Thursday, August 27, 2009

Presidential Centennial

One hundred years ago today, Lester Willis Young was born in Woodville, Missisippi. Happy Birthday, Prez!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

1959 - The Year Everything Changed

Recently, 1959 The Year Everything Changed arrived at our bookstore. Things like the Cuban revolution, a couple of new states, amongst many others, make up the thesis of this book. From a jazz standpoint, the author covers the changes that occurred in jazz with albums like Miles' Kind of Blue, Coltrane's Giant Steps, Brubeck's Time Out, Mingus' Ah Um and Ornette's The Shape of Jazz to Come.
And another reason I liked this book: yours truly was born 50 years ago on this date. You know you're old when your baby pictures are sepia toned. There's no truth to the rumor that this photo was taken by Matthew Brady.....

Friday, August 14, 2009

Dues and the Abstract Truth

I've had a few people in the arts (music, acting) tell me they're tired of paying dues. Unfortunately, you don't get to decide when you're done.
At least there is a sort of perverted meritocracy to the world of sports. If you make the statistics and help win games, you get the big contract. Winners sell more tickets, which makes the owners more money. Terrell Owens and now Michael Vick have shown that much can be overlooked in the pursuit of the gold. And how many lifetime bans did the late Steve Howe get in baseball?
Pianist Herbie Nichols is one of the countless talented and nearly invisible musicians out there. One of the phrases you'll see in reference to Herbie Nichols is that he played Dixieland/Traditional Jazz gigs "to pay the bills." (One of the many forms of paying dues.) I accidentally ran across one of these stints when I bought a Rex Stewart album (Dixieland Free-for-all) on eBay. Listen to Herbie's solo on Original Dixieland One-Step and compare it with a sample of his playing as a leader . This was a truly versatile and complete musician!
Sadly, it doesn't take much to collect most of his output as a leader. As a start, check out his Blue Note sessions. Besides Herbie's original compositions and playing style, you get either Max Roach or Art Blakey on drums.
He wasn't sidelined by the substance abuse problems that have plagued many musicians. For him, it was leukemia. He died in 1963 at only 44 years old.

There's no telling when (or if) you'll ever stop paying dues.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Happy Birthday, Satchmo!

Louis Armstrong was born on this date in 1901. During his lifetime, he used July 4, 1900 because he didn't know his true date of birth. Many years after his death, critic Gary Giddens a Catholic baptismal record that showed when he truly arrived into the world.

If you're looking for some great Satchmo recordings, try the new Mosaic Records box set. I got it last month and have been listening to it like crazy!

By the way, if you look at the 1910 census, it implies that someone in the household knew young Louis' true age! (Click on the image to make it larger; Louis is on the last line.) As a side note, the Mosaic set contains three takes of a Armstrong composition called Old Man Mose, the tale of someone who's checking to see if the title subject is living or dead. Maybe Louis was inspired to write the tale based on his neighbor, Mose Smith (enumerated just ahead of Satchmo's household.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A couple of jazz photo galleries from "Life"

I'm still here, sorry for the gap in postings!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Benny Goodman

When I was 10 years old, I wanted to play the tenor sax. I just loved the music of Jr. Walker and the All Stars at that time. I asked my parents if we could rent one, but I was told that the family finances wouldn't allow it. Plus I was told that it would be doubtful if I'd stick with it. But, if I wanted to try the clarinet, I could use the one my mother played when she was in grade school. Clarinet? That's a girl's instrument! No thanks!

Well, a few months later, I happened to see The Benny Goodman Story on one of those television Saturday matinees. Wow, all those horns! Sing, Sing, Sing! Maybe clarinet wouldn't be so bad after all. With that, I joined the beginner's class mid-year. (To catch up on the fingering, I wrote a number system under every note. Unfortunately, it became a crutch for me and I didn't stop until my 7th grade band director saw it and gave me grief for it.)

My grandmother had some big band records. In addition to Benny Goodman, she had Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller, to name a few. I would listen to these like crazy and I also listened to the radio to get more of this music. Besides the FM jazz station, KFI 640 used to play big band music. (The host was Chuck Cecil, who is still at it, although now on KJAZ 88.1. )

Eventually, I was able to discover so many other artists after the initial discovery of Benny Goodman. You can see where the ensuing 40 years have led me from the entries in this blog. Occasionally, I still like to remind my mother that she said I'd never stick with the horn!

I never got to see Benny in person. He didn't play in LA much, but I remember he played at the Hollywood Bowl at the 1979 Playboy Jazz Festival. As a college student, it didn't work out dough-wise.

Benny Goodman was born 100 years ago today. Thanks for everything, Benny!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Duke Ellington plays the Beatles! (reposted)

File this under things that jazz musicians had to do to survive during the rock and roll era. Those sleeves!!!

I had identified most of the personnel in the above video. A reader [Idiom59] left a comment that added the full list. His illuminating comment has been moved to the post:

"Great Sleeves. The personnel is:

Cootie Williams, Mercer Ellington, Willie Cook, Cat Anderson tpts.

Booty Wood, Chuck Connors, Julian Preister tmbs

Paul Gonsalves, Harold Asby, Norris Turney, Johnny Hodges, Russell Procope saxes

[Wild Bill Davis - organ] Victor Gaskin e-bass Joe Benjamin bass Tiny Grimes guitar Rufus Jones drums

Harry Carney was present for the pre-recordings on the 22/2/70 but his Father died on that day so he was missing for the actual telecast on the 23rd.What we see is Russell Procope miming Harry's part! I think that this was also Johnny Hodges final TV appearance as he died the following May. "

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sidney Bechet: May 14, 1897 - May 14, 1959

I was in high school when I first heard soprano saxophonist/clarinetist Sidney Bechet on the local radio station. Back then (the mid-70s), the Los Angeles Jazz Station, KBCA 105.1 used to feature a traditional jazz program on Sunday afternoons. It was called "Strictly From Dixie" and was hosted by Benson Curtis. The great thing about his show was he told you background information about the recordings and the players. (Now, it seems like you don't even get the names of the sidemen.) Although Bechet's wide vibrato takes some getting used to, his inventive and powerful improvisations don't.
(Many of the Bechet songs that I recorded off the radio years ago were recently reissued on CD by Mosaic.)
Sidney Bechet was born on May 14, 1897 in New Orleans. He died on May 14, 1959 in France, 50 years ago today.

This video of Bechet features Teddy Buckner on trumpet. For many years, Buckner led the trad jazz band that played at Disneyland's New Orleans Square. Every time we'd go, it was always fun to listen to his group. (Also, the drummer on this is Roy Eldridge, usually heard on trumpet. He was definitely no slouch on la batterie, either!)

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Cat Who Went To Heaven

A Jazz Opera! Starting next week (May 13th), you can see some jazz greats in an unusual setting.

Jazz singer and songwriter Nancy Harrow has teamed up with the Culture Project, to present a jazz puppet show based on the Newbery Award-winning book, The Cat Who Went To Heaven, by Elizabeth Coatsworth. Harrow is best known for recording jazz albums inspired by literary subjects; her album The Lost Lady was dubbed one of the best jazz albums of the year by both the Village Voice and Boston Globe. In this live production of her children’s book-inspired album, she tells the story through 26 contemporary jazz tracks and the traditional Japanese art of Bunraku puppetry. The all-star ensemble includes Nancy Harrow, notable instrumentalists Clark Terry, Kenny Barron, Frank Wess, George Mraz and the voice of Grady Tate.

Suggested donation is $10. For more information, go to or Reservations can be made at 212-479-0829. The six performances will take place at The Harlem School of the Arts Theater, 647 St. Nicholas Avenue between West 145th and 141st Streets, New York, NY 10030 as follows:

· Wednesday, May 13 at 7 p.m.
· Saturday, May 16 at 11a.m.
· Wednesday, May 20 at 7 p.m.
· Wednesday, May 27 at 7 p.m.
· Saturday, May 30 at 5 p.m.
· Wednesday, June 3 at 7 p.m.

If you're in the area, check it out!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Duke Ellingon, Jazz Genius

Continue the celebration! I was informed by the good people at Life Magazine that they've put up a photo gallery commemorating Ellington (see above).

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Happy Birthday, Duke!

On this date, 110 years ago, Edward Kennedy Ellington was born in Washington, DC.

La Plus Belle Africaine is a mid-60s composition Duke Ellington wrote in commemoration of "the First Annual Festival of Negro Arts, after writing African music for 35 years."

Playing along with recordings is good ear training and can be both fun and frustrating. In working on this particular piece, I discovered something that (to my knowledge, at least) no one has written about before. It appears that Duke was trying to use only the black keys to form the main motif of the piece and tie into the title of the work. (He didn't quite succeed - two notes, E natural and F natural were used. )

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Blogging about Twitter

Resistance is futile...

I've decided to join Twitter. If you're on Twitter, look for Blog O Jazz.

So far, after only a short search, I've found some pretty interesting jazz related items.

Also, I've added some new blogs to the left. Be sure to check them out!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Charles Mingus

Composer-bassist-pianist Charles Mingus was born in Nogales, Arizona on this date in 1922.
He was featured on a US postage stamp in 1995. Now, the place of his birth is looking to finally honor their native son:

Nogales finally gets around to honoring jazz great Mingus
by Richard Ruelas - Apr. 17, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

Charles Mingus, lauded as one of the most influential and best American jazz composers, was an Arizonan, born in the border town of Nogales, a city that until recently wasn't very aware of its most famous son.
"I have lived all my life here in Nogales, and I didn't know anything about him," said Olivia Ainza-Kramer, president of the city's Chamber of Commerce.
Ainza-Kramer is the vice-chairwoman of the Mingus Project, a group that organizes a music festival in Mingus' honor and is looking to mark the place of his birth. The second annual Mingus festival is being held this weekend.
The city already has become a pilgrimage for Mingus fans, said Ken Tittlebaugh, president of the non-profit Mingus Project. "People come from all over the world knowing he was born here and (they) say, 'There's nothing here.' There's not a street named after him. There's not a plaque. And that's what we're trying to correct."
Mingus didn't stay in his hometown very long. He was 18 months old when his family moved to the Watts section of Los Angeles, where he grew up.
But Tittlebaugh, a retired music teacher, doesn't dwell on the short duration of Mingus' stay.
"He was born here," Tittlebaugh said, laughing, "so we're claiming him."
Mingus' father, Charles Sr., was stationed at Camp Stephen Little in Nogales as part of a Buffalo Soldier unit sent to monitor the Mexican border during that country's revolution. Mingus' mother lived in the camp as well.
There was no hospital, Tittlebaugh said, so Mingus was born on the campgrounds in April 1922.
The grounds now are a park called Camp Little, but there's nothing left of the Army structures. Tittlebaugh said he wants to put a marker at the park to acknowledge Mingus' birthplace.
It's not clear how much of a connection Mingus had with Nogales after he left. Rumor has it that Mingus occasionally played in Nogales, Sonora, the twin city on the other side of "the line," Tittlebaugh said.
Mingus did title one of his albums "Tijuana Moods," but that wasn't out of a yearning for a return to the borderlands of his infancy. Instead, according to a review in Planet Jazz, it came from some debauchery-filled days that Mingus and his drummer spent in Tijuana, Baja California.
Mingus died in 1979 in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where he had visited a healer in a futile attempt to cure his Lou Gehrig's disease.
Coincidentally, Mingus' last concert was in Phoenix in 1977. A few days later, his wife wrote in her book, "Tonight at Noon," he was diagnosed with the degenerative muscular disease that made him unable to hold his upright bass and eventually took his life.
Nogales had a Mingus festival in 1993, Tittlebaugh said.
"From then on, there were sporadic little things done," he said, but nothing permanent.
Tittlebaugh has committed himself to the Mingus Foundation, aimed at putting on the cross-border festival.Tittlebaugh said he's not sure why Nogales took so long to honor Mingus.
"Some things just get lost," he said. "And the community isn't heavy on jazz."

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Rahsaan Roland Kirk - The Call

Rahsaan Roland Kirk used to refer to his two horn feats as "splitting the mind into two parts." This transcription is a 1960 two horn (manzello and tenor saxophone) self-duet that [Rahsaan] Roland Kirk played 1:05 from the beginning of The Call. It's from his [second] debut album, Introducing Roland Kirk. (Here's the mp3 of the excerpt.)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Free Duke Ellington Tribute Concerts at UCLA

The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, Department of Ethnomusicology and The UCLA Friends of Jazz present

Duke Ellington's 110th Birthday Anniversary Festival of Music

April 4 – 5, 2009

Schoenberg Hall, UCLA

2-5 pm
UCLA Jazz Student Combos play Ellingtonia, directed by Kenny Burrell, George Bohanon, Clayton Cameron, Charles Owens, Michele Weir, and Charley Harrison.
7 pm
UCLA Philharmonia Orchestra, Neal Stulberg, conductor. Performing specially selected Ellington extended works. Special guest: renowned vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater. Jens Lindemann,t rumpeter and director of a new student brass ensemble, playing Ellington compositions. Ellington’s Music for String Quartet arranged by Paul Chihara. Solo guest artists: pianist Tom Ranier, vocalist Bill Henderson, percussionist Clayton Cameron, and guitarist and Jazz Studies Director, Kenny Burrell.

1-2 pm

Ellington's folk opera Queenie Pie (excerpts), (Southern California Premiere), featuring some of UCLA’s finest vocalists and instrumentalists, conducted by Marc Bolin.
2:30-3:30 pm
Ellington's Sacred Music Concert(excerpts). Featuring Dwight Trible and Chester Whitmore, with Kalil Wilson, Lauren Michelle, and Joseph Buchanan, conducted by Charles Owens.
7 pm
UCLA Jazz Orchestra directed by Charley Harrison, UCLA Contemporary Jazz Orchestra directed by Kenny Burrell and James Newton, UCLA Latin Jazz Ensemble directed by Bobby Rodriguez. UCLA Jazz Faculty soloists with Kenny Burrell, Charles Owens, Barbara Morrison, Clayton Cameron, Roberto Miranda, and others. Special guests: Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ernie Andrews, Dwight Trible, Herb Jeffries, Chester Whitmore, and Gerald Wilson.

Open to the public and free of charge

Parking in Lot 2 — $9 (Hilgard and Westholme Avenues)

Information: (310) 206-3033

Herb Jeffries sang with the Ellington band from 1940-1942. He's 95!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Attention! Songwriters Wanted

Second only to the blues, the backbone of the jazz tradition is the popular song. Johnny Mercer (1909-1976) wrote a lot of 'em. You've probably heard of some them. He contributed music and/or lyrics to things like Blues In The Night, Satin Doll, One for My Baby (And One for the Road), Jeepers Creepers, Autumn Leaves, etc. He's credited with over 1500 compositions!

The Johnny Mercer Foundation and the American Music Theatre Project at Northwestern University are encouraging songwriters and writing teams from all music genres to apply for the fourth annual Johnny Mercer Songwriters Project this June in Evanston, IL. The weeklong workshop is no-fee for participants, and will be led by Tony and Grammy award-winning composers.

Last year's program featured emerging songwriters from across the country in the fields of pop, music theatre, hip-hop, folk, Latin and country. To qualify, writers must be between the ages of 18 to 30. (That excludes me!) For writing teams, at least one member must meet this criterion. Through the generosity of The Johnny Mercer Foundation, there is no fee for this workshop for the writers and writing teams selected, and a stipend will be offered to cover a portion of travel and boarding expenses. All 2009 applications must be postmarked by April 13th.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Day The Music Died, Jazz Edition (Part I)

Last month, there was a lot of media hoopla over the 50th anniversary of “the day the music died.”
Tomorrow on this date in 1959, Lester Young died just a few months short of his 50th birthday. Like the rockers, Pres’ passing was memorialized in song, most notably Goodbye Porkpie Hat by Charles Mingus and Wayne Shorter’s Lester Left Town.
Pres is/was a highly influential voice on the saxophone. Amongst just a few of the many, you could name saxophonists like Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane, Art Pepper, Wardell Gray, Stan Getz, Paul Desmond, Paul Quinichette, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims.
A few months before the UCLA Freddie Hubbard concert, I had picked up a used copy of the double LP Complete Savoy Recordings of Lester Young. In the song Crazy Over J-Z, the band uses a riff based on the standard Louise. Since I was playing the album to death at that time, that phrase became the opening of my baritone sax solo.
Even though Paul Gonsalves was primarily influenced by Ben Webster, he was able to dig Pres, too. In his famous 1956 Newport Jazz Festival solo on Diminuendo In Blue and Crescendo In Blue, he starts chorus 13 with a quote from Lester Young’s Up ‘n’ Adam:

Gone, but not forgotten. Where’s that Lester Young postage stamp?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

RAHSAAN ON TV - 37 years ago....

From 1968-1973, there was a black themed television show called Soul. In 1972, they featured an hour of Rahsaan Roland Kirk. The link can be found here . While you're there, check out shows featuring Tito Puente and Max Roach, amongst others. (Thanks to the Rahsaan Roland Kirk yahoo group for finding this.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Louis Bellson 1924-2009

Another great one gone...
Since he was an LA resident, Louis Bellson performed often in the area, usually with his big band. Bellson was a rare type of drummer - he was also an extremely talented composer and arranger.
Despite all his talent, he was, on top of it all, simply a nice guy. When I obtained the autograph reproduced here, he introduced himself to me! "Hi, I'm Louie." He was gracious to all who approached him.
YouTube, of course, has a video of Bellson playing his composition The Hawk Talks with the Duke Ellington Orchestra in the early 50s.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Monday, January 12, 2009

Kind of Blue, Redux

Miles Davis' Kind of Blue is being reissued yet again, this time in a special 50th anniversary edition.

This prompted a friend to ask me what recordings have I bought more than once. Well, let's start with Kind of Blue. My first copy was a used copy from a swapmeet when I was in high school. It wasn't in great shape and I think I paid 50 cents for it. Later a bought a new vinyl copy and then the first CD issue. A couple of years ago, they reissued it with some alternate takes, so I had to get that. Then Columbia came out with the Complete Recordings of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, a five disk set that includes you-know-what.

Then there's Duke Ellington's Far East Suite. I owned the LP and of course had to get it on CD. Then came the "Special Mix"version with alternate takes and lastly (or maybe I should say only lately) came the "First Edition" with even more alternate takes (where were these hiding?). I could go on in this manner about several other recordings in my collection.

Kind of Blue again for me? Thanks, but no thanks.....