The original JazzBaby – my Mom, 1923
It’s May, JazzBabies, and baseball season in is full swing (no pun intended). (Well, maybe a little.) On Mother’s Day last Sunday, I was treated to a Padres game with daughter, granddaughters and their families which we watched from a Skybox at Petco Park.
I’ve seen a couple of major league games – Mariners in Seattle and Red Sox at Fenway – but this was my first time in a Skybox. Great day, great game, great company.
And what, I hear you ask, does baseball have in common with jazz? Besides the “swing?”
When I came home and kicked off my shoes, I asked myself the same question. Then I hoped to find some jazzy version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” to include this week. Instead, I found even better treasure.
I learned, for instance, that a washed-up pitcher by the name of Ben Henderson is credited with the first use of the word “jazz” in describing a goofy pitch he’d developed and called his “jazz ball” which “wobbles so much you simply can’t do anything with it.” There are a lot of claims in baseball and music history, so I’ll let you track down the truth – or not – of this one. Me? I like the story.
I also learned about a couple of 1940s tunes celebrating the Boys of Summer.
First up, a jazzy number that celebrates more than the Boys in general. This one celebrates a player who broke ground in a big way for the guys who followed. And none other than Count Basie memorialized it in this 1949 tune composed by the Count and Woodrow Buddy Johnson who ask simply “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-7Ac2LVVYU
A few years earlier in 1941 another all-star was honored by Les Brown and his Band of Renown. Reference to the player in this tune also turned up in a Simon and Garfunkel song which in turn became part of the soundtrack for a Dustin Hoffman movie in the 1960s. You know who I mean. Batter up… It’s “Joltin Joe DiMaggio.”! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1q6odQuCxFU
Okay, enough sportin’ around, JazzBabies. Let’s get back now to serious jazz business.
History is filled with stories of unsung heroes of every creative stripe – the musicians, players, artists, writers who are excellent but perhaps never in quite the right place at the right time. They achieve some following in their lifetimes, and some become better known after they’re gone, but they narrowly miss greatness during their performance/painting/writing days.
Guitarist Grant Green has been called one of “the unsung heroes of jazz guitar.” Green, who died young at 43, was known to be influenced musically by saxophonists like Charlie Parker, giving Green, as critic Dave Hunter described it, a distinctively “lithe, loose, slightly bluesy and righteously groovy” sound. Here’s Green on “Alone Together,” from his 1961 Blue Note album Green Street with Ben Tucker on bass and Dave Bailey on drums. Sounds like a guitar hero to me. What say you? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOeDdS7Ic1Qlist=PLJ0SjCDDvC2XvVTw7npHRPHpEirHb14_F
Now that I’m painting, color is always on my mind and now that we’ve touched on green, why not go on to more color? To me, jazz is always about color anyway – tones, shadings, brilliant blasts of pure hue, lights and darks, fascinating embellishments along a single line, combinations that are more than the individual colors. So, I say, onward to blue!
Or in this case, the terrific trumpeter, Blue Mitchell. Mitchell played early on in the rhythm and blues world but after Cannonball Adderley picked him up and he recorded with Adderley on Riverside albums, it was straight on to jazz, most notably his stint with Horace Silver and then with his own Quartet. Here they are – the Blue Mitchell Quartet with a 1960 recording of “I’ll Close My Eyes” from the album, Blue’s Moods. Along with Mitchell, you’ll hear the fine work of Wynton Kelly on piano, Sam Jones on bass and Roy Brooks on drums. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMgjS_HkCKM
Green, Blue, how about a touch of Red?
Researching and writing this blog is a joy every time as I discover musicians who are new to me. I know a lot about jazz, but as someone wiser than I am once pointed out, “Nobody can know everything about everything or even about one thing.” For me, those are words to live by. The world moves too fast these days to keep up with it all. This is by way of introduction to a musician new in my book, but well-known in the jazz world and one I’ve quickly come to appreciate.
George Sylvester “Red” Callender is so well-known in the jazz world, I’m embarrassed to say that I only heard of him this week. Callender was a jazz bassist and jazz tuba player as well as a composer. Callender’s list of credentials is long and impressive, but one in particular caught my eye – his association with Jimmie and Jeanie Cheatham’s Sweet Baby Blues band. Jimmie’s gone now, but Jeanie’s keepin’ up with San Diego in a big way and is a personal friend here. She has some great stories, too. But enough talk. Let’s hear some original Red Callender from his 1950s Swingin’ Suite album for Crown Records. He’s here with his tune, “Pastel” assisted mightily by Parr Jones on trumpet, John Ewing on trombone, Bill Green on alto sax and flute, Buddy Collette on tenor sax and clarinet, Clyde Dunn on baritone sax, Eddie Beal on piano, Bill Douglass on drums, Frank Bode on bongos. Of course, the talented Mr. Red Callender is on bass. Enjoy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PvFexcD1J-I
That’s it for this time, JazzBabies. Maybe you’ll get out to hear some jazz or catch a ball game this weekend. If you happen to get rained out and want something to watch, try the best baseball movie ever made, Bang the Drum Slowly, with a young Michael Moriarty and his also young teammate, Robert deNiro. This one happens to have a terrific sound track, too, including a guitar-playing catcher.