I was happy to see the Olympics come into view last week, JazzBabies, and move the media focus from the campaigns. I’m a red-blooded American who always votes, but there’s no need to give all the bandwidth to politicians when there are so many other things that deserve attention. Like jazz.
And when the Olympics are held in Brazil, well, what could warm a jazz lover’s heart more. Apparently, the Rio Olympic crew felt the same way when they included the wonderful grandson of the wonderful Tom Jobim and his “Girl from Ipanema” in the opening ceremonies. These people know what lights our fire – Jobim and the samba!
I don’t remember any other Olympic opening that switched up from anthems and marches and the occasional classical piece to play so beautifully for jazz lovers around the globe. And it was absolutely appropriate for the occasion. Jazz is an international language. Ask any musician or jazz lover who travels abroad.
I was, in fact, talking with a young artist from Ireland recently, and we talked as much about jazz as we did about art. And you thought it was all fiddles and Riverdance in the old country. Not on your life.
Centuries from now when aliens discover our world, it will perhaps be a CD by Miles or the Duke or some other jazz cat that tells them who we were and what we were about.
But I digress, and you already know where I’m headed with this. (You know me so well by now.) I’m headed straight to the master himself, Tom Jobim, and his own beautiful tribute to Brazil with the tune by the same name. It may come as a surprise that I first heard this song when I was a mere child. “Aquarela do Brasil” (“Watercolor of Brazil”), known in the English-speaking world simply as “Brazil”, was written by composer Ary Barroso in 1939. I heard it several years later during a time when America was enamored of Latin music. Think “Rum and Coca-Cola,” “Besame Mucho,” “Carioca,” “Begin the Beguine” – the list goes on. I could speculate on why this might have been so, what with Europe in flames and the Pacific about the same, but it would only be speculation. Let’s skip the heavy thinking and listen to Tom Jobim instead with the pictures and music of “Brazil.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikutCJd13cM
I’ll add one more tune to the Latin list before we head home. “Frenesi” was composed by Alberto Dominguez for the marimba, but was quickly adapted by the jazz world and in 1940 became a number one hit for Artie Shaw and his Orchestra. Shaw was a demanding musician and, in his own words, “a very difficult man.” His eight marriages perhaps attest to that, and so did a friend of mine who was his publicist for a while and went on the road with him in his later life. But he was more than a musician – writer, entrepreneur, innovator, composer, student of such fields as advanced mathematics. He had what was said to be “a tremendous intellect and almost insatiable thirst for intellectual knowledge and literature.” He also had a healthy ego and said, when once compared to Benny Goodman, “Goodman plays the clarinet. I play music.” Let’s listen to one of his most successful endeavors in that world. Here’s Artie with the guys on “Frenesi.” Ole!
Vocalist Jeanie Bryson is new to me, but maybe not to you. Bryson was born under two stars of jazz – daughter of songwriter Connie Bryson and Dizzie Gillespie. Bryson attended Rutgers but it was after college that she began taking gigs on the side. By1987 she was singing full time. “As soon as I started doing it, I realized that I could do it and that I loved it,” she said, but noted that breaking in as a girl singer is difficult. (Editors note: This difficulty shapes the story line of my novel, Listen.) “Singers have a hard time because people know what they’re used to hearing when it comes to voice. It’s like, ‘That’s not Ella Fitzgerald,’ or ‘That’s not Billie Holiday.’ I just sound like me.” In 1994, Bryson caught the eye and ear of Terence Blanchard and recorded In My Solitude: The Billie Holiday Songbook, with him for Columbia. Well, just sounding like herself is pretty darned good and sets Jeanie Bryson apart from the crowd. You can hear that on this tune from her 1996 Telarc album Some Cats Know: Songs of Peggy Lee. Jeanie’s here with the Dave Barbour/Peggy Lee tune, “I Don’t Know Enough About You.” She’s backed by John Chiodini on guitar, Terry Trotter on piano, Red Holloway on tenor saxophone, Paquito D’Ribera on clarinet and Ronnie Buttacavoli on trumpet. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OntyEDDruQA
On at least one list of jazz movie scores, Johnny Mandel’s score for the Susan Hayward film, I Want to Live, scores in the top ten. The 1958 film is based on the true story of Barbara Graham, convicted murderess sent to the gas chamber in California. Hayward won an Oscar for best actress. I remember sitting in a theatre watching the film, completely caught by the music as well as the compelling script. The story is harsh, the music strong. Listen now to the “Theme from I Want to Live.” Johnny Mandel and Gerry Mulligan and crew – Art Farmer on trumpet, Bud Shank on flute, Shelly Manne on drums, Frank Rosolino on trombone, Pete Jolly on piano and Red Mitchell on bass – create just the right noir tone. Catch the movie sometime if you can. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_Ne0Ig9lDU
But film noir is no way to end a sunny summer day, JazzBabies, so let’s come up for air and join the Miles Davis Quintet for the happy sounds of Frank Loesser and his score for Guys and Dolls. Every tune in this show is a great one and that’s saying something. Way long time ago, I had a small role in the show back at Ft. Hood, Texas. I have to say, if you’re going to get cast in a small part, try to do it in a musical with a score as great as this one. Waiting backstage was never boring with all that good music going on and with way more guys in the cast than dolls! (Okay, I’ll behave.) This is from the Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet album on Prestige, 1956. Ask me how do I feel – well, “If I Were a Bell, I’d Be Ringing.” Miles, Coltrane, Garland, Chambers and Philly Joe Jones. Now, there’s a hand to warm a gambler’s heart. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tulVmHmJlPE
And that’s it for this time, JazzBabies. I’m taking the rest of August off for a little vacation in my own backyard. I’ll return with more music around the first of September. Until then, stay loose and stay happy. If you need a smile, I leave you with Shelly Manne’s definition of jazz musicians: “We never play anything the same way once.”