Archive for Jazz

Remembering Johnny Hodges – Jeep’s Blues (Live at Newport, 1956)

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on May 11, 2020 by telescoper

The great alto saxophonist and long-term mainstay of the Duke Ellington Orchestra Johnny Hodges passed away 50 years ago today, on 11th May 1970.

Here’s the piece that was his signature tune, Jeep’s Blues – played during a very famous live concert by the Ellington band at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1956.

Feast your ears on that huge soulful sound that was perfect for playing the blues!

Bright Mississippi – Allen Toussaint

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on May 7, 2020 by telescoper

I have, on a few occasions posted pieces of Jazz that cross over different eras and here’s a wonderful example that has been in my head for a while. Bright Mississippi is a typically quirky composition by Thelonious Monk, a man often described as the ‘High Priest of Bop’. This version in a live performance by a band led in 2009 by Allen Toussaint, however, gives it a joyously carefree New Orleans treatment.

R.I.P. Henry Grimes (1935-2020)

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , on April 19, 2020 by telescoper

The Coronavirus continues to cut a swathe through a generation of great Jazz musicians. The latest sad news is of the passing of bass player Henry Grimes at the age of 84.

Henry Grimes was very active in the 50s and 60s, playing with such luminaries as Sonny Rollins and Thelonious Monk, and appearing on some classic recordings, but he dropped out of the music scene as a performer for roughly thirty years from about 1970 during which time he was virtually destitute. He returned to music around 2002 after a Jazz fan tracked him down and bought him a double bass to play – he had sold his instrument decades earlier – and remained active until his death.

When I heard last night of the death of Henry Grimes the first thing that popped into my mind was this sequence from the movie Jazz On A Summer’s Day. You can see shot of the young Henry Grimes right at the beginning in this clip of the Thelonious Monk trio playing Blue Monk at the Newport JJazz Festival in 1958; Roy Haynes was the drummer.

Rest in peace, Henry Grimes (1935-2020)

R. I. P. Lee Konitz (1927-2020)

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , on April 16, 2020 by telescoper

My word this Covid-19 pandemic is having a terrible effect on the Jazz world. I heard this evening that it has now taken from us the great alto saxophonist Lee Konitz at the age of 92 after a career lasting 75 years.

I can’t possibly do justice here to the memory of such a legend but at least I can post one of my favourite tracks of his, a live performance from the 1950s of a tune called Ablution. If Lee Konitz hadn’t announced it at the start the comping of pianist Ronnie Ball would have told you straight away that this is a contrafact built on the chords of the famous Jerome Kern tune All The Things You Are, the unusual chords of which have made it a popular vehicle for jazz musicians to improvise on ever since it was written back in 1939.

In the bebop era it was typical practice to base original compositions on top of the chord sequences of standard tunes in such a way as to hide their foundations from the casual listener. A famous example of this was the Charlie Parker – Dizzy Gillespie session in which they decided to play a variation on the standard Cherokee. It went well until they absent-mindedly played the actual theme of Cherokee at which point there was a cry of anguish from the control room from a producer who had obviously hoped that if they stayed off the original melody he wouldn’t have to pay composer’s royalties. So off they went again called the next take Ko Ko and created one of the Charlie Parker classics.

Although Lee Konitz had a tone much more reminiscent of Paul Desmond than Charlie Parker he had a wonderfully agile and inventive way of playing that had echoes of Bird at the same time as being definitely his own style, as I hope you will agree after listening to this!

Here are just two classic albums that Lee Konitz played on relatively early in his career, if you want to check them out

R.I.P. Lee Konitz (1927-2020)

R.I.P. McCoy Tyner (1938-2020)

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on March 7, 2020 by telescoper

I had just got home last night when I heard the sad news of the death at the age of 81 of the brilliant pianist McCoy Tyner. When I was looking through my collection of jazz recordings after hearing about this I was struck by how many of them featured McCoy Tyner, most of them in association with John Coltrane that lasted about five years. Tyner’s style was enormously influential as well as immediately recognizable, especially for the way he used his left hand to punch out chords in much the same way as a right-handed boxer uses his left jab.

Tyner had a very long career as a solo musician and it would be wrong the give the impression that his work with Trane from about 1960 to 1965 was all he did, but when choosing something to share in his memory I kept coming back to that period.

In the end I decided to post a classic piece from the John Coltrane era. This is the title track from the 1961 album My Favorite Things which, as it happens, is one of my favourite things. Coltrane plays soprano sax on this track; apparently he hadn’t played a soprano sax at all until 1960, when Miles Davis bought him one. I like its use on this particularly recording as it gives the performance a very “Eastern” sound.

You might think that a song from The Sound of Music would be unlikely material for John Coltrane to tackle, but in fact he does something extremely interesting with it: the melody is heard numerous times throughout the track, but instead of playing solos over the written chord changes, the soloists improvise over just two chords, E minor and E major, in a manner that seems influenced by Indian music. The whole thing is played in waltz time, but drummer Elvin Jones not only keeps an intense but fluidly swinging pulse going in 3/4 but also does so much around and across that central beat.

Thelonious Monk plays Duke Ellington

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on February 17, 2020 by telescoper

This morning there was a reminder on the radio that today is the anniversary of the death of the great Thelonious Monk, who died on 17th February 1982. I went to a concert by British pianist Stan Tracey the day after the sad news broke and he threw away his intended play list and played nothing but Monk tunes for the whole evening. It was a wonderful concert and a moving tribute from one musician to another who had clearly influenced him deeply.

Last week I was asked by a young man to recommend some albums because he wanted to find out more about Monk’s music. Among those I suggested was Thelonious Monk plays Duke Ellington which was recorded in 1956 for the Riverside Label, and features a trio of Thelonious Monk (piano), Oscar Pettiford (bass) and Kenny Clarke (drums).

This is an unusual album because it finds Monk doing what the recording executives asked, namely to play standard tunes rather than his original compositions. The most performed jazz composer of all time* is Duke Ellington so he was a natural source of material to choose, and the album that resulted is absolutely fascinating not least because Monk clearly relates very well to Ellington’s music. In fact it’s one of my all-time favourites. Here is just one track from it, I let a Song go out of my Heart. Enjoy!

*The second most performed jazz composer of all time is none other than Monk himself!

How are things in Glocca Morra? – Sonny Rollins

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on February 12, 2020 by telescoper

À propos de rien, but to chill for a few minutes while I have a cup of tea after this afternoon’s Engineering Mathematics lecture, I thought I’d post a piece of music. As regular readers of this blog (both of them) will know, I listen to quite a lot of jazz. In the course of doing that it has often struck me that there can hardly be a tune that’s ever been written – however unpromising – that some jazz musician somewhere hasn’t taken a fancy to and done their own version. Louis Armstrong turned any amount of base metal into gold during his long career, but here’s an example from a more modern legend, Sonny Rollins, who is still going strong at the age of 89.

The full personnel listing is Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone); Donald Byrd (trumpet); Wynton Kelly (piano); Gene Ramey (bass); and Max Roach (drums). The track was recorded in 1956. The band is playing a tune called How are thing in Glocca Morra? and it was written for the 1947 musical Finian’s Rainbow (which I hate). This version, though is absolutely gorgeous.  It clearly doesn’t take much to inspire a genius…

R.I.P. Jimmy Heath (1926-2020)

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on January 20, 2020 by telescoper

I heard last night the sad news that saxophonist arranger and bandleader Jimmy Heath had passed away at the age of 93. Jimmy Heath was a terrific musician whom Miles Davis described as `one of the thoroughbreds’ and who performed on a huge number of really important records as leader or as sideman throughout a long career than spanned seven decades.

I spent last night going through the part of my record collection that I have here in Maynooth to select a track to play as a small tribute, and came up with this up tempo 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, and featuring Clifford Brown (trumpet), Jimmy Heath (tenor saxophone), John Lewis (piano), Percy Heath (bass, Jimmy’s brother*) and Kenny Clarke (drums). They’re all great musicians, and they make a wonderfully rich ensemble sound for a small band. Jimmy Heath plays a fine solo, rather typical of his early style (which, although he plays tenor sax rather than alto is clearly in the mould of Charlie Parker) and you also get the chance to hear the great Clifford Brown .

*Jimmy’s other brother Albert Heath was a fine drummer.

R.I.P. Jimmy Heath (1926-2020)

A Musical Memory: Mabel’s Dream

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , , , , , on November 7, 2019 by telescoper

So that’s that. The funeral is over. We all said our goodbyes, and there many tears.

My Mam chose the music for her funeral a long time ago, and the piece that was playing as we arrived in the West Chapel of the West Road Crematorium was one that I wrote about about a decade ago, so I thought I’d indulge myself by posting here the version we heard today.

Years ago my Mam told me that she heard the tune Mabel’s Dream played on the piano by a friend of the family by the name of Johnny Handle. Best known as a folk musician (and founder member of a well-known band called The High Level Ranters) he is also a music teacher and musicologist with a wide range of interests in music. I read somewhere that this lovely tune was originally written by Jelly Roll Morton and performed by him on solo piano, but by far the most famous recording of Mabel’s Dream was made by King Oliver and his Creole Jazz Band in Chicago in 1923. This was the band that the young Louis Armstrong belonged to before going on to make the classic Hot Fives and Hot Sevens, one of which I posted a bit ago. It’s interesting how different the earlier band sounds: with two cornets (King Oliver and Louis Armstrong), clarinet (Johnny Dodds), and trombone (Honore Dutrey) playing together virtually all the time except for short improvised solo breaks. King Oliver usually played lead cornet, at least in their earlier recordings, with Louis Armstrong playing a decorative counterpoint around him rather like a clarinettist might. Later on, they swapped leads freely and completely intuitively producing a sound that was entirely unique.

The ensemble playing is intricate, but the band had no written music, preferring to work exclusively from “head” arrangements. Their music is consistently delightful to listen to, with a succession of marchy themes that makes it impossible not to want to tap your feet when you listen to them.

Over time, this classic type of polyphonic Jazz- derived from its New Orleans roots – gradually morphed into musical form dominated by much simpler arrangements and a succession of virtuoso solos. This change was also reflected in the differing fortunes of Louis Armstrong and King Oliver. The former went on to become an international celebrity, while the latter lost all his savings when his bank went bust during the Wall Street Crash.

Considering the relatively brief time that they played together, King Oliver and Louis Armstrong made an astonishingly large number of astonishingly beautiful records, including this one which I’m posting here to show that as well as many other things my Mam had great taste in Jazz.

Lord, Let Me In The Lifeboat

Posted in Jazz, Politics with tags , , , , , , on September 16, 2019 by telescoper

Yesterday I noticed a now-typical outburst of British mean-spirited xenophobia in that people are cancelling their donations to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution on the grounds that it spends a massive 2% of its budget saving lives abroad rather than in the UK. Or at least claim to be cancelling donations. Judging by the kind of people commenting on Twitter I’d bet than none of them has ever donated anything to anyone in their entire crab-faced existence. The face of `Global Britain’ as represented by the Daily Mail gets more umpleasant by the day.

Anyway, as a regular donor to the RNLI I have this morning increased my contribution and will be wearing my RNLI pin badge in support of the brave men and women who regularly risk their lives to save those in distress at sea.

Incidentally, in case you were wondering, the RNLI also serves Ireland: there are 59 lifeboats based in 45 stations in the Republic as well as Northern Ireland.

Anyway, I don’t want to let all this get anyone down so I’m sharing this piece of music which sprang to mind. Lord Let Me In The Lifeboat was recorded in 1945 for the Blue Note label by a band led by Sidney Bechet and Bunk Johnson. The latter had just come out of retirement courtesy of Sidney Bechet’s brother Leonard, a dentist, who furnished trumpeter Johnson with a new set of false teeth to allow him to resume playing. Not a lot of people know that.

Understandably, Bunk Johnson’s chops were not in great shape on this session but Bechet’s certainly were! When I was a lad I used to spend a bit of time transcribing clarinet solos from old records, and I remember doing this one by Sidney Bechet. The notes in themselves are not hard to play, but few people could generate that heavy vibrato and rich tone!

UPDATE: Oh look! I found it. If you want to play along at home, here you are. It’s in B♭ Major, and comes with a best guess as to the chords:

Lifeboat

Update: Great News