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."