Doc Wendell’s Prescription For Bop: Sonny Stitt/BudPowell/J.J. Johnson (Prestige)

June 22, 2015

 

Devon “Doc” Wendell

By Devon Wendell

This album consists of three separate recording sessions between 1949-1950 lead by the great Sonny Stitt on tenor saxophone. The first two sessions from 1949 feature Stitt with Bebop piano master Bud Powell, with Curly Russell on bass and Max roach on drums

This is bop at its finest. Stitt consistently swings hard. Powell is in great form, and the rhythm section cooks. “Bud’s Blues” is phenomenal and the chemistry between Stitt and Powell on this track alone makes this an essential purchase.

Jazz fans will immediately recognize “Sonnyside” as being a rendition of Charlie Parker’s “Dexterity.” The renaming was most likely done by Bob Weinstock or someone at Prestige rather than the musicians. By this time, Stitt had found his own voice as a musician and had for the most part escaped Bird’s dominating influence from his earlier years with Dizzy Gillespie’s band.

The second half of the album is comprised of a session in 1950 in which Stitt is joined by Trombonist J.J. Johnson, with John Lewis on piano, Nelson Boyd on bass, and Max Roach on drums. Johnson’s blues flavored lyricism and deep understanding of the bebop language matches perfectly with Stitt’s hard hitting, virtuosic tenor lines. Lewis’ thoughtfully melodic accompaniment and the burning rhythm section of Boyd and Roach on J.J. Johnson’s originals — “Elora” “Teapot” and “Blue Mode” – make clear that bebop was still going strong in 1950 when many thought the music was starting to fade.

This is timeless music played by some of the greatest pioneers in jazz history. Do not wait until this goes out of print.

* * * * * * * *

To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

 

 


Ornette Coleman: A Remembrance

June 12, 2015

By Devon Wendell

Ornette Coleman; they called him “atonal”, they said he played “out”, and was “avant-garde.” People tried to force these labels on me as I was discovering his music in my youth. They did the same thing when I got my first records by Monk, ‘Trane, and Dolphy, and Bird. All I knew is that the music took me to amazing places and fed me vivid images and fantastic colors.

Ornette Coleman UCLA 2When I first heard Ornette’s The Shape Of Jazz To Come album, I remember thinking that he played great blues and I could also hear great traditions of jazz in his playing. I heard a lot of Bird’s influence in his early work. Ornette had this lyrical beauty to his music that people don’t mention much. His composition “Lonely Woman” is a perfect example of this. I saw Ornette perform this piece many times and it always made me cry.

I met Ornette in New York twice. I think it was at The Village Vanguard. He was someone I felt I had to talk to. He was very approachable then and we discussed Schoenberg, Leonard Bernstein, and musical frustration and how to use it to create.
I recall him wearing an all red suit. Everything matched from his socks to his jacket.

He never appeared to be trying to look or act hip. He was who he was, a consummate professional and intellectual. Ornette was always seeking, always curious, and always growing in the face of constant labeling and controversy.

What courage it must have taken this man to not let all of that talk stop him. I would play Charlie Parker or Monk’s music for some people and a lot of them reacted the same as they did to Ornette’s music. “That has no melody” they would say or “That makes no sense and has no structure.” And I always asked “Compared to what?”

I still don’t know who made the rules so rigid and I suppose I never will. I do know that I will miss Ornette Coleman’s musical statements.

Ornette Coleman passed away at the age of 85 on June 11, 2015, and despite those who continue to not “get it”, there are those of us who will always love all of the incredible music he left behind.

 


Ornette Coleman: An Appreciation

June 12, 2015

by Brick Wahl

A jazz promoter asked a fascinating question:
Do you think Bird would have dug Ornette? I have wondered about this. Not that Bird is the ultimate arbiter of good and bad, but Ornette was arguably the next major innovator in the music and Bird died JUST before Ornette came on the national scene.

And the consensus was yes, Bird would have dig it.

OrnetteColeman

OrnetteColeman

But I think maybe the commentators, nearly all of them jazz musicians, were looking at this from our own perspective today, thinking Bird thinks like we do. I’m not so sure. Bird might have appreciated it, as a concept, maybe, but I think he wouldn’t have liked the delivery. Ornette was a huge jump from be bop, a totally different philosophy. Bird was reworking the rules of swing, but still within the rules. Ornette rejected those rules. That is a gigantic conceptual leap and there’s no reason to assume that Bird would have dug it. Don’t forget Max Roach punched Ornette out, sucker punched him, it’s said, in the green room after a set. Max was not pleased.

I remember when I used to have long conversations with old be boppers – they’re few and far between now – I was struck by their conservatism, jazz-wise. It’s a generational difference. I’m not so sure that Bird would have been able to reject his own ideas and embrace Ornette’s rejection of be bop. Revolutionaries rarely accept the next revolution, especially as it is nearly always a reaction to what they had themselves created. Today we still see Louis Armstrong as a reactionary, as revolutionary as he was, because he loathed be bop and all it represented. I doubt Bird would have hated Ornette, but I can’t see him taking it too seriously.

I’m not a jazz musician, though, so I really don’t know. I’m just riffing, off on a tangent, doing my own thing. The ideas come and the words just flow with them. Let go of the narrative and let pure free thought express itself, see where it goes. That seems appropriate somehow.

So long, Ornette.


A Christmas Jazz Tale

December 24, 2014

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 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.


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