Archive for the Jazz Category

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

John McLaughlin

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

It’s Sunday and I’ve just finished work for the day. Too tired to write anything substantial I thought I’d share a track featuring and named after the guitarist I went to see at the National Concert Hall a few weeks ago. John McLaughlin is the 4th track on the Miles Davis (double) album Bitches Brew. It doesn’t feature Miles Davis on trumpet nor Wayne Shorter on saxophone but does involve the electric pianos of Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul, the bass of Dave Holland, the drums of Lenny White and Jack de Johnette, other percussion by Don Alias and Juma Santos and Bennie Maupin on bass clarinet; the latter addition to the ensemble being a stroke of genius by Miles Davis. I know quite a lot of fans of Miles Davis don’t like this album at all, finding it all a bit perplexing but I don’t mind music that’s a bit perplexing and I think it’s great. Most of the tracks are very long but this one is only four and a half minutes or so in duration, built around a simple riff laid over a loose and very dynamic rhythmic accompaniment. Like the other numbers, it’s almost entirely improvised.

Jubilee Stomp – Duke Ellington

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on June 5, 2022 by telescoper

As my only contribution to the ongoing Platinum Jubilee celebrations, here’s a classic record that’s almost as old as Queen Elizabeth II and is by a prominent member of the Jazz nobility, the Duke of Ellington.

As far as I know this is the first recording of Jubilee Stomp, made in early 1928, though the band made several other versions. At the time this one was made, Duke Ellington’s Orchestra had just started as the house band at the famous Cotton Club in Harlem which soon established the venue as the hottest nightspot in New York. That almost didn’t happen: the residency was initially offered to King Oliver, but he wanted too much money and so it passed to the second choice, Duke Ellington. The rest, as they say, his history.

Anyway, this is a digitally remastered version of the original Okeh recording, which brings out the best of the Ellington Band of that time, especially the great Wellman Braud who introduced the style of walking bass that quickly established itself as a mainstay of every rhythm section.

This version of Ellington’s Orchestra was actually only a ten-piece band, but it was packed with great soloists and you’ll hear superb growl trumpet from James “Bubber” Miley, clarinet from Barney Bigard, and trombone from Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton, among others. There’s also a nice example of the piano style of the young Duke Ellington himself. Enjoy!

John McLaughlin & The Fourth Dimension

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , on May 27, 2022 by telescoper
John McLaughlin last night (Picture Credit National Concert Hall)

Last night I went to the National Concert Hall in Dublin for a superb gig by guitarist John McLaughlin with his band The Fourth Dimension. This was the first time I’d seen him live though I have known some of his music on disc, especially two albums he made with Miles Davis in the late Sixties, Bitches Brew and In A Silent Way. Since then John McLaughlin has been consistently regarded as one of the best jazz guitarists ever. He is now eighty years old but apart from the fact that his hair is white you would never guess that. He looks as fit as a fiddle, and last the band played for over 90 minutes without a break.

John McLaughlin (who was born in Doncaster but who referred to Ireland as “the land of my ancestors”) is currently on a European tour and he began his concert last night with a heartfelt expression of his gratitude for being able to perform in person with his band after a gap of over two years. This period has been particularly difficult for Jazz musicians who depend so much on mutual interaction when performing. The first number they played was called Lockdown Blues

The band The 4th Dimension brings together excellent musicians from different cultures and musical traditions, integrating their all cultural influences in a unique way while at the same time preserving the spontaneity of jazz. The result is hard to classify – there’s definitely more than an echo of McLaughlin’s earlier musical work in jazz/rock fusion, but with diverse elements of world music thrown in. His own musical style is instantly recognizable to anyone who has heard music from his back catalogue, but subtly altered to suit his current band.

Gary Husband (right in the picture), who is from the UK, played keyboards (and drums on a couple of numbers). Ranjit Barot – Indian by birth and living in Mumbai – was the main drummer (sometimes playing together with Husband, hence the two kits in the picture); he also made various vocal contributions. On electric bass (left) was the extraordinarily virtuosic Étienne M’Bappé who is of Senegalese origins. The band played collectively but also in various combinations with and without McLaughlin, who tended to move around the stage generally encouraging and directing the traffic.

It was a fantastic gig with a wide range of musical influences being evidence. I noticed two pieces made famous by Pharaoh Sanders – The Creator has a Master Plan and The Light at the Edge of the World – but there were also numerous references to McLaughlin’s work with Indian musicians.

It was a very enjoyable performance that generated a huge response from the audience. The NCH wasn’t quite full, but it was a good crowd. I think I was in danger of forgetting how much I enjoy watching musicians as well as listening to their music.

So after a break since February 2020 I’ve finally resumed concert-going. It’s not only the musicians who have missed live music! As a matter of fact I’ll be back at the National Concert Hall this very evening after the final day of ITP2022, for a very different concert…

Ah Um! 100 Years of Mingus

Posted in Jazz with tags , on April 22, 2022 by telescoper

I discovered this morning that the great bass player, composer and bandleader Charles Mingus was born one hundred years ago today (on April 22nd 1922 in Nogales, Arizona). That gives me a great excuse to end the week by posting some music by him. The 1959 album Mingus Ah Um is one of my favourite albums not only in jazz but in any musical genre, and I think it’s a must-have for anyone interested in “modern” (i.e. post-War) jazz, so that’s what I’ve picked.

There are many great things about this album but probably the greatest of them is the extraordinary blend of thematic material and musical styles in represents. It would take a very long essay or even a book to pay appropriate homage to the kaleidoscopic variety of the shifting patterns and textures Mingus creates from ensemble and solo passages. Mingus’s compositional techniques allowed his musicians a remarkable freedom to express themselves which, together with the constant rhythmic and melodic variation, inspires them to great heights of inventiveness. Jimmy Knepper’s trombone solo on Pussy Cat Dues is really superb, as is the long sax solo on Goodbye, Porkpie Hat (a eulogy for Lester Young) which is usually attributed to Booker Ervin but I think is actually played by John Handy. Mingus himself introduces the first number Better git it in your soul, a wonderfully riotous Gospel-inspired creation, that explodes into life after his opening statements on bass.

There are not many albums that comprise traditional elements such as swing riffs, bop lines, and Gospel inflections alongside avant garde ideas like the intro and coda to Bird Calls, which sound like premonitions of the free jazz of Albert Ayler and others. A number of fine jazz composers inherited the legacy of Jelly Roll Morton (to whom Mingus doffs his cap in the last track) and Duke Ellington, including Gil Evans and Tadd Dameron, but in my view none was finer than Mingus.

Here is the whole album. Listen to the first track, and if you’re not hooked you can have your money back.

The Old Rugged Cross – George Lewis

Posted in History, Jazz with tags , , , on April 15, 2022 by telescoper

A descendant of Senegalese slaves, George Lewis was born in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1900 where he learned to play the clarinet and started to play with jazz bands in the 1920s. Many musicians left New Orleans for Chicago during that period but Lewis stayed and lived on in relatively obscurity until the New Orleans “revival” began in the 1940s. After appearing on records with likes of Bunk Johnson, Lewis became a sort of Patron Saint of traditional jazz, with a style rooted in the home-town traditions of Gospel Music and Street Parades that was very different from that of the popular clarinetists of the Swing Era such as Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. Lewis was never a great player from a technical point of view, but he was an authentic emblem of early Jazz and the back-to-basics move he represented proved very popular especially in Western Europe and Lewis had a late renaissance in his career in which he travelled widely playing with “traditional” bands around the world during the height of the “trad” boom of the fifties and sixties. He died in 1968.

Anyway, because it’s Good Friday I thought I would post this video of him in his later years playing the hymn The Old Rugged Cross, which was written in 1912 and has been a staple of New Orleans funeral processions ever since:

Blues Yesterday – Art Hodes

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on March 22, 2022 by telescoper

I’ve long been a fan of Art Hodes, a brilliant jazz and blues pianist, whose self-taught style reminds me quite a lot of Thelonious Monk, although Monk was a modernist and Hodes a traditionalist. It was only tonight however that I was reminded that he was actually born in Mykolaiv (Ukraine), in 1904, although he moved to America when he was only a few months old. He’s probably best remembered for some of the great early records of the Blue Note label, including some with Sidney Bechet, made in New York in the late 30s and early 40s, but he spent much of his later life playing and recording and living in and around Chicago. He died in 1993.

Anyway, here’s a record that wasn’t released until 1994, after his death, which is typical of his relaxed yet slightly quirky take on the blues and which I couldn’t resist sharing today because of the Ukrainian connection.

A Time for Peace Piece

Posted in Jazz on February 22, 2022 by telescoper

With all that’s going on in the world right now it seems appropriate to repost this beautiful track by the great jazz pianist Bill Evans. I remember reading somewhere that Bill Evans recorded this right at the end of a session, in 1958. It was unrehearsed, entirely improvised and done in one take. It’s based on a simple two-chord progression that subsequently appeared in Flamenco Sketches, one of the tracks on the classic Miles Davis album Kind of Blue. To my ears, Peace Piece is more redolent of the composition style of Erik Satie than any other jazz musician I can think of. Although it starts out very simply it becomes more complex and fragmented as it develops, and makes effective use of dissonance in creating tension to contrast with the rather meditative atmosphere established at the beginning. Anyway, this is one of my all-time favourite tracks by one of my all-time favourite jazz musicians so I hope you don’t mind me sharing it on here.

Jazz Quiz – Spot the Link

Posted in History, Jazz with tags , , , , on February 11, 2022 by telescoper

Time, I think, for a quick lunchtime jazz quiz. Here are two great old records from the classical period of Jazz. Can you spot the link between them?

The first is a slow blues recorded in 1928 called Superstitious Blues featuring a formidable singer by the name of Hattie Burleson in the company of Don Albert (trumpet), Siki Collins (soprano saxophone), Allen Van (piano), John Henry Bragg (banjo) and Charlie Dixon (brass bass):

The second, an up-tempo stomp recorded a year earlier in 1927, is one of the hottest jazz records ever made – the way it catches fire for the last 45 seconds or so is absolutely sensational no matter how many times you listen to it. It is performed by the Johnny Dodds (on clarinet) and his Black Bottom Stompers, consisting of George Mitchell and Natty Dominique on cornets, John Thomas on trombone, Charlie Alexander piano, Bud Scott banjo and Johnny Dodds’s younger brother, Warren ‘Baby’ Dodds, drums.

So, what’s the connection?

Well, nobody tried to answer so I will: real name of Don Albert, the trumpet player in the first track, was Albert Dominique and he was the nephew of the more famous Natty Dominique who played on the second track. Not a lot of people know that.

Rum & Coca Cola – The Christie Brother Stompers

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on December 11, 2021 by telescoper

And now for something completely different in the form of a lovely bit of British revivalist Jazz from 70 years ago. Once upon a time I had a 7″ EP record with this track on it, but I’m afraid I lost it along the way. I’ve been hoping someone would put it on Youtube and it seems about six months ago somebody did!

The song Rum and Coca Cola was a hit for the Andrews Sisters in the immediate post-war years although it began as a satirical calypso with clear references to prostitution. Anyway, it’s a catchy tune and it’s no surprise that it was picked up by traditional jazz bands during the New Orleans revival, including this terrific version by the Christie Brother Stompers made in 1951; note the calypso-style piano intro.

When this particular record was made, British bands were being heavily influenced by the discs that were coming over from the States at the time – especially from Bunk Johnson’s 1940s band and the Kid Ory band – to the extent that a recorded-in-a-garage sound was sedulously acquired. Despite the somewhat muffled sound quality, I really love this record for the general exuberance of the playing, especially that of the superb trombonist Keith Christie whose style of tailgate trombone was clearly influenced by Kid Ory.

Keith Christie was for some time a member of the front line of Humphrey Lyttelton’s band and when Keith Christie passed away in 1980, Humph devoted full hour on his weekly radio programme The Best of Jazz to examples of his work (including this track). I remember Humph drawing attention to the robust humour that permeated Keith’s playing and admitting that when he was with the Lyttelton band they had several band meetings in which he tried to get him to temper the playful side of things. Quite wrongly, he admitted because while Keith Christie often brought out the humorous side of trombone he never mocked it.

The revivalist bands of that day were indeed a bit po-faced about their jazz and although the music they produced is great fun to listen to, they were all deadly serious about it. I think “The Guv’nor” Ken Colyer (who plays cornet on this track) was even more grave than Lyttelton and I’m not sure how he felt about Keith’s propensity to emphasize the knockabout fun of the music, though it is true that this band did change personnel rather abruptly shortly after the 1951 session.

The full line-up is: Keith Christie (trombone); Ian Christie (clarinet, Keith’s brother); Ken Colyer (cornet); Pat Hawes (piano); Ben Marshall (banjo); Micky Ashman (bass); and George Hopkinson (drums). I think Keith Christie’s playing on this is absolutely terrific, not only his solo – built in Kid Ory style around a single phrase – but his rumbustious contributions to the ensemble from about 1:45 seconds. And what a head of steam they build up together! Enjoy!