Mon, 30 May 2011
"Goodman was one of the most incredible players the field has ever known. It wasn’t just that his own improvisation was marvelous, the spirit, the verve, the vitality, even humor he played with, but the sheer technical mastery. He played that thing like it was a yo-yo. The only thing comparable from a technical point of view would be [Art] Tatum."- pianist-composer Mel Powell
102 years after his birth, few musicians define a period of time like Benny Goodman. He was truly the “King of Swing”, and a key figure in the integration of the jazz bandstand. Here’s an excerpt from his webpage biography:
Benjamin David Goodman was born on May 30, 1909 in Chicago, Illinois. For a kid who liked jazz, Chicago was a great town to grow up in. Musicians had begun working their way north from New Orleans about the turn of the century, and by the early 1920s giants like "Jellyroll" Morton, Sidney Bechet, "King" Oliver and Louis Armstrong were playing in Chicago and making history.
Kids who paid attention to this development were going to make history themselves in a few more years - Bud Freeman, Davie Tough, Eddie Condon, Milt Mesirow (Mezz Mezzrow), Gene Krupa, "Muggsy" Spanier, Jimmy McPartland, Jess Stacy - and a kid in short pants who played the clarinet.
Benny Goodman was only 10 when he first picked up a clarinet. Only a year or so later he was doing Ted Lewis imitations for pocket money. At 14 he was in a band that featured the legendary Bix Beiderbecke. By the time he was 16 he was recognized as a "comer" as far away as the west coast and was asked to join a California-based band led by another Chicago boy, Ben Pollack.
Goodman played with Pollack's band for the next four years. His earliest recording was made with Pollack, but he was also recording under his own name in Chicago and New York, where the band had migrated from the west coast. In 1929, when he was just 20, Benny struck out on his own to become a typical New York freelance musician, playing studio dates, leading a pit orchestra, making himself a seasoned professional.
By 1934 he was seasoned enough to be ready for his first big break. He heard that Billy Rose needed a band for his new theatre restaurant, the Music Hall, and he got together a group of musicians who shared his enthusiasm for jazz. They auditioned and got the job.
Then Benny heard that NBC was looking for three bands to rotate on a new Saturday night broadcast to be called "Let's Dance," a phrase that has been associated with the Goodman band ever since. One band on the show was to be sweet, one Latin, and the third hot. The Goodman band was hot enough to get the job, but not hot enough to satisfy Benny. He brought in Gene Krupa on drums. Fletcher Henderson began writing the arrangements - arrangements that still sound fresh more than a half century later. And the band rehearsed endlessly to achieve the precise tempos, section playing and phrasing that ushered in a new era in American music. There was only one word that could describe this band's style adequately: Swing.
Click here to listen to Goodman’s band playing “Don’t Be That Way”, a staple of his live performances, including the Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert. Mosaic Records has a terrific compliation, The Complete Columbia and Okeh Orchestra Sessions worth checking out to dig deeper into this seminal figure in modern American music.
Wed, 25 May 2011
While most female singers are covering the Great American Songbook, Magos Herrera has returned to her native Mexico for an album of material from the country’s Golden Age of cinema and television. Sung mostly in Spanish, Mexico Azul is an enjoyable mix of jazz sensibilities with traditional Mexican songs, co-produced by Ms. Herrera and Tim Reis.
Ms. Herrera has assembled an outstanding band for the album, most notably trumpeter Tim Hagans and bassist John Patitucci.,and uses them wisely. She doesn’t hesitate to throw Brazilian beats behind “Que Sea Para Mi” or duel with Hagans on “Lamento Jarocho”. In doing so, Ms. Herrera recalls singers like Flora Purim with her range and sense of rhythm. The subtle percussion and Miles-like solo on “Tres Palabas” recall moments in Sketches of Spain, when another artist successfully mixed jazz and world sounds.
Tue, 24 May 2011
Last year I celebrated old Bob's 69th birthday with a podcast that included jazz versions of Dylan classics by Cassandra Wilson, Nina Simone, Stanley Turrentine, Michael Moore and Keith Jarrett. If you missed that podcast, here's a new link to it for your enjoyment on his 70th birthday.
If you want some intereting Dylan reading, I recommend the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine (which I so rarely recommend these days) for a tribute section that includes a number of artists' favorite Dylan tunes. No jazz artists asked. The Village Voice has a wonderful profile called "Seventy On Seventy: The Seventy Best Bob Dylan Songs A-Z" that is well worth your time.
Just to give you a little something extra, you can click here and listen to Madeleine Peyroux perform her cover of Dylan's "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" from my favorite Dylan album, Blood On the Tracks. Want to find more jazzy Dylan? Try this blog posting for starters.
Mon, 23 May 2011
Artie Shaw, one of the early "rock stars" of the jazz world was born 101 years ago today. To celebrate his birthday, here’s the preface to Tom Nolan’s well-received book on Shaw, Three Chords For Beauty’s Sake: The Life Of Artie Shaw:
In the exuberant decade between 1935 and 1945, when America’s indigenous art form -jazz- was also the nation’s popular music, no musical performer was more famous, controversial, admired, and reviled than Artie Shaw: the brilliant, handsome, outspoken, and unpredictable clarinetist and bandleader whose hit recordings ("Begin the Beguine," "Frenesi," "Star Dust," "Summit Ridge Drive") sold millions, whose marriages to several beautiful women (including movie stars Lana Turner and Ava Gardner) made headlines, who risked alienating his public by calling a large chunk of them "morons," and whose frequent abdications from the kingdom of swing earned him a reputation as jazz’s Hamlet.
With no formal training, Artie Shaw became a virtuoso musician almost without peer: a clarinet player influenced as much by trumpeters, violinists, pianists, and even painters as by fellow reedmen. His lyrical solos seemed to evoke visual images: a bird in flight, a tree moved by wind, a sailboat in the moonlight. On a ballad, his harmonically adventurous playing explored every gorgeous nook and cranny of a melody; on a rousing swing tune, his euphoric horn soared high and joyous enough to raise the roof.
He grew up as a player in the 1920s jazz age of Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong; reigned in the 1930s and ‘40s swing era alongside Benny Goodman Duke Ellington, and Tommy Dorsey; navigated past the ‘40s bebop revolution of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie (who both admired his playing) to make beautiful and remarkable chamber jazz in the early 1950s.
Couldn’t say it better.
Category:general -- posted at: 12:31pm EDT
Mon, 9 May 2011
Readers of this blog know I have a soft spot for certain types of jazz – Hammond B-3, female singers, and Brazilian music in particular. Today, it’s the last of the three that has me calling your attention to an exceptional collaboration that has produced some exceptional music. Israeli guitarist Roni Ben-Hur, bassist Nilson Matta, drummer Victor Lewis and Brazilian percussionist Café, have released Mojave, a collaboration of intimate Brazilian-grounded jazz for the Motema label.
Like Charlie Byrd and Jim Hall before him, Ben-Hur plays this music in a fluid, laid-back style, but always with an intensity that brings passion without resorting to lengthy runs or unnecessary flourishes. His composition “Eretz” showcases his sense of economy , as he makes each note count, mixing nicely with Matta’s bass.
Matta, a native of Sao Paolo, is a natural choice for this setting of the music, having been a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s award winning Obrigado Brazil ensemble. There’s a nice sense of chamber music in the manner in which the musicians work through their originals, Brazilian classics, and the now ubiquitous “The Look of Love”. The group goes deep into the Brazilian catalogue, most notably including music from guitarist/composer Baden Powell ("Samba do Veloso”) and a Matta original, the tribute, "Baden". That tune is among the CD’s best, featuring a cool percussive beat over which Ben-Hur lays Metheny-like solos and Matta fills in the throbbing heart, particularly when he duels with Lewis and Café later in the song.
This is the third CD in Motema's Jazz Therapy Series (twenty percent of sales will be allocated to the Dizzy Gillespie Memorial Fund of the Englewood Hospital and Medical Center). Let the healing begin.
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00am EDT
Sun, 8 May 2011
A Happy Mother's Day to all! Thanks to all the moms reading this posting today for all they do for their children. We don't say thank you nearly enough, and a card and some flowers one day a year just doesn't cut it. While my mother has been gone for thirty years now, I'm fortunate to have had - and continue to have - my step-mother Penny as an advisor and friend.
On one of last year's finest CD's, pianist/composer Geri Allen ended Flying Toward the Sound with this wonderfully emotional solo intended as a tribute to her son, "Your Pure Self (Mother To Son)". I'd like to post the tune and turn it around for today, making it from Son to Mother, with all its tenderness and devotion.
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00am EDT