Posted by jeff on Mar 15, 2013 in Jazz
, Song Of the week
Girl Talk – Neal Hefti
Girl Talk – Tony Bennett
Girl Talk – Holly Cole
Girl Talk, circa 1864
There’s a scene in “Lincoln” in which a black Union private quotes the Gettysburg Address by heart in a mellifluous baritone. Apparently, in Spielberg’s imagination, this gentleman was a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and learned about the Address via the internet three weeks after it was delivered.
I found “Django Unchained” almost as offensive (at least Tarantino’s games with history aren’t shrouded in counterfeit verisimilitude). “Oh, I think things should have been different, let’s change them.” Go to your room, Steven.
Let me say up front, I am against slavery. I hereby declare that I have never owned a slave nor have I ever knowingly associated with a slave owner. But I think raping yesterday’s events to validate today’s biases is intellectually hypocritical and aesthetically offensive.
Hang on, folks: Things Change!
First A happens, and then after that B.
B is to some degree a result of A.
A is in no way a result of B.
Was that too fast for you, Quentin?
Yet I come not to bash Civil War recreationists, but to praise music.
Same thing with misogyny. I was raised by a feminist. I firmly believe that women are a superior breed to men, Homo sapiens rev. 2.0 (well, today it might be rev. 2.1). I believe that women are smarter than men in almost every conceivable way, more caring, more sensitive, more capable, more resourceful, more realistic. I have never beaten my wife (other than at Scrabble), my children, or my dog. For many years, I haven’t even beaten a rug.
But yet, I am a member of the male persuasion, and as such adhere to many of the traditional prejudices and biases of my ilk. Such as:
- Women enjoy shopping more than men (I recently learned the medical term for its salubrious curative affects: “Retail Therapy”)
- Women can be crueler to women than men can be to men or women or beasts of burden (see Genesis 21)
- Women ‘communicate’ more than men (i.e., talk when you’re trying to read the newspaper). See my man James Thurber, “Is Sex Necessary?”
Get to the music, Jeff.
Jean Harlow. Girl (don’t need to) Talk.
In 1965, Joe Levine produced the cinematic misterpiece “Harlow” for Paramount Pictures, a biopic of the prototypical ‘Blonde Bombshell”, the 1930s sex symbol Jean Harlow, starring Carroll Baker. ([Crying after a bad day at the studio:] “Oh, Mom, all they want is my body!”) For the theme song, he hired one of the best composer/arrangers around, Neal Hefti (1922-2008).
Hefti had in his CV decades of fine work in jazz, including Woody Herman’s First Herd, the first WWII swing band to begin to move to ‘The New Thing’ – bebop jazz (‘Wildroot’ and ‘The Good Earth’). Hefti married Herman’s singer Frances Wayne and then in 1950 began a 12-year collaboration with Count Basie.
One of the most memorable results is the album “Atomic Basie”, with joyous cuts such as ‘Flight of the Foo Birds’, ‘The Kid from Red Bank’ and ‘Whirlybird’. Miles Davis: “If it weren’t for Neal Hefti, the Basie band wouldn’t sound as good as it does. But Neal’s band can’t play those same arrangements nearly as well.”
Tangent: Twenty-five years later these cuts also inspired The Real Group, a Swedish vocal quintet, which in 1987 began recording a cappella versions of Basie/Hefti collaborations and thereby created the foundation of Contemporary AC, a genre I love dearly. Here’s The Real Group in a wonderful medley from 2004, and here’s the Danish group Touché with another from 2011. I’ve written about this music in the past, and plan to continue in the near future.
Julie London. Girl, just don’t Talk.
In the 1960s, Hefti moved to California to compose and arrange for films, TV and stars (including “Sinatra and Swingin’ Brass”), winning lots of Grammies along the way. Some of his biggest hits included the themes for ‘Batman’, ‘The Odd Couple’, and our sometimes maligned Song of The Week, ‘Girl Talk’, the theme from the movie “Harlow”. In the movie, the theme was instrumental. Call Bobby Troup.
You might know Bobby for his compositions ‘Route 66’ (originally a hit for Nat ‘King’ Cole, but covered by everyone from The Rolling Stones to The Cramps) or ‘The Meaning of the Blues’ from the great Miles Davis/Gil Evans album “Miles Ahead”. But I remember him most for his second wife, the pin-up jazz singer Julie London. Troup wrote lyrics for ‘Girl Talk’, and made the first recording of the vocal version in 1965 in this video directed by no less than Robert Altman! Bobby’s not much of a singer (or actor), and the video is indeed pretty cheesy and objectionable. Hey, blame Altman.
Girl Talk about shopping
Bobby then gave it to Julie with lyrics altered to suit her gender, but it’s really a guy’s song. It’s a ‘can’t live with ‘em can’t live without ‘em’ anthem. That doesn’t fly today, I know, at least not in public. I talked all about this concept in SoTW 150 in its Biblical context and what my granddaddy had to say to me about it. I know what Guys Talk about when their spouses (spice?) ain’t listening.
If you want a definitive version of ‘Girl Talk’, I guess it would be Tony Bennett’s from 1966, backed by Neil Hefti’s band. (Here’s the same arrangement nicely done live.) ‘Girl Talk’ has been recorded a million times since then, mostly by female jazz singers. Here are recent versions by Kate McGarry and by Cheryl Bentyne, both fine versions by fine singers. My favorite is this great treatment by Holly Cole. During the course of this video, she says the song is sexist and that she performs it as a parody.
James Thurber. Girl Talk, man listen.
‘Girl Talk’ is sexist? Demeaning? Misogynist? You turn on a gangsta rap radio station today, you hear ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ by Prodigy, ‘Bitches Ain’t Shit’ by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, and ‘99 Problems (but a bitch ain’t one)’ by Jay-Z. I guess ‘Run For Your Life’ by The Beatles is too tame for the playlist at WHIP.
I think those songs aren’t just offensive. I think they have no redeeming social value.
But when Holly Cole calls ‘Girl Talk’ sexist, I think she’s being disingenuous. I think she’s very feminine, and she’s playing up her femininity as female jazz singers so often do. As Julie London did, as Jean Harlow did, as women always have and always will. Yeah, social standards have changed and I do firmly believe that women should get the same pay as men for the same job. But plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, folks. And I personally wouldn’t have it any other way.
They like to chat about the dresses they will wear tonight
They chew the fat about their tresses and the neighbours’ fight
Inconsequential things that men don’t really care to know
Become essential things that women find so a propos
But that’s a dame, they’re all the same, it’s just a game,
They call it Girl Talk.
They all meow about the ups and downs of all their friends,
The who, the how, the why, they dish the dirt, it never ends.
The weaker sex, the speaker sex, we mortal males behold
But though we joke, we wouldn’t trade you for a ton of gold.
So baby stay and gab away but hear me say
That after girl talk – talk to me.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:
150: Matti Caspi, ‘Not Good, A Man Being Alone’
045: Julie London, ‘Bye Bye, Blackbird’
020: Esperanza Spalding, ‘I Know You Know’
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 Aug 12, 2012 in Jazz
, Song Of the week
The Christian McBride Trio — ‘Killer Joe’
The Red Sea Jazz Festival, 2012
Red Sea Jazz Festival, 2012 (Photo: David Rubin)
I spent last week in Eilat, an eye-bendingly stunning resort tucked at the nestled on a blue sea between red mountains at the southern tip of our little country, from where you can almost touch Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. It’s a pastoral setting buzzing with action – from diving with dolphins to night clubs to a great annual jazz festival. Guess which one I went for?
I don’t understand why everyone wasn’t there. Four straight nights of great music, rising stars and established luminaries, from Israelis (the new world superpower in the field) to New Yorkers to Cape Verdeans to Cameroonians. The shows go from 8 PM to 2:30 AM, followed by a jam session that lasts till—well, I don’t really know, because I never make it to the end. When I left one morning at 5:30 it was still going strong. When I press the case upon friends and acquaintances (and not a few strangers, I admit), they say, “I don’t get jazz. Eilat in August? Are you crazy?”
A Couple of Misperceptions
Eilat is way too often misperceived. One night of music did kick off at 8 PM at 42°C (almost 108°F), but I made a scientific discovery which may yet garner me a MacArthur—the third beer neutralizes the heat. It’s not that you don’t mind it. The temperature actually drops to a humane level. It’s been proven. It’s a fact. You just read it on the internet.
Almost everyone loved The Red Sea Jazz Festival, 2012 (Photo: David Rubin)
Jazz is way too often misperceived. It’s not all atonal and brainy and inaccessible. It is more often fun and intelligent and wise and witty and playful and passionate, and open to anyone who is willing to expose himself. I actually met very few obsessive, analytical, mind-numbing jazz aficionados of my own ilk at The Red Sea Jazz Festival. It’s a rich potpourri of friends and couples and families and dad&daughter and groups of young folk pre-, during- and post-army. They all had one thing in common. They were all smiling and enjoying themselves listening to fine music.
There’s nothing more alive than jazz, the quintessential meeting of creation and performance, of NOW!!!, of controlled spontaneity, of the brain and the fingers. It’s that wonderful place which presents you with the present of the present. The sound of surprise. True, the typical buff is a mature male (I fit half of that). But really, really folks, it can be great for everyone.
Everyone’s Favorite Young Bassist
Christian McBride (Photo: David Rubin)
Take for example Mr Christian McBride (b. 1972), “everyone’s favorite young bassist”. I have to admit that I didn’t know his music before the festival roster was announced. But when I started doing my homework, I was first struck three elements (beyond his very appealing, melodic, accessible musicianship): the range of formats in which he works, his good humor, and his involvement in The Tradition.
In over 15 years, Christian has released a dozen CDs as leader in almost as many settings. His last three are “Kind of Brown” (2009), a soul-jazz vibe/sax quintet outing straight from the post-bop catalog of Blue Note in the late 1960s; “The Good Feeling” (2011), a big band of young New York stars playing his charts on original compositions; and “Conversations with Christian” (2011), a collection of duets with artists such as Sting, Billy Taylor, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Chick Corea, Hank Jones and Gina Gershon (‘Chitlins and Gefiltefish’, a must-hear, with the actress jiving and playing a “funk Jew’s Harp”). All three CDs were awarded 4½ stars by All Music. Then I saw that the Downbeat Critics Poll put the latter album at #25 on its list of Jazz Album of the Year, the combo as #21 Jazz Group, McBride himself as #8 Jazz Artist, and runaway #1 bassist (ahead of Charlie Haden and Esperanza Spalding). Respectable credentials, huh?
Ulysses and The Christians
Christian Sands (Photo: David Rubin)
Christian McBride came to Eilat with two new sidemen. One I’d had the privilege to spend a memorable day with a year ago when he was with Kurt Elling’s band, the brilliant young drummer Ulysses Owens Jr, according to McBride “One of the greatest drummers on the planet, rightfully becoming the number one call for many great musicians in the world today”. The other is a 22-year old piano phenom, Christian Sands, with whom I had a long and exceptionally enjoyable chat one afternoon in the hotel. We talked about music from Sun Ra to Fats Waller to the Beach Boys. If there’s anything I enjoy more than shooting the musical bull at excessive length with a well-schooled young musician, I don’t know what it is. He’s a sweetie, and a knockout musician. Both Christian Jr (as we dubbed him) and Ulysses had the audiences buzzing throughout the festival. If the drummer had been the trio leader, they could have called themselves Ulysses and The Christians.
The Christians (Photo: David Rubin)
Jazz is Fun
And the humor? On stage, three musicians smiling. Ok, the ‘elder’ Christian had the mock-cool swagger of an ex-pro linebacker, befitting his physical and professional stature, reminiscent of Wendell Pierce (detective Bunk in ‘The Wire’, trombonist Antoine Batiste in ‘Treme’). Christian Jr and Ulysses had none of the sly irony – they were grinning ear-to-ear every moment on stage. As was every member of the audience.Christian McBride, from the stage: “Rarely do you see this anywhere else in the world, but we saw teenagers dancing to jazz, moving, screaming, running up to the stage. You guys made me feel like Paul McCartney last night. We love your enthusiasm.”
LtR: Ulysses Owens, drummer extraordinaire Obed Calvaire, Sean Jones (Photo: David Rubin)
At the jam session following the third night of the festival, Christian took over the stage. Stogie firmly ensconced in his smile, he played and sang and goofed, calling artist after artist up to the stage, from local kids including a cute, rocking 1.55m (5’1”) 18-year old blond bassist dwarfed by her instrument; via the (for us) discovery of the festival, the very fine hard bop trumpeter Sean Jones; to the legendary bassist Richard Bona. Christian had hundreds of people on their feet, shouting and dancing and grinning at 5:30 AM. “I don’t get jazz,” you say? Poppycock!
LtR: Christian McBride, Ray Brown (Photo: Richard Laird)
I tried to think of another example of such good-natured jazz. The best one I could come up with was bassist Ray Brown (1926-2002) – husband and accompanist of Ella Fitzgerald, bassist with the Modern Jazz Quartet, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Bud Powell; long-time member of the Oscar Peterson Trio, manager of MJQ and Quincy Jones. In 1972 Ray Brown made a duet album I love dearly with Duke Ellington called “This One’s For Blanton”, a tribute to The Duke’s bassist from 30 years earlier. Here’s their take on Duke’s classic ‘Don’t Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me’ from that set. And then in 1997 and 2001 Brown recorded two sets of bass trios(!) with John Clayton and ‘young sensation’ Christian McBride. I asked Christian about the affinity with Ray Brown, which he affirmed and seemed quite pleased that I’d noted.
Check out this piece from Christian McBride’s set at The Red Sea Jazz Festival, called ‘Easy Walker’. Does it bear any similarity to the Brown/Ellington cut? Not in the sense of cheap imitation, but in the sense of paying tribute, of growing, of standing on the shoulders of giants?
The Most Shameful Quote in Rock
For all its immediacy, there is no field of art with more reverence for The Tradition than jazz. Michael Stipe of REM said: “I’ve always referred to the Beatles as elevator music, because that’s exactly what they were… I’ve never sat down and listened to a Beatles record from beginning to end. Those guys just didn’t mean a fucking thing to me.”
Spreading laurel tree
Michael Stipe should be spanked. Jazz artists display just a bit more class. WB Yeats concludes ‘Prayer for My Daughter’ thus:
How but in custom and in ceremony
Are innocence and beauty born?
Ceremony’s a name for the rich horn,
And custom for the spreading laurel tree.
I guess Michael Stipe doesn’t have much use or need for Yeats, either.
Jazz and The Tradition
Ulysses Owens Jr (Photo: David Rubin)
I had the opportunity to introduce an 18-year old drummer wunderkind named Ofri Nehemia to Ulysses Owens (a sage at 26), who engaged the youngster with impressive graciousness. His advice for Ofri? Steep yourself in the jazz tradition. You can’t go out there and pound the drums. This isn’t glam rock. If you want to be a real jazz musician, you need to start in New Orleans of the 1920s and work your way through the entire corpus. I hope Ofri was listening. I assume he was. He plays with Tomer Bar, a gifted 18-year old pianist, who displayed a mature perspective and encyclopedic knowledge that made me wonder what planet these kids are being raised on. That conversation I had with Young Christian? He’s 22, and he knows everything.
Aaron Goldberg is a rightfully successful American pianist who’s played a lot with Israeli musicians. I asked him to characterize them. “An inspiring majority of the young Israeli jazz musicians coming to New York have been extremely well-trained in the mainstream bebop jazz tradition. The young icons like Omer Avital and Avishai Cohen studied Oscar Pettiford and Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker and all these cats, and came to New York to play bebop really well. It was only later that they began looking around their own native neighborhoods for other, outside influences. But they were schooled in the mainstream American tradition. They learn to speak the language of jazz by imitating the greats.”
Meanwhile, Back at the Festival
Speaking of tradition, we have strayed from Christian McBride. In his two sets at the festival, he played a lot of material that will appear on a new CD with this trio in the fall, including Monk’s ‘I Mean You’, a Coltrane-informed ‘My Favorite Things’, a funky take on ‘Who’s Making Love’ (originally a 1968 Memphis R&B Johnny Taylor hit), ‘East of the Sun’, ‘The Most Beautiful Girl in the World’, and our SoTW, ‘Killer Joe’.
The original ‘Killer Joe’ is a jazz standard, composed by tenor saxophonist Benny Golson (in whose band Christian McBride played on his way up) and originally performed by the Art Farmer/Benny Golson Jazztet on their 1960 album “Blues March”. The sextet includes Art Farmer (trumpet), Coltrane’s pianist McCoy Tyner, stellar trombonist Curtis Fuller, Art’s brother Addison on bass, and Les Humphries on drums. The album contains another immortal tune, Golson’s ‘I Remember Clifford’, a threnody to Clifford Brown, the brilliant, clean-living young trumpeter who died in 1955 in a car wreck at 25, “jazz’s great tragedy”. Many considered him a greater trumpeter than even Miles Davis, not to mention Chet Baker.
Here’s the original ‘Killer Joe’ by the Farmer/Golson Jazztet. And just for good measure, here’s a video of Benny Golson playing it. And here’s Manhattan Transfer. And here’s Quincy Jones. And here’s the Christian McBride trio, live from Eilat.
A Great Day in Harlem (Photo: Art Kane)
Benny Golson (b. 1929) grew up in Philadelphia, playing with the likes of John Coltrane, Red Garland, Jimmy Heath, Percy Heath, Philly Joe Jones, and Red Rodney. He’s still touring today! Talk about a living legend. He was one of 57 notable jazz musicians photographed in 1958 for Esquire magazine in a portrait that became known as ‘A Great Day in Harlem’. A fine documentary film was made about the shooting of the photo. Benny Golson is one of the four musicians there still alive.
Do you remember the plot of Steven Spielberg’s “The Terminal”? The Tom Hanks character is a citizen of a fictitious Eastern European nation who is trapped at JFK after his country dissolves and he is left stateless. Do you remember his mission? His father was a jazz buff who discovered ‘A Great Day in Harlem’ in a Hungarian newspaper in 1958, and vowed to get an autograph of all the 57 jazz musicians featured on the photograph. He succeeded in obtaining 56, but he died before he could finish his collection. Finally Viktor (Tom) is allowed to return home, but refuses to do so, because he has vowed to travel to New York to obtain the autograph, and so complete his father’s collection. Employees of the airport help sneak him out, he goes to the hotel where the saxophonist is playing, listens to a rehearsal, gets the autograph, and returns home, mission accomplished.
The saxophonist? Benny Golson, of course.
So jazz fans take The Tradition seriously. Even sons of Krakozhian jazz fans take it seriously. Budding Israeli musicians take it seriously. Rising stars in New York take it seriously. Everyone’s favorite young bassist takes it seriously.
Because all that seriousness, with enough heat and beer and energy and smiles, can lead to a lot of great music, and to a lot of fun.
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109: Daniel Zamir, ‘Shir HaShomer’ (Red Sea Jazz Festival, 2011)
Omri Mor at The Red Sea Jazz Festival, 2010
130: Thelonious Monk, ‘Let’s Call This’ (Monk’s Advice to Lacy)