Bill Evans, Black Hawk, Blossom Dearie, cal tjader, Charlie Byrd, John Coltrane, Kalman Olah, Pat O'Brien's, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Quarternote, rodgers and hammerstein, Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, Susannah McCorkle
You’ve been warned!
Welcome, JazzBabies, to the Quarternote, a quiet little club on the edge of downtown with no television sets, no newscasts of any kind and no newspapers delivered to our door. We can’t stay here forever, but for the next hour or so, we can take a break from the cacophony that’s passed for intelligent discussion these recent days to enjoy the quiet and the music. That’s all we’ve got here at the Q.
Cell phones and laptops will be checked at the door, so if you want to record the moment, bring a sketchpad and pen. And if you have a claim to fame, please leave it at the door, too. We’re here to listen to the tunes. Thank you.
My late night winding down routine includes listening to a few favorite jazz artists before I hit the pillow. My selections vary from night to night, but some are more frequent than others. Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Susannah McCorkle and Charlie Byrd, for instance, are among my go-to musicians for music that will wash away the cares of the day and any loud, angry voices as well.
Listening to Charlie Byrd this week, I came across this first tune which instantly reminded me why I love jazz. And art. And creative people who think and color and play way outside the box and can improvise with grace and ease. The ones who know, as John Steinbeck once wrote, that “Everything is part of everything else.” In this case, some of the coolest jazz I can imagine is part of Frederick Chopin’s classical brilliance when Charlie Byrd interprets Chopin’s “Prelude in E Minor, Opus 28, No. 4” as “Freddie’s Tune.” And he does it with a bossa nova beat. I think Freddie would smile and this so much better than the news! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pItnKO3nUpc
You probably know by now that my little mind often takes hold of a thread and wants to follow it a little farther, so yes, I did see what else I could find in the “jazz meets classical” vein. And I found this next tune, among others, that caught my ear as worthy of the JazzBabies. Kálmán Oláh is a noted Hungarian jazz pianist who’s won a lot of awards including the 2006 Grand Prize in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Composers Competition. He’s another musician fearless about crossing the musical lines. Like me, he has gypsy blood (he likely has more than I do, but if you’ve got it, you’ve got it) and Jack deJohnette, who recorded with him, suggested this might be a reason why Oláh swings so authentically, “soulful and sophisticated.” In 2001, Oláh teamed with the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra to record Bach’s Goldberg Variations with further variations and improvisations thanks to Oláh’s musical genius – and, might I add, playfulness. This was recorded for the Good label from South Korea but it’s better than good, it’s great! We’ll hear more of this talent, JazzBabies and others who’ve put musical 2 and 2 together and come up with something wonderful . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCQ01pNaAVo
Onward with good things to hear today. Our tour guide for the next stop is the one, the only, the amazing jazz soubrette, Blossom Dearie, as she takes on a Rodgers and Hammerstein hit from their 1947 musical, Allegro. Dearie is known not only for her inimitable voice but also for her stylish jazz piano chops. She puts it all together here in her own spirited way with “The Gentleman is a Dope.” (No offense intended to any gentlemen friends reading this. I think fondly of you all.) It’s from her 1960 Verve album, Soubrette Sings Broadway Hit Songs. The orchestra is conducted by arranger Russell Garcia. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOA2VKKUwT8
Cal Tjader is in my personal jazz hall of fame. I was impressed early on with my blue vinyl Fantasy LP and then totally blown away when I went to see him live at the Black Hawk in old San Francisco. I say old, because SF was a different city back then. It’s really impossible to describe it to anyone who wasn’t there. But it was an amazing place for jazz and cool. Oh, the stories I could tell…Our memories keep us warm on cold winter nights. We can’t kid ourselves that the world will return to those days but it doesn’t mean we don’t miss them. So we’re grateful to have the recordings and to applaud the new cats coming into view. For old times’ sake, here’s Cal Tjader live at the Monterey Jazz Festival back in the day with “We’ll Be Together Again,” a tune written by Carl Fischer and Frankie Laine. In addition to Cal on vibes, you’ll hear Lonnie Hewitt on piano, Willie Bobo on percussion and drums, Mongo Santamaria on percussion, Al McKibbon on bass and an outstanding young Paul Horn on flute. Sweet. Yes, from my blue vinyl LP.
Now, if you need to really perk up your spirits, you can always take a trip south to New Orleans, which is not like any city in the world, let alone any southern city. A trip to New Orleans is a trip to a continental world of jazz. And here to take us out, to get us up and marching around the breakfast table, or around the block or, what the hell, through the city of your choice is the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Be sure to stop at Pat O’Brien’s for a hurricane in a tall glass as you go by. And possibly a chorus of “Rocky Top,” which I remember hearing at least a dozen time one night. “Ice Cream,” on the other hand, is a jazz standard that dates back to 1927. You can sing along to this one, and I hope you do! Everybody, all together now, from the top… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-J5hZblkxck
Keep the jazz faith, JazzBabies…the music will see us through the rest. And remember, you’re always welcome at the Quarternote. We never close.