Monday, December 21, 2015

I Don't Dig Garbarek's Music, But If You Do...

I'm interested in anything categorized under the uncategorizable family of jazz, while being aware of the problem that most of it turns out to be anything but jazz. The video I'm posting here, at least to my ears, falls into non-jazz category. Yet, it is an example of a product sold as jazz and bought in huge quantity by European jazz festivals.

Since I've promised to digitize and publicize all my jazz VHS tapes, I do post this as an act of completion: The Jan Garbarek Group playing Jim Pepper's Witchi-Tai-To in Stuttgart, Germany, 1992.

This ECM artist sounds so thin and mechanical that I wonder why the labeled never released, for instance, Kenny G.?

To me, jazz remains to be an urban, modern sound, always transcending the most materialistic objects and situations into sublime beauty. And it doesn't sound like music played by Scandinavian shepherds in 17th century.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Monterey Jazz Festival (1967)

Directed by Lane Slate
The event hosted by Jimmy Lyons.

Set list:

Illinois Jacquet
Flyin' Home
Illinois Jacquet (ts), John Lewis (p), Ray Brown (b), Louie Bellson (d)

Ray Nance
Some of These Days
Ray Nance (violin), John Lewis (p), Ray Brown (b), Louie Bellson (d)

Ray Nance, Jean-Luc Ponty, Svend Asmussen
C Jam Blues
Jean-Luc Ponty, Ray Nance, Svend Asmussen (violin), John Lewis (p), Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Ray Brown (b), Daniel Humair (d)?

The Dizzy Gillespie Quintet
The Gentle Rain
Something In Your Smile
Dizzy Gillespie (t, v), James Moody (f, ts), Mike Longo (p), Russell George (electric b), Candy Finch (d)

The Modern Jazz Quartet & Dizzy Gillespie
Round Midnight
Dizzy Gillespie (t), John Lewis (p), Milt Jackson (vib), Percy Heath (b), Connie Kay (d)

The Don Ellis Big Band
New Horizons
Don Ellis, Glenn Stuart, Alan Weight, Ed Warren, Bob Harmon (t), Ron Myers, Dave Sanchez, Terry Woodson (tb), Ruben Leon, Joe Roccisano, Ira Schulman, Ron Starr, John Magruder (reeds), Mike Lang (p), Ray Neapolitan, Dave Parlato (b), Steve Bohannon (d), Chino Valdes (congas, bongos),
Alan Estes, Mark Stevens (percussion)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Three Little Bops (Friz Freleng, 1957)

This short, all-musical animation titled Three Little Bops features a soundtrack by Shorty Rogers. Although the three little pigs of the story are not exactly bop musicians, nevertheless the film relies on the myth of fraction between the modernists and traditionalists in jazz when the New overtly rejects the Old (here, portrayed as an old-fashioned wolf trumpet player).

Directed by Friz Freleng for Warner Bros., this 7-minute long film is good fun.

Watch here:

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Jazz Goes to the Movies in Ankara

Jazz Goes to the Movies, a programme curated by Jonathan Rosenbaum and I for Bologna's Il Cinema Ritrovato will be playing in Ankara and two other Turkish cities from next week.

Another jazz/film-related event would be an exhibitions of the comic illustrations about jazz films by me (as writer) and Naiel Ibarrola (as illustrator). After our first exhibition at Tehran's Aun Gallery, the Allye Berger exhibition hall in Ankara will host our work from November 26 to December 2, 2015.

Back to the screenings, the films that will be played on November 29, are free admission. These are the titles and their order of screening, starting from 14:15

Black and Tan Fantasy (1929)
Cab Calloway’s hi-de-ho (1934)
Jammin’ the Blues (1944)
Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955)
Begone Dull Care (1949)
Big Ben: Ben Webster in Europe (1967)
When It Rains (1995)
Too Late Blues (1961)

Each film will be introduced either by me or Jonathan.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Best Of American Jazz In Paris (Studio Recordings)

Image courtesy of Vogue Records.

25 Greatest Jazz Records by Americans in Paris

The Infinity of Lists, by Umberto Eco, is among the titles on my to-read list, though even before opening the book, and judging from the cover, I can catch the point and apply it to this list of my favorite studio recording of American jazz musicians in Paris.

The relationship between Paris and musicians has been mostly a love affair, started from the early years of jazz and continued to this day, with the post war years as the peak of interest, visits and involvement in Parisian scene. The curiosity about jazz, similar to that of African artwork revival in the early 20th century Paris, was expanding in various directions in the years between early 1950s and late 1960s. Jazz appeared in or influenced French literature and cinema, while I'm sure, the connection between this American art and France goes beyond these two primary examples.

With a long history of hosting American jazz musicians and giving them the space to play and record, the Paris-recorded albums are too important to remain unlisted. This is one attempt to pay a closer listen to the Parisian jazz records.

These are recordings I have listened to and mostly loved over the years, knowing that there are still hundreds of recordings there, waiting to be rediscovered. Probably you will notice the absence of more contemporary albums on the list, but that can be explained in regard to the current international status of jazz and the blurred concepts of nationality and borders in the 21th century jazz scene. Now, appearing in a Parisian studio or a concert hall is nothing unusual or unique for any internationally recognized artist. But I reckon, back in the 1950s, it must have been a rare experience being present and recording in Paris for someone like Gerald Wiggins. This uniqueness is derived from, among many other things, the status of Afro-Americans in France and the fact that they have been cherished as artists and seen as heroes of the Existentialist and Anti-colonial movements of the post war period. Many of these notions remained a romantic and flawed reading of jazz history, but the recorded documents tell of a joy and sense of exploration which was bestowed to the musicians because of the place of recording.

This list was initiated as a part of my short-lived jazz program, targeted for Iranian listeners, which ran between 2011 and early 2012. The episodes 22 to 24 were titled Jazz In Paris, and during three sessions I played many tracks from the albums I've listed here. They are available here, here and here.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

George Adams-Don Pullen Quartet at the Subway

Like many of you, I first heard this band as the nucleus of Charlie Mingus's 70s groups, at least those involving George Adams and Don Pullen. Dannie Richmond, of course, had a much longer history of owning the drum chair in Mingus's establishment.

Yet, it was with post-Mingus recordings that I fell in love with the music they were making, a music which, according to Richmond, must have influenced even Mr. Mingus himself.

Hand to Hand, featuring Richmond and Adams was one of the most played records in my "early advanced" years of listening to jazz. Since then, I haven't lost my interest in this marvelous unit whose key members sadly died too soon.

The quartet, adding Cameron Brown, started as a one-off live band, but miraculously lasted for nearly a decade, and it was recorded regularly in Europe. This video tape from Cologne, Federal Republic of Germany, is one of them.

The band is full of fire and fierce energy. This makes Lee Jeske to compare them with a Lamborghini:

Monday, October 19, 2015

Rudy Can't Fail

"Red" Rudy Williams

Who's playing the alto saxophone on this one?

Did I hear Charlie Parker? Well, no, it ain't Bird. Yet there is some Parkerian connection, in the style of the player, and also in real life.

The musician playing alto on the 1948 track you heard which was recorded under Tadd Dameron's name is "Red" Rudy Williams, a musician  Charlie Parker used to dig intensely, almost religiously, during his first visit to New York City.

Member of a hard swinging band, Al Cooper's Savoy Sultan, he was usually featured on radio broadcasts some ten years before the above recording was waxed. (Other musicians featured on the piece you heard are Fats Navarro, Allen Eager, Curly Russell, and Kenny Clarke.)

In 1939, Williams was enjoying the success of this hit song, Little Sally Water, in which his name is called by Savoy Sultan's before he moves to front for a solo:

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Berlin Existential

Either because of its pure rhythmic functions or the carefree, even primitive feeling of playing it, bongo has been associated with the beat movement on film, literature, and also in life. The story of Toby Fichelscher (pic: above), a Berliner beatnik, is alsohas its bongos, jazz, and free love.

Toby Fichelscher (1927-92) was a jazz singer, bongo and piano player in post-war Germany who also tackled on the blues and rock 'n roll. (There is a Tutti Frutti single, recorded by him in 1956, a year after Little Richard made it a hit.)

Released on the compilation album, Busting the Bongos, this is a rare chance to listen to the "lost sounds of a jazz phantom", one of so many forgotten European musicians of the post war period.

Interesting enough, the recordings presented on this album are the soundtracks of three films (Tobby, Max Knaack, and Schatten), all directed by Hansjürgen Pohland.

I've been interested in Pohland since watching his short masterpiece Schatten [Shadows], an experimental film in which the jazz soundtrack is providing the rhythm for a series of shots form shadows and silhouettes on the walls and the grounds and it features a West Coast-sounding soundtrack, probably the best of this compilation.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Bill Coleman Meets The New Ragtime Band

Bill Coleman

I have no solid information on this Bill Coleman video, except that it's been filmed in Switzerland in 1969 and transmitted on March 20 of the same year.

From the bass drumhead, one can see that Coleman is accompanied by The New Ragtime Band whose members could be identical to the following line up: Jacky Milliet (clarinet), Pierre Descoeudres (trombone), Vino Montavon (piano), Bernard Moritz (guitar), Hans Schläpfer (bass), and either Marco Steiner or Rolf Sydler on drums.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker

Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker in Born to Be Blue, an upcoming Canadian film directed by Robert Budreau.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

John Scofield Trio, 1987

John Scofield must mean something special to Germans. He had numerous appearances on various German TV networks, both before and after the fall of the Berlin wall.

As for this particular posted broadcast, known as Jazzbühne, I learned from German Wikipedia that two years after the concert was filmed, at some point towards the unification, the program came to an end. But guess who appeared on its very last broadcast? Mr. Scofield, again. (I even ran into him in Berlin's Kantstrasse last May, where he was signing CDs outside A-Trane club.)

I'm not sure if I have the tape of the very last Jazzbühne broadcast in my VHS collection, but here there is this one from 1987 when Mr. Scofield is accompanied by John Riley (drums) and Anthony Cox (bass). They go through these compositions:

Turn Around 00:00 -- 7:19
Science and Religion 07:50 -- 14:11
Flower Power 14:30 -- 19:20 [incomplete]

Monday, August 3, 2015

Bud Powell: Two French Interviews

This post presents a transcribed interview (along with the original audio clip) of Bud Powell, conducted in France where he was recuperating from tuberculosis at the Boullemont Sanatorium.

I heard it the first time as the last track from an exceptional CD, Inner Fires, which featured Bud’s trio with Charlie Mingus and Roy Haynes at Club Kavakos, Washington D. C from April 5, 1953.

Interestingly, the album came out as a part Bill Potts collection, a Washingtonian pianist who accompanied Lester Young in his legendary Washington concerts, released in five volumes.

Although Bud Powell was very sick at the time, his comments lend insight into his not so accessible musical universe.

First Interview: January 15, 1963

You may already know that Bud is suffering from tuberculosis and is now recuperating in a sanatorium near Paris. We went to see him there and tried to interview him. I say 'tried' because Bud is extremely weak now, and it was necessary to ask him the same question several times before he was able to respond. It was also technically difficult to conduct this interview, but I think that despite all this we were able to assemble enough good material for you to hear.

Q: Bud, you told me that you’ve written a new tune since your arrival at the hospital. Would you please tell me its name and give me an idea of how it goes?

A: I wrote In the Mood for a Classic. [Bud sings]

Q: Bud, for whom did you compose this piece?

A: I composed it for France in general.

Q: Who are your favorite players?

Monday, July 27, 2015

John McLaughlin Trio in Hamburg

Recently digitized from my VHS archives, this footage captures the John McLaughlin Trio in Hamburg, Germany in 1990. Typical of a McLaughlin concert, there is lots of interplay going on between McLaughlin on acoustic guitar with Kai Eckhardt on electric bass and Trilok Gurtu on percussion.

Apologies in advance for the abrupt ending of the footage which leaves the last song incomplete. The tape has run out.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Cab Calloway's Hi-De-Ho (1934)

USA, 1934 Regia: Fred Waller

Scen.: Milton Hockey, Fred Rath. F.: William O. Steiner. Int.: Cab Calloway, Edwin Swayzee, Lammar Wright, Doc Cheatham, Al Morgan, Leroy Maxey, Harry White, Eddie Barefield, Andrew Brown, Arville Harris.  Prod.: Paramount Pictures

Cab Calloway in Cotton Club
Cab Calloway is deep in sleep on a night train from Chicago when a telegram arrives from Irving Mills, asking him to change the opening number of the next day’s performance at New York’s Cotton Club. The leader wakes up the band and a jam session in pyjamas kicks off, with the band members recreating the sound of a train in motion. Upon arriving in New York, Calloway recommends to the coach attendant that he buy a radio, to keep his wife “entertained” while he is at work. When the attendant acquires the radio which promises to “bring the leading radio artists into your home”, to his dismay it literally brings a seducing Cab Calloway into his home, but only when he is away and she feels lonesome! 

Subversive and erotic, this early jazz short is head and shoulders above many 1930s musical shorts in the way the storyline is developed and how it incorporates hit songs, such as the drug-charged ‘Minnie the Moocher’. A commentary on the medium of radio and the Cotton Club broadcasts, which exposed many Americans to live jazz, the film moves from reality to fantasy, with jazz making the leap smooth and fun. (Ehsan Khoshbakht)

Monday, July 13, 2015

Jammin' the Blues (1944)

© Ehsan Khoshbakht (text/story), Naiel Ibarrola (art)

USA, 1944 Regia: Gjon Mili
F.: Robert Burks. M.: Everett Dodd. Scgf.: Roland Hill. Int.: Lester Young, Red Callender, Harry Edison, Marlowe Morris, Sid Catlett, Barney Kessel, Jo Jones, John Simmons, Illinois Jacquet. Prod.: Warner Bros.

Like Forough Farrokhzad and Jean Genet, the Albanian born Djon Mili belongs to a small group of artists, each of whom has directed a single film which has had a lasting impact on cinema history. Better known as a Life photographer, Mili freed jazz film from many restricting elements, elevating the music from a side attraction to having its own captivating aesthetic. Recreating the atmosphere of an after-hours jam session, the musicians were handpicked by jazz impresario Norman Granz and the shooting (with Robert Burks in his first DoP job) wrapped after four sessions. The film was released in December 1944, billed alongside Passage to Marseille, and was nominated for an Oscar. Drawing on Mili’s photographic studies of bodies in motion, each composition radiates energy. When each performer takes his or her solo, the camera treats it as the centre of a spatial arrangement before cutting away in all directions, breaking that space into smaller parts, each lending a unique feeling to the music. (Ehsan Khoshbakht)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Jazz e altre visioni: Jazz Films by Gianni Amico

One of my latest discoveries in the world of European jazz films comes from Italy. The films in question are two shorts directed by a largely unknown Gianni Amico whose early death (1933-90) and the fact that many of his films were made for Italian TV has added to an unjust obscurity.

However, his name might have a special resonance for those who have seen the chapter of Jean-Luc Godard's Histoire(s) du cinéma dedicated to Amico. Why when Godard aspires to praise Italian cinema in his film history project he chooses Amico as a symbol of that cinema and certain tendencies in it? The answer could be in one of Amico's films, released on DVD by Cineteca di Bologna.

Histoire(s) du cinéma

Cineteca di Bologna has put together a collection of three of his films, two of which (Noi insistiamo! Suite per la libertà subito and Appunti per un film sul jazz) about jazz, and the other one, Il cinema della realtà, mostly about cinema, featuring interviews with masters of Italian modern cinema such as Rossellini, Antonioni, and Pasolini.

Johnny Griffin in Appunti per un film sul jazz
Biographical information and first hand observations about Amico, his cinema and his politics can be found on a 40-minute long documentary featured on the disc, in which, among others, Bernardo Bertolucci, whose Prima della rivoluzione (1964) was co-written by Amico, reminisces about his late friend and collaborator. A combination of personal passion and political commitment connected Amico to the avant-garde jazz of the 1960s out of which at least two films were produced.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Listening to Duke Ellington - The Conny Plank Session, '70

Duke Ellington in Berlin's Tempelhof, Feb 15, 1963.

The Duke and the Dom

Death is not the end. If one doesn't agree with such statement from a theological point of view, it's impossible to reject it from a jazzological one. The evidence to the argument is a wealth of material discovered and released years after the passing of jazz musicians, anything from first class unissued studio recordings (which is the subject of this post) to poorly recorded airchecks whose sound of hiss is sometimes stronger than the lead saxophone. If posthumous releases are signs of life, then no other jazz musician has been more alive than Ellington whose death in 1974 was the beginning of a new musical life with many first-time issues hitting the market, mounting to hundreds of hours of good quality live and studio sessions.

One of these momentous and (almost) first-time issues, recorded in Germany in 1970, will be released on 10 July 2015 by Grönland Records, exactly 45 years after the fact.

Imagine the Duke standing next to the Dom, the celestial Cologne Cathedral, just two years after his second Sacred Concert and three years shy from the Third and the last, gazing at the dark, wounded stones, looking pensive. Then a young record engineer by the name of Conny Plank approaches him, invites him over to Rhenus studio, and play him some tracks. The mutual respect grows, Duke begins to like Conny's sound, and he records 6 tracks (2 compositions x 3 takes each) at the young man's studio.

The young engineer was on his way to international fame when later he recorded Kraftwerk, NEU!, Cluster, Eurythmics, Ultravox. (If you forgive my ignorance, none of these groups I've heard before. Browsing them on the YouTube wasn't a terribly rewarding experience. Sometimes I feel It wasn't entirely bad for me that western music was banned when and where I was growing up. Instead, I spent the first two decades of my life listening over and over to a few tapes of Lester Young, Oscar Peterson, Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong.)

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Harold Land's Invitation

Harold Land: various liner note transcriptions and an exclusive video

"The evolution of Harold Land as a jazzmaker has brought to focus certain facts about this perennial master of the tenor saxophone. Aside from his unique inflections, personalized expressions, there is his engaging capacity to bring out in a performance extremely rich and rewarding moments of creativity and innovations." -- Leroy Robinson

"A soft-spoken man whose personality rarely suggests the incandescence of his instrumental sound, Land was born December 18, 1928 in Houston, Texas. The family moved to San Diego when he was five; it was during his high school years there he became interested in music and in 1945 was presented with his first saxophone. His early influences were the big, warm tones of Coleman Hawkins and Lucky Thompson; later Charlie Parker's new concepts helped determine his direction. He was just out of high school when a bass player named Ralph Houston helped him join the Musicians' Union. After working in Houston's band, he spent a long while soaking up experience at the Creole Palace where a small combo, usually five or six pieces, was led by Froebel Brigham, a trumpeter. "During both these jobs my closest friend and musical colleague was the drummer, Leon Petties," Harold remembers. "We played the floor show and jazz sets too. Sometimes men like Hampton Hawes, Teddy Edwards and Sonny Criss came down from Los Angeles and worked with us—this provided a great stimulus." Later, Land and Petties went on the road for about a year, first with a group led by guitarist Jimmy Liggins, and then in the band of his celebrated brother, Joe 'Honeydripper' Liggins. Harold recalls this rhythm-and-blues experience as valuable in rounding out his musical education. After putting in additional time back at the Creole Palace, Harold decided in 1954 to try his luck in Los Angeles. For several months there were various odd jobs, none very rewarding. The turning point came one night when Clifford Brown took his combo-leading partner, Max Roach, to hear Harold play in a session at Eric Dolphy's house. "Eric had known me since the San Diego days, and after I moved to L.A. we became good friends," Harold says. "He was beautiful. Eric loved to play anywhere, any hour, of the day or night. So did I. In fact, I still do." The unofficial audition led to Harold's being hired by Brown and Roach. As jazz night club audiences around the country were exposed to the freshness and vitality of Land's playing, he seemed to be well on his way; but in 1956 he had to leave the quintet and return to Los Angeles because of illness in the family. If, during the balance of the 1950s, he had continued to tour with name groups, there is little doubt that his reputation would have been established sooner and much more firmly on an international level." -- Leonard Feather

Monday, June 1, 2015

Cinema at 33 1/3 RPM

Ten jazz takes on film music that prove the interconnectedness of the two art forms.
Read/listen here.

Jazz music has long expressed its capacity to borrow from various, sometimes contradictory sources in order to create something which in every sense transcends the original elements. Since the earliest days of jazz as a musical form, it has been inspired by military and funeral marches; has stylishly interpreted popular songs; and even brought the classical intricacies of Wagner into the domain of swinging brasses and reeds. This multiculturalism and eclecticism of jazz likens it to cinema which, in turn, has transformed pop culture motifs into something close to the sublime and mixed ‘high’ and ‘low’ artistic gestures to remarkable effect.

In the history of jazz, the evolution from ragtime or traditional tunes, to discovering the treasure trove of Broadway songs was fast and smooth. The latter influence was shared by cinema, as the history of film production quickly marched on. The emergence of ‘talkies’ in the United States meant rediscovering Broadway, its stars and directors and above all its musicals and their songs. In the 1930s, jazz became the incontestable rival of cinema in extracting tunes from the American theatre and transforming them into immortal standards. Both arts, film and jazz, used popular songs as a structuring framework, around which band leaders, musicians, directors and choreographers could develop more sophisticated and daring ideas.

Just as the emergence of television began to make itself felt at picture houses across the States, where declining attendance figures reflected a shift in the culture, jazz experienced a similar deadlock which contributed to the decline of the big bands. The effects of the war for returning Americans, and the new possibilities for enjoying entertainment in the home gave rise to very different strategies of survival: The film studios began to produce more sumptuous, glossy and costlier motion pictures to overshadow television, while jazz bands were downsized, becoming more intimate – or “indie”, if you like. Instead of big bands, modest outfits of three to six musicians was jazz’s answer to the times. In this respect, one might find the origins of John Cassavetes and 1960s independent cinema not only in Hollywood, but in Coleman Hawkins Quartet.

Cinema, for a very short time, managed to beat the odds with the help of Cinemascope, stereophonic sound, majestic scores and other gimmicks which expanded the affective potential of the big screen. After the invention and popularity of 331/3 rpm discs, releasing film music on LPs became a good source of income too. This market blossomed in the 1960s; in some cases, it was not only music but dialogue from the films that were presented on record (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Romeo and Juliette). Jazz labels took note, and saw no reason to deprive themselves of such guaranteed success. Soon the themes from films were added to an expanding repertoire. Bringing film music to jazz wasn’t only a trend in keeping with the change in the public’s taste, but also a challenge for the musicians’ creativity in harmonic innovations and free improvisation – the way it had started two decades before, with Broadway songs.

The ten jazz takes on film music that I have selected here, rather than being a case of one art form riding the coattails of the other, prove the interconnectedness of the two and a motivating force that they both passionately share: creating images.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

RIP Peter Schmidlin (1947-2015)

Image courtesy of Dragan Tasic
Swiss jazz drummer Peter Schmidlin, who had played and recorded with Dexter Gordon, Lee Konitz, Dizzy Reece, Slide Hampton, and Don Byas, passed away last Monday, May 25, 2015. He was 68.

Known for his adaptability, perfect sense of timing, and a tasteful touch of swing, Schmidlin was one of the finest European drummers, as well as a producer responsible for issuing on record some of the best American jazz in Switzerland. It's a shame, though not entirely unpredictable, that his death remained unnoticed outside his homeland country.

"Peter Schmidlin was very popular with the US jazz musicians as a swinging drummer," writes Urs Blindenbacher in his obituary of this legend of Swiss Jazz. Blindenbacher also praises Schmildin for his role in connecting the separated worlds of French speaking Swiss jazz with that of the German speaking one.

Peter Schmidlin was born in 1947 in Riehen. He picked up the instrument at 14 and taught himself playing and mastering it. Only two years later, he was named as the best drummer at the Zürich Jazz Festival.

Young Peter with Buck Clayton and Sir Charles Thompson at Casa Bar Zürich
His professional career took off in 1965 and soon he found himself accompanying visiting American musicians, as well as jazz expats and exiles residing in western and northern Europe, a task which continued to the last months of his life.

In later years, he was a permanent member of three major jazz trios, respectively led by Tele Montoliu, Horace Parlan, and Jimmy Woode.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

McCoy Tyner Big Band

McCoy Tyner Big Band
JazzFest Berlin, Philharmonie
November 3, 1990  

Fly With the Wind (M. Tyner)

Trumpets: Virgil Jones, Kamau Adilifu, Earl Gardner; French Horn: John Clark; Trombones: Frank Lacy, Clark Gayton; Tuba: Howard Johnson; Saxes/Flute: Joe Ford, Doug Harris; Tenor Sax: John Stubblefield; Piano: McCoy Tyner; Bass: Avery Sharpe; Drums: Aaron Scott.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Portrait Of Coleman Hawkins

During the formative years of jazz, when various attempts to infuse classical music and jazz fell through, the idea seemed abandoned for a while, until the string recordings became fashionable. Out of that, but more importantly thanks to serious studies in jazz, a new interest in such fusion revived in the 1960s, particularly when the Orchestra U.S.A. came to existence.

Formed by John Lewis, Gunther Schuller, and Harold Farberman, this classical jazz orchestra recorded a handful of albums in the first half of the 1960s, all pointing out possibilities of jazz for going Third Stream. One of the most curious of these recordings, Jazz Journey (Columbia), features, on its opening track, an extended piece of narrative music, a format often used in the history of jazz by composers from Duke Ellington to George Russell without necessarily meeting satisfactory results. This time, it works well.

Spoken by Skitch Henderson and written by Nat Hentoff , A Journey Into Jazz is a charming fable, "based on real events", something on which Wes Anderson could have made a fabulous film. (Speaking of films, this piece makes a great alternative to misrepresenting of jazz in Whiplash.)

The story of the piece is about a boy, Edward Jackson, who learns about jazz by discovering a bunch of musicians in a cellar next door, led by a mystified tenorman.

Friday, May 15, 2015

B.B. King (1925-2015)

"B. B. King, whose world-weary voice and wailing guitar lifted him from the cotton fields of Mississippi to a global stage and the apex of American blues, died Thursday in Las Vegas," wrote The New York Time, "He was 89."

The notes below, which seem like an appropriate way to remember the blues man, are written by Stanley Dance in 1967:

"The King of the Blues! That's what they call Riley B. King, otherwise known as the Boy from Beale Street, the Beale Street Blues Boy, Blues Boy King and B.B. King, a man "born on a plantation right out from Indianola, not too far from Itta Bena, in Mississippi."

Those who call him the King of the Blues are not really much interested in a pretty play on words. They know their man, and they believe that of all the blues singers he is the one entitled to wear the crown. To get a better idea of why they think this way, he should be seen in action at a theatre like the Apollo in Harlem, preferably on a bill with other great blues artists. Usually, B.B. King closes the show, and as the others come on one by one, exerting their spells by voice, guitar or harmonica, it is hard not to wonder how he will ever top them.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Duke Ellington & Orson Welles

Cab Calloway on the right, 1944.
The David Frost Show, circa June 1970.
The opening of The Blessed and the Damned at the Theatre Edouard VII in Paris. June 20, 1950.

Orson (composed by Billy Strayhorn-Duke Ellington)
Duke Ellington and His Orchestra
LA, April 7, 1953

Duke Ellington (p); Clark Terry, Willie Cook, Cat Anderson, Ray Nance (t); Quentin Jackson, Britt Woodman, Juan Tizol (tb); Russell Procope (as, cli); Rick Henderson (as); Paul Gonsalves (ts); Jimmy Hamilton (cl, ts); Harry Carney (bs); Wendell Marshall (b); Butch Ballard (d).

Further reading at the Place, Man.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Image of the Day: Chasin' the Bird

Charlie Parker unpacking his alto saxophone in Royal Roost, New York City. Probably March, 1949.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Duke Ellington TV

Happy Birthday Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Duke Ellington's Unreleased German Recording

According to JazzTimes, Grönland Records in Germany will release a previously unissued Duke Ellington session on July 10.

Produced in 1970 by Conny Plank who is mostly known for his work with Kraftwerk and Eurythmics, the session has been recorded at Rhenus Studio in Cologne from which you can listen to a take, Afrique, here:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Art of Bob Crozier

If one looks carefully at the iconic LP artworks of the ABC Paramount's 1950s jazz series (as well as some of its non-jazz releases from the same period) two names sharing the credits continue to appear on every single cover. These two, who have created some of the most sophisticated, handsomely designed jazz cover arts in history of this music, are Alan Fontaine and Bob Crozier.

Whereas Alan Fontaine was in charge of photographing the musicians for ABC Paramount, Bob Crozier was the graphic artist and responsible for the final product. Fontaine, who also worked for the Esquire and photographed many Hollywood stars (among them Myrna Loy and Joan Crawford), could deliver a straightforward work, capturing all musicians, regardless of their style, in the same kind of docile, smiling pose. He wasn't a William Claxton or a Herman Leonard but he was good enough and more importantly, his work was jazz the beginning of the design process and not the end.

However, what really transformed the ABC Paramount cover designs was the work of Bob Crozier whose innovative, fresh, and intelligent ways of combining graphic art with photography gave a very distinctive look to the label's releases between 1955 and 1957.

Crozier joined the label as graphic artist shortly after ABC Paramount started operating in New York City. The label was releasing a catalogue as diverse as pop to jazz and children music to WWII songs. And what really gave a unified look to these diverse musical genres was their design.

Among stylistic motives in Crozier's artworks are his unique handwritten typefaces, and also a bold use of vivid colors against a backdrop of bright or white surfaces. He was isolating (photographed) figure from the background and by adding abstract elements to the composition, his design was actually complementing the existing photograph.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Pete Townshend on Wes Montgomery

The Montgomery Brothers
"In 1962, in my second year of Art College in London, I remember giving my saxophonist father some earphones to listen to the first stereo record I'd ever purchased. It was by Wes Montgomery. It was a strange feeling, sitting in the bedroom I'd shared with my little brother for six years, watching my father being transported by a decent (though lashed-together) Hi-Fi sound for the first time. It made me feel as though my father was junior to me rather than senior; I felt I was giving him something that, as we were both musicians, he should have given to me.

He listened to one whole side of the record, and took off the earphones. "What do you think?" I asked. "It's
good isn't it?" He nodded. "This guitar player is wonderful," he said first. "I knew of him, of course, but his playing here is superb." He handed me back the earphones. "It's intriguing," he added. "You can hear how the players' timing drifts apart, you are almost in the band. It's like being in the middle of the band, in fact." My father had spent his life in the middle of many bands big and small, so he knew what he was talking about.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

3 Duke Ellington Films Restored

A Bundle of Blues (1933) [all images courtesy of Cohen Film Collection]
Duke Ellington was one of the Silver Screen's favorite personalities since the sound was introduced to cinema. The Duke's life on celluloid started with 1929 Black and Tan Fantasy and continued until the last days of his life. Among a wealth of visual material left behind after Duke's passing, the early films, for their presentation of best musicians in their glory days, are most precious, but also because of their age, less satisfactory in terms of sound and image quality.

In that regard, probably the best gift one could give to the members of Ellingtonia all around the world is the restoration and re-release of three Duke Ellington films, undertaken by Cohen Film Collection in the US whose new prints look like a Rembrandt picture being cleaned and removed from elements of dust and dirt by National Gallery. Now, you can see Black and Tan Fantasy, Symphony in Black and Bundle of Blues in very good to excellent qualities.

The digital restoration of the films was carried out by Cohen Film Collection at Modern Videofilm in Los Angeles, California. Originally produced by Paramount Pictures, U.M.&M. TV Corporation acquired the rights in 1954-55 along with approximately 1,600 other shorts from Paramount catalogue. The company removed the Paramount logo card from the original 35mm nitrate negatives and replaced them with the U.M.&M. TV title card. The original opening title card is not known to exist. [pic below]

Friday, March 20, 2015

Gjon Mili: When Jazz, Film and Photography Meet

Gjon Mili [pic above] is the photographer/filmmaker whose single cinematic achievement, Jammin' the Blues, changed the history of jazz on film. By bringing authenticity and artistic vision to capturing a performance on film, Mili was probably the first filmmaker who ever thought of transposing jazz, as an art form, into cinema.

Commissioned by Warner Bros. in 1944, Mili who was left free to choose the subject of his first short, turned to Norman Granz and asked him to put together a group of jazz musicians for a film which was meant to reconstruct the feeling of jazz after hours.

Granz not only invited some of his JATP stars, but also included some of the older, non-JATP musicians such as Sid Catlett (the original plan was to have Louis Armstrong on-board). The shooting was wrapped up in four sessions and the film reached the screens in December 1944 to critical acclaim. It was even nominated for an Oscar but lost it to Who's Who in Animal Land!

the last shot of Jammin' the Blues

70 years onwards, the UCLA film archive has restored the film and it's going to be screened as a part of the programme curated by me and Jonathan Rosenbaum for Il Cinema Ritrovato film festival in Bologna.

Anyone who has seen this true gem of jazz cinema and is familiar with Mili's groundbreaking photography for Life, will immediately detect a concept practiced by Mili to perceive the filming opportunity as an extension of photographic work, studying bodies and gestures and exploring the relation between musicians and space around them -- the study of the physical energy of a performance.

The photographs that I've collected here, all taken by Mili, serve as an evidence to that argument and also demonstrate some of the most dense, telling compositions ever created in jazz photography.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Cecil Payne-Ron Carter Quintet, 1998

The Cecil Payne-Ron Carter Quintet 

Eric Alexander (ts), Cecil Payne (bars), Stephen Scott (p), Ron Carter (b), Lewis Nash (d).
Jazzfestival Bern, Switzerland, May 8, 1998 

BWi (Payne)
Flyin' Fish (Payne)
Lover Man (Davis-Ramirez-Sherman)
Slide's Blues (Slide Hampton)
Cit Sac (Payne)

Monday, March 9, 2015

RIP Lew Soloff (BS&T Plays Maiden Voyage)

Lew Soloff [source]

Lew Soloff (1944-2015)

The son of a nightclub owner, Soloff was exposed to live music since early age. Later, he enrolled in Julliard and in 1968 joined one of the most exciting jazz-rock "fusion" bands of the era, Blood, Sweat & Tears. Soloff recorded and toured with BS&T for five years, before returning to jazz idiom to record (a few albums) under his name (including a wonderful Trumpet Legacy) and appear in numerous live and studio sessions with anyone from Carla Bley to Ornette Coleman. He was also a wine connoisseur.

Lew Soloff passed away in the early morning hours of Sunday, March 8, 2015 in New York City.

The recording below, Maiden Voyage (Herbie Hancock), is from a BS&T concert in Vienna's Konserthauson on July 14, 1972, featuring:

Lew Soloff - trumpet; Chuck Winfield - trumpet; Dave Bargeron - trombone & tuba; Lou Marini - woodwinds; Larry Willis - keyboards; Georg Wadenius - guitar; Steve Katz - guitar; Jim Fielder - bass; Bobby Colomby - drums.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Jazz Goes to the Movies... in Bologna

Brubeck and Mingus in the English jazz-noir Othello, All Night Long

I'm glad to announce that 'jazz on film' is returning to the screen, or rather jazz is going to the movies, in Bolgona, Italy.

Me and my Chicago-based friend Jonathan Rosenbaum have curated a mini retrospective of jazz films, “Jazz Goes to the Movies,” at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna (June 27–July 4, 2015).

A lively 'jam session' between reality and fiction, this programme explores 'the jazz life' in cinema, both for its participants and for its audience, in both documentaries and fiction films. Along with major documentaries such as Jammin' the Blues (restored) and Jazz on a Summer's Day, the programme features fiction films in which famous jazz musicians play themselves (Charles Mingus and Dave Brubeck in All Night Long) and in which listening to jazz plays a significant role (Howard Hawks' Ball of Fire and Charles Burnett's When it Rains). We'll present new restorations of early sound jazz films (Dudley Murphy's Black and Tan Fantasy), as well as rarely screened Soundies (short musical films from the 40's).

Update [March 11, 2015]:

Some of the confirmed titles in the programme are

Cab Calloway's Hi-De-Ho (Fred Waller, 1934) RESTORED
Tillie (William Forest Crouch, 1945)
Ball of Fire (Howard Hawks, 1941)
Black & Tan Fantasy (Dudley Murphy, 1929) RESTORED
I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good (Josef Berne, 1942)
Jammin' the Blues (Gjon Mili, 1944) RESTORED
All Night Long (Basil Dearden, 1961)
Jazz on a Summer’s Day (Bert Stern, 1959) 
Begone Dull Care (Norman McLaren, 1949)
Big Ben: Ben Webster in Europe (Johan van der Keuken, 1967)

Yet, there are more jazz-related films programmed for the new edition of Il Cinema Ritrovato such as the world restoration premiere of Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (Louis Malle, 1958, featuring Miles Davis' legendary soundtrack) and films by Gianni Amico.

In addition to that, there will be a panel on jazz and film run by me and Jonathan for which we've planned to screen some rare 16mm jazz films, including more Soundies.

More information about this year's programme, here. Fo general information about the festival go here.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

In Memoriam: Clark Terry (1920-2015)

"The only way I knew how to keep going was to keep going", said Clark Terry (aka Mr. CT) about his career, one of the most illustrious ones in history of jazz and also one of the most inspiring ones which outlived major changes and trends in this music, in spite of numerous health issues. Since the 1940s, nothing but death itself could stop Terry from creating one of the most distinctive trumpet (and later flugelhorn) sounds in jazz, composing, and teaching.

Clark Terry died yesterday, February 21. He was 95. Anyone who has seen the emotional, beautifully narrated documentary Keep on Keepin' on about Clark's last years and his friendship with a young, emerging pianist, will confirm that he kept keepin' on until the very end, even after losing his eyesight and the amputation of both legs due to diabetes.

Throughout the short life of this blog (at least comparing to nearly eight decades in Clark Terry's career), I have published notes, information and music about and from this wonderful musician.

Today, as a tribute to Clark Terry, I put together a list of these various posts, which can make a day of CT's music, videos and interviews for anyone interested in pure, straight ahead jazz played by a witty genius.

I can't stop imagining that the death has had a difficult time understanding Mr. CT's mumbles. Probably that's why, in spite of grave illness, it took him so long to give up. He jived the death out.



Thursday, February 19, 2015

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Timeless All Stars at the Subway (Köln, 1986)

Köln [photo © Ehsan Khoshbakht]
The Timeless All Stars
The Subway jazz club, Cologne (Köln), 1986

Cedar's' Blues

Curtis Fuller (trombone) Harold Land (tenor saxophone) Bobby Hutcherson (vibraphone) Cedar Walton (piano) Buster Williams (bass) Billy Higgins (drums)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Charles Mingus' Epitaph - Live in Berlin

poster of the 1991 Berlin Jazz Festival
This is a long excerpt (25 mins) from the Charles Mingus Epitaph concert in Berlin, as conducted by Gunther Schuller.

The concert was held during the Berlin Jazz Festival in October 1991, nearly two years after Epitaph's New York premiere.

I found this invaluable footage, an off-air recording, on one of my old VHS tapes. Alas, the first piece on this video, Better Git In Your Soul (which is obviously not the first piece from the actual concert) is incomplete and starts from the middle. Like Mr. Schuller, I'm beginning to believe this ambitious piece of orchestral jazz is jinxed:

"There were many times in the many-months-long preparation for the issuance of Epitaph when I felt that what many of us consider a jinx under which this great work has stood—the first expression of which was the disastrous attempt to record Epitaph in I962—was continuing to exercise its evil curse. Recording equipment breaking down, gremlins in computerized mixing consoles, tapes being inadvertently locked up in temporarily inaccessible offices, unavailability of mixing and editing studies when needed, enormous scheduling conflicts, and so on." 
I hope someone comes up with the complete video of Berlin concert. Until then, enjoy this great 25 minutes of Mingus' music. 
Gunther Schuller

Listening to Andrea Marcelli Trio

It's almost miraculous that the combination of a classic jazz trio (piano, bass, drums) and the American songbook can sustain its freshness and elements if surprise after decades of being practiced and rethought.

Maybe like that old standard, Say It Over And Over Again, the beauty of the classic trio reveals and definitely perfects itself in repetition and recurrence.

Whatever the case, if one adds to that magical combination a Roman sensitivity, which is evident through the musical career of Andrea Marcelli, then the result would be something like Sundance, a 9 year old record by Andrea Marcelli Trio which I discovered recently.

A Berlin-based group, the Trio features the leader on drums, Danish Thomas Clausen on piano and an Italian Davide Petrocca on bass.

The recording in question, is celebrating both the old and the new: there are standards (by Gillespie, Porter, Ellington), as well as originals by Andrea Marcelli and his contemporary Italian composers.

The reissue of the album in 2012 presents two bonus tracks, one of which, O Cessate di Piagarmi, can be heard here and I hope it gives a taste of the intensity and beauty of the group:

Friday, January 23, 2015

Peanuts Hucko: Tribute to Louis and Benny

Peanuts Hucko at Famous Door (New York, circa 1946-48. Photo by William Gottlieb.)

Peanuts Hucko was busy playing various Armstrong and Goodman pieces from the mid-80s onwards, as documented on a CD called Tribute to Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman, a title previously used for a Stuttgard-based TV show, ZDF Jazz Club.

This performance from the aforementioned show features Peanuts Hucko on clarinet, Johnny Varro on piano, Colin Green on bass, and Jake Hanna on drums. It was filmed on May 15, 1987.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Modern Jazz Quartet & Kammerorchester Arcata

Thanks to my good friend Neil who kindly accepted to digitize some rusty VHS tapes from my collection, there is a good supply of jazz videos for 2015, most of them never released before (except their original airing on German TV) and not even available online.

However, the one I'm about to play here, of a Modern Jazz Quartet concert in Germany, seems to be released on DVD by at least two different companies: TDK's jazz series and Arthaus Musik in Deutschland.

This concert, from (possibly) July, 1992, was held as a part of Jazzgipfel festival in Stuttgart. What makes this particular date different from other MJQ's 40th anniversary concerts is a) the absence of Connie Kay due to the ailment which led to Mickey Roker's involvement in the band. (Although the TV broadcaster of this show erroneously credits the drummer as Kay.) b) a chamber orchestra, Kammerorchester Arcata, backing the quartet with reasonably satisfactory results.