Thu, 31 December 2009
Call it "amateur night" or a glamorous evening, New Year's Eve is a key date on everyone's social calendar. Once again I'll be spending the evening in with my wife Nancy and our dogs, Angus and Hamish, eating and drinking to excess and watching old movies.
A perennial favorite song for New Year's Eve, and the Offical SNC Song of the evening is Frank Loesser's classic, "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?". Written in 1947, when Loesser was already an accomplished songwriter, having co-written hits like "Two Sleepy People" and "Spring Will Be a Little Late this Year".
However, his greatest work was just before him - in 1948 he was asked to score "Where's Charley?" for Broadway, which ran for more than two years. Buoyed by this success, Loesser turned out hits like "Guys and Dolls", "The Most Happy Fella" and "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying". He won two Tony Awards and a Pulizter Prize for Drama for these works. In between, he won an Academy Award for the holiday standard, "Baby It's Cold Outside" from the film "Neptune's Daughter" (1949). Regrettably, Loesser died from cancer at the age of 59 in 1969.
This year's singer is Diana Krall, from her Christmas Songs CD. Enjoy!
Category:general -- posted at: 4:55am EST
Wed, 30 December 2009
All the merriment of the holiday season takes a breather here as we remember those wonderful musicians and jazz figures we lost this year, including:
Composer George Russell, Les Paul, the father of the electric guitar; noted singers Blossom Dearie (click here to listen to "Everything I've Got", a track from her eponymous debut album from 1957), Kenny Rankin and Chris Connor; Art D'Lugoff, owner of NYC's Village Gate club; Roy DeCarava, a photographer whose black and white images captured
Also, Rashied Ali (pictured above), a free-jazz drummer who backed John Coltrane and accompanied him in a duet album in the final months of the jazz master’s life; Charlie Mariano, who worked with jazz greats such as Stan Kenton, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie; veteran jazz bassist, award winning television comedy writer, producer and author, Gordon “Whitey” Mitchell, jazz and R&B saxophone legends David “Fathead” Newman and Hank Crawford, and Pia Beck, Dutch jazz pianist and singer.
Also, smooth jazz bassist and basketball star Wayman Tisdlae, Johnny Almond of the jazz/rock group Mark-Almond, bassist Jeff Clyne, pianist and arranger Dick Katz, musicians Sirone, Sonny Bradshaw, Leonard Gaskin, and Fats Sadi.
Also, guitarists Coleman Mellett (from Chuck Mangione’s band), Vic Lewis, and Lawrence Lucie; trumpeters Eddie Preston and Zeke Zarchy; producer, muscian, and singer Raymond Berthiaume, singers Kitty White and Tina Marsh, pianist Eddie Higins, saxophonist Jack Minitz, and musician, composer and investor Joe Maneri
Non-jazz figures we lost in 2009 that made an impact on me at one time or another included Walter Cronkite, Edward Kennedy, Michael Jackson, Beatrice Arthur, and especially, writer John Updike.
Category:general -- posted at: 2:49am EST
Tue, 29 December 2009
Last month celebrates the 40th anniversary of ECM Records, and I offered a number of postings featuring music from this iconic label, including a new CD by Jan Garbarek. For me, one artist represents ECM better than any other - Keith Jarrett.
Jarrett had learned his craft playing with Art Blakey and Charles Lloyd, before joining Miles Davis as one of two electric keyboard players in his band that recorded Jack Johnson and played at The Cellar Door concerts in December 1970.
When Jarrett left Miles, he rebelled against electric music, recording several significant albums of Impulse! Records with his "American Quartet" of Charlie Haden (bass), Paul Motian (drums) and Dewey Redman (saxophone). In 1975, he signed with ECM, where the bulk of his recordings have been released. He has chosen basically three different ways of recording at ECM. His "European Quartet" of Jan Garbarek (sax), Palle Danielsson (bass) and Jon Christensen (drums) served as his outlet for avant-garde music, while his solo records (most notably the sublime The Koln Concert) and his "Standards Trio" records are far more accessible.
It's not possible to document the importance of Jarrett's piano playing on today's Jazz musicians in one podcast. His style is impressionistic, yet he can take standards apart and re-arrange them in new and exciting ways. His solo performances are legendary and his improvisational concert recordings have become classics. I had the pleasure of seeing one of his imprivsational performances in 1980 at the University of Massachusetts, and I count it as one of my favorite concerts.
His lastest solo recordings comes in a 3 disc package entitled Paris/London: Testament. Liner notes to the album indicate that Jarrett was under the serious strain of a recent separation from his wife when the concerts were recorded in late December 2008. The results are two very different improvised recordings, both of very high quality.
The Paris concert is a languid, sometimes dissonant affair, allowing Jarrett the time and space to cover the length and breadth of the keyboard. His playing is as active as ever here - his left hand finds a groove he likes and stays with it for stretches at a time, while his right hand explores.
London is different. It's a more reflective, and at times bluesy. Click here to listen to the third section of the concert, and you'll know what I mean. It is followed by a fourth section that has a dizzying display of right hand, and a series of short sections that bring the crowd to their feet with their feeling and dexterity.
Category:general -- posted at: 2:44am EST
Mon, 28 December 2009
Looking outside, I can unequivocably state - Spring is NOT here.
But fifty years ago today, Bill Evans was hard at work at what would become Portrait in Jazz, one of his best efforts for Riverside records. I'm not sure if Bill had his tongue firmly in cheek, or whether he simply loved the song, but Rodgers & Hart's "Spring is Here" is one of the highlights of the album.
This is the Evans who was crucial in creating the sound of Kind of Blue earlier in the year, using space and rhythm fills to create a moody recording. His unique use of chords, topped with his tasteful solos, make this memorable. Bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian complete the trio. When Spring did arrive in 1960, the trio appeared in a series of memorable concerts at Birdland in New York.
It's interesting to note that the trio's version of "Blue in Green" was recorded that day as well. The song is credited on Portrait in Jazz to Evans and Miles Davis, although on Kind of Blue, Davis is listed as the sole author. The credit remained something of a bone of contention between the two men, with Davis claiming he wrote the song entirely by himself, and Evans claiming that it was only his work.
Category:general -- posted at: 4:20am EST
Fri, 25 December 2009
A Merry Christmas to you all. I am a practicing Jew who does not celebrate Christmas as the birth of the messiah. However, I can appreciate the universal themes of peace, love and understanding that are prevelant this time of year, and so the Offical Straight No Chaser song of Christmas Day is "Peace", written by Horace Silver, and sung by Norah Jones.
Considered one of the finest ballads of the hard bop era, "Peace" has a timeless message for us all, as the last few lines of the song show:
When you find peace of mind, leave your worries behind
And how appropriate that Silver first recorded this classic fifty years ago, on his Blowin the Blues Away album, one of the last to feature his classic quintet lineup of trumpeter Blue Mitchell, tenor saxophonist Junior Cook, bassist Gene Taylor, and drummer Louis Hayes.
A Merry Christmas to one and all.
Category:general -- posted at: 5:48am EST
Thu, 24 December 2009
It's December 24, which means that once again it's time to break out the Official Straight No Chaser Song of Christmas Eve. It's not really a song, actually, but Louis Armstrong reciting "Twas the Night Before Christmas", in his inimitable raspy voice.
Recorded on February 26, 1971 at his home in Queens, New York, this ended up being the final recording Armstrong made, before succumbing to a fatal heart attack on July 6th.
The poem, written by Clement Moore, is technically titled "An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas", was first published in the Troy Sentinel on December 23, 1823. A wonderful article by Peter Christoph tells that St. Nicholas was likely little known outside of the Dutch community when he published the work, setting into motion a cultural tradition still alive today. Further, I was surprised to learn it was Moore who first named the reindeer!
Here's hoping you'll be nestled all snug in your beds soon....
Category:general -- posted at: 4:49am EST
Tue, 22 December 2009
One of the nicest musical surprises of this holiday season is Alexis Cole's latest CD, The Greatest Gift. If you're looking for that last minute gift, stocking stuffer or digital download, this is the place to go for some heartfelt holiday jazz.
Born the child of two deaf parents, Alexis is a Jazzmobile competition winner as a vocalist, and was an award winner at the Montreux Jazz Voice Competition. She is currently the lead singer for the West Point Jazz Knights, the US Army's big band.
Rather than simply record traditional arrangments of her favorite Christmas music, Alexis has reinvented many of them with great results. Think of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman" as a blues number, or "Silent Night" as performed by Eric Dolphy. This is highly accompished music, and well worth the time to track it down.
One of the most refreshing aspects of the CD is Alexis' decision to wear her Christian beliefs are on her sleeve, and not, as the sloganeers say, take Christ out of Christmas. There is a decidedly religious bent to these songs, particularly "Jesus is the Best Part of Christmas". This is an antidote to commercialism if there ever was.
Alexis is using funds from the sales of the CD to support her favorite charity, World Bicycle Relief. The organization is dedicated to previding bicycles to individuals in developing countries around the world, to give access to transportation and promote independence, empowerment, and sustainability. Sounds like a good cause to me.
Category:general -- posted at: 12:09pm EST
Tue, 22 December 2009
Yes, it’s time for the annual Straight No Chaser Christmas podcast, featuring a stocking full of jazzy tunes for you to enjoy as the big day comes closer. No commentary, just a bit over an hour of tree-trimming, stocking stuffing, egg nog drinking, gift wrapping music, folks. Click here to listen to:
Alexis Cole - "Prelude/Christmas Time is Here"
Soul Strings – “Jingle Bells”
Chick Corea’s Electrik Band – “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”
Ramsey Lewis – “Here Comes Santa Claus”
John Coltrane – “Greensleeves”
Organissimo – “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”
Straight No Chaser – “Hark the Herald Angels”
Wynton Marsalis – “Let It Snow”
Dario Barrieras – “Silent Night”
Dave Koz - "The Little Drummer Boy/Carol of the Bells"
Harry Connick, Jr. - "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas"
Louis Armstrong - "Zat You, Santa Claus?"
Till Bronner - "Last Christmas"
Eric Reed - "Christmas Blues"
Shirley Horn "The Secret of Christmas"
Larry Carlton - "My Favorite Things/We Three Kings of Orient Are"
European Jazz Trio - "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"
Mon, 21 December 2009
Sonny Rollins is our greatest living tenor saxophone player, and at the age of 79, still going strong. It's only fitting that the Yule celebration include a classic track from one of Rollins' final RCA albums, "Winter Wonderland".
The Bridge, released in 1962, had re-established Rollins as an important performer after a three year hiatus. His favorite musical partners during this time were primarily guitarist Jim Hall, bassist Bob Cranshaw, drummer Michey Roker and pianist Herbie Hancock. The Standard Sonny Rollins, recorded in the summer of 1964 and released the next year, is composed of - well, standards. The Gershwins, Cole Porter, and Johnny Mercer are represented as is this Christmas classic, written by Felix Bernard and Dick Smith.
This is a spare and winning version of the song, never lapsing into cliche. As expected, Sonny plays the barest bones of the melody, improvising gracefully and fully over a subtle piano by Hancock.
Category:general -- posted at: 1:17pm EST
Mon, 21 December 2009
With the shortest day of the year today, something soothing, cool and yet slightly challenging, much like winter itself, is in store. Click here to listen to "Snowfall", as performed by pianist Ahmad Jamal.
Jamal is well-known for his creative use of space when composing and performing. He never places five notes when two will suffice, and he never wears his significant technical ability on his sleeve.
I found this track on his Cross Country Tour: 1958-1961 compilation album, where tracks from his classic At the Pershing: But Not For Me were bundled with live recordings from other Chicago area concert venues. "Snowfall", a compostion by noted arranger and big band leader Claude Thornhill and his wife Ruth, was recorded at the Alhambra in 1961. Thornhill's "cool sound" arrangements were the result of his collaborations with Gil Evans and Gerry Mulligan, both of whom would use their experience with Thornhill when they created The Birth of the Cool with the Miles Davis Nonet.
His trio for the date wacomposed of Jamal on piano, Vernell Fournier on drums and and Isreal Crosby on bass. Fournier was one of the first drummers Jamal made a permanent part of his trios, often preferringto use a guitar player for rhythm.
Category:general -- posted at: 3:34am EST