More serendipity this week, JazzBabies, with a discovery just beyond my own front door, and I’m not talking about anything but jazz. How does that old verse go?
“The world is so full of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”
I don’t think Robert Louis Stevenson knew anything about jazz, but he knew about writing and a thing or two about happiness. This week’s discovery made me happy indeed. Another verse that comes to mind goes all the way back to my Brownie Scout days
“Make new friends, but keep the old.
One is silver and the other gold.”
I have no idea how I got off on all this versifying, but these two say a lot about my own approach to jazz – always keeping my ears open for fine new artists while treasuring the ones I’ve held dear for so long. Today’s selections are a happy mix of both.
This week I had a chance to put the jazz network to excellent use while I helped my daughter track down a trio for a San Diego event she’s hosting on November 1. Short notice, right? But the jazz network never lets us down, and with the help of Peter Sprague and Mack Leighton, two of San Diego’s finest, we found another of San Diego’s best. I was reminded that the jazz network stretches “far and wee” (there I go again with the poetry, and I thank E.E. Cummings for that bit). It turns out that jazz cats know each other everywhere, so my old musical friends from Portland and other places came into the conversation as well. But enough about jazz karma. I hope you’ll give a listen to San Diego’s Ed Kornhauser and crew – Ed on piano, Mackenzie Leighton on bass and Matthew Smith on drums. The tune is Gershwin’s fine old “They All Laughed,” but believe me, nobody laughs when they catch these guys at work. I love Ed’s phrasing on this one, and I was already familiar with Mack’s genius. Matthew’s time on the drums is killer good. For my money, these new friends are already golden, and it’s nothing but cheers and applause for Ed and Mack and Matthew! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnPnuVQseLk
Last time I wrote about my long romance with jazz guitar, and I mentioned several of the my favorite players. It’s a good thing I wrote “among others…” because this week, I bring you one of the “others” who really deserves a program all his own. Mr. Joe Pass is a real guitar hero if ever there was one. Pass was the son of a Sicilian steelworker from New Jersey and was given his first guitar, a $17 special, when he was just nine years old. He was also given a father who heard something in his playing and encouraged him. That’s a gift any musician can cherish. A lot of adjectives have been used to describe Joe Pass: influential, virtuoso, sophisticated…I’ll just settle for “amazing.” Like too many other musicians he struggled for a time with drugs, but came out of it to play many more days and the jazz world is eternally grateful. Here he is live on the BBC’s Oscar Peterson and Friends with Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehaving.”
The next tune was written, and often performed by, Billy Strayhorn. Strayhorn wrote “Lush Life” over about five years in the mid-late 1930s, and Strayhorn’s lyrics get right to the core of society’s demons: ennui and dissolution. The title’s double entendre gives a not-so-subtle air about the life described, but for my money, the lyrics sound more like the 1950s and the era of the man in the gray flannel suit. Either way, Strayhorn’s lyrics include one of the most inventive rhymes in many a day – his great line about “twelve o’ clocktails.” Here’s to the ladies and gentlemen who lunch! And here’s Strayhorn’s classic with John Coltrane’s always stunning gang: Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones. That’s Johnny Hartmann on the vocal, and he’s no afterthought. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7d6_LUDa_Zw
Truth in advertising – I didn’t make a search for this next tune. It came to me in a happy moment when I was listening to our local jazz station – KSDS – while driving around town. Dancing in the car is not easy, but I gave it my best shot. I’ve been an Ella fan for as long as I can remember, and I saw her at the Mt. Hood Jazz Festival back in 1988. Her performances never failed, but to my ear there’s a different level of energy in this one which was recorded back in 1941. Let’s be honest – we all had more energy in our younger days. Get ready to bounce, JazzBabies, like you did when you were twenty-four years old, which Ella was when she and Chick Webb wrote and recorded “Betcha Nickel.” If you’re not happy, I’ll gladly refund your money. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgMTjuYDQbQ
A couple of weeks ago, I promised more of horn man Till Brönner. I keep my promises and will wrap up today with one of his tunes from The Movie Album, recorded in 2014. Now, when I say the word “Bacharach,” JazzBabies, don’t let it rattle you or cause you to say, “That’s not jazz.” In the fine hands and horn of Brönner, it becomes jazz. Once he gives us the original melody, Brönner cuts loose and you’ll think you’re in a little jazz club on the Lower Eastside. He’s here this time on flugelhorn and vocal. The man’s a wonder even as raindrops keep falling on his head. (Go ahead and think about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I know you want to.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0gvHttYgI0
And that’s a wrap for this time, JazzBabies. Most of our days are spent somewhere between blues and bounce. I wish you more on the bounce side of life, but if the blues stop you in your tracks or ennui sets in, remember you’re not alone and that this, too, shall pass.