Archive for the Jazz Category

R.I.P. Tony Coe (1934-2023)

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on March 18, 2023 by telescoper

It’s a very sad coincidence that just the day after I had reason to blog about the death of Wally Fawkes, I have to mention the death of another superb jazz musician also associated with the clarinet, Tony Coe, who has passed away at the age of 88. In a prolific career and leader and sideman, Tony Coe also played with Humphrey Lyttelton’s band (from 1957-61) but he is best known for his work in more modern forms of jazz. He was known for the virtuosity and originality of his style, not only on clarinet but on tenor, alto and soprano saxophone. I read yesterday that he was also the first music teacher of Tim Garland who, on his Facebook page, mentions that he found Coe’s tenor playing rather reminiscent of that of the great Paul Gonsalves, which I’d never thought of before but is true.

My first encounter with Tony Coe was on an album I bought round about 1981 called The Crompton Suite by the Stan Tracey Sextet. It’s a rare find on vinyl these days but I still have my copy:

I haven’t heard this for ages because I no longer have a turntable and as far as I’m aware it hasn’t been re-released on any digital format, but I remember it very well and would have picked a track from this album as a tribute if it were on YouTube but instead here’s a lovely recording he made just a couple of years ago with John Horler on piano, the title track of the very nice album Dancing in the Dark:

R.I.P. Tony Coe (1934-2023)

R.I.P. Wally Fawkes (1924-2023)

Posted in Art, Jazz with tags , , , , on March 16, 2023 by telescoper

I just heard today – via the latest Private Eye – of the passing of Wally Fawkes on 1st March at the age of 98. His name won’t be familiar to many of the readers of this blog, but it is a name that I grew up with in a jazz-loving family. Wally Fawkes played clarinet with Humphrey Lyttelton’s band in its heyday in the late 40s and early 50s and was the last surviving member of that group. That band may have had a rhythm section that always sounded like its members were wearing diving boots, but the front line of Humphrey Lyttelton (trumpet), Wally Fawkes (clarinet) and Keith Christie (trombone) was truly outstanding.

Wally Fawkes wasn’t just a musician, though. He was also the acclaimed cartoonist known by the pseudonym Trog, and contributed a variety of cartoons to a variety of magazines and newspapers, including the long-running comic strip Flook. He was also an occasional contributor to Private Eye. He had to give up drawing in 2005 because of failing eyesight, after 62 years in the business.

I’ve already drawn attention to Wally Fawke’s excellence as a clarinet soloist with the Lyttelton band on The Onions at the famous 1954 Festival Hall Concert so it seems apt to pay tribute to his skills as both a cartoonist and a musician by returning to that concert for him playing his own composition Trog’s Blues. Wally Fawkes was a huge admirer of Sidney Bechet, and this tune clearly pays homage to Bechet’s monumental Blue Horizon (which I think is the finest instrumental blues ever recorded) but while Bechet’s blues performances were hewn from granite, Wally’s were wrought from finest porcelain.

R.I.P. Wally Fawkes (1924-2023)

R.I.P. Wayne Shorter (1933-2023)

Posted in Jazz with tags , on March 2, 2023 by telescoper

I got home this evening to find the sad news that legendary saxophonist Wayne Shorter has passed away at the age of 89. I only got to hear him live once, many moons ago, when he was part of a band led by drummer Jack de Johnette (I think that was in the early 1990s) but I have a big collection of CDs of him in various settings, including with Miles Davis, The Jazz Messengers, and, of course, Weather Report. As a tribute I feel it’s appropriate to post a great record he made as leader.

Speak No Evil was recorded in 1964 and released as a Blue Note LP in 1966. It features a superb band, including Freddie Hubbard (tpt), Herbie Hancock (p), Ron Carter (b) and Elvin Jones (d) alongside Shorter himself on tenor saxophone. It’s one of the must-have jazz albums, and it demonstrates Shorter’s flair for composition as well as improvisation. In both respects his approach to this album is very different from that he took just a few years earlier with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Standout tracks on this album include the suave yet unsettling Dance Cadaverous, the brooding Fee-fi-fo-fum, and the curiously agitated Witch Hunt.

Every piece on this album was composed by Shorter and as a player he revels in the ambiguous harmonies he created alongside the melodies. Although his style is clearly influenced by Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, his tone is unlike either of these other giants, and Shorter expresses his individuality through varying emphasis producing asymmetric phrases. His playing is very quick-witted, full of abrupt changes of mood and dashes of fierce humour. A good example is Infant Eyes, a theme made up of three 9-bar phrases, played at a leisurely pace, on which Shorter’s lines impose a sense of determined exploration when many other soloists would have dawdled.

Anyway, don’t take my word for it. You can listen to the full album as a playlist on Youtube. The track order is: Witch Hunt, Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum, Dance Cadaverous, Speak No Evil, Infant Eyes and Wild Flower.

R.I.P. Wayne Shorter (1933-2023)


Posted in History, Jazz with tags , , , , , on February 21, 2023 by telescoper

Today is Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day, and Mardi Gras, which gives me three excuses to post an authentic New Orleans parade tune from way back in 1927.

Jazz began with the marching bands that performed in New Orleans but then largely moved into the bordellos of Storyville, the biggest (legal) red light district in the history of the United States. When Storyville was closed down in 1917 as a threat to the health of the US Navy most professional jazz musicians lost their only source of regular income. Fortunately the very lawmakers who condemned jazz for its association with vice and crime soon passed a law that unwittingly ensured the music’s survival, proposing the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, passed in 1919, which prohibited the manufacture, distribution and sale of alcohol for human consumption. This was soon followed by the Volstead Act, which gave federal government the powers to enforce the 18th amendment. This ushered in the era of Prohibition, which turned Chicago into a bootlegger’s paradise almost overnight and jazz musicians flocked there to perform in the numerous speakeasies. That’s why so many of the great New Orleans Jazz records of the 1920s were actually made in Chicago.

Although the exodus was substantial, not all Jazz musicians left New Orleans. Many stayed there and kept the roots of the music going while it branched out in Chicago and, later, New York. Most of the bands that stayed kept going through the depression but never really achieved great commercial success until the traditional Jazz revival of the 1940s and 1950s. This example is a record produced by the Victor Record Company who sent a recording unit to New Orleans in 1927 to record some of the musicians who had stayed behind, many of them still playing in the marching band tradition of Buddy Bolden.

The title is To-Wa-Bac-A-Wa. I don’t know what it means but it’s an old French creole version of a tune that has subsequently reappeared many times in different forms with different names, most notably Bucket’s Got A Hole In it. The band is Louis Dumaine’s Jazzola Eight. Besides the lead cornet of Louis Dumaine, who lived from 1889 to 1949, it’s worth mentioning the clarinet style of Willie Joseph, which is heavily influenced by that of the great Johnny Dodds.

Anyway, it’s the kind of jaunty march-like number that’s perfect as a Mardi Gras parade tune and it always puts a spring in my step every time I hear it! There are also some old photographs of Mardi Gras parades to get you in the mood.

The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady

Posted in Jazz with tags , on January 20, 2023 by telescoper

I was just reminded via social media that it was on this day 60 years ago, i.e. on 20th January 1963, that a recording session took place under the direction of Charles Mingus that led to the class album The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. I hadn’t realized that this entire album was recorded in a single day!

The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady relies much less on soloists than earlier Mingus performances and involves a rather bigger band: Mingus himself (bass, piano and composer); Jerome Richardson (soprano & baritone saxophone, flute), Dick Hafer (tenor saxophone, flute); Charlie Mariano (alto saxophone); Rolf Ericson and Richard Williams (trumpet); Quentin Jackson (trombone); Don Butterfield (tuba, contrabass trombone); Jaki Byard (piano); Jay Berliner (acoustic guitar); and Dannie Richmond (drums). Charlie Mariano is outstanding on this album but the other solos tend to be short, acting more as punctuation than as part of the actual composition. It is very much an orchestral work, with thematic material introduced and recycled in various ways, some of it from pervious recording sessions. That gives this work a retrospective feeling, as well as being very original in style. Overall the sense is of Mingus trying out how he could use elements of his past approaches in a new direction. A good example are the accelerando passages. Danny Richmond did have a bit of a habit of speeding up, but on this album these bits are intentional. The first, however, starts very abruptly and doesn’t really work. Mingus tries the idea again, much more successfully, and again a couple of times more.

This is a great album but I think it provided Mingus with a practical difficulty, in that he was clearly getting more interested in longer works with big orchestral textures but most of the venues he could play in could only cope with smaller bands. He responded by working more at jazz festivals that could indulge this taste.

Anyway, here is the whole album which I have just listened to all the way through. I have it on vinyl LP and CD but fortunately it is also on the YooToob:

As Time Goes By – Dexter Gordon

Posted in Jazz with tags , on January 19, 2023 by telescoper

I’ve been grading examinations all day and still haven’t quite finished so here’s a quick post I’ve been keeping up my sleeve for a busy day. It’s the great Dexter Gordon recorded in 1980 playing As Time Goes By. Ever since Coleman Hawkins recorded Body and Soul in 1939, the yardstick by which tenor saxophonists have tended to be measured is their playing on ballads and Dexter Gordon was right up there among the best. It’s very hard to play with accuracy and imagination at slow tempo than it is to produce a quick flurry of notes. Young musicians can learn a lot from his intelligent, but never overcomplicated, improvisations.

This performance was filmed in 1980 when Dexter Gordon was 57 years old but it has to be said that he looks much older, no doubt as a result of his lifelong struggle with drugs and alcohol. He seems somewhat inebriated as he recites the words to the song at the start – something he did regularly in live performances – but once he’s in the zone he plays quite beautifully. I am sad I never got to see him live; Dexter Gordon passed away in 1990, at the age of 67.

P.S. When he was much younger, Dexter Gordon featured in one of the most famous of all jazz photographs taken by Herman Leonard in 1948 which I’m taking the liberty of posting here:

Time goes by indeed.

Free Jazz – A Collective Improvisation

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2022 by telescoper

In late 1960 the great saxophonist Ornette Coleman did a recording session with a stellar band of eight musicians: Coleman himself (alto sax); Eric Dolphy (bass clarinet); Freddie Hubbard and Don Cherry (trumpets); Charlie Haden and Scott Lafaro (both on bass); Billy Higgins and Ed Blackwell (both on Drums). The octet thus formed is actually two quartets and these are presented one on each stereo channel.

What Ornette Coleman did with these musicians on that day was extraordinary, a piece of collective improvisation that lasted almost 40 minutes duration and which had never been attempted before on record. It’s not entirely improvised – there is a brief introduction and some pre-arranged polyphonic passages (some just an individual chord) between the soloists – but other than that the soloists were told to take turns playing whatever they liked while the rest of the band should accompany as they saw fit. The intervals between solos are largely dissonant which produces an interesting challenge for the soloists in deciding exactly how to start.

One aspect of this otherwise superb album that doesn’t work consistently for me is the inclusion of two drummers; tt least at the start they seem to get in each other’s way more than anything else but as the piece develops they seem to understand that a more subdued approach is needed and that makes it easier for the soloists as well as making the atmosphere looser and more relaxed. Listening to this track just now it struck me how much it is dominated by Ornette Coleman who directs the traffic as well as playing a terrific solo of his own in the middle.

This track was Free Jazz was originally released in two parts on a vinyl LP but it’s now available on CD in one track, along with the originally discarded first take. Not surprisingly given the nature of the piece, critics were divided, with some recognizing it as an important new development, and others hating it. This record is not exactly easy listening and when I first heard this about 40 years ago I didn’t get it at all, but now I think that for all its unevenness it’s a superb record. If you’ve got 40 minutes to spare you can now listen to it and make your own mind up!

R.I.P. Pharaoh Sanders (1940-2022)

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on September 25, 2022 by telescoper

Yesterday I heard the sad news that yet another legendary jazz musician – the tenor saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders – has passed away at the age of 81. As well as having one of the iconic beards of jazz, he had a unique and instantly recognizable style on tenor sax, heavily influenced by African and Asian music, sometimes involving raucous flurries of notes, sometimes overblowing, biting the reed or growling into the horn to achieve unusual effects, and sometimes playing with a contemplative lyricism evoking a deep sense of spirituality.

Pharaoh Sanders began his recording career in the 1960s with John Coltrane on the great albums Ascension and Meditation. His playing then was avant-garde free jazz somewhat reminiscent of Albert Ayler but with a strong influence of Coltrane whom he influenced in return. Later on he embraced wider influences, including electronic instruments, as exemplified by the album Thembi. Later he moved away from free jazz improvisation to more traditional approaches. His recorded output decreased from the end of the 1980s but he carried on touring extensively and still creating wonderful music.

I’ve had the great privilege to hear Pharaoh Sanders play live on a number of occasions and he was terrific every time. He played at the National Concert Hall in Dublin just a few years ago but I was unable to make it to the concert.

I’ve been listening to Pharaoh Sanders tracks all morning to remind myself what a great musician he was. Out of all the superb tracks I could have picked going back to the mid-60s I picked this one, from the 1987 album Africa which I think exemplifies his later style very well. The track is You’ve got to have freedom:

P.S. You might be interested to know that the drummer on this track, Idris Muhammed, also played the drums on Fats Domino’s Blueberry Hill way back in 1956…

Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke: Singin’ the Blues

Posted in History, Jazz with tags , , on September 4, 2022 by telescoper

 Leon “Bix” Beiderbecke became a jazz-age romantic legend not only by playing brilliant cornet but also by drinking too much bad prohibition liquor resulting his premature death in 1931, at the age of only 28. His short life was punctuated by episodes of very bad health caused by chronic alcoholism in an era when the only booze that was available was bathtub gin or rotgut whisky. Despite all his problems, Bix still gave us some of the greatest ever jazz records.

Although he was of middle-class white origins, Bix’s playing was deeply admired by leading black musicians of the day notably the great Louis Armstrong. Some years ago I listened to a radio play called Bix: Singing the Blues which is a fictional account of the only occasion in which Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong played together, in a private, after-hours session. Given the description of that as “fictional” I assumed that Bix and Satchmo didn’t know each other well. Recently, however, I came across a recording of Louis Armstrong talking about Bix Beiderbecke that shows I was wrong:

(There is one little bit of confusion in the discussion: Bix wasn’t 31 when he died: he died in 1931, at the age of 28. )

So how good was Bix? Well, make your own mind up. Here is his classic version of Singing the Blues, with Frankie Trumbauer’s Orchestra in 1927, a three minute track in which Bix’s stunning solo starts a minute in and lasts a minute.

Jazz being largely improvised music, it is often a bit rough around the edges; even the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens have their share of duff notes. Bix’s solo on this record with that beautiful ringing, bell-like tone, and effortless swing at what is quite a slow tempo, is as close to perfection as you’ll ever find.

But you don’t need to take my word for it.

During his heyday in the1920s Louis Armstrong played virtually every popular tune that was put in front of him, including many songs that seemed unpromising from a jazz perspective, and in the process turned any amount of base metal into solid gold. Singin’ the Blues was a smash hit, but Louis Armstrong refused to play it. When asked why he replied that he didn’t think he could play it as well as Bix. There is no higher praise.

Dizzy on the French Riviera

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on July 18, 2022 by telescoper

Today’s high temperatures provide me with an excuse to post my favourite hot-weather music, the 1962 album Dizzy on the French Riviera. Can this really have been recorded 60 years ago?

Anyway, the album features the great Dizzy Gillespie Quintet of that time which was heavily influenced by Latin American sounds and had Argentinian Lalo Schifrin on piano, a man best known as a prolific composer of film and TV scores. The band also featured Leo Wright, a very under-rated saxophonist and flautist, and is augmented on some of the tracks by various percussionists. I have lost track of the number of times I’ve listened to the happy seaside sounds of children playing leading into to the opening track No More Blues