Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Appreciating Brushwork and Some History

I both love playing with brushes and listening to some of the brush masters who were pioneers as well as modern players who are carrying on the art.

While early adopters such as Vic Berton and George Lawrence Stone began codifying the vocabulary and technique, it was Papa Jo Jones who dramatically raised the bar with his approach to brush playing. Papa Jo's technique is the foundation of modern brush playing. Big Sid Catlett was another notable pioneer who influenced the art (see World's Greatest Drummers: My Short List).

The early years of brush playing are meticulously documented by Gerry Paton in an article he wrote titled, Never Swat a Fly! (the origins of brush playing in jazz). This article is on Mr. Paton's excellent web site devoted to brush playing, Brush Beat, and is but one of a growing collection of articles about brush history, tips and techniques.

I won't dwell too much on Mr. Paton's site in this post because I have written a more in-depth review of it in For Brush Players: A New Site.

While there were literally hundreds of outstanding brush players who came after Papa Jo Jones and Big Sid Catlett - including the likes of Max Roach, Kenny Clarke and Philly Joe Jones - I personally draw my inspiration from a handful whose playing touches my soul. I'll start with Joe Morello. His work with the Dave Brubeck Quartet grabbed me in the early 1960s when I was starting out, and he has been one of my main influences since. While most drummers will recommend the seminal album, Time Out, for Morello at his best I prefer The Essential Dave Brubeck. That album contains most of the songs on Time Out and many more. Note that Joe Morello isn't the only drummer on the album, but his style can easily be picked out, and there are many tracks on it with outstanding examples of brushwork. As a side note, Joe Dodge, the drummer Morello replaced in the quartet, is also featured and his brush playing is excellent.

Although not a well known name among younger drummers, Vernel Fournier influenced a generation of jazz drummers with his exquisite brush work, and is among the great all time brush masters. His work with Ahmed Jamal is showcased in Live at the Pershing Lounge 1958 and in Cross Country Tour: 1958-1961.

The drummer who took brush playing to another level in the 1950s and 1960s, and remains a major influence to this day, was the late, great Ed Thigpen. His work with the Oscar Peterson Trio between 1959 and 1965 is essential listening for anyone who aspires to mastering brush playing. Two albums I highly recommend from those years are Cole Porter Songbook by the Oscar Peterson Trio and Night Train.

Not to diminish the importance or contributions to the art by contemporary brush masters, such as Steve Smith and Clayton Cameron, the one drummer who most inspires me today (in a musical setting) is Jeff Hamilton. His credentials are above reproach as evidenced by the fact that he has played with Ray Brown, Oscar Peterson and other giants in Jazz. A good representation of his work can be found on selected albums by Diana Krall. I recommend When I Look in Your Eyes and Live in Paris (also grab the DVD of that performance.)

This post is focused on musical examples of great brush playing, and a bit of historical context. If you are interested in improving your brush technique see More on Brush Playing.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Savoy King: A Movie About Chick Webb and the Savoy Ballroom

A few months ago I received an email from a producer named Jeff Kaufman, who informed me about a movie about the great Chick Webb and the Savoy Ballroom. The movie also features Ella Fitzgerald and other notables from that era who were connected with the Savoy and Chick. Because of a personal tragedy I am only now starting to write again.

The best way to present the project is to use Mr. Kaufman's description:

Chick's brief, inspiring life illuminates the society-changing power of music, the life-lifting effect of mentoring, a hard-fought breakthrough in racial understanding that reverberates today in many ways, and the ability of everyone (with or without disabilities) to reach beyond their apparent limits. Produced with The New Heritage Theater Group (New York's oldest non-profit Black theater), The Savoy King: Chick Webb And The Music That Changed America weaves together newly filmed stories from remarkable people who knew Chick Webb at every phase of his life, with quotes from some of the greatest figures in Jazz history. Bill Cosby has voiced the words of Chick Webb, and we also have Tyne Daly voicing Jazz publicist Helen Oakley Dance, Ron Perlman as Gene Krupa, Andy Garcia as Mario Bauzá, and Danny Glover as Count Basie. We just had a screening of the rough cut, which we will now polish. Unfortunately, I've hit a financing wall at this crucial time, and I am urgently seeking tax deducible finishing funds to complete our work. Donations are tax deductible, and any level of support can make a big difference.

As you know, the Savoy Ballroom was the home of the amazing Lindy Hop dancers, and the first venue in America where Blacks and Whites could dance and socialize together. It had a huge, but largely unheralded social impact. Born fatherless and poor, Chick Webb developed spinal tuberculosis and was a hunchbacked dwarf in constant pain, yet he virtually invented modern drumming and built the hottest band of the 1930s (it was the Savoy Ballroom's "house band"). Chick was mentored by Duke Ellington, toured with Louis Armstrong, argued with Jelly Roll Morton, jammed with Artie Shaw, married a beautiful dancer, discovered and practically adopted Ella Fitzgerald (in many ways, their relationship is the heart of the film), beat Benny Goodman and Count Basie in legendary battle of the bands, befriended Mario Bauzá ("The Father of Afro-Cuban Jazz"), encouraged a struggling Dizzy Gillespie, and helmed the first Black band to host a national radio show . . . all before drumming himself to death at age 30.

We've been privileged to film with some terrific people, each who could warrant their own documentary. They include: drummers Louie Bellson (with, I believe, his last filmed drum performance) and Roy Haynes (among other things, he does a charming scat version of A-Tisket, A-Tasket), trumpeter Joe Wilder, playwright-actress Gertrude Jeannette, Swing dance masters Frankie Manning and Norma Miller, basketball star John Issacs, composer-arranger Van Alexander, longtime Harlem physician Dr. Muriel Petioni, childhood friend Rev. Edward Wilson (minister emeritus at Waters AME Church), Ella Fitzgerald's son Ray Brown Jr., the son of the Savoy Ballroom's owner, and Chick's jazz-loving nephew.

Since I am a big fan of that era, and revere Chick, I found the news of this project to be exciting. Chick's name is becoming a dim memory among drummers, and too many younger drummers never heard of him. To keep his name and accomplishments alive is, to me, important. Mr. Kaufman's project could be not only a loving tribute, but may spark interest in the newer generations, which could revive swing in much the same way Squirrel Nut Zippers and similar groups did in the 1990s.

A better overview of the project is on Floating World Pictures page titled The Savoy King: Chick Webb and the Music that Changed America.

If you are not familiar with Chick or the Savoy Ballroom, this clip from Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns is a quick introduction:

For more information about Chick, recommended recordings and links to more information, see my March 11, 2010 post.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Reason for the three week gap in posting here

I experienced a personal tragedy, so my posting was put on hold for the past three weeks.

In a day or so I will be back with some [hopefully] interesting information. The next post will focus on Stan Levey, one of the pioneers of bebop.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Joe Dodge: Brubeck's Other Drummer

My first introduction to the Dave Brubeck Quarter's first drummer, Joe Dodge, came about when I purchased The Essential Dave Brubeck a few years ago. I had assumed that the drum chair on this 31 track CD set was Joe Morello. I marveled at the wide range of drumming styles, only to discover later that while Morello was on many of them, Joe Dodge (among other drummers) was on many of the tracks as well.

This knowledge started a quest to find out more about Joe Dodge. The most detailed resource is Joe Dodge: The Drummer as Time-Keeper from Steven Cerra's excellent blog, Jazz Profiles. As a side note, almost every time I need information about relatively obscure musicians I invariably find it in Mr. Cerra's blog.

While reading Cerra's account of Dodge, it became apparent why Paul Desmond was so incensed when Brubeck hired Morello. That story is well told in When drummer Joe Morello joined the Dave Brubeck Quartet, which was excerpted from Paul Ramsey's Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond.

Here are a few clips of Dodge in action with the Dave Brubeck Quarter circa 1956:

Dodge is straight ahead and low key, which is a direct contrast to Morello's playing. I love them both, but for different reasons. Morello certainly raised the bar in jazz drumming, but Dodge's restrained drumming complemented Paul Desmond's playing better - and I have always held that Desmond was the heart and soul of the Quartet.

It's probably not a little surprising that after Desmond struck out on his own that he chose Connie Kay for the drum chair. Kay's tasteful and restrained drumming was similar to Dodge's approach, and complemented Desmond's saxophone in ways that Morello's playing didn't.

Lest you get the impression that I am criticizing Morello, know that I consider him to be among the top ten drummers in history, and thoroughly enjoy his playing. Here is Take the A Train with Morello in the drum chair - contrast it with the way Dodge played it in the clip after it to see the differences in their approaches. Both renditions are excellent, and both are valid. My preference is Dodge's playing:

Joe Morello

Joe Dodge

If you want to hear more Joe Dodge and the early incarnation of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, I recommend Jazz: Red, Hot and Cool, as well as Jazz Goes to College. These two albums have live tracks that showcase Dodge's drumming style and how it supported Desmond.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Jazz on a Summer's Day Revisited

In one of my original posts here I discussed Bert Stern's Jazz on a Summer's Day.

I find myself watching that excellent video often, but never knew the performances that Mr. Stern left out when he filmed the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. Alan Kurtz, fortunately, wrote an excellent article titled, The Dozens: Jazz on a Summer's Day, that not only provides a list of all of the performances during that year's festival, but also critiques each performance that is in the movie.

More importantly (at least for those of us who are anal about such things), Kurtz also provides a list of the musicians who played on each of the performances.

Here are video clips of some of the performances from the video that you may enjoy:

See Anita O'Day: Jezebel of Jazz & Drummer's Vocalist for Anita O'Day's amazing performances that stole the show.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Jazz to the East and Jazz to the West

I just stumbled across some excellent, inexpensive videos that are well worth adding to your viewing library: EFOR Films' Jazz Shots series. There are three DVDs covering the East Coast scene, and three covering the West Coast.

East Coast

Jazz Shots, Vol. 1: East Coast
1. Bill Evans Trio- Up With The Lark
2. Bill Evans- Waltz For Debbie
3. Ahmad Jamal Trio- Darn That Dream
4. Ahmad Jamal Trio- Ahmad Blues
5. Phil Woods Quartet- My Old Flame
6. Thelonious Monk- Blue Monk
7. Johnny Griffin- A Monk's Dream
8. Oscar Peterson- Newport Blues
9. Duke Ellington- Moon Indigo
10. Duke Ellington- Sophisticated Lady
11. Duke Ellington- Take the A Train
12. Keith Jarrett- Tagore
13. Keith Jarrett- Passin' Thru
14. Jimmy Smith Trio- Mack the Knife
15. Oscar Peterson- Newport Blues
16. Roland Kirk- Unknown Theme
Jazz Shots, Vol. 2: East Coast
MILES DAVIS QUINTET Feat. John Coltrane 8'59" / So What - M. Davis
CHARLIE PARKER 3'31" / Hothouse - T. Dameron
LOUIS ARMSTRONG 4'46" / Someday - L. Armstrong
LOUIS ARMSTRONG 3'23" / When It's Sleepy Time Down South - C. Muse - L. René - O. René
MODERN JAZZ QUARTET 4'46" / If I Were Eve - J. Lewis
MODERN JAZZ QUARTET 5'35" / Winter Tale - J. Lewis
BEN WEBSTER QUARTET 4'09" / Cottontail - D. Ellington
BEN WEBSTER QUARTET 5'05" / Chelsea Bridge - B. Strayhorn
BEN WEBSTER SEXTET 4'34" / Duke's Place - D. Ellington
ART FARMER - JIM HALL QUARTET 6'44" / My Kinda Love - L. Alter - J. Trent
COUNT BASIE ORCHESTRA 6'40" / Dickie's Dream - C. Basie - L. Young
ART TATUM 2'36" / Art's Blues - A. Tatum
BOBBY HACKETT 3'51" / Bill Bailey Won't You Please Come Home - H. Cannon
Jazz Shots, Vol. 3: East Coast
1. JOHN COLTRANE 5'55" / Alabama - J. Coltrane
2. JOHN COLTRANE 7'08" / Afro Blue - M. Santamaría
4. DIZZY GILLESPIE QUINTET Feat. Lalo Schiffrin 7'08" / Blues After Dark / B. Golson
5. DIZZY GILLESPIE QUINTET Feat. Lalo Schiffrin 3'42" / Lorraine - D. Gillespie
6. THAD JONES - MEL LEWIS ORCHESTRA 12'29" / St. Louis Blues - W.C. Handy
7. JIMMY SMITH TRIO 5'30" / The Champ - D. Gillespie
8. JIMMY SMITH TRIO 7'07" / Walk On The Wild Side - E. Bernstein - M. David
9. WOODY HERMAN BIG BAND 5'38" / Just Squeeze Me - D. Ellington - L. Gaines
10. WOODY HERMAN BIG BAND 4'51" / After You're Gone - H. Creamer - T. Layton
11. SONNY ROLLINS QUARTET Feat. Jim Hall 5'54" / God Bless The Child - A. Herzog Jr. - B. Holiday
12. MILES DAVIS & GIL EVANS ORCHESTRA 3'27" / The Duke - D. Brubeck
13. MILES DAVIS & GIL EVANS ORCHESTRA 5'51" / Blues For Pablo - G. Evans
14. MILES DAVIS & GIL EVANS ORCHESTRA 4'25" / New Rumba - A. Jamal
15. DUKE ELLINGTON Newport Stomp / D. Ellington
16. PONY POINTDEXTER 4'17" Another Get Together / P. Poindexter

West Coast

Jazz Shots, Vol. 1: West Coast
1. Art Pepper- D. Section
2. Chet Baker- If I should Lose You
3. Zoot Sims- On The Trail
4. Phineas Newborn Trio- Lush Life
5. Phineas Newborn Trio- Theme For Basie
6. Phineas Newborn Trio- Oleo
7. Toshiko Akiyoshi/Lew Tabackin Big Band- Hempecked Old Man
8. Shelly Manne- The Isolate Pawn
9. Shelly Manne- Fantan
10. Wes Montgomery- Jingles
Jazz Shots, Vol. 2: West Coast
1. WES MONTGOMERY 5'28" / Full House - Wes Montgomery
2. WES MONTGOMERY 7'56" / Round Midnight - T. Monk
3. WES MONTGOMERY 3'31" / Yesterdays - O. Harback - J. Kern
4. GERRY MULLIGAN QUARTET Feat. Bob Brookmeyer 5'30" / Open Country - B. Brookmeyer
5. GERRY MULLIGAN QUARTET Feat. Bob Brookmeyer 6'46"/ Darn That Dream - E. DeLange -J. Van Hensen
6. SHORTY ROGERS QUINTET Feat. Lou Levy 4'24" / Martians Go Home - S. Rogers
7. SHORTY ROGERS QUINTET Feat. Lou Levy 5'50" / Time Was - S. Rogers
8. SHORTY ROGERS QUINTET Feat. Lou Levy 6'12" / Greensleeves - Le Febvre - Rogers
9. PAUL DESMOND QUARTET 4'52" / Emily - J. Mandel - J. Mercer
10. LESTER YOUNG 2'20" / The Midnight Symphony (Ad lib)
11. LESTER YOUNG 3'07" / On The Sunny Side Of The Street - D. Fields - J. Mc Hugh
12. TEDDY EDWARDS 3'50" / Sunset Eyes - T. Edwards
13. TEDDY EDWARDS 3'20" / Afraid Of Love - T. Edwards
14. TEDDY EDWARDS 3'54" / The Cellar Dweller - T. Edwards
Jazz Shots, Vol. 3: West Coast
1. DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET Feat. Paul Desmond 4'56" / Take Five - P. Desmond
2. DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET Feat. Paul Desmond 5'34" / Castilian Blues - D. Brubeck
3. DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET Feat. Paul Desmond 5'18" / (It's a) Raggy Waltz - D. Brubeck
4. JIMMY GIUFFRE TRIO Feat. Jim Hall 5'00" / The Train And The River - J. Giuffre
5. STAN KENTON 4'56" / Malagueña (Arr. by Bill Holman) - E. Lecuona
6. STAN KENTON 5'23" / Waltz Of The Prophets (Arr. by Dee Barton) - D. Barton
7. STAN KENTON 3'56" / Maria (Arr. by Johnny Richards) - L. Bernstein - S. Sondheim
8. STAN KENTON 1'53" / Limehouse Blues (Arr. by Bill Holman) - P. Braham - D. Furber - B. Holman
9. JIM HALL 11'21" / Valse Hot - S. Rollins
10. HAMPTON HAWES 6'22" / Stella By Starlight - N. Washington - V. Young
11. FRANK ROSOLINO QUARTET 4'06" / Lover Man - J. Davis - R. Ramírez - J. Sherman
12. FRANK ROSOLINO QUARTET 4'22" / Well You Needn't - T. Monk
13. FRANK ROSOLINO QUARTET 4'01" / Yesterdays - O. Harbach - J. Kein

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Sound of Swing - A Great Basie Video

For drummers wanting to brush up on their brushwork, guitarists who can't get enough of Freddie Green, and Basie fans, Sound of Swing is an extraordinary treat. The complete line-up is Basie, Norman Keenan on bass, Freddie Green on guitar and Sonny Payne on drums.

Here are two clips that justify my excitement over finding this treasure:

Here is the entire DVD in a playlist. Trust me, this DVD is a winner.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Anita O'Day: Jezebel of Jazz & Drummer's Vocalist

A remarkable woman with a remarkable story. Anita O'Day lived the jazz life - the same one that claimed other giants at an early age - but managed to survive that life to age 87. Her 72 year music career spanned swing, big band, bebop, West Coast jazz and other jazz-oriented popular music, and it still brings smiles.

Anita's ability to sing in fast tempos set her apart from any of her peers in any of the eras in which she contributed memorable performances. This ability made her highly successful with Gene Krupa and his orchestra, and allowed her to seamlessly segue into bebop and beyond as the swing and big band eras died.

She also had long associations with other drummers, notably Don Carter and John Poole. Carter, her first husband, gave her drum lessons. Poole was her favorite drummer and she maintained a professional association with him that spanned over three decades.

Here is a great video of Anita and John Poole (see also the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival clip further on):

I consider her male counterpart to be Mel Torme, who shared her ability to sing in fast tempos, and was a solid drummer in his own right.

There are some excellent biographical sources that balance Anita's Jezebel antics with her musical accomplishments and contributions to jazz:

Both pull no punches. Moreover, both chronicle the good and bad of a remarkable career than spanned nearly three quarters of a century in detail.

I also highly recommend her bio pic, Anita O'Day - The Life Of A Jazz Singer, which comprehensively details her story without the usual embellishments or convenient lapses of less than flattering material that characterize many biographies. Other sources of information that I found to be balanced and accurate are Lara Pellegrinelli's 2002 article, Anita O’Day: Yesterday & O’Day, an NPR Jazz Profiles transcript produced by Joan Merrill, and a surprisingly complete Wikipedia entry. These two audio transcripts of NPR shows featuring Anita are also worth a listen: Anita O'Day: A Distinctive Voice Stilled and Anita O'Day: Revisiting A Classic Voice.

Personally I am not too fond of her early years (except for her stint with Krupa). I believe she hit her stride as an artist when the bebop movement started gaining attention; indeed, I believe that genre was perfect for her talents and musical gifts and set her well apart from any other vocalist of that era.

I have selected the following videos to show how she evolved throughout her career. The highlight for me is her performance at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, which was beautifully captured in Bert Stern's Jazz on a Summer's Day.

With Gene Krupa

With Stan Kenton

At the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival(John Poole on drums)

Other Performances

Because her music spans many albums and genres I am reluctant to make firm recommendations. Here is a list of Anita O'Day Albums, ranked by highest reviewer ratings, that can guide you.

There are videos in addition to the ones I listed above that I do recommend: Jazz Icons: Anita O'Day Live in '63 & '70, Live in Tokyo '63 and Anita O'Day - Live at Ronnie Scott's all capture this great woman in excellent performances. Enjoy the music!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Music for Drummers and Music for Woodshedding

This blog is devoted to music from which drummers can pick up grooves and understand how drum kit playing was rooted in jazz from which all popular music has evolved. That explains the fact that I don't cover rock drumming to any degree.

Another goal is to keep alive the names of the drummers who have unfortunately fallen into obscurity. An example is the email I received in response to earlier posts here about Chick Webb, Jo Jones, Zutty Singleton, Big Sid Catlett, etc., in which I was asked why I didn't consider drummers like Neil Peart and Travis Barker to be among the world's greatest drummers. Sorry, but not only do I not consider them to be, if asked, I am sure that Misters Peart and Barker would probably agree with my choices.

On the music selections, I personally believe that all drummers, regardless of their chosen genre, will benefit from exposure to jazz. Certainly the most influential drummers who have defined rock have benefited. Ginger Baker and Charlie Watts consider themselves to be jazz drummers. Mitch Mitchell was a jazz drummer who had the good fortune to join the Jimmy Hendrix Experience and imprint that sound with jazz-oriented playing. John Bonham's playing was - by his own admission - heavily influenced by Joe Morello (among others). So the focus here will remain on jazz.

I maintain another blog, Snare Drum Addict, that contains some material on playing techniques that are specifically aimed at drummers and may be of interest to the drummers who happen by. Some posts of interest include a series on brushwork, instructional videos, and great books and videos for woodshedding. If you are seeking that type of material, here are a few posts of interest:

In addition, that blog has articles on topics ranging from head selection to tuning to general drum maintenance, and is of specific interest to drummers (not all visitors to this blog are drummers!)

So, here, enjoy the music for the sake of the music, and learn about those drummers and other musicians who laid the groundwork for other genres. There is much to enjoy and learn and I will be continually adding to the knowledge base. Do check out the links on the left side of this page - they will lead you to some excellent blogs and sites that have amazing content.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Oh Dinah! The Queen of the Blues (and Jukebox)

In my last post I mentioned that Dinah Washington was one of my favorite vocalists. She was much more than just a singer - she played piano and vibe as well. See that post for my recommended books, videos and CDs. This post will be a visual and audio tribute to a great woman whose life tragically ended at a too young 39.

One of my favorite visual performances, and an indication of her ability to do more than sing, is her singing All Of Me at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. This clip is from Jazz on a Summer's Day, Bert Stern's documentary of that event.

It's always a treat watching Max Roach in the drum chair, and a double treat to see Dinah on vibes.

That she could swing is beyond question, and is amply demonstrated in Teach Me Tonight (also featuring Max's drumming):

I personally love this version of Cry Me a River, complete with unedited banter between her and her producer. The woman could do a torch song!

Her rendition of What a Difference a Day Makes is, to me, the definitive version:

These three selections also show the exquisite quality of her voice and the ability to make standards and torch songs her own:

Torch songs were not the only genre in which she excelled. She could hold her own against Bessie Smith when it came to blues, do a credible cover of Hank Williams' Cold, Cold Heart, and cross over into pop and make the charts. These selections show her incredible versatility and ability to sing in any genre:

No survey of Dinah's music would be complete without her rendition of This Bitter Earth, which may be the most beautiful example of her soulful singing:

Finally, this three part documentary will provide you with a glimpse into the life of my favorite female vocalist:

Enjoy the music!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Divas: Jazz Voice Volume 1 - The Ladies Sing Jazz

I just finished watching Jazz Voice, Volume 1: The Ladies Sing Jazz and loved both the diverse styles and the performances. There are a few issues, which I'll address, but the line-up covers Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Ethel Waters, Anita O'Day and Dinah Wasington.

Billie Holiday - most of Lady Day's performances were marred by poor video and/or sound quality. Of the 23 performances on the DVD, she has eight: The Blues Are Brewin', Easy to Remember, What a Little Moonlight Can Do, Foolin' Myself, Fine and Mellow, Strange Fruit, Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone, (I Love You) Porgy. My favorite is Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone, although she turned in an excellent performance of Strange Fruit. The performance of Fine and Mellow is from her 1957 last session with Lester Young, which is discussed in this post. Despite the poor video and audio of Billie's performances, it is always a pleasure to see and hear her. Here is the clip from the DVD of her singing Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone:

My recommendations for additional information and music are in Lester Young & Billie Holiday: the Krishna and Radha of Jazz.

Nina Simone - tracks 9 through 14 are devoted to Nina, with the following songs: I'll Look Around, Improvisation, When I Was in My Prime, Zungo, For All We Know, There Is a Book of Love. Most of this material is from a 1961 concert, and it not only showcases her unique voice and singing style, but also her mastery of the piano. If she had never sung a note, she would (or should) be remembered for her compositional and playing abilities. She was blessed with a natural talent and training at Juliard, which she was unfortunately unable to complete. Most of her work was deeply rooted in African music, and the performances here show it. My favorite, Improvisation, is shown as the last song in this clip along with much of her 1961 concert:

This quick, 26 minute Nina Simone Documentary provides the essence of Nina. Digging deeper, I Put A Spell On You: The Autobiography Of Nina Simone tells her story in her own words, while Princess Noire: The Tumultuous Reign of Nina Simone gives a view from the outside. Of of albums, Anthology: The Colpix Years, contains 40 tracks that are representative of her music and is a highly enjoyable listen.

Ethel Waters - sadly this DVD contains a single performance that does not do her the justice she deserves. Here is the clip:

As the first African-American superstar her life and work should be of interest to any jazz fan, and especially those who are interested in her early years. Fortunately, there is a wealth of information about her, including her book, His Eye Is On The Sparrow: An Autobiography, as well as Stephen Bourne's book, Ethel Waters: Stormy Weather. Her music spans decades, but the best single album I have found is Ethel Waters 1929-1939. It is not comprehensive, nor does it include her early, ground breaking work, but is an enjoyable listen of Ethel at her peak.

Anita O'Day - a remarkable singer who had the ability to sing in crazy fast tempos that made her the darling of the big band era. Her gift for managing fast tempos added significantly to Gene Krupa's orchestra. On the DVD she has two performances - Thanks for the Boogie Ride and Let Me Off Uptown, both of which were with Krupa. Note the edgy inter-racial flirting on Thanks for the Boogie Ride, which was scandalous in the 1940s. Also notice the tempo at which she sings it:

Anita's style grew significantly since the clips on this DVD were shot. I love her performances of Sweet Georgia Brown and Tea For Two in Bert Stern's iconic movie, Jazz on a Summer's Day. Her performances on Jazz Icons: Anita O'Day Live in '63 & '70 further evidence her continual growth as a singer who manages to keep abreast of the times. And this in spite of problems that she brought on herself, and that she wasn't the least bit shy about admitting in her biopic, Anita O'Day - The Life Of A Jazz Singer nor in her autobiography, High Times Hard Times.

Dinah Washington - the best for last. My favorite vocalist has six tracks, of which the following is the one I most enjoyed:

The complete track list of songs she performs on this DVD are Only a Moment Ago, Such a Night, I Don't Hurt Anymore, My Lean Baby, Lover Come Back to Me, Send Me to 'Lectric Chair. The latter, a Bessie Smith song, is my favorite because Bessie is another of my favorite vocalists.

Dianh's career encompassed everything from swing, to blues and jazz, to popular music. Two particular standards for which she is known are What a Difference a Day Makes and Teach Me Tonight. However, she also covered Hank Williams' Cold, Cold Heart, and even hit the pop charts with a duet with Brook Benton with Baby, You Got What it Takes (which is on an album she did with Brook titled Two Of Us.

She is also featured in a performance of All Of Me on Jazz on a Summer's Day (memorable not only for her singing, but because Max Roach had the drum chair and she displayed some skill on the vibes.) To learn more about Dinah check out Queen: The Life and Music of Dinah Washington. Albums I recommend include The Best of Dinah Washington - 20th Century Masters: Millennium Collection and Compact Jazz: Dinah Washington, both of which cover the torch songs for which she was most famous. If, like me, you are a Bessie Smith fan, I highly recommend Dinah Washington Sings Bessie Smith. A great companion to that one is Dinah Washington Sings the Blues featuring Quincy Jones, as is Back To The Blues.

In a future post I will cover Anita O'Day in more detail, followed by a post about Dinah. Until then, enjoy the music!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

RIP Herb Ellis (August 4, 1921 - March 28, 2010)

The great Herb Ellis passed away on Sunday.

This obituary sums up an extraordinary life of a man who was a living link to Charlie Christian.

Some of Ellis' best work, in my opinion, was with the early incarnation of the Oscar Peterson Trio from 1953 to 1958. The line-up was Herb, Oscar and Ray Brown. An excellent recording from that era is At Zardi's.

When I think of Ellis the adjective great always comes to mind. One of his greatest albums after leaving the Trio is Thank You Charlie Christian, a tribute to one of his greatest influences. Another excellent album is Nothing But The Blues, which featured two of my favorite drummers, Stan Levey and Gus Johnson, as well as Roy Eldridge, Stan Getz, Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown. Ellis was also a member of the Verve Records house rhythm section and a mainstay of Jazz at the Philharmonic, both of which were managed and promoted by the great Norman Granz.

Here are a few videos that show what a wonderful guitarist Ellis was. He will be missed.

With the Oscar Peterson Trio (1958)

With Barney Kessel

With Tal Farlow and Charlie Byrd

Rest in peace Herb.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Louis Jordan - Father of R&B; Grandfather of Rock

Louis Jordan's influence on American music giants such as Ray Charles, James Brown, Little Richard and Chuck Berry is responsible for the direction of popular music after the Big Band era. More importantly, he laid the foundation for rock and roll, which has been acknowledged by his 1987 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Probably the two icons who were most influenced by Jordan - by their own accounts - were James Brown and Chuck Berry. James Brown carried the mantle of Godfather of Soul (and funk), while Chuck Berry was one of the early rock pioneers.

It would not be a stretch to claim that Jordan is one of the most important artists in popular music history.

Jordan started, like every musician of his era, in the big bands. Not just any big band, but Chick Webb's Savoy Orchestra. He didn't last long with Chick, who fired him for trying to poach Ella Fitzgerald and other musicians.

Chick must have influenced Louis, however, because after working for the world's greatest drummer, Jordan's future drummers included Chris Columbus (Sonny Payne's father), and Shadow Wilson.

The best way to know Jordan is to watch and listen - in these clips you can clearly hear how his small combo - Tympany Five - was the prototype for what was to become R&B, as well as the foundation of what was to become soul via James Brown and Ray Charles, and rock via Chuck Berry and others Jordan heavily influenced such as Bill Halley.

Here is one of his signature songs

And another for which he is known

Another signature song!

Fun, energetic and danceable. I am not sure that his early audiences realized that these were groundbreaking songs because Jordan's style was as much visual as it was musical. They probably viewed it as sheer dancing and foot-tapping joy. There was a reason his music was referred to as jump blues. Here are a few more clips that are notable. The first because it is pure R&B, and the second because the great Shadow Wilson has the drum chair and the performance epitomizes Jordan's showmanship:

NPR's Jazz Profiles, hosted by Nancy Wilson, has this 53 minute segment that digs deeply into Jordan, the man and musician, and gives insights into his career and accomplishments as told by a number of guest on the show who knew and played with him:

If you want to learn more about Jordan I recommend John Chilton's excellent book, Let the Good Times Roll: The Story of Louis Jordan and His Music. Albums I recommend are:

The above cover the full range of Jordan's work. However if you are a die hard fan Let the Good Times Roll: The Complete Decca Recordings 1938-54 covers his most significant recorded output. An alternative - and a far less expensive one - is the 5 CD box set titled Louis Jordan & His Tympani Five.

Listening to Jordan is only half the fun - watching and listening is the best way to appreciate the full package. My recommendations: Hey Everybody -- It's Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five (released in 2007), and the older and highly rated Louis Jordan and the Tympany Five.

Unique perspectives on blues (and jazz)

While researching my next post about Louis Jordan I came across some interesting articles about blues.

Jazz would have been merely syncopated brass band music without the infusion of blues, and there are other ramifications. American popular music genres that were offshoots of blues, such as R&B, rock and even country would probably not have been created.

A brief history of Blues Music by Piero Scaruffi sets the context. Where it gets interesting is Gunnar Lindgren's The Arabic Roots of Blues and Jazz, and Jonathan Curiel's Muslim Roots, US Blues.

Lindgren's article traces the influence via the Spanish, who were influenced by the Moors, to the New World. His assertion that Spanish-Arabic culture survived best in the New World rings true, and he also provides evidence of the disconnect between Africa and the development of blues (and jazz) as independent art forms in the US as a black American achievement.

Having lived in the Middle East I can attest to the similarities between Muslim song and prayer, and forms of US blues music. In fact, since I heard the athaan - call to prayer - five times a day, every day, while living in the Middle East I often wonder why that connection escaped me.

One final article by John Petters observed the influence of the Catholic Church on the development of jazz and blues in his convincing article, The History of Spirituals in Jazz. Here is an excerpt:

Although this music had its foundations in the Catholic Church, it was not long before other Christian denominations found this music influencing their services. Today when one thinks of Black Gospel music it is usually in the context of southern Baptists or other Protestant denominations.

The above are not the last (or even the definitive) words on the origin of blues and jazz. Those origins will be debated long after I have departed this Earth. However, they add unique perspectives and insights to the debate and body of knowledge.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

In Search of Jimmy Vincent

It's not only frustrating when researching Jimmy Vincent, but, considering his influence on countless drummers, it's almost criminal that there is such a dearth of information about him.

Jimmy Vincent was born 30 June 1923 in Boston, MA as James Vincent Faraci, and passed away on 15 April 2005 in Las Vegas

He is mainly associated with Louis Prima with whom he began his 40-year relationship at 16. Prior to joining Prima he was in a teen band called The Goofers, and resurrected incarnations of that band later in life.

His influence, though, is beyond measure. For example, during the Louis Prima Las Vegas years Prima's shows were one of the most popular attractions in the city. According to narrators in the biographical movie The Wildest: Louis Prima, major stars, such Sinatra and other members of the Rat Pack, regularly caught Prima's show. You can be sure that there were more than a few drummers, and, perhaps many of those were drawn to the shows to admire Jimmy's style and learn a thing or two about shuffles.

However, Vincent's drumming influence extended well beyond Las Vegas - if you were an Italian-American of my generation Prima's music was inescapable. And Jimmy's shuffle was a constant rhythm that permeated your DNA. These examples of his amazing shuffle and tasteful playing showcase Vincent's skill behind the kit:

Shuffle after shuffle. It's axiomatic that any drummer sitting behind Prima needed to be a master of shuffles, which accounts for the fact that Jimmy was known for them. In fact, Jimmy so perfected shuffles that the Jimmy Vincent Shuffle was named for his style. It is also not surprising that Prima's music employed shuffles. The rhythm is embedded into Italian festive music, and it made people want to dance. Prima was renown for his ability to read audiences and engage them, and the bouncy, happy music based on a shuffle rhythm is a perfect vehicle. Prima's Italian heritage (as well as Jimmy's and sax master Sam Buttera's) was always a part of the act, so infusing such rhythms into their music is not a far-fetched idea. The story behind Luna Mezzo Mare explains the Italian connection.

However, Jimmy's music wasn't entirely about playing shuffles. Consider this gem, which Jimmy's drums drove with an exquisite groove that shows his touch and versatility behind the kit:

Or this one that not only shuffles, but alternates with a solid backbeat while swinging like crazy:

Jimmy is featured as a performer and commentator in The Wildest: Louis Prima - not surprising - but is also featured in Classic Rock Drum Solos! In both DVDs he is shown playing Sing, Sing, Sing with Louis Prima (who wrote the song that Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa made famous.)

If you want to study Jimmy's playing in depth I recommend these CDs as a good starting point:

For the drummers among us, and especially the Slingerland fans such as myself, Jimmy was a Slingerland Endorser:

Sadly, the above is all I could find about this great drummer, and I would love it if you have information to share, which I will gratefully include in an update to this post.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ray Bauduc

He would probably not make the top ten list of greatest drummers, or even influential drummers, but Bauduc's influence on me is strong.

Among the music my parents listened to when I was growing up in the 1950s were Dixieland albums. I am sure they were caught up in the end of the Dixieland revival. At any rate, many of those albums featured Bauduc as drummer. It was much later that I learned to appreciate the music, but at the time the beat was sinking into me at a subconscious level.

A brief, but accurate biography of Bauduc is about as much meat as you are going to find about him on the web. However, he is given a four-page chapter in Drummin' Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz The Swing Years, and is also mentioned elsewhere in that excellent book. Helen Oakley Dance, quoted in the chapter on Chick Webb, mentioned that Bauduc was one of the drummers that Chick admired. Considering that Chick is [arguably] the best drum kit player ever born that is high praise of Bauduc's abilities.

He will be best remembered for his drum and bass duet with Bob Haggert, Big Noise from Winetka, shown here:

However, I will always be inspired by his fluid movement around the drum kit and his amazing press rolls, all of which are shown in this clip:

His drumming was tasteful, and despite being typecast as a 2/4 time Dixieland drummer, Ray could swing. Indeed, this was noted by Louis Bellson in the video Legends of Jazz Drumming. In the video segment that focused on Bauduc, Bellson also related a story about when he asked Benny Goodman who his favorite drummers were. Goodman cited Gene Krupa, Ray Bauduc and Ray McKinley. When Bellson told Goodman that he understood Krupa, since Goodman always had a love for Gene's playing, but why the other two? Goodman replied that they really knew how to play the snare drum. Indeed, Bauduc was a master on snare drum, which should be evident from the two clips provided above.

Here is Ray in a more swinging performance that shows his versatility. This song, Dark Eyes, is one of Gene Krupa's signature songs, and Ray does it justice:

Less known about Bauduc is the fact that he had a hand in both the design of the swish cymbal for Zildjian, and the Speedking for W. F. Ludwig.

From Jazz Archivist, Volume 4:

An imaginative drummer, who listed Zutty Singleton and Baby Dodds among his favorites, Ray Bauduc collaborated with Avedis Zildjian on a new cymbal design. Their Zildjian Swish Cymbal replaced a Chinese-manufactured cymbal no longer available in the 1930s because of the China-Japan war.
And from Drummin' Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz The Swing Years:

Impressive credentials that indicate Bauduc's influence extended well beyond the bandstand.

If the music from the video clips above inspires you to learn more about Ray Bauduc's style I recommend Dixieland Generation, which combines the 24 tracks from Riverboat Dandies and Two Beat Generation into a single CD. You will be treated to the full spectrum of Ray Bauduc's playing.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Lester Young & Billie Holiday: the Krishna and Radha of Jazz

We'll overlook the fact that Lord Krishna played flute instead of tenor sax, but the divine (and platonic) love that is central to the story of Krishna and Radha is similar to the complex and deep relationship that the Prez and Lady Day enjoyed. And, it is also legendary in the history of jazz.

The Prez and Lady Day at their last session together

My intent isn't to delve too deeply into Lester or Billie, but to remind those who know, and introduce those who don't, to their incredible synergy.

For those who are not familiar, here are a few links to background information that will catch you up:

In addition, there are a few articles about them as a musical unit that are worth reading: Billie and Lester against the world is a touching retrospective by James Maycock, while Marc Myers' Lester Young, Singer gives insights about why Lester and Billie were magic together. However, words cannot convey that magic (or the Krishna and Radha connection) nearly as well as this 1957 session that was to prove to be their last together:

This excellent article, Reunion written by Joe Milazzo sums up that session perfectly.

Billie probably said it better than anyone:

Lester sings with his horn. You listen to him and can almost hear the words. People think he's so cocky and secure, but you can hurt his feelings in two seconds. I know, because I found out once that I had. from Lady Sings the Blues by Billie Holiday and William Duffy

On their first meeting, in Lester's own words:

As for their estrangement prior to this session, Donald Clarke alludes to the cause in Billie Holiday: Wishing on the Moon:
In early 1951, Lady met Lester Young in Philadelphia, and thereafter did not see him for three years, as she wallowed in drugs and he withdrew in alcohol, each seeking release from several kinds of pain ... at the Newport 1954 reunion, Lester Young had refused to play with her. Gerry Mulligan did and Down Beat magazine hinted that Mulligan's baritone sax had stung Lester into taking his rightful place: He shuffled on stage and once again was part of a Billie presentation. They later embraced in the dressing room and the feud was over.
Another book that covers much of Lester's and Billie's relationship is Lester Leaps In: The Life and Times of Lester "Pres" Young, which is essential reading for any Lester Young fan. You can read an interview with the author, Douglas Henry Daniels, as well as excerpts from the book on this page.

Before recommending albums that showcase the Prez and Lady Day I'll add a few of my favorites from Youtube for your enjoyment:

Recommended listening: The aptly titled, A Musical Romance is one of my favorites, while a more comprehensive, 2 CD set titled Complete Recordings, features Lester and Billie on 42 tracks. It just doesn't get any better.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Norman Granz: An Angel in Disguise

In my earlier post about Granz I focused on two movies he helped to produce: Improvisation and Jammin' the Blues (which is also included in the 2-DVD Improvisation set.)

Since that post I have been digging deeper into Granz' accomplishments and have come away in awe.

If he never produced a single movie he would have still left behind a body of recorded work that, in my opinion, is a national treasure. Music aside, what made him an angel in disguise were his moral and physical courage when it came to fighting segregation, his willingness to record artists because of their art when it made no business sense to do so, and his staunch insistence on paying equal wages (above the standard for the day, by the way) for white and black artists.

If you are young you may not understand my statement regarding physical courage. Back in the 1940s and 1950s Granz refused to play to segregated audiences or at venues that denied artists full use of facilities based on skin color. During those times that was a dangerous stance. It's one thing to publicly espouse those views from a remote office, and quite another to hold one's ground in a face-to-face confrontation in the US South. Granz did that at a time when lynchings were still too common, and such an act required the utmost in moral and physical courage. The following story, from this source, speaks volumes:

Oscar Peterson recounted how Granz once continued to insist that white cabdrivers take his black artists as customers even while a policeman was pointing a loaded pistol at his stomach from close range (Granz won).

Ella Fitzgerald was among the artists who Granz rescued from fading into obscurity and irrelevance, while countless other artists were given career boosts through Granz' Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) tours, and his unyielding insistence that they be recorded when conventional business wisdom would have dictated otherwise.

The best way to know and understand Granz is via this BBC Radio 2 program that was broadcast in eighteen segments starting in December 2003. Here is the opening show:

The entire series, comprising nearly three hours, can be watched on this Youtube playlist

Augmenting this material is a two piece Les Tomkins interview with Granz conducted between 1966 and 1967: Part I, and the concluding Part II.

I have compiled some of the more famous works produced by Granz in this list, however, two that truly showcase his contributions are The Complete Norman Granz Jam Sessions, and a box set titled The Complete Jazz At The Philharmonic On Verve: 1944-1949. Both sets document some of the most important live sessions recorded in jazz history. Interestingly, most of the performances on the Classic Drummer and Legends of Jazz Drumming videos come from concerts that Granz promoted and produced.

I hope you come away with the same appreciation for this remarkable man as I have. His memory deserves to be preserved.