Friday, August 10, 2012

Giant Steps

Up front: you do not need to understand theory or read music to enjoy this post - although it will enhance the esperience.

That said, had Coltrane been a month earlier releasing Giant Steps, he would have joined Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Dave Brubeck and Charles Mingus in making 1959 the year that changed jazz. He cut the album in December 1959, but it was not released until January 1960.

This album marks a first for many reasons: first album that Coltrane recorded for Atlantic, first where all of the tracks are his compositions, and the first where his "sheets of sound" phrasing was prominent (it was not new, but came to the forefront with this album.) In a way, Coltrane is finally 'discovered' on this album because he is neither in the shadows of Miles, nor is he displaying his abilities on standards and compositions of others.

Everyone - every jazz aficionado and all musicians regardless of genre - should own this album. It broke new ground when it was released in January of 1960, and continues to this day to exert a major influence on musicians as well as listeners.I am about to cover what is known as Coltrane Changes, but that does not describe the music to the non-musician listener who has every right to enjoy this album on its own merits without some snob implying that its too sophisticated. For non-musicians or those who are not versed in theory the following two clips from the album will give a hint of what is on the album.

Giant Steps


For musicians I highly recommend augmenting with album with Giant Steps: A Player's Guide To Coltrane's Harmony for ALL Instrumentalists.

I mentioned the term, Coltrane Changes at the beginning of this post. Here is an excellent explanation that will make a lot of sense to musicians, but can also be followed by folks who are not versed in theory or reading music. If you fall into the latter group check it out because I think you will get the gist of what is meant by the term.

Did you catch the part about Miles Davis' Tune Up and Coltrane's Countdown being essentially the same? That should come as no surprise since Coltrane was with Miles for nearly five years. He was on Davis' Kind of Blue album, and was also on the cream of the Prestige years. As a side note, I highly recommend Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions

Now back to comparing Davis' Tune Up and Coltrane's Countdown:

Miles Davis Tune up

Coltrane's Countdown

For drummers who are new to jazz and want to learn the basics of comping the way Jimmy Cobb did on this groundbreaking album I recommend checking out this post in my other blog called Snare Drum Addict.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

My Personal Mount Rushmore

All roads for me lead back to Lester Young, who figures very prominently in the recorded works of my personal Mount Rushmore:

It does not hurt that one of my favorite drummers is featured on many of the recorded works by the above artists: Papa Jo Jones. In fact, if ever you decide to read Rifftide: The Life and Opinions of Papa Jo Jones, the experience will be greatly enhanced by having these sets on hand and playing in the background.

From left to right:

Lester Young: Portrait

This 10-CD set has it all: Lester's accompaniment with Billie, Teddy Wilson, Basie, the Great American Rhythm Section comprised of Papa Jo Jones, Walter Page and Freddie Green, etc.

The next set is Basie: Big Band Leader.

If you click either on the link above or the box set image you will be taken to my post that discusses it in detail.

Like the Basie set, I have a post here about Billie's set: Billie on my mind. That post covers the CD set in depth and adds some depth to an earlier post I wrote titled Lester Young & Billie Holiday: The Krishna and Radha of jazz. I am listening to discs from this set as I write this entry.

The final set is some of the best recordings of a member of my personal holy trinity of pianists: Teddy Wilson: Jumping for Joy

There are three pianists who top my list, in admiration of their playing and the amount of time I spend listening to them: Teddy Wilson, Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell. Of the three, I probably spend more time listening to Teddy, but that is as much because of why he is backing on a particular song as it is his playing.

This set not only features Teddy in a number of musician settings and ensembles, but Teddy backing Lady Day (Billie Holiday), playing with Lester Young, with Benny Goodman's smaller ensembles, and some big band work. The selections in this set span 1934-1946.

Teddy was prolific in the studio, and was the band leader for Billie's early recordings, most of which are in this set, especially on CD 1. Since there is no track listening here, the best way to describe this set is to provide a track listing for each CD. Those who know who Teddy is can expect the same silvery touch on his keys on every selection, but knowing what is in the set is important. The discs appear to be chronological, which is a major improvement over most box sets, which are too often a hodge-podge. For the listing go to this page and see my review and the comments to the review for what is in the set.

For me all roads also lead to Karen I. Karr in whose memory this is dedicated.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Digging into our history

On 14 June 2012 I provided a download titled A History of Jazz Drumming by Thomas Shultz. That 44-page book has a lot of information packed inside.

For research, however, my main three resources are these two books and video. I am not limited to them, but they are the first places to which I turn when I want to look up or verify information.

The books are both by Burt Korall who has done meticulous research. The first is Drummin' Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz The Swing Years

This 400 page book has served me well as a research tool. I have cited it more than a few times in this blog. I have also discovered facts about my own idols and influences that I have not found elsewhere.

One example of a discovered fact (from the book) is that Ray Bauduc assisted in the design of the venerable Speed King bass drum pedal, as well as assisted Zildjian in the design of the swish cymbal.

As for biographies, I have found every one to be devoid of hyperbole or questionable assertions in the swing edition, and am pleased by the drummers who were included.

Unlike the second book, this book is organized in a linear fashion that is strictly chronological.

The second book by Korall is Drummin' Men--The Heartbeat of Jazz: The Bebop Years

What I love about this (and the companion book) is Korall is not only a drummer, but a great historian and overall musician. He does not confine his writing to drums and drumming, but digs into the music itself. Take any chapter and you are treated to a dissertation on the music and musicians who created the music the subject drummer played, including accolades for the other instrumentalists on the recordings cited.

More importantly, Korall can write prose that is engaging and descriptive. Consider one passage in which he describes Art Blakey's uncharacteristically subdued playing on Thelonious Monk Trio: Rudy Van Gelder Remasters. He describes it as Blakey painting in pastels while retaining an underlying rhythm and source of light. Definitely not the common biography lingo that is dry and devoid of color.

Another big plus - in my opinion - is the inclusion of Stan Levey. Just about every history of bebop overlooks him, yet Levey was backing Dizzy at the tender age of 16, and - along with Kenny Clarke and Max Roach - made significant contributions to the bebop drum vocabulary. In fact, Levey was Bird's room mate for a year and was a fixture on the NY and LA scenes.

I also love the structure and sequencing of the book. After a very brief chapter, Bebop, that sets the tone for the rest of the book, Korall divides the book into logical sections.

Swing to Bop covers the visionaries - Papa Jo Jones and Big Sid Catlett - who laid the groundwork for the new drumming style that made bebop possible. While most of us credit Kenny Clarke, Korall makes a good case for Papa Jo as the root. That does not diminish Clarke's contributions in my opinion.

The next section - Transitional Figures - is my personal favorite section for a number of reasons. First, it contains important drummers, some of whom I did not know about, and three I hold in the highest esteem. Those are Denzil Best, J. C. Heard and Shadow Wilson. Of the three Wilson is one of the most elusive figures in that there is so very little written about him. Yet, he occupies an important place in the transition from swing to bop, and was held in the highest regard by practically everyone, including Papa Jo Jones. Also, the nine full pages in this book devoted to Wilson contain more information than any other single source I have found. To me, that alone made this book worth every penny.

Innovators is the heart of the book. All of the major players who defined bebop (and hard bop) are covered. There are a few surprises: Don Lamond who I more associate with big bands, and Shelly Manne who was more a West Coast jazz pioneer. Still, both do belong in this section in my opinion.

The last two sections cover the 1950s and other significant figures and there are no surprises for the most part. Philly Joe Jones, Art Taylor, Mel Lewis and a few others are covered in sufficient detail.

What brings this book alive and makes it a cohesive blend of fact, history, music and opinion are the first hand accounts of other musicians (and in some cases family members) for each drummer. Those, combined with Korall's deep knowledge of music, drumming and his own meticulous research make this an invaluable companion to amateur historians like myself. Korall's notes, bibliography, discography and section on interviewees add more value to this book.

The final resource is a DVD titled Legends of Jazz Drumming

This is not your typical compilation of drum solos such as Classic Drum Solos and Drum Battles. While it does contain performances and a fair share of jaw dropping solos, it is a history of the evolution of drum kit playing and some of the drummers who were either pioneers or innovators.

Indeed, the late, great Louis Bellson narrates much of this video, with another great - Roy Haynes - providing his commentary and insights. Jack DeJohnette joins Louis and Roy on the second half of this two hour video, and adds even more to the rich tapestry of this slice of history.

What I especially like about this video is the wide coverage of early drummers, including the root of all modern players: Baby Dodds. But that was expected. I was delighted to see Tony Sbarbaro (aka Tony Spargo), Paul Barbarin and Zutty Singleton included in the discussion of early drummers. And at the end of each era discussed a listing of relevant, influential drummers from the period that there was no room to discuss in the video was provided. This ensured that viewers understood that choices has to be made when planning the video regarding who would and would not be included.

Another great thing about this video is you are treated to Louis Bellson's and Roy Haynes's own recollections. Both were pioneers of aspects of drummming (Louis is credited with the development and use of double bass drum kits and Roy was one of the pioneer bebop drummers who played with Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie - among others!) Their commentary and personal recollections provided invaluable insights into not only the drummers under discussion, but also the period, music and other musicians.

I personally think the choices of who to spotlight in the video were wise and on the mark. There was one omission that I lamented - Stan Levey - who was a true pioneer in his own right (and who was alive when the video was made.) However, I understand the constraints of a video (this first came out on two VHS tapes), so that omission is not a fatal flaw and was later rectified when Stan Levey - The Original Original was released.

Although the scope of this post is on the two books and DVD cited, there is one other DVD I want to recommend: Steve Smith's Drumset Technique/History of the U.S. Beat. Smith, in one of the two DVDs in this set, provides a brief discussion and a longer demonstration of drum kit playing styles ranging from ragtime to modern rock.

All of these sources greatly add to the tapestry of history.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Drummer by Bill Block

I'll reserve comment, but I am curious as to how many truly 'get it' with respect to this outstanding video. Thank you Mr. Block!

The Drummer from Bill Block on Vimeo.

Comments welcomed ...

Monday, August 6, 2012

Thisbe Vos: a study in dynamics and taste

In an earlier post titled Midnight Blue The (Be)witching Hour: A Study in Tempos I offered an album as a catalog of examples of tempo exercises. Thisbe Vos' album is a catalog of examples of dynamics. The album is titled Sophistication and is not only a great study aid for drummers who want to develop their dunamics and taste, but is enjoyable listening for anyone who loves jazz.

Before describing the album I want to invite your attention to two posts in my other blog called Snare Drum Addict that are germane to this post: Some Quick Tips (tempos and dynamics), and the companion piece, More Quick Tips (fills, dynamics and melody).

Now, about Sophistication: I first stumbled across Ms. Vos when I saw a short video of her singing Frim Fram Sauce, live at The Cicada Club in Los Angeles. I immediately purchased this album, and that is when I discovered that fully half of the tracks are originals. Here is the clip that won me over

When your inaugural album contains some of the best standards and you also include an equal amount of your own work it says one of two things: you are arrogant or you are THAT good. My personal opinion is Ms. Vos is THAT good, and not only can she sing, but her compositions are superb. If they get wide enough dissemination, perhaps her own work will be tomorrow's standards.

Her singing style is hard to pin down, because she manages to tailor her voice to the spirit and intent of each song. In that respect she is a chameleon, but I did hear touches of Sarah Vaughan, Anita O'Day and, surprisingly, some Maria Muldaur in her voice.

Not only is she an artist in her own right, as well as a composer, but her choice of musicians to back her on this album is perfect. I will not pretend to know much about them, but they were perfect on every track. The line-up is: Gary Matsumoto and Larry Flahivedrummer on piano, George Harper on saxophone, Henry Franklin on bass, Nolan Shaheed on trumpet, Geoff Nudell on clarinet and Donald Dean on drums.

I am going to focus more on the original compositions, so my review is not going to follow the track sequence, but, instead, will divide the album into originals and standards.

House of Make Believe starts out with a piano intro that reminds me of Bill Evans' mountain brook sound that Miles Davis wanted on Kind of Blue. The dominant instruments backing Thisbe are piano and saxophone, and the musicians accentuate her sultry rendition. I could hear a touch of Maria Muldaur.

After You've Gone is her own composition and is totally different from the Turner Layton/Henry Creamer song written in 1918 or the same name. Her range and voicing here remind me of Cleo Laine, who could hit any note she wanted. Apparently Ms. Vos can as well.

When I Come To You is a beautiful ballad, while the title song, Sophistication, is a swinging, up tempo piece that had me tapping my foot and smiling. Pordenone has a Cole Porter feel and beautiful trumpet work giving the song a happy, driving feel. I Am All Right has bright tempo and, again, swings like crazy. The call and response between Ms. Vos and Geoff Nudell on clarinet gave the impression that the song was written at the dawn of the swing era. Her voice on this song is lush and her phrasing is impeccable.

Her rendition of standards shows that she is not only well-versed in the Great American Songbook, but also has the chops to perform them credibly. I won't dwell too deeply, but here are some quick impressions:

Frim Fram Sauce: swinging + great phrasing. Nat King Cole would be proud.

Can't Take That Away From Me: Sarah Vaughan did my favorite rendition of this song and Thisbe does it justice.

My Favorite Things: slow, languorous swing with an interesting bass solo. This version has totally different phrasing and tempo than Julie Andrews's familiar 1965 rendition.

Baby Won't You Please Come Home: Thisbe and the ensemble lay down a nice, easy and swinging tempo of this classic. They captured the nineteen teens feel, which was a combination of traditional jazz from that era and ragtime. The added swing modernized the tune, making it fit with the other tracks on this album.

A Foggy Day in London Town: Great rendition. If I were a betting man I would put money on Ms. Vos being exposed to, and influenced by, Anita O'Day.

Our Love Is Here To Stay: Intimate, especially with the piano and the drummer's great brushwork. There is a sweetness and intimacy in Thisbe's voice on this track that is difficult to describe, but her rendition certainly comes close to that I consider to be the "gold standard" rendition, which was done by Dinah Washington. Both renditions are very different, but both are among the best I have heard and this is one of my favorite songs.

What excites me about this album is the seamless manner in which Ms. Vos' own compositions dovetail nicely with the standards on this album. There is a coherent, overarching scheme and feel to the album, which inspires me to closely follow her career and future projects. If she is this good on her inaugural album, imagine where she will be in ten years!

I will close this with some interviews of the personnel on the album:

Illinois Jacquet

Jacquet's albums are well worth studying because he was backed by some of the greats, including Papa Jo Jones, Shadow Wilson and Art Blakey (to name but a few).

He was probably best known for his solo on Lionel Hampton's Flying Home (and Hamp was a killer drummer too when he was not playing vibes).

If you are new to Illinois Jacquet (or want to add to your music library), I recommend these two albums:

Kid & Brute / Swing's the Thing / Flies Again, which contains five albums on two CDs.

And a four CD set titled Quadromania

Between those two sets you will have a wide ranging collection of his music. His story is interesting and is well told in this short tribute video:

Here are three live clips of Jacquet with Papa Jo Jones and Milt Buckner circa 1970s:

With the great Shadow Wilson on drums:

Backed by Art Blakey:

One last clip with Alan Dawson on drums backing him:

Do check out my post on Louis Jordan as well. There are striking similarities in the musical paths Illinois and Louis took.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Billie on my mind

Sundays are my day to kick back and immerse myself in great music, reading and indulging in Movies (I finished watching Lemon Tree earlier.

For some reason I was drawn to a post I wrote a few years ago, Lester Young & Billie Holiday: The Krishna and Radha of jazz, which inspired me to play an MP3 playlist comprised of this box set I ripped to my player: Billie Holiday: Lady Sings the Blues box set

See my review on the page linked to for a complete track listing.

A reasonably decent documentary is Masters of American Music: Lady Day - The Many Faces of Billie Holiday:

That video is part of a value-priced set titled Masters of American Music, which I highly recommend. See my review on that page for why.

This BBC documentary is excellent as well and openly discusses Billie's life, both good and bad, as well as her music:

I'll end this post with what is currently playing in the background as I write this entry (from 1935 - see this story):