Archive for Jazz

100 Years of Jazz on Record

Posted in History, Jazz with tags , , , on February 26, 2017 by telescoper

Today marks a very significant centenary in the history of music, specifically Jazz. Much of the origins and early development of Jazz is lost in the mists of time, but there is one point on which most music historians agree. The first commercial recording session that produced a record that nowadays is recognisable as Jazz happened exactly one hundred years ago today, on 26th February 1917, in the New York studios of the Victor label.

The band was called the ‘Original Dixieland Jass Band‘. A few months later they changed the “Jass” to “Jazz” and the name stuck. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band is usually referred by Jazz buffs as the ODJB.

Led by cornettist Nick LaRocca and clarinettist Larry Shields, the ODJB was a group of white musicians from in and around New Orleans who had picked up their musical ideas from listening to musicians there, including playing for the pioneering mixed-race band led by Papa Laine, before moving to Chicago which is where they were spotted by representatives of the Victor label. The rest, as they say, is history.

It’s worth emphasizing that 1917 was also a significant year for New Orleans itself, as that was the year that the red light district Storyville was shut down (as a threat to the health of the US Navy). Since Storyville had provided many of the opportunities for black musicians to work, its closure started  a mass exodus to Chicago. That, and a desire among black musicians to leave the deeply racist South, is why most of the classic “New Orleans” Jazz records were actually made in Chicago.

Although they don’t represent the true origins of jazz, the ODJB were fine musicians who played with a great deal of pizzazz and were highly original and innovative. Audiences also found them great to dance to. The first single to be issued as a result of the historic first session was Livery Stable Blues. It was an instant hit and was followed by dozens more. As well as leading to fame and fortune for the ODJB, it paved the way for a century of Jazz on record.

Boogie Woogie Boogie – Errol Garner

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on February 3, 2017 by telescoper

I have lately posted a number of classic boogie woogie and blues performances by the great Jimmy Yancey. Here’s a piece that’s related but really very different, recorded in 1944 by a musician not usually associated with boogie woogie at all, Errol Garner, who was 23 when this track was made.  The story I heard about this is that the studio bosses leant on the young and impressionable pianist to do play some things that he wasn’t keen on, including a bit of boogie woogie. Eventually Garner acceded to their request, and produced what I think is a minor masterpiece called Boogie Woogie Boogie. Note the way he doesn’t stick to the same left-hand figures throughout the track which makes this much more varied than most recordings in this genre. I particularly like the transition at about 1:35 where it all goes a bit “Batman”!  It also has a distinctively dark minor-key feel to it, which is rather atmospheric.

Have a good weekend!



Cotton Tail

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on January 16, 2017 by telescoper

It’s been a very busy and rather trying day so I’m in need of a bit of a pick-me-up. This will do nicely! It’s the great Duke Ellington band of 1940 playing Cotton Tail. This tune – yet another constructed on the chord changes to George Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm – was written by Ben Webster and arranged by Duke Ellington for his orchestra in a characteristically imaginative and inventive way. Webster’s “heavy” tenor saxophone dominates the first half of the track, but the real star of the show (for me) is the superb brass section of the Ellington Orchestra whose tight discipline allows it to punch out a series of complicated riffs with a power and precision that would terrify most classical orchestras. And no wonder! The Ellington band of this era was jam-packed  with talent, including: Rex Stewart (cornet); Wallace Jones, Ray Nance, and Cootie Williams (trumpet); Juan Tizol,  Joe”Tricky Sam” Nanton, and Lawrence Brown (trombones). Listen particularly to the two sequences from 1.33-1.49 and 2.35-2.59, which are just brilliant! Enjoy!

P.S. The drummer is the great Sonny Greer.

Sam Rivers – Zip!

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on December 20, 2016 by telescoper

And now for something completely different. About five years ago I wrote a post aftering reading of the death, at the age of 88, of the legendary jazz musician Sam Rivers who passed away on 26th December 2011. Sam Rivers was born in 1923 and started playing professionally during the bebop era of the early 1950s. Later he evolved a unique avant garde style that was nevertheless firmly based in the jazz traditions he had grown up with. He was probably best known as a tenor saxophonist, but could also play flute, clarinet, piano and viola.

I first heard Sam Rivers on Humphrey Lyttelton’s BBC Radio Show The Best of Jazz in 1979. Humph was clearly a great admirer of Sam Rivers, especially the superb trio he formed with the brilliant Thurman Barker (drums) and Dave Holland (bass). The energy and vitality of the track he played made a lasting impression on me. The album was called Contrasts, by the way, and the track in question called Zip. I bought the album straight away. At least almost straight away, because it wasn’t the sort of record you could buy in the shops; I had to send away for it.

Anyway, I’ve now discovered that someone has posted this track on Youtube, so here it is. Enjoy!

Five – Tony Scott & Bill Evans

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on November 24, 2016 by telescoper

Just this morning finally submitted some documents for a couple of proposals that I’ve been stressing over for the past couple of months, so I thought I’d relax a little bit by posting some music.

Not long ago I shared a track on which Lester Young played clarinet as opposed to his usual tenor saxophone. I got to thinking afterwards that it’s quite interesting how the clarinet has become less prominent in Jazz as the music has evolved. The old `liquorice stick’ is one of the instruments that appears in the front line in `traditional’ New Orleans Jazz (alongside trumpet and trombone) and remained a key part of bands as different styles gradually developed until the Swing Era of the 1930s. Some of the greatest big bands of that period were led by clarinetists such as Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Woody Herman to name but three. However, when bebop arrived on the scene in the immediate post-War era the clarinet had been almost totally eclipsed by the saxophone. Perhaps that was because bebop was largely a reaction against swing music and musicians wanted to establish a radically different musical vocabulary. The alto saxophone in particular, championed by Charlie Parker, could – at least in the hands of a virtuoso like Parker – be played at breakneck speed but also had a much edgier sound and was capable of a different range of expression. The same comments apply to the tenor saxophone, as exemplified by John Coltrane. There were exceptions of course, notably Buddy Defranco, but as modern jazz developed the saxophone remained the dominant solo instrument.

Anyway, these thoughts popped into my head the other day when I was listening to Composer of the Week on BBC Radio 3 which featured the great Jazz pianist Bill Evans. One of the tracks played on the programme I listened to featured Evans together with clarinetist Tony Scott taken from the album A Day in New York which was recorded in 1957. A very large proportion of my very favorite recordings derive from the late 1950s, largely because so many new directions were being explored, and this is another track that seems to be looking ahead to something beyond the bebop era. Anyway, this is the track I heard the other day. It’s called Five, and I love the way the Scott constructs his solo from the jagged fragmentary theme, at first cautiously but gradually gathering momentum until it gets fully into its groove.

Get Happy!

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on August 8, 2016 by telescoper

Back in Cardiff I was going through my collection of old LPs and found this track on a Blue Note collection. It’s standard written by Harold Arlen called Get Happy. I hadn’t listened to it for ages and I’d forgotten how great it is. It was recorded in 1953 by a six-piece band led by trombonist Jay Jay Johnson, with Clifford Brown (trumpet), Jimmy Heath (tenor saxophone), John Lewis (piano), Percy Heath (bass) and Kenny Clarke (drums). They’re all great musicians, and they make a wonderfully rich ensemble sound for a small band, but the star of the show is without doubt the great Clifford Brown , whose solo is absolutely sensational. Just listen to the way he plays the bridge on his first chorus. Superb!

Minor Swing (for the National Day of Belgium)!

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on July 21, 2016 by telescoper

Not far from the hotel in which I stayed during my visit to Ghent last week is a small but pleasant jazz bar called Minor Swing. I mentioned to some colleagues as we passed by the place that it was clearly named after the tune by Django Reinhardt (who was born in Belgium). In fact it was something of a signature tune for him. Anyway, Radio 3 reminded me this morning that today (21st July)  is Belgian National Day so I thought I’d mark the occasion on this blog by posting a version of Minor Swing that demonstrates Django’s superlative gift for melodic improvisation, together with violinist Stephane Grappelli and the Quintet of the Hot Club of France.