Archive for Dizzy Gillespie

Matzo Balls

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on April 14, 2014 by telescoper

This evening sees the start of the Jewish Festival of the Passover (Pesach) which made me think of posting this piece of inspired silliness by the legendary Slim Gaillard to wish you all a Chag Sameach.

Slim Gaillard was a talented musician in his own right, but also a wonderful comedian and storyteller. He’s most famous for the novelty jazz acts he formed with musicians such as Slam Stewart and, later, Bam Brown; their stream of consciousness vocals ranged far afield from the original lyrics along with wild interpolations of nonsense syllables such as MacVoutie and O-reeney; one such performance figures in the 1957 novel On the Road by Jack Kerouac.

In later life Slim Gaillard travelled a lot in Europe – he could speak 8 languages in addition to English – and spent long periods living in London. He died there, in fact, in 1991, aged 75. I saw him a few times myself when I used to go regularly to Ronnie Scott’s Club. A tall, gangly man with a straggly white beard and wonderful gleam in his eye, he cut an unmistakeable figure in the bars and streets of Soho. He rarely had to buy himself a drink as he was so well known and such an entertaining fellow that a group always formed around him  in order to enjoy his company whenever he went into a pub. You never quite knew what he was going to do next, in fact. I once saw him sit down and play a piano with his palms facing upwards, striking the notes with the backs of his fingers. Other random things worth mentioning are that Slim Gaillard’s daughter was married to Marvin Gaye and it is generally accepted that the word “groovy” was coined by him (Slim). I know it’s a cliché, but he really was a larger-than-life character and a truly remarkable human being.

They don’t make ‘em like Slim any more, but you can get a good idea of what a blast he was by listening to this record, which is bound to bring a smile even to the  most crabbed of faces….

 

 

 

 

 

The Quintet at Massey Hall

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2014 by telescoper

Time for a quick Jazz review, I think. This time I thought I’d pick a classic live performance from May 15th 1953 at Massey Hall in Toronto. Originally released as a vinyl LP with only 6 tracks on it, and called The Quintet of the Year, but subsequently re-released in various versions on CD, with various titles including Jazz at Massey Hall. The whole concert  is now available on Youtube here:

This concert was planned to unite the greatest stars of the bebop era who had performed together earlier in their careers but had gradually evolved different styles over the intervening years. The line-up is Charlie Parker on alto, Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet, Bud Powell on piano, Charles Mingus on bass and the great Max Roach on drums which is stellar by any criterion!

Gatherings of star jazz players have often turned out to be disappointing, largely because very great musicians can sometimes interfere negatively rather than positively with each other, not necessarily consciously but because they can have ideas incompatible with one another. This evening, however,  was a glorious exception to this rule, doubtless because all the musicians had worked together in the past, and their subsequent individual development had not taken them too far beyond their shared musical background. It is true that the ensemble passages are slight, but that doesn’t matter much because the solos are of such a remarkable and consistently high standard. Charlie Parker turns in some of the very best of his later recorded work, giving the lie to those who argue that his musical abilities were in decline at this time. He might not play as elegantly as he did on the classic Dial and Savoy sessions, but he is significantly more adventurous, with startling melodic contrasts in much of his work. At times this is a bit of a problem in that he seems to full of ideas that what comes out is a sequence of breathtaking fragments rather than a cohesive solo. This happens on A Night in Tunisia, for example, which never quite fulfills the promise of its magnificent opening break. On other tracks, though, especially Hot House his improvisations are just brilliant. It’s hard to imagine listening to this that in less than two years he would be dead.

Dizzy Gillespie matches Parker in superb fashion, betraying none of the offhandedness that often afflicted his later recorded performances, and the pyrotechnical quality of his playing is as exhilarating as it is instantly recognizable. Gillespie was an extrovert on stage and his frequent dancing around on the stage results in him going on and off mike from time to time, but it doesn’t detract from the performance once you realize why he’s fading in and out. It is, after all, a live performance and if you shut your eyes you can imagine Dizzy Gillespie the showman without any difficulty at all!

Most Jazz reviewers confine their comments on the rhythm section to a few kind words, but in this case that would be a travesty. The limitations of live recording technology in 1953 result in a rather unbalanced mix, but the flip side of that is that you can hear  particularly well the pivotal importance of the bass playing of Charles Mingus. Between them Mingus and Max Roach lay down a relentlessly propulsive beat as well as taking gripping solos; the drum workouts in Wee and Salt Peanuts are astonishing in their interplay of rhythm and texture. Trumping even them, however, is the genius of Bud Powell who plays at a level consistently high even by his own standards.

Bud Powell is a fascinating musician for many reasons. Much less of a formalist than many Jazz pianists he nevertheless seems to generate a real sense of unity, more through the  emotional drive underpinning his phrases than by imposing any set structure on his improvisations. His solo on Wee offers a fine example of this: moving inexorably towards a shattering climax as the right hand figures vary ceaselessly in their length and the chords punched out by the left hand grow more frequent and more percussive.

This album is another must-have for any serious collector of post-War jazz. The individual parts are all superb, but the whole is even greater than their sum.

PS. I had the pleasure of attending a concert at Massey Hall myself, when I was on sabbatical in Toronto in 2005/6.

Con Alma

Posted in Jazz, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on March 14, 2013 by telescoper

Well, Herschel may be going blind but it seems that just as one observatory gets ready to close its eyes on the Universe, another one gets ready to open them. Yesterday saw the official opening of the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (known to its friends as ALMA). What better way to celebrate the opening of this remarkable observatory than with an appropriately-named piece of music.

Con Alma is an original composition by Dizzy Gillespie who plays it on this track made with his big band in 1954, a period when Dizzy was experimenting with various fusions of bebop with Latin-American rhythms. It’s a deceptively complicated tune, with lots of changes of key to keep everyone on their toes. It may be more Cuban than Chilean in influence, but that’s the closest I could think of!

Long Long Summer

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on May 28, 2012 by telescoper

I know it’s tempting fate to post something with a title like Long Long Summer, but we’ve had such lovely warm weather for the last week or so I couldn’t resist putting this up while the sun’s still shining. I particularly wanted to share this track (a) because it matches the weather perfectly and (b) because it’s by the great Dizzy Gillespie Quintet of 1962 with Lalo Schifrin on piano, man best known as a prolific composer of film and TV scores. The band also featured Leo Wright, a very under-rated saxophonist and flautist. They all play terrifically on this original composition by Lalo Schifrin. There’s also a chance to see an interesting collection of photographs of Dizzy Gillespie, and his amazing cheeks!

Things to Come

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , on March 17, 2011 by telescoper

I haven’t posted anywhere near enough music by the great Dizzy Gillespie on here so I thought I’d put up this clip which shows him in 1968 leading a phenomenal big band. Things to Come was an original composition by Dizzy Gillespie but it was Gil Fuller who provided the complex, gyrating arrangement which broke new ground when it was first performed (in 1946) in terms of the technical demands it made on the musicians, especially the trumpet section, but also in the sheer excitement it generated when performed live. This clip features a later version of Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band which re-formed for a time in the 1960s after  a fairly lengthy hiatus, but it does contain several musicians who played in its earlier manifestation, including James Moody on tenor, who sadly passed away last December, but it is Paul Jeffrey who plays the wild tenor solo on this track. Star of the show, however, is undoubtedly Dizzy Gillespie whose staggering pyrotechnics threaten to blow the roof off!


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Dizzy on the BBC

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on August 10, 2010 by telescoper

It’s a grey  gloomy and rainy August lunchtime here in Wales and so I thought I’d just try to brighten things up a little by posting this video of a lovely set by the quintet led in the early 60s by the great Dizzy Gillespie, clearly enjoying himself  on the BBC TV program Jazz 625. This was the band that also featured the brilliant James Moody on saxophones and flute. As you can hear, they played music that was strongly flavoured by Dizzy’s lifelong interest in Cuban jazz. The programme was introduced by the late great Humphrey Lyttelton and it’s in several bits which you will have to click through if you want to see them all. I hope you at least go as far as Part 3, where there’s a big laugh waiting for you…

Slim’s Jam

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , on August 5, 2010 by telescoper

It’s been a tiring and frustrating day during which I accomplished very little, apart from becoming tired and frustrated. I think I’m going to have an early night, but before doing that I thought I’d share this old record with you. There’s not much information about it on Youtube, but I actually have it on an very battered vinyl LP. The sleevenote doesn’t give the exact date of the recording session, but it was somewhere around the middle of December 1945.

The band is dubbed Slim Gaillard and his Orchestra, but it’s just a seven-piece band. It is, however, notable for the presence on it of two giants of the bebop era, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. I thought I’d put it on here primarily because it has such a relaxed atmosphere and is a lot of fun to listen to, as well as providing a fascinating window into this transitional period of American Jazz in which Charlie Parker was the leading figure.

Before 1945 Charlier Parker had worked mainly as a featured soloist in big bands of the swing era, including those of Jay McShann, Earl Hines and Billy Eckstine; after 1945 he almost exclusively performed and recorded in small groups. The year 1945 was also important for two other reasons: it was the first year he was able to record any of his own compositions and it was the first time he was able to record with Dizzy Gillespie in a band made entirely of like-minded musicians, rather than a mixed bag as on this track.

Another quite interesting thing I almost forgot to mention is that this particular 1945 track is – I think – the earliest known recording of Charlie Parker’s voice…

This period also marked the beginning of Parker’s acceptance as an important solo voice by music critics and by the “hipper” sections of the American public. This spreading awareness of his importance is why both he and Dizzy were invited to perform on the West Coast of America, specifically at Billy Berg’s club in Hollywood. It was during a short residency there that Slim’s Jam was recorded.

Apart from Charlie Parker (alto sax) and Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet), the band also contained the relatively unknown swing-era musician Jack Mcvea (tenor sax) as well as young bebop devotee Dodo Marmarosa (piano). The drummer was the great Zutty Singleton, who in fact played on some of the Hot Five recordings with Louis Armstrong in the 1920s, and the bass was “Bam” Brown. Slim Gaillard played guitar on this track as well as doing the intros in characteristic fashion.

Slim Gaillard was a truly remarkable character who led a remarkable life, as his wikipedia page makes clear. He was a talented musician in his own right, but also a wonderful comedian and storyteller. He’s most famous for the novelty jazz acts he formed with musicians such as Slam Stewart and, later, Bam Brown; their stream of consciousness vocals ranged far afield from the original lyrics along with wild interpolations of nonsense syllables such as MacVoutie and O-reeney; one such performance figures in the 1957 novel On the Road by Jack Kerouac. It’s also very much the style of the commentary he adds to this track.

In later life Slim Gaillard travelled a lot in Europe – he could speak 8 languages in addition to English – and spent long periods living in London. He died there, in fact, in 1991, aged 75. I saw him a few times myself when I used to go regularly to Ronnie Scott’s Club. A tall, gangly man with a straggly white beard and wonderful gleam in his eye, he cut an unmistakeable in the bars and streets of Soho. He rarely had to buy himself a drink as he was so well known and such an entertaining fellow that a group always formed around him whenever he went into a pub in order to enjoy his company. You never quite knew what he was going to do next, in fact. I once saw him sit down and play a piano with his palms facing upwards, striking the notes with the backs of his fingers. Other random things worth mentioning are that Slim Gaillard’s daughter was married to Marvin Gaye and it is generally accepted that the word “groovy” was coined by him (Slim). I know it’s a cliché, but he really was a larger-than-life character and a truly remarkable human being.

They don’t make ‘em like Slim any more, but you can get a good idea of what a blast he was by listening to this record, which is bound to bring a smile to the  most crabbed of faces. But alongside the offbeat  humour there’s some terrific playing too. Charlie Parker’s virtuoso blues-inflected choruses and Dizzy Gillespie’s dissonant pyrotechnics  form a strong stylistic contrast with Jack McVea’s earlier tenor sax solo which sounds positively old-fashioned by comparison.

Anyway, it’s time for bed-o-voutie so I’ll say goodbye-o-reenie with a little hot cocoa on it. I gotta get up early in the mornin’ myself…

Making the Changes

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on September 15, 2009 by telescoper

I often find myself trying to explain to people why I love listening to Jazz. Most people either don’t know much about it or don’t like it at all, especially if it’s “modern”. The trouble is, explaining why it’s so hard to play jazz doesn’t usually make people want to go and listen to it.  “There’s no proper tune”  and  “It’s just noise” are just a couple of the comments I heard in a pub a few weeks ago when somebody put a Miles Davis track on the internet jukebox.

It’s partly a matter of language, of course. The most exquisite Japanese poetry probably sounds like noise to a Westerner who can’t understand the language. When it comes to jazz,  even if you do know a bit about the music you’re by no means guaranteed an easy listening experience. But, played at the highest level, with a driving rhythm section and a star soloist improvising through a constantly shifting pattern of harmonies, there’s no music to match it for sheer white-knuckle intensity.

Far from being “just noise”,   jazz is a tightly disciplined musical form. The freedom given to the soloist to create their own melody comes in fact at a very high price because the melodic line of a jazz solo must constantly recalibrate itself in relationship to the harmonic changes going on beneath it. The chord progression within which the original melody was embedded provides the soloist with the challenge of playing something that fits as well as being new and interesting to listen to.  Usually the actual tune is played only briefly at the start and thereafter becomes pretty much irrelevant until recapitulated at the end of the performance. What really matters to a jazz soloist is not the original melody but the chords.

Each chord establishes a tonal centre and a related scale that  furnishes a reference frame in the space of possible musical notes. When the rest of the band makes the chord changes the soloist must transform to a different coordinate system. The progression of chords as the tune unfolds thus has the effect of pushing and pulling the soloist in different tonal directions. A great jazz solo requires strict adherence to this framework and it imposes tremendous discipline on all the musicians involved.

In a slow 12-bar blues the gravitational effect of the relatively simple chord pattern is especially strong, which is no doubt why it has such a powerfully expressive effect when the soloist plays a “blue note” such as a flattened fifth on top of major scale chords.

In more complicated tunes keeping your place within the constantly shifting harmonic framework is a real challenge, especially if the chord progression is complicated and especially at fast tempi in which the chord changes go flying past at a rate of knots. Such numbers turn into a rollercoaster ride for both musicians and audience.

It’s not just the speed of fingers that makes great soloists so electrifying, but their astonishing mental agility. I remember seeing the great saxophonist Sonny Stitt at Ronnie Scott’s club in London playing the jazz standard How the Moon. Nothing unusual about that because it’s part of the jazz repertoire. The thing was, though, that he played 12 choruses, each one in a different key. How he managed to keep track of everything is completely beyond me. I wasn’t the only one in the audience shaking his head in disbelief.

Giant Steps by John Coltrane is an example I posted a while ago of a supreme piece of high-speed improvisation, and I thought I’d follow it up with this wonderful performance  in which the legendary Charlie Parker plays an extended solo, very fast.

The tune is in fact a variation of a 1930s hit  called Cherokee. Most popular tunes have a 32 bar basic format of the type AABA, with B representing the bridge or middle eight. Cherokee has a similar structure, but is 64 bars long. Its chord progression is both complicated and unusual, with lots of changes to remember especially in the (16-bar) bridge which is fiendishly difficult to play. This makes it fertile ground for improvising on and it quickly became a standard test vehicle for jazz soloists and a yardstick by which saxophonists in particular tended to measure each other’s skill.

During the bebop era it became fairly common practice for musicians to borrow chord sequences from other tunes. Many Charlie Parker pieces, such as Anthropology, are based on the chords from I Got Rhythm for example. There’s a famous story about a recording session involving Charlie Parker during which the band decided to do a version of Cherokee (i.e. using the chord sequence but with a different melody). During the take, however, they absent-mindedly played the actual melody rather than playing something else over the chords. There was a cry of anguish from producer in the control room who had hoped that if they stayed off the actual tune of Cherokee he wouldn’t have to pay composers royalties and the performance ground to a halt.  Shortly after, they did another take, called it Ko-ko and it quickly became a bop classic. This is a later version of Ko-ko, played live, during which Bird runs through the changes like a man possessed. What it must be like to be able to play like this!

Happy Birthday Bird!

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , on August 29, 2009 by telescoper

I was listening to Jazz Record Requests on BBC Radio 3 this afternoon, which reminded me that today is the 89th anniversary of the birth of the great Charlie Parker, who was known to his friends as “Bird”. Looking for something to celebrate with, I was delighted to find on Youtube this version of the classic bebop tune Anthropology, which appeared on another blog post of mine about Bud Powell (who also plays on this track). This clip (inevitably without video I’m afraid) is in fact taken from the first ever Charlie Parker LP I bought when I was about 15 and which I still have. Sadly, it has never been released on CD so I’m very glad I held onto the LP for so long.

No information is provided on Youtube, but referring to the sleeve note reveals that the track was recorded from a radio broadcast live from  Birdland in New York City on March 31st 1951 using a primitive disc recording machine by an amateur recording buff called Boris Rose. The sound quality isn’t great, but he deserves much greater recognition for capturing this and so many other classic performances and preserving them for posterity.

The personnels consist of Charlie Parker (alto saxophone), Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet), Bud Powell (piano), Tommy Potter (bass) and Roy Haynes (drums).

Here’s what the sleevenote (written by Gary Giddens) says about this track:

“Anthropology is an “I Got Rhythm” variation which originally appeared, in a slightly different form, as “Thriving on a Riff” on Parker’s first session as leader. The tempo is insanely fast; the performance is stunning. Bird has plenty of ideas in his first chorus, but he builds the second and third around a succession of quotations: “Tenderly”, “High Society”, “Temptation.” Gillespie’s second chorus is especially fine – only Fats Navarro had comparable control among the trumpeters who worked with Bird. His blazing high notes tend to set his lyrical phrases in bold relief. Bud, the ultimate bop pianist (and much more), jumps in for two note-gobbling choruses: no quotes, though, it’s all Powell. The four bar exchanges that follow demonstrate Hayne’s precision.

Spot on, but words aren’t really enough to describe this scintillating music, so listen!

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