Sunday, April 5, 2020

"Earl Hines Celebrates 20 Years in Show Business"

Earl Hines
All-American News was a weekly newsreel produced for the African-American audiences, the first of its kind in the US. At the beginning, it served the war propaganda machine by encouraging the black Americans to join the war effort but in the process it managed to capture some other aspects of African-American life, including arts.

Some of these weekly items are available on the website of the Library of Congress. Surprisingly, jazz gets very little mention in them, even though the series ran until the 1950s. One exception is an episode from November 1944 which visits the legend of jazz piano, Earl "Fatha" Hines, catching up with him during his celebration of "twenty years in show business." There is a brief interview and scenes from cutting a cake. You can view this segment of All-American News#12 concerning Hines here:

VHS Diaries#1: Ellis Marsalis Trio

RIP Ellis Louis Marsalis Jr. (November 14, 1934 – April 1, 2020)

Syndrome, a composition by New Orleans pianist and father to Wynton and Brandford Marsalis, Mr. Ellis Marsalis,  first appeared in one of his early albums.

Here, with the assistance of a relaxed, grooving trio he performs the same song at Bern Jazz Festival, 1997. I couldn't identify the bassist and drummer. If you know their names, please leave a comment.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Stop For Bud (1963)

In 1963 a short experimental film was made about Bud Powell. Half a century later, some musings about that Danish film and Bud.

Bud means the wind, if you are a Farsi speaker. Thus, for me, the name defines the music. Although one of my favorite pianists in jazz, whom I discovered with Bud Plays Bird LP, is never as fiery as one expect from the wind. He is a bipolar giant. When playing I Remember Clifford at the Golden Circle club in Sweden, it seems that music would stop any second. The melody blurs. The harmonies become foggy. The beat tends to get lost, and a moment later, found again. The seemingly dying music continues for nearly nine minutes. Through Clifford Brown's memory, Bud is lamenting himself, his very existence.

That bipolarity could came to surface in another forms, too. In a struggle between a classical completionist mode - when your piece have a clear beginning, middle and the end - and a sense of incompleteness and constant transfiguration which makes it hard to detect the real core of the music. From the first category, the jewel of all Blue Note recordings, The Scene Changes, from 1958, is documented to the degree of perfection. All the songs are originals and executed neatly around 4 to 5 minutes. The second category is mostly consisted of tunes in slower tempos, as if Bud never manages to finish what he has started. Music of the second category is the closest thing to films of Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu: static, organic and free from overstatement and jagged emotions - painfully true and precise. Even in the later years, after gaining weight, with a motionless figure and impassive face staring at nowhere, Bud began to look like Buddha.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Big Ben: Ben Webster in Europe (1967)

Netherlands, 1967 Regia: Johan van der Keuken
F.: Johan van der Keuken. M.: Ruud Bernard, Johan van der Keuken. Int.: Ben Webster, Don Byas, Cees Slings, Michiel de Ruyteras, Michiel de Ruyteras, Peter Ympa. Prod.: Johan van der Keuken.

An intimate, curious portrait of American ex-pat tenor saxophonist Ben Webster, shot between March and June 1967 in Amsterdam, where he eventually died in 1972. Though the title suggests outright praise, van der Keuken goes deeper into Webster’s sound and character by creating visual metaphors (a conversation about the blues cuts to a shot of a knife), relating anecdotes and giving a brief history of the man. Toying with the possibilities of the interplay between sound and image, the film treats Webster as one of the architects of tenor sax by visiting a saxophone factory, where industrial noise subsides allowing us to hear Webster’s luscious vibrato sound. Treated with warmth and respect, this former member of Duke Ellington’s band is seen doing various activities such as cooking, talking to his hospitable landlady, shooting pool and using his 8mm camera. When, later on, van der Keuken incorporates excerpts from what are presumably Webster’s films, jazz and cinema seem even more interwoven than first assumed. (Ehsan Khoshbakht)

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Willis Conover Interviews Gil Evans

Possibly taped in February 1968 but broadcast on May 16, 1968, this is a short, informal chat between the DJ Willis Conover and jazz composer/arranger Gil Evans." Here, Evans mentions working on a new recording with Miles Davis which is most likely the one known as The Falling Water sessions (released only decades later in the Evans/Davis Columbia set.) Evans sounds laid-back but not very candid. There's an interesting reminiscing by Conover about a meeting between Harold Arlen, Evans and Friedrich Gulda (at 5') but even more interesting is Conover's mentioning of a screening of The Sound of Jazz (feat. Miles Davis/Gil Evans) in Russia which he had personally attended a year before.

The source is here.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Willis Conover's Eulogy for Duke Ellington

This is mainly a detailed (and moving) description of Ellington's funeral. From a 1974 VOA's jazz hour broadcast.

This was the source.

Monday, March 4, 2019

The CBS Tribute to Duke Ellington, 1974

Broadcast on the day that the Duke died, featuring concert footage and interview with colleagues and band members such as Ella Fitgerald, Sony Greer, Russell Procope, Billy Taylor and Stanley Dance, this is a newly digitised tape.

Forgive the silly John Wayne clip and the sillier ads popping up which are good reminders of the crude world in which Ellington was creating his sophisticated and inimitable art.

Friday, December 14, 2018

RIP Nancy Wilson (1937-2018): Lady With A Song

Originally posted on 21/12/2013. Re-posted on 14/12/2018.

Moving on with our Women in Jazz series, sooner or later I had to mention Nancy Wilson whom I came to know and admire in the Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley album.

Here is a digitised copy of a tape of mine from 1997, recorded off air during Bern Jazz Festival,  featuring Lew Matthews on keyboard, John Williams on bass and possibly Roy McCurdy on drums. They perform Lady With A Song.

Monday, March 5, 2018

A Date with Dizzy (1958)

Aside from being the greatest trumpeter since Louis Armstrong, or being held high as one of the greatest composers in jazz, Dizzy Gillespie was a comedian of sorts. Alluring the audience with weird hats, funky language, and cake-walking, Dizzy was more than a musician, dominating any stage with charisma, an animated performance and a rare sense of ease.

In 1958, a filmmaker tried to capture some of these features on film, though camera's fascination with Dizz can be traced back to the 1940s and his first Soundie films. Directed by the independent American animator John Hubley, A Date With Dizzy presents Dizzy Gillespie Quintet with Sahib Shihab, Wade Legge, Nelson Boyd and Charlie Persip.

Combing comedy with animation and fragments of Dizzy's classic pieces, the story concerns a day in the studio, while in presence of an indecisive director and a nervous company representative, the band is trying to score for a couple of silly cartoon commercials such as Instant Rope Ladder and E-Z Popcorn.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Jammin' in Helsinki: A Retrospective of Jazz on Film

To the Finnish readers of this blog (if any): Throughout February 2018, my small selection of jazz films will be played at the Orion Cinema in Helsinki as a part of Black History Month in Finland.

The selection includes the 35mm prints of classics such as Black and Tan Fantasy (Duke Ellington's first appearance on film) to more recent documentaries, such as the witty and touching Keep On Keepin' On, featuring Clark Terry, and the new must-see Lee Morgan film, I Called Him Morgan. The Finnish TV archive has been dug up for some rarely screened performance films with Bill Evans, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan.

If you wish to continue reading in Finnish, go here.

Jammin' in Helsinki would be played in eight sessions:

Mili (right) behind the scene of Jammin' the Blues