A week ago we were celebrating the first day of summer and this week, it seems as if a lot of folks are already crying “Uncle!” as the heat feels more like August than late June. If you’re in a part of the country – or the world – where you’re feeling it, I send serious condolences.
I’ve lived in the Carolinas, central Texas, the deserts of Washington state and Utah, overheated Manhattan and I know what the heat can do. If you have air-conditioning, you’re set, but if not, I recommend a lot of ice, personal spray bottles of cold water, fans of course, and as much cool jazz as you can handle.
Beverages are required. Water’s at the top of the list, but sometimes a person needs something just a little more interesting. I’m not advocating for alcohol, but I am advocating for Amos Milburn, who recorded this “jump blues” tune back in 1953. Milburn was known for his songs about the party life, but there was more to the man than met the ear. During World War II, Milburn enlisted in the Navy when he was fifteen years old and won thirteen battle stars before returning home to organize his own band. If you prefer iced tea, go for it, but I don’t know any jazz tunes about iced tea. Here’s “One Scotch,One Bourbon, One Beer.” (There’s an error in the label copy. Can you find it?) https://www.youtube.co/watch?v=D5VIIdMQBjg
Cole Porter recognized one of the serious problems with extreme heat and penned this tune for the Broadway show, Kiss Me, Kate. Ella gave us a swingin’ version of it when she performed a concert in West Berlin back in 1960 with the Paul Smith Quartet. Sometimes it’s just “Too Darn Hot,” and you know very well what I mean. Here she is live. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tve7lg2cFRU
Bill Evans offers a cooling thought with this lovely and atmospheric composition from his New Conversations album recorded in 1978, following on the success of solo albums Conversations with Myself and Further Conversations. For this album he used both a standard piano and a Fender Rhodes electric piano. Here’s Bill with his composition “Remembering the Rain.” This one will cool you right off. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QdKBm9A4r8
But whatever the weather where you are, there’s nothing sweeter than good jazz to make the day or evening fine. And here to make the point are John Coltrane with Donald Byrd, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Louis Hayes on “Come Rain or Come Shine,” from the Last Trane album recorded for Prestige in the late 50s and released in 1963. In addition to the always great Trane, listen for a couple of nice solos by Garland and Byrd. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDB4uiY_f9U
I want to get back to San Diego guitarist Peter Sprague tonight because I just found this recording and particularly like it for three reasons. First, of course, I think Sprague is a fine jazz guitarist. Second, he’s also a fine composer and this is one of his own tunes. But third, because I like the “working artist” feel of it – no spotlights, no suit and tie, no audience, just a man at work surrounded by the tools of his trade. Writer E.B. White once noted – about the circus, but about all creative activity really – that the real work takes place in the dirty old training rings, that the final performance is reflected light, but in the training rings “whatever excitement, whatever beauty, must come from original sources—from internal fires of professional hunger and delight, from the exuberance and gravity of youth. It is the difference between planetary light and the combustion of stars.” Here’s the exciting and beautiful music of Peter Sprague on “Islas Canarias.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sby0SVij_0A
Finally, I don’t think I have to say much about this one except that it could be an anthem in praise of and celebrating the possibility of falling in love with and marrying the right person for you. No matter who. From the Side by Side album recorded in 1958 with Duke Ellington, here’s Johnny Hodges, the Duke’s longtime sideman with “Let’s Fall in Love.” The Duke did not perform on this tune but Hodges, Roy Eldridge, Lawrence Brown, Ben Webster, Billy Strayhorn, Wendell Marshall and Jo Jones did. That’s more than enough jazz power for me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XlUceIOO6so
And that’s it for this week, JazzBabies. Stay loose, stay cool, and store up the hot weather memories for the January days that we know will come again.