Friday, May 23, 2014

Swinging with Clarinet and Harpsichord

It sounds strange and the effect is unfamiliar and archaic. It takes time to get used to one of the most unusual
combos of the swing era -- a sextet with a harpsichord.

While evidently harpsichord has some capacity for swinging, it also delivers a melancholic feeling as one can hear on the sides recorded in September 3, 1940 in Los Angeles by Artie Shaw and His Gramercy Five. This rather experimental sextet is composed of clarinet, harpsichord, trumpet and the rhythm section.

As far as the history of this Renaissance and Baroque instrument in jazz goes, this session was the first to bring it to jazz. Later, from the same family of instruments, Oscar Peterson recorded with clavichord for Pablo Records.

Johnny Guarnieri, one of the unsung heroes of jazz in swing era, is playing the harpsichord which might explain my repetitious listening of these four sides.

"Guarnieri was all music" wrote Richard Cook about the man who started playing classical piano from the age of ten, but hearing Art Tatum changes his life. Cook also pointed out how Guarnieri could play in almost any style whilst "his basic one was a light, at times frolicsome variation on stride." 

On this session, he strides it out with harpsichord.

Artie Shaw and His Gramercy Five 
Artie Shaw (cl) Billy Butterfield (t) Johnny Guarnieri (hps) Al Hendrikson (g) Jud de Naut (b) Nick Fatool (d)

Special Delivery Stomp

Summit Ridge Drive

Keepin' Myself for You

Cross My Heart

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