Sun, 16 April 2017
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: 9:00am EDT
Fri, 14 April 2017
n 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.
Thu, 13 April 2017
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 the late David Axelrod's "Holy Thursday". As he said 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.
Mon, 10 April 2017
One of my favorite holidays is the celebration of the Jewish holiday of Passover As the first Seder is tonight, celebrating the Exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt under the leadership of the prophet Moses, I've gone into the category of music that was called "Negro Spirituals" when I was in school, and picked "Go Down Moses"
Versions of the song seem to go back to 1862, when it was called "Oh! Let My People Go (The Song of the Contrabands)". The openign verse was published by the Jubilee Singers in 1872. It's easy to see the coded message in the lyrics - "Israel" in the lyrics stands in for African-Americans oppressed by slavery and recism, and "Egypt" as their oppressors. The seminal recording of the song is likely Paul Robeson's version from 1958, which became a rallying cry for those fighting for civil rights in the American South.
Click here to listen to Louis Armstrong's version of the spiritual, taken from his Louis and the Good Book album. Armstrong recorded the song in February 1959 with Sy Oliver's Orchestra. Armstrong had jsut finished his popular Porgy & Bess album with Ella Fitzgerald, and entered the studio to record a series of spirituals and religious-tinged music. Among those in the band were Trummy Young on trombone, Hank D'Amico and Nicky Tagg on clarinet, Billy Kyle on piano and Barrett Deems on drums.
In Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong biographer Terry Teachout quotes an outspoken Armstrong as being a great friend of the Jewish people, who he felt gave him a break in his youth when his fellow African-Americans would not. He wore a Star of David around his neck for most of his life.
Sat, 31 December 2016
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 Official SNC Song of the evening is Frank Loesser's classic, "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" It was 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 Pulitzer 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 Nancy Wilson. Check back to previous year's New Year's Eve postings for other renditions.
A happy and healthy New Year to one and all. 2017 HAS to be a better year than 2016, right?
Mon, 26 December 2016
2016 has been the most devastating of years in recent memory, and not just because of the horrendous results of the October US elections. More great musicians have passed away this year than I have ever recalled, and their loss is felt daily in my life. Our annual Noted in Passing feature is far too long.
In a category beyond jazz - indeed beyond popular music itself – were the losses of Prince and David Bowie, Maurice White and Sir George Martin. I honor their memories still, and you can listen to tribute Podcasts where highlighted.
Also gone in 2016 were pianist Paul Bley; trumpeter Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros; organist Alan Haven; Tower of Power’s trumpeter and founder Mic Gillette; pianist Bryce Rohde; saxophonist Harald Devold; trumpeter John Chilton; bandleader Joe Cabot; arranger Claus Ogerman; percussionist Naná Vasconcelos; drummerJoe Ascione; trumpeter Sidney Mear; singer Roger Cicero; and symphonic jazz composer David Baker.
Also, producing legend Rudy Van Gelder; trumpeter Joe Shepley; singer Don Francks; saxophonist Getatchew Mekurya; saxophonist and educator Pete Yellin; guitarist Doug Raney; trombonist Buster Cooper; trumpeter Paul Smoker; drummer Randy Jones; pianist Willy Andresen; keyboardist Bernie Worrell; bandleader Mike Pedicin; saxophonist Charles Davis; guitarist Roland Prince; bassist Dominic Duval; and saxophonist Allan Barnes (BlackByrds).
Also bassist Bob Cranshaw (pictured); pianists Don Friedman, Derek Smith, and Connie Crothers; vibes master Bobby Hutcherson; guitarist Louis Stewart; harmonica legend TootsThielemans; pianist Karel Růžička; trumpeter Mike Daniels; pianist and singer Mose Allison; singer Shirley Bunnie Foy; saxophonist Gato Barbieri; singer Natalie Cole and drummer Joe Harris.
Outside of jazz, individuals whose lives had impacted mine in some way or another include boxer Muhammad Ali; hockey player Gordie Howe; newscaster Morley Safer; poet-composer-singer Leonard Cohen, soul men Billy Paul and Mack Rice; rockers Scotty Moore; Rob Wasserman; Greg Lake; Paul Kantner; Leon Russell; Keith Emerson; Dan Hicks; George Michael; and Glenn Frey; country singers Merle Haggard and Guy Clark; conductor Neville Marriner; NPR broadcast Craig Windham; sportscasters Jim Simpson, Craig Sager and Joe Garagiola; actors Gene Wilder; Alan Rickman, Patty Duke, Fyvish Finkel; Florence Henderson; and Kenny Baker (R2D2); singer Marnie Nixon, the dubbed-in voice of great movie musicals; basketball coach Pat Summitt and point guard Dwayne “Pearl” Washington; Golfer Arnold Palmer; writers Michael Herr; Harper Lee; Pat Conroy; Umberto Eco and Elie Wiesel; and playwright Edward Albee.
Perhaps most deeply felt was the loss of my father-in-law Alfred Dellapenna, who would regale me with stories of seeing the original big bands in western Massachusetts dance halls. He will be greatly missed by all who knew “Big Al”..
Category:general -- posted at: 1:51pm EDT
Sun, 25 December 2016
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 prevalent this time of year, and so the Official Straight No Chaser song of Christmas Day is "Peace" written by Horace Silver, and sung by Norah Jones. This year we have a new version recorded by Norah from her latest CD, Day Breaks, which marked her return to creating a jazz sound. Avideo of Norah playing "Peace" cab ne found here.
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.
Sat, 24 December 2016
The Eight Crazy Nights of Chanukah are upon us, and so I bring you some jazz for the occasion – Don Byron’s take on “Dreidl Song” from his 1993 album Don Byron Plays the Music of Mickey Katz.
Katz – who was born Meyer Myron Katz in 1909 - was a legendary musician and comedian specializing in the type of humor that would eventually characterize the “Borscht Belt” of the Catskills. A meeting with Spike Jones in 1947 led Katz to make a career decision that proved fruitful:
Katz soon decided to make an English-Yiddish comedy record. Having written the lyrics to Haim afen Range years ago, he had it approved by RCA. He quickly wrote another song for the flip side, Yiddish Square Dance, and had his friend Al Sack sketch out the melody for it and set Haim afen Range to music as well. The original run of 10,000 copies released in New York City sold in three days, and RCA received orders for 25,000 more. Katz then went on to parodize Tico, Tico with Tickle, Tickle, and backed this new record with Chloya, a parody of Chloe. He then hired a manager in Los Angeles, and in 1947 performed in Los Angeles' Boyle Heights, a largely Jewish- and Mexican-American neighborhood. In Katz's words, he was a "double-ethnic smash."
The death of Yiddish culture on a wide scale basis in the 1950’s forced Katz into broader humor, and he wrote parodies and performed until he passed away in 1985. His son is the award-winning actor Joel Grey, and his granddaughter is Jennifer Grey of Dirty Dancing fame.
The band is Byron in clarinet; Richie Schwarz on drums and percussion; Uri Caine on piano; Dave Douglas on trumpet; Steve Alcott on bass; Mark Feldman on violin; Josh Roseman on trombone; and J.D. Parran on flute.
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00pm EDT
Sat, 24 December 2016
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....
Fri, 23 December 2016
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!”