropping bombs and explosive kicks and fills.

And he wrote more aggressive, propulsive and pulsating arrangements that captured a spirit that seem to say to the Jazz world – I’m BACK; Bigger and Better than ever.

This was a powerful band; not the lighter, airier and nimble CJB of Gerry’s original conception. It reflected the way in which he heard the music at this point in his life.

Gerry Mulligan was happy again because he was doing what he loved best – writing for and leading a big band.

You can hear that joy in all of its power and expressiveness in the following three tracks from the Concert Jazz Band’s appearance at the Glasgow, Scotland Jazz Festival on July 3, 1988.

Welcome back, Geru.