Archive for Cannonball Adderley

Cheers to Two Fellow Bloggers

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , , , , , , , on February 3, 2010 by telescoper

Last Friday I went as usual with a bunch of Cardiff astronomers to the local pub, The Poet’s Corner, for a traditional end-of-the-week drink or two. This is by no means the most upmarket hostelry in the vicinity of the School of Physics & Astronomy, but it’s quite friendly and serves pretty good beer. The older generation have been finding their way there after work each Friday for some time now, but more recently we’ve found quite a few of our postgrads ending up there too, usually playing pool while the oldies indulge in a chinwag.

Last week, I was a bit surprised to bump into a fellow astro-blogger and Cardiff PhD student , Rob Simpson (orbitingfrog), in the pub. I’m one of the regulars, but he’s not usually there.  It turned out it was a special occasion and he was celebrating, as he’d just been offered a postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of Oxford starting in March.  I mention this partly to offer my congratulations on here – well done Rob! – and partly to demonstrate that despite all the doom and gloom about STFC there are still opportunities for talented people to carve out a career in UK astronomy. As long as they finish writing up their thesis, that is…

It was interesting to chat with Rob about his blog, something I rarely get the chance to do. I don’t know many bloggers personally. His site has been around much longer than mine, he gets way more readers than me, and I also think our audiences are quite different. 

The number of people reading my blog has been growing steadily since I started and  I now  average about 1000 unique hits a day, few compared with many sites, but many more than I would have anticipated when I started. However, on top of this trend there are large fluctuations depending on what I’m posting about. All the recent doom and gloom about STFC  generated a lot of readers, no doubt in the same way that bad news sells newspapers, as did the ongoing story of Mark Brake of which more, perhaps, soon. Moreover, some of my referrals come from very peculiar places. A couple of my jazz and poetry pieces are now linked from wikipedia articles, although who put them there I don’t know. I’m flattered, of course, but just hope that nobody actually thinks I’m some kind of expert. Generally speaking I’m very surprised that people read this sort of post at all, but I guess it’s not the same people that read the more obviously science-based posts.

However, there is at least one astronomer that reads the jazz and poetry posts too, and that’s another blogger called Sarah Kendrew (her blog is here; she’s a postdoc in the Netherlands). We had a little electronic chat a few days ago, during which I discovered that she plays the oboe and was interested to know if there’s any jazz on that instrument. Jazz owes at least part of its origin to the marching bands of New Orleans which typically used army surplus musical instruments – trumpet, trombone, clarinet, etc. When jazz moved off the streets and into the bordellos of Storeyville, pianos were added, the portable brass bass or tuba replaced by a double string bass, and individual bass and snare drums were incorporated in a drum kit. Later on, saxophones became increasingly popular in jazz groups of various sizes, and so on. As the music developed and diversified I think pretty much every instrument there is has been used to play some form of Jazz. For some reason, though, the oboe never caught on as a jazz instrument. I don’t know why. Answers on a postcard.

This got my curiosity going, so I hunted around and found this  video on Youtube of Yusef Lateef playing oboe in 1963 with the Adderley Brothers (Julian, also known as “Cannonball”, and Nat). I’d never seen it before, and although I don’t think Lateef sounds all that fluent, it’s a really interesting sound and I’m very grateful to Sarah for prodding me in it’s direction. The tune is called Brother John.

P.S. If anyone wants to challenge me to find a bit of jazz involving an instrument of their choice, please feel free!

On Green Dolphin Street

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , , , , , on May 31, 2009 by telescoper

Years ago in 1980, when the great pianist Bill Evans passed away suddenly, Humphrey Lyttelton paid tribute to him on his radio programme “The Best of Jazz” by playing a number of tracks featuring him. I didn’t really know much about Bill Evans at the time – I was only 17 then – but one track that Humph chose has been imprinted on my mind ever since, and it’s one of those pieces of music that I listen to over and over again.

The track is On Green Dolphin Street, as recorded in 1958 by the great Miles Davis sextet of the time that featured himself on trumpet, John Coltrane on tennor sax, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley on alto sax, Jimmy Cobb on drums, Paul Chambers on bass and Bill Evans on piano. This is the same band that played on the classic album Kind of Blue, one of the most popular and also most innovative jazz records of all time, which was recorded a bit after the recording of On Green Dolphin Street.  I love Kind of Blue, of course, but I think this track is even better than the many great tracks on that album (All Blues, Flamenco Sketches, Blue in Green, etc). In fact, I’d venture the opinion – despite certainty of contradiction – that this is the greatest Jazz recording ever made.

On Green Dolphin Street was suggested to Miles Davis the band’s leader by the saxophonist Cannonball Adderley. It was the theme tune from a film from the late 1940s. It’s also the title of a more recent very fine novel by Sebastian Faulks.

I think the Miles Davis version demonstrates his genius not only as a musician himself but also as a bandleader. On Green Dolphin Street definitely bears the Miles Davis hallmark, but it also manages to accommodate the very different styles of the other musicians and allows them also to impose their personality on it. This is done by having each solo introduced with a passage with the rhythm section playing a different, less propulsive, 3/4 time behind it. This allows each musician to set out their stall before the superb rhythm section kicks into a more swinging straight-ahead beat  (although it still keeps the 3/4 feel alongside the 4-4, courtesy of brilliant drumming by Jimmy Cobb) and they head off into their own territory. As the soloists hand over from one to the other there are moments of beautiful contrast and dramatic tension, especially – and this is the reason why Humph picked this one in 1980 – when Bill Evans takes over for his solo from Cannonball Adderley. He starts with hesitant single-note phrases before moving into a richly voiced two handed solo fully of lush harmonies. It’s amazing to me to hear how the mood changes completely and immediately when he starts playing.

Not that the other soloists play badly either. After Bill Evans short but exquisite prelude, Miles Davis takes over on muted trumpet, more lyrical and less introspective than in Kind of Blue but still with a moody,  melancholic edge. He’s followed by John Coltrane’s passionately virtuosic solo which floods out of him in an agonized stream which contrasts with Miles’ poised simplicity. By contrast, Cannonball Adderley is jaunty and upbeat, sauntering through his solo up to that wonderful moment where he hands over to the piano. Then Miles Davis takes over again to take them to the conclusion of the piece.

I’m not into League tables for music, but this is definitely fit to put up alongside the greatest of them all…

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