Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Lee Konitz - The Gordon Jack Interview

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


The editorial staff at JazzProfiles wanted to do something special to honor alto saxophonist Lee Konitz’s upcoming appearance at the Los Angeles Jazz Institute’s 4-day festival - Something Cool: Celebrating Jazz Sounds of the Cool School [October 30-November 2 2014 at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel in Los Angeles, CA] - which will mark the 66th anniversary of Lee’s performance on the Gerry Mulligan and Miles Davis Birth of the Cool recordings that Pete Rugolo produced for Capitol Records in 1949.


We especially wanted to feature something about Lee’s association with these epic recordings and his early years in Jazz.


So we wrote to Gordon Jack and requested his permission to post his chapter on Lee from his superb book - Fifties Jazz Talk: An Oral Retrospective [2004].


Imagine our delight when he gave his consent!


Gordon’s book is published by The Scarecrow Press and you can find order information about it by going here.


[The footnotes to Gordon’s essay are listed at the end of this piece.]



© -  Gordon Jack; used with the author’s permission; copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Lee Konitz, who was born on October i3, 1927, in Chicago, was one of the very few alto saxophone players of his generation not lo fall under the spell of Charlie Parker. Throughout a long career, his unique sound and approach to improvisation have shown him to be one of the great individualists of the music. This interview took place in May 1996, when he was visiting London to play at Ronnie Scott's club.


It was thanks to Milt Bernhart that I got my first job with Teddy Powell's band in 1945 when I replaced Charlie Ventura, which meant I had all the hot solos on tenor. Unfortunately, the chords were written in concert, which was difficult for me, as I was just beginning to understand how all that worked. When I stood up to play on my first gig, I was told that Teddy walked off the stage and started banging his head against a wall. He wasn't an instrumentalist, but he had a fine jazz/dance band, with good musicians like Boots Mussulli, who was very encouraging but mystified by my lack of knowledge. Boots was a lovely guy, and he wasn't only a very fine saxophone player but he was also the best poker player in the band; he never lost. A month after I joined. Teddy Powell had to disband because of tax problems with the IRS. A little later, I went with Jerry Wald for a while, and he could certainly play the high notes on the clarinet, but he didn't let me play any solos.


In 1947 I joined Claude Thornhill, who had a lovely "ballad" band, as you know, and I did my first recording with him. He had excellent arrangements by Gil Evans and Gerry Mulligan, and Gerry of course was mainly a writer then. His charts were great, and I also played his music with Stan Kenton.and those pieces were some of my favorites, because he really knew how to write for saxophones.


Moving on to the Miles Davis "Birth of the Cool" group, Miles was the titular leader because he had more of a name, and I suppose he could get the gigs; big deal, so he got one week at the Royal Roost. It has been said that we did two weeks there, but the way I remember it, the band did the first week, and for some reason Miles and I did the second week as a quintet with John Lewis, Al McKibbon, and Max Roach, I appreciated that Miles asked me, but we were basically playing bebop and I was not all that comfortable. The nonet was an arranger's band, because they rehearsed the music. Miles made some suggestions, but very few that I recall; I thought of it as Gerry's band really. What really concerns me is the way the band has been called 'The Birth of the Cool," which I think is a little off. The nonet was a chamber ensemble where the solos were incidental to the writing, which was the most important aspect. The real "Birth of the Cool" for me was Lennie Tristano's music. [1]


I wrote "Subconscious-Lee" for my first recording session as a leader in 1949, [2] but the title is not mine; I would never call a tune "Subconscious-Lee." I think it was my colleague Arnold Fishkin who came up with that name, and all the other "Lee" titles over the years have been suggested by other people as well. Tony Fruscella was supposed to be on the date, but when he came to my room to rehearse, I apparently offended him in some way with a couple of suggestions, so he pulled out. He was a sad guy, and 1 didn't play with him again. I had real trouble relating to him because that whole junky mentality was always a big turnoff for me. I could never identify with it and hated that aspect of my environment.


During the late forties I rehearsed with a band Benny Goodman was forming with Wardell Gray, Gerry Mulligan, Doug Mettome, and Buddy Greco. I was playing lead alto, and I remember Benny sitting in a chair right in front of me as we ran down one of Eddie Sauter's arrangements, I was able to read alright, but I had no lead alto experience to speak of. and Benny said, "O.K., Pops, can you do something with it?" In other words, he wanted some "Hymie Schertzer’-like vibrato. He asked me to go on the road with the band, but I turned him down, as I was studying with Lennie Tristano. I remember him saying, "You're studying with Tristano? Why don't you study with Paul Hindemith?" Looking back, I wish that I had gone on the road with him, because I am sure I would have enjoyed the experience. Something else I remember from those rehearsals is that Benny and Gerry didn't get along at all.


Lennie Tristano played very little in public, because the club pianos were so bad. It was also difficult for him to get around, and he didn't like depending on others for that. We didn't work much, except at the Half Note once in awhile, and I could probably count the gigs there on a couple of hands and maybe a foot. Audience reaction to him, though, was always great. Leonard Bernstein was very interested in Lennie's ideas and music, and they were very good friends. He once brought Aaron Copland to Lennie's studio to find out what Lennie was doing currently, and they both liked "Intuition," our free improvisation piece. [3] They wanted to know if there was a score to look at, but Lennie pointed out that it was fully improvised. Bernstein was always curious about jazz.


Neither Tristano nor Warne Marsh, who was one of the great improvisers of this music, have been fully acknowledged, and I think they were both resentful about that. Two other Tristano students. Sal Mosca and Don Ferrara, have since retired from the active scene. Sal has followed in Lennie's footsteps and become a teacher, and Don, who was a very capable player, seemed to drop out just as he was becoming known for his work with Mulligan's CJB in the sixties. Apparently he started to change his embouchure, and the next I heard was that he was teaching but not playing, in California. Willie Dennis was another of Lennie's students, who unfortunately died in the mid sixties. He was a wonderful trombonist and a lovely guy, but I didn't know him that well because he used to drink and hang out at places like Jim 'n' Andy's. Being a family man, I didn't hang out there, and as a result I didn't work that much. Things have changed—I still don't hang out, but I work a lot now.


In 1952 Stan Kenton was trying to get more of a jazz band with charts by Bill Russo, Bill Holman, and Gerry Mulligan, so I joined playing the jazz alto chair, with Vinnie Dean on lead. Stan was a heavy drinker and I wasn't, which meant that I didn't hang out with the guys in the back of the bus, but a certain reputation had preceded me, and I just quietly tried to do my job. I appreciated him very much because he was great to everyone in the band, although he used to tell them not to smoke pot on the road, so there wouldn't be any legal problems. Some time after Vinnie left, Davey Schildkraut joined, and he was a very musical guy. He played really well, and I remember when Warne Marsh heard his recording of "Solar" with Miles, he thought it was Bird playing.


Charlie Parker of course was the major influence on alto, but it wasn't difficult for me to avoid, since temperamentally that music didn't really get to me. It was more intense than I was able to identify with at the time, but eventually I decided that was all ego and I was missing the greatest alto player who had ever lived. I started to learn his music without adopting his whole vocabulary, because it is such a temptation to play all those nice melodies like everyone else did, but I had other stimuli.

When the Kenton band was at the Palladium in Los Angeles, Gerry asked me to come and sit in with his quartet at the Haig on our nights off. I loved the pianoless concept, and I have worked in many similar groups over the years. I had heard stories about Chet not reading, but I was never in a situation to check that out. I had also heard that he didn't know chord changes, but I remember seeing him at a piano, playing changes to tunes, so that wasn't true. On my recordings with the quartet, I actually rejected "Too Marvelous for Words" because it didn't seem to fit into Gerry's context. [4] Later on, in 1957, I played on another Mulligan album called The Sax Section, with Al Cohn,Zoot Sims, and Allen Eager, and that was a fun date. What impressed me most was how nice Zoot sounded on alto—Allen Eager, too. [5] Looking back, Gerry and I didn't play that much together, but he was very encouraging to me in the early days, and I always felt he was an ally. We even got high together for the first time because we had that kind of close relationship.


A few years later, in 1959, I came to England with a group called "Jazz from Carnegie Hall," with Zoot Sims, J. J. Johnson, Kai Winding, Phineas Newborn, Oscar Pettiford, and Kenny Clarke, but I don't have happy memories of that tour. Oscar, rest his soul, was a beautiful musician but a terrible drinker. He became very hostile when he drank, and I got some bad vibrations from him. Before the tour, he had asked me to play with a little band in New York, so we already had a relationship. In Europe, though, he became really mean, which intimidated me, and if I get uncomfortable I can't play. Every night he and Kenny Clarke would be arguing back and forth, accusing each other of rushing the tempo, but eventually they would hug and kiss. Kenny of course was a lovely guy and a great drummer, and I used to sit behind the curtain, playing time with some sticks when he was on with Jay and Kai. Zoot didn't have trouble with anyone, as he was pretty stoned most of the time anyway.


Another time when I was uncomfortable in a playing situation was fairly recently at Carnegie Hall, just before Red Rodney died in 1994. We were both with Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis, Paul West, and Roy Haynes, and I just didn't feel that I was fitting in, but I never heard Red play so brilliantly — wow! When I play, I try to improvise from the first note, and if the acoustics are right I can do it. If they are wrong I'm messed up, because I don't have all that ready vocabulary, like a real professional should, I guess. All those cliches and hot licks carry you through sometimes.


I moved to California in 1962 because my wife and I felt there was a need to separate from Lennie Tristano, who was a very strong father-figure to me. We had been living at his house, but she encouraged me to move away to see what was happening elsewhere, and we stayed on the West Coast for a couple of years. I wasn't working much, but Warne and I used to play at Kim Novak's house in Big Sur on Sundays. Kim was not only a lovely woman but she was really nice, and she was quite a jazz fan. I wasn't soliciting for work, and it was nice forgetting about all that for a while, but I remember around 1963 going to see Miles with Frank Strozier at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco. He asked me to sit in, which I didn't want to do, because that is the type of situation I am uncomfortable with, especially when another sax player is there. It was almost as though Miles was checking out a replacement, and I could never do that. I did sit in with Miles at the Village Vanguard when Herbie Hancock was with him, but again,! wasn't happy just jumping into an organized band and trying to find a voice.


During the seventies I did some work with my own nine-piece group. Dave Berger, who is a very fine writer, suggested the instrumentation, which was two trumpets, two trombones, alto, baritone, with three rhythm, and although I couldn't afford to pay for arrangements, there were a lot of people who were eager to write for it without a fee. Kenny Berger was with us for a time, and he is a fine baritone player, but he had to take a night off. Someone suggested Ronnie Cuber, who I didn't know, but he turned out to be very impressive. Kenny had been taking long solos with the band, and even though I wanted to give everyone a chance to play, I had suggested to him that we shorten the solos a little. For instance, I would start off with a couple of choruses, then the next guy would play four, someone else would take six, and suddenly you say, "Hey, wait a minute!" Not being a leader as such, I found I was sitting there listening to all the guys blow, which is fine up to a point, but eventually 1 decided that I wanted to do the playing myself. Getting back to the baritone chair, because Ronnie was so good, I hired him, and Kenny didn't forgive me for a long time, but sometimes these decisions have to be made.


In 1980 the band was booked to play some concerts in Washington, D.C., and we were asked to recreate some of the "Birth of the Cool" arrangements. I called Miles to see if he still had the charts, but he wasn't interested in helping, so I started transcribing from the records. In the end, I had to call Gerry Mulligan, because there were ensemble passages that I couldn't decipher. I went to his house in Connecticut, and he rewrote "Godchild," "Jeu," and "Rocker" in four hours. It was great to see him work. [6]


In 1992 Gerry asked me to join the "Rebirth of the Cool" band, and I stayed with him until the end of the European tour, when Jerry Dodgion took my place for some concerts in South America. After the initial novelty of playing those arrangements again, it became a little much for me. It was Gerry's show, and he did it very well, God rest his soul, but I was just sitting there interpreting the parts, and I felt I wasn't playing enough. The very last time we worked together was in Marciac, France, when Bob Brookmeyer and I were guests with his quartet in 1993. At Gerry's memorial concert I played "Alone Together," which had been my feature on the "Rebirth" tour, and I asked everyone to hum a D concert, which is common to all the chords of the tune. I often do that so audiences and I are doing something together. While I played, there was a beautiful photo image on the wall of Gerry.


I travel six or seven months of the year, and I often do workshops for students. I sometimes ask myself what I can tell these young people, who probably play three times faster than I do and know every pentatonic scale created by man. In Austria last year I did a workshop with a difference, because 1 wanted to focus very directly on the music, so I just used hand signals and didn't say a word. Communicating these concepts in English can be difficult, but a translator creates even more problems. I got through two of the allotted three hours in that way in total silence, and humming was the main point. They warmed up their musical instrument with a hum and placed that hum in different parts of the body. I then played an interval and a chord and the students had to hum them both, and it really worked. They all seemed pleased to be doing something and not just listening to a bunch of concepts, but then I started to talk and spoilt everything!


Leonard Feather [Jazz critic], who got a lot of things wrong, once claimed that I had turned down the chance of playing with some of the "name" bands, but that wasn't true. I would have loved to play with Duke Ellington or a real jazz band like Woody Herman, but they never asked me. I keep busy, though, by recording, and since December 1995 I have appeared on about twelve CDs. I'm just making them left and right, and I think these little boxes will be the only things left after it is all over!”


NOTES
1.  In Ira Gitler's Jazz Masters of the '40s (Da Capo), Gerry Mulligan is quoted agreeing with Lee: "As far as the 'Birth of the Cool' is concerned. I think Lennie is much more responsible than the Miles dates. It's hard to say unemotional because it's not exactly that, but there was a coolness about his whole approach in terms of the dynamic level. Lennie always had his own thing going. He never came out in the big world."
2.  Lee Konitz Quintet. PRLP 7004.
3.  Lennie Tristano Sextet. EAP 1-491.
4.  Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Lee Konitz. Mosaic MR5-102. We must be thankful thai Konitz did not get his way in rejecting "Too Marvelous for Words," because the title sums up his playing both on this track and on an inspired "Loverman." Mulligan and Baker, however, were not at their best, and for this reason Gerry initially felt that the material should not be released. He changed his mind because of the brilliance of Lee's playing.
5.  Gerry Mulligan and "The Sax Section." Pacific Jazz 7243 8 3357520.
6.  Whitney Balliett reports in American Musicians: 56 Portraits in Jazz (Oxford) that after Miles Davis had refused to help and Mulligan had transcribed some of the charts, Konitz called Davis again, telling the trumpeter that the arrangements had now been rewritten, and Miles apparently replied, "Man, you should have asked me. They're all in my basement." Konitz told Gil Evans about the conversation, who said, "Miles wouldn't have told you he had everything in the basement if you hadn't first told him you'd gone to the trouble to transcribe the records." Lee told Balliett that "Miles is a bona-fide eccentric."



Monday, September 29, 2014

"Enter Ennio" [From the Archives]

Have you ever noticed how self-effacing and mild-mannered many of the great composer-arrangers are  - people like Hank Mancini, Pete Rugolo, Claus Ogerman, Johnny Mandel, Robert Farnon, Nelson Riddle - to name just a few?

Of course, I'm well-aware that this generalization has many exceptions. I worked for more than my share of orchestral tyrants. But to me it was "the meek shall inherit the earth" types who seemed to be the real giants.

I can only guess at the psycho-dynamics that play a role in forming disparate personalities, but I've always been taken with creative musicians who score music that is essentially in the background of TV series, movies and recordings by important instrumentalists and vocalists and who seemingly could care less about their own anonymity.

Put another way: they go about their business in a completely unassuming and totally absorbed way and seem content to do their work in obscurity.

I was reminded of the softly-yet-stronger composer-arrangers whom I've admired over the years as I was getting this piece on Ennio Morricone ready for a reposting from the blog archives.

Although he had the reputation and the resources to have any number of skilled musicians do the legwork and heavy-lifting for him, Ennio was a hands-on orchestrator who treated every project as though it was his first assignment. 

Maestro Morricone just loved the work He learned early on to "do what you love and the rest will follow." The accolades and awards would come his way over the years, but for Ennio Morricone, it was the act of creation which really mattered.

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


Liperoti said that For a Fistful of Dollars illustrated the perfect osmosis between images and music, the grandest success of Morricone's collaboration with Leone.

Morricone said, "It's a sort of poetry that comes without warning, as when two people fall in love with each other. The magic is totally unforeseeable . . . and empiric. As a result, Sergio always wanted me to compose the music before shooting, so that it could be played to the actors for them to be filled with it and understand it. That's how we did our best work, he and I."
- Geraldine Liperoti L’Epress interview with Ennio Morricone

"Popularity doesn't bother me. It attests to the affection and comprehension of the public. The important thing is to retain the pioneer spirit. I profoundly love the profession, and I work on each film as if it were the first — and the last. Giving the best of myself. Many of the 'greats' ask their arranger to write their scores for them. Me, I write all alone, from the first note to the last. All."
- Ennio Morricone, in an interview granted to Geraldine Pieroti, L’Express

“This too should be said: all his scores, no matter what the subject of the film, have an implicit mournfulness. It is as if their composer never for a moment escapes a sense, no matter how deep in his spirit it resides, of the eternal human condition.”
Gene LeesJazzLetter

With the help of the graphics wizards at CerraJazz LTD and the production facilities of StudioCerra, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles developed the video tribute to Italian film composer Ennio Morricone which you will find at the conclusion of this piece.

The music is by pianist Enrico Pieranunzi who, along with bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joey Baron, has recorded two compact discs of Morricone’s music for the movies for the CamJazz label [see sidebar].

Subsequently, while digging through a pile of JazzLetters from 1998, we found an informative and beautifully written essay about Ennio authored by the late, Gene Lees.

We thought it would be nice to combine the video with Gene’s essay and offer the two for your review.

© -  Gene Less/JazzLetter, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

In the mid-1950s, when I was music and drama editor of the Louisville Times, I had to review just about every film that came out. I was also reviewing— and studying — the symphonic works commissioned by the Louisville Orchestra, a rather famous program operated with a substantial grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. These works were then recorded and released in boxed sets for sale.

When, a few years later in New York, my neighbor Miles Davis found out that I had those records, he asked to borrow them. He never returned them, but no matter. There was little that I found memorable in these works.

But there was much that was memorable in the movie scores I was hearing, and I began to pay them fairly close attention. Much of that music, lightly dismissed by most critics, was far better than the stuff coming out of the Louisville Orchestra, particularly scores by Hugo Friedhofer for Boy on a DolphinThe Best Years of Our Lives, and, later, One-Eyed Jacks, which were among some of the finest orchestral works of our time. Later, when Hugo had become one of the dearest (and most admired) friends of my life, my inexhaustible mentor in matters musical, I realized that composers around the world shared my feelings for him.

The condescension toward film music has somewhat diminished since then, and we can get a good many scores on CDs, although not all that I would like to see issued. Works like the scores of Alfred Newman and Alex North command some of the respect they deserve, and I am much taken with the scores of Jerry Goldsmith and Allyn Ferguson (about whom more in a near-future issue).

Cut to:

France 1958. I was living there on a fellowship, with all the time in the world to attend all the music and movie and drama and opera festivals I could find, which I did all the way from Stock­holm to LocarnoSwitzerland. And I drove quite a bit in the south of France, where I came across landscapes that struck me as suitable for shooting western movies. But, good heavens, the western was an American genre, was it not? Well, American movie-makers have never shown any particular reluctance to film European subjects, whether set in ancient Rome or modern Paris. Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front and Arch of Triumph were made into American films, the latter starring the Swedish Ingrid Bergman as a French hooker (in those days the movie did not exactly spell out that she was a prostitute, nor that the doctor played by Charles Boyer was an abortionist), and Joan of Arc, in which Bergman again played a French role. She played a Spanish girl in For Whom the Bell Tolls, but what the hell, Harry, an accent's an accent, am I right?

Why then shouldn't some European film maker do a western, particularly a French film maker, since French cineastes had made a mystique out of the western, as they have out of the abominable movies of Jerry Lewis, whom they have proclaimed a genius. But then, Keith Richard and Paul McCartney have now been knighted, and Andrew Lloyd Weber is a lord.

Eventually, European film-makers did essay the western. The most successful of them was an Italian, Sergio Leone, and he didn't make his film among locations I had seen in the south of France, but in Spain. He called it A Fistful of Dollars, made in 1964 and released in the U.S., where it was a huge hit, in 1967. It resuscitated the career of Clint Eastwood and indeed set him on the road to becoming one of the biggest stars in the world.

The style of Leone's films almost certainly was influenced by the career of his father, Vincenzo Leone, a silent film director. Sergio Leone, as film scholar Leonard Maltin put it, "almost single-handedly invented the spaghetti western," a term that no longer needs explanation in America. I think Henry Mancini invented it; if he didn't, he was the first one I ever heard use it. It also established composer Ennio Morricone with audiences around the world, for his work, as Maltin rightly noted, "became a kind of Leone signature." Leone then did, and Morricone scored, For a Few Dollars More (U.S. release 1967), The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), followed by the huge Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), one of whose writers was Bernardo Bertolucci. Henry Fonda played his first (and as far as I know last) role as a bad guy. Maltin, in his Movie Encyclopedia, put it succinctly: "While these films toyed light-heartedly with genre conventions, they also embodied Leone's own convictions, which included a distrust of the capitalist entrepreneurs who, as he feels, exploited the pioneers, and a bleak nihilism that, although hitting a responsive note with 1960s movie-goers, was out of touch with the general optimism that characterized American-made westerns." He called it "a languid, operatic masterpiece."

That is quite so. But the American westerns were themselves out of touch with reality. Simplistic ugh-how Indians were always the villains fighting the noble U.S. Cavalry, when in fact the reverse was closer to the truth; Serbian "ethnic cleansing" has nothing on what the white man did to the Indians in America.

Perhaps that is why the Leone westerns caught on: some sense that they were closer to the truth about the killers and trash who flowed into the American west than the Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, John Wayne, and even earlier westerns wove into an American delusion about the founding of the nation, particularly its western reaches. As for Leone's view of the capitalists, one need only consider the careers of the likes of Leland Stanford, and of the railway tycoons who routinely hired Chinese laborers to build their iron roads and just as routinely executed them rather than pay them. William Wellman's 1943 The Oxbow Incident was a departure from the good-guys western. Later, so was Henry King's brilliantly written and executed 1950 film The Gunfighter, which closely honored the three unities — time, place, and events — of classic Greek (and later French) drama, occurring in exactly the time it took to tell the story. This unity is so unaffectedly achieved that you don't notice it until you have come to know the film well; I can think of no other film, ever, that so closely wove together its lines of suspense. Andre de Toth was largely responsible for the script.

Whether The Oxbow Incident and The Gunfighter offered any degree of inspiration or guidance to Leone I cannot say; but obviously he had studied the genre, and just as obviously he must have been familiar with these films, and possibly with Delmer Daves' Broken Arrow, which came out in the same year as The Gunfighter, both of them tragedies. And in Broken Arrow (which had a Hugo Friedhofer score) the white men were the bad guys, and the Indians were sensitively portrayed — how accurately I cannot say. (An Indian scholar, and I mean an Indian who was a scholar of Indian history, told me a couple of years ago in Santa FeNew Mexico, that Indians liked Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves because, for once, at least the costumes were correct.)

Sergio Leone changed westerns forever, giving them an abrasive realism that precluded any return to anything like the Ken Maynard-Tom Mix-Tim Holt-Buck Jones-Hopalong Cassidy myth of the past, or even for that matter the better John Wayne vehicles such as The Searchers. We were jolted at first by the seedy-looking characters who peopled his pictures, unshaven and strange, looking nothing like Mexicans and even less like Americans. These weren't westerns from another country, these were westerns from another planet, as alien as, say, a film about the Edgar Rice Burroughs figures in the John Carter of Mars books, or his Pelucidar trilogy. And part of what made them so strange was Leone's use of silence and sound and of the music that infused both. Again, I think his father's experience as a silent film director may be relevant, and this is where Morricone comes in.

Our impression of the music in silent films, imposed on us by countless comedies, is that produced by a little old lady in a print dress in front of the flickering screen, playing sentimental or suspense music as needed on a tack-hammer piano with lots of rolls in the right hand. Hugo Friedhofer made me understand that this was anything but the case.

I have read in treatises on film music that the composers had to fight to get music into pictures. Not according to Hugo. I wasn't there, of course. But Hugo was. He wrote his first music-for-film when he did the arrangements for the 1929 musical Sunny Side Up, which was one of the early talkies. Thus he was involved in motion-picture music virtually from the inception of sound, and I'll take his word for what happened.

In small towns, perhaps, little old ladies tinkled the music for silent films on bad pianos, but in larger communities, the music often came from powerful Wurlitzer organs, and in major centers, from orchestras ranging up to full symphonic size. The more important pictures were accompanied by orchestral scores. Hugo was playing cello in a San Francisco pit orchestra during that period. Sometimes the scores would arrive with parts missing, and the conductor would assign Hugo to reconstruct them, which is how he got into what we might call pre-talky scoring.

Now, Hugo said, the producers of silent films wanted and expected music throughout a picture, as in the silents. It was music wall to wall, from the start of the corridor to its end. And the real struggle of composers in the early 1930s, Hugo told me, was to persuade producers and studio executives to let them leave music out of scenes involving perhaps sound effects or dialogue with which it could only clash. Scores became more discreet as time went on, Hugo said. He himself produced some of the masterpieces of the genre.

The dialogue in the Sergio Leone westerns is sparse. In For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Lee Van Cleef (whose career was also restored by Leone, much as John Travolta's recently has been by Quentin Tarantino) and Clint Eastwood had little to say to each other or anybody else. What talking there is in these movies is terse and sullen. And thus there are large long spaces of stares and leers and squints and walks and malevolent atmosphere and portentous pauses before the guns blaze. The style calls for music as much as the silent movies of Hugo's youth. (The coming of talkies devastated employment among musicians who had worked in movie houses; it cost my own father his professional career as a musician.) Even the sound of gunfire in Leone movies was distinctive, as distinctive as that of shots in the Warner Bros, movies. (You can spot a Warner Bros, movie of the 1930s, if you're surfing on television, by the sounds of gunshots and the Janssen Symphony.)

After the reforms of Hugo and composers such as Alfred Newman and Bronislau Kaper, music in films became subtly supportive. Ideally, it was (at least in Hugo's aesthetic) not supposed to be heard at all, only felt. That is not a view I share, and Hugo told me that Erich Korngold (whom he idolized, personally and professionally, and whose orchestrator he once was) looked on the Erroll Flynn swashbucklers for which he composed music as operas without arias.



And I think that must have been Leone's point of view. Leone went counter to that philosophy of the unheard. He hired Ennio Morricone, and he wanted that music not only to be heard but to intrude, to prod, to tell the story, even if necessary to irritate.

Leone used an amplified guitar in westerns. I found this disconcerting. I first encountered the sound in some Henry Fonda western, and I recoiled, thinking, "Where is the amplifier plugged in, in 1890?" or whatever year it was. And it bothered me as much in the Leone westerns. But of course, my reaction was ridiculous. They didn't have modern violins and French horns and valve trumpets in the time of Richard the Lion Heart, and that didn't disconcert us in Korngold's score for Erroll Flynn's Robin Hood. So, gradually, I became inured to Morricone's use of electric guitar in his extremely obtrusive scores. But I still didn't like his music. I was pulled up a little short on this when I found that Henry Mancini did like and respect it. To me, however, Morricone's music still had a cartoon quality. I thought he was incapable of subtlety. He thus is one of those musicians like Claus Ogerman whom I at first underestimated.

Then, two or three years ago, in New York, I was attending with a friend a wine-and-cheese party populated mostly by writers and aspiring writers somewhere in an apartment complex near NYU. Through the talk, I became aware of some music coming from a CD, fresh and touching. I asked the host what it was. He told me that it was Ennio Morricone's score for Cinema Paradiso. When it was over, I asked him to play it again. When I got home to California, I bought it. Morricone has a distinctive and distin­guished sense of melody, and the one he invented for Cinema Paradiso is surprising, wistful, and sinuously beautiful.

Since then I have been paying attention to Morricone's music. I picked up an Italian import, a CD titled Morricone 93: Il Cinema che Suona, which contains themes from a number of his movies. Heard with unprejudiced ears, they are quite effective. He has a taste for pulsing ostinatos, and he likes to use twanging instru­ments, such as guitar and harpsichord, and what sound to me like wooden or reed flutes and pan pipes. (Some of them sound like Andean flutes.) You hear that sound in the 1973 Leone film starring Henry Fonda titled My Name Is Nobody. That score has some odd stuff in it. Leone quotes Wagner's pompous Ride of the Valkyries but on harmonica or a little button accordion. It's buried in the score, but it's quite droll. There is another thing about the Leone-Morricone collaboration: it often seemed to me that the film was shot to the music. This turns out to be true.

When the intrusive is not called for, as in pictures emphasizing dialogue, Morricone can be subtle, discreet, almost inaudible.

I knew absolutely nothing about the man, however, until I came across an article about him in the French weekly news magazine L'Express.

Ennio Morricone, born in Rome October 11, 1928, started his musical life on trumpet, to which he was introduced by his father, who was a jazz trumpet player. Morricone is now seventy. He is probably the most prolific composer in film history, having written at least 400 scores, twenty-two of them in 1972 alone, which works out to one every sixteen days. He may not be as fast as Georges Simenon, each of whose Maigret novels was written in exactly eleven days. But Simenon collapsed in exhaustion after each such marathon writing session, and he didn't turn out twenty-two novels in a single year. Surprisingly, only six of Morricone's 400 films were with Leone.



A photo shows Morricone as a man with a round pensive face on which sit sage horn-rimmed glasses. His Express interviewer, Geraldine Liperoti, described him thus: "Caught in his Roman apartment, then in the privacy of his studio, where are mixed in joyous disorder books, music scores, CDs, chess board, and even a seventeenth century organ . . . from this flood of memorabilia emerges an artist who is all nuances: at once modest and sure of his value, serene and unpredictable, shy and jocular." She com­mented on the variety of his scores, his almost dizzying output. She noted that he had almost backed into a film career.

"That's true," he said. "When I got out of the Conservatory of Santa Cecilia, I dreamed only of classical music. But the time after the war was a very hard period in Italy, and I needed to feed my family. So I started playing the trumpet evenings in clubs frequent­ed by Americans. I went there with no pleasure. It was with pain that I earned the money from diverting the occupants." He emphasized the word "occupants" a little. He meant the American military occupying forces.

"Then I wrote some arrangements for television, theater, and cinema. I worked clandestinely, for the prejudice against music deemed light was very strong at that time. Little by little, my name became known, and then Sergio Leone asked me to collaborate on For a Handful of Dollars.

"Leone, who knew my work on two previous westerns . . . . "

Ah, there is an insight for us on this side of the Atlantic: Leone did not make the first European westerns. "Sergio Leone . . . came to my residence .... When I opened the door, seeing his singular mouth ... I realized we had gone to the same primary school for boys .... Later, we even found a class photo.

"For that film, he told me he wanted a Mexican military song. I got out a little berceuse that I had composed for a television broadcast seven years early but never used. I played the trumpet, and so that's how the principal theme of For a Few Dollars More was born. I never confessed my little ruse to Sergio until many years later. Because of this, it became a game with him: he chose from among scores rejected by other directors."

Liperoti said that For a Fistful of Dollars illustrated the perfect osmosis between images and music, the grandest success of Morricone's collaboration with Leone.
Morricone said, "It's a sort of poetry that comes without warning, as when two people fall in love with each other. The magic is totally unforeseeable . . . and empiric. As a result, Sergio always wanted me to compose the music before shooting, so that it could be played to the actors for them to be filled with it and understand it. That's how we did our best work, he and I."

Did they have any thought that they were revolutionizing westerns?

"No. Moreover, when we saw For a Fistful of Dollars for the first time, Sergio and I, we found it awful. Sergio's films, and my work with him, got better, right up to his masterpiece, Once Upon a Time in America. And that wasn't a western. Of the four hundred film scores I've written, only thirty-five have been westerns, and you've only spoken to me of the westerns. Why?"

Liperoti said, "Because the impact on the public was immense. And what do you think of the expression 'spaghetti western'?"

"Ah! I detest this expression! Intelligent people have to call them Italian westerns. This isn't a soup we're talking about!"

Morricone apparently developed a reputation for falling asleep during recording sessions. The interviewer asked him about it.


"You know," he said, "I get up at 5 a.m. every day. One night, at four in the morning, I was asleep during a recording. Leone sent everyone home, put out the lights, turned on the microphone, and shouted in a cavernous voice, 'Ennio-o-o-o, you have no shame, to be snoozing while everyone is working.' I woke up thinking that it was the devil who'd spoken to me. It happened when we argued. Leone was a very anxious person. He had a need to transfer his anguish to others. But it never lasted more than five minutes."

Liperoti said to Morricone that he was known for the use of unusual instruments — she used the word 'insolite', for which I have never found a good translation; and anyway in her article she was probably translating from Italian into French — such as bells, the triangle, a whistle, even human and animal cries. Actually, Morricone was not working without precedent. Henry Mancini used all sorts of non-orchestral instruments, including boobams from the South Pacific, in his scores. The harmonica (which Morricone used in Once Upon a Time in the West, in a two-note motif that set up a haunting effect and told some of the story) has been common in western-movie scores.

Morricone said, "It was never my point to be provocative. I just thought that the sounds of animals were pertinent in the universe of the western. During my apprenticeship ... I always lent an ear to sounds, no matter how modest. Even the common tap of a pencil on a table, isolated from context, can be reborn in music. The cry of the coyote, if one listens well, is eminently musical. To translate it into music in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, I asked two singers to cry together, then I mixed their two voices adding echo. When Leone heard the result, he went nuts with joy ....

"In Once Upon a Time in the West, the harmonica had to resonate like a cry of pain, for it incarnated all the humiliation of [Charles] Bronson's character. During the recording, we found the musician played in a sort of monotone. Sergio threw himself on him and choked him. That's why the sound is so brilliant."

As for the Ride of the Valkyries quote in My Name Is Nobody, he said, "I always retained a nostalgia for classical music. Even if I am aware that there is an enormous moat between the public that goes to concerts and that which goes to the cinema, these winks are a way of bringing the two worlds together No one knew, for example, that the principal theme of The Sicilian Clan [a 1969 French film with Jean Gabin and Alain Delon — ed.] was an homage to Bach. I elaborated it in superposing a first melody inspired by one of his preludes for organ and a second, which I was amused to compose from the letters B-A-C-H, which, in German, correspond to our si, la, do, si. It was an appreciation to a composer I love."

Morricone detests long voyages, and for all the work he does in American films, he will not go to the United States. He said: "If they want to work with me, they come here. If not, I don't do the film. Warren Beatty, for example, loves to come to Rome. I didn't even have to ask him."

Liperoti commented that this was the privilege of celebrity, to which Morricone replied:

"Popularity doesn't bother me. It attests to the affection and comprehension of the public. The important thing is to retain the pioneer spirit. I profoundly love the profession, and I work on each film as if it were the first — and the last. Giving the best of myself. Many of the 'greats' ask their arranger to write their scores for them. Me, I write all alone, from the first note to the last. All."

Morricone has been nominated four times for the Academy Award, including once in 1987 for The Mission. He lost to Herbie Hancock, who got it for the French film Round Midnight, about a jazz musician loosely — very loosely — based on the late life of Bud Powell, and starring Dexter Gordon as a "great" saxophonist of supposed significant originality. Gordon was hardly that. The film's sheer silliness need hardly be documented here. The score was made of jazz tracks. Liperoti asked Morricone if he was bitter about losing that year.

He said: "Certainly I was disappointed. Especially since ... the music that won was not a true original score: it was composed of pieces of already existing songs. I said nothing, but everyone protested the evening of the ceremony. To win an Oscar, it is necessary to campaign to the voters, and the production houses I worked with neglected to do it. But okay, I didn't make a complaint. I have received many other distinctions."

In 1986, The Mission, a film set in late eighteenth-century Brazil, featured Jeremy Irons, Robert de Niro, Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn, a very good script by Robert Bolt, and an exceptional score by Morricone. The film, which is very dark, is about the slaughter and enslavement of the autocthonous population. Its point is that this ethnic cleansing continues even now in the upper Amazon rain forests.

In 1989, Morricone scored Brian de Palma's suitably outraged but cluttered Viet Nam sermon Casualties of War. He also scored that godawful de Palma version of The Untouchables, with a David Mammet script so bloody stupid, even more absurd than his script for The Edge, that in it the Canadian Mounties come galloping across the border in their red uniforms (they hadn't worn them on duty, any more than the U.S. Marines wear dress blues in combat, in years) to aid the American cops on United States soil, where of course they have no legal authority. The violence and camera gimmicks, including a shoot-out sequence copped from Potemkin, conspire to keep one watching, but the suspension of disbelief requires effort, and the Morricone score assists you into the cocoon of credulity. Any composer who could make that turkey fly has to be taken very seriously. [Emphasis, mine and gleefully so!]

Morricone has continued to work, very successfully and effectively, in American films, including last year's Bulworth. Warren Beatty, who wrote, produced, and starred in Bulworth (an interesting picture, by the way) obviously likes Morricone: he used him in the earlier (1991) Bugsy, about the life and death of Bugsy Siegal).

The last film on which Morricone worked with Sergio Leone was The Nine Hundred Days of Leningrad, presumably about the German siege of that city.

"It was the only time he refused to talk music with me ... For him, the film was a sort of dream which he knew he would never realize. A little earlier, he had refused a heart transplant. The last months of his life, he was very tired and knew that he was going to die.

"I often called to ask him when we would go to work. But he kept putting it off. It was only afterwards that I understood why. His nephew, Enrico, acknowledged it to me on the day of his death.

"Sergio was a great gentleman."

Sergio Leone died ten years ago, on April 10, 1989. A rare collaboration ended. When Morricone too is gone, it will no doubt be written that he was an unusual composer, a very fine one, and he changed film scoring.

This too should be said: all his scores, no matter what the subject of the film, have an implicit mournfulness. It is as if their composer never for a moment escapes a sense, no matter how deep in his spirit it resides, of the eternal human condition.”

Saturday, September 27, 2014

“Fine As [Phineas] Can Be”: Phineas Newborn, Jr.[From the Archives]

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved


While developing the video montage located at the end of this piece on which Phineas Newborn, Jr. performs Stevie Wonder's You Are The Sunshine of My Life with Ray Brown on bass and Jimmy Smith on drums, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it would be fun to add some new images to this feature and re-post it to the blog.

As stated in the annotation the accompanies the video of his appearance on Jazz Scene USA 1962: "Now that the dust of history has settled, there can be no question that Phineas Newborn, Jr. [1931-1989] was/is one of Jazz's most important and enduring pianists. 

Blinded by his dazzling technique during the time he was on the scene, many critics dismissed him without catching on to his brilliant musicality.

We are fortunate that some producers (most notably Lester Koenig at Contemporary) saw fit to capture newborn's artistry on record with at least some regularity."

As pointed out in the original piece, bassist Ray Brown had a great deal to do with keeping Phineas in the studios at Contemporary. After Les Koenig passed away, Ray enlisted the aid of Norman Granz at Pablo to record the reclusive Phineas.

While Norman's massive efforts on behalf of Jazz and its makers has finally been well-documented in Tad Hershorn's biography - Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz For Justice - one wonders if the impresario efforts of Ray Brown will ever be documented in such fine fashion.

Dating back to his days with Dizzy Gillespie's Big Band in the mid-1940's until his death in 2002, Ray did so much to produce in-performance and recorded Jazz at the highest levels, efforts which, in many cases, remain anecdotal and largely undocumented.

Thank goodness Ray held Phineas near-and-dear-to-his-heart and created scenarios that brought him into the recording studio from time-to-time or the career of this great Jazz pianist would have been largely confined to recordings he made from about 1955-1965 [Phineas died in 1989.].

As a case in point, the recording of You Are The Sunshine of My Life that forms the sound track on the closing video was recorded in 1976.

In addition to Phineas, Ray formed trios with pianists including Gene Harris, Benny Green, Larry Fuller, Geoff Keezer, Dado Moroni, not to mention his legendary association with pianist Oscar Peterson in the 1950s.

And then there are the numerous artists that Ray managed, including, for many years, vocalist Ella Fitzgerald, the almost countless number of recordings he made with artists that Norman Granz represented on his Verve and Pablo Records labels, and the Jazz concerts he produced both domestically and internationally for over forty [40] years.

I doubt that this side of Ray Brown's contributions to Jazz will ever be researched and written; I hope I'm wrong.

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


“This is the greatest thing that ever happened to Jazz – the greatest pianist playing today.  In every respect, he’s tremendous. He is just beautiful. A wonderful Jazz musician,”
- Jazz pianist, Gene Harris

“Technically, he was sometimes claimed to run a close second to Art Tatum. In reality, Newborn was a more effective player at slower tempos and with fewer notes; but he could be dazzling when he chose,…. A sensitive and troubled soul, even the lightest of his performances point to hidden depths of emotion.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“I hear in him all that is emotional, as well as all that is cerebral and virtuosic, about jazz piano in one of its most sophisticated forms.”
- Leonard Feather

Legendary bassist Ray Brown, along with Les Koenig of Contemporary Records and Norman Granz at Pablo Records, were largely responsible for insuring that one of the greatest Jazz pianists of all-time – Phineas Newborn, Jr. [1931-1989] - didn’t slip into total obscurity following his initial acclaim.

Although Phineas was not a celebrity, he was highly regarded by knowledgeable Jazz fans, especially in the 1950's and 60's. ''In his prime, he was one of the three greatest jazz pianists of all time, right up there with Bud Powell and Art Tatum,'' said the late Leonard Feather, who for many years served as a Jazz critic for Downbeat magazine and The Los Angeles Times.

There was a time when Phineas looked set for stardom, but mental problems forced him to return to Memphis in the '60s, where he spent his remaining years struggling against the alcohol and drug problems that exacerbated an already fragile emotional state.

Whenever Phineas [who prefers to pronounce his name - “Fine as, ” with the accent of the first syllable, hence the title of Ray’s tribute tune] could pull himself together, Ray Brown brought him into the studio and recorded him in a trio setting along with Ray on bass and such drummers as Jimmy Smith or Elvin Jones on drums.

I got to know Phineas a little during the early 1960s when he played one of the week nights at The Manne Hole, drummer Shelly Manne’s venerable club in Hollywood. He usually worked with bassist Jimmy Bond and drummer Milt Turner, but drummer Frank Butler often performed with him, as well.

One night he told me “his [my] Count Basie story.  It seems that Bill Basie was a friend of his Dad, a drummer who led a Rhythm & Blues band on Memphis’ famous Beale Street during the late 1930s.  Basie nicknamed Phineas, Jr. “Bright Eyes” because ‘as a boy his eyes would light-up as soon as he heard the music!’”

It was staggering to try and take-in all that Phineas had to offer. His technique was phenomenal and he tossed off so many ideas while improvising that if you stopped concentrating even for a second you were lost.  Listening to him in such an informal and personal setting was an exhilarating experience. Sadly, it was often not much of a shared experience as he hardly drew an audience.

The legendary Jazz pianist George Shearing once said that the “trick” to this music is getting it from the head and into the hands. Based on my first-hand observation of Phineas, I had the feeling that he had invented the “trick!”

With his technique, harmonic mastery, rhythmic displacement, and brilliant tone, Phineas Newborn, Jr. was nothing short of a Jazz piano phenomena.



But prodigious technique is frequently more of a curse than a blessing in Jazz circles and is often heavily criticized.

As the late Jazz writer, Leonard Feather, pointed out in his liner notes to Phineas Newborn, Jr.: A World of Piano [Contemporary LP S-7600; OJCCD 175-2]:

“There has always been a tendency among music experts, and by no means only in jazz, to harbor misgivings about technical perfection. The automatic-reflex reaction is: yes, all the notes are there and all the fingers are flying, but what is he really saying? How about the emotional communication?

Art Tatum at the apex of his creative powers suffered this kind of treatment at the hands of a not inconsiderable pro­portion of the critics. Buddy De Franco, of course, has been a consistent victim. Phineas has been in similar trouble, and not because of any lack in his ability to transmit emotion but possibly, I suspect, because of the listeners' reluctance or in­ability to receive it. Nat Hentoff, in the notes for Maggie's Back in Town, pointed out that Phineas has "harnessed his prodigious technique during the past couple of years into more emotionally meaningful directions!" True, though conservative; I would lengthen the harness to four or five years. During that time, too, the technique has taken on even more astonish­ing means to accomplish even more incredible ends — witness one ploy that is uniquely remarkable: the ad lib use of galvanic lines played by both hands two octaves apart. Today, bearing in mind that Bernard Peiffer is French and Oscar Peterson Canadian, it would not be extravagant to claim that Phineas has no equal among American jazz pianists, from any standpoint, technical or esthetic. He is a moving, swinging, pianistically perfect gas.”

George Wein, the impresario who founded the Newport Jazz Festival, wrote these thoughts about Phineas and his music in 1956 as the liner notes to Phineas’ first album for Atlantic Records Here is Phineas [#1235; reissued on CD as Koch 8505].



For years now I've listened to people scream at me about unknown pianists they have discovered. "He’s greater than Bud . "He cuts Oscar . "He leaves Tatum standing still". As many times as I have heard these cries, that is how often I have been disappointed. In­variably, these unknowns are, at their best, simply minor talents, and, at their worst, pale copies of great pianists.

About a year ago I began to hear stories about a fan­tastic pianist in MemphisTenn. with the almost quaint sounding name of Phineas Newborn. Jr. Men I re­spected, such as John Hammond, Willard Alexander and, of course. Count Basic, among many others, insisted that I must hear this guy. Due to my previous sad experiences, I could not get excited. However, when I got a chance to really hear Phineas in Storyville [a nightclub in Boston which Wein owned], for the first time I was not disappointed. The unknown had lived up to his press notices.

Phineas Newborn, Jr. was born December 14. 1932 in MemphisTenn. I believe this makes him all of 23 years old at the recording of this album. In all my years of listening to music I have never encountered a music­ian of such tender years who had such a fantastic com­mand of his instrument. Perhaps my reaction to Phineas can be traced to my personal concern with the piano. If this was my only reason for liking him, then I say it would be sufficient, for to my knowledge the only pianist who has as great, or greater command of the piano is Art Tatum.



Phineas is a two handed pianist, as opposed to the tendency of modern pianists to dwell on the single finger, right hand style. The only time he can be ac­cused of being a one-handed pianist is when he puts his right hand in his pocket and plays two choruses of a ballad, such as Embraceable You. exclusively with his left hand. Unfortunately, he does not do this in this album, but when you see him in person, ask him to play a left-handed solo for you. His left hand is de­veloped to such an extent that he can and does execute any passage or chord with his left hand that he would do with his right. When you realize that he has the fattest right hand of anyone since Tatum (he might even exceed Tatum for sheer speed) then you get an
idea of just what happens.

However, technique is only one facet of music. What of Phineas' basic musical style? From whence does he come and where is he going?

First, let me warn the reader of what not to do upon first hearing Phineas. Do not be so overpowered by his technique that you neglect to listen to the music he plays. Through all his technical intricacies I hear a wonderful musical mind, a mind that without copying has absorbed the music of the jazz masters. I get a funny feeling when I hear Phineas. I concentrate on his fan­tastically-"Bird'-influenced ideas and then I can't help but get the feeling that at any moment he is going to swing right into a Waller-James P. Johnson stride piano effect. He never quite does and I sometimes wish he would.

Phineas says his first jazz idols were Bird, Dizzy and Bud Powell. Later on, after he had begun to develop his own style, he heard Tatum. There is no doubt of the influence that these men left on Phineas. There is also evidence that he has listened to Erroll Garner.

However, there is never a question that Phineas has a unique approach to music. (In this album I believe Daahoud comes the closest to defining the Phineas Newborn style).


The only real criticism I have of his playing can be traced to his immaturity, both musically and in years. He tends to want to play everything in the same tempo. To be more explicit, he feels so relaxed at up-tempos that even in ballads he resorts to double-timing in order to utilize his technique. Also, he has a few figures of which he is fond. These appear a little too often in his playing. As soon as Phineas gets over the idea that he must create an impression the first time around the nightclub circuit, I am sure these minor faults will disappear.

Biographically, Phineas' history is not startling. The son of Phineas Newborn, Sr., a fine drummer and band leader in Memphis, he and his brother, Calvin, one year his junior, had an early musical beginning (Calvin plays guitar in the Phineas Newborn Quartet and is heard on some of the sides in this album). Phineas started the study of piano at the age of six with the pianist in his fathers band. He continued right through high (trumpet, tuba, baritone horn, French horn). Later on, he learned the vibes, and in college and the Arm/ he acquired the baritone, tenor and alto saxophones. Those who have heard him say he is nearly as fantastic on these various instruments as he is on the piano. For­tunately, Phineas has concentrated on piano and does not try to impress us with his versatility.

His formal education, in addition to graduating from the Memphis School System, consists of two years as a music major at Tenn. A & I. Later on he spent a year at Lemoyne College in Memphis, before he was drafted into the Army in August 1953. He was discharged in June 1955, and played with his father's band until last month when he made the break after the Willard Alex­ander agency convinced him he should come North and let the world hear his talent. I am sure that Count Basic, who is Phineas' greatest booster, had much influence on his decision.

As in any record, the music in this album speaks for itself. My personal favorites are the Clifford Brown Daahoud, and a very Tatumesque Newport Blues. I also like his treatment of the Ellington standard I’m Beginning to See the Light. He is accompanied very ably by two jazz greats, Oscar Pettiford on bass and Kenny Clarke on drums, in addition to his brother Calvin on guitar.                                             

- GEORGE WEIN”



Leonard Feather, who, as noted, became an early and frequent champion of Phineas’ music, offered these cogent observations about him and comparisons with other Jazz pianists in the liner notes to Phineas’ 1969 Contemporary album, Please Send Me Someone to Love [S-7622; OJCCD 947-2:

“For a more than a half century, there was a series of evolutions in keyboard jazz, which originated in ragtime, then was marked by the successive advent of stride, with its volleying left hand; horn-style piano, characterized mainly by a fusillade of octaves or long runs of single notes in the right hand; bebop piano, with its central concern for harmonic experiments and relatively limited left-hand punctua­tions; and a 1950s trend marked by a concern for rich, full chords and a more expansive left-hand concept.

The only pianist who succeeded in absorbing many character­istics of each of these phases, in fact the first authentic and com­plete virtuoso of jazz piano, was Art Tatum. His death in 1956 seemed to close the book; there was no room for development, no area to examine that he had not already explored.

Time has shown that there were indeed other directions. The atonal improvisations of Cecil Taylor were acclaimed by many observers as taking jazz forward into a freer, more abstract music. Bill Evans launched what I once characterized, in an essay on jazz piano for Show magazine (July 1963), as the Serenity School, cre­ating new harmonic avenues, new voicings, swinging without hammering, asserting tersely yet subtly, rarely rising above a mezzo-forte. McCoy Tyner, armed with exceptional technical facili­ty, moved along still another route with extensive use of modes as a departure from the traditional chordal basis.

All these changes during the late 1950s and throughout the '60s did nothing to demolish the theory that Art Tatum represent­ed the ultimate. Coincidentally, it was during the year of Tatum's death that Phineas Newborn, Jr. first came to New York and emerged from Memphis obscurity (he was born Dec. 14,1931 in WhitevilleTenn.) to establish himself as the new pianistic pianist, in the Tatum tradition.

In the abovementioned Show article, I wrote: "Most astonish­ing of the dexterous modernists is Phineas Newborn, Jr. As small, timid, and frail as Peterson is big and burly, Newborn belies his meek manner with a relentlessly aggressive style. His technique can handle any mechanical problem and he has, moreover, a quick, sensitive response to the interaction of melody and harmo­ny." Commenting that most critics tended to be skeptical of tech­nical perfection, I wrote of Newborn's A World of Piano! album (Contemporary S-7600) that it was "the most stunning piano set since Tatum's salad days in the 1930s."



A year later, in 1964, I went out on a rare limb to declare unequivocally, in Down Beat, "Newborn is the greatest living jazz pianist."

Five years later, while perfectly content to let that categorical statement remain on the record, I reflected on what esthetic, what ratiocination led me to this conclusion. Under the spell of a set by Peterson in top form I might have made a similar remark. In either case, my reaction would have been primarily emotional, but the emotions in evaluating a work of art are often guided, per­haps subliminally, by a consciousness of the craftsmanship required for its creation.

Despite the chattering of the anti-intellectuals, I cannot see how any possible advantage can be found in technical limitation. Clearly technique can be abused, or used without imagination; 1 can think of a dozen popular pianists, some of them well-known via network television, who have made this point painfully clear. But a man like Newborn, who reached his present command of the instrument by practicing perhaps six or seven hours a day, automatically has an advantage over the simplistic artist, who resorts to simple figures and clichés only because that is as far as his fingers and mind will take him.

Phineas demonstrates all the virtues and none of the handi­caps (if there are any) inherent in knowing how to use the piano. Taking him on his own terms, he's an involved, committed artist, for whom the instrument is virtually an extension of the man. This would not be possible if he were in any way hamstrung by not being able to execute whatever idea may cross his mind.

I won't deny that when he uses a personal device, such as the parallel lines in unison an octave apart, I am impressed by the ease with which he dashes off such passages; but even more meaningful to me is the originality and artistry of the melodic structure he has been able to build.

When Phineas plays the blues, as he does on at least three tracks in this album, it is not down-home, backwoods blues, but it's just as deep a shade of blue, and comes just as straight from the heart, as if he were a primitive trying to make something meaningful out of three chord changes and a couple of riffs. I hear in him all that is emotional, as well as all that is cerebral and virtuosic, about jazz piano in one of its most sophisticated forms.”

If you spend some time listening to the music of Phineas Newborn, Jr., I think that it would be safe to say that you, too will “… hear in him all that is emotional, as well as all that is cerebral and virtuosic, about jazz piano in one of its most sophisticated forms.”

After all, if Leonard Feather is indeed correct, there have only been two other Jazz pianists comparable to Phineas in the history of Jazz: - Bud Powell and Art Tatum.

Not bad company, eh?