Saturday, March 13, 2010

Understanding jazz through critical listening

While the title of this blog is Music for Drummers, the focus is more on the music part, and mainly about jazz. I do enjoy covering drummers who inspire me and the music they supported, but my true passion is the music itself. And I love posting reviews and opinions, as well as any factual information I can scrape together, both here and in forums that I frequent.

Anyone who posts an opinion in a blog or forum is, by definition, a critic. The better informed, the better the quality of the critical analysis or commentary. While Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns will give you a reasonable background, what you are getting is a summary of Jazz according to Wynton [Marsalis] and Stanley [Crouch], and all of the bias they bring to it. If you are aware of the bias, the 10-DVD set is valuable and informative. If not, you will come away with a skewed view of jazz history and only one perspective of the music presented.

I have a few books that I strongly recommend to anyone who wants a deeper, less biased understanding of jazz and its early history.

First is a pair of books by Gunther Schuller: Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development, covering the beginning of jazz through the dawn of Swing, and The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945. Neither book is what I would call a page turner because Schuller not only provides the historical context, but delves into the music itself. Indeed, in The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945 it took fourteen years to write because Schuller listened to 30,000 recordings as a part of his research. When he did sit down to begin analyzing songs, personalities and their context with the era and regions he created the definitive reference. He did the same, on a lesser scale, in Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development. Both books will give any diligent reader (and plowing through the nearly 1500 pages that comprise these two books requires a great deal of diligence) a solid understanding of jazz history and the music created during the periods covered. Moreover, you will be rewarded with the confidence to write accurate critical reviews and analysis of not only the music Schuller discusses, but any music if you incorporate Schuller's approach, which becomes apparent by the time you are a few hundred pages into either book.

While Schuller's two masterpieces may seem to be the final word of jazz studies, they are so deep in fact and analysis that nuance and color are not conveyed. In other words, while invaluable, the books tend to be somewhat sterile. For some grit, color and nuance I recommend Reading Jazz: A Gathering of Autobiography, Reportage, and Criticism from 1919 to Now (edited by Robert Gottlieb), and Jazz: An Introduction to the History and Legends Behind America's Music by Bob Blumenthal. While Gottlieb's book weighs in at slightly over 1000 pages, Blumenthal's is less than 200. Both books are easy reads, and both will give the nuance and color that Schuller's books lack. Granted, the articles and essays collected in Gottlieb's compilation lack the academic rigor of Schuller, as does Blumenthal's book, but many gaps are filled in by both of these wonderful resources.

For the jazz enthusiast who does not much care for traditional jazz or swing, and is more in tune with the bebop era and beyond, I highly recommend Swing to Bop: An Oral History of the Transition in Jazz in the 1940s as a good starting point because it covers the turning point where thhe focus of jazz changed from dance music to performance music. Perhaps that has a touch of hyperbole since one could make a solid argument that most swing music became so highly orchestrated that it ceased to earn the jazz moniker, but for sake of argument, I'll call it jazz. This book is filled with anecdotes, many apocryphal but entertaining, and factual first-hand accounts. Transcriptions of interviews and the thoughts of the key players who developed bebop into a jazz genre make this book invaluable. The author, Ira Gitler, follows up with another book that is along the lines of Schuller's works (sans the rigorous analysis) titled The Masters of Bebop: A Listener's Guide that dissects the music and provides a foundation for listening to and understanding a genre that bewildered many "jazz" musicians of the era who were slow (or refused) to adapt to jazz as it had evolved to that point. Another resource that I highly recommend is the 113 minute video, Stan Levey - The Original Original. Stan, whose son Bob is carrying on the tradition as a drummer in his own band, sometimes is eclipsed by Kenny Clarke (a.k.a. Kloop), considered to be the father of bebop drumming, and Max Roach, Roy Haynes, etc. Levey, however, was one of the first, playing with Dizzy when he was only 16, and earning the respect of musicians from Bird (with whom he roomed for a period) to other pioneers of bebop. This video gives an oral history of sorts through Levey's eyes, as well as some excellent performances. Moreover, Levey was also highlighted in Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns on a number of clips (Bird and Dizzy; Billie Holiday), and was a key player in the early years.

At the risk of doing what Burns did in Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns and breezing through the rest of jazz a la the infamous Disc 10 of the set, I'll provide a few resources that go in depth from bebop to at least the free jazz movement. A good starting point is Ted Gioia's, West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960, which covers a period that was glossed over in Burns' film, and sometimes gets lost in the overall history of jazz. Gioia's The Birth (and Death) of the Cool is interesting from a different perspective that is more social or even anthropological.

Two other books by Ashley Kahn that are worth reading for insights beyond the iconic albums that the books focus on are A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album (a must read for any Elvin Jones fan too), and Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece (see my post on Jimmy Cobb for more information.) Another book is Ekkehard Jost's Free Jazz that covers the music of John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, and Don Cherry, among others. And, to be honest, that is about as far as I go. Maybe I am becoming one of the Wynton & Stanley fans.

Before closing out, here are six videos of a series that will quickly describe jazz for the uninitiated. They will certainly not replace the above recommendations, but will give you the Cliff Notes version of the essence of this art form:

Friday, March 12, 2010

Zutty Singleton: Big Sid Catlett's Mentor

In World's Greatest Drummers: My Short List I gave my opinion that Big Sid Catlett was the world's greatest drummer, second only to Chick Webb. It stands to reason that one would want to know who influenced Big Sid. Among his influences, Zutty Singleton stands out as Catlett's favorite.

Zutty is a link in that chain that goes back to [at least] Louis Cottrell, Sr., going through Baby Dodds via his influences, such as Tubby Hall, Andrew Hilaire, and others, and extends to this day. It is no mistake that Dodds, Singleton and Catlett all played for Louis Armstrong. Pops always had great drummers. Indeed, he needed them because his own sense of rhythm demanded that he be backed by only the best.

The contribution that Zutty made was to take Dodds' often busy and complex style, simplify it and straighten out some of Dodds' rough edges. That isn't to say that Dodds was a bad drummer. On the contrary, he would not have exerted such influence on everyone who heard him if that were the case, but Zutty's approach to drums was the bridge that crossed the chasm between the older, press roll-centric style and what was to become swing music. I had been listening to Zutty on various albums for years, mentally acknowledging him as a solid drummer. It wasn't until I heard him in his later years on Songs We Taught Your Mother that I started paying close attention. Particularly on the track in which he backed Lucille Hegamin on Saint Louis Blues. I have listened to so many variations of that standard over the years, each played a different way, but the rhythm Zutty brought to it was bedeviling to figure out. From that point on I became an avid Zutty Singleton fan, and [to me] it is clear why one of our greatest drummers, Big Sid Catlett, would practically idolize Zutty. And, like Big Sid, Zutty not only had the drum chair with the likes of Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet, but also was part of Bird's and Dizzy's rhythm section on occasion. That alone shows that, while Zutty was deeply rooted in New Orleans style drumming, he could also hold his own as a bebop drummer. One interesting piece of trivia is Zutty was one of the drummers in Art Kane's iconic Great Day in Harlem photo.

And the chain continues ...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

World's Greatest Drummers: My Short List

It's Thursday afternoon and I feel like stirring up controversy. The catalyst for this post is going over some old posts I have made on various forums regarding who is the best drummer. The truth be known, the best is a matter of personal opinion and, often, is the drummer who most inspires you. I could easily whip out a list of ten, but coming up with the top three takes some deep thought.

Chick Webb is always going to top my list, and my reasons are simple: first, he overcame physical handicaps that should have kept him in a wheelchair. That he even could play drums is a feat in itself. Second, he combined chops that were superhuman with a sense of music that made him the idol of every drummer who saw or heard him. In Legends of Jazz Drumming Louis Bellson waxed enthusiastic about Chick's God given talents and cited him as one of three drummers who inspired him to take up drums. Even Buddy Rich whose normal mode was characterized by an overinflated ego cited Chick as the best. Bert Korall devoted 34 pages to Chick in Drummin' Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz The Swing Years, but a real gem is Ron Fritts' Ella Fitzgerald: The Chick Webb Years and Beyond 1935-1948. If you haven't listened to Chick lately, try this Chick Webb discography (I definitely recommend Stompin' at the Savoy). That Chick was competitive is amply shown in stories of the many battles of the bands he won at the Savoy. Here is an account of the famous Chick Webb/Count Basie battle. Benny Goodman's band suffered the same fate every time they played the Savoy opposite Chick, and Krupa once said before one engagement that he was going to get another drum lesson.

The choice comes to - in my personal short list - either Papa Jo Jones or Big Sid Catlett as the second best drummer. I have made my admiration for Jo Jones clear in my 26 February post about him, but that does not automatically confer the number two spot.

Indeed, it was a tough call, but Big Sid Catlett wins it by a hair. Actually, it was a number of small factors that pushed my opinion towards Sid, foremost of which was the fact that he continued growing musically in his all-too-short life, starting as one of Louis Armstrong's favorite drummers, through the Swing/Big Band era, to bebop. Had his untimely demise not occurred at a short forty one years of age, there is no telling how he would have evolved, but I like to think that he would have gone the same route as one of his contemporaries, Panama Francis, and worked magic in the studio making pop and rock hits. We'll never know. Papa Jo, as much as I love and admire the man, became irascible as he grew older, walking out of studio sessions if the music didn't swing. That does not diminish his significant contributions to drumming, including practically defining hi-hat and brush playing that changed the art of drum kit playing, but it does tarnish my concept of greatness. Ironically, one of my favorite clips of Jo Jones is of him backing Chuck Berry on Bert Stern's Jazz on a Summer's Day (see my 19 February post.)

Big Sid, though, touched every drummer who saw him, and if I were to list testimonials it would take pages. Instead, I am going to quote Louis Bellson who is a drummer that should be on everyone's top ten list of greatest drummers. Here is what Louis said when inducted into the Percussive Arts Hall of Fame:

“My mentors,” Bellson told Modern Drummer in 1991, “were Jo Jones, Chick Webb, Big Sid Catlett, Baby Dodds, Davey Tough, and Gene Krupa.

"Let me say this, anyone today who does not say they were influenced by Big Sid, must not play the drums." ---Louis Bellson, 1995.

There are those who can say better than I what made Big Sid great: Michael Steinman's Sidney at 100 not only says it better than I ever could, but he includes some amazing sound files that epitomize Big Sid's playing. Two other pages, one by Sirazsocialist and the other by The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong also sum up my feelings about Big Sid. There is one final page on this great drummer's centennial, Big Sid, a force in the 1940s, that adds yet another set of reasons to hold Big Sid as one of the greatest drummers ever born.

I'll close with two of my favorite photos of Mr. Catlett, and hope you will dig deeper into the man and the musician.

Addena to Swing Set by David Rickert

In my last post I promised to provide additional material on each of the musicians behind the anthems - here it is:

Benny Goodman - For entertainment value, the 1956 movie, Benny Goodman Story, is a fun-to-watch flick with appearances by Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson, Ben Pollack, Kid Ory, Harry James, and Sammy Davis Sr. While the historical accuracy is compromised by the Hollywood treatment, the music is excellent and it does give an approximate thumbnail of Goodman in a flattering light. For the serious fan, Swing, Swing, Swing by Ross Firestone is a highly regarded biography. Of course, as a drummer I am compelled to cite a few Gene Krupa resources as well. First, the movie, Gene Krupa Story. While this film takes a lot of liberties regarding chronology and other facts, it is plain fun. Sal Mineo does an amazing job of portraying Krupa. Although the actual soundtrack was made by Krupa himself, Mineo's movements mimic identically what is being played (with one exception, where his movements are not synchronized to what is being played during the "Cherokee" scene.) For more accurate information on Krupa's life I highly recommend Gene Krupa: Swing, Swing, Swing. Bruce Klauber took great pains to put together an accurate biography, which includes interviews with Gene, as well as some musical performances. I loved both versions of Dark Eyes he played on this DVD, as well as when he played Caravan. Another excellent DVD is Gene Krupa Jazz Legend, which is more performance-oriented.

Count Basie - My favorite video that focuses on Basie and the Kansas City scene during his era is The Last of the Blue Devils - The Kansas City Jazz Story. This movie goes well beyond Basie, covering other bands of the era (Jumping Jay McShann for example), and many of the musicians associated with the scene. There is a lot of reminiscing in this 1979 reunion of the Basie alumni, which provides insights and anecdotes that are priceless. There are also clips of some amazing performances. The Real Kansas City is an excellent companion CD to the movie, as is the book, Kansas City Jazz: From Ragtime to Bebop--A History. Zeroing in on Basie, his autobiography, Good Morning Blues: The Autobiography of Count Basie is must reading for the die hard Basie fan, although it is disappointingly short on many details. A book that fills in those gaps, as well as covers Basie's musicians, is Stanley Dance's The World Of Count Basie There is also a 56 minute movie that has not been released (I pre-ordered a copy) titled Masters of American Music: Count Basie - Swingin' the Blues that intrigues me. I'll post a review after I receive it.

Duke Ellington - The Duke is amply covered in Ken Burns' Jazz, and according to some critics disproportionately so. For more about that 10-DVD set see my 25 February post. A more focused video biography is A Duke Named Ellington, which any Ellington fan will enjoy. Ellington's autobiography, Music is My Mistress is excellent reading. Two other biographies I like are Stanley Dance's The World Of Duke Ellington and Mark Tucker's The Duke Ellington Reader. In the former, Dance (who gave Ellington's eulogy at his funeral) interviews many musicians who were associated with and played for Ellington, weaving a rich tapestry, while Tucker delves deeply into Ellington's life. Between these two books you will get a complete picture of Ellington. Of course, no picture is complete without closely examining Billy Strayhorn in detail because he and Duke were tied in some ineffable way that made them appear to share the same soul. Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn digs deeply into Billy's life, although a more detailed book that goes as deeply into the music this genius co-created with Ellington is Something to Live For: The Music of Billy Strayhorn.

Artie Shaw - Nobody ever did a biopic of Artie, but he shows up in a number of documentaries, including an expected cameo in Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns, and in some unexpected places, such as the biopic, Willie Smith - Willie the Lion who Shaw met and learned from at an early age. Shaw walked away from music when he was on top, then channeled much of his creative energies into writing. His autobiography, The Trouble With Cinderella: An Outline of Identity, not only gives frank insights into Shaw the man, but clearly shows him to be a talented writer as well. Looking at Shaw from the outside, Ferdie Pacheco did a remarkable job of capturing the essence of Shaw in Who Is Artie Shaw...and why is he following me? - and managed to do that in 128 pages! John White also did a remarkable job in his book, Artie Shaw: His Life and Music, and at a mere 223 pages it's still a quick read that is packed with details. Yet to be released, but available for pre-order, is Three Chords for Beauty's Sake: The Life of Artie Shaw. I'm going to take a wait and see stance before jumping on it. If you are a hard core Shaw fan, though, it is probably worth taking a chance.

Tommy Dorsey - The Hollywood treatment of Tommy (and brother Jimmy) in this 1947 movie titled, Fabulous Dorseys, is interesting for a few reasons. First, Tommy and Jimmy star as themselves in the movie, and second, it was surprisingly frank with respect the the infighting between the two. It gets high marks for entertainment value, but also has some excellent music (especially the great jam session scene with Art Tatum, Charlie Barnet, Ziggy Elman and Ray Bauduc.) Paul Whiteman also plays himself. Like all Hollywood movies, there are factual liberties taken. Focusing on Tommy, Peter J. Levinson's Tommy Dorsey: Livin' in a Great Big Way, A Biography is a detailed biography, while Herb Sanford does an excellent job covering both brothers in Tommy and Jimmy: The Dorsey Years .

Lionel Hampton - Hudson Music's Jazz Legend: King of the Vibes is a reasonable biographic DVD about Hamp, but does not begin to cover his many accomplishments. Still, I recommend it; indeed, I find myself watching my copy every few months. Fortunately, there is a plethora of video performances with Hamp on the web and on various performance and compilation videos, so it's easy to track down representative performances of him as a band leader or as an integral member of bands like Goodman's. Less known is what a great drummer as well as vibe player Hamp was, and [fortunately] that is covered in Jazz Legend: King of the Vibes. While Hamp: An Autobiography is essential reading, Flying Home: Lionel Hampton - Celebrating 100 Years of Good Vibes fills in a few gaps that Hamp left in his book. Leonard Feather also covers Hamp throughout The Jazz Years, which I believe deserves bookshelf space for those who truly love swing and big band music.

Glenn Miller - One Amazon reviewer aptly characterized The Glenn Miller Story as a rags-to-rags-to-riches story, and the Hollywood version is just that. Bear in mind that this is a circa 1954 movie that portrays Miller in the most sympathetic way. There is a lot of fact woven into the Hollywood treatment, and excellent music throughout, making it enjoyable. For a more factual examination of Miller I recommend Richard Grudens' Chattanooga Choo Choo: The Life and Times of the World Famous Glenn Miller Orchestra, as well as Glenn Miller & His Orchestra (written by Miller's close friend, George Simon.) If you are into conspiracy theories you'll find some fodder in The Glenn Miller Conspiracy: The Never-Before-Told Story of His Life -- and Death. I personally don't buy into it, but the book is a fun read for a rainy afternoon.

If you are interested in the above musicians, and their peers, I strongly recommend a visit to Swing Music Net, which contains biographies, and additional content from what I consider to be the golden age in American music.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Swing Set by David Rickert: Deconstructing Anthems

David Rickert has written a series of articles over the past five years that are essential reading for anyone interested in swing and big band, and especially the songs that we (and Hollywood in the form of soundtracks for period pieces) associate with that era.

The following seven songs, and background on the band and musicians who performed them, are covered:

  1. Benny Goodman: "Sing, Sing, Sing"
  2. Count Basie: "One O'Clock Jump"
  3. Duke Ellington: "Cotton Tail"
  4. Artie Shaw: "Begin the Beguine"
  5. Tommy Dorsey: "Marie"
  6. Lionel Hampton: "Flying Home"
  7. Glenn Miller: "In the Mood"
Benny Goodman. In Benny Goodman: "Sing, Sing, Sing" Rickert provides an excellent background of the Goodman band during the time leading to and including the 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, and pays a lot of attention to the key musicians who made Sing, Sing, Sing pure magic that night. While we drummers tend to think that Gene Krupa made that song, Rickert's analysis shows the contributions of Jess Stacy and Harry James, both of whom spiced the piece to the point that it will forever be the definitive rendition of the song.

I also enjoyed the background of the song itself, written by Louis Prima, one of my favorite musicians (I am Italian-American, so Prima provided the background music of my youth!) Indeed, I have a clip from Louis Prima: The Wildest of the original version with Jimmy Vincent in the drum chair. It was a great song before Goodman got his hands on it, but electrifying with Goodman's (and Krupa's) imprint. You can purchase the CD of the entire concert or download just Sing, Sing, Sing to your MP3 player (the entire 12:02 minutes).

Here is a clip that contains most of the original version from the concert (Youtube imposes a 10 minute limitation, leaving out approximately two minutes):

Count Basie. Rickert's article on Count Basie: "One O'Clock Jump" is comprehensive in his treatment of the song and musicians, but does leave out the interesting fact that it was originally titled Blue Balls, which was considered too risque by radio announcers to be used. Hence, One O'Clock Jump became the official title when it was released to record. What I like is Rickert's description of what set the Basie band apart, and especially his mention of the All-American Rhythm Section (Walter Page on bass, Freddie Green on rhythm guitar and Jo Jones on drums.) I personally consider Basie himself to be an integral part of the All-American Rhythm Section, but Rickert has a direct quote from Basie saying otherwise. Regardless, the song, and indeed the band during that period, were magic. You can download One O'Clock Jump to your MP3 player or purchase One O'Clock Jump: The Very Best of Count Basie, which contains the title song and 13 other original recordings that have been digitally remastered.

My favorite version is this clip from the mid 1950s; however, this clip shows the original line-up:

Duke Ellington. While I hold Ellington (and his alter ego, Billy Strayhorn) to be a national treasure, I'll confess that I listen to Basie a lot more. The bluesy jazz that was born in Kansas City touches my soul, and, of course, the All-American Rhythm Section would appeal to any drummer. That said, I have a deep and abiding fascination with Ellington, ranging from his compositions to his his approach to leadership (I am a retired naval officer). Rickert's article Duke Ellington: "Cotton Tail" was more focused on Ben Webster's contribution to this great song, but there were some interesting insights about Ellington as well. Specifically,

... It's no wonder, then, that he had an uneasy relationship with swing; "Jazz is music, he said. "Swing is business. He longed to get away from the three-minute pop song and devote his time to longer, more ambitious compositions.
To me it all adds more data points to that complex puzzle of Duke Ellington the man and the musical genius.

If you want to delve deeply into some of Ellington's best work, I recommend Ken Burns JAZZ Collection: Duke Ellington, or you may just want to add Cotton Tail to your MP3 player. Here is an excellent clip of the song that is one of the truly great pieces from the era, and the one that secured Ben Webster's place in jazz history:

Artie Shaw. Begin the Beguine is a Cole Porter composition that became forever associated with Artie Shaw. In Artie Shaw: "Begin the Beguine" Rickert does an outstanding job of deconstructing the song, while providing insights into Shaw. As stated in the article, during the era there was considerable polarization between Goodman's and Shaw's fans, and there was professional rivalry between the two musicians as well. Personally I love listening to both, but the game point goes to Shaw in my estimation - after all, Shaw managed to marry one of the world's most beautiful women: Ava Gardner. Seriously, I think Shaw deserves greater study because his name appears to be losing the recognition that Goodman's name still enjoys. If you want some insights into Shaw the man I recommend Artie Shaw: The Reluctant 'King of Swing', which is an interview conducted by NPR in 2002.

If you are a Shaw fan, definitely grab Begin the Beguine 10-CD Box Set (an incredible bargain for the price), or download Begin the Beguine to your MP3 player. This clip shows why Rickert selected Begin the Beguine as one of the anthems:

Tommy Dorsey, more rooted in 2/4 Dixieland than in 4/4 swing, was a martinet as a band leader (much like Goodman), and in many ways was the antithesis of a swing musician (and certainly a jazz musician) with his highly orchestrated, note-for-note performances. Some of this is discussed in Rickert's Tommy Dorsey: "Marie". Regardless of Dorsey's style (and he did learn to swing eventually), Marie is one of the most beautiful compositions to come out of the era discussed, and Tommy's playing shows why he is considered to be one of the best trombonists ever. While I am not a die hard Dorsey fan, I frequently listen to this song, and it is often used in movie soundtracks from the period. One thing I will say about Dorsey is he had great taste in drummers, with Dave Tough being one of the best in Dorsey's lineup. For that reason alone I have some Dorsey albums that I frequently play.

If you want Marie on your MP3 player you can download it from Amazon. If you want to explore more Dorsey hits, I recommend The Best of Tommy Dorsey as a starting point. Here is the song in it's glorious beauty:

Lionel Hampton - Hamp - is one of my favorite musicians and drummers (he was no slouch behind a drum kit!) Moreover, Hamp was a consummate showman who held entertainment to be an important part of musical performances. This is in direct contrast to many of his peers who were purists, more intent on perfect delivery of a song, or compositions that may or may not lend themselves to dance. Rickert's article on Lionel Hampton: "Flying Home", thankfully, discusses Hamp the person as well as the genesis of Flying Home. In a future post I'll discuss Hamp in more detail, but for now check out the 11-song CD, Flying Home for a taste of Hamp's high energy work, or download the title song to your MP3 player. Here is Hamp performaing Flying Home:

Glenn Miller. When swing is discussed many "purists" dismiss Glenn Miller. Here is a quote by Buddy Rich, which sums up such attitudes:

I often say, in a little bit of humor, something to the effect that Miller's music was so bad that I wouldn't be surprised if one of our planes shot him down! I feel that there were enough people who wanted to hear good music, as opposed to what Miller was laying down, that it wouldn't be too unreal to visualize that.
What Rich and others fail to take into account is Miller wrote and performed some of the most popular music of his era. Music that was not only danceable, but swung. More importantly, many of Miller's compositions are those which immediately evoke memories or associations with the era - especially World War II - nearly to the exclusion of any other bands. Consider In The Mood: it is immediately recognizable to this day by young and old. And, dismissive comments by the purists and Mr. Rich notwithstanding, I defy anyone to listen to it and not tap their foot.

Rickert did an excellent job describing Miller and his music in Glenn Miller: In the Mood, and I hope that adds a balance to Miller's music. Listen to Glenn Miller's Greatest Hits to see why I think his music is important, and for moments when you need a lift, download In The Mood to your MP3 player.

In my next post I'll provide recommended books, videos and other resources on each of the seven musicians who made this remarkable music.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Oral Histories: Louis Bellson, Chico Hamilton & Roy Haynes

Treasures all, and thanks to the Smithsonian these priceless oral histories are available to those of us who appreciate what these gentlemen did for music and drumming.

Louis Bellson - 108 page transcript.
Audio clips: Clip 1 - on joining Benny Goodman, Clip 2 - Duke Ellington's band, Clip 3 - More about Ellington, Clip 4 - Louie's first arrangement for Ellington, Clip 5 - Pearl Bailey, Clip 6 - playing Benny Carter’s difficult arrangement of Errol Gardner’s performance of "For Once In My Life", Clip 7 - performing with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, Louis Armstrong

Chico Hamilton - 153 page transcript.
Clip 1 - challenges of timekeeping, Clip 2 - meeting Dexter Gorden, Clip 3 - on Jo Jones with Basie, Clip 4 - on Art Blakey, Clip 5 - his encounter with Illinois Jacquet, Clip 6 - discusses meeting Larry Coryell

Roy Haynes - 72 page transcript.
Clip 1 - early life, Clip 2- culture of Harlem and New York City, playing at the Apollo Theater, Clip 4 - Lester Young, Clip 5- Sonny Rollins, Clip 6 - on being a drummer, Coltrane

What I love about Louis Bellson in particular is his three greatest influences coincide with mine: Chick Webb, Papa Jo Jones and Big Sid Catlett. In fact, Big Sid was one of Louis' teachers. A great article about Louis that augments his oral history above is Louie Bellson: Drumming's Patron Saint.

Louis and Roy Haynes narrated Legends of Jazz Drumming, and between the two you will get not only a history lesson in jazz drummers, but personal accounts and opinions that are as priceless as the oral histories above. An example is when Roy went to the West Coast in the 1940s and was mistaken for Chico Hamilton. Of course, Louis' insights into Chick, Papa Jo and Big Sid are equally priceless. Roy Haynes fans will find even more about material this remarkable drummer in A Life in Time – The Roy Haynes Story, which includes selected audio tracks on three CDs, and a DVD

Chico is one of the artists whose performance was captured (and showcased) in Bert Stern's wonderful Jazz On a Summer's Day, which I reviewed earlier.

If oral histories and biographies of these great drummers interest you, I strongly recommend Drummin' Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz The Swing Years and Drummin' Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz The Bebop Years, both of which are by Burt Korall. The Swing Years edition is especially valuable if you want in-depth biographies of drummers such as Dave Tough, Papa Jo Jones, Big Sid Catlett, etc. I found information on each - and many more drummers - that I have not found anywhere else. Another book that provides a focused history and solid bios of some great drummers and musicians is The Commandments of Early Rhythm and Blues Drumming. I was totally drawn into this book, and was surprised by the deep knowledge the author brings to not only R&B drumming, but how Six Degrees of Baby Dodds and a chart tracing roots back to those early pioneers add another dimension to the history of drum kit playing and jazz.