The changing seasons always make me think a little more seriously about Time – time passing, time to do the things I haven’t done, how much time is left. All those questions that wake us up at 4:00 a.m. and for which we usually have little in the way of answers.
In jazz, of course, time is of the essence. Newcomers to improvisational jazz sometimes think it’s just a matter of everybody playing whatever they feel like playing. They don’t get right away that what sometimes sounds a little like chaos is held together by Time.
Just like life.
Southern author, Eudora Welty wrote about jazz in fiction and she also wrote a powerful essay on Time. Here’s Welty on the subject:
“Fiction does not hesitate to accelerate time, slow it down, project it forward or run it backward, cause it to skip over itself or repeat itself. It may require time to travel in a circle to meet itself in coincidence. It can freeze an action in the middle of its performance. It can expand a single moment like the skin of a balloon or bite off a life like a thread. .It can put time through the hoop of a dream, trap it inside an obsession.”
For my money, this is not a bad description of the way jazz can work. Try substituting “jazz” for “fiction” in that first sentence and see what you think. One of my musician friends was a jazz pianist (now deceased), sometimes described by other musicians as a player “with the left hand of God.” We had many conversations about the close relationship between jazz and writing.
Right now, however, we’ll leave theory and other serious matters and just listen to some tunes about – what else? – Time.
Leading off, here from one of my favorite albums by one of my favorite musicians is this wonderful old Cole Porter song, “Every Time We Say Goodbye.” Coltrane with McCoy Tyner, Steve Davis and Elvin Jones. Sweet, and I ask myself how can music recorded more than fifty years ago still sound so fresh today? I think you know the answer.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8Jmcynp9d0
Next is a blast from my own past. When I was a teenager, I thought these guys were “the most…” Wow, does that date me or what? They were one of the early jazz vocal groups and even the Beach Boys paid them homage as a major influence. Don’t laugh. You can hear that influence in songs like “Surfer Girl.” I’ll let you find “Surfer Girl” on your own – I’m going to give you instead, “Day by Day” recorded as a single in 1955 on Capitol records by the Four Freshmen – Don and Ross Barbour, Bob Flanigan and Hal Kratzsch. When it comes to Time, day by day is often the best course. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V48_oByW8x4
Bill Evans was a master of jazz time, and his beautiful composition “Time Remembered” captures the complex and gracious voicings only he could bring to jazz. He’s here with Chuck Israels on bass and Larry Bunker on drums, recorded in 1963 at Shelly’s Manne-Hole Pure pleasure. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZQmprtKXt8
Pianist and vocalist Shirley Horn made an appearance at the 1992 Newport Jazz Festival and this next tune was one of the results. I saw Shirley Horn a few years back at Jazz Alley in Seattle while I was working on a novel about a girl singer (which is what a female singer is always called no matter how old she is). I was inspired by Shirley to take a few lessons myself so I’d know better what it was like to get up there in front of a microphone. Listen as she does this fine tune, “Just in Time,” by Betty Comden and Jule Styne from the show “Bells Are Ringing.” Hear what she does with the word “low” the first time around. She’s good. I never came close. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gh5cbHQIZKo
Charlie Parker created and played one of the best “time” tunes ever (along with a long list of others) and gave it the right name – “Now’s the Time.” Parker’s talent, of course, is legendary and there are plenty of stories about his life and his musicianship – pure genius. I like this little bit from Bill Crow’s Jazz Anecdotes, a note from Idrees Sulieman about Parker’s listening habits and his ability to quote from any source of music he heard.
“I had a lot of Stravinsky records and I wouldn’t like for Bird to come by, because he would never leave. I could never get him out. He’d say, ‘I’ll stay here.’ He would play what he heard from the records on the jam session nights.”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ryNtmkfeJk4 The King of BeBop. Enjoy.
Frank Sinatra sang this next song, “Time After Time” in the movie “It Happened in Brooklyn” back in 1947. It’s a Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn number that’s been recorded by a long list of people. Here’s a nice spin on it by Margaret Whiting whose career ran the gamut from jazz to pop to – believe it – country. This was on her album “Wheel of Hurt.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFtx54oRkBo
A new one to me, I found this just today and couldn’t keep myself from dancing. Count Basie with Lester Young on this 1939 recording, “Jazz at Five.” I will assume the jazz coincided with the cocktail hour. I could be wrong, but either way, this one is fun and reminds me that thoughts about time don’t always have to be serious. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QLZnKAjlQzQ
We could hardly consider Time tonight without perhaps the best known tune on the subject from the movie considered the Number One Best American Film Ever. You know this one. Sing along with the singer many of us consider the Number One Best Jazz Vocalist Ever, recorded with Eddie Heywood in 1944. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRuwJsq4pVE
Ciao, Jazz Babies…make time for yourselves and the people you love this week.