We’re well into January, JazzBabies, and big snow in many parts of the country and world remind us of that chilly fact. Places that don’t usually see much of the white stuff, like Portland, Oregon, and Seattle are getting their share this year. Or in a few instances, more than their share. But chilly weather is a perfect time to settle in and listen to your jazz favorites, old and new.
I did that this week and came up with some tunes you might enjoy wherever you are and whatever the weather.
One of my all-time favorite albums is The Best of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Chet Baker, which is exactly as advertised. The Mulligan quartet featuring the man himself with Carson Smith on bass, Larry Bunker on drums and Chet Baker, of course, on trumpet. This album was cut back in 1953 when everybody was young and agile and full of the energy of youth. It all comes through in the music. This is one CD that’s always in my car, and this particular number is always ready to crank up on any highway in America. If January feels chilly and gray, this performance of “Love Me or Leave Me” will pick you right back up. I can’t get enough of these guys. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Znn6jXed8k
Having said that, I’m going right ahead to play a little more Gerry Mulligan, this time with fellow sax man Johnny Hodges on one of Mulligan’s own tunes, “Bunny.” This one’s from Gerry Mulligan Meets Johnny Hodges, part of a series of musical meetings between Mulligan and other saxophone players. It’s a great series. Hodges and Mulligan are joined here by pianist Claude Williamson, Buddy Clark on bass and Mel Lewis on drums, and the album was recorded in 1959. I like the bounce! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4F0U2Y350Y
Julie London had an interesting career as a jazz vocalist and actress. She kept busy and enjoyed success, but never acquired legendary status in either endeavor. Her biggest hit was “Cry Me a River,” and her other outstanding claim to fame was her unmistakable beauty. London had been a pinup girl early on and eventually married a man who was a jazz legend, Bobby Troup, who took charge of her career and brought her to the attention of the world. London’s smoky voice made everything she sang seem intimate and meant just for each particular listener, a quality together with her beauty that gave her great appeal. This tune, “June in January” was first included on her Calendar Girl album produced by Troup and released, with a cover of pin-up shots, in 1956. January isn’t all bad, you know. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_ga8TuGLKs
My Oregon friend, Brazilian jazz vocalist Nancy Curtin, is preparing for a concert in San Miguel Allende in March with guitarist Alfredo Muro and is learning some new tunes for the gig. She’s a great resource for some of the lesser known Brazilian composers and performers and just sent me this one which I want to pass on to you. These two are hot enough to melt any lingering ice or snow in your vicinity. The song, “Maracangalha (Canta o Samba da Bahia)” is by composer Dorival Caymmi who is considered second only to Jobim in introducing Brazilian jazz to the world, and it’s sung by Beth Carvalho, a noted samba singer. She’s joined by Caymmi’s son, Danilo, and watching them I have to say that sometimes I’m really sorry I turned down a chance to teach in Brazil years ago. The music and joy alone would have made it worthwhile. If you happen to be in San Miguel in March, you can catch Nancy with this one and other good Latin tunes. For now, JazzBabies, get your samba mojo goin’! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2yDGK2kL754
And now a return from Brazil to San Diego to catch a fine performance by our local guitar hero Peter Sprague and company from a 2003 recording by the seven-member group assembled then as “Pass the Drum.” This is from an album of the same name, and the tune is a Sprague original, “Water Tai Chi.” Heaven knows we’ve been doing water tai chi down here for the past few weeks as the unusual downpours just keep rolling in. The seven members of the group were Peter Sprague on the guitar; Tripp Sprague on saxophone, flute, and percussion; Ken Dow on bass; Duncan Moore on drums; Tom Aros on percussion; and vocals by Coral MacFarland Thuet and Leonard Patton (though this is all instrumental). Peter Sprague is one of the most inventive, creative and delightful souls to walk the planet. Enjoy him now, and if you want to do your tai chi exercises at the same time, I say why not, JazzBabies? Why in the name of good jazz not?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9oGUyAHtPQ&list=PLYGx8XS0ZYu-DZq_GfO7So0i_F346Fvr1&index=6
In closing, dear hearts and gentle people, I’m taking a big detour back in time and place for no good reason except that I was thinking about the past and this great tune today. “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” is so identified with World War II that you might be surprised, as I was, to learn that it was actually written and recorded a year before the war. But there was a draft on (if you’re under fifty that may not mean anything to you) and young guys were already being pulled away from their ordinary lives to put on uniforms and make like soldiers. The Andrews Sisters recorded this for Decca Records in Hollywood in January 1941 and it’s considered one of the early “jump boogie” hits. Who could disagree with that? It also has some of the cleverest lyrics of that day or this, with great rhymes. Okay, that’s the poet in me speaking, but “he makes the company jump” is worthy of the best! Dedicated to all the men and women who wore a uniform in any war, past or present. Thank you for your service. You are not forgotten. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mm1wuKvrxAw
And that’s a wrap for another session, JazzBabies. Spring may be a little late this year, and the forecast might be gloomier than usual but in the meantime, we’ve always got jazz and that, with a loaf of crusty bread, a little cheese, and a glass of wine, can be more than enough.