Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sunday Music: Rudi Van Gelder, by Wiggia

Rudi Van Gelder, 1924 – 2016

A slight divergence from the normal jazz music posts to highlight someone who had a very big influence on the quality of what we heard on vinyl and digital.

I first became aware of RVG when buying and listening to Riverside recordings, though his first efforts were with Blue Note, not easily available unless an import in the early days, in the early fifties when he was still an optometrist by profession and only worked in evenings in his converted studio in his parents' house.

He continued to practice as an optometrist as he believed that he could not make a living being a sound engineer; he did not become a full time engineer until 1959.

A long time jazz fan and a bit trumpet player, he believed he could improve the sound of recordings by updating and improving the recording equipment. When he went full time he moved to what was to be his base for life, a bespoke built recording studio at Englewood Cliffs not all that far from his original studio. Soon Prestige and later Verve came on board with Blue Note in using RVG's facility. His thorough preparation and the best equipment brought in the clients: he treated the studio like an operating theatre, no food or drink and no touching microphones etc. Rudi himself wore gloves when handling equipment; it was this attention to detail that earned his reputation as the finest recording engineer of the jazz genre.

In 1967 Alfred Lions the Blue Note producer who first employed Rudi retired and the new owners of Blue Note, Liberty Records started to use other engineers as did Prestige. After this period his output slowed but he was always involved in the recording of jazz into the 2000s.

He did have his critics, why I am not qualified to say but some few said his sound distorted that which they gave out. Charles Mingus was amongst those who criticised saying Van Gelder ruined his sound and would have nothing to do with him, but I believe for us consumers the quality that he put into those 2000-some recordings far outweighs any criticism, and one only has to listen at the sounds before Van Gelder came along:  many were dreadful, and we should be eternally grateful to the man for dragging sound engineering out of the last century.

His discography as one would imagine is extensive to say the least and among his albums are recognised jazz classics such as Coltrane's “A Love Supreme”, Horace Silver's “Song for my Father”, Sonny Rollins' “Saxophone Colossus” and many' many others including virtually everything Freddie Hubbard did.

In an interview in later life he said this….

“The biggest distorter is the LP itself. I've made thousands of LP masters. I used to make 17 a day, with two lathes going simultaneously, and I'm glad to see the LP go. As far as I'm concerned, good riddance. It was a constant battle to try to make that music sound the way it should. It was never any good. And if people don't like what they hear in digital, they should blame the engineer who did it. Blame the mastering house. Blame the mixing engineer. That's why some digital recordings sound terrible, and I'm not denying that they do, but don't blame the medium.“

So much for the “vinyl is better theory”, something I have never subscribed to for a variety of reasons. Rudy Van Gelder died at his home by the studio in 2016 aged 91.

These are just a few selected tracks from Van Gelder engineered recordings.

Johnny Griffin tenor sax in 1956 at the old studio, playing The Way You Look Tonight with Wynton Kelly on piano and Max Roach on drums.

I cannot leave out John Coltrane and “Acknowledgment” from the "A Love Supreme" album:

The title track from Stanley Turrentine's 1973 “Don’t Mess with Mr T” album, a large ensemble including Ron Carter bass, Randy Brecker trumpet, Pepper Adams baritone, and various string and electronic instruments:

Jackie McLean was always labeled a Charlie Parker disciple, yet his output was a lot more than that, this ‘59 recording is not his best nor is the album “Swing Swang Swinging” but this number has his style all over it: “What's New“...

Maiden Voyage was a very successful album for Herbie Hancock in his “jazz” days with Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, George Coleman tenor, Ron Carter bass - the man is everywhere and with good reason, and Tony Williams drums, recorded in 1965:

1963 saw Lee Morgan trumpet make this very popular album. This is the title track from the album “Sidewinder” with Joe Henderson tenor, Barry Harris piano, Billy Higgins drums and Bob Cranshaw bass:

And finally “Autumn Leaves” from one of the finest of all modern jazz albums, Cannonball Adderley’s 1958 recording of Somethin’ Else, featuring Miles Davis, Hank Jones piano, Sam Jones bass and Art Blakey drums:

Saturday, April 29, 2017

End of the world news


The Daily Mail today discusses Graham Hancock's theory that human civilisation is much older than conventionally agreed, but was set back - practically wiped out - by a meteor strike c. 13,000 years ago. It seems that there is now not only mythological and geological*, but also archaeological evidence to support his contention:

The DM writer, Christopher Stevens, says Hancock believes the meteor may have come from the Taurid meteor stream, which the planet is due to pass through again in 2030, potentially disastrously:

"Hidden within that belt, according to astrophysicists, is an unexploded bomb of a planetoid, a superheated rock like an orbiting hand grenade.

"Sealed inside its thin crust is a boiling mass of tar, building up pressure until it detonates. Thousands of white-hot boulders, a mile or more across, will be set spinning through the meteor stream . . . but we cannot say for certain when that will occur.

"Many of these asteroids could be three times the size of the one that hit our planet 65 million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs.

"If one of those strikes, it could quite literally bring about the end of the world. And we are due to cross the Taurid meteor stream in 13 years, around 2030."

Large hits associated with the Taurids may occur periodically (e.g. the 1908 Tunguska explosion in Siberia), according to this article from the June 1992 edition of Discover magazine:

What's not clear to me at the moment is why 2030 should be a particular date of dread, when we cross the Taurid stream twice a year (I happen to think meteors may be the root of beliefs about fire-breathing dragons.) However, this prediction evokes in me a memory of the 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi, which ends by quoting a prophecy from the Hopi indians of Arizona, USA:

"A container of ashes might one day be thrown from the sky, which could burn the land and boil the oceans."

Both a prophecy, and a memory: the new archaeological research paper referenced in the DM is about a decoding of an 11,000-year-old monument unearthed in Turkey, which appears to describe the strike (2,000 years after the event) and shows the constellations as they were in ancient times.

According the DM, the Ojibwa tribe still has a folk memory of a "Long-Tailed Heavenly Climbing Star which swept out of the sky to scorch the earth. Their myths relate that it left behind ‘a different world." The tribe is now in Canada but previously (18th century) lived in northern US states such as Ohio and like many other peoples may have wandered much more extensively before; not that it matters exactly where they were at the time of impact, since the whole world was affected.

13 years, then.

As Ford Prefect tells the useless B Ark survivors in The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy:

"Well I have got news, I have got news for you. It doesn’t matter a pair feted dingo’s kidneys what you all choose to do from now on. Burn down the forests, anything. It won’t make a scrap of difference. Two-million years you’ve got, and that’s it. At the end of that, your race will be dead, gone, and good-riddance to you. Remember that. Two. Million. Years."

And as the Captain replies:

"Ah. It’s time for another bath. Hmph. Pass me the sponge somebody will you?"

We didn't die out last time, either.


*"...compelling physical evidence, in the form of giant boulders, platinum deposits and tiny diamonds found across North America — the detritus of a colossal impact."

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sunday Music: The Guitar in Modern Jazz, by Wiggia

Wes Montgomery

The Guitar started out in jazz as a rhythm section instrument. It only really came to the fore as a standalone item when Charlie Christian joined the Benny Goodman sextet and started to use amplification; he can’t really be said to be a founding father of be bop but he was instrumental in the run up to that period.

He came from a musical family and he and his two brothers plus the father busked for a living. He originally wanted to play the tenor sax, but was dissuaded in favour of the trumpet, which he declined.

He had no real influences but was himself influential to most of those early be boppers Gillespie, Davis et al. He ruled the Downbeat and Metronome polls for years after his 1940 debut with Goodman. He unfortunately contracted TB at an early age and it returned later and he died in 1942 aged just 25. Partly because of his age and his relatively short time in the spotlight he never recorded as a leader of his own group, so all his recordings are with others or compilations.

This is “Stompin' at the Savoy”, recorded live at Minton's in ‘41. It gives Christian more room to expand his playing than when within the confines of Goodmans sextet:

Within the jazz context I have no hesitation about naming Wes Montgomery as my favorite guitarist. the first guitar album I purchased was his with his brothers, who were also jazz musicians: The Montgomery Brothers “Groove Yard” - not his first but my first introduction to him. He also played on another of my collection, “Work Song” with Nat Adderley, Cannonball Adderley's cornet-playing brother - a lot of brothers involved here !

Born in 1923 he learnt to play the six string guitar by listening to Charlie Christian records. He never learnt to read music and all his playing was by ear; it was that ability to play Christian note for note that got him noticed by Lionel Hampton whom he joined. These were hard times for him and his family of eight back home and he supplemented his income by working shifts in a factory. His career took off when he was “discovered by Cannonball Adderley in ‘59. His first album on Riverside followed a year later: “Far Wes”. he moved to Verve records in ‘64 and his album with Wynton Kelly “Smokin at the Half Note” along with his earlier “The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery” on Riverside are probably his best work in the jazz genre and arguably the best jazz guitar albums full stop; the latter won the Down Beat poll for best jazz guitar alum six years running from ‘60 - ‘67.

Sadly he was another whose career was cut short by ill health: he died after a heart attack in 1968.

He was summed up rather well by Joe Pass, himself no slouch with the instrument:

“To me there have been just three real innovators on the guitar: Wes Montgomery, Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt.”

Here is the man with the “bionic” thumb playing Round Midnight in 1965:

And this number I have on some authority was the equivalent of a war anthem for the coloured troops in Vietnam - his own composition, “Bumpin’ on Sunset”:

Joe Pass, here playing “Satin Doll” -

- was of Sicilian descent and started playing at nine and by fourteen was getting work. he moved from Pennsylvania to NY City and soon in his early twenties developed a heroin addiction, spending most of the fifties in prison. After a two and a half year stay in a rehab center he emerged clean; as he said, ” I didn’t play a lot during that time”. During the sixties he worked with many artists and musicians and produced several albums. He also worked as a sideman for Ella Fitzgerald, with whom he did six albums, and many other singers including Frank Sinatra. During much of this period he worked in and around the LA area in films and TV including the Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin and Steve Allen shows.

In 1970 he signed for Norman Granz Pablo records and produced his finest work, the solo album Virtuoso.

Herb Ellis is best known for his many years with the Oscar Peterson Trio so his solo work is slightly less than would expect from such a distinguished guitarist.

This is “Blues for Everyone”:

Charlie Byrd is best known for his Brazilian-based music and bringing jazz samba to the fore with Stan Getz. Jazz Samba was also the name of the album that with Getz introduced bossa nova to the public and was a long running success. Byrd never strayed far from his Latin theme and unlike many contemporaries finger he plucked a classical guitar; he was classically trained and spent some time studying under Andres Segovia in Italy. Here he is playing Antonio Carlos Jobin’s “Corcovado”:

I always enjoyed Byrd; he was a quiet, gentle antidote to the mad world outside.

In honesty my guitar album collection is not large apart from work by those above and I do not like to comment on musicians that I have heard little of, the likes of Grant Green, Jim Hall and George Benson or nothing at all. It is an area of jazz that I have never given proper time to explore, and that applies to most of the more contemporary players of latter years; it’s partly because many are cross-over artists even based mainly on rock and those whom I have heard in that role I prefer to enjoy as rock guitarists. John McLaughlin is in that category: when he plays “jazz” there is really not much difference to his rock work and the music of Pat Matheney for me falls into the same group. Listening blind you could be forgiven for thinking Pink Floyd had released another album, which in itself is not a bad thing, but is it jazz ? I leave you to judge:

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday Night Is Music Night: Loreena McKennitt, by JD

Canada has produced more than a few singers/songwriters in the field of popular and folk music, the most notable being Kate and Anna McGarrigle. Of the other artists I think only one can match the musical talents of those famous sisters and that one is Loreena McKennitt. Quite possibly nowhere near as famous as she ought to be but over the past thirty years she has quietly created a huge back catalogue of excellent music and has built up a very large and dedicated fan base world wide.

Her music is described on her web site as ‘eclectic Celtic’ absorbing other influences from Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

She is also rather adept at taking the poetry of Yeats, Tennyson and Shakespeare among others and setting their words to music (two examples are included here).

Because of the many styles blended into her recordings she draws on musicians from many genres but there is always a core built around Brian Hughes on guitar, Caroline LaVelle on cello and the excellent Hugh Marsh on violin.

I seem to have gone 'over the top' and posted nine videos but it could have been a lot more, difficult to know what to leave out! Perhaps a part 2 will be necessary.

In the meantime pour yourself a dram or two of uisce beatha ("water of life"), turn up the volume and relax into a reverie of glorious music.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Turkish referendum: implications for democracy and world peace

According to a Dutch news site, 71% of expatriate Turks living in the Netherlands voted in favour of Erdogan's power grab - that is, 71% of the merely one-third of those who chose to take part in the referendum:

Similarly, in Germany 61% of votes favoured Erdogan, but the "high" turnout was only 48.7%:

Yet in Switzerland, 62% said no:

- possibly reflecting the better wealth and education of those who settled there.

Would the results have been much different if all Turks in Europe had been made to vote?

Or are the significant factors:

(a) who is allowed to come into the country,
(b) why they chose to come and
(c) what efforts the host country has made both to welcome the immigrant and to insist on integration into the political and social culture of the country?

My recent EU dystopia (envisioning what might have happened had PM Blair taken us into the Eurozone, as he wished) imagined not only the defeat of the British Army in Ukraine as a result of EU empire-building, but the rise of a Turkish President who exploits the idiotic free-movement openness of the EU to blackmail it into sending him his UK-based opponents so he can eliminate them.

In the same piece, I also looked at the role of Turkey as a NATO counterweight to perceived Russian expansionism, and the possible diplomatic reorientation of the Greeks as they continue to suffer from the economic imbalances within the EU.

Maybe not such a fantasy. Are the attractive yet dangerously naive "Alle Menschen werden Brüder" ideals of the EU to be used against it, judo-like, by a strongman who has ambitions for the Middle East?

What are the conditions for, the limits to, democracy?

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sunday Music: Jazz Piano 3, by Wiggia

Art Tatum
You may or may not be wondering why the piano is getting more coverage from me than any other area or instrument in modern jazz. It is quite simply that when going through my recordings the piano has more prominence than I had expected and the piano is the one instrument that has solo recordings in abundance in the genre.

If you add in the two greatest bands Ellington and Basie being led by two more than accomplished piano players and the fact that most arrangements and scores are written at the piano, you can see why the piano has such prominence. As with previous pieces even taking into account the extra space I have given the piano many great artists will be left out for purely practical reasons, there simply is not space to include all even when justified.

For that reason the likes of Red Garland, Tommy Flanagan, and Ahmad Jamal are left out, but of course almost certainly will feature in other recordings noted in this series.

McCoy Tyner was born in 1938. He grew up in Philadelphia and was encouraged to play the piano at home. By fifteen he knew that music was going to be his vocation. Influenced by Bud Powell, he was early into the be bop scene. After playing with Benny Golson and Art Farmer's Jazztet he joined John Coltrane in 1960 and stayed until ‘65; during that period apart from touring he was on the influential My Favorite Things album, A Love Supreme and all the other great Coltrane albums in that period.

He did make some albums in his own “name” at that time but because of contractual ties could not use his real name. He left Coltrane in ‘65 when he said, "I didn't see myself making any contribution to that music... All I could hear was a lot of noise. I didn't have any feeling for the music, and when I don't have feelings, I don't play." This was when Coltrane started down the free jazz route, not his most successful period with good reason. From ‘67 - ‘70 he was with Blue Note recording with his group and then joined Milestone for a period, when he experimented with different instruments and stayed with them until ‘81. He still records and tours.

I start with one of his later works, Fly With the Wind from the album of the same name from’76. His quartet of Billy Cobham (drums), Ron Carter (bass) and Hubert Laws (alto and flute) is augmented by strings, oboe, harp … a commercial success, it holds up well after all these years.

and here a Jobin Latin American tune, “Wave”:

Dave Brubeck has the distinction ? of being the first recipient of my hard-earned moolah in the jazz world when I purchased his Jazz at Oberlin album and joined the modern jazz world as an enthusiast. Thereafter a lot of Brubeck's work had little effect on me but his overall effect on jazz of the period was immense. You could say he was a “populist” as the public certainly went in droves to his concerts and purchased his albums in large quantities. Too much to put in here but his Wiki page is worth a read……

It was a combination of unusual time signatures and the use of block chording along with his smooth alto player Paul Desmond that kept Brubeck at the top of the jazz ratings for many years. Even after Desmond left his groups still toured to large audiences and his records still sold well, yet it was his ‘57 album Time Out containing all original compositions including the hit Take Five that he will be remembered for by most. Did the Oberlin album stand the test of time? To me it did as for obvious reasons it has a place in my appreciation of the genre; whether it actually stands the test is for you to decide.

How High the Moon from the Oberlin album, still a “tour de force” in my view and it still has the same effect when I listen to it now as then:

Ray Bryant earns a place on here for one reason: I liked him. His 1958 album “Alone with the Blues” is one of those records that I always return to and for that alone he gets his place, in a long career in which he was also a composer of several well known jazz number. He played with many of the greats of the be bop period: Parker, Davis, Hawkins and Sonny Rollins plus the singers Carmen McRae and Aretha Franklin.

From that album a solo masterpiece of blues playing My Blues (Blues No 5):

Herbie Hancock is best known for his fusion smash hit “Headhunters” and much of his fusion cum rock / jazz African music, but he started out as a classically trained pianist and was considered a child prodigy playing Mozart's Piano Concerto No 26 in D major with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the age of eleven!

In 1960 at the age of twenty he heard Chris Anderson play and begged him to be accepted as his student. He then left college and moved to Chicago where he worked with Donald Byrd and Coleman Hawkins, took further courses at Roosevelt University and got a degree in Fine Art to add to his degree in music and electronics he got from his other uni.

After playing with Phil Woods and Oliver Nelson he caught the eye of Miles Davis and joined his second quintet in ‘63. It was here he developed his style, and I quote: “Not only did he find new ways to use common chords, but he also popularized chords that had not previously been used in jazz. Hancock also developed a unique taste for "orchestral" accompaniment – using quartal harmony and Debussy-like harmonies, with stark contrasts then unheard of in jazz.“

He stayed with Davis until ‘68 and during that period made many albums under his own name as well as a sideman with many others on the Blue Note label. His two albums Empyrean Isles ‘64 and Maiden Voyage in ‘65 were to many his zenith in modern jazz as post be bop standards; after this time he started to experiment with larger ensembles using different instruments.

His branching out continued unabated, writing the score for Antonioni’s film Blowup (1966) and several TV commercials. He also started his route where he was incorporating popular music and rock into his work and electronic keyboards. He left Davis in ‘68 and formed his own sextet.

Leaving Blue Note a year after Davis and joining Warner Bros was the start of his electronic voyage. Mwandishi in ‘71 started the ball rolling but was not a success and more followed: it was in ‘73 with his new band The Headhunters that Head Hunters was released; a huge hit maybe, but the jazz world thought he had sold out to commercialism.

Since then he has worked in both the fusion pop rock world and returned to jazz. Much of his “popular music” has been slated but he never stood still and has always mixed the genres with a variable success rate with much of it incorporating electronics.

I own none of his more current work, to me most is interchangeable with almost any fusion/rock/ items out there, little has any point over buying an earlier Rick Wakeman album, but that’s just me.

This is from his Taking Off album of ‘62, Water Melon Man, his own composition recorded when he was just 22, with Freddie Hubbard and Dexter Gordon:

I was going to put up for comparison the later version with his Head Hunters band with Miles Davis in his fusion lost mode, but to me it is self indulgent rubbish; it seems many have gone this route, sadly.

Horace Silver was always a favourite of mine. One of the founders of hard bop, he grew up playing the piano and tenor sax at school. In 1950 he was recruited by Stan Getz and then he moved to NY. His co-founding of the Jazz Messengers with Art Blakey is what brought Silver and his compositions with that group to the public eye. He left the Messengers in ‘56 and formed his own group. In the ‘70s he not only disbanded his group as touring was interfering with his composing and his home life but he also went on a spiritual track. His output in this vein with Blue Note was not successful yet the company indulged him to a degree, though the titles were dropped from the catalogue later. His Silver albums from’75 on were a return to the group and sounds we knew and he finally left Blue Note in ‘78, the longest run (28 years) by any artist. According to Silver the new owners were not interested in jazz so he formed his own record company, toured for six months of the year and composed for the rest. Later he cut back the touring and his royalties from a substantial song book kept him going. Ill health in later life struck several times and his performances became sparser. After suffering undiagnosed blood clots he then contracted Alzheimer's; he died in 2014.

This is the ‘64 version of A Song for my Father, his own composition featuring Joe Henderson on tenor, lovely number and a jazz standard:


From the above it is obvious I have included little or nothing from the current crop of piano players, I have listened to the likes of Brad Mehidau, Keith Jarrett and Cecil Taylor Paul Bley and there is much to admire, the technical ability, the sounds, all can produce stunning music; but overall I find their albums hard work, and if they are hard work to listen to, 15 minute solos of 5 minute standards, then I don’t enjoy and don’t purchase. Yet not all is one beautiful note and a ten second pause: this Paul Bley from ‘62 When Will The Blues Leave with his trio is terrific.

I will leave it there.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Friday Night Is Music Night: Spring, by JD

Here is a selection of Spring (doesn't feel very springlike today but we live in hope):

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Sunday Music: Jazz Piano 2, by Wiggia

Duke Ellington

 With the start of be bop jazz went in only one direction for a while, where Bud Powell took it Thelonious Monk and others carried the flame forward. Monk of course had a separate article so I will not refer here to him in music terms, only by inference.

Lennie Tristano arrived on the scene in the mid to late forties bringing with him an expanded bop ethic incorporating classical harmonic themes from contemporary classical music.

Tristano was stricken permanently blind as a child, and studied music through his mother who played piano and was an opera singer; maybe this was the time that subconscious implanting of the classical harmonics happened ? He went to the Chicago school for the blind and learnt music theory and also played several wind instruments, then to a bachelor's degree in ‘43 from the Chicago American Conservatory of Music. From an early stage Tristano taught as well as played and he did this right up until his death in ‘78.

He also invented “free jazz” in ‘49 when his sextet including saxophonist Lee Konitz produced two albums with no pre set tempo meter or chord progression - this was ten years before the term “free jazz” was coined.

This is him playing “Tangerine” in 1965 whilst in Copenhagen.

From that there is that link to cool jazz, very refined and laid back and the travelling bass line very apparent. And here an earlier piano solo “Requiem” from ‘55, this piece was played at Charlie Parker's funeral.

Bill Evans became one of the most celebrated musicians in jazz on any instrument, another who was classically trained and whose inventive use of harmony, interpretation, his melodic lines and the use of block chording had a profound influence on pianists then and now.

In 1955 he moved to NY and met up with and worked with George Russell the bandleader. In ‘56 he joined Miles Davis and his sextet where his influence was such that the album they produced “Kind of Blue” became the biggest selling jazz album of all time - who indeed doesn’t own it?

He left Davis in ‘59 and set up his trio, a format that stayed with him and also the trio had the bassist Scott La Faro. La Faro died in a car accident in ‘61 after the trio had recorded “Sunday at the Village Vanguard”, an album that contained Evans' best known number “Waltz for Debby” which became a jazz standard. Some of his later work on solo albums involved overdubbing Like Lennie Tristano before him who used overlaid tracks, similar it was new ground.

Evans' own influences on the piano were Earl Hines, George Shearing and Nat Cole then Bud Powell, not obvious associations until you listen to his music.

The dark side of Evans was never far away, from his alcoholic father through struggling to get over the loss of La Faro he turned as so many did at that time to drugs, heroin, and his association with his girlfriend Ellaine who was also an addict saw his playing affected though they both went away and evidently kicked the habit, but in 1970 he turned to cocaine, his health suffered and when his brother committed suicide in ‘78 , he was a schizophrenic, his sister in law said he would not last long and his friend Gene Lees said it was the longest suicide in history , referring to his struggle with drugs. He died in hospital from multiple ailments in 1979.

His legacy is a volume of work that is important regards the jazz piano and always worth listening to. His album “Everybody Loves Bill Evans” was one of my first jazz record buys.

"Waltz For Debby", with Scott La Faro on bass and Paul Motian drums:

and this solo performance from his album “Alone” “A Time for Love” - everything he did was beautiful:

Oscar Peterson is one of those names almost everyone has heard at some time in their life. The son of West Indian parents who emigrated to Canada, he learnt first trumpet and piano but a bout of TB stopped the trumpet playing.

He was a prodigious performer both live and in the studio: there are over two hundred recordings to his credit and a world wide audience for whom he toured endlessly. Over sixty years of performing is good going in anyone's book.

Taught by his sister and then trained by a classical pianist, he was another with that classical background, it seems more prevalent with pianists than any other instrument in jazz, and Peterson would often throw in harmonisations and quotations from classical works. Of all the influences Art Tatum was the biggest and indeed Peterson was often likened to Tatum later in his career.

He worked with various outfits and even played as backing piano (if you can call him that) with Ella Fitzgerald, but it was his trio that defined him in most people's eyes; the one containing Ray Brown on bass and Herb Ellis on guitar is considered his best even by the man himself.

Various formats followed after the fifties.

He suffered ill health from childhood when arthritis formed and an increase in weight later did not help even after a replacement hip; in’93 he had a serious stroke that kept him out of action for two years and his performing after that was somewhat limited. In 2007 his health deteriorated rapidly and he canceled a concert and went home; he died of kidney failure at the end of that year.

His best known album is probably Night Train; his solo albums came somewhat later.

If Peterson had a weakness it was what some would call a lack of advancement: he stuck with what he knew and was another for whom TV beckoned, which meant you always got what you expected - nothing wrong in that.

"It Ain’t Necessarily So":

It Ain't Necessarily So - Oscar Peterson from JB - Jazz & Blues House on Vimeo.

and "Moten Swing" from the Night Train album.

Concert by the Sea is an album that was an enormous success for Errol Garner. One of the most distinctive pianists, his style and sound were instantly recognisable. Self taught, he could play the piano at the age of three, but never learnt to read music - an ear player all his life, with an amazing memory that helped counteract his lack of reading music.

At seven he was appearing with a group on local radio and by eleven playing on riverboats.

Only 5ft 2",  he played sitting on telephone directories; his style was such that comparisons and influences are not easy to define though Earl Hines is mentioned along with Fats Waller.

The Concert by the Sea album was the biggest selling album in its day and followed ten years of recording starting in ‘44. The same album was re released in 2015 by Sony in a 3 CD set with eleven previously unheard tracks, a legacy of his late manager's estate which also released much previously unheard material to add to a large existent catalogue; there are apparently in an agreement in 2016 between two music companies several master discs discovered that have never been published.

He was another who toured for most of his active career and was in demand world wide, appearing on Jazz 625 with Steve Race (for those old enough to remember) in ‘64, he died in ‘77 at the age of 53 after a cardiac arrest believed to be bought on by emphysema.

Here he plays Misty, his own composition and a jazz standard that is much played and was featured in the film starring Clint Eastwood (who is a jazz fan) "Play Misty for Me".

And the unforgettable version of "I’ll Remember April" from the ‘Sea album:

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Academia’s Intellectual Orthodoxy

Quillette has a piece on the invasion of the humanities by an intolerant political orthodoxy.

Over the last three or four decades, the humanities have witnessed a shift so massive that it is barely noticed anymore. What was once an upstart movement has achieved the status of a truly successful usurper—normality. The leather arm patched ancien régime has been exiled to the land of past things. Horn-rimmed glasses, tattoos, and dyed hair no longer occupy the periphery, but the center. It is a revolution so thorough that it has completely painted over the canvas of our mental imagery.

If you consider the stereotypical picture of a literature professor at a major university today, a myriad of images might come to mind—so many, in fact, that it might be impossible to conjure a single, coherent figure. However, what almost certainly won’t come to mind is a Byron-quoting septuagenarian in tweed.

This revolution has been political. Entire disciplines—Literature, Anthropology, Sociology, and the various interdisciplinary programs that end in the word “Studies” – have all become more strongly associated with a particular species of left-wing interpretation that now influences the broader discourse in journalism and on social media. In some departments, the social categories of analysis—race, class, and gender—have attained complete hegemony.

Equally interesting is the first comment on the article which suggests an apolitical cause.

This outcome was foreordained when research surpassed teaching as an academic’s primary duty and function. A teacher needs to love an intellectual field and desire to convey its beauty to a new generation; a researcher needs to generate papers and get them reviewed and approved by peers. The latter is an inherently political activity, and it attracts people whose talent and passion are for assessing the zeitgeist–political, social, intellectual–of a particular community, catering to it, and winning a position of social status in it. It should surprise no one that such people share many traits, and are inclined to disdain–and use their political skills to exclude–those whose intellectual approach is very different from theirs. Nor should it surprise anyone that the research output of such people is of little use to anyone but themselves, and contributes only to their own career advancement.

Monday, April 03, 2017

SJW Competition #1: "Cultural Appropriation"


Because of issues around cultural appropriation, from now on...

- geometry will only be taught by and to Greeks.

Your contribution?

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Sunday Music: Jazz Piano (Part 1) by Wiggia

Bill Evans (image source)

Modern jazz evolved for the piano as it did for all other instruments but the evolution gives as good a guide as any to where we are now with jazz as a music form.

Ragtime was the first stage on this journey and Scott Joplin could be said to have laid down the foundations in the late 1890s. He wrote Maple Leaf Rag, a hit and a breakthrough for Afro American music in being accepted as mainstream, but whilst “groovy” it was not really jazz.

When Jelly Roll Morton combined ragtime with blues improvisation and swing, stride piano was born; his fusion of ragtime and the blues was as near the origin of jazz as any can pin down. His composition in 1915 of Jelly Roll Blues was the first published piece of jazz music.

But although there was plenty of swing in his playing there was little room and indeed virtually no improvisation, it needed Earl “Fatha” Hines to correct that, quote……

“He tried to imitate the sensitive virtuoso line of his friend Louis Armstrong, while playing ragtime with his left hand. Without meaning to he was one of the first piano players that were improvising and swinging in a jazzy manner.”

Stride piano was born. With that, jazz moved from New Orleans to Chicago a new era in jazz started: blues was in !

James P Johnson and Fats Waller were not only great pianists and innovators but also composers of numerous hits of that era. For Johnson his tune “Charleston” was the biggest dance hit of the twenties, for Waller who became the most famous of the jazz pianists of the time it was a huge hit live and for his big selling endless hits he turned out for his record label Victor, his Broadway musical that starred Louis Armstrong in 1929 “Connie's Hot Chocolates” had Louis singing two of Waller's great compositions “Ain’t Misbehavin” and “Honeysuckle Rose”.

All of which leads us to Art Tatum, in the eyes of many contemporaries and many later the greatest of all jazz pianists. He used Waller's stride technique but expanded it with incredible left hand harmonies in very complex ways with amazing chord progressions and his incredible technique put him at the top of the tree. Two quotes from contemporaries say it all: when Tatum dropped in to hear Fats Waller play at a club in 1938 he said to the audience, "I just play the piano, but God is in the house tonight" and Teddy Wilson said “If you put a piano in a room, just a bare piano. Then you get all the finest jazz pianists in the world and let them play in the presence of Art Tatum. Then let Art Tatum play ... everyone there will sound like an amateur."

Art Tatum plays “Tea for Two”:

One is not enough of this man so here he is with Jerome Kern's “Yesterdays”:

The swing era that started in the twenties reached its peak during the thirties and forties and the big bands that gave people some good times during the Depression became exponents of swing, with the dance halls hosting many of the greatest names in jazz, culminating in Basie and Ellington. Swing piano was personified by Teddy Wilson and Mary Lou Williams. Teddy’s wonderful relaxed and flowing style was very successful and he had a string of hits with various singers including Lena Horne and Helen Ward, and played a big part in Billie Holiday's successes. He even had his own big band for a brief period but reverted back to small groups and eventually his trio.

In 1959 he recorded this version of Lullaby of Birdland:

and here at the end of his career in ‘65:

Mary Lou Williams was a much more influential figure than her current status suggests. Not only did she almost span all eras of jazz, always moving on pushing the boundaries, she never stood still or became bogged down in one era, and is acknowledged as the most important woman in jazz for roughly three decades. She was playing spirituals and ragtime by the age of four and playing at picnics and dances in Pittsburg at six !

Her writing and arranging started with her first group and she went on to write and arrange for most the big bands of that period.

When she moved to NY in ‘41 she became an important figure in the birth of be bop and her NY apartment was always full of those early be bop stars whom she cultivated: Gillespie, Davis, Dorham, Parker and Blakey plus many aspiring young musicians.

She was also one of the first to write extended jazz pieces (suites) such as the Zodiac Suite she wrote for Ellington and in later life when she turned to religion after an extended two year stay in Europe, she was rapturously received in the UK and played with the Ted Heath band in ‘53. On her return Stateside she started to write again but in a different vein, though she never forsook her jazz.

She wrote several spiritual pieces including a cantata and three masses, and her album from ‘63 “Black Christ of the Andes” a mixture of blues and gospel should be in everyone's record collection.

Charity works for down and out musicians and several shops sponsored by her to that aim were started in Harlem, and she took an artist in residence position at Duke University where she taught jazz history and arranged, it did not stop her performing in her final years including at the White House.

The lady paid her dues !

This version of “It Ain’t Necessarily So” is as fresh and modern as anything you will hear, beautiful piece:

and this from her ‘74 album “Zoning” on SYL-O-Gism:

Mary Lou deserves to be heard a lot more, a very important and very accomplished figure in jazz.

Into the be bop era and Bud Powell. Powell was the first pianist to adapt the Gillespie and Parker style of playing to piano, as a young child Powell learn the classical piano but was playing jazz at the age of eight; Thelonious Monk had a big part in educating Powell.

Powell's life was riddled by bad health and alcoholism plus spending many visits to mental hospitals for schizophrenia and he spent a large part of his relatively short life in France to escape the racism and pressures that were prevalent in the states. A combination of alcohol TB and malnutrition finally killed him in’66; an enormous funeral in Harlem followed.

His “Golden” period is considered to be ‘49 -’53; not much is available from that period on video and this version of I Want to be Happy with Mingus on bass and Roy Haynes on drums is not the greatest sound wise, but is a good example of the man in that period.

and this from ‘49 with Ray Brown, he was married for some time to Ella Fitzgerald, and Max Roach on drums, Tempus Fugit:

Because the be bop period and on, is so full of wonderful pianists, part 2 will follow.