Wed, 31 December 2014
To all who are traveling on an evening that often becomes "amateur night" take extra care and pick that designated driver!
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 Broadway star Idina Menzel, from her Holiday Wishes album. Dowload ink is below.
A happy and healthy New Year to one and all.
Mon, 29 December 2014
2014 was a very difficult year for the jazz community, as a number of its leading lights passed on to what a friend of mine would call the “Celestial Band”. In the ten plus years I have been blogging, I do not recall a year when we lost the likes of Charlie Haden (bass), Horace Silver (piano), Jim Hall (guitar), Yusef Lateef (flute) and Chico Hamilton (drums). Come to think of it, what a band THAT would have been here on Planet Earth!
Other jazz musicians of note who passed away in 2014 include Jazz Crusaders Joe Sample (pictured) and Wayne Henderson; Jack Bruce, the founder of Cream and fusion pioneer; Tim Houser, one of the founders and vocalists of the Manhattan Transfer; composer/bandleader Gerald Wilson; trumpeter Kenny Wheeler; pianist Kenny Drew, Jr.; and drummer Idris Muhammad.
Also, Acker Bilk ("Stranger on the Shore"); Klaus Kreuzeder; Carlos Emilio Morales; Buddy Catlett; Brian Lemon; Vic Ash; Lionel Ferbos; Herb Jeffries; Harold Buice; Kerrie Biddell; Kathy Stobart; and Aaron Sachs.
Also Ronald Shannon Jackson; Joe Wilder; King Fleming; Armando Peraza; Al Harewood; Dick Berk; Roy Campbell, Jr.; Bud Spangler; Joe Evans; and Arthur Doyle.
Among the many who passed away in 2014 who had made an impression on me and my life from outside of the jazz community were directors Mike Nichols and Harold Ramis; actors Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lauren Bacall, and Robin Williams; baseball payers turned announcers Ralph Kiner and Jerry Coleman; writer Gabriel García Márquez; singer/songwriter/activist Pete Seeger; boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter; comedians Joan Rivers and Sid Caesar; and football coach Chuck Knoll.
Two voices that permeated my adolescence are also gone: radio personality Casey Kasem, who introduced my brother and me to the American Top 40; and “Saturday Night Live” announcer Don Pardo. Three familiar faces from the television on my youth also passed on - Ann B. Davis (“The Brady Bunch”); Dave Madden (“The Partridge Family”) and Russell Johnson (“Gilligan’s Island”).
Lastly, a final so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen,goodbye to Maria Von Trapp, whose life story was the basis for one of my favorite films, The Sound of Music.
Thu, 25 December 2014
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
Silver first recorded this classic fifty-one 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: 9:44am EDT
Wed, 24 December 2014
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: 10:00am EDT
Wed, 24 December 2014
Wayne Shorter had only recently been drafted into Miles Davis’ Quintet when he entered Rudy Van Gelder’s studios in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Shorter had already released five albums under his own name, and had been a leader during the previous five years with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.
The sessions that took place on Christmas Eve 1964 represent one of the highlights of Shorter’s career. It’s mainly hard bop material with exciting changes and melodies. Of the songs he wrote for the sessions, Shorter once said that he was "thinking of misty landscapes with wild flowers and strange, dimly-seen shapes — the kind of place where folklore and legends are born. And then I was thinking of things like witch burnings too."
The quintet that day mirrored in many ways the group that Davis was putting together. Shorter (sax), Herbie Hancock (piano) and Ron Carter (bass) would be 3/5 of Miles’ group, and they were joined by John Coltrane drummer Elvin Jones and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, a Shorter pal from the Jazz Messenger days. Several of the songs recorded that day have reached standard status – the title track, “Infant Eyes”, “Witch Hunt” and “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum” are all regular tunes called on bandstands to this day.
A few weeks later, Shorter, Hancock, and Carter began work on E.S.P., signalling the arrival of the Second Great Quintet.
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00am EDT
Tue, 23 December 2014
Pianist Ben Sidran is one of those artists who sits on the cusp of rock and jazz music, performing equally well in each genre. On the rock side of things, he was an original member of the Steve Miller Band, along with Boz Scaggs. Sidran co-wrote one of Miller's best known tunes, "Space Cowboy".
On the jazz side, he's been the host of the NPR jazz series "Jazz Alive" and VH-1's "New Visions", both of which have won awards for excellence. He's recorded dozens of albums on the Blue Thumb, Go Jazz and Nardis label, most notably his quartet album. The Concert for Garcia Lorca, where he wrote music to the Latin-American poets work. And just to show he's no slacker, he scored the award-winning documentary film "Hoop Dreams", and earned a Ph.D in American Studies from Sussex University.This year featured a return of sorts to jazz vocal, with his CD Don't Cry for No Hipster on the Nardis music label. Check it out if you haven't had a chance to lsiten yet - you won't be disappointed.
He's also Jewish, and not afraid to hide his faith. In fact, his next written project will be a text entitled "Jews, Music and the American Dream". So it's no wonder he contributed this cooler than cool version of "I Have a Little Dreidle" to the Celebrate Hanukkah compilation album released in 2006 on the Craig n' Company label. A perfect version to listen to as the last candles of the Festival of Lights die down.
Mon, 22 December 2014
My friend Frank found this for me, and I wanted to be sure to share it with you. Originally published in Mad Magazine #52 Jan 1960.
‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the pad,
Not a hipster was swinging, not even old Dad;
The chimney was hung in the stocking routine,
In hopes that “The Fat Man” would soon make the scene;
The moon and the snow were, like, faking together,
Which made the scene rock in the Day People weather,
When, what to these peepers should come on real queer,
But a real crazy sleigh, and eight swinging reindeer,
As sidemen in combos pick up as they stomp,
When they swing with the beat of a Dixieland romp,
So up to the top of my bandstand they flew,
With the sleigh full of loot, and St. Nicholas, too.
His lids-Man, they sizzled! His dimples were smiles!
His cheeks were like “Dizzy’s,” his break was like “Miles!”
His puckered-up mouth was, like, blowing flat E,
And his chin hid behind a real crazy goatee!
He blew not a sound, but skipped right to his gig,
And stashed all the stockings, then came on real big,
And flashing a sign, like that old “Schnozzle” bit,
And playing it hip, up the chimney he split;
And then, in a quick riff, I dug on the roof,
The jumpin’ and jivin’ of each swinging hoof.
As I pulled in my noggin, and turned around fast,
Down the chimney came Nick like a hot trumpet blast.
The tip of a butt he had snagged in his choppers,
And he took a few drags just like all cool be-boppers;
He had a weird face, and a solid reet middle
That bounced when he cracked, like a gutbucket fiddle!
He was wrapped up to kill, Man, a real kookie dresser!
And his rags were, like, way out! Pops! He was a gasser!
A sack full of goodies hung down to his tail,
And he looked like a postman with “Basie’s” fan mail.
He was shaking with meat, meaning he was no square,
And I flipped, ‘cause I’d always thought he was “longhair!”
But the glint in his eye and the beat in his touch
Soon gave me the message this cat was “too much!”
He flew to his skids, to his group blew a lick,
And they cut out real cool, on a wild frenzied kick.
But I heard him sound off, with a razz-a-ma-tazz:
“A cool Christmas to all, and, like all of that jazz!”
Thu, 18 December 2014
The newspapers and internet are swarming with critics “Best of 2014” lists right about now, but here at Straight No Chaser we take a slightly different approach. I am grateful to get the chance to listen to a great number of jazz-related releases during the course of the year, and rather than attempt to say what is “best”, I prefer to lay out a list of recordings that I found particularly moving, or those that I found myself returning to over and over again.
To do this in a fair way, I have created five different categories, ranging from “Great New Things from Old Friends” to “Reunions and Collaborations of Note”. I do this on the theory that it is simply wrong to compare an archival release of John Coltrane (Offering: Live at Temple University) with genre bending CDs like Arturo O’Farrill’s The Offense of the Drum or Mehliana: Taming the Dragon. Is a first release form a young talent like James Brandon Lewis comparable to a vocal album from the seasoned Stacey Kent? I think not.
So, here are releases that are a few of my favorite things from 2014:
Great New Things from Old Friends
Pat Metheny Unity Group – Kin
Stacey Kent – The Changing Lights
Fred Hersch Trio – Floating
Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band - Landmarks
Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra – The Offense of the Drum.
New Artists and Those Hitting Their Stride
Otis Brown III – The Thought of You
James Brandon Lewis – Divine Travels
Eli Degibri – Twelve
Theo Croker – AfroPhysicist
Mark Turner Quartet – Lathe of Heaven
Memorable Reissues, Compilations, and Posthumous or Archival Albums
John Coltrane – Offering: Live at Temple University
Miles Davis – Miles At the Fillmore – Miles 1970 – The Bootleg Series Vol. 3
Charlie Haden - Jim Hall – Live at Montreal International Jazz Festival 1990
Marshall Allen Presents Sun Ra and His Arkestra- In the Orbit of Ra
Jimmy Giuffre 3 & 4 - New York Concerts
Tribute Albums of Note
Conrad Herwig – The Latin Side of Joe Henderson
Dr. John – Ske-Dat-De-Dat – The Spirit of Satch
Jason Moran – All Rises: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller
Billy Childs – Map to the Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro
Dave Douglas/Chet Doxas/Steve Swallow/Jim Doxas – Riverside (Legacy of Jimmy Guiffre)
Reunions and Collaborations of Note
Keith Jarrett & Charlie Haden – Last Dance
Brad Mehldau and MarkGuiliana - Mehliana: Taming the Dragon
Trio 3 & Vijay Iyer - Wiring
Kenny Barron and Dave Holland – The Art of Conversation
Chris Elderidge & Julian Lage - Close to Picture and Avalon; and Nels Cline and Julian Lage
A few years ago I began naming a “Player of the Year”, honoring those who appear as sidemen on multiple top CDs, as well as leaders of their own groups. For 2012, it was drummer Joey Baron, and for 2013, it was vibes player Warren Wolf. For this year, it has to be saxophonist Mark Turner, who had starring roles on CDs released by his own quartet, as well as CDs from Billy Hart, Enrico Rava, Stefano Bollani and Yelena Echemoff. A runner-up would be the avant-garde sax player Ivo Perelman who released a staggering six CDs in 2013 and four more in 2014.
Other items of Special Note in the world of Jazz in 2014 were:
- Blue Note Records’ 75th Anniversary Vinyl Initiative, giving another generation a chance to experience jazz on the turntable, with readable liner notes;
- Pianist Fred Hersch’s release of the DVD of his Jazz and Theater Piece, "My Coma Dreams", the type of multimedia piece that wins awards;
- Highly enjoyable and readable biographies from Herbie Hancock (Possibilities) and George Benson (Benson: The Autobiography);
- The film Whiplash, one of the few successful cinematic attempts to show the physical and mental price that is paid for musical greatness, in this case by a young jazz drummer; and
- The release on Blu-Ray DVD of perhaps the finest fictional story in the jazz film canon, Pete Kelly’s Blues, directed and starring Jack Webb, with top performances by Janet Leigh, Edmond O'Brien, and in an Academy Award nominated-role, Peggy Lee.
Podcast 462 features the following musical selections:
Fred Hersch – “You & the Night & the Music” from Floating
Mark Turner Quartet – “Brother Sister” from Lathe of Heaven
Charlie Haden - Jim Hall – “Turnaround” from Live at Montreal International Jazz Festival 1990
Billy Childs – “And When I Die” from Map to the Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro
Julian Lage & Chris Eldridge – “Butter and Eggs” from Close to Picture
Direct download: Podcast_461_-_A_Few_of_My_Favorite_Things_2014.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 10:00am EDT
Tue, 16 December 2014
I just read a really wonderful, succinct version of the story of Hanukkah, the "Festival of Lights" celebrated by Jews around the world beginning this evening in the Huffington Post. I urge you to read it, and if you have friends and family who are unfamilar with the holiday, which is in no way to be called the "Jewish Christmas", forward the link along to them, please.
Once again we celebrate musically with a jazz version of the Hanukkah song "Maoz Tsur", or "Rock of Ages" from Avi Wisnia. Originally a liturgical poem, "Maoz Tsur" has become a popular Hanukkah song, typically sung after the lighting of the menorah, whose words rejoice in the ability to claim victory over oppressors and overcome persecution. “This song is different from anything I have recorded so far,” explains Wisnia. “But having grown up surrounded by Jewish music my entire life, I wanted to celebrate the holiday by taking this traditional song from my childhood with this simple melody and doing something a little more complex with it.” Quite possibly the most modern take on this classic tune that also stays true to the original melody, here’s hoping that this rendition will found in houses full of families sharing the joy of the holiday.
Mon, 15 December 2014
Podcast 462 is the annual Christms gift from me to you - an hour plus uninterrupted music for decorating, drinking, hanging out and soaking up that holiday atmosphere. I've gone through my library to mix up old and new tunes, some old favorites and others new to your ears. In any event, enjoy, and pass the download on to your friends and loved ones. The 2014 edition includes:
Peggy Lee – “It's Christmas Time Again”
Ramsey Lewis Trio – “The Sound of Christmas”
Ella Fitzgerald – “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”
Hank Jones – “Dear Mister Santa Claus”
Vince Guaraldi – “What Child Is This?”
David Benoit – “We Three Kings”
Kenny Burrell – “Merry Christmas Baby”
Roy Hargrove and Abbey Lincoln – “Christmas Cheer"
Warren Wolf – “Carol of the Bells”
Dave Koz with Jonathan Butler – “O Holy Night”
Will Downing – “The First Noel”
Irvin Mayfield – “O Christmas Tree”
Billie Holiday – “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm”
Diana Krall – “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
Joe Sample – “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”
Diane Schuur – “I'll Be Home For Christmas”