The Fable of Mabel

Now, as a special Christmas treat, I present for you one of my all-time favourite pieces of music. It was recorded by Serge Chaloff Octet in Boston, in September 1954 and I’ve loved it ever since I first heard it on The Best of Jazz, the radio show that was presented by Humphrey Lyttelton for many years on Radio 2, way back in the 1980s. Humph had eclectic musical tastes and I am forever in his debt for introducing me to relatively obscure pieces such as this which have given me so much pleasure over the years. I can see I’m not the only WordPress blogger who loves this track too!

The lineup for this track is Serge Chaloff (baritone sax) Herb Pomeroy (trumpet) Gene DiStachio (trombone) Charlie Mariano (also saxophone) Varty Haritounian (trumpet) Dick Twardzik (piano) Ray Oliveri (bass) and Jimmy Zitano (drums). Serge Chaloff was a famously dissolute and chaotic character, who struggled to control a serious narcotics habit, but he was a marvellously accomplished player of the huge and unwieldy baritone sax. Chaloff plays beautifully on this track but the star is the amazingly innovative pianist and composer Dick Twardzik, who wrote the piece. Had he not died so young (in 1955, of a heroin overdose, on tour in Paris with Chet Baker, at the age of just 24) he would have become a household name in Jazz.

Twardzik had this to say about The Fable of Mabel on the sleevenote:

The Fable of Mabel was introduced to jazz circles in 1951-52 by the Serge Chaloff Quartet. Audiences found this satirical jazz legend a welcome respite from standard night club fare. In this legend, Mabel is depicted as a woman who loves men, music and her silver saxophone that played counterpoint (her own invention which proved impractical). The work is divided into three movements: first, New Orleans; second Classical; and third, Not Too Sad An Ending. The soulful baritone solo Serge Chaloff traces Mabel’s humble beginnings working railroad cars in New Orleans to her emergence as a practising crusader for the cause of Jazz. During her Paris days on the Jazz Houseboat, her struggle for self-expression is symbolized by an unusual saxophone duet Charlie Mariano and Varty Haritrounian. Mabel always said she wanted to go out blowing. She did.

This piece is radically different from the mixture of bop tunes and standards that provided the bulk of the repertoire for Chaloff’s band in the 1950s and it provides a superb example of how the musical revolution pioneered by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk et al. opened the doors and ushered in a wave of creativity that fanned out in all kinds of unexpected directions. I love The Fable of Mabel for its quirkiness, the virtuosity of the playing, and for the edgy, Noir-ish atmosphere that it generates. Incidentally, it’s interesting that most of the musicians on this track are of Eastern European extraction, as were many of the leading lights of Film Noir. I always felt this track would make a perfect soundtrack for such a film.

If ever got asked to go on one of those radio programmes where you have to pick your favourite pieces of music, this would definitely be among my selections. I hope you enjoy it too!

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One Response to “The Fable of Mabel”

  1. […] Christmas I posted one of my favourite pieces of music, The Fable of Mabel, performed by a band led by Serge Chaloff and featuring pianist Dick Twardzik (who also composed […]

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