Saturday, May 31, 2014

Teddy Wilson Plays Duke Ellington

Recently surfaced on the Internet, here is Teddy Wilson performing a couple of Ellington/Strayhorn compositions on July 1975 (the location is probably France).

Early in his career as a solo artist, Wilson recorded some Earl Hines for whom he had high regards, but he never put any Ellington on disc. Towards the end of the 30s, he was better off recording his own compositions as unaccompanied piano pieces. In the late 50s, tired of playing the same standards for the millionth time, he discovered or rediscovered Ellington. However, in retrospect, his casual recordings of Ellington materials feels more like a case of repertoire expansion rather than treasuring the Duke, as on the same period he tried some bop tunes on the record.

Here he plays Take the "A" Train (once recorded in Wilson's 1967 Easy Living LP on Black Lion), followed by It Don't Mean a Thing. The rhythm section is Harley White (bass) and Eddie Graham (drums).

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Earl Hines and Charles Mingus: A Brief Encounter

The music presented here is resulted from, by all means, a surprise session. An ad-hoc band with a line up that even a wild imagination can not conceive. First and most, it features the father of jazz piano Earl Hines and the most revolutionary figure of modern jazz, Charles Mingus. Still, there is more to this 67 years old wine.

Toward the end of the 40s, the size and the success of Earl Hines Orchestra, like most other big bands of that era, drastically shrank, and in 1947, when these sides were cut, it broke up for good. Shortly after, Hines joined Louis Armstrong All Stars and probably earned more money as a "sideman" than what he was gaining as the leader of the most adventures big band of the 40s.

In a cold day in Chicago, on December 31, 1947, Hines borrowed a "cast" from Lionel Hampton's big band that happened to be in town for a national tour and whose second bass player happened to be Mr Charlie Mingus. During the date, Hines and the Hampton men recorded four sides on 78rpm records.

For a rather predictable version of The Sheik of Araby, which opens with Hines on piano, Morris Lane was shortly yet brilliantly featured. Lane had a huge sound, like a crossover between Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins, and readers of this blog probably know him better for being a member of Bebop Boys, a recording group of Savoy artists, including Sonny Stitt, Fats Navarro, Bud Powell and Kenny Clarke.

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.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Actors Sing!

When movie stars get bored or feel they need to reveal more talent than what’s already been exposed by cameras, they might venture into other art forms, and occasionally different professions.

The first, and the most popular "expansion" of talents is directing films (Cornel Wilde, Mel Gibson) which could be the toughest too. Some might try painting (Kim Novak) and some might become equally famous for gardening or cooking (Vincent Price). In boredom, one feels the urge to write poetry (James Stewart). Some have acted in a slightly different field such as politics (Ronald Reagan, Sergiu Nicolaescu). And of course many famous stars have become singers.

The list I've compiled here is featuring some of the “better” actor-singers who have tried singing not in response to necessities of a certain cinematic role but simply because they wanted to sing. It was something of the heart if you like. This is a case for "singer, not the song."

The result in many cases is disappointing, yet it strikes me as interesting because one could see the recorded music as an extension of the artist's screen persona. As for the music goes, the degree of success varies, but what most of the actors-turned-singers have in common is using the popular format of the day and diving into deep waters of romanticism with little success.

With exception of a few, the rest of these actors didn't give singing a second try so these are probably the most whimsical recordings in popular music.

As for the rules of the selection, I have excluded actor/singers such as Doris Day, Bing Crosby, Yves Montand, Frank Sinatra who were singers first. And also ignored names like Jeff Bridges and Clint Eastwood whose interest in music wasn't whimsical at all and it had deeper roots in their past, or even their present.