Archive for Jazz

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!

The Versatile Four

Posted in History, Jazz with tags , , , , , on July 14, 2017 by telescoper

I’ve posted a few examples of Jazz drummers recently, so I thought you might be interested in this, a rare recording of performance from the (pre-Jazz) Ragtime era that provides a good example of where  Jazz drumming came from. This track was recorded in London way back in 1916 and it’s remarkable for the clarity with which you can hear the drums, which in those days usually proved very difficult to capture.  The tune, Down Home Rag (written by Wilbur C. Sweatman) was a big hit at the time and remains in the traditional jazz repertoire to this day. It’s played by The Versatile Four an almost legendary ragtime band that I know very little about other than the personnel: Tony Tuck (banjo; born 1879 Virginia); Charles W. Mills (piano; born 1883 Illinois); Gus Haston (banjo, vocals; born 1880 Missouri); and  Charlie Johnson (drums; born 1885 Kentucky). I’m not sure who it is who blows the whistle, but it may well be the drummer.

Charlie Johnson’s playing of the drums may sound very old-fashioned and a bit staff to ears accustomed to the swinging style of the jazz era, and he no doubt used a very crude kit, but this recording shows what an absolutely superb musician he was. You can also clearly hear the influence of the sort of drum patterns used by military marching bands. As well being an interesting piece from the point of view of music history, the drummer suffuses this high-energy performance with a sense of knockabout fun that is guaranteed to bring a smile to even the most crabbed face!



Take Five with Joe Morello

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on June 13, 2017 by telescoper

Not long ago I posted a clip of a drum solo by the great Joe Morello which has proved to be extremely popular. Since a meeting I thought I had this afternoon has been cancelled I’ve decided to take five minutes out to post another terrific drum solo.

The tune Take Five, composed by alto saxophonist Paul Desmond and recorded by the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1959, became a hit at the second attempt when it was re-released in 1961. It proved so popular that the band performed many versions of it live, manu of which can be found on youtube. This one is not unusual in that it is performed at a faster tempo than the version that was released as a single. I read an interesting blog post a while ago that explains how Joe Morello’s arrival almost broke up the Dave Brubeck Quartet, as Paul Desmond and he had clashing personalities. I think Part of that was Morello’s predilection for tempos that were a bit faster than Desmond was comfortable with; Paul Desmond had a beautiful tone, but in contrast to many of his Jazz contemporaries on the instrument, he was never a speed merchant on alto saxophone. He seems to be less fluent than usual on this track, at least at first, probably because of the speed.

Joe Morello’s drum solo, on the other hand, is characteristically wonderful. Just watch his superb left-hand technique, from a relatively gentle opening to when he turns down the strainer on the snare drum he starts to build up to a stunning climax in which his hands are far too fast for the camera. It’s a great solo, not only because of it’s technical brilliance but because it’s so beautifully constructed. All in 5/4 time too…