Archive for the Jazz Category

Attica Blues

Posted in History, Jazz, Music with tags , , on September 9, 2021 by telescoper

I was reminded just now that today marks the 50th anniversary of the Attica Prison Rebellion, the bloodiest prison riot in American history which began on 9th September 1971 as a protest against poor living conditions in the Attica “correctional facility” in New York state. Four days of violence ensued that ended in the deaths of 32 inmates and 11 prison officers, along with scores of wounded.

That episode inspired a brilliant album by Archie Shepp, which I have on LP (above), which is dedicated to George Jackson, a leading member of the Black Panthers who was shot dead while attempting to escape from San Quentin prison in California in August 1971, an event which contributed to the tensions in Attica prison that led to the riot a few weeks later.

Musically, the album is a fusion of soul, funk and avant-garde Jazz, the arrangements incorporating strings and vocals alongside the jazz soloists. The sound is absolutely redolent of the early 70s. Here’s the title track, Attica Blues:

R.I.P. Charlie Watts (1941-2021)

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on August 24, 2021 by telescoper

I’ve just seen the sad news of the death at the age of 80 of the Rolling Stones’ drummer Charlie Watts. Tributes are justifiably pouring in, mainly concentrating on his career as a rock drummer. I’ll just say that while I’ve never seen the Rolling Stones play live, I did go and see Charlie Watts play at Ronnie Scott’s club in London with a jazz group. I thought they were pretty good actually, with Watts on drums not at all trying to hog the show but instead playing very unobtrusively thought still clearly enjoying himself in the more intimate surroundings of a Jazz club rather than a huge rock venue.

In fact Charlie Watts began as a jazz drummer and although he earned his fame and made a fortune after switching to rock and roll, he always kept an interest in jazz. Indeed he recorded an album of performances of Charlie Parker tunes from which I picked the track below. My Dad – himself a Jazz drummer who was never effusive in his praise of other drummers – rated Charlie Watts as technically sound rather than flashy which was the opposite to most rock drummers. At any rate he passed the test of holding the sticks “properly” (i.e. using the trad grip).

Anyway, by way of my own little tribute to an excellent musician and somewhat eccentric gentleman, here is Charlie Watts with his Quintet playing the Charlie Parker composition Bluebird.

Rest in Peace, Charlie Watts (1941-2021).

Ophelia – The Milcho Leviev Quartet, featuring Art Pepper

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , on August 17, 2021 by telescoper

One of the LP records that struck a chord when I was going through my stuff in Cardiff last week was this one:

Looking back over the blog I discover that it was almost exactly ten years ago that I wrote about the very same album so I thought I’d post it again, in slightly amended form.

I first heard the track below on Humphrey Lyttelton*’s Radio 2 show The Best of Jazz, which I used to listen to every Monday night when I was at School. I must have heard this sometime around 1981, i.e. about thirty years ago. From the moment I heard the first achingly beautiful phrases of theme of this tune, called Ophelia, I was entranced and it did more than any other single record to fill me with a love of modern jazz. Although I’d always loved jazz, I had tended to think of it as music “of the past” – even the “modern” jazz of e.g. Charlie Parker fell into that category – and usually made in a recording studio. This sounded so new, so exciting, and indeed so beautiful, that it filled me with the urge to hear live jazz whenever and wherever I could. It cost me a lot of money and a lot of late nights, but I think it was worth it.

The performance was recorded live at Ronnie Scott’s Club in London in June 1980 and released on the small British record label Mole Jazz, an offshoot of the famous (and sadly now defunct) record shop of the same name that used to be on Gray’s Inn Road. I loved the track Humph played so much I got the album Blues for the Fisherman straight away (by mail order) and, although I still have it, I have almost worn it away by playing it so much. It’s a brilliant, brilliant album, with the intense atmosphere of a live performance adding to the superb playing of the musicians.

The band is listed as the “Milcho Leviev Quartet featuring Art Pepper”, although that was probably for contractual reasons, as this was the same band that toured extensively as “The Art Pepper Quartet”: Art Pepper on alto saxophone, Milcho Leviev on piano, Tony Dumas on bass and Carl Burnett on drums. I was lucky enough to see this band play live at the Newcastle Jazz festival not long after I got the record and they were great then too. Art Pepper sadly passed away in 1982.

As far as I’m aware this record wasn’t released on CD until very recently and, fortunately, a public-spirited person has put the tracks from the original album and some previous unreleased material on Youtube, so I’ve seized the opportunity to post the track which did so much to inspire me about jazz when I was 18 years old. There’s so much to enjoy in this piece, including the superb drumming of Carl Burnett and virtuosic piano of Milcho Leviev, but the star of the performance for me is Art Pepper (who also wrote the tune). His playing is at times lyrical and at times agonized, but always compelling and this band was especially good at spontaneous transitions of mood and dynamic. I love this performance, and I hope some of you will too.

P.S. Incidentally, Humphrey Lyttelton was born in May 1921 so he would have been 100 this May had he lived.

Kush – Art Blakey & Buddy De Franco

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , , , , on August 13, 2021 by telescoper

One of the things I did during my recent visit to Wales was to pack up my old vinyl LPs for removal to Ireland. I have quite a lot of them on digital formats now but that’s not true of all of them so I’m looking forward to listening to the others very soon.

I bought this particular album Blues Bag as a curiosity as it features the unlikely combination of Buddy De Franco on clarinet (bass clarinet on several tracks, including the one below) and Art Blakey on drums.

Whatever I thought the combination of the smooth style and impeccable technical virtuosity of Buddy De Franco with the powerful and aggressive drum foundryman Art Blakey would be like before I bought the LP, when I first heard it the thing that struck me was how superbly they complemented each other.

Anyway, I thought I would post a track so you can decide what you think. This is Dizzy Gillespie tune called Kush. I think this version is great, with very fine work on the drums by Blakey.

Pennies from Heaven – Lester Young

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on July 27, 2021 by telescoper

Well, some proper rain has arrived at last. I think the plants in my garden are pleased so I thought I’d celebrate with this lovely version of Pennies from Heaven (“Every time it rains it rains Pennies from Heaven”) by the great Lester Young recorded live in a small club, Olivia Davis’s Patio Lounge in Washington D.C., in 1956. In about 1981 bought a set of several LPs recorded over this six-night residency with a house trio led by Bill Potts on piano. People say that “Pres” was in decline at this stage of his life, but it doesn’t sound like that to me from the recrods. The band was a bit nervous when they met their esteemed guest before the first night’s performance as there was no time for a rehearsal, but they gelled immediately playing a selection of blues and standards. Lester Young didn’t need much to send him on his thoughtful way – he often paid even less attention to the tune than he does here – and he clearly enjoyed himself in this modest setting.

I’m Old Fashioned – Curtis Fuller

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on May 15, 2021 by telescoper

Saddened to hear of the death last week of the great Jazz trombonist Curtis Fuller I’ve been thinking of an appropriate track to play. Fuller had a long and distinguished career alongside many great artists which makes it difficult to pick just one track as a tribute, but as so often is the case I found myself gravitating back to the late 1950s which I think is probably my favourite period in Jazz history.

Thus I settled on a track from the studio album Blue Train recorded in 1957 by a sextet led by John Coltrane and featuring Curtis Fuller (trombone) and Lee Morgan (trumpet) with Kenny Drew on piano, Paul Chambers (bass) and Philly Joe Jones on drums. It’s a superb album which is a must-have for any serious collector of this music. I thought I had already posted a track from this album on here, actually, but apparently I haven’t.

John Coltrane is now an established as one of the leading figures in the development of modern Jazz but this record is a reminder that he achieved recognition somewhat later in his life than many other soloists. At 31, he wasn’t exactly old when this album was recorded in 1957 but he was certainly no newcomer either. Obviously it took him a while to find his voice. By contrast the trumpeter Lee Morgan was, astonishingly, only 19 when this record was made; Curtis Fuller was in his mid-twenties.

Everyone plays beautifully on all the tracks on this album, and the blend of trumpet tenor sax and trombone in the ensemble gives this band a very distinctive sound, but I’ve picked a track on which Curtis Fuller really excels as a soloist. The rest of the tunes being based on the blues, this is actually the only ballad on the album, written by Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer, and called I’m Old Fashioned

R.I.P. Curtis Fuller (1932-2021)

International Jazz Day – A Tribute to Humph

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , , on April 30, 2021 by telescoper

Today is International Jazz Day which gives me an excuse to post this documentary about the late great Humphrey Lyttelton the anniversary of whose death was last weekend; he passed away on 25th April 2008.

I particularly like this programme because, as well as talking about his own career as a musician and bandleader and as brilliant chairman of the panel show I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, it mentions his radio show The Best of Jazz which I listened to avidly every Monday night and from which I learned a huge amount about the music that I love so much. I taped many of these broadcasts actually, but have long since lost the cassettes. Although his own music was in the mainstream he always played a wide selection of Jazz tracks both ancient and modern on his programme and introduced me to many artists I would otherwise never have heard of.

I wish I knew how it would feel to be free – Nina Simone

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on April 6, 2021 by telescoper

First performed in 1963, this classic anthem of the civil rights movement in the USA the words to this song (written by Billy Taylor) seem to me to have a few relevance in this time of enforced isolation.

R.I.P. Chris Barber (1930-2021)

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , , on March 3, 2021 by telescoper

I just saw the news that British trombonist and bandleader Chris Barber passed away yesterday at the age of 90. Chris Barber was one of the leading lights of the traditional jazz boom of the 1950s and 60s, during which he led a very fine band including trumpeter Pat Halcox and clarinetist Monty Sunshine among others.

I was fortunate to meet Chris Barber on a couple of occasions at Jazz festivals and he struck me as a really nice man as well as an excellent musician: very friendly and cooperative even with a young student wanting to do an interview for a college magazine. An interesting factoid about him is that he was a very fluent speaker of German and his band toured Germany frequently, even performing in East Berlin in 1965; you can see a recording of that concert here.

I was trying to think of a track to put up as tribute and decided on this one because it allows me to answer a question I asked on this blog a couple of years ago. When I was at school I used to listen to Sounds of Jazz a BBC2 Radio 2 programme presented on Sunday evenings by Peter Clayton. I always used to switch over from John Peel when Sounds of Jazz started and would always listen all the way through. It always ended with this track, a lovely version of an old blues tune called Snag It which I think was written by King Oliver.

R.I.P. Chris Barber (1930-2021).

My Funny Valentine – Miles Davis

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on February 14, 2021 by telescoper

From the album Cookin’ by the Miles Davis Quintet* of 1957 here is a classic.

*John Coltrane was in the Quintet but doesn’t play on this track: the musicians are Miles Davis (tp), Red Gardland (p), Paul Chambers (b) and Philly Joe Jones (d).