Saturday, July 21, 2012

Book Alert: Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz for Justice

On 22 March 2010 I posted an entry titled Norman Granz: An Angel in Disguise. Interesting, there is a new book, Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz for Justice with the same basic theme.

I haven't read it yet (I will be ordering it shortly), but in the meantime, here and some very positive comments that piqued my interest and inspired me to put it in my queue of books to buy.

This NPR piece about Norman and the book, plus this review make me want to read the book all the more.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Rifftide: The Life and Opinions of Papa Jo Jones - A Review

Rifftide: The Life and Opinions of Papa Jo Jones provides insights into Jonathan David Samuel Jones, affectionately known as Papa Jo Jones, and one of the major innovators and influences in drum kit playing.

I'm going to immediately set expectations about this book: if you are searching for information and opinions about drumming and other drummers, this is not the book for you. I suggest that, instead, you read the information-rich chapter on Papa Jo Jones in Drummin' Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz The Swing Years. In addition to that book, my previous post, Papa Jo Jones contains a wealth of information about him. More about additional resources later in this post.

On the other hand, if you are seeking to understand Papa Jo Jones the man, along with his views on a myriad of topics then this book is a treasure. And as you come to understand him you may get a glimpse into how he came about and what molded him.

Most folks describe the book as having three parts: Paul Devlin's Preface that discusses the trials and tribulations of transcribing interviews that Albert Murray conducted with Papa Jo, then Rifftide - Jo Jones in Jo Jones' own words, and an Afterward by Phil Shaap. I would like to add the Editor's Notes, which comprise 28 pages of invaluable information that is like the Rosetta Stone for the preceding sections.

Of the principals involved in creating this book, the editor - Paul Devlin - never met Papa Jo in person. That does not diminish his importance because transcribing and making sense of the interview tapes were daunting tasks. That is not to say that Albert Murray's interview sessions were easy either. For a taste listen to the 1973 interviews that Milt Hinton conducted with Papa Jo on this page. Milt and Jo went way back and Milt also knew a lot about his family, yet Jo Jones had moments of evading or deflecting. Plus his accent - known as Locust Valley Lockjaw after an upper class section of Long Island - takes some getting used to if you are not familiar with that particular accent.

The Rifftide section is what will separate those who are seeking knowledge from those who are seeking facts. The writing (especially if you hear it in Jo's voice) is akin to receiving enlightenment from Yoda. You know there are important lessons in the words, but those lessons seem to be doled out in some oblique manner.

What I got from this section is how well read Jo was, and that he was an astute observer who could synthesize a wide array of facts and observations into some unified philosophy and way of life. That same gift for synthesis, I am sure, enabled him to make not just one - but two - major contributions to the art of drum kit playing. He moved time to the hi-hat and did things that that piece of the drum kit that nobody before him could have conceived; he took the art of brush playing to a level that is still part of every jazz drummer's vocabulary. I was also gratified to read his mention and acknowledgement of Wilson Driver, his teacher, in the book. Mr. Driver was conspicuously missing from any mention in The Drums! (which adds another dimension to Papa Jo Jones the man and the drummer.) Strangely, there is no mention of Manzie Cambell whom Papa Jo considered to be the world's greatest drummer in The Drums!

Another thing that struck me was his love of books and voracious reading habits, which was not only indicative of an amazing intellect, but probably alienated him from his peers, especially in later life. I am sure he lived in a world apart from others. One clue was his own statement that he did not know there were racial differences until he was 19. In his era and geographic location where lynchings were common that is an odd statement. All the more so because he was such an astute observer. It only reinforces my own opinion that he lived in a world of his own mind.

His recounting of names, associations and places in this section of the book painted a vivid picture of his era and influences. Indeed, I recall that on the last track of The Drums! he exclaims "Butterbean and Susie" while playing a duet with Willie The Lion Smith. I had no idea who or what he was talking about until I read his account of how they took him in. It's the small details that portray the drummer as the man, instead of the other way around.

The final section is the Afterward by Phil Shaap. Not only is Phil a musician, but he spent a lot of time with Jo and shares insights that neither Albert Murray nor Paul Devlin would have. Louis Proyect's intriguing article discusses Phil's relationship with Papa Jo during the course of writing about a related topic. Phil, in this section of the book, is frank and exposes many facets of Jo, both flattering and not so flattering. Again, it fills in who Jo was as a man, and from Phil's vantage, also as a musician. The stories and observations are similar to Michael Stein's firsthand account titled Smiling Jo Jones. Stein also wrote what I consider to be one of the most insightful reviews of Rifftide I've encountered. I encourage you to take the time to read that review for things I missed in this one.

One resource that covers his Basie years - to a degree - is The Last of the Blue Devils - The Kansas City Jazz Story, which I highly recommend because Basie figures in this book for a number of reasons. First, by the time Albert Murray was conducting the interviews that are at the heart of this book Papa Jo and Basie were estranged. There are more than a few paragraphs devoted to implied hopes by Papa Jo that he and Basie could reconcile. Indeed, Murray co-authored Good Morning Blues: The Autobiography Of Count Basie and had a strong bond with Basie. Perhaps, as is alluded to in this book, too strong to do Papa Jo justice, but that is where Devlin and Schaap contribute subjectivity that balance any of the bias - if there ever was any - out.

Before wrapping up with my conclusions I'll share a promo video of this excellent book to which you can compare the publisher's perspective with mine.

What I gained from this is a deeper insight into one of my idols, plus a rich backdrop of history to satisfy my avocation as an amateur historian. As a drummer, this book gave me a deeper appreciation for the man upon whose shoulders we stand upon. That, to me, is priceless.

Here are a few clips of Papa Jo Jones that showcase his genius and keep his memory alive:

From Jazz Icons: Coleman Hawkins Live in '62 & '64

From a circa 70s concert in France

One more because I can never watch him enough ...

Enjoy ...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Anita O'Day in depth Part 2

Continuing from Anita O'Day in depth Part 1 this post will cover an album titled All The Sad Young Men:

This album may have not been Anita's best, but it does rank among her better albums during her Verve years. More importantly, the way it was recorded was groundbreaking - for 1961. Finally, I am personally intrigued by the veiled reference to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Before going into all of that, here is the back cover of the album containing the liner notes. I think it makes for interesting reading. Click on the image for a much larger, readable one:

About the F. Scott Fitzgerald theory. He wrote a collection of short stories in 1926 titled All the Sad Young Men that reflected some trying situations he was experiencing. One major one was he suspected his wife Zelda of having an affair. Consider some of the song selections here: Do Nothing Until You Hear From Me, A Woman Alone With the Blues, and, of course, The Ballad of the Sad Young Men. Is there a connection? Perhaps; perhaps not. I am getting up there in years, so my theory may be more a symptom of dementia than some special insight. Note: you can listen to samples of each track by visiting this page. Here are a few of the tracks in their entirety to give you a taste of what's on the album:

Track 9 - Up State

Track 5 - Ballad of all the Sad Young Men

Remember my saying that this was groundbreaking in some aspects? Here is why, as related by Anita in Chapter XI of her autobiography, High Times, Hard Times: The orchestra recorded in New York and the arranger, Gary McFarland, sent her the tapes and charts via the mail. She showed up in a Hollywood studio to add the vocals which were recorded along with the playback of the orchestra backing her. She said all she had were charts with annotations like, "ad lib here", and stood on a box in the recording booth and provided the vocals into a mic while the backing was piped through speakers. She also mentioned that she never met McFarland until four or five years later!

If you are a recording engineer of musician today you are probably thinking, 'what's the big deal?' For one thing the only folks doing multi-track recording in 1961 were Les Paul who pretty much invented it, and a genius engineer at Atlantic Records named Tom Dowd (his story is in Tom Dowd & the Language of Music). So, in one respect, this album was groundbreaking for the way it was put together.

Recording was at Englewood Cliffs, NJ on October 16, 1961 and in Los Angeles between November and December 1961. Personnel included: Bernie Glow, Doc Severinsen, Herb Pomeroy (trumpets), Bob Brookmeyer, Willie Dennis, Billy Byers (trombones), Walt Levinsky (clarinet), Phil Woods (alto sax), Jerome Richardson (bass clarinet), Zoot Sims (tenor sax), Hank Jones (piano), Barry Galbraith (guitar), George Duvivier or Art Davis (bass), Mel Lewis (drums).

While the songs seem to fit the Fitzgerald theme I mentioned above, there are some interesting pieces thrown in. For example, Anita was doing Boogie Blues with Gene Krupa when McFarland was a toddler. Including Horace Silver's Senor Blues was a, well, hip move on the producer's part in my opinion.

All in all this is among my favorite O'Day albums, but still not in the top five. That is my personal taste. I will say that you could not go wrong with this or any of her albums from her Verve years. And, as a drummer, it is always a treat studying Mel Lewis.

My next general post will be a review of Rifftide: The Life and Opinions of Papa Jo Jones, and my next post in this Anita O'Day series will cover one of the best bargains an Anita O'Day fan will ever find: Anita O'Day Eight Classic Albums.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A break in the flow for Nica

Before continuing with the Anita O'Day series I just started I want to break up the flow by interspersing other topics. Too many posts about any single topic can quickly become boring, and given the number of sub topics on Anita, covering a good many of her albums, I do not want to fall into that trap.

This topic is all about Pannonica de Koenigswarter, A.K.A. Nica or The Jazz Baroness. Her contributions to jazz in the form of supporting it as an art are immeasurable. She may have been the last true patron in the old world sense.

It is unfortunate that she is mainly remembered as the last person to see Charlie Parker alive (Bird died in her living room), as well as the one who took care of Monk during his final years. Even more unfortunate are the rumors that swirl around her relationship with Monk, as well as the fact that the Rothschild family has impounded all of her papers and personal effects. Fortunately there are a few books and a movie that are attempting to set the record straight.

First is her own book, Three Wishes: An Intimate Look at Jazz Greats:

That book is a collection of photos of jazz musicians and their three wishes. It makes for interesting reading, as well as getting lost in the history provided by the photographs. This book is one of the few things the Rothschilds were not able to confiscate after her passing.

Another source is David Kastin's biography, Nica's Dream: The Life and Legend of the Jazz Baroness:

This book is handicapped by the dearth of material that is normally available to researchers. In fact, even Hannah Rothschild encountered roadblocks put up by the family when researching for her book, Baroness: The Search for Nica the Rebellious Rothschild:

At least a third of that book is devoted to Monk, so it spans two areas of interest.

Finally, there is an interesting web site, The Jazz Baroness, and an equally interesting video that discusses Nica:

Enjoy ...

Monday, July 16, 2012

Anita O'Day in depth Part 1

This is the first of a few posts in which I will focus on Anita O'Day. Her relevance to drummers was first discussed in my April 5, 2010 post titled Anita O'Day: Jezebel of Jazz & Drummer's Vocalist.

In this post I'll start with her autobiography, High Times, Hard Times

Although this book has acquired a reputation for frankness and sordid details, it is much more. For one thing, it's an oral history of swing and jazz as seen from Anita's perspective as a big band 'canary' who embraced bebop and smaller jazz ensembles that emerged from that.

What I most love about the book is despite it being a collaboration with George Eells, Anita's voice shines through in every sentence. Most autobiographies that include a collaborator turn out to be ghost written fluff pieces. Not so this one. If you have ever heard Anita speak then will you have no doubt that the words on the pages are her own. While she pulls no punches when it comes to herself - taking responsibility without apology for her own actions - she is kind to the point of being generous when it comes to others who played a significant enough role in her life to merit mention in the book. I am sorry to say that there are those who were not as kind or generous when remembering Anita, such as Buddy Bregman. I am sure his comments were made through jealousy and what seems to be an unwarranted high self opinion. Perhaps he cannot get his head around the fact that Anita still attracts avid fans and probably will continue to do so, while he has been relegated to a footnote at best in my opinion. I certainly would have never heard of him had I not been Anita's fan. He did appear in her video biography, Anita O'Day - Life of a Jazz Singer, and in what I consider to be a two-faced, cowardly manner did not slam her. And if I am coming across as more than slightly bitter about that I am. I cannot abide assholes and Bregman's comments places him within my personal definition of one.

Back to Anita: another thing I love is how her story adds another dimension to the listening experience. For example, while I thoroughly enjoy listening to Anita O'Day Live at Mr. Kelly's:

That experience is enchanced by the back story of how she brought in Joe Masters, the pianist, from Boston because she was impressed with his backing a few months prior at a New York date. After the Mr. Kelly's performance she and Masters had a fling that lasted until he got out of control and - believe it or not - John Poole, the drummer, got a less than savory acquaintance to drive Masters to the airport, put a gun to his head and convince him to board the red eye for Boston! Or her comments regarding the clashes she had with Billy May when recording Swings Cole Porter and Swings Rogers and Hart. While those details do not change the music itself, they do add a delicious spice to the listening experience - for me at least.

I'll admit that one of my primary reasons for buying the book was to get even more details about John Poole who was her drummer for over three decades. While I am one of Anita's most avid fans, Poole is one of my main influences as a drummer. The details were scant. I did learn a lot about her first husband, Don Carter, who I knew was a drummer but had no idea just how revered he was by other musicians including Gene Krupa. I also knew that Don taught her a bit about drumming, which shows in her impeccable sense of timing and rhythmic approach to singing, but did not know that he also taught her how to read music and a lot about theory.

Anita weaves in personal aspects of her life with anecdotes and impressions of major musicians with whom she worked or performed. The latter is almost in the form of an oral history. Moreover, she was an astute observer whose insights reflect a highly intelligent mind. For example, her personal assessment of the music industry in the early 1950s is spot on. Swing was dead, bebop was not winning audiences and everyone was seeking the next big thing. Of course, her observations throughout the book are of the same caliber of both relevance and astuteness.

One thing that you should know is this book essentially ends over twenty years before Anita's life and career ended, so there is a gap concerning her later life. I highly recommend augmenting this book with a video biography titled Anita O'Day - Life of a Jazz Singer. Regarding her music, there are two collections what make this book come alive: Young Anita, which is a comprehensive collection of her word from the swing era, and 8 Classic Albums, which is a set that contains some of her best work from the Verve years.

As both a fan and amateur jazz historian I found this book invaluable for the oral history and the comprehensive discography in the appendix. It is also a pleasure to read the words of someone who is open and honest, and who lived a life on her own terms. There are lessons in that as well.

In my next post I'll cover 8 Classic Albums in more depth, and will include some samples from each of the albums that comprise that set.