A Sweet Treat from the 1958 Jazz Giants

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It’s June, JazzBabies…the time for June, moon, swoon, spoon, tune and so many other “oo-ny” things.  A wanna be poet once complained that nothing really rhymed with June. And the wanna be poet remained “wanna be.”

But enough about June.  I’d rather talk about the marvel that brought both – I’m sayin’ both – Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan together on one album, an album that included not only that dynamic duo but also Louis Bellson, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis and Ray Brown.

JazzBabies, I bring you this musical menage from the 1958 Jazz Giants album on a sweet little treat, “Candy.”  The album was recorded in Hollywood in 1957 under the aegis of the legendary Norman Granz, and the rest is history.

 

Tony Bennett and Diana Krall Sing of the Game of Love Where the Stakes Are High and Losing Can Be Fun

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Back in the early part of the century, Tony Bennett recorded a couple of albums of duets with a long and varied list of vocalists – a list that ranged from k.d. laing and Tim McGraw to Barbara Streisand, Paul McCartney, the Dixie Chicks and more.

Truth in advertising:  Tony Bennett has never been my favorite “jazz” vocalist.  In fact, I am hard put to throw him into the jazz vocalist category at all – not as hard put as I am when it comes to Willie Nelson, but still…

I’ve been taken by a couple of cuts from his two albums of duets, however, especially those with artists like Diana Krall who has long since paid her dues as a fine jazz pianist and vocalist.

One of Bennett’s duet albums is Playin’ With My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues, about which writer William Ruhlmann has this to say in part on the AllMusic site:

“Not surprisingly, the singer’s conception of the blues does not extend to the Mississippi Delta or the South Side of Chicago; rather, he is interested in the blues as filtered through the sound of the Swing Era, particularly from around Kansas City, and as interpreted by Tin Pan Alley and show tunes. For the former, his true mentor is Count Basie.”

Basie’s influence is particularly notable on this tune which was a favorite of Basie’s singer, Joe Williams, who definitely was a jazz vocalist, as is Krall.  The tune, “Well, Alright, Okay, You Win” was recorded by others, too, like Ella and Peggy Lee, but this one by the Bennett/Krall team strikes me as wonderfully playful and – yep, yep, yep, downright jazzy.

Enjoy JazzBabies…and be happy losers if it happens to you…  

Catchin’ Up with Art Pepper

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Art Pepper had a rough life from the get-go. He was the child of two violent alcoholics but found salvation in music after he went to live with his grandmother.  Pepper was jamming in Los Angeles by the time he was 13 and began playing professionally with Benny Carter at 17.

Pepper’s life remained chaotic, but his music gave him a solid place with the jazz greats of his day, particularly the West Coast jazz family.

Here he is with the Bob Haggart/Johnny Burke standard, “What’s New,” recorded in 1956 but not released until it was included on his 1972 album, The Way It Was! He’s joined by Ronnie Ball on piano,  Ben Tucker on bass, Gary Frommer on drums.

Put on your slow dancin’ shoes for this one, Jazzbabies…you’ll be glad you did. Yep, yep, yep.

Boz Scaggs Asks One of Gershwin’s Best Questions

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Boz Scaggs made his mark in soul, rock, rhythm and blues and may not be the first name that comes to mind when someone mentions jazz.  But in the early part of the new millennium, Scaggs turned his attention to jazz.

In May 2003, he released the crossover album But Beautiful, a collection of jazz standards any jazz aficionado might love, and the album debuted at number one on the jazz chart.

Here he is with “How Long Has This Been Going On,” a great Gershwin tune.  On a late Saturday night, that’s about all I can say except that this song is dedicated to someone who knows why.

Happy Cinco de Mayo, JazzBabies…

 

One Jazz Musician Leaves Boston at 6 p.m……

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When San Diego jazz pianist Ed Kornhauser is an old man he’ll have a great story to tell – the San Diego version of “I walked five miles through the snow to get to school.”  Ed grew up in Escondido in north San Diego County but wanted a music education enough to get into the highly competitive Coronado School of the Arts.

Ed’s story won’t be about walking five miles through the snow, but about getting up at 5 a.m. and commuting over 120 miles round trip every day to get the education he so much wanted.  He’s made good on that as one of the busiest jazz musicians in the San Diego area.  Gigging is Ed’s life and a good life it is.

Dedication is Ed’s life, too.  In an interview for San Diego’s “Troubador” newspaper, Ed told the story about first playing the tuba for a few very good reasons – he wouldn’t have to buy an instrument but could use the one at school free, he figured nobody else would be pushing too hard to play the tuba, that kind of thing.  So he played, note by tuba note, until a night when the bass player couldn’t make it to rehearsal and Ed took a look at the bass player’s music.

What he saw changed everything for young Ed.  He saw the notes, all right, but he also saw chords. Chords! Changes! And he began playing more piano and less tuba until he segued fully into the piano with no looking back.

“To this day,” the article goes on, “Kornhauser is more comfortable with the chord changes rather than the notes that comprise a composition. And though he is competent at reading music, he admits that reading through lots of notes on a page without the changes is not his forte.

“ ‘You put Chopin in front of me, I’m screwed,’  he says with a bit of self-deprecating humor.”

The story reminds me of a mathematician I once knew who could solve anything you put in front of him, but admitted to me once that he hated story problems and the words that chilled his heart even after so many years were, “One train leaves Boston at 4 p.m. and…”

Let us leave the math lesson and listen to Ed Kornhauser, pianist extraordinaire, with Matt Smith on drums and Mackenzie Leighton on bass as they set the room on fire with the Mercer Ellington/Ted Persons tune, “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be.”

Amen to that, JazzBabies. Amen to that.

 

Jazz, Dancing, Celebration and – uhm – Oreos

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Every now and then, JazzBabies, I just have to break this one out, put on my dancin’ shoes and cut loose.  Indulge me, please, and riches will be yours.  Okay, maybe not riches, but a good time will be had by all.

Joe Sample, Stix Hooper, Wilton Felder, Wayne Henderson.  Piano, drums, saxophone, trombone.  These four created a new jazz sound back in the 1960s combining horns and rhythm in a hard bop-R&B-soul sound as The Jazz Crusaders.

In 1971, the four changed the name to The Crusaders, added bass and electric guitar with Robert Popwell and Larry Carlton, and took their place in the jazz-funk world. This was a time when musical lines were blurred. Rock bands were playing Satie and using horns in a jazzy new way.  Soul and jazz and pop were sometimes indistinguishable one from the other, and folk was edging its way into the picture as well.

Back in the day, in my Portland neighborhood, Joe Sample’s tune “Put It Where You Want It” became an anthem of sorts for those who heard the groove and were looking for more.

Marshall Rosenthal once wrote in Rolling Stone Magazine…

To celebrate without dancing is like eating Oreos without milk. The taste is sweet, but the wet exhilaration of a fundamental force washing the sweetness inward is missing.”

Everybody has something to celebrate.  Being alive is a good start.  Let’s do it with the help of the Crusaders.

 

Billie Holiday Goes to Everybody’s Head

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I was listening to KSDS, the San Diego jazz station, today when somebody mentioned Billie Holiday, and I realized it had been a while since I’d welcomed Lady Day to the JazzCookie stage.

Mea culpa!

The Lady needs no introduction, but here’s a little sidebar on the composer, J. Frederick Coots who wrote hundreds of songs for Broadway shows, many of them with his lyricist Haven Gillespie.  Most of them are lost in the mists of musical history, but the two did produce two others of note:  “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” and “For All We Know.”

Coots was a composer with chops and writer/jazz critic Ted Gioia said this about him and this tune:

“’You Go to my Head’ is an intricately constructed affair with plenty of harmonic movement. The song starts in a major key, but from the second bar onward, Mr. Coots seems intent on creating a feverish dream quality tending more to the minor mode. The release builds on the drama, and the final restatement holds some surprises as well. The piece would be noteworthy even if it lacked such an exquisite coda, but those last eight bars convey a sense of resigned closure to the song that fittingly matches the resolution of the lyrics.”

You don’t find complex and beautiful melodies like this under any old pile of leaves at the bottom of the garden.  Me, I just like the song.

And now, JazzBabies, here’s Billie.

Meditating in the Warm California Sun – It’s a Zen Thing

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Are you tired yet, JazzBabies, of me talking about the ocean, the beach, the waves, the breeze?  Please say no, you are not tired of it yet, because I have another soothing bossa tune for you today.

There’s something about the ceaseless rhythm of the sea that stills the madness of the world.  Or just generates an overwhelming case of relaxation that makes me crumple up the list of things I should be doing in favor of doing nothing but listening to quiet jazz under the sun.

I didn’t make it to Rio, although I had a chance some years back. I was offered a teaching job, but the timing was off for me. I had responsibilities at home, responsibilities that gave me a lot of joy so I didn’t regret my decision.  But when we have days like today in San Diego with what we call Chamber of Commerce weather, I head to the beach and my heart heads to Brazil.

Antonio Carlos Jobim was, without question, the master of the bossa nova, although he had lots of company – Joao Gilberto, Luis Bonfa, Elis Regina, Vinícius de Moraes – not to mention interpreters like Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd.

Jobim’s “Meditation,” is one of the loveliest of his tunes with lyrics by Jobim and Norman Gimbel. Musician and writer Bill Janovitz provided this gloss on the lyrics. “Meant to celebrate the simple beauty of life, the Zen essence, Jobim’s music and lyrics were full of sharp, natural images intended to speak directly to the soul. Gilberto’s whispery vocals and gentle classical guitar playing evoke the softness of night, the ebb and flow of the tides, and the waves on the beach, even before one translates the lyrics…

“On the 1967 album Francis Albert Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim, Gimbel’s adaptation of the same last couple of verses goes more like this: ‘Though you’re far away/I have only to close my eyes and you are back to stay/…I will wait for you/Meditating how sweet life will be/When you come back to me.’ ”

Janovitz believes the original lyrics and translation convey the spirit of the song better without falling into sentimentalism, lyrics that speak of love after loss and “finding the reason for everything.”

However you choose to hear it or sing it, JazzBabies, this one is exactly right for a day at the beach, no matter where you are.

Ciao,

JazzCookie

 

Slow Dancing with Frank Morgan – “The Nearness of You”

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Frank Morgan was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1933, the son of a guitarist who played with The Ink Spots. Morgan took up guitar when he was a young child, but lost interest when he saw Charlie Parker take his first solo with the Jay McShann band in Detroit.  Morgan’s father introduced young Morgan and Parker backstage, where Parker offered the young musician some advice about playing the alto sax.  The next day they met at a music store, a meeting that marked the beginning of an informal mentoring relationship between Morgan and Parker that continued even after Morgan began to make his own way in the business.

By the time he was 15, Morgan was playing with the likes of Dexter Gordon, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker.  He played into his 70s although his career was interrupted more than once because of drugs and eventually incarceration in San Quentin prison.  The life of a professional musician can be a dangerous place for some.

The tune this time is Hoagy Carmichael’s lovely 1938 ballad, “The Nearness of You.”  Ned Washington wrote lyrics, which are also lovely, but this time it’s an instrumental with Frank Morgan, Conte Candoli and Machito’s Rhythm Section.  In addition to Morgan on alto saxophone and Candoli on trumpet, the personnel are LeRoy Vinnegar on bass, Lawrence Marable on drums, Howard Roberts on guitar, Carl Perkins on piano and Wardell Gray on tenor saxophone.

I strongly recommend you consider finding a partner for this one, JazzBabies.  It was meant for slow dancing…Oh, yeah…

Ciao,

JazzCookie

Warmin’ Up with Some Cool Tjader Tjazz

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Ain’t no sunshine, JazzBabies, when it’s gone, and the sunshine has been gone this week more than we like in San Diego. Those of us who headed south to get out from under the pale gray “cloudy bright” skies of the Pacific Northwest are feelin’ the gloom.

Fortunately, it won’t last long.  She said.  In the meantime, we have cool jazz to warm us up and keep the gloom at bay.

Today’s post brings a happy confluence of drummer Frank Butler, pianist/composer Gerald Wiggins and one-time child tap-dancer, later jazz man, vibraphonist Callen Radcliffe Tjader, Jr.  Each of their stories could fill a book and taken together – well, JazzBabies, every story is a good one.

Cal Tjader is here with his early quartet on the tune “A Fifth for Frank,” which was written by Gerald Wiggins for drummer Frank Butler.  Tjader’s quartet at the time of the recording included – in addition to himself – Wiggins on piano, Eugene Wright on bass and Bill Douglass on drums. The album, Cal Tjader’s Quartet, was released by Fantasy in 1956.

Butler was a drummer who was not well known but praised highly among his fellow musicians including drummer Jo Jones who claimed Butler was “the greatest drummer in the world.”  High praise at a time when drummers like Buddy Rich were pounding the skins and creating their own storms.

Butler performed with many of the greats including Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Art Pepper in the 50s and 60s but didn’t achieve the kind of public fame that others had.  It’s been said that there are many terrific writers and artists and musicians who toil in the vineyards, pay their dues, but just never become well-known.  In Butler’s case, he also struggled with addiction which never helps anybody.

Gerald Wiggins started his long and successful career in the 40s and continued into the 80s and 90s playing West Coast clubs when he was not touring.

Cal Tjader was born to a pair of vaudevillians and yes, true story, he became a young tap dancer who performed in the Bay Area as “Tjader Junior” before, many years later, becoming the terrific vibraphonist we know now.

Didn’t I tell you?  All stories are good stories.  And now for some good jazz.

Enjoy, JazzBabies, enjoy.

Ciao, JazzCookie