Saturday, February 22, 2014

Billie Holiday Through the Lens of Carl Van Vechten

In 1949, Carl Van Vechten, the American essayist, novelist and photographer who had a profound interest in music, literature and Afro-American culture (in 1926 he wrote Negro Blues Singers for Vanity Fair), as a part of his African Americans Portraits project photographed Billie Holiday.

It was Gerry Major who arranged the session and asked Billie to wear on a gown. Billie, ignoring the request, showed up in a grey dress and even greyer mood. Van Vechten talked her into a more intimate look and choice of clothes which she eventually accepted with changing to a silk gown and a Gauguinesque dress underneath.

They worked through the night and it didn't go well at all until Van Vechten, at the verge of giving up the whole idea, showed Billie his pictures of Bessie Smith. Lady Day, staring at the pictures of one of her idols, started to cry. That softened the mood drastically. They shot until dawn and then Lady left. That was the last time Van Vechten saw Billie Holiday.

These photographs are from that night in March 1949.

[Click to enlarge]

Rahsaan Roland Kirk Documentary

The Case of the Three Sided Dream, a new documentary on the blind multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk is due to premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin on March 11, 2014. It's been directed by Adam Kahan. I couldn't find more information on the official website of the film and for now this rather straightforward trailer is all we can get.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Strays On

 "I referred to him like a lot of the cats did, as 'Strays,'" says Clark Terry of Billy Strayhorn in his autobiography, Clark, which has a lot to say about Ellington years and the people of that tribe.

In a short chapter of the book, dedicated to "Strays," there is nothing but admiration and deep respect for the man and his music both as a composer/arranger and piano player. "Strays was like a breath of fresh air," says Mr Terry, "he had an almost spiritual touch in his writing. Deep undertones that would draw emotion and dig into the psyche." So true.

There are some stories in Clark about the relationship between Duke and Strays, whether artistically, emotionally ("he had a way of calming Duke") or even financially for which CT remembers:

"Strays was a man who lived the most unique life style of anybody. He had no bills: no hotel bills, no apartment bills, no food bills, no clothes or tax bills. No nothing. He didn't have a salary, either. He just signed a tab. Duke paid for everything."

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Clark Terry Jives at 5 with Sweets

Back to the Bern Jazz Festival concerts and the Trumpet Summit session, I have another video to present. This one's from the same session as here and here and here, and features Clark Terry and Harry "Sweets" Edison in a performance of Jive at Five.

CT is very fond of Switzerland. He has played there, especially in Bern, many times over the last 5 decades. Even there is a hotel suite in Bern named after him and I believe he had an operation and treatment in Switzerland at some point, probably related to his cancer.

However, in this concert footage, one can hardly see signs of fatigue or malady. Jive at Five is fun and relaxed, and one of the last documentations of these masters playing and jiving together.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Certain Finesse: Chattin' With Trumpet Masters

From left: Harry Edison, Joe Wilder, Clark Terry
They feel slightly old. They know who's the boss. The music they play is not too bizarre or too personal or too difficult. Of course, it is difficult to deliver with such precision and groove, but never difficult to enjoy. That's more or less how an informal assembly of three trumpet legends feel.

Watch a Swiss TV interview with Clark Terry, Harry "Sweets" Edison and Joe Wilder from 1997.

More Doc Cheatham

I've got another video from the Trumpet Masters session in Bern, Switzerland, featuring Doc Cheatham in his second solo in the concert. Here, in response to Clark Terry's call for encore, Doc gives a warm rendition of If I Could Be You.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Cine-Jazz Comic-Strip Exhibition in Tehran

I think it must be the first of its kind. What me and my artist-musician collaborator, Naiel Ibarrola, are doing is combining comic strip illustrations with painting, cinema and jazz. Our first exhibition of such material will be open in 6 days (February 7, 2014) at the Aun Gallery of Tehran.

If cinema itself has been freewheeling in its use and abuse of other art forms to show what influential British film critic Raymond Durgnat calls “the impossible,” why, when it comes to talking about films, should we be limited to literary forms of expression? Now what if that film is about jazz, another art form great in making  the impossibles, possible.