Billie Holiday, buddy rich, Come to Jazzus meeting, Count Basie, creativity, gardenias, Hemingway, Keith Jarrett, maple syrup, Montreux Jazz Festival, Picasso, Steve Marcus, Till Bronner, Tom Jobim, waffles, Woody Allen
Greetings and salutations, JazzBabies! It’s a glorious morning here in San Diego and I’m hoping it’s the same for you wherever you are. “Glorious” is a subjective term and I can guarantee that if you’re anyplace at all with somebody you love, it’s a glorious morning.
If you have waffles and maple syrup, it’s even better!
For me, Sunday mornings are meant for waffles and maple syrup, good coffee, and then just hangin’ around in my p.j.s listening to great music. I’ll poke my head out soon to water the flowers and check on the general condition of the neighborhood, howdy the neighbors, and then pull on some sweats for a walk through Old Town. Eventually I’ll head home with live Latin music in my head, cook up something simple for my supper and call it good. How about it, JazzBabies? What’s a happy Sunday for you?
I was happy when I ran across the Count a week or so ago on a tune from the 30s (and also from the soundtrack of Woody Allen’s Café Society), a solid groove of a tune that reminded me that the 30s were not all about romance and sentimental journeys. Swing came along and the rest is history. This tune by the Count is included on over a dozen of his albums so I won’t try to point you in any particular direction with it. But I will point out that this is one of the best with Count Basie and Lester Young hittin’ their musical stride. Give a listen to “Taxi War Dance,” a title that surely ranks in the realm of poetry with all those allusions in three little words. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuORwNlNwF4
A few weeks back, I promised more Till Brönner and I always try to make good on my promises. When you put Brönner together with Tom Jobim, a certain kind of magic happens. This is one of Jobim’s tunes and is from Brönner’s 2008 album Rio (which also includes single vocals by both Annie Lennox and Kurt Elling). A little trivia about the song itself and the lyrics, which are a string of denials to a woman named Ligia: I’ve never dreamed of you, I’ve never gone to the movies, I don’t like samba, I don’t go to Ipanema, I don’t like rain, I don’t like sun, I’ve never called you up, why, if I knew? Jobim and other songwriters cautioned about writing songs dedicated to any woman for obvious reasons, and he denied writing this one for the wife of a good friend. After his death, Ligia told the story, and it was indeed an innocent moment when Jobim was challenged in an interview to make up a song on the spot. Ligia happened to be with him, so he playfully wrote a song about her and said later he had written a song about a woman he never slept with. Isn’t the jazz world great? Now back to Till and his trumpet. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3cDE3RYeko
I had some difficulty finding a good recording of this next tune sans vocal. I guess that’s because the lyric is so beautifully sentimental, but I was interested in the music this time and not the words. Then I not only found an instrumental take on it, but a terrific musician, the late Steve Marcus, a sax man with a most interesting story. Marcus was a Berklee grad and was all over the musical map in so many good ways. It’s a longer story than I have room for here, but a few highlights include his work with guitarist Larry Coryell as early experimenters with rock/jazz combinations (eventually known as fusion), and his later return to straight-ahead jazz and a career as featured soloist with Buddy Rich from 1975 to 1987. He’s here with “My One and Only Love” from his 1993 Smile album with John Hicks on piano, Christian McBride on bass and Marvin “Smitty” Smith on drums. One reviewer noted Marcus here as “consistently brilliant within the bebop tradition.” You won’t hear me argue with that. “The very thought of you…” and all that jazz. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8noiW4fi8PQ
I’ve given you other versions of this next tune in the past, JazzBabies, because it’s one of my favorite musical melodies. This time I’m bringing you a live recording from the 2001 Montreux Jazz Festival and piano work that so often walks the line between jazz and classical, the work of Keith Jarrett. I was not initially a Keith Jarrett fan and had to walk out of a concert back in the day when his contortions at the piano were a real distraction for me. But over time, I’ve grown to appreciate and enjoy his work on jazz standards, including “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry.” This tune comes from the Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn songbook, written for a 1944 stage show that never made it to Broadway. This time, Jarrett is backed by Gary Peacock on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums, and the three make beautiful music. I’m happy to say that Keith never once tries to climb into the piano. Good work, Mr. Jarrett! The great ovation at the end is testament to the musical talent here. The album is titled My Foolish Heart. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1OqCP7SZXQ
Now, let us wrap up today’s Come to Jazzus meeting with the first, second, last and always lady of the genre, Lady Day herself. Question: Do up and coming jazz vocalists try to imitate/emulate any other girl singer the way they try to capture Billie? No, I didn’t think so. And I’ve never heard a single one who could do it, any more than I’ve ever seen a painter who could paint like Picasso or read a writer who could write like Hemingway, though God knows, many have tried. Creativity, real creativity, no matter what it’s about comes from inside a person, not the outside – the person’s experiences, ups and downs, joys and sorrows. JazzBabies, “it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing” is more than a catchy phrase. It’s a metaphor for how the creative process works. And nobody singing today had Billie Holiday’s life. Ergo, no matter how much they want to look like Billie or how many gardenias they put in their hair, it don’t mean a thing, because it ain’t got her swing. Here’s the real deal, JazzBabies, with Gershwin’s great anthem for tough times and lost love. “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” (although they sometimes sure as hell try!). I happen to love this particular version more than any other I know. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehMx12dSF6w
Thanks for stopping by this morning. I wish you all a great week listening to good music. If the world gets to be too much, take two aspirin and put on your favorite album. The music never whines, rants, accuses, or insults. Lucky for us, JazzBabies!