Archive for the Jazz Category

Yellow Tango

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on January 12, 2018 by telescoper

Before 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 the piece). I thought I’d follow this up with another piece by Twardzik, this time in a trio with Carson Smith on bass and the excellent Peter Littman on drums.

This piece was recorded in late 1954, at which time the two great influences on jazz piano were Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. Here’s a good example of how Twardzik manages to nod in the very different directions of these two great musicians – the Monk influence in particular stands out a mile when the rhythm switches from Latin-American to 4/4 at about 1:43 – while also managing to find a very original voicea which was all his own. It’s such a terrible shame that within a few months of this session Twardzik was dead (of a heroin overdose, at the age of 24) and jazz had lost one of its most promising young artists.

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Hold ’em Joe – Sonny Rollins

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on January 6, 2018 by telescoper

So I’m in Dublin airport waiting to board a (delayed) flight. Since it’s cold and dark outside I thought I’d take the opportunity to use the free airport Wi-fi to share something that put a bit of a spring in my step when I heard it on the radio a couple of days ago. It’s a truly phenomenal performance on tenor saxophone by the great Sonny Rollins over an infectious calypso rhythm generated by Mickey Roker on drums. Enjoy!

 

 

The Fable of Mabel

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on December 22, 2017 by telescoper

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!

The Sonny Rollins Williamsburg Bridge

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on December 12, 2017 by telescoper

Between 1959 and 1961 the great tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins took a break from making recordings to practice intensively, developing his technique and expanding his musical vocabulary. Living in New York City, but lacking anywhere private to play, he went every day to Williamsburg Bridge to practice. The first record he made after this `sabbatical’ was called The Bridge, released in 1962, and now regarded as a classic:

There is now a move afoot to have the Williamsburg Bridge renamed as the Sonny Rollins Williamsburg Bridge. There is a petition here.  Please consider signing it. I have!

Here’s a little video about The Sonny Rollins Bridge project:

And if you’re on Twitter can follow their account here:

 

Ellington meets Tchaikovsky

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on December 9, 2017 by telescoper

Jazz and classical music don’t always provide a palatable blend, but here’s one cocktail that definitely works, especially in the festive season. It’s from the 1960 album The Nutcracker Suite by Duke Ellington, based on original music for the ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovksy. Most of the arranging on the album was, I think, done by Duke Ellington’s regular collaborator Billy Strayhorn,  and the result is every bit as witty, elegant and charming as you’d expect. No doubt some classical music fans will hate this, but I think it’s wonderful!

This is the Overture. If you like it do check out the other tracks!

Thelonious Monk, Genius of Modern Music

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on November 21, 2017 by telescoper

I was delighted to discover that this week’s Composer of the Week on BBC Radio 3 is none other than the great Thelonious Monk, who thoroughly deserves the honour as he was enormously influential as a composer as well as a bandleader and piano soloist. Many of Monk’s highly original compositions – such as Blue Monk, Straight No Chaser, In Walked Bud and ‘Round Midnight– have become jazz standards, but his unique approach to composition really changed the entire evolution of jazz in the immediate post-war era. In fact, Monk is the second-most recorded jazz composer ever, after Duke Ellington (a man he admired enormously and whose piano style influenced Monk’s).

The series of radio programmes about him is particularly timely as this year marks the centenary of his birth (10th October 1917).

In my top 50 jazz albums there would probably be about half a dozen by Thelonious Monk. I’ve loved his music since I heard the very first track by him way back when I was a teenager. Although he has often been given the nickname `The High Priest of Bop’, I’ve never really thought of him as fitting neatly in the bebop style – the archetypal bebop pianist was surely Bud Powell – but he was clearly a profound influence on others of that era, such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. I should add that he was entirely self-taught, which is probably how he managed to get that instantly recognisable sound. You only need to hear one note to know that it’s Monk.

I think the word `genius’ is extremely overused these days, and I tend to reserve it for those who show such an astonishing level of creativity that you think to yourself `Where on Earth did that come from?’. In my opinion it is no exaggeration to apply the word `genius’ to Thelonious Monk. He was a very special artist. Indeed when he was signed up by the fledgling Blue Note label in 1947, they called his first albums Genius of Modern Music..

Anyway, when I listened to yesterday’s programme on iPlayer I remembered this, a compilation of Monk’s advice to band members (as collected by saxophonist Steve Lacy in 1960). As well as being in places very funny, it also contains a great deal of very sound advice for young musicians (especially the first, `Just because you’re not a DRUMMER, doesn’t mean that you don’t have to KEEP TIME’.

I also like `Don’t play the PIANO PART. I’m playing that.’. I’m sure there’s a story behind every one of these tips!

By way of my own little tribute to Thelonious Monk here’s one of my favourite Monk tunes, as recorded with Milt Jackson on vibes way back in 1948. It’s typically offbeat Monk composition, and also provides great examples of him as a soloist and accompanist. Just listen to what he does behind Milt Jackson’s solo on I Mean You, which appeared on Genius of Modern Music Vol. 1…

 

 

 

G.W. – Eric Dolphy

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on October 3, 2017 by telescoper

What better way to celebrate today’s announcement of the award of the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics for the detection of Gravitational Waves, than to play this amazing Eric Dolphy track called `G.W.’ from the album Outward Bound?

This album was recorded in 1960, and the stellar personnel listening is as follows: Eric Dolphy (alto saxophone on this track but also bass clarinet and flute elsewhere on the album); Freddie Hubbard (trumpet); Jaki Byard (piano); George Tucker (bass); Roy Haynes (drums). It’s a great line-up but listen out for the opening solo by Dolphy! Wow!