Sunday, February 12, 2012

Lester Bowie plays "Saving All My Love For You"

Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy plays "Saving All My Love For You" in Berlin in 1986.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Campaign for Cootie

My last post was about the centennial of Cootie Williams' birth. Duke Ellington wrote "Concerto for Cootie" and "Tutti for Cootie" for Williams. In that spirit, I would like to start "Campaign for Cootie."

The results were just announced for this year's Critics Poll. Abbey Lincoln and Paul Chambers were voted into the Hall of Fame. Surprisingly, Cootie Williams is not in the Down Beat Magazine Hall of Fame! I'd like to solicit your help - Vote for Cootie today, using the instructions from DB's website:

Since this poll is for DownBeat readers only, you do need to be a subscriber — either to our magazine or our e-Newsletter (click here for sample) — to vote.

If you do subscribe, simply fill out all of the categories, or just the ones that interest you. Please vote only once. Any multiple votes will be disqualified.

If you are not a subscriber, sign up today. Just go to and hit the “subscribe” button to get the magazine.

Or you can subscribe to DownBeat's eHeadlines newsletter for free. Sign up for our free e-Newsletter here. It's quick and easy to subscribe. Without having your e-mail on file, your vote won't count!

That's all it takes. To get started on the poll, just enter your name and e-mail address, then follow the prompts. You can select one choice from the list for each category, or write in your choice, if it doesn't appear on the list.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cootie Williams Centennial

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of trumpet great Charles Melvin Williams, better known as "Cootie." He was most famous for his skill with the plunger, but as can seen below, he was a master of the open horn, too.

Actually, he may have been born 103 years ago, 102 or 101 years ago. There are several dates of birth given for him and the truth may have been that he didn't know when he was born. The only things the various birthdates have in common is the month of July, even the day could have been the 10th, 14th or 24th!

That said, did you know no one has written a biography of Williams? He had a very interesting career - two stints with Duke Ellington, and a year with Benny Goodman before embarking on a period as a big band leader. His band boasted people like Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Pearl Bailey, Bud Powell and Charlie Parker. He was the first to record Thelonious Monk's 'Round Midnight and Epistrophy. For a time, 'Round Midnight was the band's theme song!

I've spent the past few months collecting reference materials and conducting interviews, all towards writing a biography of the great and underrated Cootie Williams.

Finally, check out Cootie's plunger work from a 1966 performance filmed in France..

Happy Birthday, Cootie!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Giant Steps

John Coltrane's solo on his 1959 recording of Giant Steps is an acknowledged classic. Here are three different homages via YouTube.

First, a scroll through the transcribed solo as the recording plays.

Second, a robot programmed to play the solo.

Lastly, a virtuoso performance of a gentleman playing along with Trane's recording on piano and bass guitar simulataneously!

Sunday, May 08, 2011

New Coltrane

Good news and bad news. The good news - there's some "new" Coltrane on the market. The bad news - you have to buy a box set in order to get it.

As part of the 50th anniversary celebrations for Impulse, they're releasing a 4-CD set entitled Impulse! @50: First Impulse - The Creed Taylor Collection. John Coltrane's previously unreleased demo recording for his Africa/Brass big band album is included, plus some alternate takes from the session. Albums like Gil Evans' La Nevada, Ray Charles' Genius + Soul = Jazz, and Oliver Nelson's Stolen Moments are part of the set, but who doesn't have those already?

Sunday, April 03, 2011

New Smithsonian Jazz Collection

During my high school years, the local public library was one of the resources I would use to hear jazz recordings. One I vividly remember was the Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz. It was a multi-record set that included items from Scott Joplin, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, etc.

Last week, a new edition was released. It's six CDs and 111 tracks! (I think the original was 8 LPs.) It's been updated to reflect the changes that have occurred since its original 1973 release. But all the great classics (West End Blues, Hawk's Body and Soul, Duke's Ko-Ko) are still there. It would be a great investment to fill in those gaps in your jazz knowledge or collection.

As a taste, there's a link to a Mary Lou Williams recorded of Virgo, part of her Zodiac Suite. By coincidence, that happens to be my sign:

And if you're feeling brave, take their jazz quiz while you're there:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Stritch Beer!

Michael Bowe has relocated his Angel City Brewery from Torrance to downtown Los Angeles. He was recently featured in articles in the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Downtown News.

The brewery is not too far from our bookstore, Metropolis Books. We share quite a few similarities: There's only one letter difference in our surnames, we have LA's City Hall in our business logos, and he's a saxophone player who loves jazz. Mr. Bowe has even named beers after Charlie Parker, Lester Young and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. The prize winning Kirk brew is called "Rahsaan Roland Kirk Stritch Stout."

I wandered over to buy some beer, along with a T-shirt. The website describes it thusly: "Rahsaan Roland Kirk Stritch Stout, 10% ABV is our Biggest and most Luscious Beer! Made with Lager Yeast, this beer will surprise you how drinkable it is! Complex, Dark, Malty and Warm. No wonder why Stritch Stout won a Gold Medal in the Los Angeles International Beer Competition."

I can't tell you how it tastes since I can't bring myself to open the bottle!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Registering for World War I

At the rather ripe age of 41, at least in military terms, my great grandfather, John Bowie, registered for the World War I draft. By 1918, the US government required men between the ages of 18 to 45 to register, so he wasn’t quite at the top of the age pool.

In browsing these records, I also came across the records for Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton. Only Armstrong described himself as a musician at the time. Ellington was a government messenger in Washington, DC, while Ferdinand Joseph Morton gave his occupation as actor. According to Morton biographies, in his early years he travelled the country as part of a vaudeville troop.

On this form, he gave his date of birth as September 13, 1884. As far as I can tell, this date hasn’t been reported anywhere else. I’ve seen dates of September 20, 1885 and October 20, 1890. His tombstone has 1890 for the year of his birth. (He died here in Los Angeles in 1941.) Morton was also known to stretch the truth quite a bit. Some of these dates may have been due to vanity or in support of his claim of inventing jazz in 1902. Or course, it may have been simpler than that – in the days of home births and non-recorded births, he might not have known when he was born!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A few minutes of Soprano Saxophone

The soprano sax is a very difficult instrument to control. In the wrong hands, it can make for a painful listening experience. Fortunately, there are some great masters.

National Public Radio recently did a feature entitled on the instrument entitled Soprano Sax: The Story of a Skinny Horn. They mentioned the main practitioners of the instrument, Sidney Bechet and John Coltrane. But the soprano sax was not unrepresented in the swing era, the time between the heydays of Bechet and Coltrane. I’d like to add Johnny Hodges and Charlie Barnet.

Johnny Hodges was a Bechet protege . He can be seen playing soprano sax in this clip from “Check and Double Check”, a truly horrible Amos and Andy movie. In 1940, Hodges decided he should be paid extra to double on soprano. Ellington refused and Hodges abandoned the instrument.

Charlie Barnet was a big band leader who had a few big hits in the Swing Era, but is unfairly neglected these days.

A man walks down the beach and finds a bottle on the shore. He picks it up and rubs it. A Genie appears and grants him one wish. Since the man is a humanitarian, he asks the Genie to solve the conflicts in the Middle East. The Genie asks for a map and studies it for a while. The Genie apologizes and says that he can’t grant the wish because the problems are too complicated and started even before he was put in the bottle….

So, the man is granted another wish. Well, since the man is a musician as well as a humanitarian, he asks for a soprano sax that plays in tune. The Genie pauses for a minute and asks….”Uh, can I see that map again???”