Archive for Jazz

45° Angle

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on February 24, 2018 by telescoper

Some time ago I posted a piece of music by Dick Twardzik from the mid-50s. The jazz piano scene in those days was so heavily dominated by Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell that pianists seem to struggle to find their own voice in the space created by those two. Twardzik certainly succeeded, though he died very young. Well, here’s another track from roughly the same period (1957) featuring another underrated musician who solved this problem in a different way. This fine track, undoubtedly influenced by Monk and Powell, but at the same time with its own sound, is by Herbie Nicholls, playing his own composition 45° Angle with the excellent George Duvivier on bass and Dannie Richmond on drums. Enjoy!


R.I.P. Hugh Masekela (1939-2018)

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on January 23, 2018 by telescoper

I woke up this morning to the very sad news that South African jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela had lost the long and courageous battle he had been fighting against cancer and has passed away at the age of 78. Hugh Masakela did a huge amount to establish a uniquely South African jazz tradition and much of his music was a response to the struggle against apartheid. Although some “serious” jazz fans have criticised him for `selling out’ in his forays into pop – for which he simplified his playing style considerably – this approach definitely succeeded in bringing many new people to his music. His was exactly the same approach as Louis Armstrong, actually, and I for one don’t begrudge either his commercial success.

I was fortunate to hear Hugh Masekela live many years ago at Ronnie Scott’s Club. He had a wonderful stage presence, and played a typically eclectic mix of music and it was a wonderful night that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

Here’s a clip of him playing and singing that gives an idea of what the man and his music were like and just how much he will be missed.

R.I.P. Hugh Masekela (1939-2018).

Hold ’em Joe – Sonny Rollins

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on January 6, 2018 by telescoper

So I’m in Dublin airport waiting to board a (delayed) flight. Since it’s cold and dark outside I thought I’d take the opportunity to use the free airport Wi-fi to share something that put a bit of a spring in my step when I heard it on the radio a couple of days ago. It’s a truly phenomenal performance on tenor saxophone by the great Sonny Rollins over an infectious calypso rhythm generated by Mickey Roker on drums. Enjoy!




The Fable of Mabel

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on December 22, 2017 by telescoper

Now, as a special Christmas treat, I present for you one of my all-time favourite pieces of music. It was recorded by Serge Chaloff Octet in Boston, in September 1954 and I’ve loved it ever since I first heard it on The Best of Jazz, the radio show that was presented by Humphrey Lyttelton for many years on Radio 2, way back in the 1980s. Humph had eclectic musical tastes and I am forever in his debt for introducing me to relatively obscure pieces such as this which have given me so much pleasure over the years. I can see I’m not the only WordPress blogger who loves this track too!

The lineup for this track is Serge Chaloff (baritone sax) Herb Pomeroy (trumpet) Gene DiStachio (trombone) Charlie Mariano (also saxophone) Varty Haritounian (trumpet) Dick Twardzik (piano) Ray Oliveri (bass) and Jimmy Zitano (drums). Serge Chaloff was a famously dissolute and chaotic character, who struggled to control a serious narcotics habit, but he was a marvellously accomplished player of the huge and unwieldy baritone sax. Chaloff plays beautifully on this track but the star is the amazingly innovative pianist and composer Dick Twardzik, who wrote the piece. Had he not died so young (in 1955, of a heroin overdose, on tour in Paris with Chet Baker, at the age of just 24) he would have become a household name in Jazz.

Twardzik had this to say about The Fable of Mabel on the sleevenote:

The Fable of Mabel was introduced to jazz circles in 1951-52 by the Serge Chaloff Quartet. Audiences found this satirical jazz legend a welcome respite from standard night club fare. In this legend, Mabel is depicted as a woman who loves men, music and her silver saxophone that played counterpoint (her own invention which proved impractical). The work is divided into three movements: first, New Orleans; second Classical; and third, Not Too Sad An Ending. The soulful baritone solo Serge Chaloff traces Mabel’s humble beginnings working railroad cars in New Orleans to her emergence as a practising crusader for the cause of Jazz. During her Paris days on the Jazz Houseboat, her struggle for self-expression is symbolized by an unusual saxophone duet Charlie Mariano and Varty Haritrounian. Mabel always said she wanted to go out blowing. She did.

This piece is radically different from the mixture of bop tunes and standards that provided the bulk of the repertoire for Chaloff’s band in the 1950s and it provides a superb example of how the musical revolution pioneered by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk et al. opened the doors and ushered in a wave of creativity that fanned out in all kinds of unexpected directions. I love The Fable of Mabel for its quirkiness, the virtuosity of the playing, and for the edgy, Noir-ish atmosphere that it generates. Incidentally, it’s interesting that most of the musicians on this track are of Eastern European extraction, as were many of the leading lights of Film Noir. I always felt this track would make a perfect soundtrack for such a film.

If ever got asked to go on one of those radio programmes where you have to pick your favourite pieces of music, this would definitely be among my selections. I hope you enjoy it too!


The Sonny Rollins Williamsburg Bridge

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on December 12, 2017 by telescoper

Between 1959 and 1961 the great tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins took a break from making recordings to practice intensively, developing his technique and expanding his musical vocabulary. Living in New York City, but lacking anywhere private to play, he went every day to Williamsburg Bridge to practice. The first record he made after this `sabbatical’ was called The Bridge, released in 1962, and now regarded as a classic:

There is now a move afoot to have the Williamsburg Bridge renamed as the Sonny Rollins Williamsburg Bridge. There is a petition here.  Please consider signing it. I have!

Here’s a little video about The Sonny Rollins Bridge project:

And if you’re on Twitter can follow their account here:



Jazz, Icarus and Henri Matisse

Posted in Art, Biographical with tags , , , on September 8, 2017 by telescoper

I forgot to mention that while I was in London last weekend I visited the exhibition Matisse in the Studio at the Royal Academy of Arts in Burlington House (Piccadilly). It’s an interesting show, covering not only on the art works by Henri Matisse but also various items he had collected and kept in his studio, some of which appear in his paintings in various forms. Anyway, do go to the exhibition if you can – it’s there until November 12th.

Anyway, all that reminded me of this famous image by Matisse, called Icarus, which seems to fit the theme of this blog. It appears in a small booklet called Jazz which consists of collages and other images as well as text written by the artist himself.


Stardust – Louis Armstrong

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on August 22, 2017 by telescoper

This wonderful recording of Hoagy Carmichael’s great song Stardust was made in 1931 by Louis Armstrong with his big band. After the heights that Armstrong reached in the 1920s, starting with King Oliver and then with the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens, some jazz critics maintain that the 1930s were a comparative wilderness. Well, I think he sings and plays beautifully on this so if this is a wilderness just take me to it, and I’ll pitch my tent there anytime!