Saturday, March 12, 2011

Charles Mingus Interview (by Nesuhi Ertegun)

"His legacy is complex, and yet universal. His passion for the jazz past of Ellington and Jelly Roll Morton prefigured the revivalism of  today, even though he might have sneered at it; his insistence on instrumental excellence is followed in the high standards of execution which have become a norm among young players. His berating of inattentive audiences looks forward  to a state where jazz is respected as art-music, yet the noisy, turbulent feel of all his bands ask listeners to participate in a communal, unstuffy exhilaration." He is Charles Mingus, as described by Richard Cook in his prominent Jazz Encyclopedia.

Previously I did some posts, in Farsi and English, on Mingus. I was always waiting for an excuse to publish an interview here which I know nothing about. The only fact is that it existed for a couple of years in my small archive, along with some other interviews, and all of them inherited to me from my uncle. This interview must be from 1963, because they're discussing the "recent release" of Charles Mingus Plays Piano.  Any information regarding this interview is very welcomed.

PS [13th March]:
Thanks to Sue Mingus, now we know that interviewer is Nesuhi Ertegun of Atlantic Records.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Jazz Goes to College

Three notes on Guildhall School's seminar, discussing the relationship between jazz musicians and their audience, and also a performance with Guildhall jazz students featuring Tim Garland.

Jazz in Academia

If there is a passion about jazz, inside you, there is no 52nd street anymore, to go there and blow the horn or hit the keys. There is no enough time to put the 78 rpm on, and imitate the sound for weeks and months to became next Horace Silver. There is not that much live gig opportunities to transform a person from an enthusiast listener, with a horn hidden under his coat and hungry for being invited on stage, to the next Jackie McLean. There is no funeral or wedding job with live jazz, to makes a couple of bucks, and in the meantime, gives the pleasure of being heard for the very first time. That's the time jazz education enters the picture. As Jon Faddis makes it clear, "the scene has changed, and jazz education is a very important part of the jazz scene."

Nat Hentoff discuss the subject of jazz education, extensively, in his last book, At The Jazz Band Ball: Sixty Years On The Jazz Scene, and Guildhall College of music and drama in London tries to find practical ways for what have been told and discussed before to educate the young cats.

Nobody would deny the necessity of jazz education, but its economy has still lot of unbeknown corners. One of the neglected aspects of educating jazz is its benefits for elder musicians who can not work in that pace that makes a living possible. Securing a vital future for this music only fulfills when we pay attention, simultaneously, to its economic and its aesthetics. Education a good and young jazz musician is meaningful, only when there is live gig for him or her, or a radio broadcast and record opportunity for him, otherwise it would be like teaching people to became blacksmiths. But who needs a blacksmith now? "A university should reflect the needs of society. Too many lawyers is a drag, but they always get a gig, but too many tenor players is uncontainable," would say mister Phil Woods about jazz in universities and colleges.

Tim Garland
Tim Garland's Saxopiano Playing

Tim Garland, born in 1966, was a graduate of Guildhall himself. He cut his first album when he was 22, and he is also a product of academic jazz. The highlight of this gig, beside some very well executed post bop materials of his own (which I found them more effective than his treatments of standards like Round Midnight or Body and Soul), was his playing into piano box! Yes, he was blowing his saxophone inside the open box of a Steinway, and he created most moving sounds from there without touching the strings. Strings were producing the magical sound, only by the waves of air that Garland saxophone was making. Very beautiful and unforgettable!

Robert Brockway
We'll Hear More of Him

Among the trio that was accompanying Garland in that evening (including Robert Brockway on piano, Andy Robb on double bass, and Joe Sweeney on drums), the great discovery was Brockway, a very young gentleman who plays very interesting solos, with a confidence only seen and heard in men, a generation older than him.

He demonstrates the benefits of that advanced jazz educational programs. He has something to say, though he still needs time and space to find the ways of expressing them. At this point, the best school of music for any young musician is listening to the rich heritage of recorded jazz, on and on. As far as I am concerned, I was born in the wrong place, and in the wrong time, and I hadn't this chance to enter an academic environment to study jazz, but despite the fact of not being a musician myself, most of the time I was lucky enough to be a student of universal jazz school which exists eternally on records. In this case the words of a great teacher, Clark Terry, always rings in my ears:

''Don’t spend it all in one place. It’s just as basic as that: Spread it out. Don’t try to say everything you know how to say in one chorus, you know. Use the space and time is something we were fortunate enough to have learned from Basie, but Duke and Strayhorn, they knew how to put things together. For instance, they would put minor seconds together, and that was something kind of unheard of, as far as jazz was concerned. And they put it together and made notes; it made you learn how to listen and say, “Oh, he’s out of tune . . . oh, no, he’s not!” If you listen closely, you’ll find he’s very much in tune. But they knew how to do that, and they knew how to supply themselves with people who were aware and knew how to do it so it was a marvelous thing. They were both very, very instrumental in the perpetuation of jazz and the colorations of sound and so forth.''

Duke by Mosaic

Duke Ellington & His Orchestra, 1936

The Complete 1932-1940 Brunswick, Columbia, and Master Recordings of Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra
This "invaluably illuminating" boxed set of Duke is available here 

"During the summer of 1929, the orchestra appeared in Florenz Ziegfeld's revue "Showgirl." Its performance roused that legendary producer to call the orchestra "the finest exponent of syncopated music in existence. . . . Some of the best exponents of modern music who have heard them during rehearsal almost jumped out of their seats over their extraordinary harmonies and exciting rhythms."
Now, thanks to Mosaic, I have almost jumped out of my seat because the sound engineering by Mr. Lasker and Andreas Meyer [producers of this boxed set] brings these Ellington orchestras swinging right into the room. As Billy Strayhorn (eventually Ellington's associate arranger) put it in Down Beat in 1952: "Ellington plays the piano, but his real instrument is the band. Each member of the band is to him a distinctive tone color and set of emotions, which he mixes with others equally distinctive to produce a third thing, which I call the Ellington Effect." That characteristic sound is as present in these recordings as it would later be in the 1940s and beyond." ~ Nat Hentoff, Wall Street Journal

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

English Soul of Steve Winwood

English Soul (2010), a new documentary about rocker Steve Winwood, portrays his musical journey as a quest for meaning and beauty in the countryside of England, so it has more to do with Winwood's childhood house in Gloucestershire, than his deep fondness for Ray Charles, or his countless influences from American blues. Since it's nearly clear to everybody that lawns, sheep, and barn don't create blues or rock 'n' roll, and this type of music is more related to whiskey, drugs and wimmen', as well as big dirty cities, we can forget about this unconvincing approach and enjoy a panorama of British Psychedelic-Pop and Blues-Rock, from Spencer Davis Group days to Traffic and Blind Faith.

English Soul is meticulously directed by Paul Bernays, who has made another musical portrait for Emmylou Harris (From a Deeper Well, 2007). There are interviews with ex-members of Traffic, where great Dave Mason talks about his frustration of being kicked off the band, while Traffic's best selling hit singles were still Mason's compositions like Feelin' Alright. Eric Clapton, the eternal wise man of rock 'n' roll court, gives his comments about forming Blind Faith, and his sudden break up with this newly born super band. Now it makes sense when Clapton describes his recent reunions with Winwood, and playing almost all Blind Faith songs in Madison Square Garden, as a finishing an unfinished job; delivering the sound that they really wanted to give, back in 1969.