A Christmas Jazz Tale

December 23, 2013

A Christmas Jazz Tale

by Don Heckman

‘Twas the night before Christmas and the gig was running late;
No sugar plums, no candy canes, just another overtime club date,
Holidays are work days in a jazz musician’s life,
A chance to make some extra bucks to take home to the wife.

Chanukah’s over, Kwaanza starts tomorrow,
The Ramadan fast just ended,  and I’ll forget the others to my sorrow.
If you want to make a living in the music world these days,
You’d better learn to celebrate in many different ways.

The clock slowly turned toward the midnight hour,
As we played a jazzed up version of the “Waltz of the Flowers.”
We labored on, “White Christmas,” “Frosty” and “Silent Night”;
And I wondered if we’d still be jamming “My Favorite Things” at first light.

But we finally got lucky, as the leader kicked off the last medley.
The singer mauled “The Christmas Song,” a version Mel would have found deadly,
We did the “Jingle Bell Mambo” and the “Drummer Boy Bossa Nova,”
And wrapped it all up, with a rock “Hallelujah” coda.

I packed my horn, gave the guys my best wishes and headed into the night.
The streets were dark and quiet, the stores closed up tight.
Not that it would have mattered, since the gig barely paid the rent,
And whatever I could afford for presents had already been spent.

I walked through the falling snow, filled with memories of Christmas past,
Of marching bands and Christmas parades, of lighted trees and times too good to last.
And I wondered if my kids, when adulthood beckons,
Would remember their holidays with the same sweet affection.

My footsteps led me home to a house warm and cozy,
Where my wife and my children lay innocently dozing.
So I sat for a while in the late night still,
Watching the snow fall gently on the hill.

When I suddenly heard a familiar sound in the distance,
A rhythm section swinging with hard driving persistence.
But this one was strange, something I’d never heard before,
A brisk and spirited clatter I can only describe as hoof beats galore.

Then a new sound, one both familiar yet odd,
Called out through the snowflakes, like a leader commanding a squad.
“On Trane! On Dizzy! On Monk! On Duke!
On Sonny! On Bird! On Miles! On Klook!”

The next thing I heard was just as amazing,
A set of riffs, hard-swinging and blazing,
Played on an instrument that was new to me,
The sting of a trumpet, the silk of a sax, the tone of a bone, all blended with glee.

I ran to the window to see what was coming,
And was met with a sight incredibly stunning,
What looked like a bright red ’57 Chevy,
Pulled through the sky by eight reindeer in a bevy.

They landed in my yard and the driver leaped out;
Grabbing a pack from the back he quickly turned about.
I blinked my eyes at this strange apparition,
His cheeks like Dizzy, his smile like Pops, as natty as Miles, a man on a mission.

“Call me Father Jazz,” he said as he came through the door, “musicians are my specialty.
I’ll even make a stop tonight with a little something for Kenny G.”
Then, opening his pack, he lightly danced to our tree,
Placing presents beneath it, ever so gently.

“There’s a drum set for Alex,” he said, “that kid has great time.
And a guitar for Allegra, ’cause the songs she writes are so fine.
And the books and the wristwatch you wanted for your wife,
That you couldn’t afford, living a jazz musician’s life.”

This is way too weird, I thought, it must be a dream;
Something like this is too good to be what it seems.
“Oh, it’s the real deal,” said Father Jazz, with a riff-like snap of his fingers.
“You’re on my list of serious jazz swingers.”

Moving to the doorway he turned back for a final review:
“And if you’re wondering why no box has been left for you,
It’s because your present has already been given.
You know what it is? It’s the spirit that makes your imagination so driven.”

“Musicians like you know that the gift of music is the gift of love.
It’s a gift that can only have come from above.
And those non-jazz Beatles had it right, for all our sakes,
When they said, ‘The love you take is equal to the love you make’.”

He bounded lightly through the snow to his flying red Chevy,
Blew a celestial riff on his amazing horn — so heavy!
And urged his team forward with a rallying command,
“On Dizzy! On Bird! On Miles! On Trane!”

As his eager steeds rose into the winter sky,
Father Jazz called out one last stirring cry.
Looking down with a radiant smile and a farewell wave:
“Stay cool, Bro’ and keep the music playing.”


Picks of the Week: August 26 – Sept. 1

August 26, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Lyn Stanley

Lyn Stanley

- Aug. 27. Tues.) Lyn StanleyLost in Romance.”  Jazz vocalist Lyn Stanley celebrates the release of her new album in the stellar company of Tamir Hendelman, Mike Lang, Llew Matthews, Dominic Genova, Jim DeJulio, Bernie Dresel, Rickey Woodard, Bob McChesney and Grant Geissman. Add to that an appearance by a pair of pro ballroom dancers, Latin world champions Maria Nikolishina and Nikolai Vononovich. And, topping the evening, a warm tribute to the late pianist Paul Smith, who was instrumental in the early development of Stanley’s career. Smith’s widow, Annette Warren Smith, a veteran film, radio and television singer, will also be in attendance. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- Aug. 28. (Wed.) Denise Donatelli and Geoffrey Keezer. The musical partnership of jazz singer Donatelli and pianist/arranger Keezer has resulted in Grammy nominations and some extraordinary music. Here’s a chance to hear them in action, live. Vitello’s. . (818) 769-0905.

- Aug. 28. (Wed.) Wayne Shorter’s 80th Birthday Celebration.  The iconic saxophonist/composer’s 80th birthday provides the ideal motivation for a major musical highlight of the 2013 Summer Bowl schedule.  The stellar line up of performers includes Herbie Hancock, Geri Allen, Terri Lyne Carrington, Esperanza Spalding, Danilo Perez, John Patitucci, Brian Blade, the Imani Winds and the Joe Lovano/Dave Douglas Quintet The Hollywood Bowl.     (323) 850-2000.

- Aug. 29. (Thurs.) Tierney Sutton. “After Blue” One of the more intriguing performances of the week – the musically adventurous Sutton in a preview performance of her “Joni Mitchell Project.” Vitello’s. . (818) 769-0905.

Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr.

- Aug. 30 – Sept. 1. (Fri. – Sun.)  Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr.  The multiple, Grammy-winning duo from the Fifth Dimension showcase their warm and intimate vocalizing. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Sept. 1. (Sun.) The Modernaires. A performance by the second generation of this great, veteran vocal ensemble features contemporary singers Julie Dickenson, Joe Croyle, Jim Stephens, Ginger Berglund, Scott Whitfield. Vitello’s. . (818) 769-0905.

Seattle

- Aug. 29 – Sept. 1. (Thurs. – Sun.) Keiko Matsui. 25Th Anniversary Tour & Soul Quest CD release party. Originally known as a smooth jazz keyboardist, Matsui’s musical imagination has taken her in many new areas of expression. Jazz Alley. 441-9729.

Boston

Albert Lee

Albert Lee

- Aug. 28. (Wed.) Albert Lee. Finger-picking guitarist Lee has been widely influencing guitarists of all genres since the mid-’60s. Regatta Bar.  (617) 661-5000.

New York City

- Aug. 27 – 31. (Tues. – Sat.) Charlie Parker Birthday Celebration. A congregation of contemporary all -stars get together to celebrate Charlie “Bird” Parker‘s birthday on Aug. 29. The players include Vincent Herring, Tom Harrell, George Cables and Victor Lewis. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

- Aug. 29 – Sept. 1. (Thurs. – Sun.) The Mingus Big Band. The memory, the music and the very unique characteristics of the great bassist/composer Charles Mingus are kept alive and well in the work of the Mingus Big Band. The Jazz Standard.  (212) 576-2232.

- Aug. 30 (Fri.) Robert Davi Sings Sinatra. The Sinatra style, as well as the memorable melodies in the Great American Songbook, are all vividly alive in the rich baritone voice of Robert Davi. And here’s a chance to hear him in a free, outdoor concert. Also on the bill: comedian Mike Marino. Bring your own chairs and blankets. Click HERE to read a recent iRoM review of a Robert Davi performance in Los Angeles. The Harry Chapin Lakeside Theatre at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, New York.

London

- Aug. 26 &O 27. (Mon. & Tues.)  Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion. Drummer Baker, well-known for his work with Cream and Blind Faith, explores a wide territory of music with his African-oriented Jazz Confusion. Ronnie Scott’s+44 (0)20 7439 0747

Berlin

- Aug. 27 – 31. (Tues. – Sat.) “Sommerwochenconzert.” Marilyn Mazurs Celestial Circle in action. In addition to Mazur’s superb drumming her current band includes John Taylor, piano, Josefien Cronholm, vocals, and Klaus Hovman. A-Trane.  030 / 313 25 50.

Denmark

Sinne Eeg

Sinne Eeg

- Aug. 31 – Sat. 1. (Sat. & Sun.) Sinne Eeeg Quartet. Danish jazz vocalist Eeeg, highly regarded in Europe, has not yet received the recognition her talent deserves. Click HERE to read an iRoM review of a Sinne Eeeg performance in Los Angeles. Jazzhus Montmartre. +45 31 72 34 94.

Tokyo

(Aug. 27 – 31. (Tues. – Sat.) The Mike Stern Band, featuring Makoto Ozone, piano Dave Weckl, drums and Tom Kennedy, bass, move freely and imaginatively from funk and fusion to straight ahead jazz. .. Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.

Photo of Sinne Eeeg by Faith Frenz.


Book Review: “Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker,” by Chuck Haddix

July 21, 2013

By Brian Arsenault

When I first heard Bird: The Savoy Recordings so many year ago I thought that Charlie Parker must be from a different place, a different planet, somewhere in a galaxy far far way.  And I was sort of right.

He was from the remarkable jazz planet of Kansas City, Missouri in the third and fourth decades of the twentieth century. Ben Webster, Lester Young, Count Basie and many others were part of that place and time that spawned the greatest of them all.

In his soon to be released Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker,  Chuck Haddix takes us on Parker’s journey from mediocre musicianship in KC to world renown fame in New York, LA. and Europe. But Haddix starts in that remarkable time in Kansas City.

It is one of the ironies of history that Missouri — from whence vicious rebels, from Quantrill to Bloody Bill Andersen to the James Brothers, raided free state Kansas on behalf of the Confederacy — became in Kansas City a rollicking free wheeling center for black musicians in large black neighborhoods of all kinds of commerce, intermingling with white ethnic neighborhoods, often quite comfortably.  The state of Kansas, meanwhile, stayed largely white, conservative in religion and politics.

Haddix gives us a feel for all that and if he spends too much time listing all the musicians in all the bands that ever played in the city and its environs, well, he is the Director of the Marr Sound Archives at the University of Missouri at Kansas City.  The home of a very fine music department, by the way.

Haddix’s work is very important because Parker is so very important. A history of Bird is, among other things, the history of bop jazz, unimaginable without him. Bird was a very great American artist among other great American artists.

What is it they say near the start of The Lord of the Rings: “History becomes legend. Legend becomes myth.”  Something like that.

And Charlie Parker is shrouded in myth.  The myth of enormous appetites: in alcohol, in drugs in food, in intimate relations.  Haddix notes for one thing that Parker was married simultaneously to Rebecca, Gerri and Doris.  That’s at the same time, folks, while also living in a common law marriage with children with a woman named Chan.

Rather like Jack Kerouac’s character Dean Moriarty and women in On the Road. Dean of course was a huge bop fan.

Haddix doesn’t gloss over any of Parker’s sides — unreliable, not showing up or showing up stoned for gigs, constantly disappearing in an ongoing search for drugs, chumping friends and business associates for money.  But Haddix is never sensational or salacious about it. He also shows us the generous Parker, the loving if frequently absent father, the kindnesses to lesser musicians, the enormous charm and charisma.  How else could he have had so many women, several of whom tolerated his massive infidelities.

With great artists you sometimes get great ranges in behavior.  Hemingway was capable of great kindness and great boorishness.  Joyce’s long suffering wife, Nora, frequently had to seek his drunken self in midnight Trieste, the booze paid for by money he scammed from his brother.

There’s more than a little hint of racism when whites nod sagely at the news that a black musician was, well, you know. Papa Hemingway would have had no trouble keeping up with Bird at the bar.

An artist must ultimately be judged by his work.  Who are we lesser beings to judge a life other than our own (if we dare)?  And in a very readable style Haddix shows us what a significant, brilliant musician Parker was. You may not get all the descriptions of Parker’s musicality if you aren’t musically schooled. I didn’t. But you will get Bird’s significance to American music, our greatest art form.

This is important.  Parts of our own history gets lost to us because they are seldom taught.  And any history of music in America without jazz is simply irrelevant.  And you cannot write a history of American jazz without Bird.

I said at the beginning how dazzled I was on first hearing Parker’s playing.  I was heartened in the book by Dizzy Gillespie’s remark that he’d “never heard anything like it before.  The way he assembled notes together.”  Yeah.

Gillespie is rightly credited by Haddix as the “co-founder” who actually inadvertently coined the name bebop. He and Parker were intense competitors and marvelous collaborators.

Critic and jazz historian Ira Gitler in the liner notes to my battered copy of Bird: The Savoy Recordings quotes drummer Stan Levey who played with Parker in the 1940s:

“My first impression of Charlie’s playing was that he was sort of a Pied Piper. I’d never heard anything like it.  I didn’t really know what he was doing but it made me feel good to listen to him.”

That’s about three of us so far who’d never heard anything like it.  Despite Parker’s many imitators and inheritors, I still haven’t.

I read much of the book listening to those Savoy recordings from the mid-1940s when Parker was arguably at his very best.  There’s a song called “Meandering” and it’s not full of the Parker famed double time and eighths and sixteenths.  It’s simple little ballad, a soft melody. It made me stop reading and just listen. Listen. It’s my greatest hope for the book that people will listen to Bird yet again or for the first time.

Charlie Parker began playing and hanging around clubs at 12.  He was gone at 34. Chuck Haddix has illuminated all that he did in between.

* * * * * * * *

To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


A Christmas Jazz Tale

December 24, 2012

A Christmas Jazz Tale

by Don Heckman

‘Twas the night before Christmas and the gig was running late;
No sugar plums, no candy canes, just another overtime club date,
Holidays are work days in a jazz musician’s life,
A chance to make some extra bucks to take home to the wife.

Chanukah’s over, Kwaanza starts tomorrow,
The Ramadan fast just ended,  and I’ll forget the others to my sorrow.
If you want to make a living in the music world these days,
You’d better learn to celebrate in many different ways.

The clock slowly turned toward the midnight hour,
As we played a jazzed up version of the “Waltz of the Flowers.”
We labored on, “White Christmas,” “Frosty” and “Silent Night”;
And I wondered if we’d still be jamming “My Favorite Things” at first light.

But we finally got lucky, as the leader kicked off the last medley.
The singer mauled “The Christmas Song,” a version Mel would have found deadly,
We did the “Jingle Bell Mambo” and the “Drummer Boy Bossa Nova,”
And wrapped it all up, with a rock “Hallelujah” coda.

I packed my horn, gave the guys my best wishes and headed into the night.
The streets were dark and quiet, the stores closed up tight.
Not that it would have mattered, since the gig barely paid the rent,
And whatever I could afford for presents had already been spent.

I walked through the falling snow, filled with memories of Christmas past,
Of marching bands and Christmas parades, of lighted trees and times too good to last.
And I wondered if my kids, when adulthood beckons,
Would remember their holidays with the same sweet affection.

My footsteps led me home to a house warm and cozy,
Where my wife and my children lay innocently dozing.
So I sat for a while in the late night still,
Watching the snow fall gently on the hill.

When I suddenly heard a familiar sound in the distance,
A rhythm section swinging with hard driving persistence.
But this one was strange, something I’d never heard before,
A brisk and spirited clatter I can only describe as hoof beats galore.

Then a new sound, one both familiar yet odd,
Called out through the snowflakes, like a leader commanding a squad.
“On Trane! On Dizzy! On Monk! On Duke!
On Sonny! On Bird! On Miles! On Klook!”

The next thing I heard was just as amazing,
A set of riffs, hard-swinging and blazing,
Played on an instrument that was new to me,
The sting of a trumpet, the silk of a sax, the tone of a bone, all blended with glee.

I ran to the window to see what was coming,
And was met with a sight incredibly stunning,
What looked like a bright red ’57 Chevy,
Pulled through the sky by eight reindeer in a bevy.

They landed in my yard and the driver leaped out;
Grabbing a pack from the back he quickly turned about.
I blinked my eyes at this strange apparition,
His cheeks like Dizzy, his smile like Pops, as natty as Miles, a man on a mission.

“Call me Father Jazz,” he said as he came through the door, “musicians are my specialty.
I’ll even make a stop tonight with a little something for Kenny G.”
Then, opening his pack, he lightly danced to our tree,
Placing presents beneath it, ever so gently.

“There’s a drum set for Alex,” he said, “that kid has great time.
And a guitar for Allegra, ’cause the songs she writes are so fine.
And the books and the wristwatch you wanted for your wife,
That you couldn’t afford, living a jazz musician’s life.”

This is way too weird, I thought, it must be a dream;
Something like this is too good to be what it seems.
“Oh, it’s the real deal,” said Father Jazz, with a riff-like snap of his fingers.
“You’re on my list of serious jazz swingers.”

Moving to the doorway he turned back for a final review:
“And if you’re wondering why no box has been left for you,
It’s because your present has already been given.
You know what it is? It’s the spirit that makes your imagination so driven.”

“Musicians like you know that the gift of music is the gift of love.
It’s a gift that can only have come from above.
And those non-jazz Beatles had it right, for all our sakes,
When they said, ‘The love you take is equal to the love you make’.”

He bounded lightly through the snow to his flying red Chevy,
Blew a celestial riff on his amazing horn — so heavy!
And urged his team forward with a rallying command,
“On Dizzy! On Bird! On Miles! On Trane!”

As his eager steeds rose into the winter sky,
Father Jazz called out one last stirring cry.
Looking down with a radiant smile and a farewell wave:
“Stay cool, Bro’ and keep the music playing.”


A Twist Of Doc: The 67th Anniversary of Charlie Parker’s “Koko” Sessions

November 26, 2012

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

Charlie Parker is known as the creator of Bebop, the man who changed jazz as drastically as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Due to a ban on recording by the American Federation Of Musicians from 1942-44, Parker’s great musical discovery would remain a mystery until the release of his take on the Ray Noble classic “Cherokee,” recorded on November 26, 1945.

CHarlie Parker

Although Parker had recorded “All The Things You Are,” “Hot House,” “Salt Peanuts” and “Groovin’ High” back in February and May of that year as a side man with Dizzy Gillespie, these sides didn’t demonstrate what Parker claims to have stumbled upon as far back as 1939 during his first visit to NYC from Kansas City. While playing over the changes of Ray Noble’s “Cherokee,” Parker realized that by abandoning the traditional melody line and improvising over the chord changes with altered harmonies he could do anything.  “I realized by using the high notes of the chords as a melody line, and by the right harmonic progression, I could play what I heard inside me. That’s when I was born.”

Although many musicians were aware of what Parker had found and was using musically while attending or witnessing jam sessions at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem or at the clubs on 52nd Street, the rest of the world came very close to never hearing this musical revolution on record.

There was chaos from the very start of the day for what turned into arguably the greatest jazz recording session of all time, exactly sixty-seven years ago.  On November 26th, 1945, Charlie Parker was booked to record a standard 3 hour, 4 side session for tiny Savoy Records at WOR studios in NYC.  This was Parker’s very first session as a bandleader. The band he had booked for this date was Charlie Parker’s Reboppers: Miles Davis: trumpet, Dizzy Gillespie: trumpet and piano, Bud Powell: piano, Curly Russell: bass, and Max Roach on drums.

The complications began when session producer Teddy Reig showed up at Parker’s apartment that morning to take him to the studio. There was no Bud Powell. Parker informed Reig that Powell had gone to Philadelphia to assist his mother in house shopping. Dizzy Gillespie was present and Parker told Reig, “Here’s your piano player.”  Supposedly, Parker also contacted a pianist he had heard on some of Dexter Gordon’s Savoy sessions from September named Argonne Thornton and asked him to show up and play.

Sixty-seven years later, there’s still confusion about what Thornton did in fact play on this date, since Gillespie was known to have played a bulk of the piano accompaniment according to Reig’s session notes.

Dizzy Gillespie

At WOR studios, Reig and Savoy owner Herman Lubinsky sat in the recording booth, with Parker, Davis, Gillespie, Russell, and Roach in the studio. They were scheduled to record two of Parker’s original blues; “Billie’s Bounce” and “Now’s The Time” and two covers, one based on the George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” and the other on Ray Noble’s “Cherokee.”

The band started with “Warming Up A Riff” which was based on the “Cherokee” chord changes. The original title of this tune was “Savoy Tea Party.”  The band was unaware that they were being recorded, which is evident in the existing track’s jam session feel, with Gillespie laughing loudly in the background.

The band then did several takes of Parker’s straight Kansas City blues “Billie’s Bounce.” The 5th take was the master from the session.  Followed by four takes of another blues, “Now’s The Time.”

Three takes of the tune based on ‘I Got Rhythm” were laid down and were titled “Thriving From A Riff,” which would later be known as “Anthropology.”  Parker was not happy due to some very obvious problems he was having with his sax.   Despite his brilliant playing, you can hear the squeaky mouth piece of his instrument on the master takes of “Billie’s Bounce” and “Now’s The Time.”

Miles Davis

At one point, Parker stopped the session to go downstairs to get his saxophone fixed at a music store. When he returned with his axe repaired, a 19 year old Miles Davis had temporarily vanished. A frustrated Parker went into a beautiful and haunting ballad, then titled “Meandering,” which was based on the changes of “Embraceable You” with Dizzy playing Monk-like, syncopated piano chords.

Next, it was time to record Parker’s version of “Cherokee.”  And there are still disputes over the exact personnel. Thornton claims to have played piano while Dizzy played the intro on trumpet along with Bird’s alto sax.  But Reig states that Roach’s drum solo after this intro was created to give Dizzy enough time to put down his trumpet and run to the piano.

It was also clear from the first take that Parker hadn’t intended on recording his version of “Cherokee,” using his masterful improvisational discoveries.

During the first take of “Savoy Tea Party,” using “Cherokee” chord changes, Parker played the classic “Cherokee” melody line.  But Reig and Lubinsky stopped the tape and reminded Parker that they would have to pay royalties for the song if he played it so obviously, which neither the label nor Parker could afford.

Parker and the band stopped. To simply warm up, Parker went into “Koko,” his own melody line based on the chords of “Cherokee,” demonstrating the enthralling musical discovery he’d made back in 1939.  Lubinsky shouted out “Wait, let’s record that!”

Max Roach

With the original stated melody line gone, replaced by his “Koko” melody, Parker could fly and he did. After a complex eight measure intro by Parker and Gillespie, followed by Roach’s bombastic drum solo, Parker let loose, gliding all over the instrument in a manner never heard before. “Cherokee” and “Savoy Tea Party’ were dead, giving way for the immortal “Koko.”  And Parker owned “Koko” with fierce determination.

To younger jazz musicians and people open enough to go where Parker was taking the music, Parker had provided the key to a golden kingdom. This wasn’t an easy task and only true virtuosos could follow Parker’s example.

Many musicians and fans of the swing era, previous to this, thought that Parker (rightly nicknamed “Bird”) was just playing any old thing and they hadn’t realized the complexities of the harmonies Parker created, not to mention his unparalleled dexterity. No one had done anything like this before, and generations of musicians would copy Bird’s every note and nuance from then on.

No instrumental jazz recording had broken similar barriers since Coleman Hawkins’ rendition of “Body & Soul,” recorded with his orchestra in 1939, in which Hawkins only hinted at the song’s melody and improvised freely over the chord changes for two choruses.

Bebop had broken free from the smelly taverns on 52nd street and smoky after-hour jams at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem. Now everyone could hear this music and everyone did.

I first heard “Koko” and the entire “Koko” sessions on a Savoy Parker Compilation called The Charlie Parker Story when I was 13.  The music frightened me. Parker’s tone was the deepest blues I had heard since Robert Johnson. The phrasing and harmonies seemed rebellious and daring like nothing I had heard before. There was a danger involved with what Parker and his cohorts were playing, as though, if one person made a wrong turn, everyone would fall off the tightrope wire.

Parker was like a laser beam, shooting through every interval on his alto sax.  Every time I listen to “Koko,” I still envision reaching the top of a giant hill on a rollercoaster.  And just when Max Roach’s drum solo ends, it’s time to take that dive into unknown twists and turns, and marvelous leaps and spills.

All of the players were perfect on that historical day. Many critics and players put down Davis because he didn’t demonstrate the freneticism on trumpet that Gillespie was known for. This can be heard on “Now’s The Time” recorded that day. Davis played very few notes but because they were the right notes, he created a counterpoint to what Parker was playing, a brilliant contradiction that would define his own sound.  Dizzy’s style wouldn’t have been right on “Now’s The Time” — this was the Kansas City blues Bird grew up on, and Miles knew it.

“Koko” was one of the greatest revelations in American music and unfortunately one of the last. The fact that it almost didn’t happen the way Parker conceived it, makes  everything played that day all the more precious and also makes one wonder what would have happened to jazz history had it not come off.  I don’t want to know.

To read more posts by Devon Wendell click HERE


The Holidays 2011

December 23, 2011

A Christmas Jazz Tale

by Don Heckman

‘Twas the night before Christmas and the gig was running late;
No sugar plums, no candy canes, just another overtime club date,
Holidays are work days in a jazz musician’s life,
A chance to make some extra bucks to take home to the wife.

Chanukah’s underway, Kwaanza starts tomorrow,
The Ramadan fast just ended,  and I’ll forget the others to my sorrow.
If you want to make a living in the music world these days,
You’d better learn to celebrate in many different ways.

The clock slowly turned toward the midnight hour,
As we played a jazzed up version of the “Waltz of the Flowers.”
We labored on, “White Christmas,” “Frosty” and “Silent Night”;
And I wondered if we’d still be jamming “My Favorite Things” at first light.

But we finally got lucky, as the leader kicked off the last medley.
The singer mauled “The Christmas Song,” a version Mel would have found deadly,
We did the “Jingle Bell Mambo” and the “Drummer Boy Bossa Nova,”
And wrapped it all up, with a rock “Hallelujah” coda.

I packed my horn, gave the guys my best wishes and headed into the night.
The streets were dark and quiet, the stores closed up tight.
Not that it would have mattered, since the gig barely paid the rent,
And whatever I could afford for presents had already been spent.

I walked through the falling snow, filled with memories of Christmas past,
Of marching bands and Christmas parades, of lighted trees and times too good to last.
And I wondered if my kids, when adulthood beckons,
Would remember their holidays with the same sweet affection.

My footsteps led me home to a house warm and cozy,
Where my wife and my children lay innocently dozing.
So I sat for a while in the late night still,
Watching the snow fall gently on the hill.

When I suddenly heard a familiar sound in the distance,
A rhythm section swinging with hard driving persistence.
But this one was strange, something I’d never heard before,
A brisk and spirited clatter I can only describe as hoof beats galore.

Then a new sound, one both familiar yet odd,
Called out through the snowflakes, like a leader commanding a squad.
“On Trane! On Dizzy! On Monk! On Duke!
On Sonny! On Bird! On Miles! On Klook!”

The next thing I heard was just as amazing,
A set of riffs, hard-swinging and blazing,
Played on an instrument that was new to me,
The sting of a trumpet, the silk of a sax, the tone of a bone, all blended with glee.

I ran to the window to see what was coming,
And was met with a sight incredibly stunning,
What looked like a bright red ’57 Chevy,
Pulled through the sky by eight reindeer in a bevy.

They landed in my yard and the driver leaped out;
Grabbing a pack from the back he quickly turned about.
I blinked my eyes at this strange apparition,
His cheeks like Dizzy, his smile like Pops, as natty as Miles, a man on a mission.

“Call me Father Jazz,” he said as he came through the door, “musicians are my specialty.
I’ll even make a stop tonight with a little something for Kenny G.”
Then, opening his pack, he lightly danced to our tree,
Placing presents beneath it, ever so gently.

“There’s a drum set for Alex,” he said, “that kid has great time.
And a guitar for Allegra, ’cause the songs she writes are so fine.
And the books and the wristwatch you wanted for your wife,
That you couldn’t afford, living a jazz musician’s life.”

This is way too weird, I thought, it must be a dream;
Something like this is too good to be what it seems.
“Oh, it’s the real deal,” said Father Jazz, with a riff-like snap of his fingers.
“You’re on my list of serious jazz swingers.”

Moving to the doorway he turned back for a final review:
“And if you’re wondering why no box has been left for you,
It’s because your present has already been given.
You know what it is? It’s the spirit that makes your imagination so driven.”

“Musicians like you know that the gift of music is the gift of love.
It’s a gift that can only have come from above.
And those non-jazz Beatles had it right, for all our sakes,
When they said, ‘The love you take is equal to the love you make’.”

He bounded lightly through the snow to his flying red Chevy,
Blew a celestial riff on his amazing horn — so heavy!
And urged his team forward with a rallying command,
“On Dizzy! On Bird! On Miles! On Trane!”

As his eager steeds rose into the winter sky,
Father Jazz called out one last stirring cry.
Looking down with a radiant smile and a farewell wave:
“Stay cool, Bro’ and keep the music playing.”


The Holidays

December 20, 2010

A Christmas Jazz Tale

by Don Heckman

‘Twas the night before Christmas and the gig was running late;
No sugar plums, no candy canes, just another overtime club date,
Holidays are work days in a jazz musician’s life,
A chance to make some extra bucks to take home to the wife.

Chanukah’s underway, Kwaanza starts tomorrow,
The Ramadan fast soon ends, and I’ll forget the others to my sorrow.
If you want to make a living in the music world these days,
You’d better learn to celebrate in many different ways.

The clock slowly turned toward the midnight hour,
As we played a jazzed up version of the “Waltz of the Flowers.”
We labored on, “White Christmas,” “Frosty” and “Silent Night”;
And I wondered if we’d still be jamming “My Favorite Things” at first light.

But we finally got lucky, as the leader kicked off the final medley.
The singer mauled “The Christmas Song,” a version Mel would have found deadly,
We did the “Jingle Bell Mambo” and the “Drummer Boy Bossa Nova,”
And wrapped it all up, with a rock “Hallelujah” coda.

I packed my horn, gave the guys my best wishes and headed into the night.
The streets were dark and quiet, the stores closed up tight.
Not that it would have mattered, since the gig barely paid the rent,
And whatever I could afford for presents had already been spent.

I walked through the falling snow, filled with memories of Christmas past,
Of marching bands and Christmas parades, of lighted trees and times too good to last.
And I wondered if my kids, when adulthood beckons,
Would remember their holidays with the same sweet affection.

My footsteps led me home to a house warm and cozy,
Where my wife and my children lay innocently dozing.
So I sat for a while in the late night still,
Watching the snow fall gently on the hill.

When I suddenly heard a familiar sound in the distance,
A rhythm section swinging with hard driving persistence.
But this one was strange, something I’d never heard before,
A brisk and spirited clatter I can only describe as hoof beats galore.

Then a new sound, one both familiar yet odd,
Called out through the snowflakes, like a leader commanding a squad.
“On Trane! On Dizzy! On Monk! On Duke!
On Sonny! On Bird! On Miles! On Klook!”

The next thing I heard was just as amazing,
A set of riffs, hard-swinging and blazing,
Played on an instrument that was new to me,
The sting of a trumpet, the silk of a sax, the tone of a bone, all blended with glee.

I ran to the window to see what was coming,
And was met with a sight incredibly stunning,
What looked like a bright red ’57 Chevy,
Pulled through the sky by eight reindeer in a bevy.

They landed in my yard and the driver leaped out;
Grabbing a pack from the back he quickly turned about.
I blinked my eyes at this strange apparition,
His cheeks like Dizzy, his smile like Pops, as natty as Miles, a man on a mission.

“Call me Father Jazz,” he said as he came through the door, musicians are my specialty.
I’ll even make a stop tonight with a little something for Kenny G.”
Then, opening his pack, he lightly danced to our tree,
Placing presents beneath it, ever so gently.

“There’s a drum set for Alex,” he said, “that kid has great time.
And a guitar for Allegra, ’cause the songs she writes are so fine.
And the books and the wristwatch you wanted for your wife,
That you couldn’t afford, living a jazz musician’s life.”

This is way too weird, I thought, it must be a dream;
Something like this is too good to be what it seems.
“Oh, it’s the real deal,” said Father Jazz, with a riff-like snap of his fingers.
“You’re on my list of serious jazz swingers.”

Moving to the doorway he turned back for a final review:
“And if you’re wondering why no box has been left for you,
It’s because your present has already been given.
You know what it is? It’s the spirit that makes your imagination so driven.”

“Musicians like you know that the gift of music is the gift of love.
It’s a gift that can only have come from above.
And those non-jazz Beatles had it right, for all our sakes,
When they said, ‘The love you take is equal to the love you make’.”

He bounded lightly through the snow to his flying red Chevy,
Blew a celestial riff on his amazing horn — so heavy!
And urged his team forward with a rallying command,
“On Dizzy! On Bird! On Miles! On Trane!”

As his eager steeds rose into the winter sky,
Father Jazz called out one last stirring cry.
Looking down with a radiant smile and a farewell wave:
“Stay cool, Bro’ and keep the music playing.”


A Christmas Jazz Tale

December 22, 2009

A Christmas Jazz Tale

by Don Heckman

‘Twas the night before Christmas and the gig was running late;
No sugar plums, no candy canes, just another overtime club date,
Holidays are work days in a jazz musician’s life,
A chance to make some extra bucks to take home to the wife.

Chanukah’s underway, Kwaanza starts tomorrow,
The Ramadan fast soon ends, and I’ll forget the others to my sorrow.
If you want to make a living in the music world these days,
You’d better learn to celebrate in many different ways.

The clock slowly turned toward the midnight hour,
As we played a jazzed up version of the “Waltz of the Flowers.”
We labored on, “White Christmas,” “Frosty” and “Silent Night”;
And I wondered if we’d still be jamming “My Favorite Things” at first light.

But we finally got lucky, as the leader kicked off the final medley.
The singer mauled “The Christmas Song,” a version Mel would have found deadly,
We did the “Jingle Bell Mambo” and the “Drummer Boy Bossa Nova,”
And wrapped it all up, with a rock “Hallelujah” coda.

I packed my horn, gave the guys my best wishes and headed into the night.
The streets were dark and quiet, the stores closed up tight.
Not that it would have mattered, since the gig barely paid the rent,
And whatever I could afford for presents had already been spent.

I walked through the falling snow, filled with memories of Christmas past,
Of marching bands and Christmas parades, of lighted trees and times too good to last.
And I wondered if my kids, when adulthood beckons,
Would remember their holidays with the same sweet affection.

My footsteps led me home to a house warm and cozy,
Where my wife and my children lay innocently dozing.
So I sat for a while in the late night still,
Watching the snow fall gently on the hill.

When I suddenly heard a familiar sound in the distance,
A rhythm section swinging with hard driving persistence.
But this one was strange, something I’d never heard before,
A brisk and spirited clatter I can only describe as hoof beats galore.

Then a new sound, one both familiar yet odd,
Called out through the snowflakes, like a leader commanding a squad.
“On Trane! On Dizzy! On Monk! On Duke!
On Sonny! On Bird! On Miles! On Klook!”

The next thing I heard was just as amazing,
A set of riffs, hard-swinging and blazing,
Played on an instrument that was new to me,
The sting of a trumpet, the silk of a sax, the tone of a bone, all blended with glee.

I ran to the window to see what was coming,
And was met with a sight incredibly stunning,
What looked like a bright red ’57 Chevy,
Pulled through the sky by eight reindeer in a bevy.

They landed in my yard and the driver leaped out;
Grabbing a pack from the back he quickly turned about.
I blinked my eyes at this strange apparition,
His cheeks like Dizzy, his smile like Pops, as natty as Miles, a man on a mission.

“Call me Father Jazz,” he said as he came through the door, musicians are my specialty.
I’ll even make a stop tonight with a little something for Kenny G.”
Then, opening his pack, he lightly danced to our tree,
Placing presents beneath it, ever so gently.

“There’s a drum set for Alex,” he said, “that kid has great time.
And a guitar for Allegra, ’cause the songs she writes are so fine.
And the books and the wristwatch you wanted for your wife,
That you couldn’t afford, living a jazz musician’s life.”

This is way too weird, I thought, it must be a dream;
Something like this is too good to be what it seems.
“Oh, it’s the real deal,” said Father Jazz, with a riff-like snap of his fingers.
“You’re on my list of serious jazz swingers.”

Moving to the doorway he turned back for a final review:
“And if you’re wondering why no box has been left for you,
It’s because your present has already been given.
You know what it is? It’s the spirit that makes your imagination so driven.”

“Musicians like you know that the gift of music is the gift of love.
It’s a gift that can only have come from above.
And those non-jazz Beatles had it right, for all our sakes,
When they said, ‘The love you take is equal to the love you make’.”

He bounded lightly through the snow to his flying red Chevy,
Blew a celestial riff on his amazing horn — so heavy!
And urged his team forward with a rallying command,
“On Dizzy! On Bird! On Miles! On Trane!”

As his eager steeds rose into the winter sky,
Father Jazz called out one last stirring cry.
Looking down with a radiant smile and a farewell wave:
“Stay cool, Bro’ and keep the music playing.”

copyright © 2003 Don Heckman

Quotation of the Week: Charlie Parker

May 7, 2009

charlie-parker1

“Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn. They teach you there’s a boundary line to music. But, man, there’s no boundary line to art.”

Charlie Parker


Here, There and Everywhere: A Christmas Jazz Tale

December 9, 2008

A Christmas Jazz Tale

by Don Heckman

‘Twas the night before Christmas and the gig was running late;
No sugar plums, no candy canes, just another overtime club date,
Holidays are work days in a jazz musician’s life,
A chance to make some extra bucks to take home to the wife.

Chanukah’s underway, Kwaanza starts tomorrow,
The Ramadan fast soon ends, and I’ll forget the others to my sorrow.
If you want to make a living in the music world these days,
You’d better learn to celebrate in many different ways.

The clock slowly turned toward the midnight hour,
As we played a jazzed up version of the “Waltz of the Flowers.”
We labored on, “White Christmas,” “Frosty” and “Silent Night”;
And I wondered if we’d still be jamming “My Favorite Things” at first light.

But we finally got lucky, as the leader kicked off the final medley.
The singer mauled “The Christmas Song,” a version Mel would have found deadly,
We did the “Jingle Bell Mambo” and the “Drummer Boy Bossa Nova,”
And wrapped it all up, with a rock “Hallelujah” coda.

I packed my horn, gave the guys my best wishes and headed into the night.
The streets were dark and quiet, the stores closed up tight.
Not that it would have mattered, since the gig barely paid the rent,
And whatever I could afford for presents had already been spent.

I walked through the falling snow, filled with memories of Christmas past,
Of marching bands and Christmas parades, of lighted trees and times too good to last.
And I wondered if my kids, when adulthood beckons,
Would remember their holidays with the same sweet affection.

My footsteps led me home to a house warm and cozy,
Where my wife and my children lay innocently dozing.
So I sat for a while in the late night still,
Watching the snow fall gently on the hill.

When I suddenly heard a familiar sound in the distance,
A rhythm section swinging with hard driving persistence.
But this one was strange, something I’d never heard before,
A brisk and spirited clatter I can only describe as hoof beats galore.

Then a new sound, one both familiar yet odd,
Called out through the snowflakes, like a leader commanding a squad.
“On Trane! On Dizzy! On Monk! On Duke!
On Sonny! On Bird! On Miles! On Klook!”

The next thing I heard was just as amazing,
A set of riffs, hard-swinging and blazing,
Played on an instrument that was new to me,
The sting of a trumpet, the silk of a sax, the tone of a bone, all blended with glee.

I ran to the window to see what was coming,
And was met with a sight incredibly stunning,
What looked like a bright red ’57 Chevy,
Pulled through the sky by eight reindeer in a bevy.

They landed in my yard and the driver leaped out;
Grabbing a pack from the back he quickly turned about.
I blinked my eyes at this strange apparition,
His cheeks like Dizzy, his smile like Pops, as natty as Miles, a man on a mission.

“Call me Father Jazz,” he said as he came through the door, musicians are my specialty.
I’ll even make a stop tonight with a little something for Kenny G.”
Then, opening his pack, he lightly danced to our tree,
Placing presents beneath it, ever so gently.

“There’s a drum set for Alex,” he said, “that kid has great time.
And a guitar for Allegra, ’cause the songs she writes are so fine.
And the books and the wristwatch you wanted for your wife,
That you couldn’t afford, living a jazz musician’s life.”

This is way too weird, I thought, it must be a dream;
Something like this is too good to be what it seems.
“Oh, it’s the real deal,” said Father Jazz, with a riff-like snap of his fingers.
“You’re on my list of serious jazz swingers.”

Moving to the doorway he turned back for a final review:
“And if you’re wondering why no box has been left for you,
It’s because your present has already been given.
You know what it is? It’s the spirit that makes your imagination so driven.”

“Musicians like you know that the gift of music is the gift of love.
It’s a gift that can only have come from above.
And those non-jazz Beatles had it right, for all our sakes,
When they said, ‘The love you take is equal to the love you make’.”

He bounded lightly through the snow to his flying red Chevy,
Blew a celestial riff on his amazing horn — so heavy!
And urged his team forward with a rallying command,
“On Dizzy! On Bird! On Miles! On Trane!”

As his eager steeds rose into the winter sky,
Father Jazz called out one last stirring cry.
Looking down with a radiant smile and a farewell wave:
“Stay cool, Bro’ and keep the music playing.”

copyright © 2003 Don Heckman


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