Archive for the Jazz Category

Flamenco Sketches for International Jazz Day

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , on April 30, 2019 by telescoper

I discovered only this morning that today, April 30, is International Jazz Day 2019 so I thought I’d post a track to mark the occasion. This is from the all-time classic album Kind of Blue featuring the Miles Davis Sextet and it was recorded on April 22, 1959 – just over 60 years ago! This album appears very frequently in lists of top jazz records, but it’s so good I don’t think there’s any risk of getting bored with it no matter how often you hear it.

Flamenco Sketches involves a series of solos each improvised on a set of five scales; it’s the fourth section that hints at the Spanish influence alluded to in the title. The tempo is very slow, which contributes the air of solemnity as does the absolute perfection of the solos. In that respect it has clear parallels with some of Duke Ellington’s work. Miles Davis, who opens and closes the track on muted trumpet, and Bill Evans on piano are absolutely faultless but I particularly enjoy John Coltrane’s playing on tenor saxophone: his tone is as bleak and austere as an Arctic sunrise, and just as wonderful and he conjures up an absolutely beautiful improvised melody. Other members of the band are Cannonball Adderley (as), Paul Chambers (b) and Jimmy Cobb (d).

Enjoy! And a Happy International Jazz Day to you all!

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Cherokee – Clifford Brown

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on April 6, 2019 by telescoper

Well, I’ve been on duty all day so far at the Open Day I mentioned yesterday and am about to knock off and go home for a rest but first I thought I’d share this wonderful version of Cherokee, a tune that because of its complex chord changes is generally regarded as a test piece for jazz musicians. You’d never guess that from the ease that Clifford Brown shows as he tackles the 64-bar harmonic labyrinth at a breakneck tempo. If you want an example of jazz as a white knuckle ride, this is it!

Clifford Brown was a phenomenal virtuoso on the trumpet and it’s so sad that he died so young, at the age of 25, in a car accident. This performance was recorded in August 1953 and features an extended solo by Clifford Brown followed by a series of four-bar exchanges with the great drummer Art Blakey. Other principals are Percy Heath on bass and John Lewis on piano; Gigi Gryce (alto) and Charlie Rouse (tenor) also participate on the intro and outro. Enjoy!

Fat Tuesday!

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , on March 5, 2019 by telescoper

Well, it’s Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day, Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday which gives me four excuses to post this lovely old record made by Humphey Lyttelton’s Paseo Jazz Band in the early Fifties. That’s the band that featured Humph’s regular crew alongside a number of London’s marvellous West Indian musicians of the time, hence the abundance of percussion and the resulting infectious calypso beat. Enjoy!

Norman Granz Jam Session No. 6

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 26, 2019 by telescoper

It behoves me to spend most of this evening at a postgraduate Open Evening here at Maynooth University so I thought I’d take a little tea break and post a bit of Jazz.

This recording, made in 1954, is from one of the famous `All-Star’ jam sessions organized by impresario Norman Granz. These are fascinating for jazz fans because they provide a rare opportunity to hear extended solos from great musicians, not confined to the usual three-minute 78rpm records of the period. This one is almost half an hour long altogether, and was originally issued in two parts (on either side of an LP record) so there’s a rather clumsy edit half way through. There are also a few jumps on the record, but I don’t think they spoil this classic too much.

Norman Granz liked to select contrasting musicians for these spontaneous recordings and this line-up was clearly intended to juxtapose modernist trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie with his boyhood inspiration Roy Eldridge. It is indeed fascinating to hear them play one after the other, but the star of this show for me is the great clarinettist Buddy De Franco whose solo is absolutely superb – few Jazz clarinettists are able to match his control in the upper register. The other musicians clearly enjoy his solo too; I’m pretty sure that it’s Dizzy Gillespie you can hear delivering the encouraging shouts as De Franco gets into full flood.

The soloists (in order) are: Flip Phillips (tenor sax); Bill Harris (trombone); Buddy De Franco (clarinet); Oscar Peterson (piano); Herb Ellis (guitar); Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet); and Roy Eldridge (trumpet). The other musicians providing rhythm accompaniment are Ray Brown (bass) and Louie Bellson (drums). That’s not a bad band is it?

The tune played here is the swing era standard Stomping at the Savoy which is a good choice for this kind of jam session because (a) everyone knows it (b) the melody is quite simple, and (c) it has interesting chords for the musicians to improvise over. It is in standard 32-bar AABA format with a relatively simple A section (Db6, Ab9, Db6, Ddim, Ebm7, Ab7, Db, Db) but has a B section (bridge) with considerable chromatic embellishment (Gb9/G9, Gb9, B13/F#m6, B13, E9/F9, E9, A13, Ab9b); these are assuming that it is played in Db. It’s fascinating to hear how each of the soloists navigates the middle eight on this record.

Stomping at the Savoy is usually played a bit faster than it is here, but I like this beautifully relaxed and comfortably swinging tempo.

UPDATE: By an amazing coincidence*, Part 1 of this session was played by Bernard Clarke last night on The Blue of the Night (at about 10.30).

*It’s not a complete coincidence, as we had an exchange on Twitter about it a while ago and he said he would try to play it sometime – it was nevertheless a surprise that he played it on exactly the same day as I posted this!

Piano in the Foreground

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , , , on February 19, 2019 by telescoper

Judging by the statistics provided by WordPress about the traffic on this blog, there’s less than overwhelming interest in the posts I do about Jazz. Whenever I put such an item on here the number of hits invariably goes down nearly as steeply as when I post poetry. On the other hand, there is at least some overlap between people who like Jazz and people who read this blog for other reasons. Last week, for example, during the public defence of a PhD thesis in Copenhagen the candidate made reference to an album by the great pianist, composer and bandleader Duke Ellington. A large part of the dissertation was devoted to foreground contamination of the cosmic microwave background, which is why Piano in the Foreground came up. I even asked a question about the album cover at the end of the talk – I recognized Duke Ellington and drummer Sam Woodyward, but couldn’t name the bass player. It turned out to be a trick question, in that two bass players appear in the personnel listing of the album, but the one in the picture is Aaron Bell.

Undaunted by the likely negative impact on my blog statistics, I thought I would share the album here. Ellington didn’t record many albums with a piano trio, which is a great shame as he had a wonderful individual style that comes across very well in that setting. He was also extremely influential pianist – you can definitely hear his influence in Thelonious Monk, for example.

Here is the whole album via Youtube and very fine it is too. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did listening to it over the weekend for the first time in decades!

The Way You Look Tonight – Eric Dolphy

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on February 8, 2019 by telescoper

It’s been a very busy week so I’m about to go home and dive into a glass or two of wine, but before doing that I thought I’d leave a little something for the weekend.

Among the other things I have to do next week is make a short trip to Copenhagen to examine a PhD candidate. This track was recorded live at Copenhagen on September 8 1961 and it features Eric Dolphy (alto sax), Bent Axen (piano), Erik Moseholm (bass) and Jørn Elniff (drums). The tune The Way You Look Tonight is an old standard, written in 1936 by Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern, but what a version this is! Dolphy tears through the changes on this performance, reinventing the piece in a way that turns what might be a routine tune into something absolutely new and refreshing. The combination of virtuosity and exuberance of the saxophone playing in this phenomenal performance is absolutely exhilarating. Enjoy!

The Blue of the Night: Giant Steps from Ondine

Posted in Jazz, Music with tags , , , , , , on October 17, 2018 by telescoper

Time for a quick lunchtime post before I settle down to an afternoon of marking coursework.

On Monday evening after finishing preparing my lectures and things for Tuesday, I decided to tune in for a while to The Blue of the Night on RTÉ Lyric FM which is presented by Bernard Clarke. This is a programme that I listen to quite often in the evenings as I enjoy its eclectic mix of music.

Anyway, the Blue of Monday Night included a recording of the movement Ondine from the piano suite Gaspard de la Nuit by Maurice Ravel. As I listened to it, I started to think of an entirely different piece, the jazz classic Giant Steps, by John Coltrane (which I’ve actually posted on this blog here). Not really expecting anything to come of it, I sent a message on Twitter to Bernard Clarke mentioning the fact that the Ravel piece reminded me of Giant Steps. A few minutes later I was astonished to hear Giant Steps playing. Bernard had not only replied to me on Twitter, but had slipped the Coltrane track into the programme. Which was nice.

That confirmed the similarity in my mind and I did some frantic Googling to see if anyone else had noticed the similarity. Of course they have. In a rather dense article about music theory (most of which I don’t understand, having never really studied this properly) I found this:

I didn’t know at first what the up and down arrows annotating the two pieces were, but they represent the harmonic progression in a very interesting way that I had never thought about it before. The assertion is that in some sense the (sub-dominant) IV and (dominant) V chords which very common in popular music are closely related. To see why, imagine you play C on a piano keyboard. If you go 7 semitones to the right you will arrive at G, which is the root note of the relevant V chord. That’s up a perfect fifth. But if instead you go 7 semitones to the left you get to F which is a fifth down but is also a perfect fourth if looked at from the point of view of C an octave below where you started. In this way `up’ arrow represents a perfect fifth up (or a perfect fourth down) while the `down’ arrow is a perfect fifth down or a perfect fourth up. This is deemed to be the basic (or `simple proper’) chord progression.

Single or double arrows to left or right represent substitutions of various kinds (e.g. a minor third), but I won’t go further into the details. The key point is that while the actual chords differ after the first few changes because of the different substitutions, the chord progression in these two piece is remarkably similar judged by the sequence of arrows. The main exception is a different substitution in bar 3 of the Coltrane excerpt. Both pieces end up achieving the same thing: they complete an entire chromatic cycle through a sequence of basic progressions and substitutions.

I don’t know whether Coltrane was directly inspired by listening to Ravel or whether they both hit on the same idea independently, but I find this totally fascinating. So much so that I’ll probably end up trying to annotate some of the chord changes I’ve worked out from other recordings and see what they look like in the notation outlined above.