Saturday, September 1, 2012

Thelonious Monk: American genius and drummer's patron saint

Mere days ago I made the case for studying pianists instead of drummers to develop the listening skills, sense of rhythm and knowledge of music to be an effective drummer. I made no secret of the fact that my personal favorites are Teddy Wilson, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. However, personal favorites are just that: personal. That almost always translates into subjectivity and matters of taste. In the case of Monk, though, you may find that he warrants a top spot in any drummer's pursuit of a deeper understanding of music via studying pianists.

If you need a reason to study Monk here is one that is as good as any: the drummers he chose for his ensembles. Here are a few that should convince you: Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Shadow Wilson, Roy Haynes, Ben Riley and Frankie Dunlop to name but a few.

Also, Monk's ideas about music and drummers are interesting:

One of Monk's drummers - I cannot remember who - mentioned that if Monk detected the drummer getting comfortable in a certain tempo, he would change it to keep him on his toes. That shows in Monk's recordings and performances. I cannot count the various renditions - recorded and live - I have heard of Monk's standards like Blue Monk or Straight, No Chaser, and how different each was. Especially the tempo. That, along, should compel any drummer to listen to a lot of Monk and to practice to some of his albums.

The key question is, where to start? I am a big believer in bang-for-your-buck, when possible, when I am shopping for music and I typically look at box sets and imports first. Here are three collections that are [relatively] inexpensive and filled with examples of Monk's music and his drummers. First is Mysterious Blues.

The ten discs in this set range from 1944 to 1956 and most of the tracks feature Monk as a sideman more often than as a leader.

I found the sound quality to be more than acceptable, but certainly not up to audiophile standards.

The only information given with respect to tracks is a listing on the back of the box, and a slightly more expanded version on the back of each cardboard wallet that also includes the composer credit and running time for each track, plus total time for the disc.

I have managed to track down some - but not all - information for the discs. I can nail down the sources of a handful of tracks from each disc. Here is a summary:

  • CD1 contains some tracks from Coleman Hawkins - Bean And The Boys (Prestige PR 7824) recorded in October 19, 1944.
  • CD2 contains some tracks from Thelonious Monk - Genius Of Modern Music, Vol. 1 (Blue Note BLP 1510) recorded in October 1947.
  • CD3, CD4 and and CD5 contain some tracks from The Complete Blue Note Recordings Of Thelonious Monk (Mosaic MR4-101) recorded between 1947 and 1952.
  • CD6 and CD7 contain some tracks from Thelonious Monk - Monk (Prestige PRLP 7053) recorded in November 1953 and May 1954.
  • CD8 contains some tracks from Thelonious Monk And Sonny Rollins (Prestige PRLP 7075) recorded between November 1953 and October 1954.
  • CD9 contains tracks from two albums: Miles Davis - Bags' Groove (Prestige PRLP 7109) and Miles Davis And The Modern Jazz Giants (Prestige PRLP 7150), both of which were recorded during the same session on December 24, 1954.
  • CD10 seems to have individual tracks taken from a number of recordings, making it nearly impossible to cite a single source for the majority of tracks.
While this is not a set of Monk's primary works, it is a nice filler to a collection. It is also valuable because it provides examples of Monk's early work, as well as glimpses of him as a sideman on some important sessions with Coleman Hawkins, Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins.

Here is a track from CD8 (featuring Art Taylor on drums):

The above box set has examples from Monk's Blue Note sessions, so the next two recommendations I am going to make pick up in the Prestige and Riverside years, then into the Comumbia period.

The Prestige and Riverside years are well represented in Four Classic Albums

The albums included in this set are:

  1. Thelonious Monk Plays The Music Of Duke Ellington
  2. Thelonious Monk & Sonny Rollins
  3. Brilliant Corners
  4. Thelonious Monk Trio
The first album is Monk's homage to Duke, featuring Oscar Pettiford on bass and the great Kenny Clarke ("Klook") on drums. As an Ellington fan this album to me is a treasure. As a drummer, Klook and Pettiford provide a standard for how the bassist and drummer should lock in, and Monk's playing epitomizes beauty (to me).

It's a temptation to cop out and include a clip of the trio playing Caravan, but I am going to include the one track that showcases Monk's love for Ellington and superb musicianship of Monk and the ensemble because this would be the last song I would want to tackle in a piano trio:

I happen to be a Sonny Rollins fan to the point of considering him a national treasure, so when I first heard this album I focused on his and Monk's playing. Later I cane to realize what a treasure this album is with respect to bassist-drummer collaboration, and also the diversity of drumming styles throughout the relatively short track list. Bassists on this album are Percy Heath of Modern Jazz Quartet fame and Tommy Potter who was a stalwart in Charlie Parker and Miles Davis ensembles (among others.) Drummers on this album are Art Blakey, Art Taylor and one about whom I know next to nothing, Willie Jones.

Here is Tommy Potter and Art Taylor backing Monk and Rollins on one of the tracks from the album:

Another amazing tenor saxophonist with whom Monk collaborated is John Coltrane. See Prelude to Monk for specifics and clips.

Brilliant Corners is much more than just another album in this set. In 2003 the Library of Congress included it a group of fifty recordings chosen that year by to be added to the National Recording Registry. And the moniker brilliant in the title is appropriate. As a drummer you should appreciate Max Roach in the drum chair (not to mention the inclusion of Oscar Pettiford and Paul Chambers on bass). As a musician, though, you should not focus on any one aspect of this album for the first few hundred listens - step back and let the entire album bathe you in brilliant genius. Then start listening to Max. Here is a beautiful piece composed by Monk in honor if his dear friend Pannonica de Koenigswarter. Max's brush work on this track is exquisite in my opinion. You can hear the love in Monk's playing and his adding the celeste into the composition giving it a classical European flavor shows Monk's keen intellect. Sonny Rollins on tenor and Ernie Henry on alto add music to the piece, and, of course, Oscar Pettiford is right there with Max.

The final album in this set provides yet another study in bassist-drummer collaboration. Here is Percy Heath on bass (and his only appearance on the album) with Art Blakey on drums performing one of my favorite Monk tunes. Blakey's comping is a joy to hear, and I love the way that Heath holds things down.

The next set of albums is from the Columbia years circa 1962-67: Original Album Classics

Albums included in this set are:

  1. Straight, No Chaser
  2. Underground
  3. Criss-Cross
  4. Monk's Dream
  5. Solo Monk
Instead of providing a clip from Straight, No Chaser, which features Larry Gales on bass and Ben Riley on drums, with Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone, I am going to include a live clip from a 1965 BBC broadcast.

Underground has the same line-up as Straight, No Chaser, with Jon Hendricks handling vocals on In Walked Bud. One interesting note is the first track - Ugly Beauty is the only waltz among Monk's compositions. At least the recorded ones. Apparently he didn't like 3/4 time. Here is In Walked Bud from the album:

In the next album, Criss-Cross, the line-up changes slightly. Charlie Rouse stays on tenor sax, b ut Monk changes the rhythm section to John Ore on bass, and Frankie Dunlop on drums.

Dunlop, according to Monk's son (drummer T.S. Monk) and careful listening, is to Shadow Wilson what George Wettling was to Baby Dodds: someone who kept his style alive. Do not take that to mean I lack respect for Dunlop because he cloned Wilson's style. On the contrary - I think Dunkop was one of Monk's best drummers and hold him in such high esteem that I used him as a shinking example for how to use space in solos and grooves. Again, instead of using a track from the album I am going to use a live performance (although it features Butch Warren instead of John Ore on bass):

To be fair to John Ore and to also give a good idea about how the musicians interact on the album here is a live clip that does have the album's line-up:

Another Rouse-Ore-Dunlop line-up is on Monk's Dream. This 1963 album is one I urge all jazz fans to own. A quick clip from this masterpiece is:

I opened this post with a focus on studying pianists instead of drummers to develop the listening skills. and Solo Monk, the last albun in this set allows you to do just that. Here are two song from the album that are not only excellent study material to improve your understanding of rhythm, melody and harmony, but as play-along tracks:

The sets I mentioned contain albums that will make anyone - regardless of instrument - a better musician if they take the time to critically listen to the music. As a drummer there is a wealth of ideas contained in the music and demonstrated by the musicians (and not just the drummers.)

If you are inspired to did deeper into Monk, the man and the genius, here are a few resources I recommend:

I am going to end this post with two parting shots:

First is the composition that changed Nica's life (and touched a lot of jazz musicians and the music itself in the process). Moreover, if ever you needed proof of Monk's genius, this is it:

Second is to dedicate this to my wonderful friend and fellow jazz musician Maggie Shook. Maggie is one of the young jazz artists who not only will ensure that Monk's (and others') work lives on, but has it in her soul. How many other 30-somethings do you know who keeps a giant poster of Monk over their piano? She is currently slipping Monk's influence into the wonderful blues of River City Bluz Band of Jacksonville, FL.

At some later date I'll post video performance resources.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Prelude to Monk

As the dog days of August draw to a close I plan to spend part of September on my holy trinity of pianists: Teddy Wilson, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. This will give me a perfect opportunity to tie in Piano: the other percussion instrument and my personal favorites. I decided to write this post to lay the foundation of the ones to come.

Understand that Wilson, Powell and Monk are not the only pianists I admire - they just happen to be three who have influenced me and whose music I listen to every day. Yep, every single day the three of them are in my playlists.

As a prelude to Monk I want to introduce an album that until 2005 was either lost or forgotten and relegated to the dust bin of history: Thelonious Monk Quartet With John Coltrane At Carnegie Hall

As a drummer the mere fact that Shadow Wilson is on this album is reason enough to study it. However, as a musician, the melding of two dissimilar styles - Coltrane's sheets of sound and Monk's characteristic chordal structures and between-the-cracks scales with a lot of space. Coltrane takes that space and fills it with magic. See my 10 August 2012 post for an explanation of Coltrane changes and sheets of sound.

First, the story of the discovery:

Shadow Wilson's name comes up a few times in the above discussion. The salient point is his drums and cymbals were beautifully captured (which is a big reason I opted to write this post.)

But this is about a lot more than drummers. Monk and Coltrane combined their musical genius to produce music that has stood the the test of time and should be studied by every musician regardless of his or her instrument (or preferred genre). Shadow Wilson and bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik were as locked in musically as would be Abdul-Malik and Roy Haynes when Monk and Coltrane would collaborate ten months later, producing Live At The Five Spot Café '58.

Here are some samples from the album:

My future posts about Monk will discuss his music and some of my favorite drummers he incorporated into his ensembles over the years. In the meantime, enjoy the music.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Importance of bass

In Piano: the other percussion instrument I discussed the importance of listening to pianists to gain an understanding of both melody and harmony as it relates to music. The goal was to promote awareness to drummers who are not versed in theory - the hope being that some critical listening skills and a general awareness of music would improve their value as drummers.

To be sure, drummers are not essential. Consider the Nat King Cole Trio or Oscar Peterson's first trio with Herb Ellis on guitar instead of a drummer. Or even a modern example: Lisa Lindsley, who cut a remarkable album with just a pianist and bassist.

The lack of a hard requirement for a drummer extends to other genres too. Most of blues vocalist Alberta Hunter's later live performances were with just a pianist and bassist.

Why am I harping on this? It's to give you pause to consider that as a drummer you need to bring something to the table if you do not want to get replaced by a backing track or guitarist. One way to prove your value is to integrate into the ensemble and support the music instead of just providing time and a beat. And the way to do that is to make the bassist your best friend (which should be the case anyway.)

Let's check out a clip where the bassist truly adds to the music sans drummer:

Here is a famous clip where it's just a bassist and drummer. I am not advocating playing flash and novelty, but the interaction between the two and the fact that the foundation of the rhythm section pulled this off shows what a locked in bassist and drummer can do. The drummer here is the great Ray Bauduc:

Examples of bass and drums abound, but here is one album that I particularly like: Percussion And Bass, if for no other reason that it features one of my favorite drummers and personal inspirations - Papa Jo Jones - and does epitomize the partnership between bassists and drummers.

Another album worth checking out is The Supreme Bassists and Drummers, which is heavily slanted towards Charles Mingus and Dannie Richmond and Art Blakey paired with various bassists. It also has some swing represented by Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich paired with various bassists. Don't let the electric bass on the album cover fool you - all of the bass is played on a double bass by some real masters.

I could go on and on. For example, the albums mentioned in My Personal Rushmore are filled with examples, and are especially rich in recordings by the All-American Rhythm Section comprised of Basie on piano, Freddie Green on guitar, Walter Page on bass and Papa Jo Jones on drums. Or the 1959 albums that changed jazz, which included Paul Chambers paired with Jimmy Cobb, Charles Mingus paired with Dannie Richmond, Eugene Wright paired with Joe Morello, and Charlie Haden paired with Billy Higgins.

Another way to form that important partnership is to see things from the bassist's perspective. This masterclass conducted by the great Ray Brown will reveal that perspective.

I'll end with two clips. First is a clip from Diana Krall - Live in Paris that illustrates the essence of this post. Check out the way Jeff Hamilton on drums is locked into John Clayton on bass, and how both of them beautifully support Diana and Anthony Wilson. The second clip is Ray Brown, Jeff Hamilton on drums and Gene Harris (of Three Sounds fame) on piano.

Diana Krall Live in Paris

Ray Brown, Jeff Hamilton and Gene Harris

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Piano: the other percussion instrument Part 2

This follow-up to Part 1 allows me to provide some of my personal favorite clips. all are heavily slanted towards rhythm, although the melody and harmony are unmistakable.

I'll start off with one of the most percussive pianists (and vocalists) I've had the pleasure of studying. This clip is from Jazz Voice Vol. 1: The Ladies Sing Jazz

I also recommend checking out Nina Simone: Her Greatest Hits.

A true joy to watch and hear is Martha Davis. She was often billed with her husband as Martha Davis and Spouse. Her musicianship is sometimes overshadowed by her showmanship, but if you pay attention to these clips you will see just how sophisticated she was. Her husband, er, spouse was no slouch on bass either:

Talk about rhythmic and percussive. Camille Howard had a left hand that put most to shame. Here is a clip from Rock Me Daddy, Vol. 1

Another favorite is Terry Pollard whose talent overwhelms me. Check her out on the second set when she does a vibraphone duet with Terry Gibbs:

Lest I get accused of gender bias I'll add a few males to this post. First up is the great George Shearing:

I'll end with a favorite, Red Garland:

If you like what you hear in that clip you should check out The Ultimate Jazz Collection, which is over four and a half hours of Red with Paul Chambers on bass and the great Art Taylor on drums.

That's it for now. My next posts that will cover pianists will put the spotlight on Teddy Wilson, Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell. Not all at once - I promise. In the meantime, you may want to also check out some famous vibraphonists too, because as a drummer studying piano music that path will eventually lead to vibes. It ain't the destination - it's the journey!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Piano: the other percussion instrument

Yes, this blog is about music for drummers. The operative word is music, and one of the grand instruments of music is the piano. So much so that in some music schools anyone entering a percussion program must prove their proficiency on a piano before getting accepted.

Before you go off on a rant about daft motherfuckers who talk about everything but drums in a blog ostensibly about drummers you may be interested in knowing that the likes of Art Blakey was a pianist before he was a drummer, and a multitude of drummers, such as Ed Thigpen were and are outstanding pianists. The truth be known, one hundred years ago pianos were essential in many households and were the center of family and neighborhood entertainment before being nudged out by radio. Moreover, musicians such as Charles Mingus and Bix Beiderbecke - virtuosos on their own instruments - were sufficiently talented on piano to record records and albums as pianists. A side note of interest is Dizzy Gillespie, another virtuoso pianist as well as trumpter, was also very proficient as a drummer. So proficient in fact that he gave Art Blakey drum lessons that dramatically improved Blakey's playing and transition from pianist to drummer.

The bottom line is even if you never become proficient as a pianist (or even touch one), studying some of the greats is an effective way to improve your skills as a drummer. One only need listen to many of the pianists in Jazz Piano History to appreciate the complex rhythms the greats managed while still paying attention to melody and harmony. We drummers have it easy in comparison.

On the other hand, as musicians we need to understand not only rhythm, which is a given, but also melody and harmony.

I am not implying that you must learn music theory because many solid drummers have managed to become successful without the theoretical training. I am saying that you, as a musician, should be aware of what is happening musically when you are supporting the music and your fellow musicians. Hence the following, simplified introduction to some of the things of which you should be aware.

Melody, in the most simplistic terms, is rhythm plus pitch. We drummers can actually contribute to the melody since we play rhythms and our instrument has various pitches. Pitches within a certain range are notes. Consider Drum Workshop drums, which have the musical pitch written on the inside of each shell; i.e., C#.

Those pitches are limited and somewhat fixed for each instrument, depending on your touch. Despite some inherent limitations, they will allow us to integrate with the other musicians and take some responsibility for the melody. This is partially addressed in this post. Studying drummers is not as effective as studying pianists if you want to bring your musicianship to the next level.

Harmony, in simplistic terms, is the relationship between and among simultaneous notes. Watch a guitarist or pianist hold down strings (or keys) in a pattern to form chords. There are musical rules that govern how chords are interrelated. Those rules also govern how they progress to the next chord, and how that chord fits into a musical structure. For our purposes, think of chords as either consonant or dissonant. A consonant chord fits into the structure (for lack of a better way of describing it) while a dissonant chord does not seem to fit.

Placed in the context of drumming, a pattern on a tom tuned to a certain pitch that complements a chordal structure played by a pianist or guitarist would be consonant. An unexpected cymbal crash placed at the same point would be dissonant. It may or may not be inappropriate, depending on why it was used. It it was used to mark a transition to another phrase it would support the music.

Do you need to know all of this to be a good drummer? Not necessarily, but you need to be aware of it if you want to be a part of the music instead of just playing time - something a backing track or rhythm box can do. Back to my original contention: studying piano or critically listening to pianists will significantly improve your skills as a drummer, and more importantly, will aid in your becoming a musician who plays drums (there is a distinction.)

As I said, the piano is a fundamental musical instrument, and is part of the foundation of ragtime, which was a key ingredient of jazz and the music it spawned, including rock. In fact, the first four tracks on the first disc in Jazz Piano History are Scott Joplin piano rolls from 1899. The media is grouped into five sets of four discs, each focused on milestones in the evolution and maturation of jazz, the role piano played, and the masters of each era or milestone.

Here is what the set contains:

Disc 1 is devoted to ragtime, with examples ranging from the Scott Joplin piano rolls to Jelly Roll Morton, Eubie Blake, James P. Johnson, with other pianists both obscure and a few cited as unknown. There are some good examples of syncopation in this group, and the early work of Eubie Blake and James P. Johnson is sophisticated in rhythm, melody and harmony. In other words, well worth studying despite the fact that it is nearly a century old. Here is an example from this disc:

Disc 2 is Harlem Stride, with the inventors well represented: James P. Johnson, Willie "The Lion" Smith, and Fats Waller, as well as those who were heavily influenced by them like Duke Ellington, and even Fletcher Henderson and Clarence Williams pieces. Notice how much more sophisticated, rhythmically and harmonically this is compared to ragtime. An example:

Here is one more example with an explanation of what James P. Johnson is doing:

Disc 3 through 5 focus on blues and boogie woogie with some of the giants: Cow Cow Davenport, Meade Lux Lewis, Jimmy Yancey, Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons and others. Here are two excellent examples:

Discs 6 and 7 are interesting because they are divided both by race and city. 6 is Chicago Black and 7 is Chicago & New York White. Earl Hines and Jelly Roll Morton dominate disc 6, with additional tracks by Jimmy Blythe, Clarence Jones and Alex Hill. Disc 7 is more diverse with a lot of tracks by Joe Sullivan and Jess Stacey, but also Bud freeman, Art Hodes and others. One treat is by Bix Beiderbecke, mainly known for his cornet contributions to jazz, but a great pianist in his own right. His "In a Mist" is included and is well worth studying and is provided in this clip:

And an example of Earl Hines around the same time he recorded Hot Fives and Hot Sevens with Louis Armstrong:

In fact, let's drill down into a song from the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens. This song represents a major turning point in jazz, and the video explains what is happening, including what Hines is doing:

Discs 8 through 10 are devoted to swing, and is dominated by Teddy Wilson (an extremely important figure in Swing and other jazz sub genres), Earl Hines, Art Tatum and a plethora of other well- and lesser-known names. Here are some excellent examples:

Disc 11, Kansas City, has the usual suspects: Basie, Jay McShann, Mary Lou Williams (who was Monk's and Bud Powell's mentors among others), and Pete Johnson.

Disc 12 was something of a letdown. It is focused on bebop and rightfully includes a good number of Bud Powell tracks, but only a few for Monk. Al Haig, John Lewis and Dodo Marmarosa are represented along with a few others. However, I cannot resist the temptation of using some of Bud Powell's and Monk's later work as an examples. In the near future I will be doing a post exclusively about each that will dip back into earlier earlier work. Please pay close attention to what the drummers are doing in each of these clips. It's very obvious that they are aware of melody and harmony (and dynamics):

Disc 13 is titled Modern Jazz, with Lennie Tristano and John Lewis getting most of the tracks. For an example of Tristano see Bird & Lennie: a study in great music and great drummers, which includes video clips. Here is a clip of John Lewis with one of my favorite groups, The Modern Jazz Quartet. Connie Kay, the drummer, is one of my influences:

Disc 14 is Cool with Dave Brumeck, Hampton Hawes and Russ Freeman providing most of the examples.

Disc 15, West Coast, is misnamed. For example it has more than a few Monk tracks, which are strictly New York pieces, and I never associated Horace Silver or Richie Powell - two predominately East Coast musicians - with West Coast jazz either. Still, the tracks are wonderful so I shouldn't be quibbling about how they are labeled. A little Horace Silver is in order for an example. Also the late Richie Powell who perished in the car crash with Clifford Brown. Richie was Bud's brother.

The remaining four discs contain some of the giants of jazz piano and are my favorite discs from the set. Among those amply represented are Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson, George Shearing, Hank Jones, Kenny Drew, Bobby Timmons, Cedar Walton, Gene Harris, Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal, McCoy Tyner and Chick Corea. Among this august group are other, less mainstream - but excellent - examples too.

If this set is too comprehensive for your needs or tastes, you may want to check out Jazz Piano Masters instead.

It is more focused on a later period and strictly jazz, cutting out any examples of ragtime and stride. See my review to determine if that set is right for you.

This post covered a lot of ground on one hand, and has barely scratched the surface on the other. Know that you do not have to learn music theory, including digging into melody and harmony to learn from listening to pianists. If you have a rudimentary grasp of the concepts, then awareness of what the musicians you are supporting are doing will follow. If you achieve awareness then you will be a better drummer.

Roy Eldridge: Little Jazz Trumpet Giant

My last post about Anita O'Day inspired me to play through my Little Jazz Trumpet Giant box set.

For one thing, Roy was an ubiquitous present on some of the iconic jazz recordings and performances, including Billie Holiday's early recordings led my Teddy Wilson, Anita O'Day's best known performances with Gene Krupa, and the birth of bebop at Minton's Playhouse. Although I am not going to drift into more about Anita, he performed with her at her 50th Anniversary in show business performance, Big Band At Carnegie Hall, reprising Let Me Off Uptown. That duet between Anita and Roy echoed the culturally groundbreaking performance they did with Krupa's band over forty years prior. Roy could no longer play his trumpet (for medical reasons), but his singing was strong, and he and Anita pulled it off perfectly.

Why is this set significant? Strictly speaking as a drummer, the musician styles covered and the various drummers included on the tracks will provide a lot of musical ideas. This is especially true if you are caught in a rut playing the same cliche licks (and we all succumb to that). It's also interesting to note that Roy started out on drums and played that instrument professionally until his brother convinced him to give trumpet a try.

As a musician, though, this is a wonderful collection of music and how it evolved during the period represented. And if you play trumpet, then knowing that Roy was influenced by saxophonists and not other trumpeters should expand your musical horizons.

Although he was active from the mid 1920s to the 1980s, this set captures some of his best years, spanning 1935 through 1953.

Up front the key questions you may have are: (1) how is the sound quality? (2) is this a typical hodge-podge of tracks thrown together to take advantage of expiring copyrights per European laws?

The answer to the first question is the sound quality is excellent. Even the early tracks circa 1935 are clear and probably better than the originals due to remastering. There are no popping noises associated with raw transfers from old shellac albums to CD. I am sure die hard purists and audiophiles will find some cause to complain, but I am more than pleased.

On the second question: this is a well thought out set, with each CD having a theme. Disc 1 is Swing is Here, Disc 2 is The Gasser, Disc 3 is King David in Paris and Stockholm Too and the final disc is Dale's Wail. What truly sets this collection apart, aside from the attention to logical grouping, is the 47-page booklet that is included. It is well written with a lot of Roy's history and the context of the tracks on each disc. But the real value is the comprehensive discography that lists each track on each disc, provides personnel and dates, and even label catalog information for each and every track. That is not the stuff of hastily thrown together compilations by fly-by-night labels.

The period covers his most important work (in my opinion), as well as his evolution as a musician that paralleled jazz itself. He was one of the few oldtimers (he was born in 1911) to make a successful transition from swing to bebop. He was a regular at the birthplace of bebop - Minton's Playhouse - and contributed musical ideas to that genre. More importantly, he was the idol and inspiration of Dizzy who was one of the architects of the new style. However, Roy continued to remain relevant as a jazz musician into the early 1970s. So this set of CDs show from where he came and to where he was ultimately headed.

Here are some selected clips that represent the music contained on the included discs:

And one not on the album that you may enjoy:

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Anita O'Day in depth Part 4

In my last post, Anita O'Day in depth Part 3, I covered eight albums from her Verve Years. This post will touch upon her earlier years as a big band singer. For background see Part 1, which is an extensive review of her biography, and Anita O'Day: Jezebel of Jazz & Drummer's Vocalist.

While there are a number of albums that showcase Anita's big band years, the most economical I have found is a four disc set titled Young Anita.

For fans who mainly know Anita's work from her Verve and later years this is a wonderful glimpse into her early work. While she evolved into a hip, scatting vocalist who could keep up with the later bebop musicians, these tracks show why she was also an unquestionable talent during her early years.

Many of these tracks are also on Let Me Off Uptown: The Best of Anita O'Day with Gene Krupa and another compilation titled First Lady of Swing. The latter documents her time with Stan Kenton's band. This compilation - Young Anita - contains the pearls from both in my opinion. It does so in 89 tracks that are representative of not only Anita's early body of work, but of the era.

I personally love the selection of songs in this compilation. Every track is relatively well mastered (in other words, an audiophile may object, but considering the sources for mastering the sound quality is reasonable and listenable.) I cannot think of a single track that would showcase Anita's talents that was left out of this set. That speaks highly of whoever produced this compilation.

Of course this iconic track is included. I am posting the video version instead of the album one because they are nearly identical and it's always a treat to see a young Anita in action. This was considered controversial when it was released because of the rampant racism and segregation laws back then, but also there was some tension between Anita and Roy Eldridge who frequently complained that Anita was upstaging him.

Here is track 6 from disc 2:

A 1944 performance from her stint with Stan Kenton:

Another from her stint with Kenton (1944). She sounds a lot like Ella Mae Morse on this track.

I mentioned the similarity to Ella Mae Morse regarding the above track. Morse's career took a different turn with a progression from jump blues to early rock to rockabilly. Anita could have taken that path. Indeed, during the post swing era she and her contemporaries (and record labels) were desperately searching for the next big thing. Although the albums in this set are not from the big band era (and some are also included in the set discussed in Anita O'Day in depth Part 2), the bridge between her big band years and Verve years is contained in a two albums in the set.

The first album is The Lady is a Tramp

This album has had a twisting and turning genesis. The first eight tracks were recorded in 1952 and released under the title Anita O'Day Collates by Norgran Records in 1953. I actually wrote a comprehensive review of that album, which includes personnel and dates, and another perspective than what I am providing here for those who are interested in such things.

Norgran was Norman Granz' original label. Norgran then reissued the album in 1955 under the title Anita O'Day Sings Jazz. It was finally released in 1957 under the present title by Verve (which Granz established in 1956 and absorbed the Norgran catalog.) In addition to the original eight tracks, the final release contained four more.

The song selection is all over the place. By 1957 this selection was a bit odd, but when the original eight tracks were recorded in 1952 music was undergoing an upheaval. Jazz was being nudged out by popular music, some of which would become rock and roll, while other threads of that era would become rockabilly and other genres. The lack of homogeneity was because of the racial divisions in mainstream America at the time. It may sound ludicrous today, but the airwaves were culturally segregated. The point being that the inclusion of a track such as Rock 'N' Roll Blues was probably an attempt to grab onto what may have been seen as a trend, and to reach a wider audience by a new label (Norgran.) Ella Mae Morse whose big band roots were similar to Anita's was making inroads into the new trends, so that may have also been a factor. Other songs from the original eight recordings were standards and make sense.

The four additional tracks contained popular music such as Vaya Con Dios, and was probably included to increase the marketing range of yet another brand new label, Verve.

Regardless of the strange (but explainable) mix of songs and the twists and turns that started in 1952 and culminated in this album in 1957, O'Day is a constant factor. She makes each song her own. Listen to the song samples. If you are a fan, her imprint is unmistakable. And the mixed bag of songs, as incongruous as they are on one album, clearly shows her versatility. Moreover, this album - the first eight tracks anyway - capture her reinventing herself from big band vocalist to small ensemble diva. It also foreshadows her many reinventions that would take place over the next half century.

For those who are interested in who played what, here is the personnel list:
Tracks 1-4: Roy Eldridge on trumpet, Albert Johnson on tenor sax, Cecil Payne on baritone sax, Bill Harris on trombone, Ralph Burns on piano, Al McKibbon on Bass and Don Lamond on drums.
Tracks 6, 11 and 12: Roy Kral on piano, Earl Backus on guitar, John Frigo on bass, Bob Lionberg on drums and Jim Wilson on percussion.
Tracks 7 through 10: studio orchestra (arrangements by Larry Russell who also conducted).

To satiate any curiosity, here is Rock 'N Roll Blues from the album:

The other transitional album in the set is An Evening With Anita O'Day in which Anita engineers the first of her many reinventions and distances herself from the incoherent The Lady is a Tramp.

This album is not only coherent, but sets the tone for Anita's evolution from big band singer to small ensemble vocalist. Here she becomes the proven talent who not only shows she can adapt, but who would reinvent herself more than a few times in the ensuring half century. In my opinion, her first reinvention was during the sessions that resulted in this album.

Why this album is coherent is the song selection. There is an obligatory Cole Porter tune, plus standards like I Cover the Waterfront, The Man I Love and one song that Anita would make her own with numerous performances the rest of her life: Let's Fall In Love. Moreover, there is the traditional Frankie and Johnny, along with her own Anita's Blues. This stuff is beautifully suited to her vocal style and phrasing, unlike the proto rock of the 1952 album that featured honking sax on nearly every track. The contrast alone makes this album worth it.

Then there are the backing ensenbles. Although Anita would continue performing in the studio and even live with full orchestra backing, she seemed to be at her best with smaller groups, and this album marks her complete break from the big band era where she made her name with Gene Krupa, Woody Herman and Stan Kenton.

Personally, I love her the most backed by a piano trio, like in the second session on June 28, 1954 (see below). However, all three ensembles backing her on this album are perfect for the era and her style. Listen to the sound samples on this page to see what I mean.

I am including the list of personnel and dates of the sessions for those who are interested.

Session 1 April 15, 1954 (Anita had released from jail almost two months prior to this). Personnel: Arnold Ross on piano, Barney Kessel on guitar, Monty Budwig on bass and Jackie Mills on drums. The tracks cut during this session are:
The Gypsy In My Soul
Just One Of Those Things
The Man I Love
Frankie And Johnny

Session 2 June 28, 1954 - This is a perfect backing for Anita - a piano trio comprised of Bud Lavine on piano, Monty Budwig on bass and John Poole on drums. Note: this is the first appearance of John Poole with Anita. He would remain with her for over four decades. I do not know if this was a chance pairing and they reconnected later because she mentioned in Anita O'Day - The Life Of A Jazz Singer that she first met him at a girlie show in Long Beach (right outside of LA.) The tracks are:
Anita's Blues
I Cover The Waterfront
I Didn't Know What Time It Was
Let's Fall In Love

Session 3 was over a year later on August 11, 1955. Personnel:
Jimmy Rowles on piano, Tal Farlow on guitar, Leroy Vinnegar on bass and Larry Bunker on drums. Tracks cut during this session:
You're Getting To Be A Habit With Me
From This Moment On
You Don't Know What Love Is

Here is a track from the album:

I'll wrap this up for the time being. I have a lot of material to add to the Anita O'Day story and body of work, but will cover other topics before I take this up again with part 4. Until then, keep swinging and enjoy the music.

Anita O'Day in depth Part 3

This is a continuation of Anita O'Day in depth Part 1, which I posted way back on July 16, 2012 and Anita O'Day in depth Part 2 from July 18, 2012. I had reviewed over twenty of Anita's albums and did not want to deluge this blog with a flurry of posts, so I got side tracked.

I am a dyed-in-the-wool Anita O'Day fan as evidenced by my April 5. 2010 post titled Anita O'Day: Jezebel of Jazz & Drummer's Vocalist. Following her career you will note that there are phases: the big band years, the early 50s, the Verve years and the independent years. The latter cover a lot of territory, but this post is going to focus on her Verve years, and, specifically, on eight albums she recorded for that label. That is half of her output for Norman Granz.

Conveniently, those albums have been bundled into a bargain-priced set titled Anita O'Day 8 Classic Albums:

Albums contain the original track listing and sequence. I mention this because many modern reissues contain bonus tracks. This one does not. A case in point: Anita Sings The Winners in this set contains the twelve original tracks. There are at least two reissues of that album, one of which contains seven bonus tracks (bringing the total to 19), and another which contains eleven bonus tracks (bringing the total to 23).

With respect to bonus tracks or the lack thereof this set contains 101 tracks across four discs, and provides over four hours of Anita. That alone makes purchasing this a no-brainer.

Here is what you get:

This Is Anita (1955 12 tracks):

Norman Granz' then brand new label, Verve, would go on to earn accolades in the jazz recording world. This 1955 album inaugurated it.

Unlike many of Anita's reissued albums this one has the original tracklist without bonus tracks, so it's short by today's standards, but about par for an LP in 1955.

In addition to being Verve's inaugural album, this was Anita's first non-big band recording too. While she is backed by a large ensemble that was arranged and conducted by Buddy Bregman, the group swung like crazy, giving Anita instrumental backing that was a perfect match for her singing style.

A track from the album:

Pick Yourself Up (1956 12 tracks):

Why an album cover showing a 1958 photo on a 1956 album? I have no idea. What I love is the song selection, which includes swing standards like Benny Goodman's Don't Be That Way and Chick Webb's Stomping at the Savoy. In fact, every one of the original tracks on this album is a gem, as are the bonus tracks. Give the track samples a listen and I am betting that the majority - if not all - of them will bring a smile.

Another thing I love about this album is the line-up backing Anita. Buddy Bregman's band, plus Harry 'Sweets' Edison on trumpet, Paul Smith on piano, Joe Mondragon on bass, the very underrated, but much in demand during this period drummer, Alvin Stoller is a treat for me since I am a drummer. Also, Larry Bunker is on vibraphone and Barney Kessel - a charter member of the Oscar Peterson Trio - is on guitar.

From the album:

Anita Sings the Most (1957 11 tracks):

The reasons I think this 1957 gem is one of her best in this set are her backing ensemble, choice of songs and the session's white hot energy.

Backing Ensemble: Many of Anita's mid-50s albums for Verve, starting with her (and the label's) inaugural Anita released in 1955, were backed by larger ensembles. Orchestras, actually. This one featured the original Oscar Peterson line-up (Oscar on piano, Ray Brown on bass and Herb Ellis on guitar), plus Anita's favorite drummer and decades-long companion and partner-in-crime, John Poole. Milt Holland, an extraordinary multi-instrumentalist, added percussion on some tracks.

Choice of Songs: From the first medley, S'Wonderful/They Can't Take That Away From Me, Anita proves that she can sing at blazing fast tempos, then downshift into a slower tempo seamlessly and smoothly. Oscar's own penchant for fast tempos that would bedevil most drummers and bassists for decades, was unable to shake her. Even on Them There Eyes - performed at a tempo that would have left any other vocalist in the dust - Anita is right there with Oscar every note. Her tempo range is incredible, as evidenced by her beautiful rendition of Bewitched (one of my all time favorite songs and one by which I judge a vocalist's ability to sing a ballad.)

Highlights of this amazing session include John Poole's great drumming. Poole is one of my personal inspirations and one of the top brush players of his era. It's ironic that Peterson would shortly replace Ellis with a drummer - Ed Thigpen - who was another top brush player of the era. And, of course, Peterson himself. He breaks into stride-piano influenced phrases on some tracks, and on the entire album is perfectly matched to Anita's own musical abilities. Here is a clip from the album:

Anita Sings the Winners (1958 12 tracks):

When I am asked why I am so fanatical about Anita, I play this album for the inquirer and that pretty much answers their question.

My earlier piece about Anita, Jezebel of Jazz & Drummer's Vocalist explains my attraction. Her vocal stylization (her words) allowed her to sing at the fastest tempos (Four Brothers is a good example), and her phrasing on some of the songs here, like Interlude, set her apart. And the reason I call her a drummer's vocalist is because she actually took drum lessons from her first husband, Don Carter. She also has a long association with John Poole who was her drummer for decades (and is also on this album).

Every song on this 1958 album is a winner in my opinion - there is not a song nor a performance on the entire track list that I do not love, which is why I listen to it so often. In addition, tracks 13-19 are actually bonus tracks that did not appear on the original album, making this even more valuable. Here is a clip from the album:

Anita Swings Cole Porter (1959 18 tracks):

Much has been written about how great a year 1959 was for jazz. Most of the buzz is about the Big Four: Kind of Blue, Time Out, Ah Um and The Shape of Jazz to Come. I love all of those albums, and for me personally, this one is the fifth treasure from that watershed year.

First, I think that Billy May's arrangements on the first twelve tracks stand out from the remaining six that were added in from other O'Day performances of Porter's material between 1952 and 1960.) But that is a subjective call.

Second, this album seems to be destined to forever be overshadowed by Ella's Cole Porter songbook album. Side-by-side I will take this one. But please bear in mind my biases towards Anita. Instead of comparing and contrasting the two vocalists and albums I will say that my reasons for loving this one is the energy and attitude that Anita brings to her renditions.

Anita's ability to swing is infectious, and I have always loved Anita's phrasing and ability to settle comfortably into any tempo. More importantly, Porter's compositions are notoriously difficult for most vocalists, yet Anita goes through a repertoire of some of Porter's best works effortlessly. A sample from the album:

Anita SwingsRogers and Hart (1960 12 tracks):

I have some minor mixed feelings about this album. There are a few reasons for this. First, even by 1960 LP standards, this album is short. Second, the first two tracks are not 'grabbers'. They are certainly excellent renditions of Johnny One Note and Little Girl Blue, but the compositions do not allow Anita to cut loose in her characteristic, swinging style.

What won me over were the arrangements on the rest of the tracks and the choice of songs. Both aspects showcase Anita's abilities as a vocalist and musician, as well as the genius of Rogers and Hart.

Another reason I love this album is Anita's rendition of one of my favorite songs: Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered. I measure a vocalist's ability to sing a ballad by who well they handle that song. I give her an A+ on that track, and extra credit because the track is 4:22 long. Would be that the rest of the tracks were as extended. Two of my other favorite tracks on the album are I Could Write a Book and It Never Entered My Mind. Those choices reflect my personal taste and are subjective. Here is a clip:

Waiter, Make Mine Blues (1960 12 tracks):

This 1961 album was recorded during three 1960 recording sessions, two of which included a fairly large backing ensemble. The other session had a much smaller group backing Anita, yet the entire album sounds cohesive. In fact, despite the larger ensemble that is on two thirds of the album's tracks, the overall feel is intimate and light. That is a tribute to both Anita's skills as a vocalist, as well as the producer and the arrangers.

Session number one was recorded in August 1960, and resulted in tracks 1, 5, 6 and 9. The backing ensemble was comprised of Geoff Clarkson on piano, Al Hendrickson on guitar, Al McKibbon on bass and the great Mel Lewis on drums. Horns are four trombonists (Harry Betts, Frank Rosolino, Ken Shroyer and Dickie Wells), and Bud Shank on alto saxophone and flute. The horn section is particularly interesting in that the low end is well anchored with the four trombones, with the upper registers handled by either an alto or flute. No trumpets! Yet it works.

The remaining two sessions were spread across two days in October 1960 and used a much larger orchestra that included strings. Also, Bud Shank from the August session, as well as Barney Kessell on guitar are members of the larger ensemble.

Listing favorite tracks is always problematic because they reflect personal preferences and are subjective. However, I will cite a few tracks that stand out for me: That Old Feeling starts out with Anita backed by Al McKibbon on bass in the front of the mix and it sounds both intimate and sensual. When Bud Shank comes in on flute, the song never fails to transport me to another place and time. Yesterdays is big sounding with a full low end from the four trombones. Mel Lewis lays down an interesting pattern with his snare drum (with snares off) and toms, then breaks into a lighter, swinging phrases that soar when Bud Shank's alto comes in. I also enjoyed Whatever Happened To You that sounds lush with the strings, and also has a nice airy feel from flute. From the album:

Travlin' Light (1961 12 tracks):

The reason this 1961 album is among my favorites by Anita (or any other vocalist for that matter) is it's her tribute to Lady Day - Billie Holiday - arguably the greatest jazz singer ever.

One of the things I love most is the way Anita does not try to mimic Billie. She did every song on this album credit and I am positive Billie would have approved, but she brought her own voice and feel to each track. Don't misunderstand - the tribute to Billie is unmistakable. Other vocalists would have possibly attempted to portray Billie and it would have been a parody in my opinion.

Favorite tracks? That is subjective, of course, but ironically, my favorites here are the same as my favorite Lady Day songs, and especially What a Little Moonlight Can Do, Miss Brown to You, and God Bless The Child.

For my fellow die hard fans and musicians, here is the list of personnel: on Trav'lin Light, Don't Explain, If the Moon Turns Green, I Hear Music, Lover Come Back to Me and Crazy He Calls Me all feature Al Porcino, Ray Triscari, John Anderson, jr. and Jack Sheldon on trumpet, with Stu Williamson, Frank Rosolino, Dick Nash and L. MacCreary on trombone. Saxophonists are Joe Maini and Chuck Gentry. The rhythm section is comprised of Russ Freeman on piano, Buddy Clark on bass, Mel Lewis on drums (with Larry Bunker on additional percussion) and Al Viola on guitar.

The rest of the tracks feature Barney Kessel on guitar, Don Fagerqust on trumpet, Ben Webster on tenor saxophone, Jimmy Rowles on piano, Mel Lewis on drums and Buddy Clark on bass. From the album:

This is by no means my last post about Anita. I will, however, not space future posts so far apart, but will not flood this blog with a cluster of them either.

I will end this one with two things:

  1. A promise to cover some of her big band years next
  2. Two parting videos

This post honor's one of Anita's staunchest fans and expert: Patrick O. Moore.