San Diego, St. Thomas, Any Place with a Jazzy Beach

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JazzBabies, we’re havin’ a heat wave, a tropical heat wave, in San Diego this week.  And when it gets this hot and humid, all we want to do is head for a beach, not that we’re diving in, but a walk along the surf can cool a person, too.

My jazz brain often heads to Sonny Rollins at a time like this and today was no exception.  I haven’t figured out why yet, but this tune always cools me right off (that and a high-powered fan beside me)… I’ll give Sonny credit for it because he and the boys are more than cool on “St. Thomas.”

I’ve posted this one before because you can never get too much of a good thing, so if you’ve seen it here in the past, you’ll also know that Rollins didn’t write the tune but adapted it from a nursery song his mother sang him, “The Lincolnshire Poacher.”  We rarely know where artistic genius of any kind gets its fuel, but in this case a simple song became a jazz classic.

There’s a lesson in there someplace, but I’m too hot to think about it.  I just want to listen to the music and sip my icy drink.  Go, thou, and do likewise.

Stay cool, Jazzbabies…stay classicly cool.

 

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The Summer Project Continues with a Good Ole Summer Song

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July first, JazzBabies, and the summer project continues.  This time I make no attempt to connect this tune with the world of jazz.  I just like it.  And it’s a good ole summer song!

Alan Jackson and “Chattahoochee” play a major role in one of my novels, and who doesn’t love a song about young love in the summer?  Come on now, what’s the song you remember best from your youthful summers?

Grab your partner, hit the dance floor and have a little fun with Alan and the boys as you remember your first summer romance, hitting the water and the cold beer at about the same time while you learned a lot about livin’ and a little ’bout love.

If you need one more reason to celebrate the season, it’s Fourth of July week and summer is not a’comin’ in.  It’s here!

 

A Spoonful of Summer!

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JazzBabies, it’s time for my annual tribute to the season with my all-time favorite summertime tune.  I’ve given you John Sebastian and the Lovin’ Spoonful live at a reunion concert the last few years with John lookin’ mighty fine.  This year, I’ve got John and the boys live back in 1966 when John looked, well, like a wannabe hippie with his mutton chops and long hair.

I like this version because there’s some wonderful interaction among these young musicians, especially toward the end when some kind of private joke cuts loose.  These are the things that make watching live performance so particularly great.

Note to the purists among us:  I know this isn’t jazz.  But we were all younger then and it’s good to remember and to stay young.  And it’s summer. In the city.

Summer Jazz with Carlos Santana

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Today’s post is about two different musical notables – Joaquin Rodrigo and Carlos Santana – and one notable composition – “Concierto de Aranjuez.” 

This classic guitar (and orchestra) composition by Rodrigo has been recorded in whole or in part by many guitarists and other musicians and was interpreted by Santana as “En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor” for the 1994 Santana Brothers album.

Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” is considered one of the pinnacles of the guitar concerto repertoire. It was composed in 1939 and many stories circulated about the inspiration for it, including the tragedy of Guernica – also memorialized by Pablo Picasso.  Rodrigo and his wife eventually revealed that the Concierto had been written as a response to her miscarriage of their first baby.

It’s not hard to hear this in the movement from joy to melancholy in the music.

Although he was born in Mexico, Santana is recognized as one of America’s finest guitarists who made his name pioneering a rock/Latin American jazz sound.  Like several other rock musicians who came up in the 60s and 70s, Santana was influenced by earlier blues artists like B.B. King, T-Bone Walker and John Lee Hooker.

He earned his early chops playing with local bands on the “Tijuana Strip” (where there’s always some fine music) and eventually made his way to San Francisco in the 1960s after his family moved there.

On his 1960 Sketches of Spain album which featured the second movement of the Concierto, Miles Davis says, “That melody is so strong that the softer you play it the stronger it gets, and the stronger you play it, the weaker it gets.”

Jazz guitarist Jim Hall was influenced by Davis’s rendition and performed his own version of the Concierto on his 1975 album titled Concierto. The Modern Jazz Quartet also paid tribute to Rodrigo on several recordings.

As I continue my summer project to expand my personal definition of jazz – and maybe yours – here’s the talented Carlos Santana with “En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor” against a background of the beautiful deep blue sea.  Haunting, relaxing, romantic…

Enjoy, JazzBabies

 

A Little Change Is Good for the Soul – and the Jazz

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I heard a song recently, JazzBabies, that gave me pause.  It had all the markings of a rock song, and yet – and yet – there was a distinctly jazzy quality to it.  Musical genres are musical genres, no question about that.  But the lines or walls that separate one  from another are blurry.

The song is a Steve Winwood number from a much earlier recording, so I checked in on Winwood to see if I could find anything about jazz in his musical roots, and lo, I did.  Winwood was the son of an English tradesman who was also a semi-professional horn player.

Young Steve played a number of instruments and was interested in swing and Dixieland jazz.  At the age of eight, he began performing with his dad and brother in a local band.  Whew…He was underage, of course, so the piano was turned so it would hide him from the audience.  There are stories everywhere, JazzBabies, everywhere.

While still a young student, Winwood became part of the Birmingham (England) rhythm and blues scene on a Hammond C-3 organ and guitar.  He backed blues singers like Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker, B.B. King and Sonny Boy Williamson II, among others and once said he modeled his own singing on Ray Charles.

All this to say that his interest in jazz and blues lingered and eventually made its way into the music of Winwood’s Brit (mostly) rock band, Traffic.

I was intrigued by this one, so have it here for you tonight.  Steve Winwood and Traffic on “The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys.”  That’s Winwood on piano and vocals.  For a little change of pace.

A little change now and then is good for the soul…we may like it, we may not, but we can’t ignore it.  Listen for the jazz…

A Sweet Treat from the 1958 Jazz Giants

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It’s June, JazzBabies…the time for June, moon, swoon, spoon, tune and so many other “oo-ny” things.  A wanna be poet once complained that nothing really rhymed with June. And the wanna be poet remained “wanna be.”

But enough about June.  I’d rather talk about the marvel that brought both – I’m sayin’ both – Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan together on one album, an album that included not only that dynamic duo but also Louis Bellson, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis and Ray Brown.

JazzBabies, I bring you this musical menage from the 1958 Jazz Giants album on a sweet little treat, “Candy.”  The album was recorded in Hollywood in 1957 under the aegis of the legendary Norman Granz, and the rest is history.

 

Tony Bennett and Diana Krall Sing of the Game of Love Where the Stakes Are High and Losing Can Be Fun

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Back in the early part of the century, Tony Bennett recorded a couple of albums of duets with a long and varied list of vocalists – a list that ranged from k.d. laing and Tim McGraw to Barbara Streisand, Paul McCartney, the Dixie Chicks and more.

Truth in advertising:  Tony Bennett has never been my favorite “jazz” vocalist.  In fact, I am hard put to throw him into the jazz vocalist category at all – not as hard put as I am when it comes to Willie Nelson, but still…

I’ve been taken by a couple of cuts from his two albums of duets, however, especially those with artists like Diana Krall who has long since paid her dues as a fine jazz pianist and vocalist.

One of Bennett’s duet albums is Playin’ With My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues, about which writer William Ruhlmann has this to say in part on the AllMusic site:

“Not surprisingly, the singer’s conception of the blues does not extend to the Mississippi Delta or the South Side of Chicago; rather, he is interested in the blues as filtered through the sound of the Swing Era, particularly from around Kansas City, and as interpreted by Tin Pan Alley and show tunes. For the former, his true mentor is Count Basie.”

Basie’s influence is particularly notable on this tune which was a favorite of Basie’s singer, Joe Williams, who definitely was a jazz vocalist, as is Krall.  The tune, “Well, Alright, Okay, You Win” was recorded by others, too, like Ella and Peggy Lee, but this one by the Bennett/Krall team strikes me as wonderfully playful and – yep, yep, yep, downright jazzy.

Enjoy JazzBabies…and be happy losers if it happens to you…  

Catchin’ Up with Art Pepper

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Art Pepper had a rough life from the get-go. He was the child of two violent alcoholics but found salvation in music after he went to live with his grandmother.  Pepper was jamming in Los Angeles by the time he was 13 and began playing professionally with Benny Carter at 17.

Pepper’s life remained chaotic, but his music gave him a solid place with the jazz greats of his day, particularly the West Coast jazz family.

Here he is with the Bob Haggart/Johnny Burke standard, “What’s New,” recorded in 1956 but not released until it was included on his 1972 album, The Way It Was! He’s joined by Ronnie Ball on piano,  Ben Tucker on bass, Gary Frommer on drums.

Put on your slow dancin’ shoes for this one, Jazzbabies…you’ll be glad you did. Yep, yep, yep.

Boz Scaggs Asks One of Gershwin’s Best Questions

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Boz Scaggs made his mark in soul, rock, rhythm and blues and may not be the first name that comes to mind when someone mentions jazz.  But in the early part of the new millennium, Scaggs turned his attention to jazz.

In May 2003, he released the crossover album But Beautiful, a collection of jazz standards any jazz aficionado might love, and the album debuted at number one on the jazz chart.

Here he is with “How Long Has This Been Going On,” a great Gershwin tune.  On a late Saturday night, that’s about all I can say except that this song is dedicated to someone who knows why.

Happy Cinco de Mayo, JazzBabies…

 

One Jazz Musician Leaves Boston at 6 p.m……

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When San Diego jazz pianist Ed Kornhauser is an old man he’ll have a great story to tell – the San Diego version of “I walked five miles through the snow to get to school.”  Ed grew up in Escondido in north San Diego County but wanted a music education enough to get into the highly competitive Coronado School of the Arts.

Ed’s story won’t be about walking five miles through the snow, but about getting up at 5 a.m. and commuting over 120 miles round trip every day to get the education he so much wanted.  He’s made good on that as one of the busiest jazz musicians in the San Diego area.  Gigging is Ed’s life and a good life it is.

Dedication is Ed’s life, too.  In an interview for San Diego’s “Troubador” newspaper, Ed told the story about first playing the tuba for a few very good reasons – he wouldn’t have to buy an instrument but could use the one at school free, he figured nobody else would be pushing too hard to play the tuba, that kind of thing.  So he played, note by tuba note, until a night when the bass player couldn’t make it to rehearsal and Ed took a look at the bass player’s music.

What he saw changed everything for young Ed.  He saw the notes, all right, but he also saw chords. Chords! Changes! And he began playing more piano and less tuba until he segued fully into the piano with no looking back.

“To this day,” the article goes on, “Kornhauser is more comfortable with the chord changes rather than the notes that comprise a composition. And though he is competent at reading music, he admits that reading through lots of notes on a page without the changes is not his forte.

“ ‘You put Chopin in front of me, I’m screwed,’  he says with a bit of self-deprecating humor.”

The story reminds me of a mathematician I once knew who could solve anything you put in front of him, but admitted to me once that he hated story problems and the words that chilled his heart even after so many years were, “One train leaves Boston at 4 p.m. and…”

Let us leave the math lesson and listen to Ed Kornhauser, pianist extraordinaire, with Matt Smith on drums and Mackenzie Leighton on bass as they set the room on fire with the Mercer Ellington/Ted Persons tune, “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be.”

Amen to that, JazzBabies. Amen to that.