Saturday, October 6, 2012

Review: The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire

In my 05 October 2012 post titled B3s and other keys, Kenny Clarke and books too I mentioned Ted Gioia's excellent book titled The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire. This book has become quickly indispensable and, to be honest, entertaining.

Up front, the scope of this book is purposely narrow. Mr. Gioia states that he picked songs that fans are likely to hear in performances (and musicians are likely requested to play). In that respect, if you compare the list of songs to, say, the contents of The Real Book: Sixth Edition, there are major differences. On the other hand, the format Gioia uses would turn an already thick, 554-page book into a multi-volume set rivaling encyclopedias had he attempted to be more inclusive.

What I love is the succinct format: discussion of the songs and list of recommended versions. The discussion almost always provides some technical detail, the history of the song, and - in some cases - interesting trivia. The recommended versions cite who, where and when. For example, for Turner's and Layton's 1918 masterpiece, After You've Gone, that is endearingly popular the first recommended version is listed as Marion Harris, Camden, New Jersey, July 22, 1918 (in this example the list contains ten recommendations, the latest of which is a 1995 recording.)

I'll explain why this book is indispensable to me. I am an amateur jazz historian who writes this blog as a hobby. A quick look at most of my posts shows that I focus on music and musicians in a much wider scope than just drummers. I also post a lot of music reviews on Amazon (among other products).

In the past researching was time consuming and discovering facts about not only songs, but recordings and discographies, could take hours. The Recommended Versions part of the format in this book has proven to be an incredible time saver. And the descriptions and anecdotal information this book provides give me insights that I can weave into my own writing.

For jazz aficionados this book is practically a concordance with some fascinating information tacked on. The index of this book is particularly helpful because it allows you to cross-reference songs, composers and musicians, and recordings.

If you write about jazz as a hobby or professionally this book is essential and I do not use that word lightly. The same goes for the few remaining jazz DJs. Historians and educators will also find this book invaluable. If you are a dyed-in-the-wool aficionado you'll probably get hours of pleasure from randomly picking songs or focusing on some of your favorites, or what is currently playing in the background.

The bottom line is if you are serious about jazz, this book should be on your bookshelf.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Why Bix mattered

Why would Bix Beiderbecke, a cornetist whose recordings spanned 1924 through 1930, matter to anyone but a traditional jazz aficionado today? Certainly as a drummer you will probably not learn much about drumming from his albums. In fact, you would benefit more from listening to Louis Armstrong's groundbreaking Hot Fives & Sevens from the same era since those albums featured Baby Dodds, arguably the most influential drummer in history, and Zutty Singleton who also inspired generations of drummers. The real reason is how Bix influenced music in a manner that is still felt if you listen closely enough.

Critical listening is essential for any musician. You may want to read Understanding music through critical listening before proceeding. Also, while I have included examples of Bix's music in this post, there are some excellent and inexpensive albums that will allow you to dig much deeper if this article piques your interest:

The Complete Bix Beiderbecke & Frankie Trumbauer Collection is narrowly focused on Bix's collaborations with Frankie Trumbauer, but to me this is one of the most important periods in his shorts life and career. I've posted a review of this album on this page.

Although not truly complete, The Complete Bix Beiderbecke: The Complete Collection is still impressively encompassing and contains most of the highlights of Bix's career. See my review for details, pros and cons.

The Bix Beiderbecke Story is a box set that is worth owning if you are a Bix fan. The track list and session details for every track is on this page.

There is always an unbroken chain that goes back to the beginning. For example, any jazz, R&B or blues saxophonist can trace to Coleman Hawkins as the root of their influence. And while jazz trumpeters and cornetists can trace their root to Buddy Bolden, through Louis Armstrong and beyond, Bix had a parallel influence too.

Another reason Bix mattered is his musical associations. He was greatly admired by (and jammed with) Louis Armstrong, and played with Frankie Trumbauer and Eddie Lang - two significant influences on saxophone and guitar.

In fact, it's difficult to separate Bix from Frankie in some ways. For one thing, aside from playing together in various orchestras, their best work were collaborations on the following songs: Trumbology, Clarinet Marmalade, I'm Coming Virginia and Way Down Yonder in New Orleans. One collaboration was in composing in which Bix cowrote For No Reason at All in C.

Frankie, a.k.a. Tram, was Lester Young's major influence. So much so that Lester carried a copy of Singin' the Blues in his tenor case everywhere he went. But that song's importance goes far beyond Tram's saxophone genius, it also represents one of Bix's best cornet solos.

The web becomes more tangled when the Hoagy Carmichael connection is acknowledged. Hoagy had a close friendship and professional association with Bix. Indeed, he was arranger and pianist on some of Bix's last recordings on May 21, 1930 (these are included in a 10 disc box set, Bix Beiderbecke Story. It goes even further. Hoagy's masterpiece, Stardust, shares similarities with Singin' the Blues. This is convincingly argued by Richard M. Sudhalter in his highly regarded book, Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael. He also finds similarities to Stardust in Jazz Me Blues, but the analysis is more technical. Give a listen once more to Singin' the Blues above, then compare it to Hoagy himself playing Stardust

Here is the other part - Jazz Me Blues - if you want to listen to both of Sudhalter's proposed influences to compare to Stardust:

Additional evidence of the mutual high regard between Bix and Hoagy is this composition that Hoagy wrote especially for Bix and Tram. Also note that I am not diminishing Tram's relationship with Hoagy, which was also strong.

As this is unfolding I hope you can see the reach of influence exerted by Bix (and Tram). While Lester Young was influenced by Tram, Chet Baker is probably the most influenced by Bix's cornet.

But Bix's reach extended beyond horn players. He ws also a virtuoso pianist as evidenced by this recording:

Bill Evans was greatly influenced by Bix's piano playing (Bix's own influences were Debussy and Ravel.)

If you want to explore the roots of today's music, then Bix mattered. You can certainly hear his (and Tram's and associated guitarist Eddie Lang's) influence on musicians to this day. It's up to the curious among us to connect the dots ... and to acknowledge musicians like Bix who truly added to the body of American music.

I am ending with a final clip, but I am not going to embed it here because the story on the video page is worth reading. This will probably interest Bix fans and bore general listeners: The unheard and unseen Bix Beiderbecke.

B3s and other keys, Kenny Clarke and books too

An entire crop of new box sets worth studying, plus a great reference book have occupied my attention recently. First up are two box sets of the great Hammond B3 artist, Jimmy Smith.

The ten CDs that make up Kind of Smith is an eclectic collection of his work spanning most of his career:

Another 10 disc set that you may want to consider as an alternative is 18 Classic Albums, which shares a lot of tracks with the first one.

If you have never heard of Jimmy Smith (rare, but possible), or are not very familiar with his body or work and how it would relate to drummers, here are a few clips that showcase his style and, more importantly, the grooves that go along with it.

The next two box sets go hand-in-hand because not only were Bud Powell and Kenny Clarke key to the formation of bebop (indeed, Clarke - Klook - invented the drumming style), but both here closely associated with each other as expats in Europe.

A few notes: Bud Powell is one of three pianists whom I call my holy trinity - the other two are Teddy Wilson and Thelonious Monk. The importance of piano to drummers is close to the same level as bass in many types of music. See Piano: the other percussion instrument for why.

The importance of Klook to jazz drumming - not just bebop - cannot be over emphasized. His contributions, especially how he moved time to the ride cymbal and used the call and response patterns between the snare drum and bass drum to interact with the other musicians changed jazz drumming in a major way.

Here are the two box sets, combined, that I recommend: Kind of Clarke

And the companion set, Kind of Powell

Here is a clip of Klook and Bud in action:

Another important pianist is Horace Silver who was one of the founding members of the Jazz Messengers, and was also the pianist on the classic (and essential) pre-Jazz Messenger albums recorded live at Birdland with Clifford Brown, Art Blakey, Curly Russel and Lou Donaldson: A Night at Birdland, Vol. 1, and the second set A Night at Birdland, Vol. 2.

The above background should inspire any drummer to acquire and study Kind of Silver, which contains ten CDs of some of the best hard bop piano in jazz:

Here are a few clips to show Horace's style:

The next box set is a perfect segue from Horace Silver because of the importance of A Night in Birdland albums mentioned above: Kind of Brown. However, for drummers one of the main reasons to study Clifford's work is the long term collaboration with Max Roach. This is relatively speaking since Clifford's life was tragically cut short at 25 (along with Bud Powell's brother, Richie, who was in the same auto accident.)

Here are some representative clips that will give you a glimpse into what is in this set:

My last item is probably the ideal research tool for the topics about which I write: The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire. My copy is enroute, but the reviews on the product page sold me. I am a jazz junkie and also an amateur historian who has a love of the Great American Songbook and am always on the Jazz Standards web site anyway. That makes this one of the most sensible purchases I've made in recent memory.

I hope this post was helpful.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A great year for history

Good news for drummers who are also historians: Daniel Glass has completed The Century Project and it's available for sale (click the link.) Here is a short summary of what the project is based on an early pitch for the video:

Also released and currently being previewed in major cities is Jeff Kauffman's wonderful bio of Chick Webb. I posted this piece about the movie two years ago. I finally had the privilege and pleasure of watching it last week and it is everything Jeff promised - and more! More information is at the film's web site. Here is the trailer:

If history is an interest I recommend some of my previous posts, including Digging into our history, as well as Oral Histories: Louis Bellson, Chico Hamilton & Roy Haynes and a collection of video recommendations in this post. Of course, searching for some of the greats and pioneers by name here will yield some solid results too.

A nostalgia trip to 1957

This is the 8 December 1957 CBS special broadcast, Sound of Jazz. See the link for details. Also, there is additional footage that includes the Sound of Miles Davis, plus performances by Ahmad Jamal and Ben Webster.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Recommended Papa Jo Jones albums Part 2

Following up from Recommended Papa Jo Jones albums Part 1, this post will list the remaining albums on which Papa Jo was either leader or co-leader.

The first album to recommend is Jo Jones The Main Man.

this is not only an excellent album for drummers to study, but historical in its own right. The historical aspect is this album reunites four key alumni of the 1937 Basie line-up, considered by many to be the greatest incarnation of that band: Papa Jo Jones on drums, Freddie Green on guitar, Vic Dickenson on trombone, and Harry Sweets Edison on trumpet.

Other members of this session, which took place on 29 and 30 November 1976 in RCA's New York Studios are Roy Eldridge also on trumpet, Eddie Lockjaw Davis on tenor sax, Tommy Flanagan on piano and Sam Jones on bass. The line-up is truly all-star.

As for the value to drummers, and to be inclusive, the other musicians: the pulse set up by the rhythm section is driving. For me, though, it's the use of dynamics by each member of the entire ensemble that is instructive and a pleasure to hear.

Unfortunately, I do not have any clips available to share, but at such time that I make then I will update this section of this post.

Track one sets the pace with Tommy Flanagan's beautiful piano support and Papa Jo's brushwork on the first track are exquisite. The muted trumpets and how Sam Jones locks in on bass all combine to give Papa Jo a platform to exhibit his tasteful playing.

If you are a drummer and play with brushes the next track, I Want to Be Happy, merits careful and repeated listening. The next track, Ad Lib, also contains solid brushwork, but is more subtle.

One of my favorite tracks is Dark Eyes because the way Papa Jo handles it is vastly different from Gene Krupa's approach(and this was one of Krupa's signature songs.) While the song lacks that Eastern European flavor of Krupa's renditions, the trumpets lift it up and Papa Jo's drumming is one of the reasons I love this particular track. Indeed, the entire ensemble is on fire here.

Papa Jo cuts loose on the final two tracks, Metrical Portions and Ol' Man River, taking the band on a ride with him. As hard driving as he is on these tracks he also manages to remain tasteful. Louis Bellson once claimed that Papa Jo's style was akin to a fan dancer, and these tracks amply underscore that. As driving as he is, he remains airy and artful.

I consider Smiles (1969-1975) (The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions) to be important for a few reasons, foremost of which is it is a record of Papa Jo's later years.

Papa Jo performed regularly in Europe and especially in France during the late 1960s through a large part of the 1970s. This album captures some of those performances as recorded by Disques Black & Blue (hence, The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions.) Instead of providing specific clips from the album, which are difficult to track down, I am going to provide what I consider to be the cream of the crop from Papa Jo's Paris performances during this era with the same musicians that are in the album. I'll kick off with this one:

The first ten tracks were released as Jo Jones - Caravan in 1974 by Disques Black & Blue, and dominate the album. Those tracks were recorded on 28 February 1974 at Barclay Studios in Paris, except Slide Jimmy Slide, which was recorded on 26 February in the studio, and Caravan was recorded live in Paris on January 13th 1974.

Personnel on the first ten tracks are: Papa Jo Jones on drums, Major Holley on bass (except for Caravan), Gerry Wiggins on piano on all tracks except for Slide Jimmy Slide, which has Milt Buckner on piano, and Caravan, which has Milt Buckner on organ. Illinois Jacquet is on tenor saxophone on Caravan.

The remaining four tracks, taken from other Paris performances between 1969 and 1975, have basically Papa Jo Jones on drums and Milt Buckner on organ.

To my ears the music is excellent and Papa Jo's drumming in superb form making this album is one to study (along with Papa Jo's other work).

My 30 August 2012 post titled The Importance of Bass briefly mentioned this great album featuring Papa Jo and Milt Hinton: Percussion And Bass.

This was one the the three albums Papa Jo recorded for Everest (this one in New York City in 1960). And there is a mystery associated with it. Nowhere in Nat Hentoff's original liner notes is there any credit for the vibes played on Love Nest and Tin Top Alley Blues. The album does claim percussion instead of drums, so I am guessing that Papa Jo played them. The larger mystery is on Little Honey, which features vibes and brushes. Here is a clip:

What I love about this album and why I believe it's a wonderful tool for studying is how the tracks represent a wide range of tempos. Moreover, the super fast tempo on H.O.T. and how it was maintained primarily with the hi-hat was instructive. And the amazing brushwork on Walls Fall was another highlight.

Last, but certainly not least is Jazz Magic '56. Teddy and Papa Jo (and Billie Holiday, Basie and Lester Young) formed an eternal braid of sorts and always wound up recording together during their respective careers. I could cite a long list of albums, but the scope of this post is confined to albums on which Papa Jo was leader or co-leader.

This is actually the Teddy Wilson/Papa Jo Jones compilation titled Complete Recordings without the final eight bonus tracks featuring Benny Carter on alto saxophone.

Note that not all of these tracks are strictly from 1956 - some are from 1955 (although they may have been first released in 1956.)

Here are the albums from this this one is derived: For Quiet Lovers recorded in January 1955 with Teddy on piano, Papa Jo on drums and Milt Hinton on bass. Here is the first track from that album (interesting song title considering the album title!) Note Papa Jo's brushwork:

I Got Rhythm circa March 1956 with Gene Ramey on bass. Here is a clip of Teddy playing the great Chick Webb's theme song (composed by Edgar Sampson.)Listen to Papa Jo's drumming. Subtle and forceful at the same time:

A pair of 1956 albums featuring Al Lucas on bass: The Impeccable Mr. Wilson and the out-of-print Teddy Wilson Trio - these tunes remind me of you. Here are two clips:

While there are other compilations of Teddy, this particular album has Teddy paired with Papa Jo Jones. They both have a mutual history that goes back to Billie Holiday's first recordings in the mid-1930s on which Teddy was the band leader.

As a music lover, and especially one who places Teddy on a pedestal, getting lost in the silvery tone of his piano on these tracks is a rare treat in life. The taste with which both complement each others playing is - in my opinion - incomparable.

My next topic will be Charles Mingus. I will warn in advance: I'm fanatical. On the plus side, there will be many small posts over a period of time instead of a tsunami of information and clips. Until then ...

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Recommended Papa Jo Jones albums Part 1

One of these days I am going to create a special page just to list all of my Papa Jo Jones-related posts. In the meantime I am going to use this topic - in two parts - to list some of the albums I recommend for those interested in digging deep into Papa Jo's style.

I'll get some ancillary recommendations out of the way first. See my 9 August 2012 post titled My Personal Rushmore for a listing of box value-priced box sets in which Papa Jo Jones occupies a substantial number of tracks. The box sets are compilations of these artists: Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, Lester Young and Count Basie. Indeed, those artists form a mesh where Papa Jo is the is the common thread.

Two other posts that should interest any Papa Jo fan are my 20 July 2012 post, Rifftide: The Life and Opinions of Papa Jo Jones - A Review and a related piece posted on 28 July 2012 titled Papa Jo Jones revisited. Both of those posts contain links to even more content, so if you have the time to peruse this material you will come away with a lot of background information that includes audio and video clips.

The first album in my list of recommendations is The Everest Years

This is actually two albums combined into a value-priced compilation:

Album #1 is Jo Jones Trio. This circa 1959 album features a tight trio comprised of Papa Jo Jones, backed by brothers Ray Bryant on piano and Tommy Bryant on bass.

The first 12 tracks that are from this album are particularly excellent for studying Papa Jo's brush technique. One reason is there are no horns or large ensembles to mask every legato note he plays. What I especially love about this for study purposes is how he treats 'I Got Rhythm' in tracks 8 (Part I) and 9 (Part 2). The first is a relatively slow tempo, with the second at a much faster tempo. The contrast in brush techniques for each tempo is an invaluable lesson in itself.

Here are two of the tracks from the album to give you an idea of the music:

Vamp Till Ready is the second album from the Everest years that comprises this album. This was recorded circa 1960 (some sources cite 1959 with a 1960 release), and it consists of the final 12 tracks featuring Harry Sweets Edison on trumpet, Jimmy Forrest on tenor saxophone, Bennie Green on trombone, Tommy Flanagan on piano and Tommy Potter on bass. These tracks are also excellent study material because they capture Papa Jo's deft touch and beautiful dynamics in a larger ensemble setting.

Of course, you do not have to be a drummer to appreciate this album because the music stands on its own merits. And a piece of trivia: Jimmy Forrest, tenor saxophonist on the last 12 tracks, is the composer of Night Train an iconic R&B hit made famous by James Brown.

\Next up is Our Man, Papa Jo! +4

This album showcases Papa Jo's like few others because every note and nuance of his playing can be heard.

The album itself was recorded at Sound Ideas Studios in New York City on 12 December 1977. The Japanese label, Denon, issued it as an import circa 1982 and it has been in and out of print in the US since then.

My interest in Papa Jo's recordings are mainly to study his brushwork. However, he plays with sticks on many of the tracks in this one. His deft touch and practically patented hi-hat patterns lift the ensemble the same way as in his Basie days when he and the rest of the All American Rhythm Section invented that technique. As a drummer this is a treasure. As a lover of solid jazz this is a great listen that extends to bring pleasure to musicians and casual listeners alike.

The ensemble backing Papa Jo includes Hank Jonesn on piano, Major Holley on bass and Jimmy Oliver on tenor. Holley seems to have escaped the wider fame he richly deserves as a bassist. He had played with just about every top jazz musician in his career and was highly regarded, but managed to fall into obscurity. Sound samples for this album are on this page

The aptly titled The Essential Jo Jones is just that: essential:

This is a compilation of the only two albums Papa Jo led for Vanguard. The first is Jo Jones Special (Vanguard VRS 8503) recorded August 11 and 16, 1955, and he second is the long out of print Jo Jones Plus Two (Vanguard VRS 8525) recorded April 30, 1958.

The first six tracks are from Jo Jones Special and the first of those tracks is one of the two very special ones on this album. That first track, Shoe Shine Boy reunites the All American Rhythm Section - Basie on piano, Freddie Green on guitar, Walter Page on bass and Papa Jo on drums - for their last performance together. Unfortunately I have no clip of that rendition, but have a different performance of the same song that displays Papa Jo's approach to playing it:

Other musicians on those first six tracks are Nat Pierce on piano for the remaining tracks 2-6, Emmett Berry on trumpet, Lucky Thompson on tenor saxophone and Benny Green on trombone (except on track 4, Caravan where Lawrence Brown takes over.)

The remaining part of this album is Jo Jones Plus Two with pianist Ray Bryant and his bassist brother Tommy backing Papa Jo. The brothers would move to Everest with Papa Jo in 1959 and record Jo Jones Trio. However, this album, while uniformly excellent on every track, is significant because of Little Susie (track 8). Papa Jo's playing on this song was cited by Eric Novod in Dozens: Twelve Greatest Moments in Jazz Drumming at the top of the list. I have to agree. Do note that the version of Little Susie on this album (singled out by Eric Novod) is 5:22 minutes versus the 3:38 version from Jo Jones Trio.

One last clip from this album shows just what a great brush player Papa Jo was:

Suffice to say, this is an essential [no pun intended] album to study. Every track contains superb examples of Papa Jo's drumming style, and as an added bonus the musicianship of the ensembles is in consistently top form.

In my next post, Part 2, I will pick up where I left off and cover the remaining, significant albums on which Papa Jo was the leader or co-leader.