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.