Here, There & Everywhere: The Tatum Mazurkas?

January 31, 2009

By Don Heckman

Trying to distract myself from a too-juicy cold yesterday that had me sneezing every five minutes, I put some Chopin mazurkas on the CD player.  Aside from the lyrical melodies and the soaring harmonies, it’s always fascinating to me to hear how he adapted popular dance forms to his free flying imagination.


Frederic Chopin

As I was listening, I was struck  by the seemingly improvisatory current that flows through so many of his solo piano pieces, especially the mazurkas and waltzes.   One can almost imagine, in some of them, Chopin sitting down at the piano among a group of friends, and improvising something on the spot.  Which is probably exactly what he did, codifying them to manuscript paper after the fact.

All of which led me to a reconsideration of a thought that has often occurred to me.  Why isn’t a recorded, improvised  solo jazz piano piece by a great jazz artist – like Art Tatum’s “Elegy,” for example, or Bill Evans’ “Waltz For Debby”  or “Peace Piece” (to mention only a few of the myriad possibilities) — equally worthy of transcribing, printing and performing in concert?

The first answer I usually get when I mention this idea to anyone is, “Oh, well, but those were improvised pieces, and all you have to do is listen to the recordings to hear the real deal.”  Okay, so there are two parts to that objection.  I’ll deal with the second one first, by asking this: if we had recordings of Chopin playing his mazurkas and waltzes, does that mean that other, interpretive pianists would never want to play them?  I don’t think so.  And, insofar as the first part of the objection is concerned, isn’t all music improvised at the beginning, before it is committed to paper?  Or are we dealing with some sort of unspoken subtext here that is based on the faulty premise that composed music (mostly by Europeans) is somehow more complex and more worthy than improvised music (mostly by Americans and frequently by African Americans)?  I refer everyone who believes in that premise to any Tatum solo recording.

The second answer I get usually has to do with the principle of swing and jazz phrasing.  Granted the fact that these are among the elements that make jazz what it is.  But there is plenty of written music from different eras, with different performing conventions – ornamentation, dynamics, etc. – that require study and practice for an artist to deliver a convincing rendition.  No one will ever have precisely the phrasing of Art Tatum or Bill Evans.  Nor should they.  What I’m suggesting is not a replication, but an interpretation.  In which a talented contemporary interpretive artist, performing one of the Tatum or Evans pieces I mentioned above – as well as hundreds of other possibilities – provides his or her own reading.  And bringing to it the same kind of personal perspective that is commonly present in the performance of pieces by Chopin, Beethoven, Schumann, etc.

French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet’s 1997 recording, “Conversations With Bill Evans,” tried something similar that was beautifully done, but diminished by his effort to reproduce too closely the original Evans’ versions, rather than invest the material with his own interpretive imagination.

It seems to me that there is a very large, very wonderful body of jazz works out there, waiting to be transcribed, waiting to be performed, waiting to affirm the self-evident fact that jazz has produced music whose quality and importance reaches far beyond its manifestation as the product of a single recording session.  Who knows?  Maybe the principle would apply to horn players, as well.

I’d love to hear from anyone who has any thoughts about all this, either pro or con.

To read more “Here, There & Everwhere” posts click here.

Advice to an Unhappy Jazz Piano Accompanist

January 26, 2009

The following was submitted by a prominent Grammy Award-winning producer/composer/musician who wishes to remain anonymous. It offers novel solutions for the insufferable lounge gigs that an Indian pianist has to endure. — CD

  • Every night find a rationale to play, including wild fantasies and vendettas.
  • Re-harmonize as much as possible all the time, to the exclusion of the original intent of the song. You are a long way from Tin Pan Alley, so take advantage of the distance. For the singer, this is what is called “the learning curve.” Harmony manipulation is the “secret hand shake” between “those who know and those who don’t” and this device usually is the determinant factor to answer the question if he/she is the enemy or the friend. 
  • Insist on having your own mic on a boom stand, not only to clutter the stage but to allow you the opportunity to create a feedback situation on stage. This is a kind of eardrum torture and sure to stop the music dead in its tracks, so wear good earplugs. Only use when you really can’t stand the song any more. A good 5-minute unexplained trip into the excruciating side effects of feedback cannot be underestimated as a groove-breaker.
  • The mic is an essential element to your arsenal — the bulkier the boom stand the better — and get a mic that requires a pre-amp and five cables, just so the floor is a hazard.
If this does not get you fired after the first set, these other tips will come in handy:
  • Extend intros to the point where the singer has no clue when to come in and the dead space is worth the effort. Talk about an awkward moment. All this confused clamor, silence and then “Some Enchanted Eeeeveee-Ning….” Talk about surreal.
  • Another fun device is to do the intro 1/2 step below or above the actual key of the arrangement. The transposition below the starting point is especially difficult to navigate.
  • Never just end on a chord. Take it out for a few moments so that the mood of the song is all but lost. How do you program a set with Cecil Taylor intros and endings?
  • Learn how to play and sleep at the same time.
  • Try to play showing no emotion at all, like a robot. Keep your eyes open, no smile, no reactions, turn pages like a machine, think Devo. This will make the audience start looking at you because you are doing nothing. That sums up the direction of vocal/piano duos: the art of nothing.
  • Put something that smells really bad on the singer’s microphone — this is a priceless prank that goes way back — and India is the home of things that smell really bad. Just blame it on the karaoke crowd at happy hour, but make sure that the smell is really bad and you do it on the big night after the soundcheck. Make the intro a big buildup, the singer walks on the stage, grabs the mic, begins to sing and then that horrible smell makes the facial expression change from joy to horror in seconds. Concentrated skunk essence is preferred. (The instrument equivalent is alum on mouthpieces and honey on piano keys and the always-good-for-a-laugh rubber-snake-in-the-bass-case).
  • Make one note, common to all of the singer’s songs, out of tune on the piano and claim you don’t notice. It will drive him/her crazy.
  • Ghost the singer’s notes softly as if there is an echo. Use the mic gently. This will cause some confidence issues.
  • Become extremely eccentric on and off the stage: wear funny hats and don’t wear shoes; put things on the keyboard that make no sense, like a Viking helmet with a stuffed crow impaled in one of the horns; put a cow on the guest list every night. After all, it is India.
  • Always have sunglasses on, no matter how dark the club, and, to add to the above eccentric behavior, put on two pair of sunglasses, so when people ask you to take off your glasses to see your eyes they get another pair of sunglasses. That gets them out of your hair. This is your only private world and hipness counts.
  • If you are working with a male singer, have songs like “The Man I Love,” “Can’t Help Loving That Man,” “Will You Marry Me Bill” and a Clay Aiken medley in the songbook and make sure these are requested every night by questionable members of the audience. Guilt by association. If you are working with a female singer, insist on doing songs about prostitutes. Guilt by association.
  • Add vocal harmonies, softly in the background, using the beloved mic, and make sure you use the dissonant intervals to a premium and then say “It’s a Gil Evans thing.”
  • Do facial pantomime as the singer sings, so that the crowd laughs at serious songs to his/her befuddlement.
  • Modulate at will and then blame it on the singer’s pitch.
  • Pay someone to constantly call the bar so that the phone always rings when the singer is on stage.
  • Write his/her home phone number in the men’s room saying “Fun at all times 24/7/365, call….”  This works both ways and you only have to go into one bathroom.
  • Leave music books around the singer and make a bet with a friend that he/she will never notice them, then join Accompanists Anonymous®. Mr. H. Danko is the president and founder.

Picks of the Week: Jan. 26 – Feb. 1

January 26, 2009

Los Angeles

– Jan. 26. (Mon.) Remembering Russ Freeman.  A long overdue remembrance of the bop-driven pianist/composer who was so vital to the West Coast jazz of Art Pepper, Shorty Rogers, Shelly Manne and others.  Featuring trumpeter Bobby Shew, vocalist Tyia Wilson and a string ensemble performing Nathan Tanoue‘s new arrangements of Freeman works. Jazz Bakery  (310) 271-9039.

– Jan. 27.  (Tues.)  Hoenig-Pilc Project.  The combination of drummer Ari Hoenig and pianist Jean Michel Pilc, enhanced by the presence of virtuosic bassist Hans Glawischnig should make for a rare evening of envelope stretching jazz. The group also performs at the Atheneum in San Diego on Thursday.  Jazz Bakery  (310) 271-9039.

– Jan. 27. (Tues.)  Afro Cuban Latin Jazz Project.  A program of authentic Afro Cuban jazz, enlivened by the presence of the fiery young tenor saxophonist, Kamasi Washington.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.


Ray Brown

– Jan. 28. (Wed.)  A Ray Brown Tribute featuring a pair of his most illustrious musical offspring — Christian McBride and John Clayton.  With pianist Benny Green, guitarist Russell Malone and others)  Walt Disney Concert Hall. (323) 850-2000.

– Jan. 28 – 31. (Wed. – Sat.)  The Bud Shank Quartet revisits the cool, swinging grooves of West Coast Jazz.  With pianist Bill Mays, bassist Bob Magnuson and drummer Joe La Barbera.  Jazz Bakery  (310) 271-9039.



– Jan. 29 (Thurs.)  An Evening with LaBelle.  The great ’70s trio reunited with Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash.  Nokia Theatre. (213) 763-6030.

– Jan. 30 & 31. (Fri. & Sat.)  Jazz saxophone weekends continue at Charlie O’s with appearances by Azar Lawrence on Friday and Rickey Woodard on Saturday.  The John Heard Trio, with bassist Heard, pianist Jon Mayer and drummer Roy McCurdy, provides solid backing. Charlie O’s.  (818) 994-3058.

– Jan. 30 – Feb. 1. (Fri. – Sun.)  Florence Henderson.  She may be best known for her iconic TV role in “The Brady Bunch,” but Henderson is also a gifted singer, comedienne and musical theatre artist.  Here’s a rare opportunity to see her in an up close night club setting.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Jan. 31. (Sat.)  Borodin Quartet.  Founed in 1845, the Borodin is listed in Guiness as the world’s longest-lived string quartet.  They’ll demonstrate their togetherness with a program of Shostakovich, Shebalin and, of course, Borodin.  At the Doheny Mansion.  Chamber Music In Historic Sites.  The Da Camera Society.  Chamber Music in Historic Places. 213.477.2929.


Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin

– Jan. 31. (Sat.)  Pianist Dave Grusin and guitarist Lee Ritenour.  Long time musical companions Grusin and Ritenour get together for a live rendering of the music from their Grammy-nominated Decca recording, :”Amparo.”  The Broad Stage, Santa Monica. (310) 434.3412.

San Francisco

– Jan. 26. (Mon.)  Hoenig-Pilc Project.   The combination of drummer Ari Hoenig and pianist Jean Michel Pilc, enhanced by the presence of virtuosic bassist Hans Glawischnig should make for a rare evening of envelope stretching jazz. The group also performs at the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles on Tuesday and the Atheneum in San Diego on Thursday.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600.

– Jan. 30. (Fri.)  Another Evening with LaBelle.  The great ’70s trio reunited with Patti Labelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash.  The Paramount Theatre, Oakland. ( 510) 465-6400


Bobby Hutcherson

– Jan. 30 – Feb. 1. (Fri. – Sun.)  Bobby Hutcherson and Anthony Wilson. Vibes and guitar might seem to make an odd couple, but expect both musical empathy and improvisational fireworks from this gifted pair.  Yoshi’s Oakland. . (510) 238-9200.

San Diego


Lou Donaldson

. – Jan. 29. (Thurs.)  Hoenig-Pilc Project.  Atheneum Music and Arts Library (858) 454-5872

New  York City

– Jan. 27 – Feb. 1. (Tues. – Sun.)  Lou Donaldson Quartet. At 82, alto saxophonist Donaldson is still out there, playing the post WWII history of jazz and blues in every note.  Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola. (212) 258-9595.

– Jan. 28 – 29. (Wed & Thurs.)  Holly Cole.  Jan. 30 – Feb. 1. (Fri. – Sun.)  Robin McKelle.  Blue Note. It’s jazz vocalist week at the Blue Note, with a pair of uniquely talented singers.   (212) 475-8582.

– Jan. 29. (Thurs.)  Oliver Lake, saxophone, Wendy Sutter, cello, and the Joel Harrison String Choir.  Jazz and classical seek common ground in a program of three major works encompassing extended composition and free flying improvisation.  Merkin Concert Hall at Kaufman Center.  (212) 501-3330.

Live Jazz: The Blue Note 7

January 23, 2009

By Don Heckman

A 70th anniversary for any record company is an impressive achievement.  A 70th anniversary for a jazz record company is almost unheard of.  So the current celebration of the 70th anniversary of Blue Note Records — which includes upcoming tributes associated with bluenote-7the Grammy Awards, as well as a series of touring concerts by a group of jazz all-stars called the Blue Note 7 – is much deserved.  There are hundreds of recorded performances on Blue Note that are vital, irreplaceable entries in any significant listing of the most important jazz records.

So when the Blue Note 7 – pianist and music director Bill Charlap, tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, alto saxophonist Steve Wilson, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, guitarist Peter Bernstein, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash – showed up at Royce Hall Thursday night for UCLALive’s first jazz program of 2009, visions of sounds and rhythms from the Blue Note golden age seemed poised to come back to life.  With a line up of stellar players and a program of material from such iconic Blue Note artists as Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, Bobby Hutcherson and Herbie Hancock – what could go wrong?

In fact, there’s not a simple yes or no answer to that question.  What the Blue Note 7 players were presumably attempting to accomplish – on the group’s new, just released recording, “Mosaic: A Celebration of Blue Note,” as well as in the live performances on their 50 plus concert tour – was to recall the glories of the Blue Note catalog played by contemporary artists in contemporary settings.  The goal was not to be a repertory ensemble.  Neither simulations nor imitations were what they had in mind.  But what one did hope to experience, was a sense of the vitality, rhythmic excitement and cutting edge imagination of the Blue Note image – especially in the music that founders Frances Wolf and Alfred Lion recorded in the ’60s and early ’70s.

And therein lies the rub.  The material – which included items such as Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance,” Shorter’s “United,” Hutcherson’s “Bouquet” and (best of all) Henderson’s “Inner Urge” – was arranged, mostly by Charlap and Renee Rosnes, in crisp, respectful fashion for the three horn front line.  The keyword is “respectful,” because the charts, despite their craftsmanship, offered little in the way of new creative illumination. The ensemble performance could be described the same way, in part because the work of the rhythm section felt more like the product of four disparate entities than the sort of empathic, propulsive togetherness so characteristic of the classic Blue Note rhythm teams.

The soloing, which occupied most of the evening’s program, had the most to offer, with Coltrane’s consistently exploratory efforts coming the closest to the cutting edge qualities of the finest Blue Note outings.  Wilson’s alto – and his flute work on “Bouquet” – was at its best when he set aside his considerable technique and allowed the clarity of his ideas to surface freely.  Payton, usually an imaginative improviser, seemed focused on his upper range, except for a few intriguing passages – especially on “United” – in which he used focused note repetitions to create a late-Picasso like minimalism.  Bernstein, for unknown reasons, had little solo space, generally making the most of what was available.  Nash was his usual musically articulate self, Washington displayed considerable fast-fingered virtuosity, while Charlap ranged impersonally across a variety of piano styles.

Would the Blue Note decision-makers of the ’60s have recorded this band?  Probably.  But more because of Frances Wolf’s and Alfred Lion’s unerring ears for musicians’ inherent potential than because of what the Blue Note 7 had to offer on this particular evening at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

From the Mitch Mitchell Family

January 23, 2009

by Casey Dolan

The Mitch Mitchell family has issued the following message in response to the universal outpouring of grief by fans of the drummer following his death last November:

Mitch’s death has been the most devastating blow to all of us.  We miss him so much, and of course life will never be the same without him.  The only comfort to us has been the wonderful warmth and love from friends, and all the fans who took the time to contact Experience Hendrix and express their feelings. We thank all of you.   Mitch would have been so touched.

We were asked some time ago to put down the names of charities Mitch supported for people who felt they wanted to send flowers or do something in his name.  So I have listed two below, one a local lifeboat station and the other a very good animal charity.  People can have a look at their websites to see if they too, would like to support them.  

Although both charities can use support, we feel it is important to add from our point of view, your kind thoughts, a kind action done with Mitch in mind or a little prayer is every bit as valuable to us.

     Thank you all –
     The Mitchell Family

International Animal Rescue
Lime House
Regency Close, Uckfield
TN22 1DS
Royal National Lifeboat Institution
West Quay Road
Poole, Dorset
BH15 1HZ

A fan website — — contains some of the best and rarest photos of Mitchell I have seen. Worth going to.


Picks of the Week: Jan 21 – 25

January 21, 2009

Los Angeles


Quartetto Gelato

– Jan. 21. (Wed.)  Quartetto Gelato.  Classical, Opera, Tango, Gypsy, and Folk music – you name it, the Quartetto probably plays it, in their own unique fashion — with cello, violin, accordion and clarinet.  Expect to hear Rossini, Von Weber, Bach, Romanian folk music and more.  Cerritos Center.  (562) 467-8818

– Jan. 21 – 24. (Wed. – Sat.)  Rising star trumpeter Jeremy Pelt is in town with a quintet of young lions – J.D. Allen, sax, Danny Grissett, keys, Dwayne Burno, bass, Darrell Green, drums.) The Jazz Bakery  (310) 271-9039.

– Jan. 22. (Thurs.)  “Baroque Conversations.” As entertaining musically as it is informative intellectually.  With Jeffrey Kahane and the  Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra playing and discussing the music of J.S. Bach.  Zipper Concert Hall.  (213) 622-7001 Ext. 215.


Janis Mann

– Jan. 22. (Thurs.)  Janis Mann‘s singing, says Jazz Times, is as “crystalline as Baccarat’s finest, yet smoky as a Dietrich film festival.”  With the Bill Cunliffe Trio.  Charlie O’s  (818) 994-3058.

– Jan. 22. (Thurs.)  Simon Shaheen Ensemble. Palestinian-born Shaheen is a masterful oud player, his music a fountain of classic sounds from the Arab world. The Skirball Cultural Center.  (310) 440-4500.

Jan. 22 (Thurs.)  The Blue Note Seven.  Pianist Bill Charlap, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, alto saxophonist Steve Wilson, guitarist Peter Bernstein, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash celebrate the Blue Note Record Company’s 70th Anniversary.  UCLA Royce Hall. (310) 825-2101.   Also – Jan. 23 & 24. (Fri. & Sat.) at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.


Tom Scott

– Jan. 23 – 25. (Fri. – Sun.)  Saxophonist Tom Scott and singer Paulette McWilliams – hard driving bebop stirred with a hearty seasoning of soul and r & b.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Jan. 25. (Sun.)  The Vic returns.  Santa Monica’s great jazz room turns on the lights again for a special event —  “Art & Jazz.” The paintings of artist Clifford Bailey, and a performance by vibist Nick Mancini and pianist Otmaro Ruiz.  The Victorian Collection. (888) 367-5299.

San Francisco

– Jan. 22. (Thurs.)  Charmaine Clamor.  The break-out Filipino jazz singer improves on her own high standards every time I hear her.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600.

New York

– Jan. 20 – 25. (Tues. – Sun.) Cyrus Chestnut & Let Freedom Swing. No problem for Chestnut – swing is in his DNA, and saxophonist Stacy Dillard adds another irresistibly rhythmic component to the mix. Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola. (212) 258-9595. .


Monty Alexander

– Jan. 21 – 24.  (Wed. – Sat.)  Monty Alexander.  The Jamaican-born pianist bypassed reggae in favor of a solid, mainstream style. But he still doesn’t get the visibility he deserves. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

Here, There & Everywhere: Secretary of the Arts Quincy Jones?

January 16, 2009

by Don Heckman

A little over a month ago, I had a conversation with Quincy Jones at Santa Monica’s Barnes & Noble about his new biographical book, “Quincy Jones: My Journey & Passions.”  In addition to the book, we discussed  a lot of other things, with Q. using my questions as take off points for his free flying verbal improvisations.  We’ve done a few of these Actors Studio type conversations, and I pretty much know the themes that will produce the best results from Q’s prodigious array of fascinating memories, tales and opinions.

With the Inauguration of Barack Obama three days away, it occurred to me that there was one question I’d asked Quincy that was especially relevant at this particular time.  And, by good fortune, someone videotaped it and posted it on YouTube.  Here it is.   One can only hope, as I said in my question, that Obama has the good sense to make the offer, and that Q. has the temerity to accept it.


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