I don’t know about you, JazzBabies, but I’m like the folks on Cheers this week, “taking a break from all my worries,” and that includes anything to do with any political conventions, political news, protests, candidates, or the hawkers who sell hats and shirts and buttons.
I think the only things we need to make America great again, at least as great as it ever was, are the same things we needed to make it great in the first place: hard work, common sense, humility, honesty, fair play, a sense of humor, respect for each other, kindness and, of course, good jazz!
I never quite trust or feel comfortable with people who don’t dig jazz, perhaps the greatest of our American red-white-and-blue art forms. Is there anything greater?
Here’s the reason: Jazz is risky and loose and not buttoned-down. Jazz has money and is poor as a churchmouse. Jazz can show up in a suit or a cocktail dress or in comfortable old jeans and loafers. Jazz can make a kid dance and an old man cry and never asks us for anything except the one thing jazz can’t do without. Jazz asks us to listen.
Let’s do that, JazzBabies. Right now. Right here. I know you have an entire collection of your favorite tunes and I’ve got a few here that might be the same as yours or might add something new. Either way, as we say where I come from, “It’s all good.”
I ran across this first tune a few days ago when I was doing some idle listening and remembered just how great guitarist Joe Pass really was. This one, “Green Dolphin Street” is from his Virtuoso No. 2 album which followed Virtuoso No. 1 in 1976 for Pablo Records. Joseph Anthony Jacobi Passalacqua (his full Sicilian name) worked with all the jazz greats of his day, but was particularly close to Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson. On this one, the personnel list is short – simply, Joe Pass, virtuoso. The title is not undeserved. Just thinking about his phrasing here gives me shivers in the best possible way. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PryaMg1tyXA
When I was a sweet young thing, oh long before you were born, JazzBabies, and just making my way in the jazz world, I had a friend who was already a collector and who introduced me to his own favorites. Right at the top of his list was Gerry Mulligan, and it was a great introduction to the saxophone. If the cello is the human voice of a symphony orchestra, the saxophone is surely the human voice of jazz. If you doubt me, try sitting at a table in the French Quarter, sipping chicory coffee and listening to a world-weary sax man on the corner playing his blues away. Tennessee Williams would weep. Gerry Mulligan started with the clarinet and moved on to the saxophone. He was there in the fifties for the birth of the cool, playing and arranging. The story goes that one of his first attempts at arranging – in a Catholic junior high school – was “Lover.” The nuns, however, were having none of that and confiscated his sheet music. I hope they were surprised when they got to the Pearly Gates and heard Gabriel blow a cool riff that Chet Baker would have envied. Here’s Mr. Mulligan, teamed up with Lionel Hampton on one of his own compositions, “Apple Core.” Hank Jones, Bucky Pizzarelli, George Duvivier, Grady Tate and Candido Camero provide the rhythm. You couldn’t beat that with a Gene Krupa drumstick. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vqT6V_X7MA
We’re in the middle of a dry season in San Diego. I noticed this week that even the palm trees are beginning to turn brown. Now that’s dry. Nobody knows when this stretch of drought will be over and there’s not a darned thing we can do about it. You know what they say about the weather. So I’m calling on Bill Evans for the next tune because I like the tune a lot and because there are some watery pix to go along with it that remind of other days. This is one of Evans’ own compositions, “Remembering the Rain.” Watching him play sometimes reminds me of watching a fully engaged painter who moves closer and closer to the canvas until both she and the canvas are splattered with color. When Evans hunches over the piano and puts his head down to listen, and that’s what he’s doing, it’s as if he just can’t get close enough to the music. We do like getting close to the things we love. Here’s Bill. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QdKBm9A4r8
Girl singers come and girl singers go but the best of them hang on forever – Billie, Ella, Carmen, Sarah, June, Susannah, Nina, Bessie, Blossom, Marlena…add your own favorites to the list. One of my favorites is Anita O’Day. O’Day had a little training as a jazz drummer early on and this apparently led to her terrific sense of timing later as a vocalist. She sang with many of the fifties bands including Gene Krupa, Stan Kenton and Woody Herman and later with the cool ones – Shearing, Tjader, Peterson, Monk. O’Day’s name at birth was Anita Colton, but she changed it to O’Day which is pig latin for dough, a favorite subject of jazz musicians. If you don’t know pig latin, well, it was a fifties thing, too, JazzBabies. But enough about the history (and there’s plenty more for this lady). Let’s get to the song from her album, This is Anita recorded for Verve in 1955. This is the Ira Gershwin/Vernon Duke classic, “I Can’t Get Started with You.” Listen for Barney Kessel on guitar. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QOLDGGOkfQ
And now, JazzBabies, something mellow to round out the day or evening, whatever time it is on your side of the screen. Push the coffee table out of the way and toss the books or toys aside and get ready for a tender slow dance. When Lester Young and Teddy Wilson teamed up for their eponymous album, Pres and Teddy, they might have been thinking of a quiet, romantic night with this one. I’ll confess, this was the first love song somebody played and sang for me way long time ago…high school…and it stands the test of time although the romance did not. That’s why we have the music. Pres and the Teddy Wilson Quartet with “Our Love Is Here to Stay.” Yes, Gershwin again. Why not? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWoGC0SFWzo
And that’s it for this time, JazzBabies. If you talk to any candidate for any election, ask him or her to name their favorite jazz artist. Vote accordingly.