Archive for Oscar Peterson

Norman Granz Jam Session No. 6

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 26, 2019 by telescoper

It behoves me to spend most of this evening at a postgraduate Open Evening here at Maynooth University so I thought I’d take a little tea break and post a bit of Jazz.

This recording, made in 1954, is from one of the famous `All-Star’ jam sessions organized by impresario Norman Granz. These are fascinating for jazz fans because they provide a rare opportunity to hear extended solos from great musicians, not confined to the usual three-minute 78rpm records of the period. This one is almost half an hour long altogether, and was originally issued in two parts (on either side of an LP record) so there’s a rather clumsy edit half way through. There are also a few jumps on the record, but I don’t think they spoil this classic too much.

Norman Granz liked to select contrasting musicians for these spontaneous recordings and this line-up was clearly intended to juxtapose modernist trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie with his boyhood inspiration Roy Eldridge. It is indeed fascinating to hear them play one after the other, but the star of this show for me is the great clarinettist Buddy De Franco whose solo is absolutely superb – few Jazz clarinettists are able to match his control in the upper register. The other musicians clearly enjoy his solo too; I’m pretty sure that it’s Dizzy Gillespie you can hear delivering the encouraging shouts as De Franco gets into full flood.

The soloists (in order) are: Flip Phillips (tenor sax); Bill Harris (trombone); Buddy De Franco (clarinet); Oscar Peterson (piano); Herb Ellis (guitar); Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet); and Roy Eldridge (trumpet). The other musicians providing rhythm accompaniment are Ray Brown (bass) and Louie Bellson (drums). That’s not a bad band is it?

The tune played here is the swing era standard Stomping at the Savoy which is a good choice for this kind of jam session because (a) everyone knows it (b) the melody is quite simple, and (c) it has interesting chords for the musicians to improvise over. It is in standard 32-bar AABA format with a relatively simple A section (Db6, Ab9, Db6, Ddim, Ebm7, Ab7, Db, Db) but has a B section (bridge) with considerable chromatic embellishment (Gb9/G9, Gb9, B13/F#m6, B13, E9/F9, E9, A13, Ab9b); these are assuming that it is played in Db. It’s fascinating to hear how each of the soloists navigates the middle eight on this record.

Stomping at the Savoy is usually played a bit faster than it is here, but I like this beautifully relaxed and comfortably swinging tempo.

UPDATE: By an amazing coincidence*, Part 1 of this session was played by Bernard Clarke last night on The Blue of the Night (at about 10.30).

*It’s not a complete coincidence, as we had an exchange on Twitter about it a while ago and he said he would try to play it sometime – it was nevertheless a surprise that he played it on exactly the same day as I posted this!

C Jam Blues

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on May 22, 2012 by telescoper

I finished a marathon session of examination marking yesterday evening, and gave the papers another check through this afternoon just as a precaution against any errors on my part. Now I’m satisfied with them I’m going to hand them over to the second examiner tomorrow morning for another check. We do take a lot of care over this things, you know…

Having got such such a big job out of the way I think there’s grounds for a minor celebration. On top of that I noticed this afternoon that the total number of visits to this blog has just passed the one million mark!  Thanks to everyone who has visited for taking the trouble to read my ramblings. I hope to be able to pass on news of an important development on the blog very soon…

In the meantime, here’s a video I’ve been waiting for a good day to post. It’s the great Oscar Peterson Trio vintage 1964 in excellent form playing a Duke Ellington standard called C Jam Blues which, as its name suggests, is a 12-bar blues in the key of C Major. I have many reasons for loving this performance: Oscar Peterson’s lengthy improvised introduction is worth a shout all on its own, but watch out for the little look he gives to bassist Ray Brown at about 2.34 to signal him in at the start of the next chorus. Look out too for the flawless performance of the legendary Ed Thigpen on drums; one of my Dad’s absolute favourite drummers, and mine too. The three musicians are definitely all on the same wavelength for this track, but the eyeball communication between Ed Thigpen and Ray Brown seems almost psychic.

Au Privave

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on October 18, 2009 by telescoper

At the risk of becoming a complete bore on the subject of bebop I thought I’d follow up an earlier post on the joys of jazz with this brilliant performance of yet another Charlie Parker tune, not by the man himself, but by one of his disciples.

I was lucky enough to hear Sonny Stitt live a number of times and he was always brilliant; he died in 1982. He was criticised by some jazz buffs between  numbers during one gig I was at with the words “You’re just playing like Charlie Parker!”, to which he replied by handing his alto saxophone to the twit  in the audience and saying “Here then. YOU play like Charlie Parker.”

Anyway, in the late 1950s (after Charlie Parker had died) Sonny Stitt sat in as on alto saxophone with the Oscar Peterson trio of which Ray Brown (bass) and Ed Thigpen (drums) were the other two members. They made a classic album for the Verve label which features a number of Charlie Parker numbers. Oscar Peterson isn’t my absolute favourite jazz pianist but it has to be said that he and his sidemen build up a colossal head of steam on these records, especially the one I’ve picked which is called Au Privave.

I tried for ages to unravel this intricate little tune. It’s basically a twelve-bar blues, but it is built  on much more complicated chords than the usual blues cycle. In its simplest form, the blues involves only three chords, the same three that most rock-and-roll tunes are built on. The foundation is a  “tonic” chord (T) based on the root note of whatever key it’s played in, often a basic triad consisting of the first, third and five notes of a major scale starting on that note or including the dominant 7th. The next chord is the subdominant chord  (S), shifting things up by a perfect fourth relative to the tonic, and then finally we have the dominant (D) which brings us up by a fifth from the original root note.

The basic twelve-bar blues has one chord per bar. The first four bars are accompanied by the tonic, then the subdominant S takes over for two bars followed by a return to the tonic for another two. The last four bars introduce the dominant (but only for one bar), followed by S for one and then back down to the root for the final two.

In a standard blues in F the sequence would thus be

| F| F| F |F | B♭| B♭| F| F | C| B♭| F| F|,

or possibly with F7 etc. The slow and relatively simple progression of chords gives these  blues a rather statuesque form: the soloist has to be really good to keep the thing going without getting bogged down. When played by a master even the simplest blues can be immensely powerful, but they can also be very dull when played not so well. It may be simple, but it certainly isn’t easy.

Au Privave is in F but has considerably more complicated changes than the bog-standard F blues. Parker inserted several intermediate chords to keep the harmonies moving and dispensed with some of the conventional progressions.  There are also more chords, usually two per bar rather than just one. The sequence here looks more like

| F| Gm7C7| F |Cm7F7| B♭| B♭| F7Gm7| Am7D7 | Gm7| C| FD7| G7C7|,

although I’m not sure I got them right as it tends to be played very fast! It’s a lot more to remember, but it’s also a much more dynamic setting  to improvise in which is what people like Charlie Parker wanted to create. Instead of moving quasi-statically through perfect intervals each chorus, you run helter-skelter through a constantly shifting harmonic environment. Notice also that there’s no comfortable return to the tonic at measure 12, even. The appearance of a C7 chord here is called a turnaround. Complicated? Yes, I suppose it is. But whenever I hear it played by Sonny Stitt it’s always just four minutes of sheer exhilaration.

Oh, and there’s another thing. Listen to the chorus that starts about 2:58. Did he really play all twelve bars without breathing?