“Hit it, boys!”
Well, JazzBabies, sumer is not only icumen in, it’s icume! We’re a week into it and things are warm just about everywhere. I don’t know about you, but I find that jazz has a seasonal quality to it. It’s a year-round pleasure, that’s true, but some tunes just feel “right” in certain seasons. I don’t mean the titles or the lyrics, just the nature of melodies. I’m guessing somebody’s done a study of this and there’s a 300-page dissertation gathering dust on a shelf somewhere. Or possibly a research grant application in the works as I write.
It won’t be me working on that dissertation, JazzBabies. I’ve got my hands full with the posts, the painting, life, and listening to the music just for the pleasure of it. And that’s all right with me.
A few years back there was a push to identify what season a person was. You took a quiz and learned that you were a summer, autumn, winter or spring. This was then your guide to what colors you should wear. Me, I wear whatever I find at the local consignment or thrift shop that fits and looks halfway decent. It’s an old practice. When I was young, my rich cousins who were a few years older and lived in another state, used to send a box of hand-me-downs a couple of times a year. Opening those boxes was a lot more fun than pulling things off a rack of fifty more things that looked exactly the same.
In his book, Jazz Anecdotes, Bill Crow devotes a chapter to “The Well-Dressed Jazz Musician.” One of my favorite stories is about Miles Davis, who was a sharp dresser in his day. But on one occasion he and the Sextet were appearing at Birdland and manager Oscar Goodstein requested that the group appear in uniforms, not uncommon at the time. Miles balked. The next night when they went on wearing their usual disparate outfits, “…Miles pulled a rack of uniforms that he had obtained from a nearby clothing store onstage and told the audience: ‘Oscar Goodstein wanted to see uniforms onstage so here they are. If that’s what you came for, to look at uniforms instead of music, that’s what you got. Now we’re going to leave so you can enjoy these uniforms.’ ” Goodstein got it and the band played on – in their usual clothes.
I have no idea what Ken Peplowski was wearing when he recorded “Caroline, No” for his 2013 Capri Records album Maybe September, but he sounded damn fine when he did it. Peplowski played in Cleveland Polish polka bands as a kid and had his first professional gig in elementary school. Quite a start for a young musician, but he knew right away this was his life’s work. Peplowski turned to jazz while still a young player, studied with Sonny Stitt among others, and eventually collaborated with a long list of jazz greats from Mel Torme to George Shearing and Bill Charlap. His philosophy about jazz is worthy of any creative artist: “…first you learn the rules and then you break them.” He’s won all kinds of awards and recognition in the world of jazz and beyond and he’s here now with his clarinet and tenor sax to play for you. Ted Rosenthal’s on piano, Martin Wind on bass and Matt Wilson on drums. This tune, by the way, comes from the Beach Boys and if that’s not summery enough for you, you’ve had too much sun. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgeeGqG9lfU
Since I’ve already segued so cleverly to the Beach Boys, which automatically takes us to sunny California, why not go all out with Bill Evans and his 1969 recording from the Jazzhouse album, “California, Here I Come.” The album was recorded at the Jazzhus Montmartre in Copenhagen with Eddie Gomez on bass and Marty Morell on drums. Al Jolson might have had a little trouble singing along with Bill’s arrangement, but don’t let that bother you. All you have to do is sip something cool and listen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8HujG-hiII
Without question, one of the biggest – perhaps the biggest – influence on jazz in the early 60s was that distinctive sound winging up from the south, Brazilian bossa nova. By 1963 when Joe Henderson recorded his album Page One, Brazilian music was everywhere. According to my best sources, the word “bossa” on its own means simply “trend.” Word is that Kenny Dorham may have picked up on this trend when he visited the Rio Jazz Festival in 1961 and was inspired to write this next tune which I guess could be “translated” as Blue Trend. But we’ll just go with Dorham’s name for it, “Blue Bossa.” This tune has become a jazz standard that walks the line between bop and bossa nova. And what a lovely walk it is. Dexter Gordon has it for us now from his 1976 album, Biting the Apple. Gordon is joined by Barry Harris on piano, Sam Jones on bass and Al Foster on drums. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sr7BXinJMw
Some of us came up in the jazz world with a man who knew his way around jazz, rhythm & blues, pop, soul and more. Frank Sinatra once said that Lou Rawls had “the classiest voice and silkiest chops in the singing game.” Rawls went beyond a music career to work as an actor on more than one screen His life was a tapestry of music, acting, awards and charitable work. Rawls: the Renaissance man. He recorded this tune, “You Can’t Go Home No More,” on his 1989 album, At Last. The other voice in the patter at the beginning belongs to Mr. George Benson who also, of course, does some great guitar work on this one. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nxrj_msgv6E
Last, but definitely not least, JazzBabies, is a find that bolsters my faith in Serendipity. I was looking for one thing and came across something even better. Checking out a vocal by Tierney Sutton, I came across a guitarist new to me. My apologies, Tierney, but Serge Merlaud turned out to be the one I wanted to hear and pass along to the JazzBabies. Merlaud studied jazz and classical guitar and retains his passion for both. He’s done more with jazz in recent years and is sought after as an accompanist extraordinaire, but in 1998 he recorded J.S. Bach’s Transcriptions Pour Guitare. Nobody can say we don’t have breadth here. In addition to playing and recording, this talented jazzman teaches and lectures. But it’s the music that caught me. Here’s one of Merlaud’s compositions, “Anaïta,” from his 2015 album Bear on a Tightrope recorded with Jean-Pierre Rebillard on bass. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2asOTQFMc4
And that’s it for this post, JazzBabies. We’ve traveled a fair distance from summer coming in to fashion notes to California, Rio and finally France. And Lou Rawls reminded us once again what Thomas Wolfe noted so long ago – you can’t go home again.
Summer’s a great time to catch live jazz – indoors, outdoors, by lakes, rivers and beaches, at festivals or in classy cool bars from coast to coast. Don’t miss out on the fun.
Oh, and in case you want to hum along about summer comin’ in, here’s the Hilliard Ensemble in this chart-topper from the year 1260. “Sumer is Icumen in.”