Posted by jeff on Dec 28, 2012 in Jazz
, Song Of the week
The Lennie Tristano Quintet, ‘317 East 32nd St’ (Live in Toronto, 1952)
Lennie Tristano, 1965 ©Robert Polillo
I recently discovered a treasure chest – a BBC radio series called ‘Castaway’ or ‘Desert Island Discs’ (they’re surprisingly fuzzy about the actual name) in which a whole passle of famous people are interviewed about their lives and the 8 musical tracks that they would take with them to a desert island. The program (programme, actually) has been running since 1941, with almost 3000 episodes available on-line.
They’ve been busy with people like Aaron Copland, Alan Alda and Alfred Eisenstadt, so I understand why they haven’t gotten around yet to calling me. But I figure I’d better be ready when they do, so I’ve been working on my list.
Many of the interviewees choose music they associate with landmark events in their lives. Not I, said Jeff. Music’s too important to confuse it with life. My conundrum would be of a different sort – to go for the music I most esteem, or that which I listen to most, or that which I most enjoy. The first would include “John Wesley Harding”, for example (or Dylan in general), which I esteem at the top of the pile but listen to relatively infrequently. I listen to a lot of Renaissance liturgical music as background music to sleep on the train, but I’m guessing I wouldn’t have that issue on a desert island. What do I do about The Beatles? I rarely actually bother to play their music anymore – I just press a button in my cerebral jukebox and let it run through my synapses.
Foreground, LtoR: Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Lennie Tristano
So one of my leading candidates for a cut I’d like to spend the rest of my life with is ‘317 East 32nd’ by the Lennie Tristano quintet from their album “Live in Toronto 1952”.
Lennie Tristano’s music never fails to transport me. It’s pure and abstract and riveting. It’s like watching an imagined river, a mental act of divine creation. It transcends life. It never gets bogged down in the messiness of human intercourse. It’s beyond what one Danish prince called ‘the whips and scorns of time’.
Lennie Tristano (1919–78) is no household name, and I understand why. Most people don’t get his music. There’s nothing to get, really. It’s an abstract. Like watching mathematical patterns unfold. So what? Well, I’ll tell you so what: Ice Also Burns.
Way back in SoTW 027 I wrote about Tristano and an even more obscure cut, ‘Wow’ live from 1949. I can’t improve on what I said there: Tristano forced his rhythm section to serve as a metronome, providing a regular, mechanical pulse. Remarkably, such creative musicians as bassist Charles Mingus and drummer Max Roach were Tristano supporters. Because on top of that pulse, he would reorganize the bar, displace the metric system, create a disjointed and constantly surprising world. You can count tick-tick-tick without problems, but try one-two-three-four and at some point you’ll find yourself in a world of temporal relativity. It’s a shame Tristano never invited Einstein to sit in on violin. He would have felt very much at home, I think.
From left: Max Kaminsky, Lester Young, Hot Lips Page, Charlie Parker, Lennie Tristano
Eunmi Shim wrote in her musical biography of Tristano: Mingus and Max Roach were quite enamoured of Tristano’s approach, which restricted the rhythmic contribution of bass and drums quite severely. [But] they approved of such consciously articulated developments as that of emasculating the rhythm section in order to free the front line. Mingus said, “Indiviuals can swing alone like Bird, and groups can swing collectively like Tristano’s”.
Tristano is often presented as the antithesis of the great Charlie Parker. Where Bird was the ultimate pour-it-out faster-than-the-ear-can-hear no-holds-barred improviser, Tristano was a proponent of strict discipline. He trained his students to take responsibility for every single note. The gut and the mind. But Bird and Tristano had great respect for each other. One Sunday Bird drove out to Tristano’s house on Long Island, where they recorded two cuts – ‘All of Me’ and ‘I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love with Me’. That’s the great Kenny Clarke tapping on the phonebook!
Mingus is the source of another famous tale about Tristano: “Woody Herman, who’s supposed to be a very nice guy and a funny one, came over to Lennie. He asked Tristano if he were really blind. ‘Yes,’ Lennie said, ‘I can’t see anything.’…’Good,’ said Woody. ‘Good, you motherfucker. I’m glad you can’t see!’…I knew Lennie; I knew how destructive he could be. And I asked him, ‘But what did you do to get that guy so hurt and angry?”
Irascible, perhaps, but Tristano left a legacy. Two great saxophonists were his best-known disciples, Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh, both of whom we’ve written about at length. On this version of ‘317 East 32nd’,Konitz (alto sax) plays the first solo, Tristano (piano) the second, Marsh (tenor sax) the third.
The song, like many Tristano ‘originals’ is a reworking of a standard, this time ‘Out Of Nowhere’. Here’s a version by Ella Fitzgerald for comparison. And here are a few more versions of ‘317 East 32nd’ for your listening edification:
Quartet with Konitz, Sing Song Room, 1955
Quintet with Konitz and Marsh, Half Note 1964
Konitz and Alan Broadbent (piano), 2000
Marsh and Red Mitchell (bass), 1987
Here are some more sterling cuts from the 1952 Toronto concert by the Tristano Quintet with Konitz and Marsh: ‘Lennie’s Pennies‘, ”You Go to My Head‘, ‘April‘ and ‘Sound-Lee‘
And here’s a 40-minute solo concert of Tristano in Copenhagen, in a video I recently discovered: Copenhagen concert
They’re all great. But it’s the ‘317 East 32nd’ from Toronto that I’m taking with me to Bali Hai. I’m going to sip on coconut milk and watch the waves and escape into the very pure beauty of this cut. It’s perfect music.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:
027: Lennie Tristano, ‘Wow’
SoTWs: Lee Konitz
SoTWs: Warne Marsh
Posted by jeff on Nov 9, 2012 in Jazz
, Song Of the week
Pete Christlieb & Warne Marsh, ‘Magna-Tism’
Caution: This week’s SoTW is going to be more arcane, obscure, elitist, disjointed and soporific than usual, but it’s about a terrific piece of music. So do yourselves a favor: first click on ‘Magna-tism’ by Pete Christlieb and Warne Marsh, then go on about your constructive day’s activities.
Where to even begin wagging this shaggy-dog tale? Let’s try it more or less chronologically.
On the fourth day of the Creation, the Big Boy said, “Hey, where’s the light??” There was none! So he made the sun, the moon and the stars. That very moon, as you may know, orbits that very earth in an elliptical pattern. The point at which it’s closest to the earth is its perigee; the furthest point is called its apogee, usually occurring around the 4th of July. The term ‘Apogee’ also refers to the climax or culmination or zenith or pinnacle or acme of something.
Something such as a cutting session between two tenor saxophonists. But we get ahead of ourselves.
In 1946, the obnoxious, gifted, blind Chicago pianist Lennie Tristano moved to New York, gathered a group of very talented and very young musicians around him, and to a great extent invented Cool Jazz, the antithesis to the Charlie Parker over-the-top bebop dominating the scene at the time. In SoTW 27, we discussed Tristano’s incredible live version of ‘Wow!’ The alto saxophonist in that sextet was Lee Konitz, one of the greatest musicians around (still going strong at 85!), whom we’ve written about a number of times; the tenor sax player was Warne Marsh (1927-1987).
Young Warne Marsh
Warne Marsh is not a household name in many households, unless there’s a tenor saxophonist living there. He grew up a rich Hollywood brat, cut his chops in NYC with Tristano, returned to an unsuccessful career as a West Coast Tristano devotee, cleaned pools to support his family, restarted a minor-league career in the 1970s, gained legendary status as a thinking musician’s musician, and died onstage playing ‘Out of Nowhere’. I have about 15 Marsh albums in my collection, and another 20 of him playing with Konitz and with Tristano. As unsuccessful as he was commercially, he shone both as a craftsman and as a thinking musician. He plays innovative, long sinewy lines, always surprising, always interesting, always a joy to listen to. We’ll pay him his due due some other week.
Meanwhile, circa mid-1970s Warne was playing with Pete Christlieb (b. 1945), a young tenor saxist firmly ensconsed in the 1950s West Coast jazz tradition – straightforward, hard-blowing, rhythmic, swinging, open, smooth, fun. Pete was making his living as a studio musician both for popular artists such as Dionne Warwick, Robbie Williams,
Tom Waits, and James Brown, as well as jazz artists such as Freddie Hubbard, Quincy Jones, and Dizzy Gillespie. For years he was the tenor sax player for Doc Severinsen’s Tonight Show Band, probably the best jazz gig of its type in the West.
One of his most notable session gigs was with Steely Dan (named after a dildo in William Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch”). Steely Dan was a primarily studio band led by Walter Becker (b. 1950) and Donald Fagen (b. 1948). They met at Bard College, played together in the backing band of Jay & The Americans (‘Only in America’), then formed one of the most critically and commercially successful musical entities of the 1970s. Their horizons were always art music rather than bashing rock, and they were both steeped in the jazz tradition.
LtR: Steely, Dan
Here’s ‘Deacon Blues’ from their 1977 album “Aja”, featuring Pete Christlieb on tenor. “I’ll learn to work the saxophone/I’ll play just what I feel/Drink Scotch whisky all night long/And die behind the wheel.”
In 1978, Becker et Fagen exploited their status to produce a album by Christlieb et Marsh for a major label (Warner Brothers), clearly a labor of love rather than a commercial venture. The album’s called “Apogee”, and it is one.
The format of two tenor saxes has a rich tradition, primarily as ‘cutting sessions’, the jazz equivalent of the Wild West gun duel. Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons all cut their chops in these showdowns. Here’s Paul Quinchette taking on John Coltrane in the 1957 ‘Cattin’, written and accompanied here by the great Mal Waldron. Here’s ‘Brandy and Beer’ by Al Cohn and Zoot Sims from the same year (with Mose Allison on piano!).
Front line, LtR: Marsh, Christlieb
We’ll talk about Mose Allison another time soon, but right now we’re going to finally get to our point – the opening cut on “Apogee”, ‘Magna-Tism’, a dynamite, thrilling arrangement by Joe Roccisano (1939-1997).
‘Magna-Tism’ is written by Christlieb, essentially a reworking of ‘Just Friends’, a classic written by John Klenner and Samuel M. Lewis in 1931 for Red McKenzie & His Orchestra, with more versions over the years than the number of ants on a Tennessee anthill. Here’s Lee Konitz doing it in 1974.
On ‘Magna-Tism’, 33-year old Christlieb takes the first solo – in-your-face, muscular, brashly brassy. Then Marsh takes his turn. He’s 51 at the time of the recording, but with four times that much musical experience – wily, winding, wending, wise, westrained, a wondrous example of the Tristano-school epithet: “Ice also burns.” Then they join together in tandem and in unison for a no-bars held tour-de-force chorus, a great double-tracked arrangement.
It’s fine, fun, ass-kicking jazz, and Steely & Dan deserve a lot of credit for facilitating this album. But if you want to hear two saxophonists make this sound like it’s sitting still, check out Tristano/Konitz/Marsh on the 1949 live ‘Wow’. Still, that detracts nothing from this terrific “Apogee” album.
I’m guessing you might want to hear a bit more from the album. Here’s ‘Rapunzel’, written by Fagen and Becker, a bebop composition based on ‘In the Land of Make Believe’ (Bacharach-David). Here’s their take on ‘Donna Lee’, the Charlie Parker classic (here by Bird himself). And here’s their Tristano composition ‘317 E.32nd’, one of my very very very favorite jazz pieces. Here it is by the Tristano/Konitz/Marsh quintet. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:
119: Tom Harrell, ‘Train Shuffle’
094: Brad Mehldau, ‘Martha, My Dear’ (“Live in Marciac”)
037: Lee Konitz, ‘Alone Together’ (w. Charlie Haden & Brad Mehldau)
Posted by jeff on Mar 9, 2010 in Jazz
, Song Of the week
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Lennie Tristano. I’m probably not going too far out on a limb if I assume that very few of you have ever heard of him.
Chicago pianist, blind from birth, 1919-1978. Moved to NYC 1946, at the height of the bebop’s popularity. Made a few recordings. Made friends and enemies with his pioneering experiments in overdubbing and tape manipulation. Recorded the very first experiments in free jazz (turn on tape, pay attention, start playing without the safety net of a song, and good luck). He was just a little popular in the early 50s. >From 1951 he concentrated on teaching.
He was also an obstreperous, obnoxious opinionated bastard, a dictator of a teacher who inspired both cultish loyalty and great resentment among his former students.
Bebop was Charlie Parker, Bird–frenetic, fast, adventurous, impassioned. He would stagger onstage at gigs, hours late if he appeared at all, drunk and high and dissolute, grab the nearest sax and blow his heart out.
Lennie Tristano was the antithesis to Bird. He demanded rigorous practice, intense concentration and discipline. He insisted that the musician take responsibility for every note he played.
Tristano forced his rhythm section to serve as a metronome, providing a regular, mechanical pulse. Remarkably, such creative musicians as bassist Charles Mingus and drummer Max Roach were Tristano supporters. Because on top of that pulse, he would reorganize the bar, displace the metric system, create a disjointed and constantly surprising world. You can count tick-tick-tick without problems, but try one-two-three-four and at some point you’ll find yourself in a world of temporal relativity. It’s a shame Tristano never invited Einstein to sit in on violin. He would have felt very much at home, I think. Well, Aaron Copland was a big fan, if that counts.
The cut we’re presenting this week is called ‘Wow’, from an obscure recording of the same name, from an undocumented date live in New York in 1950. For those of you who can’t take the excitement, here’s a tamer version of the same song in a studio recording from the same period.
Tristano often took popular songs and transmogrified them beyond recognition, mostly for copyright reasons (that way the musicians were also paid as composers). ‘Wow’ is based on the chord progression of ‘You Can Depend on Me,’ an old standard. Here’s a version by Count Basie, and here’s one by beboppers Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt.
Eunmi Shim, in her book on Tristano, has this to say about ‘Wow’: “This intricate melody is linearly constructed and thematically developed through polyrythmic figures and varied phrase lengths, which undermine the modular phrase structure of its model.” Thanks, Eunmi. Couldn’t have said that better myself.
The group here is Tristano’s core sextet, with Billy Bauer on guitar and one-track tape recorder, and an unknown bassist and drummer. The saxophonists here are his regulars, his prize students, two of my very favorite musicians: Lee Konitz on alto sax, Warne Marsh on tenor sax. Marsh remained a loyal devotee of Tristano throughout a commercially mediocre but critically acclaimed career up to 1987, when he died on stage playing ‘Out of Nowhere’. Lee Konitz left the Tristano circle in 1953. He maintained his admiration for his teacher but felt he needed to try new, less stringent waters, although he continued to play and record with Tristano and Marsh intermittently for many years. He is still going incredibly strong at 82, having released close to 40 CDs in the last decade! And I can testify, each one is a new, ballsy experiment. No resting on the laurels for Lee.
If you’re interested, here’s the Lennie Tristano Quintet playing Subconscious-Lee in a pretty rare clip from a 1964 Sunday-morning Christian-content television show exploring the subject of inspiration in jazz. Cool!
So what are we going to hear here in ‘Wow’? It starts with a group statement of the theme. At 0:45 Warne Marsh plays a solo, which at 2:00 he passes to Bauer in mid-phrase. At 3:15 Konitz plays his lovely, oblique, solo. ‘Like a long-legged fly upon the stream’, in W.B. Yeats’ words. And at 4:30 Tristano takes the reins. Ah, the beauty of form. At 7:00 the saxes and guitar return, passing the melody lightly between themselves. At 7:43 a group restatement of the theme. And then, miracle of miracles, listen to the phrase at 8:03 (well, a phrase in Tristano’s language can go on for many, many bars). All 4 lead instruments playing that wild, slippery equation, the alto a third up from the tenor at a speed that defies comprehension, as if that’s the sort of thing that humans are actually capable of doing.
And it all makes sense.
Over the last decade, I’ve spent an awful lot of hours listening to Lennie Tristano and his disciples. I often ask myself why. What is the pleasure in these cool, mathematical abstractions? The best answer is a phrase I wish I’d coined:
Ice also burns.
Bob Dylan has a new CD “Christmas in the Heart”. To tell you the truth, I haven’t been able to listen to it for more than a couple of moments at a time. But there’s a new clip from it, ‘Must Be Santa’. I watched it once, thought I was going to pass out. I wrote a friend, “I don’t know what it is, but one thing I am sure of–I’m never going to watch it again in my life.” Then I watched it three more times. I’m not recommending it, just telling you it’s out there. It takes the concept ‘bizarre’ to an entirely new level. Two ordinarily serious friends of mine say they sense a great deal of Jewish content in it. I ain’t touching that with a ten-foot Pole.