Archive for Blue Note

Blind Man, Blind Man

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on October 9, 2019 by telescoper

I heard this on the radio the other night and thought I’d share it here as it’s been a very busy day and I haven’t got the energy to do anything else. It’s from My Point of View the second album Herbie Hancock made for the Blue Note label and was released in 1963. This number is quite reminiscent of the 16-bar blues Watermelon Man, the big hit from his first album but this one has a relaxed soul jazz groove all of its own, backed by straight eights played by the 17-year old drummer Tony Williams and there are nice solos by Grant Green on guitar, Hank Mobley on tenor and Hancock himself on piano.  Donald Byrd plays trumpet on this track, but doesn’t take a solo.


What The World Needs Now

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on August 15, 2019 by telescoper

I’ve always been a not-so-secret admirer of American songwriter and record producer Burt Bacharach, but when someone told me the other day that there’s an album called Blue Note Plays Burt Bacharach I assumed it was a wind up because Blue Note Records has for many years been an uncompromising voice at the cutting edge of modern jazz rather than the lighter and more popular form of music exemplified my Mr B.

There’s no reason why two forms of excellence can’t exist together, however, and the album is definitely real and is a very nice compilation of Bacharach numbers from Blue Note albums featuring various musicians over the years. Here’s an example featuring Stanley Turrentine on tenor sax, with McCoy Tyner on piano, Bob Cranshaw on bass and Micky Roker on drums. The tune is What The World Needs Now Is Love. Doesn’t it just?

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!

R.I.P. Rudy van Gelder (1924-2016)

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on September 1, 2016 by telescoper

One of the sad items of news that appeared last week while I was indisposed was the death at the age of 91 of legendary recording engineer Rudy van Gelder. He was the man who established the sound of a huge proportion of the greatest Jazz records made in the 1950s and 60s, including classic albums on the Blue Note, Prestige and Impulse labels by musicians of the calibre of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Art Blakey. It’s quite unusual for sound engineers to become famous, but Van Gelder certainly did and his passing has left us with a priceless legacy of extraordinary music.

By sheer coincidence, one of the books I took with me to read in hospital was this:


Written by Richard Havers, this is an excellent illustrated history of the legendary record label, Blue Note. Blue Note began with a number of classic recordings from the era of Sidney Bechet, Edmond Hall and Bunk Johnson, but it was the post-bebop era that really established the label  in terms of sound and distinctive artwork:

Van Gelder’s  first recording studio was set up in his house in Hackensack, New Jersey, and it was probably because of the unsuitable shape of the room he used that he experimented so much with, e.g.,  the number and placing of microphones and in the way he mixed the tapes do produce a much fuller sound than was typical for jazz recordings of that era.  He moved to a bigger house – again with a built in studio – later on, but stuck by many of his earlier innovations.

One immediate result of his habit of close-miking both solo and backing instruments – he was known to use three mikes on the drums, which was unheard of at the time – and recording them as “hot” as possible, was that he guaranteed that his records would have a huge and vibrant sound when played on a gramophone or jukebox. He also captured the unique sound that Miles Davis created when he played the trumpet with a Harman mute. When Miles moved from Prestige to another label he asked their engineers to reproduce exactly what Van Gelder had done. They wouldn’t -or couldn’t – do it.

Not everyone approved of Van Gelder’s approach. You can read some severe criticisms here. Some musicians – including Charles Mingus – didn’t like the sound at all either. But there’s no question that what he did brought a new dimension to what was an extraordinarily creative time for Jazz. An astonishing fraction of the great records described in the book I mentioned above were recorded by him. As a tribute I’m including the record that for me established the Blue Note sound, Moanin’ by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers recorded in Van Gelder’s Hackensack Studio, New Jersey in 1958, the cover of which is shown above.

Rest in Peace, Rudy Van Gelder (1924-2016).

Uncompromising Expression

Posted in History, Jazz with tags , on February 21, 2016 by telescoper

I don’t get much time for self-indulgence these days, but last week I treated myself to this book:


Written by Richard Havers, this is an excellent illustrated history of the legendary record label, Blue Note. Although primarily associated with post-war Jazz, Blue Note began with a number of classic recordings from the era of Sidney Bechet, Edmond Hall and Bunk Johnson.

I have only had time to dip into it so far, but what I have seen is superb, not only in terms of the text but also copious examples of the artwork that gave Blue Note albums their distinctive look.


Uncompromising Expression is a must- have for Jazz fans, although at just under £50 it’s not cheap. Fortunately I got a book token for Christmas!

Thelonious Monk – Misterioso

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on September 26, 2015 by telescoper

A couple of days ago I posted a piece of music by Eric Dolphy that was inspired by Thelonious Monk , so today I thought I’d post something by Monk himself together with my own appreciation of his music.

Thelonious Monk was a remarkable musician. His self-taught style of piano-playing was unlike that of anyone who came before or after him, including those followers who tried to copy him. He broke many rules, especially in the way he used his fingers – keeping them straight as he played to get a uniquely percussive sound from the instrument, well matched, on the track I’ve posted below, to the vibraphone of Milt Jackson.

Monk was often called “The High Priest of Bop” and regarded as one of the leaders of the post-war bebop revolution in Jazz alongside Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Actually, I don’t think Monk ever really played bebop at all. I’ve always thought the archetypal bop pianist was Bud Powell whose style was totally different to Monk’s. But the “High Priest” tag owed at least something to his eccentric personality: he hardly ever spoke and, aside from his music, he seemed to communicate with the outside world largely through his choice of hat.

Monk’s piano style is hard to describe – his wife Nellie once described it as “Melodious Thunk” – but I’ve always loved his music. To me his solos sound like someone talking directly at you in a strange and wonderful language that you don’t quite understand but which sounds beautiful anyway. His use of syncopation is quite different from the usual bebop musicians and it seems, to me anyway, to echo the rhythms of everyday speech. But, above all, when you hear Monk play the piano, you know immediately who it is. He had many admirers, but nobody could play like him. He was a genius.

In later life his behaviour became disturbingly erratic; he would sometimes stand up in the middle of a performance and go wandering around the stage.  In my opinion his music also deteriorated from the early sixties onwards.  I think it was generally assumed that he had a drugs problem, which he may well have had, but it was eventually realised that he was suffering from a serious mental illness. Although attempts were made to treat this, he stopped playing in the 1970s and lived out the rest of his life as a virtual recluse.

I remember very well the day he died, in February 1982. It was during the Newcastle Jazz Festival, on the day when the great British jazz pianist Stan Tracey was due to give a concert there. As we took our seats in the Newcastle Playhouse for the gig, an announcement was made that Thelonious Monk had died. Stan Tracey, for whom Monk had been a major musical inspiration, responded to the occasion by playing two sets exclusively consisting of tunes by his hero. It was one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to and remains strong in my memory to this day.

I think Monk’s best records are from the 40s and 50s, and he was certainly in his prime in 1948 when he recorded this classic performance, for the Blue Note label, of his own composition, Misterioso.

The Sidewinder

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on January 3, 2015 by telescoper

I don’t really know why it has taken me so long to write a post about this track. After all it is one of the most played pieces of music on my iPod. Better late than never, though, so here goes.

Recorded in New York City in 1963, and released on the Blue Note label a year later, The Sidewinder was the title track of an album that expanded trumpeter Lee Morgan’s place in Jazz from that of a musically respected artist to a higher and broader platform as a hit maker. The tune, an original composition by Morgan, is basically a long-meter blues, with 24 measures to each chorus instead of the usual 12. The chord sequence is close to that of a standard blues, but with an unexpected and highly effective minor chord subsitution at bars 17-18. It’s such a clever composition that it’s no surprise it has become a jazz standard. It even entered Billboard magazine’s top 100 chart for a while, which is unusual for an uncompromising piece of hard bop.

When I first heard the track many moons ago, I expected the intriguing rhythmic figure established during the opening ensembles to give way to a standard 4/4 beat to free up the soloists but it is kept up throughout the piece, showing that these musicians didn’t need to be freed up at all!

Lee Morgan was an amazing trumpeter, but he sometimes had a tendency to over-elaborate. Not here, though. He mixes simple phrases with long runs in a solo that must rank among his absolute best; the repeated B-flat in the last of his three choruses is a particularly fine example of the virtue of keeping it simple. Joe Henderson also delivers a fine and very propulsive solo on tenor saxophone, full of melodic variety and demonstrating his characteristic use of unusual intervals as well as that wonderful leathery sound. To my ears Barry Harris on piano struggles to keep the momentum going until the horns pick up a riff behind him to spur him on. Billy Higgins on drums keeps that complex but infectious beat going in superb style.

But for me the real star of the show is Bob Cranshaw whose funky bass lines in accompaniment demonstrate his rock-solid sense of time  and his solo is one of the grooviest you’ll ever hear from a double-bass.

If this doesn’t rouse you from post New Year torpor then nothing will!

Cherokee, by Clifford Brown

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on September 21, 2013 by telescoper

The blog’s been quite busy this week, so I’ll take it easy today and just indulge my love of 1950s jazz. This version of Ray Noble’s standard Cherokee is a vehicle for the virtuosity and creativity of the trumpeter Clifford Brown. The changes of this tune are notoriously difficult to improvise on, 64 bars of harmonic twists and turns that have led countless musicians onto the rocks, but Clifford Brown navigates them at full pelt with amazingly agility. Enjoy!

Wavy Gravy

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , on July 31, 2012 by telescoper

I was looking through my collection of old CDs last night and saw a track on Kenny Burrell’s classic album Midnight Blue with the title Wavy Gravy. I hadn’t noticed the name before, but thought it might do as a theme tune for my Cardiff colleagues who work on gravy waves  gravitational waves

Anyway, the album was recorded at the Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey on April 06-07, 1963, and originally released on Blue Note (4123). The complete personnel listing is: Kenny Burrell (guitar); Stanley Turrentine (tenor saxophone); Major Holley, Jr. (bass); Bill English (drums); Ray Barretto (congas).

It Never Entered My Mind

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on February 21, 2011 by telescoper

Before going to bed I couldn’t resist a late night post of this wonderful  version of a Rodgers & Hart ballad called It Never Entered My Mind recorded by Miles Davis for the Blue Note label in the early 50s. Listening to the later Miles Davis playing a standard tune such as this is a bit like trying to recognise an old friend from a photograph of his skeleton, but here he sticks quite closely  to the original composition.  With that hauntingly melancholic tone, however,  it is  pure Miles Davis all the way through.

The composition is a standard AABA form, but with interesting harmonic movements: the A sections (which aren’t identical) consist of repeated notes followed by descending scales whereas the B section – the middle eight – starts with a drop of a minor sixth followed by an ascending scale. It’s a simple device but wonderfully effective, especially in the hands of a genius. I think this track is an absolute gem.

The other musicians featured are Horace Silver (piano), Percy Heath (bass) and Art Blakey (drums). Bonus marks to those who can put names to the other jazz legends shown in the photographs, but don’t let the task of identifying them distract you from the beautiful music…