Sun, 27 March 2016
The song of the day is Irving Berlin's "Easter Parade", performed by Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine and released on their 1957 album Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine Sing the Best of Irving Berlin. Although Vaughan had made many recordings with Eckstine, this was their only album together.
Writing a song about celebrating a Christian holiday was not an anomaly for the Jewish composer Berlin. Born in 1888 into a Russian Jewish family who came to New York City to escape religious persecution when he was five years old, Irving Berlin quickly shed his religious roots and fell in love with America. He became an American citizen when he was 29. "Patriotism was Irving Berlin's true religion," writes biographer Laurence Bergreen in As Thousands Cheer: The Life of Irving Berlin (1990).
Irving Berlin was "not a religious person," according to his daughter Mary Ellin. Relating the story of Irving's marriage to Ellin Mackay in 1926, whose devout father had a deep reluctance to welcome a "lower-class" Jew into the wealthy Catholic family.
Once they had children, Mrs. Berlin did try to keep up a minimal appearance of religious tradition. Mary Ellin writes that her unbelieving parents "had their first bad fight when my mother suggested raising me as a Catholic . . . ."
The Berlins had three daughters. "Both our parents," Mary Ellin recalls, "would pass down to their children the moral and ethical values common to all great religions; give us a sense of what was right and what was wrong; raise us not to be good Jews or good Catholics or good whatever else you might care to cite, but to be good (or try to be) human beings. . . . When we grew up, she said, we would be free to choose--if we knew what was best for us, the religion of our husband. . . . It wouldn't quite work out, when we 'grew up,' as my mother hoped. All three of us would share our father's agnosticism and sidestep our husband's faiths."
The man who wrote "White Christmas" actually hated Christmas. "Many years later," Mary Ellin writes, "when Christmas was celebrated irregularly in my parents' house, if at all, my mother said, almost casually, 'Oh, you know, I hated Christmas, we both hated Christmas. We only did it for you children.' "
Christmas, for Irving Berlin, was not a religious holiday: it was an American holiday. He simply needed a melody in 1940 for a show called Holiday Inn, an escapist "American way of life" musical (when all hell was breaking loose in Europe) which called for a song for each holiday. The words to "White Christmas" are not about the birth of a savior-god: they are about winter, the real reason for the season.
Read more about Irving Berlin, religion and patriotism here.
Category:general -- posted at: 10:00am EDT
Fri, 25 March 2016
In keeping with the theme of presenting spiritual music performed by jazz artists this week, here is "Crucifixion", a traditional spiritual with a copyright credited to its arranger, Jester Hairston.
Hairston (1901-2000) was a prolific composer and arranger of African-American music. In addiiton to dozens of arrangments still in use today, he composed what is now considered a Christmas standard, "Mary's Boy Child" in 1956. Seven years later, he penned the universally known "Amen" for Sidney Poitier's film "Lilies of the Valley". That song has gone on to be recorded by hundred of artists, most notably the Impressions in 1964. It's worth pointing out that an up-tempo version of the song, "Amen, Brother" by the Winstons in 1969 had six seconds of its drum solo sampled as what is referred to as the "Amen Break", a sample credited with launching the drum and bass movement, and included in rock, hip-hop and soul tracks for several decades.
Click here to listen to David Murray's version of the venerable tune, from the 1988 Spirituals album. Murray recorded this pensive, rather straight ahead (for Murray) version with a quartet including Murray on sax, Dave Burrell on piano, Fred Hopkins on bass, and Ralph Peterson, Jr. on drums.
Category:general -- posted at: 11:00am EDT
Thu, 24 March 2016
The fine blog Any Major Dude with Half a Heart (dig that Steely Dan reference) has always gone deep into the crates for goodies, usually of the soul variety. For Holy Thursday, celebrated by Catholics around the world, he has a real winner. Visit his page for David Axelrod's "Holy Thursday". As he says on his blog:
Well, it is Holy Thursday, and while this orchestral jazz track might not feed your pieties, it should at least get your toes tapping. That does not mean that the title is irreverent. Axelrod, son of a leftist activist who grew up in a predominantly black neighbourhood, wrote and recorded several musical works referencing religion. In 1971 he arranged a jazz-rock interpretation of Handel’s Messiah and in 1993 he titled a work on the Holocaust a “requiem”. I have read that Holy Thursday also featured in Grand Theft Auto V, a game I’ve never played but the soundtracks of which seem quite excellent.
Axelrod has had a massive influence on jazz, in particular fusion. He produced legends such as Lou Rawls and Cannonball Adderley (including his big hit Mercy, Mercy, Mercy), as well as avant gardists The Electric Prunes.
For another posting I did on this tune, click here.
Category:general -- posted at: 10:00am EDT
Mon, 21 March 2016
Marc Copland’s music career started with a sax, but he’s made his name as a pianist. Hailing from Philadelphia, Copland was a peer of Michael Brecker, and the pair often studied and played together. Copland attended Columbia University, where he eventually landed in the influential Chico Hamilton Quartet, meeting lifetime collaborator John Abercrombie in the process.
But Marc put down the sax soon after, and began the process of reinventing himself as a pianist. The results were outstanding. Fifteen long years later he was not only in demand on gigs, but he had begun a recording career that has resulted in more than three dozen releases, most recently with Copland playing a key place in the Gary Peacock Trio and John Abercrombie Quartet.
Zenith, his latest CD as a leader, is a quartet session featuring his long-time bassist Drew Gess; drummer Joey Baron; and trumpeter Ralph Alessi. The album is full of musically complex and yet welcoming music. Alessi is in something of a career renaissance right now, having released a fine CD on his own this year, Quiver, and he adds much to Copland’s compositions. One interesting addition is the rarely played Duke Ellington composition, “Mystery Song”, which gets an interesting reading here.
Podcast 526 is my conversation with Marc Copland, as we discuss the new album and quartet; and his long-time musical relationships with Drew Gess, Peacock and Abercrombie. Musical selections include three tracks from the new CD - "Waterfalls", Mystery Song" and "Sun at the Zenith" as well as recording with John Abercrombie ("Shadow of a Doubt") and Gary Peacock ("Noh Blues").
Direct download: Podcast_526_-_A_Conversation_with_Marc_Copland_.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT
Sun, 20 March 2016
The Spring is truly the season of spiritual awakening and celebration. Holy week for those of the Christian faith is underway, coming early on the calendar this year. As a result, the Jewish holiday of Purim, rather than Passover, tis this coming week. The festival of Vaisaki, celebrated by Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs iis their Spring holiday, just as Theravada, the New Year festival for Theravada Buddhists, is celebrated. Soon will begin the Baha'i festival of Ridvan, and Pagan/Wiccan followers commemorate the end of the Celtic Tree Month Alder and beginning of the Celtic Tree Month of Willow.
It’s a blessing that these festivals of many faiths all come in the early Spring , reminding us of the great similarities and wonderful differences that make up these faiths. In order to celebrate this season of spirituality, I offer my annual podcast of jazz with a spiritual strain running through the tunes in Podcast 525 (previous Podcasts can be found for 2015, 2014, 2013, 2011, and 2010), including:
Wynton Marsalis - "Psalm 29"
Vibration Society - "Spirits Up Above"
Pharoah Sanders - "Prince of Peace"
Albert Ayler - "Saints"
Mark Weinstein - "Mizmor L'David"
Marcus Miller - "The Lord's Prayer"
Dirty Dozen Brass Band - "Amazing Grace"
Winard Harper - "The Prayer"
Kamasi Washington - "Seven Prayers"
Kirk Whalum - "Love is the Answer"
Wynton Marsalis - "Psalm 29"