Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Jammin' in Helsinki: A Retrospective of Jazz on Film

To the Finnish readers of this blog (if any): Throughout February 2018, my small selection of jazz films will be played at the Orion Cinema in Helsinki as a part of Black History Month in Finland.

The selection includes the 35mm prints of classics such as Black and Tan Fantasy (Duke Ellington's first appearance on film) to more recent documentaries, such as the witty and touching Keep On Keepin' On, featuring Clark Terry, and the new must-see Lee Morgan film, I Called Him Morgan. The Finnish TV archive has been dug up for some rarely screened performance films with Bill Evans, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan.

If you wish to continue reading in Finnish, go here.

Jammin' in Helsinki would be played in eight sessions:

Mili (right) behind the scene of Jammin' the Blues

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Bobby Hackett With Vic Dickenson: Live at the Roosevelt Grill

If I have to pick one trombone player whose playing embodies both the tradition and a rare timelessness that would be Victor Dickenson (1906-84).

Celebrating that artful master of melancholic humour, here is a tape worth listening to from the David W. Niven collection. Recorded live in 1970, Bobby Hackett Quintet, featuring Vic Dickenson, plays one of its regular nights at the Roosevelt Grill, located inside The Roosevelt Hotel in New York City.

The place was opened in 1924 and later became synonymous with Guy Lombardo whose orchestra performed there for nearly three decades. It was only a year before Roosevelt Grill was used as one of the locations for the copper movie The French Connection that jazz critic Whitney Balliett caught up with Hackett and Dickenson one late evening:

"My head full of cute muted trumpets and toy-soldier rhythms [of Sy Oliver band], I went over to the Roosevelt Grill for the final moments of Bobby Hackett's quintet, which will soon be dissolved when Dickenson replaces Kai Winding in the World's Greatest Jazz Band and the rare Benny Morton replaces Dickenson in Hackett's group. Hackett and Dickenson together are Jack Sprats of jazz. Hackett is cool, golden and mathematical, and Dickenson is hot, shaggy, and funny, and between them they encompass most of what is worth knowing about jazz."

Friday, September 1, 2017

John McLaughlin Trio in Stuttgart, 1992, Part II

John McLaughlin Trio | Live at Jazzgipfel, Stuttgart, Germany | July 3, 1992

John McLaughlin (acoustic guitar) | Dominique Di Piazza (electric bass) | Trilok Gurtu (percussion)

Reincarnation (McLaughlin)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Benny Goodman Picks the 60 Greatest Jazz Records of All Time

We always look for ways to expand our jazz library, including open our ears to recommendations, especially when it comes to obscurities, rarities, and discoveries. Listing is one of the most popular games played towards that aim which is never entirely devoid of edifying values.

This list of the 60 Greatest Jazz Records of All Time is hardly an addition to any library, as by now, most of them are standard components of any serious jazz collection. However, it is so rare that a musician like Benny Goodman comes forward and shares his list of must-have albums with you.

"Unfortunately, the triumph of jazz in the U.S. as a whole is a little incomplete," Goodman bemoans in the introduction to the list, "the American people - especially the teenage population which has been weaned on rock 'n' toll - are losing sight of that very jazz heritage."

Compiled for Los Angeles Times (November 12, 1961), Goodman commits to enlighten the reader who is not quite sure where to start: "Over the years many of these people have asked me to draw up a list of 'the greatest jazz albums ever made.' I believe there is now a crying need for such a guideline."

In fact, the list was a sequel to an LA Times article by Leopold Stokowski, selecting his dream library of classical recordings.

Goodman lists has its own surprises and unexpected picks. Categorised according formats and instruments, he doesn't bother to allocate any space to bass players. Saxophonists are present, but there is no mention of John Coltrane. However, at the end of the list, under the amusing title of "Far Out", suddenly Ornette Coleman appears (Goodman's most surprising moment here) and even a Thelonious Monk who, by 1961, was a established figure and in the light of latest developments in jazz could have been seen as a traditionalist rather than a Far Out musician. More surprisingly, Goodman opts for a big band recording of Monk's instead of his trio or quartet works.

Going through the history of jazz, Goodman gives little criteria over his selection except consciously omitting big dance bands (Glen Miller, Dorsey Bros., Harry James, Les Brown, Claude Thornhill) as in his mind, they are already known by public. While many great instrumentalists are missing in the list, Goodman claims that this list is derived from a need to acknowledge the individual soloists. Finally, the old master introduces no less than three of his own records (one under Charly Christian) and saves Fats Waller for the vocalists section.

One last message from Mr. Goodman before we go ahead with the list:

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Buck Clayton Quartet 1965

A concert commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the UN
Buck Clayton Quartet
Genève, Switzerland, 24/10/1965
Buck Clayton (trumpet),  Henri Chaix (piano), Isla Eckinger (bass), Pierre Bourru (drums).
Duration 22:35

Set list:

  1. 'S Wonderful
  2. I Can't Get Started
  3. Honeysuckle Rose
  4. Perdido

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Jazz as Visual Language [Book Review]

Reviewed for British film journal, Sight & Sound, March 2017 issue.

Film, Television and the Dissonant Image 
By Nicolas Pillai, I. B Tauris, 192pp, £64.00, ISBN 9781784533441
Reviewed by Ehsan Khoshbakht

Developing alongside cinema in the twentieth century, recorded jazz, like film, epitomised art in the age of mechanical reproduction. The two art forms complemented each other too. “Jazz was never just a music,” Nicolas Pillai claims in Jazz as Visual Language, “live performance promised spectacle.” In this regard, cinema helped us to better understand jazz; to see Thelonious Monk playing for instance, the gestures made with his elbows and feet, is a fundamental part of the jazz experience.

Jazz has seen its own period of auteur theory – Duke Ellington being its Orson Welles; Lester Young its Jean Renoir and bebop its nouvelle vague. Some recent studies, however, are shifting the emphasis away from such personalities. A camera might be considered as essential a performative element as a saxophonist.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Bob Mintzer Big Band in Berlin

Some truly great moments of solo expression against the backdrop of a big band can be heard on this superb concert video from Berlin, 1987. Arranged and conducted by tenor saxophonist Bob Mintzer, and loaded with excitement and wit, it is the perfect homage to the tradition of big bands in whose last days Mintzer, as an alumni of Thad Jones-Mel Lewis and Buddy Rich big bands, lived an active life.

One of the tenor saxophonists who emerged from the school of New York players in the 70's, Mintzer was not only the member of the Grammy award winning Yellowjackets, but also led his own BB, touring the world, of which this concert from November 1987 was filmed and broadcast.

A teacher and lecturer, and the writer of over 200 big band arrangements, Mintzer perfected his instrument in working with various musicians and bands, from Art Blakey to Gil Evans, and from Randy Brecker (also featured on this video) to The New York Philharmonic.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Thelonious Monk Quintet feat. Steve Lacy

Reportedly, Thelonious Monk never liked his compositions being recorded by other artists. However, there were exceptions and one was Steve Lacy's Reflections, the first all-Monk-composition album recorded by someone rather Mr. Monk himself. Recorded in 1958, it also featured with Mal Waldron, Buell Neidlinger and Elvin Jones.

Whether because of the release of that or Monk's personal liking for Lacy, Monk invited him to play along his quartet in 1960. Monk had already complimented Lacy in at least one occasion: during a gig at the UN building in New York City, Jimmy Giuffre Quartet featuring Steve Lacy played opposite Thelonious Monk where they performed two  Monk's compositions. The composer almost instantly hated it, however he had some nice words in his sleeve for Lacy and right after that UN gig he invited Lacy to play with him in the Jazz Gallery. Other gigs followed in 1960.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Horace Parlan (1931-2017)

"Horace Parlan is a tall, quiet-mannered man, essentially a gentle person with virtually irremovable easy smile," wrote Leonard Feather for the liner notes of the young pianist's solo album debut.

50 years on, even some of the recent videos of Parlan, who passed away last week, shows that the "irremovable easy smile" wasn't removed until the end.

The 29-year old pianist of whom Feather highly spoke was from the city of Mary Lou Williams and Erroll Garner, but also Ahmad Jamal with whom he shared the same music teacher.

The key incident of his early life occurred at the age of 5, when his right hand was paralyzed due to a polio attack. After that opting for becoming a pianist wouldn't have been the first obvious choice but he went in that direction both because he had fallen in love with jazz by listening to Woody Herman on the radio, but also playing piano was a form of therapy for his fingers.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Lutheriana: Martin Luther in Jazz

Photo © Falk Kulawik

If, like me, you didn't know that Martin Luther (1483-1546), the founder of Protestant Church, had a role in the advancement of western music, then the concert Lutheriana, held at the Church of Jesus Christ in Berlin, would have a revelation, not only for its historical and musical lessons, but because of learning it the most cheerful way: the jazz way.

On February 11, in a bitterly cold Berlin evening, I skipped a Berlinale screening at the Potsdamer Platz and instead headed off to the quiet neighborhood of Dahlem to catch a concert by my friend Ekkehard Wölk who has contributed to this blog since it was started.

Ekkehard Wölk (Photo by Ehsan Khoshbakht)

The occasion for the concert was the 500th anniversary of Reformation, when Luther, the rebellious monk from Thüringen in East Germany, nailed down his famous 95 Theses on the door of the Schloßkirche in the town of Wittenberg, condemning the oppressive practices of his times. That was not only the inception of, if I may borrow from John Coltrane, a "new thing", but also the beginning of many battles and bloodshed between the two major Europeans branches of Christianity. If these facts we all know, what we probably don't know about is Luther as the musician.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Jazz Film in Iran - A First Time Retrospective

The centenary of jazz is being celebrated in a place you would least expect: Iran. 

A mini retrospective of jazz films, currently playing at the Cinematheque of The Museum of Contemporary Art in Tehran, is the first time ever in post-revolutionary Iran.

The Museum famous for its priceless collection of modernist art (including works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Kandinsky, Pollack and many more) and also recently in the news due to cancellation of a major exhibition in Berlin, hosts a cozy, popular cinema inside its stylishly beautiful building. The cinematheque, shut down for 7 years, was reopened recently, with an array of nicely curated seasons.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Man of Words: Nat Hentoff (1925-2017)

Naiel Ibarrola's illustration for the back cover of the Persian edition of Jazz by Nat Hentoff and Albert J. McCarthy, a book that was never published.
It's almost impossible to explain why I should struggle with such a sense of loss. I'm sure those of you who have been following Nat Hentoff's ongoing, never-ceasing, never-compromising writing on jazz and politics share similar emotions as it often happens when one loses cultural figures of such towering stature. Yet, my personal debt to Nat Hentoff the intellectual and the archetypal jazz lover goes beyond his contributions to the culture.

Nat Hentoff On Benny Golson

Interesting is easy; beautiful is difficult
Nat Hentoff's liner notes for 
Benny Golson's New York Scene (1957)

With very few exceptions, the first recognition a superior jazz musician receives is from other players. Some time later, the critics begin to comprehend, and later still the public may. There has been talk about Benny Golson as a player and writer among musicians, for example, for several years. The late Clifford Brown, for one, in a conversation in early 1954, emphasized Golson’s capacities and predicted the eventual public realization of his value.

Nat Hentoff on Ahmad Jamal

Nat Hentoff Original Liner Notes: Ahmad Jamal's The Legendary Okeh & Epic Sessions,1951-55

A few years ago Miles Davis, Ahmad Jamal's most influential champion, reacted indignantly to my mumbled opinion that Ahmad Jamal was "mainly a cocktail pianist." Miles who had brought all the records Ahmad had made up to that time, began playing them, pointing out to this skeptical listener those elements of Jamal's playing that so intrigued him and that have since helped make Jamal a major force in the jazz record market and an increasingly powerful lure in personal appearances.

"Listen," Miles said then and later in an interview for The Jazz Review, "to the way Jamal uses space. He lets it go so that you can feel the rhythm section and the rhythm section can feel you. It's not crowded.

Jackie McLean: Gettin' Inside the Song!

Nat Hentoff Original Liner Notes: Jackie McLean's Action,1964

One of the consistently intriguing characteristics of Jackie Mclean's jazz is that while he continues to explore new directions, he is also clearly rooted in the fundamentals of modern jazz. Or, as he would put it, "I never want to go 'outside' for too long a time without coming back ' inside' again."

Portrait of the Artist (Bob Brookmeyer, 1959) | Liner notes by Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff Liner Notes for Bob Brookmeyer's Portrait of the Artist | Republished with permission

Robert Brookmeyer is tall, lean, sardonic, epigrammatic, and utterly serious about music, if not always about himself. He has become recognized as one of the most expressive trombonists in jazz history. It is his not only that he plays the valve trombone with remarkable facility, but rather it is his imagination, intensity and cutting wit that make him an authentic jazz individualist. Although he is very much his own man, Brookmeyer reminds me of the harmonic taste and venturesomeness of the late Brad Gowans, the shaggy dog narrative humor of Vic Dickenson, and the urgency of Jimmy Harrison. I do not mean that he has necessarily been directly influenced by these men, but I do mean that he has a largeness of spirit and musicianship that these three shared.

Shades of Redd (Freddie Redd, 1960) | Liner notes by Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff Liner Notes for Freddie Redd’s Shades of Redd (1960) | Republished with Permission

Since his emergence as com­poser of the score for Jack Gelber's harrowingly exact play, The Connection (Blue Note 4027), Freddie Redd has finally been gaining some of the recognition that has eluded him for much of his playing career. Freddie also plays the taciturn pianist in the play with convincing effect. Although he hopes to work again in the theatre, Freddie remains essen­tially a jazz player-writer, and this album underlines his growth as a composer of vigorously expressive jazz originals.

Hi-Fly (Jaki Byard, 1962) | Liner notes by Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff Liner Notes for Jaki Byard's Hi-Fly

While I was still in Boston in the early 1950s, the word spread among the more venturesome young jazzmen that a key source in town for new ideas in both improvising and composing was Jaki Byard. Gradually, Jaki's reputation began to spread through his playing and arranging for the Herb Pomeroy band; and more recently, as a result of a two-year stay with Maynard Ferguson. Jaki left Ferguson in October, 1961, and is now established in New York with his own combo. As a result of his first Prestige album, Here's Jaki, Jaki's originality and two-handed resourcefulness as a pianist are beginning to reach more and more listeners.

MyCoy Tyner's The Real McCoy | Liner notes by Nat Hentoff

Republished with permission.

And beyond that authority, which comes from thorough musicianship, is an incisive individuality of expression. As for Tyner, Coltrane's remark about the clearness of his ideas is so well taken that anyone - whether he knows one chord or one time signature from another - ought to have no problem following the way Tyner's solo here is inexorably built.

"After writing the melody of 'Search for Peace,'" Tyner says, "I chose this title because the song has a tranquil feeling. Tranquil and personal. It's very difficult to verbalize about music; the important thing is what the listener himself gets from the act of listening. But insofar as I can verbalize about this piece, it has to do with a man's submission to God, with the giving over of the self to the universe."