Archive for Jazz

International Jazz Day – A Tribute to Humph

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , , on April 30, 2021 by telescoper

Today is International Jazz Day which gives me an excuse to post this documentary about the late great Humphrey Lyttelton the anniversary of whose death was last weekend; he passed away on 25th April 2008.

I particularly like this programme because, as well as talking about his own career as a musician and bandleader and as brilliant chairman of the panel show I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, it mentions his radio show The Best of Jazz which I listened to avidly every Monday night and from which I learned a huge amount about the music that I love so much. I taped many of these broadcasts actually, but have long since lost the cassettes. Although his own music was in the mainstream he always played a wide selection of Jazz tracks both ancient and modern on his programme and introduced me to many artists I would otherwise never have heard of.

I wish I knew how it would feel to be free – Nina Simone

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on April 6, 2021 by telescoper

First performed in 1963, this classic anthem of the civil rights movement in the USA the words to this song (written by Billy Taylor) seem to me to have a few relevance in this time of enforced isolation.

R.I.P. Chris Barber (1930-2021)

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , , on March 3, 2021 by telescoper

I just saw the news that British trombonist and bandleader Chris Barber passed away yesterday at the age of 90. Chris Barber was one of the leading lights of the traditional jazz boom of the 1950s and 60s, during which he led a very fine band including trumpeter Pat Halcox and clarinetist Monty Sunshine among others.

I was fortunate to meet Chris Barber on a couple of occasions at Jazz festivals and he struck me as a really nice man as well as an excellent musician: very friendly and cooperative even with a young student wanting to do an interview for a college magazine. An interesting factoid about him is that he was a very fluent speaker of German and his band toured Germany frequently, even performing in East Berlin in 1965; you can see a recording of that concert here.

I was trying to think of a track to put up as tribute and decided on this one because it allows me to answer a question I asked on this blog a couple of years ago. When I was at school I used to listen to Sounds of Jazz a BBC2 Radio 2 programme presented on Sunday evenings by Peter Clayton. I always used to switch over from John Peel when Sounds of Jazz started and would always listen all the way through. It always ended with this track, a lovely version of an old blues tune called Snag It which I think was written by King Oliver.

R.I.P. Chris Barber (1930-2021).

R.I.P. Chick Corea (1941-2021)

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on February 11, 2021 by telescoper

I was just about to have an early night when I saw the news of the death at the age of 79 of legendary jazz pianist Chick Corea. Yet another of the Greats is no more.

In the circumstances I’ll just put up one example that demonstrates his talents both as a pianist and a composer. Chick Corea was in at the start of jazz fusion in the late Sixties when he joined Miles Davis’s band. At that time and through the 1970s he frequently performed on electric piano superb records such as In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew. He played on a huge range of records sometimes as leader, sometimes as a sideman and sometimes in a duet. One of the first jazz albums I bought was a live recording of a concert in Zurich in 1979 together with vibraphonist Gary Burton. I’ll certainly be playing that this weekend.

This track was recorded at a live performance in 2013 and released on the album Trilogy. It is a great example of him stretching out on a version of his own tune Armando’s Rhumba, of which he has recorded many very different versions, and which is now a jazz standard. The drummer is Brian Blade and the bassist Christian McBride.

Rest in peace, Chick Corea (1941-2021)

Goin’ Down Slow – Archie Shepp & Horace Parlan

Posted in Covid-19, Jazz with tags , , , , , on February 7, 2021 by telescoper

I just updated my Coronavirus page with the days statistics for Ireland (1024 new cases, 12 deaths). We’re obviously well past the Christmas peak but cases are falling very slowly. At this rate we’ll still have several hundred a day by the end of February (which, incidentally will be a year since the first Covid-19 case was recorded in Ireland).

Unlocking with case levels in the hundreds before Christmas was a disaster and I sincerely hope there’s no repeat of that foolishness.

Anyway, the current state of play remind me of this track from a great album called Trouble in Mind which I bought as a vinyl LP about 40 years ago. It’s by Archie Shepp (tenor sax) and Horace Parlan (Piano). Both made their reputations as avant garde jazz musicians but in this album they went back to the roots and explored the classic blues repertoire. Goin’ Down Slow dates back to 1941 and it’s a standard 12-bar blues (usually performed in B♭). Horace Parlan passed away in 2017, but Archie Shepp is still going strong.

 

Old and New Dreams

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , on February 3, 2021 by telescoper

I was just relaxing by listening to the superb album Old and New Dreams (vintage 1977) and thought I’d share a track here given the ongoing prevalence of lockdown dreams. This album was actually the debut album by the Quartet of the same name that featured Dewey Redman on tenor sax, Don Cherry on trumpet, Charlie Harden on bass and Ed Blackwell on drums. I love the balance they achieved between free improvisation and swing and the interplay between the different instruments. Just listen to Charlie Haden’s playing on this, holding everything together rhythmically but also leading it in so many different directions! This is called Augmented

R.I.P. Gary Peacock (1935-2020)

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , on September 8, 2020 by telescoper

I heard on Saturday via social media that the great bass player Gary Peacock had passed away on 4th September, only to see other posts claiming that the rumours of his death were a hoax. I was relieved about that but then it turns out that the hoax reports were themselves a hoax and Gary Peacock had indeed died. He was 85 years old.

Gary Peacock is probably best known for his work with the likes of Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans and Jack DeJohnette but as a tribute I thought I would post an example of his earlier work with Albert Ayler. I think the album Spiritual Unity with Gary Peacock on bass and Sonny Murray on drums is one of the highlights of 1960s free jazz.

This tune, the shorter of two versions on Spiritual Unity of an original composition by Albert Ayler called Ghosts, is a great example how he could make coherent what at first hearing sounds like disassociated bursts of sound. It involves remarkable improvised melodies based on short thematic lines designed to evoke unsophisticated  folk music or nursery tunes. It may sound primitive on the surface, but it’s very complex underneath and creating this extraordinary sound world clearly required great technical mastery from Ayler and his supporting musicians, especially Gary Peacock, who plays wonderfully on this track.

Rest in peace, Gary Peacock (1935-2020)

 

Bird 100: Kim

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on August 29, 2020 by telescoper

Still going with posts to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Charlie Parker, aka Bird, a musical genius on the saxophone whose influence not only on jazz but on twentieth century music is incalculable. I’ve posted quite a few tracks by Bird over the years and one thing I’ve learned from doing that is that he’s by no means everyone’s cup of tea. I can’t do anything about that, of course, but I can at least point out the existence of his wonderful legacy to those (regrettably many) people who’ve never heard of him or his music I still remember the mixture of astonishment and exhilaration I felt when I first heard him on record and if I can give that sense of joy to just one person via the blogosphere then it’s worth a hundred posts.

Here’s Kim, another one of Bird’s tunes based on the rhythm changes, with an alto sax solo improvised at breakneck speed and with incredible virtuosity. The other day I was talking to a friend of mine who only has a passing interest in jazz and he asked me whether Charlie Parker really was that good. Well, if you’re asking that question to yourself, listen to this and then you’ll have the answer. As far as I’m concerned this is three minutes of pure awesome….

Bird 100: Bloomdido

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , on August 29, 2020 by telescoper

Here is another bit of music to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great saxophonist Charlie Parker (“Bird”) on 29th August 1920.

bird

I’ve written quite a few posts relating to Charlie Parker over the years but today has provided a good excuse to spend my lunchtime writing another one, this time featuring one of my favourite tracks from one of my favourite albums. First released in 1952 but in fact recorded in two separate sessions in 1949 and 1950, the album Bird and Diz was actually the last studio album made under the joint leadership of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, the two main architects of the bebop revolution; the track I’ve picked has the added advantage of featuring another great musical genius on piano, Thelonious Monk.

The Charlie Parker composition Bloomdido is yet another of his variations on the blues, though this one is a bit less intricate than some of the others he wrote. Here are the chords for Bloomdido:

Bloomdido

You can see that the progression is based around the standard three chords of a blues in B♭. The foundation is a “tonic” chord (T) based on the root note of whatever key it’s played in, in this case B♭. This sometimes a basic triad consisting of the first, third and five notes of a major scale starting on that note or, as in this example, including the dominant 7th so it’s B♭7. The next chord is the subdominant chord (S), shifting things up by a perfect fourth relative to the tonic, in this case an E♭7 and then finally we have the dominant (D) which brings us up by a fifth from the original root note, in this case F7.

The basic blues sequence in B♭ would be four bars of B♭7 (T), two of E♭7 (S), back to B♭7 (T) for two, then the characteristic bluesy cadence returning to two bars of B♭7 (T) via one bar each of F7 (D) and E♭7 (S). The sequence for Bloomdido has a few alterations, including a characteristic turnaround at the end, but is otherwise fairly recognizable. I guess the first part of the title is a play on the blues origin too, though I wonder if the second part suggests that some of the alterations are inspired by the A-section of the Juan Tizol standard Perdido?

Some people tell me they find Charlie Parker’s music “too technical” and that somehow if music “needs to be explained” it’s not good music. I don’t understand that attitude at all. I find this music so fascinating and exciting to listen to that I want to try to dig a little bit into it and find out what’s going underneath the surface. It’s particularly striking what a difference a few substitutions and passing chords can make to the overall harmonic “feel” of a piece like this compared to a standard blues sequence, for example. But you don’t need to study the chords to appreciate the sheer beauty of the music that Charlie Parker built on these harmonic foundations; his solo on this track, as on so many others he recorded in his short life, is just sublime even if you don’t realise how hard it is to play! I guess it all depends whether your way of enjoying a thing is to sit back and let it wash over you, or for it to inspire you to find out more. Many of the physicists I know are deeply interested in music. Perhaps that’s because they’re the sort of people who don’t just think “wow that’s beautiful”, they tend to think “wow that’s beautiful – how does it work?”.

Charlie Parker and Albert Einstein died in the same year, just over a month apart, the former in March 1955 and the latter in April. They were two very different geniuses but it’s as difficult to imagine physics without Einstein as jazz without Bird.

Bird 100: The Quintet at Massey Hall

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2020 by telescoper

For my next piece in celebration of the centenary of the birth of Charlie Parker 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 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.