Saturday, June 9, 2012

Ahmad Jamal 8 Classic Albums Part 2

This is a continuation of my last post, Ahmad Jamal 8 Classic Albums Part 1, which focuses on the value-priced set of Ahmad Jamal albums titled, Ahmad Jamal: Eight Classic Albums.

The relevance to drummers is Jamal's use of dynamics and space in his compositions and performances, and his musicians, bassist Israel Crosby and drummer Vernel Fournier.

Fournier, in particular, is worthy of close study because of his mastery of brushes and uncanny ability to craft what I consider to be perfect grooves. My assertion is a perfect lead in to the seminal, Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing

This 1958 album is my favorite and exemplifies the trio as a whole, as well as Crosby's virtuoso bass playing and Fournier's amazing drumming. Here are two clips, the first showcases Fournier's ability to play fast tempos with brushes tastefully and inventively, and his ability to craft killer grooves in the second example.

The third clip is included to showcase Jamal's playing, and how Crosby and Fournier telepathically support him.



Music Music Music

Jamal At The Penthouse.

This 1959 album is a departure from the trio format. Jamal, with bassist Israel Crosby and drummer Vernell Fournier, is joined by a 15-piece string section arranged and conducted by Joe Kennedy. Lush, yet still swinging and it maintains Jamal's signature sound. Here is a clip:

In Part 3 I'll wrap this set up. I sincerely hope that those of you who are jazz drummers explore each of these albums in depth because there are a lot of musical ideals contained within. The most economical way to explore them is via Ahmad Jamal: Eight Classic Albums. Enjoy.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Ahmad Jamal 8 Classic Albums Part 1

If ever there is a trio to study it's the incarnations of Ahmad Jamal's from the late 1950s through the early 1960s. Aside from the rich set of examples of both dynamics and space, most of those trio line-ups included Israel Crosby on bass and Vernel Fournier on drums.

Those two, of all of the bassists and drummers I can think of, perfectly complement Jamal's musical vision. I can think of only two other pairings that would have worked with Jamal: Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen, and Percy Heath and Connie Kay. Things have a habit of working out, though, because Brown and Thigpen went on to add their magic to the Oscar Peterson Trio, while Heath and Kay were instrumental in making the Modern Jazz Quartet a seminal ensemble (and probably the closest musically to Jamal's trios.)

In this, and Parts 2 and 3, I am going to discuss a treasure trove of Jamal's earlier recordings: Ahmad Jamal: Eight Classic Albums.

Albums In The Set

Chamber Music of the New Jazz.

This 1955 album is similar in ensemble composition to the early Oscar Peterson Trio format: bass and guitar. The bassist is the venerable Israel Crosby, who has always been my favorite Ahmad Jamal bassist, and Ray Crawford on guitar. The percussion is Crawford playing off his guitar. Here is a clip from the album:

Count 'Em 88.

This 1956 album has Crosby on bass, who is joined by Walter Perkins on drums. Perkins plays with the same rhythmic subtly and dynamics as Vernel Fournier would when he became the mainstay drummer in the trio. I cannot recall any musician with whom Jamal collaborated that did not fit the musical approach of the musicians on this album. Here is a clip from this album:

Live at the Spotlite.

Actually the album, Live at the Spotlite Cafe is out of print, although the one linked to above (and the album cover) contains all of of the tracks on that album plus half again as many. This is from 1958 at the Spotlite Cafe in Washington, DC, with Crosby and Founrier backing Jamal. Here is a track from that album:

Continued in the next post. Enjoy.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Shape of Jazz to Come

The final album in the 1959 - The Year That Changed Jazz is Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come.

A good starting point for learning about and understanding this game changing album is C. Michael Bailey's excellent article, Reassessing Ornette Coleman: The Shape of Jazz to Come. Bailey does an excellent job of analyzing the album. He also compares and contrasts what Coleman was doing with what Miles Davis was going on Kind of Blue. Both deemphasized chords. Davis opted for using a scalar structure, whereas Coleman dispensed with even that. Indeed, the piano - a mainstay chordal instrument in jazz - is not even employed on the album. That in itself was a radical move for 1959. Moreover, the music had no discernible chord structure (although chords were certainly played).

The following clip from 1059 - The Year That Changed Jazz does an excellent job of explaining the musical approach (and the reaction):

Here are a few tracks from the album to reinforce my thoughts and those of others to which I have linked. To get the most from these remember what Coleman was attempting to do - provide a musical structure based on head-solo-head (melody, free improvision by all members of the ensemble, and a return to the melody) without any chord structure. Remember, not having a chord structure does not mean chords are not used - they are, but the music is not structurally dependent upon them. Also, listen to these tracks more than a few times. You will hear something new each time you listen. I will admit that Coleman's approach to music is vastly different than mine, but this album is extraordinary in every sense of the word.

This concludes my series about 1959 - The Year That Changed Jazz, and the four albums that were instrumental in making that a golden year. Note: some people consider John Coltrane's Giant Steps to be the fifth album from 1959, but I disagree. It was certainly game changing, and was recorded in 1959, but was not released until 1960.

My next posts will discuss some excellent work by Ahmad Jamal.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ah Um by Charles Mingus

The third (of four) 1959 albums that changed jazz is Charles Mingus' masterpiece: Ah Um.

Where Time Out broke the 4/4 time signature barrier, Kind of Blue based the harmonic framework on modes instead of chord progressions, and The Shape of Jazz to Come dispensed with chordal instruments altogether while also deemphasizing the melody, Ah Um paid homage to the roots of jazz and key musicians. As importantly, it made a political statement with Fables of Faubus (do read Marc Myers' excellent article about that song.)

By 1959 jazz had fallen from favor as a popular genre, due in no small part to bebop and the hard bop movement that followed. Bebop was undanceable, highly technical and was an acquired taste for those who were more rooted in swing and big band music. Art Blakey and Horace Silver's hard bop movement attempted to bring bebop closed to its blues and swing roots, but it was still undanceable.

From three of the four albums that changed jazz it is apparent that jazz was once again changing in 1959, retrogressing in many ways to the same flaws that plagued bebop. For the record I love bebop, but I am a musician who can find happiness in digging through the technical underpinnings of its complexity and requirement for virtuoso playing skills. I also don't dance. Ah Um was different. For one thing you could dance to most of the tracks.

To illuminate the true essence of this album I am going to use a quote from Sean Murphys Mingus Ah Um: An Open Letter to the 20th Century

    Mingus was as generous in celebrating the musicians who inspired him as he was ardent in discovering them. One of the most special aspects of Mingus Ah Um is the way it functions as a sort of encyclopedia of the best jazz music recorded to that point. Special tributes are offered up to Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Jelly Roll Morton, and, of course, Duke Ellington.
Murphy placed the album into context, but the best analysis I have come across is Charles Mingus - Ah Um from a blog called All Jazz Cafe that contains a wealth of other articles on jazz.

Charlie Parker once said that Music speaks louder than words, so here are a few clips from the album:

For the details about who is on which track, where it was recorded, etc. see this page.

Charles Mingus remains an important musician and inspiration to me. In future posts I will dig deeper into his music, as was as Mingus the man. Just for fun (and to provide insights into a single aspect of a complex, talented and even tortured genius), I'll leave you with this short story in one act play. For a more serious look, see this paper.

If you don't have Ah Um I recommend Ah Um 50th Anniversary Legacy Edition that also includes Mingus Dynasty (see my review), or an even better deal, Mingus: Three Classic Albums, which includes the first two plus Blues and Roots. If you like those, complete the set with Oh Yeah.

In my next (and final post in this series) I will discuss the fourth 1959 album, The Shape of Jazz to Come. Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Time Out

Still continuing with the theme started with 1959: The Year that Changed Jazz, we've passed a three part series about Kind of Blue, one of the game changing albums (and the all time best selling jazz album), to arrive at the all time second best selling jazz album: Time Out by the Dave Brubeck Quartet.

What makes this album so important? Brubeck abandoned 4/4 time and made an album employing a number of different time signatures. Two highly recognizable tracks are Take Five in 5/4 time and Blue Rondo a la Turk in 9/8. Here those songs are for the five people on the planet who has not yet heard them:

Blue Rondo a la Turk is 2+2+2+3 if you are mentally trying to fit it into 3+3+3. Also, Paul Desmond's solo is in 4/4. Today we can figure this out, but I can assure you this was heady stuff in 1959. Among the reasons is it is one thing to compose something in 9/8 (or 5/4, or any of the non-standard time signatures on the album), then go into a studio and play it. A lot of jazz musicians had the chops to do that. However, try improvising on 9/8! That is where this album shook things up.

How about influence? It goes without saying that every jazz musician was influenced. But listen to Kathy's Waltz, then listen to the Beatle' All My Loving'. Hmmmmm, right? This 'gotcha' moment was spotted by Spencer Leigh and documented in his July 8, 2010 article in The Independent titled When it comes to songwriting, there's a fine line between inspiration and plagiarism.

Let's play Kathy's Waltz:

If you are wondering which track is my favorite, it's:

I discussed the Quartet, Joe Morello and Joe Dodge (Morello's predecessor) in this April 11, 2010 post. That is a good starting point for digging beyond this album. But for now I am going to continue on topic and provide this clip of Dave Brubeck discussing Time Out:

Here is one final link regarding Dave Brubeck and the album (from the Library of Congress): Time Out for Dave Brubeck. The closing two videos are the Quartet in action - playing and improvising in off time signatures. Enjoy:

If you do not own the album I recommend going first class and getting Time Out Legacy Edition, which includes two CDs and a DVD. My next post will discuss the third of the four albums: Ah Um by Charles Mingus.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Kind of Blue: Part 3

This is the final post in the three part-series on Kind of Blue. Wrapping up, I wanted to provide information about Miles himself. While Gil Evans and the unrelated pianist, Bill Evans, made significant contributions to the album, it is Miles' baby. For the truly diligent I suggest reading his Miles autobiography.

If your interest does not extend to digging into Miles at that level, this video may be a better choice:

Miles Davis Cool Jazz Sound

Since this blog is all about Music for Drummers, it is appropriate to shine a bright light on Jimmy Cobb. I think that had Miles' first and second choices - Philly Joe or Art Taylor - been in the drum chair the album would have been less magical. Both Jones and Taylor were highly regarded and influential drummers. In fact, they were probably the best drummers during that era. Both were also highly prolific. If you pick up jazz albums from the 50s and 60s and read the credits, chances are either Philly Joe or Art Taylor was the drummer.

The one thing that Cobb brought to the session that set him apart was his amazing cymbal work. In my opinion he had a touch that neither Philly Joe or Art had on cymbals. Moreover, I think Cobb's drumming was a perfect complement to Evans' piano. While Taylor could have connected to Evans at a very subtle level, I an not convinced that Philly Joe would have. Again, that is just my opinion and I could be completely wrong.

A great deal about Jimmy is revealed in this interview conducted by Marc Myers on JazzWax. If you've never been to Marc's site I recommend a visit (and bookmark it too!) The remaining parts of the interview are: Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

In my next post I'll discuss the second best selling album from 1959, the Dave Brubeck Quartet's Time Out.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Kind of Blue: Part 2

In my last post I introduced Miles Davis' seminal album, Kind of Blue, and provided some back ground regarding how the album came to be made and why it was (and remains) so important. In this post I am going to provide material that will give a more in-depth analysis of the album.

A good starting place is Ashly Kahn's Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece. Kahn has methodically dissected not only the album, but the entire session. If the book piques your interest, but you want more information about it, this interview of the author by Jerry Jazz Musician may answer any questions you may have about the book. Another fascinating article giving some background on the book is Kahn's Jazz Times article, Kind of Blue Clues.

If you have no time or patience for reading the book, you can get a good sense of the session from this excellent radio interview:

Another perspective is given in this talk by bassist Marcus Miller, who thoroughly digs into parts of the album. Miller's [musical] relationship to Miles, as well as his blood relationship with Wynton Kelly (pianist on the Freddie Freeloader track) is also revealed in this presentation:

I'll wrap this up in my next post, which will provide background on Miles, plus additional information about Jimmy Cobb who was the drummer on the album.