Archive for the Jazz Category

Stardust – Louis Armstrong

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

This wonderful recording of Hoagy Carmichael’s great song Stardust was made in 1931 by Louis Armstrong with his big band. After the heights that Armstrong reached in the 1920s, starting with King Oliver and then with the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens, some jazz critics maintain that the 1930s were a comparative wilderness. Well, I think he sings and plays beautifully on this so if this is a wilderness just take me to it, and I’ll pitch my tent there anytime!

Rondo alla Trad

Posted in Film, Jazz with tags , , , , on July 17, 2017 by telescoper

I think this will probably alienate serious jazz fans and serious classical music fans in equal measure, but I stumbled across this while searching for something else and couldn’t resit posting it here. It’s from the 1963 film Live it Up and it features Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen playing their arrangement of the famous Rondo alla Turca from the third movement Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 11 (K331). It’s not as far fetched as you might think to perform this with a band led by a trumpet player because Mozart’s composition deliberately imitated the music of the Janissary marching bands which were much in vogue in Austria in the latter part of the 18th Century.

Anyway, when I clicked on this I thought I was going to hate it, but you know what? I rather like it!

The Versatile Four

Posted in History, Jazz with tags , , , , , on July 14, 2017 by telescoper

I’ve posted a few examples of Jazz drummers recently, so I thought you might be interested in this, a rare recording of performance from the (pre-Jazz) Ragtime era that provides a good example of where  Jazz drumming came from. This track was recorded in London way back in 1916 and it’s remarkable for the clarity with which you can hear the drums, which in those days usually proved very difficult to capture.  The tune, Down Home Rag (written by Wilbur C. Sweatman) was a big hit at the time and remains in the traditional jazz repertoire to this day. It’s played by The Versatile Four an almost legendary ragtime band that I know very little about other than the personnel: Tony Tuck (banjo; born 1879 Virginia); Charles W. Mills (piano; born 1883 Illinois); Gus Haston (banjo, vocals; born 1880 Missouri); and  Charlie Johnson (drums; born 1885 Kentucky). I’m not sure who it is who blows the whistle, but it may well be the drummer.

Charlie Johnson’s playing of the drums may sound very old-fashioned and a bit staff to ears accustomed to the swinging style of the jazz era, and he no doubt used a very crude kit, but this recording shows what an absolutely superb musician he was. You can also clearly hear the influence of the sort of drum patterns used by military marching bands. As well being an interesting piece from the point of view of music history, the drummer suffuses this high-energy performance with a sense of knockabout fun that is guaranteed to bring a smile to even the most crabbed face!

 

 

Take Five with Joe Morello

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on June 13, 2017 by telescoper

Not long ago I posted a clip of a drum solo by the great Joe Morello which has proved to be extremely popular. Since a meeting I thought I had this afternoon has been cancelled I’ve decided to take five minutes out to post another terrific drum solo.

The tune Take Five, composed by alto saxophonist Paul Desmond and recorded by the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1959, became a hit at the second attempt when it was re-released in 1961. It proved so popular that the band performed many versions of it live, manu of which can be found on youtube. This one is not unusual in that it is performed at a faster tempo than the version that was released as a single. I read an interesting blog post a while ago that explains how Joe Morello’s arrival almost broke up the Dave Brubeck Quartet, as Paul Desmond and he had clashing personalities. I think Part of that was Morello’s predilection for tempos that were a bit faster than Desmond was comfortable with; Paul Desmond had a beautiful tone, but in contrast to many of his Jazz contemporaries on the instrument, he was never a speed merchant on alto saxophone. He seems to be less fluent than usual on this track, at least at first, probably because of the speed.

Joe Morello’s drum solo, on the other hand, is characteristically wonderful. Just watch his superb left-hand technique, from a relatively gentle opening to when he turns down the strainer on the snare drum he starts to build up to a stunning climax in which his hands are far too fast for the camera. It’s a great solo, not only because of it’s technical brilliance but because it’s so beautifully constructed. All in 5/4 time too…

Summertime – Albert Ayler

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on May 26, 2017 by telescoper

George Gershwin’s beautiful song Summertime has been recorded countless times in countless ways by countless artists, but if you’re expecting it to be performed as a restful lullaby, as it is normally played, you’ll probably be shocked. This version is a heartbreaking expression of pain and anguish performed by the great Albert Ayler, and it was recorded in Copenhagen in 1963.

P.S. The painting shown in the video is by Matisse….

Gene Krupa and Benny Goodman in Chicago

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , on May 10, 2017 by telescoper

Following up the post I did last week about Joe Morello which proved very popular, here is another about a drummer whose name came up in the discussion following that item, Gene Krupa.

Gene Krupa didn’t exactly invent the image of the drummer as a madman who sat at the back of the band, but he certainly cultivated it. He may sometimes have lacked subtlety in his playing, but he always injected a huge amount of energy into a performance whether in a small group (as here) or behind a big band.

His extrovert personality proved an excellent complement to the rather introverted bandleader Benny Goodman which, together with his undoubted technical ability, led to them having a very long working relationship. That said, Gene Krupa did leave the Goodman Orchestra in 1938 reportedly because Benny Goodman didn’t his drummer’s tendency to hog the limelight, insisting on taking a drum solo in just about every number. They did continue to work together for many years afterwards, however, as this clip demonstrates.

Many people credit Gene Krupa for basically inventing the modern drum kit and was certainly one of the first drummers in Jazz to be well known as a soloist and, indeed, the first to become a nationwide celebrity. He also inspired subsequent generations of drummers: Keith Moon of The Who was an admirer of Gene Krupa and I was told some years ago that Krupa also provided the inspiration for `Animal’, the drummer in the Muppet Show band.

People don’t generally realize what a smash hit Benny Goodman’s band was in the pre-War years – their fame was exactly on the scale of the `Beatlemania’ of a few decades later.

My Dad taught himself to play the drums using a book called The Gene Krupa Drum Method. I found his (very old and battered) copy of it among his personal effects after he died almost a decade ago and gave it – along with his drums, sticks, brushes, etc – to a local school. One thing that came from learning from a book was that he learnt to read drum music very well, which helped him get jobs with various dance bands. Few Jazz drummers of his generation could read music.

This performance, dating from the 1960s, represents a kind of reunion the three members of Benny Goodman’s famous trio of the 1930s (Goodman, Krupa and Teddy Wilson), along with bassist George Duvivier. I never really understood how that original trio managed to get away without having a bass player, but it was hugely popular and made a number of terrific records.

There’s a (somewhat rambling) verbal introduction by Benny Goodman, so I’ll restrict myself to a couple of observations. One is that Gene Krupa (who is clearly enjoying himself in this clip – watch him at about 3:07!) shows off the `trad’ grip very effectively. The other is that if you look closely at Teddy Wilson’s right hand you can see that he doesn’t have the use of his index finger, which he was unable to unbend. I believe that came about as the aftermath of a stroke and it caused him a lot of problems in later life although he carried on playing well into the 1980s. Anyway, he still plays very nicely, as do they all. Enjoy!

Unsquare Dance

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on May 4, 2017 by telescoper

By way of a small postscript to last week’s post about the great Joe Morello, here’s a piece that shows he was such a great drummer he didn’t even need a drum!

Dave Brubeck’s tune Unsquare Dance is basically a blues built around a single bass figure and played in 7/4 time, making it not inconsiderably difficult to dance to. Difficult, but not impossible! On top of that the tempo actually speeds up during this performance. It’s normally a cardinal sin for a rhythm section in jazz to speed up – the beat has to stay rock steady while the soloists push ahead or lag behind. That’s what generates the sort of dynamic tension that characterizes as swinging performance. In this tune Dave Brubeck was just playing a little joke on the `foot-tappers and finger-snappers’ so he can be forgiven for his trangression.

Listen out, though, for Joe Morello’s contribution. His solo consists entirely of rim shots (made by striking the rim rather than the skin of a snare drum). I believe it is Joe Morello who laughs out loud at the end, partly with relief that they managed to get through this tricky little piece without screwing up!

As you can see, this was released as a 45rpm single and it became quite a hit (by the standards of Jazz records), reaching No. 14 in the UK charts back in 1962.