Tuesday, July 2, 2013

In Memory of Paul Smith (1922-2013) + Intensive Care LP

Paul Smith
The jazz pianist Paul Smith, also a versatile composer and arranger and a prolific sideman, died at 91. To be honest, I didn't know he was still alive.

The Los Angeles Times reported his passing and added that the man had worked with "such greats as Bing Crosby, Nat 'King' Cole and Dizzy Gillespie...Smith began studying classical piano when he was 8 and joined a professional band in his teens. Over a long career, he recorded more than five dozen albums with his own groups and accompanied many performers, including Sammy Davis Jr., Ella Fitzgerald, Doris Day and the Andrews Sisters. Smith also arranged and performed TV and movie scores as a studio musician. He spent more than 25 years as pianist and music director for The Steve Allen Comedy Hour."

Nearly 60 years ago, Paul Smith who contrasted his size (six-foot-four, over two hundred pounds) with an "extremely deft and delicate touch at the piano," was introduced in the liner notes of one of his early recordings as "a brilliant young pianist who plays classics, 'pop' tunes, and modern jazz with equal facility, and as a result is one most sought after studio musicians in Hollywood. In past years he's been both performer and arranger with leading dance bands and musical groups throughout the country."

Monday, July 1, 2013

Jazz Mirrors Iran#5: Strictly for the Persians

For my fifth installment in Jazz Mirrors Iran, I'll look at a tune from a third country in which the secretive consociation between the American art form and Persian culture took place: France.

If you were in Paris during the cold winter of 1941, walking by the Seine and watching the German barracks, you could whistle a beautiful tune by Alix Combelle Orchestra, a song ironically called Strictement pour les Persans, or in English, Strictly for the Persians. 

Strictement Pour Les Persans (Strictly for Persians) - Alix Combelle Orchestra

Paris’ underground resistance did not stay paralyzed for too long. To write the French off as cowards or conceding would be dismissive and inaccurate. A Parisian writer at the time was “incapable of surviving for long hiding, he would sell his soul to see his name in print,” silenced essayist Jean Guehenno observed. “He believes that he is French literature and thought and that they will die without him.” Satre himself had stated that artists and writers had a duty to tell the rest of France “not to be ruled by Germans.”

We all know that jazz played a significant role in uniting African-Americans under the oppressive Jim Crow laws. In Paris of 1941, even as a borrowed art form, it still manifested the self-empowerment to create a nationalistic identity at a point where the country was already fractured into rubble. Before the Nazi invasion of France, when news of an eventual war reached Paris, many African-American expatriate musicians left to return to the United States. Their sudden departure left the active French jazz scene on its own, and club owners found themselves without any entertainers or live music to supply the demand of tasteful customers.