(If you own this, let me know and I’ll take it down.)
I spent the last week listening and watching and reading about jazz. The listening and watching happened when I picked up DVDs of the final season of Treme which, for my money, was one of the best of the best. Anyone interested in New Orleans or the music or the lives of musicians can get enjoyably educated with Treme.
And people who are interested in or don’t know enough about a lot of other things not limited to New Orleans – like greed and civic underhandedness and disregard – can pick up an education as well.
But this is a jazz site, so I’ll stay with that for the moment. The series ends – no spoiler here – with a haunting montage of scenes of the city post-Katrina with the voice of resident jazz vocalist John Boutte floating over all with “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?”
I haven’t visited the Big Easy since 1992 but New Orleans gets in your system. I don’t have to tell you that. Beignets and chicory coffee and a guy on the corner playing a saxophone that breaks your heart. And that particular song always hits hard because, of course, loss is loss and missing any place or anyone is universal. Much the way the voice of jazz is universal, now that I think of it.
But enough philosophizing. You might be surprised to learn that although this tune seems to have been written especially for the Katrina disaster and all that ensued, it’s been around a long time. The song is by Eddie DeLange and Louis Alter and was sung by none other than Lady Day with Louis Armstrong in the 1947 movie, New Orleans. I’ve got it here by another terrific vocalist, Dianne Reeves, recorded live at The Blue Room in New Orleans in 1994. Enjoy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkdSphmmnAU
The reading about jazz this week came with two books, neither new but both new to me. The first is an academic look (actually a PhD dissertation in book form) at Jazz Cultures by David Ake. This one is for those who enjoy an analytical approach (it’s a dissertation!) but Ake clearly loves jazz and is well-informed and he includes a lot of great quotes about the culture and by the greats themselves.
The second book is Ben Ratliff’s The Jazz Ear: Conversations over music. The title is important – “conversations over music.” Not “about” music, but over it. Ratliff, jazz critic for the New York Times, used a different approach to interview fifteen of “the lions of jazz” by switching from standard interview format to conversations with and over their favorite music or just music they wanted to talk about. It has the effect of Emily Dickinson’s idea of telling the truth, “but tell it slant.” Ratliff found a lot of truth in this slanted interview approach and produced a gem of a book that not only includes anecdotes and stories about each of the musicians but a rich education for the rest of us.
I can imagine the conversations because I’ve had them myself listening to music with musicians, their favorites, when they get excited and stop the tape or the CD and say, “Now listen to this, man, do you hear that, do you hear what he did there?” And we’d listen again, maybe three or four times. I’ll be honest. I didn’t always get it, but I did get the enthusiasm and the joy and the “Damn, I wish I could play like that” admiration. It’s something to hear.
Hank Jones talked a lot about Art Tatum and especially Tatum’s version of “Sweet Lorraine” during a 1955 private party session. I was not able to find that particular copy. If anybody has it, let me know. But while we wait, here’s another interesting take by jazz violinist, Stephane Grappelli, recorded in 1975. Treme’s jazz violinist Annie T. might have liked this one, too. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWuM9YGlqRQ
I wasn’t planning to feature songs about women, but while we’re thinking of Lorraine, let’s give a nod to another femme with the Charlie Parker All Stars on “Cheryl.” This was recorded in New York in 1947 and features that fine and dandy line-up of Bird with Miles Davis, Bud Powell, Tommy Potter and Max Roach. I hope Miss Cheryl appreciated all that talent. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fHNK3XcUSTo&list=RDfHNK3XcUSTo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKpK8RbGlO4
Wayne Shorter is one of those with whom Ratliff had a conversation over music. Shorter is a musician, composer, educator and intellectual whose music spans the range from hard bop and modal jazz to fusion and back again. He’s played with the giants and is known for precision. Ratliff includes a story handed down to him from jazz historian Hal Miller about asking Shorter for the time on one occasion. It’s a funny story and emphasizes Shorter’s intellectual side. Here’s Shorter on a 1966 Blue Note release, “Speak No Evil,” from the album of the same name recorded in 1964. It’s edgy. Step right up close to the edge with Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Elvin Jones.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvRkGglLe-U&list=PLwhRKJUIQxKBYlsUp-Ivx3FFPNTeokm8l
It’s Memorial Day weekend. We’ve paid tribute recently to important folks who’ve left us, but I’m paying tribute here to one who left fourteen years ago on May 19, 2001. Susannah McCorkle was a beautiful soul, a linguist, a writer and the youngest singer ever to have been recorded by the Smithsonian Institution in its popular music series. She meant to be a translator but then heard Billie Holiday’s records and changed the course of her life, becoming one of our best jazz vocalists with a pure and direct style and no gimmicks. She was the jazz bird at the Algonquin in New York for a number of seasons and played at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall.
Sadly, McCorkle was tormented by personal demons and the black dog of depression and on May 19 she took her own life. She loved Brazilian music and this one, “The Waters of March,” is from her 1993 album, From Bessie to Brazil. I love all her music, but this one always grabs me. It’s Jobim’s song about life – the ups and downs and especially the joy of ordinary living. That’s the wonderful Howard Alden on the guitar. Rest in peace, Susannah. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FoT0lqsSJbA
That’s it for today, JazzBabies. Enjoy the long weekend. Stay safe and if you’re on the road, drive like somebody loves you.