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September 30, 2005

Jackson Locked In

One of the things I like about Joe Locke’s new CD, Rev-elation, is that Bob Cranshaw plays acoustic bass on it. Sonny Rollins, for reasons unclear to me, prefers the electric instrument over what I irritate some of my bassist acquaintances by calling the real bass. Cranshaw uses the electric bass when he works with Rollins. He is one of the few players who comes close to persuading me that I’m hearing the real thing when he’s playing electric. Nonetheless, as well as he works that deception with Rollins, I get full satisfaction from his sound, attack and feeling when he’s on the good old standup, wooden, contrabass. It’s more profundo. Another thing: On Locke’s album, Mike LeDonne plays the Fender-Rhodes electric piano sparingly; a good idea. For the most part, however, he plays a Steinway grand. Well, I’m not positive that it’s a Steinway, but his playing is grand. (This is called backing into a review).

As far as I know, Mickey Roker has never used electric drums. Roker, LeDonne and Cranshaw were the rhythm section who supported the sublime vibraharpist Milt Jackson for much of the last part of his life. A tighter, more attuned rhythm section is hard to imagine. Locke has no choice but to play electric vibes. That’s the only kind the Ross, Deagan and Musser companies make. Otherwise, the instrument wouldn't vibrate. It would be a marimba. Locke worships Jackson—something he has in common with all the vibraharpists who came after The Reverend, or Rev. Those were Jackson’s nicknames in addition to “Bags.”

In Rev-elation (get it?), the quartet treats an audience at Ronnie Scott’s club in London to the kind of set Jackson often played there. It is loaded with blues, a form at which Jackson excelled as Jack Nicklaus excelled at golf, although Jackson dominated his field much longer. Among other blues, Locke and his colleagues play an “Opus de Funk” that is among the most exciting versions of that imperishible Horace Silver tune. They also do Jackson’s “The Prophet Speaks” to a turn, and a sinuous new “I Got Rhythm” derivative of Locke’s called “Big Town.” In the ballad department, Locke approaches Jackson’s tenderness and depth on Johnny Mandel’s “Close Enough for Love.”

I have thought for some years that Locke was one of the most impressive post-Jackson vibes artist to emerge since Gary Burton. Unless you know the rules, it is impossible to successfully break them, as Locke comes close to doing with his Four Walls of Freedom band, pushing the modern mainstream bop tradition toward the experimental edges of jazz without losing its essence. In this album, he shows why he can do that. He knows the rules. He lives in the heart of the tradition.

Posted by dramsey at 1:05 AM

September 29, 2005

Heading South

Friday, I leave for Los Angeles to take part in one of Ken Poston’s Los Angeles Jazz Institute extravaganzas, which are packed with music, films about music, discussions of music and a good deal of laughter. This one is called Jazz West Coast 3: Legends of the West. It gets underway this morning and runs four days. Go here for a schedule and registration information.

The festival, party—or whatever it is—will bring together major figures of Southern California jazz, including Bud Shank, Herb Geller, Johnny Mandel, Chico Hamilton, Paul Horn, Chuck Flores, Buddy Collette, Dave Pell and Howard Rumsey. Among the highlights is an all-star tribute to Shank by bands containing some of the above and Bobby Shew, Mike Wofford and Holly Hoffman, to name a few. I am also looking forward to a rare instance of Johnny Mandel’s conducting a collection of his nonpareil compositions and arrangements for big band, among them pieces from the film I Want To Live.

Sunday morning I will preach about Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond, and sign copies. Shank and Geller will join me to discuss their fellow alto saxophonist. Bud did an analysis of a Desmond solo for the book. Herb provided information about his and Paul’s early adventures with Jack Fina and later ones in Hamburg.

In addition to seventeen concerts, there will be panels on Charles Mingus, Shank, the fifties in Los Angeles jazz, Art Pepper, West Coast drummers and the history of Mode Records. Not only that, there will be screenings of five films, among them Ken Koenig’s new documentary, The Lighthouse, and glimpses of Laurie Pepper’s work-in-progress about Art Pepper. One of the things I like about Poston’s affairs is that events are sequential. Everyone can see and hear everything, not have to choose among several simultaneous concerts. That’s why these things run four days. What's not on the program? Bill Holman's band, but I guess you can't have everything.

If I get a minute to sit down at the laptop, I’ll post an account or two.

Posted by dramsey at 1:05 AM

September 28, 2005

Broadcast Gypsies

Ted O’Reilly, the Toronto broadcaster, answered my flippant question in yesterday’s posting: “Why won’t these broadcast people stay put?”

Station owners—all have risen from the sales department, or got their money the old-fashioned way, inheritance—won't let them. An ever-deepening lowest common denominator, combined with a desire for an ever-raising bottom line drives owners to “greater efficiency”, meaning “put in computers serviced by pre-digested content providers”.
Greater Efficiency has never benefited consumers (and certainly not employees), only shareholders. Individual voices are driven out of the market, more and more to fringes. That may mean a larger city, and certainly a marginal-niche station.

I was attempting to be sardonic. I know the life. In twenty-four years in radio and television news, I changed cities eight times, jobs nine times. Luckily, each move save one was to a greener pasture. Ultimately, that one turned out well, too. But that was before the corporate MBA mentality governed by quarterly earnings reports to shareholders gripped the broadcasting business in a stranglehold that has resulted in increasingly deeper cuts, greater homogenization, devaluation of experience, lower quality, and confusion about the difference between news and entertainment. Otherwise, everything is perfect.

Do I miss it? Oddly, yes, sometimes. When we have major events like Katrina and Rita or a significant betrayal of the public trust by the highly placed, the fire-horse reflexes kick in. Generally, I come back to my senses after a day or two.

Posted by dramsey at 1:05 AM

September 27, 2005

Fred's Still Ahead, Part One

Responding to the Rifftides posting about the humor of the late bassist Freddie Schreiber, Alan Broadbent relayed a few names that Schreiber invented. Alan was a collaborator with and friend of the wonderful singer Irene Kraal. She is also, regrettably, among the departed. When she was working with Shelly Manne’s band at the Manne Hole in Los Angeles, Freddie would drop in during breaks and run his latest masterpieces past the band. Somewhere, there is a long list of them. Here are a few that Irene passed on to Alan. If some are familiar to you, remember that Freddie was rampant in the 1960s and a lot of his wig bubbles have become lingua franca.

Oliver Teethout
Arturo Versees
Delores M'Shephard
Oswald MacGum
Rachel Prejudice
Warren Peace
Russell Upsumgrub
Tyrone Shoelaces
Noah Fence
The brothers Felix and Isaac Cited

This sort of thing is the lowest form of humor. I love it.

Freddie was ahead of the computer revolution or he undoubtedly would have thought of Dot Matrix. If anyone out there in webland has the complete Schreiber list, please pass it along.

Posted by dramsey at 1:05 AM

Fred's Still Ahead, Part Two

Cal Tjader, Schreiber's boss, was a major fan of his bass playing and of his word play. The drummer and radio host Dick McGarvin sent this recollection.

One of the people fond of quoting Freddie Schreiber's classic lines was Cal himself. And it was from him that I first heard them. I met Cal in 1965 when I was working at KVI in Seattle and he would appear at The Penthouse. He'd come off the stand, sit down at my table and say, "So, what did you think of my angular probing lines? How about my relentless, throbbing beat?" Cal had a great sense of humor and thought the lines were hilarious. He continued the practice after I'd moved to San Francisco and would see him at El Matador.

McGarvin is now in Los Angeles. Why won't these broadcast people stay put?

Posted by dramsey at 1:04 AM

September 26, 2005

At Last, New Picks

In the right-hand column, under Doug's Picks, you will find our latest recommendations for your listening, viewing and reading pleasure. Enjoy. Your eating pleasure is another matter. We're a little behind in that area, but thinking; always thinking, searching and testing.

Posted by dramsey at 1:00 AM

September 23, 2005

The Catcher In The Vanguard

A number of musicians I have known felt a connection with J.D. Salinger's character Holden Caulfield. This is from my biography of Paul Desmond:

Paul thanked his father for recommending The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger’s novel published a year or so earlier. “It’s not only practically perfect,” he wrote Emil, “but it’s the closest thing I’ve yet seen to the way you’d write, if you wrote, which you should, and I’m rapidly going broke buying copies of it for miscellaneous friends here and there.” Salinger’s half-comedy, half-tragedy about a young man’s self-destruction resonated with Desmond’s view of the human condition, particularly his own. He gave me a copy of it shortly after we met. I was happy, years later, to respond with Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, that beautiful novel about loneliness and grace, in which Paul found a reflection of himself.

Thanks to Terri Hinte of Fantasy Inc., for a link to the writer James Isaacs' autobiographical reflections on Salinger and Bill Evans. Isaacs' radio musings were inspired by the new CD box of Evans' 1961 Village Vanguard recordings. Holden Caulfield knew plenty of loneliness, and so did Issacs when he was a teenager. In his audio essay for WBUR in Boston, Isaacs talks about the day he wandered into the Village Vanguard and found solace coming from Bill Evans' piano.

Posted by dramsey at 1:05 AM

September 22, 2005

Towering Achievement

Just back from Monterey by way of Seattle, I am ready to crash for—oh, I don’t know, two or three days—but first, I must second what DevraDoWrite posted about the Tower Records staff who made our book signings an agreeable experience at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Here's a little of what Devra wrote about the treatment she and her husband John Levy received for their signing of Men, Women and Girl Singers.


We didn’t know these great folks before a week or two ago, and we never asked for any special treatment while exchanging a few emails and quick calls. I was also surprised to learn that this team that worked together like a well-oiled machine is actually a bunch of colleagues from several different stores. I kept asking who was in charge, so I could give thanks and heap praise on all. Seems they were all in charge, so let me publicly thank the ones I know by name, and encourage you to shop at Tower...

Go here to learn those names and to see a photograph of Leroid and Mike with the amazing nonagenarian Mr. Levy.

I gotta get me some Zs.

Posted by dramsey at 1:05 AM

September 21, 2005

Way Stop: Seattle

Making my way home from Monterey, I’m in Seattle for meetings. The city is at its best in the late September sun. People downtown walk around with smiles on their faces, not thinking about the rainy season to come. Many of the hundreds of coffee places have tables on the sidewalk, and the tables are full of sippers watching street life. North of downtown, runners and walkers are six deep on the path around Green Lake. They form one of the world’s great urban parades in a setting like a painting.

I had dinner last night with three friends; Malcolm Harris, the publisher of my biography of Paul Desmond; Ted Van Dyk, retired as one of Washington DC’s canniest political consultants, now a columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; and Jack Brownlow, the dean of Pacific Northwest jazz pianists. The conversation ranged across music, sports, books and politics. Much of it concerned leadership—national and local, with the aftermath of Katrina the focus. As he made clear in a recent column, Ted sees parallels between weaknesses at the top in New Orleans and Seattle.

Seattle does not suffer from New Orleans' pervasive cash-in-envelope corruption. But it does suffer from policy corruption facilitated by complacency and incompetence just as serious as the Big Easy's.

You can read all of Ted’s column here. Keep an eye out for a memoir of his life in politics. The University of Washington Press will publish it next year. Van Dyk is one of our most trenchant and forthright analysts of public policy issues. As Hubert Humphrey’s right-hand man before and after Humphrey became Lyndon Johnson’s vice president, Van was an insider during the civil rights struggles of the sixties, Johnson’s Viet Nam agony and political developments through the end of the twentieth century.

Jack Brownlow, at 81, has doggedly refused to let a round of health problems put him out of commission. He is gigging less, but a stream of colleagues comes to his house to play music with him and learn from him. He is an inspiration to them, as he has been to me since I was sixteen.

I'm not the only one in town fresh from Monterey. Carla Bley and her Lost Chords quartet are at Jazz Alley through tonight, Wednesday, following Bley's double triumph at the Monterey festival.

Posted by dramsey at 1:05 AM

September 20, 2005

Comment: Desmond and Bird

In Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond, I included a long letter from 1949 in which Paul told his father, in precise language, why he did not want to be another Charlie Parker imitator. Two excerpts:

The question of to bop or not to bop has been a gnawing one ever since I began working at the Band Box on Monday nites with Howard Keith. Ever since then, I‘ve been in, out, above, beneath, and on the fringes of bop as it is played in San Francisco. And although my playing has fluctuated back and forth quite a bit, I still stick to my original reaction. I like to listen to bop, I admire its originators, but I can’t see the point in throwing away one’s individuality and working like mad to become a carbon copy of Charlie Parker. Even if what you play isn’t as good, as long as it’s your own it should be valid. The only other alternative is to play bop and still remain individual, which I’ll be damned if I can figure out how to do.
I couldn’t see it. The qualities in music which I considered most important—and still do—were beauty, simplicity, originality, discrimination, and sincerity. There is no originality in the act of copying, and no discrimination in the all-inclusive way in which it was done.

Another young saxophonist who thought a good deal about Parker was a student at the Eastman School in the early 1950s. He is Ned Corman, who went on to be president of the The Commission Project, which makes possible the composing and performance of new works in American music. His experience with Parker was more typical than Desmond's of the gravitational pull that Bird exerted on young musicians.

Your various comments about PD holding to his voice in the frequently overwhelming forces from the East Coast school touched me deeply. Those forces, for better or worse, slid me away from my high school heroes, PD, Konitz, Pepper. Within a year or so after matriculating at Eastman School of Music in 1955, I lost focus on simplicity and beauty, falling under Bird's spell and peer influence. Technique remains a priority for almost all players.
I can honestly say there is nothing in my life - except for being a more thoughtful and considerate person - that, if I had the chance to redo, I would. Your wonderful book, in various places, made me say to Linda, my wife; you know, I wonder what my music would have become had I been less impressionable in '55.

To learn about Ned Corman and The Commission project, go here.

Posted by dramsey at 1:05 AM

September 19, 2005

Crunk

I've been away. It's been days since I checked into what my ArtsJournal.com colleagues are writing about. Martha Bayles is the movie person, but she's also perceptive on my former calling. I'm probably the one who ought to be writing about the performance of television (and cable) news in the Katrina disaster aftermath. I don't think I could have assessed one embarassing aspect of it more effectively than Martha did in this recent piece.

Posted by dramsey at 4:34 PM

Monterey

It was good weather for jazz in Monterey over the weekend, and the Monterey Jazz Festival was a good place for an author. Leroid David and Pete Leon, honchos at the Tower Records booth on the old fairgrounds, said that the signing session for Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond, was the most successful book signing in all the years that Tower has hosted events at Monterey. A record number of folks lined up to buy the book and have me inscribe it. Many thanks to all of the old and new friends who came by, including DevraDoWrite.

Guitarist John Scofield was greeting fans and signing CDs at an adjoining table. During lulls, we had a rare opportunity to catch up with one another’s doings. Later, I caught just enough of fellow guitarist Larry Carlton’s set with his Sapphire Blues Band to hear Scofield sit in and tear off a blazing blues solo.

A few impressions of other music that I selected from the rich Monterey smorgasbord :

In keeping with the pattern of concurrent attractions at modern megafestivals, it is impossible to hear one band without giving up the chance to hear others. On a limited time budget, this listener had to duck in and out of performances. I arrived at a set by pianist Benny Green and guitarist Russell Malone to hear only two and a half tunes. The half was the last part of a fast “The Way You Look Tonight,” Green’s piston fingers blazing. Each man played an unaccompanied piece, then on “Sunny” demonstrated the empathy they have developed over years of duo collaboration; two of the most satisfying contemporary players.

After dining too quickly on a reasonable facsimile of New Orleans jambalya from one of dozens of fast food stalls, I hurried to the Bill Berry Theater to catch the last number by another duo who think and breathe as one, Sheila Jordan and Steve Kuhn. The piece was a blues in which Jordan sang about her life from age fourteen, when she first heard Charlie Parker. It was a brilliantly balanced blend of musicianship and theatrical story-telling—carefully made, natural and moving. Kuhn’s piano accompaniment and the depth of his soloing made him in every sense a full partner. Jordan, a great original, ended with a tribute, eight bars of vocalese that was pure Billie Holiday.

Alto saxophonist John Handy reprised the concert that electrified the Monterey festival 40 years ago. Violinist Carlos Reyes and guitarist Steve Erquiega subbed for Michael White and Jerry Hahn, but the stalwart bassist and drummer of Handy’s original quintet, Don Thompson and Terry Clarke, were gloriously present. It would have been unthinkable for Handy not to give the audience “Spanish Lady,” the piece that brought him a standing ovation in 1965. He delivered a passionate rendition that climaxed in Reyes’ surging violin choruses and climaxed again in a Handy solo that went into the super-stratosphere of the alto. History repeated. He got a standing ovation.

It took Sonny Rollins most of his set to hit his stride, and he strode to a faretheewell on the last piece, the calypso “Don’t Stop The Carnival," achieving rhythmic intensity and thematic development close to his best work of the 1950s and early sixties. Rollins was also splendid on “I Want To Talk About You,” but when is Rollins not a moving ballad player? Listeners who expected Steven Scott, the pianist on Rollins’s latest album, seemed not to be disappointed that guitarist Bobby Broom was the other primary solo voice. Nor should they have been; Broom was a worthy foil and partner.

I was able to hear Carla Bley with The Lost Chords, the quartet that incudes her partner Steve Swallow on bass, tenor saxophonist Andy Sheppard and drummer Billy Drummond. After intensive touring, the quartet is tight, full-bodied and possessed of even more engaging wackiness than in its recent CD. Later, recapturing a formative experience of her youth, Bley premiered “Appearing Nightly at the Black Orchid.” The four-part composition for big band was inspired by her first and only job as a solo pianist, when she was seventeen, at a Monterey club called The Black Orchid. She introduced it with a piano pastiche that hinted at several songs without stating them. I wish it had gone on much longer. Her writing for the band was loaded with Bleyian harmonic mystery and deep textures supporting soloists who sounded inspired. It seems to me among Bley’s best work, and I am eager to hear it again.

Tony Bennett sang brilliantly, enjoying himself enormously and extending his set to nearly an hour and a half. He interacted intimately with his quartet and with the audience. Perhaps in honor of the jazz festival setting, he gave pianist Lee Musiker, guitarist Gray Sargent, bassist Paul Langosch and drummer Harold Jones plenty of solo space. I watched his set on a big screen in the festival’s Turf Club with a roomful of musicians who cheered Bennett with appreciation for his timing, dynamics, phrasing and swing. “So,” one prominent jazz figure asked another as they applauded, “is he a jazz singer?” His friend replied, “Does it matter what you call him?”

The two nights I was at the festival, there were jam sessions after midnight in the capacious lobby bar of the Hyatt Regency. As usual in such situations, the quality of playing and players varied, but it was enlightening and encouraging to hear two Australians—the seasoned alto player Andrew Speight, now based in San Francisco, and Simon Chadwick a seventeen-year-old tenor saxophonist imported for the festival as part of the Australian Youth All-Star Big Band. Speight is a polished Charlie Parker expert with penetrating tone and ferocious delivery. Chadwick is a tall blonde youngster with a choir-boy face and huge tone. When he keeps the number of notes under control, his sense of melodic construction makes him someone to listen for as he develops. The Saturday session also provided an opportunity to hear the Bay Area tenor saxophonist Anton Schwartz, whose work that night exceeded what I’ve heard of him on records.

Some of the best music of the festival was on screen in the documentary film Brotherly Jazz, the story of Percy, Jimmy and Tootie Heath. This was the first public showing of the film produced by Danny Scher and directed by Jesse Block. Made not long before Percy died, it melds the brothers’ life stories with performances including terrific versions of “Autumn Leaves” and Jimmy’s “Gingerbread Boy.” The sound track needs equalization, but the film effectively interweaves perfomances by the group not long before Percy died in April, archival photos and video and the brothers’ on-camera reminiscences. It has sparkling versions of “Autumn Leaves,” Yardbird Suite” and Jimmy’s classic “Gingerbread Boy. It presents tributes from a dozen or so admirers, including Herbie Hancock, George Wein, Marian McPartland, Chico Hamilton, Peter Jennings and the brothers Jeff and John Clayton. Brotherly Jazz captures the Heaths’ determination, artistic integrity and humor. Of growing up as the youngest in a musical family, Tootie says, “If it hadn’t been for the example set by my brothers, I might have gone astray and become a doctor or a lawyer."

Posted by dramsey at 1:05 AM

September 16, 2005

Monterey, Brubeck, Desmond, Stravinsky

I am off to California and a book signing at the Monterey Jazz Festival Saturday afternoon from 3 to 6 pm at the Tower Records booth. See you there, I hope. What book? Glad you asked. It's Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond, still available after all these months. Desmond and Dave Brubeck were frequent performers with Brubeck's quartet at Monterey. Dave is not there this year, but I'm looking forward to hearing Sonny Rollins and John Handy, among others. if there is a spare moment now and then, I'll be posting brief reports.

In Take Five, I go on a bit about Paul's love affair with the works of Igor Stravinsky. He was particularly smitten with Petrouchka and The Rite of Spring and often quoted them in ingenious ways. I am grateful to Rifftides reader Garret Gannuch for pointing me toward a web site called Casa Jonsson and a page that discusses the Brubeck-Desmond-Stravinsky axis. It provides audio samples of Stravinsky's works and of the ways Desmond and Brubeck used them in their improvisations in Jazz At Oberlin. It's educational; good, clean fun for the whole family.

If you would like to be in touch, you'll find an e-mail address in the right-hand column. See you next week, if not sooner.

Posted by dramsey at 1:05 AM

Correction

A knowlegeable reader has caught me in an error in yesterday's Bill Evans posting. It was John O'Hara, not Robert Benchley, who said of George Gershwin's death, "I don't have to believe it if I don't want to." I have heard the quotation attributed to Benchley so often that I didn't doublecheck it. Let that be a lesson to me. One of the good things about blogging, as opposed to print publishing, is that after the horse has escaped you can get him back into the barn. With a few keystrokes, I am correcting the mistake.

The knowledgeable reader is Terry Teachout. Thanks, pal, that's (another) one I owe you.

Posted by dramsey at 1:00 AM

September 15, 2005

Bill Evans: Always On Sunday

Bill Evans died twenty five years ago today. To borrow what John O'Hara said when he heard of George Gershwin’s death, I don’t have to believe if I don’t want to. His music is here through dozens of recordings, but his presence goes beyond aural artifacts. Evans is part of jazz today because he is woven into the concept of nearly every pianist who followed him, and of many who were established when he became an important player in the second half of the 1950s. Indeed, his influence extends beyond pianists to players of virtually every melody instrument; listen, as an example, to the trumpeter Tom Harrell.

Hearing the new Riverside box set of the Bill Evans Trio at the Village Vanguard in 1961, it is easy to imagine that he is still with us. So he is, in a demonstrable way, because he, bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian changed the concept of the piano trio from that of a soloist accompanied by bass and drums to that of three musicians who breathe, think and function as one. Among important jazz trios in the twenty first century, adaptations of the Evans approach to performance are the rule, not the exception.

In addition, LaFaro had the greatest impact of anyone since Jimmy Blanton in Duke Ellington’s band of the early 1940s, on the way bass players use their instrument. He was not only a phenomenal master of the technical aspects of playing the double bass, he was also gifted—quite likely a genius, as was Evans—in matters of harmonic choices, melodic construction and rhythmic placement. It is an unintended consequence of LaFaro’s pervasive influence that regiments of young bassists imitate his ability to play high and fast, but most do not or cannot begin to approximate his lyricism, beauty and timing ,or the depth of his tone, which Evans likened to the sound of an organ. New bassists—not all, but many—emulate the technique they hear from LaFaro on the Evans recordings without understanding how it fits into the complex relationship among Evans, LaFaro and Motian and, particularly, how his note choices relate to the impressionistic chord voicings that give Evans’s playing so much of its character. Worse, they overlook at least half of what made him a great bassist, the power of his straight-ahead swing.

For all of Evans’s legend as an introspective, withdrawn musician, his playing had muscle and grit, and there is plenty of swing in the Vanguard recordings. Originally issued on a forty-one-minute LP, they helped to expand the reputation he made as a New York session musician, occasional leader and Miles Davis sideman. For the next nineteen years, he built his career in great part on the foundation of the trio with LaFaro and Motian and on the Vanguard sessions. In the years since Evans died in 1980, Fantasy, Inc. has reissued that album many times in several formats. The initially released tracks, and almost everything else recorded at the Vanguard on June 25, 1961 are in the huge Bill Evans: Complete Riverside Recordings box.

The new three-CD box has only one “new” track, a previously unissued take of LaFaro’s composition “Gloria’s step,” slightly marred by a brief dropout resulting from a power failure. The set is the most complete possible account of an amazing afternoon’s and night’s work by the Evans trio, two-and-a-half hours of music. Quantity is not, however, what renders the set compelling. Nor is it the fact that the performances are in their proper sequence; that is true in the big Riverside Evans box. In that collection, however, they begin and end, unavoidably but annoyingly, in the middle of CDs. Here, they begin at the beginning of the first CD and conclude at the end of the third. No, it is the intensity and joy of the music itself, and the sense of occasion, that have kept people going back to these performances for four decades. The recordings are remastered so that listening to them, preferably with closed eyes and a glass of something good at hand, we are as near as possible to being with Evans, LaFaro and Motian in that little wedge of a club beneath Seventh Avenue South in New York. Through expanded intervals between numbers, chatter of the audience is now a greater part of the ambience. We hear snippets of discussion among the musicians about repertoire choices, and we hear their occasional reactions to one another’s playing.

Orrin Keepnews, who produced the original sessions, was not involved in preparing the new reissue, but wrote liner notes for the package. In the essay, he admits to initial skepticism about the idea of yet another release, but says that his doubts were erased when he heard the results. When I knew the box was on the way, I had about decided that it would be redundant. It is not. I have had it playing for days. I am making room for it on my Bill Evans shelf.

Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker wrote of Evans’s playing in these recordings, “They are as close to pure emotion, produced without impediments - not at all the same thing as an entire self poured out without inhibitions, the bebop dream - as exists in music.” This is a good day to read “That Sunday,” Gopnik’s 2001 account of the Evans Vanguard sessions on the occasion of their fortieth anniversary. It is a good day to remember one of our greatest musicians.

Posted by dramsey at 1:05 AM

September 14, 2005

Justice Douglas And The Trolleys

The town in which I spend most of my time—Yakima, Washington—has several physical attributes that help make it a good place. It has air that cannot be seen, sunshine nearly every day, seasons, mountain views and hundreds of vineyards that produce world-class wines. It has apples, cherries, pears, peaches, plums and apricots in such profusion that the city used to bear the municipal nickname, Fruit Bowl Of The Nation. Several years ago, before we moved here, the slogan was dropped, for reasons that I can only imagine had something to do with embarassment over a new meaning increasingly attached to the word “fruit.” This is a conservative community, not likely to cotton to snickers about its name. The big illuminated sign that proclaimed Fruit Bowl Of The Nation is no longer on display downtown, but in the museum.

Now, as you approach the downtown exit from the west on Interstate 82 , you encounter a sign erected on private property by a businessman in the recreational vehicle field. It reads, “Welcome to Yakima, the Palm Springs of Washington.” That encourages lots of snickers and a certain amount of outrage, but at least it isn’t—well, you know—suggestive. I have encouraged friends down south to erect a sign that says, “Welcome to Palm Springs, The Yakima of California.”

Yakima has two other institutions that, unlike mountains, air, fruit and wine, are unique to the town. Not far from the Fruit Bowl sign in the museum is a replica of the US Supreme Court office of Justice William O. Douglas, one of the most liberal judges ever to sit on the high court. Yakima is Douglas’s home town, and despite its conservative nature, the city is, for the most part, proud of that fact. He grew up here, practiced law downtown and for nearly all of his life made Yakima a point of departure for hikes and hunting and fishing expeditions. At the high school from which he was graduated in 1916 is a fine statue of Douglas. Last week, a 75-mile trail from Yakima to Mount Rainier was dedicated to him and given his name. The event was suported by the other unique attraction, the trolley line.

The Yakima Valley Trolley line’s web site explains, “The YVT is listed on the National Register of Historic Places because it is the last authentic, all-original turn-of-the-century interurban railroad in the United States.” The line runs from more or less the center of Yakima to the little town of Selah, five miles away, and has since 1907. For decades, it provided essential public transit. These days, it is used primarily for sightseeing and nostalgia. Following the trail dedication ceremony, a few dozen Douglas fans and outdoor enthusiasts, some wearing back packs and hiking boots, walked to the north side of town.

It was a coincidence that I chose that storybook autumn morning to take a long mountain bike ride. I was tooling along near the conjunction of the Naches River and the Yakima as the hikers arrived at the the base of one of the hills that form the Selah Gap. Both ancient trolleys were waiting there. The casual strollers piled aboard the red trolley and went back to town. The serious hikers boarded the yellow trolley, rode a symbolic few hundred yards, got out, began a steep climb and headed west toward Mount Rainier. I pulled over and watched the line of fifteen men and women and one dog as they trudged beneath a cloudless sky up the steep trail through the sagebrush and disappeared beyond the brow of the hill. They planned on taking four days to reach the mountain. I imagined Bill Douglas with them, setting the pace.

Posted by dramsey at 1:05 AM

Two Religions

Tom Stites, a former editor at The Chicago Tribune and The Kansas City Star, also edited the fine magazine Jazz, which published from 1976 to 1981. Jazz featured some of the best writers on the subject, including Dan Morgenstern, Ira Gitler, Tom Piazza, Bob Blumenthal, Leonard Feather, Sy Johnson, Peter Keepnews and Stites himself. The magazine’s approach was serious but not pompous. It avoided the fanzine excesses and shallowness of too much jazz journalism, and it got beneath the surface of the music into its essence. Based on quality, it deserved to succeed, but after an impressive run, it died. Stites went back to newspapers for a while and then took a job as editor of the magazine of the Unitarian Universalist religious denomination. A friend of his says that Stites is probably the only person alive who has edited the magazines of both his religions.

I winced a bit when I saw the title of an article Stites wrote for UUWorld—“Improvisational Faith:Jazz and Unitarian Universalist Thelology”—but a few paragraphs in, skepticism faded that this would be another exercise in the church-goes-pop movement that has produced weak theology and weak music. It was thoughtful, provocative and, somehow, reassuring. Regardless of your religious orientation or non-orientation, you may find it interesting. Here’s an excerpt:

…both jazz and Unitarian Universalism are inclusive rather than exclusive. Everybody is welcome, and everybody is welcome to improvise. In jazz, improvisation means spontaneous composition of music in the moment it is played. In Unitarian Universalism, it means that each of us must search for our own truth and meaning—and, like jazz players, we draw from many sources of inspiration. And neither jazz nor Unitarian Universalist improvisation is for the faint-hearted. It requires real courage to take responsibility for our own religious lives, both as individuals and as congregations.

To read all of Tom Stites’s piece, go here. It’s good to know that he’s writing, and where to find him.

Posted by dramsey at 1:04 AM

September 13, 2005

Freddie Schreiber

Freddie Schreiber was making a mark in Cal Tjader’s quintet when he died, far too young, in the 1960s. I remember him in Seattle in the mid-1950s as an aspiring bassist and an extremely witty man. He struggled to master the instrument, not with notable success. Later, within a period of two or three months, his hard work kicked in and he became a superb player. Tjader told me that he was thrilled to have Freddie on the band. Schreiber's best recording with Tjader was Saturday Night/Sunday Night At the Blackhawk, San Francisco (Verve 8459). It has never been reissued on CD, which is a shame, but it can be found on web sites, including this one, that specialize in rare LPs. I have always liked the album. It includes, among other things, a marvelous version of Gary McFarland’s “Weep,” but in the July 5, 1962, Down Beat, reviewer John S. Wilson gave Saturday Night/Sunday Night a lukewarm once-over that ended with this:

Schreiber comes in for an occasional solo, but this scarcely relieves the generally monotonous sound of the group. The performances are loose and airy, but none of the soloists is sufficiently distinctive to raise the set out of an anonymous although generally pleasant rut.

A few issues later, Down Beat published a response from Schreiber that has been quoted by musicians for years.

I am the bass player with Cal Tjader's group, and I have just finished reading John Wilson's review of our latest record on Verve recorded at the Blackhawk (DB, Jul 5) I think Mr Wilson was very fair in putting down Cal and the other guys in the group, but I really think he should have listened to me more carefully. Evidently he did not listen closely to my angular, probing lines, and I am sure that not once did he take note of my relentless throbbing beat. I just hope that when our next album is released, which is entitled It Ain't Necessarily Soul, that Mr Wilson pays more attention to my great playing--because, man--I'm too much!

And that’s one reason I miss Freddie Schreiber.

Posted by dramsey at 1:06 AM

Quoteworthy

Rifftides reader Eric Bruskin reacts to yesterday’s quote from Bertrand Russell:

Was this before or after Yeats put it much more memorably:
The best lack all conviction while the worst Are full of passionate intensity ...

That is not the only memorable line in William Butler Yeats’s The Second Coming (1921). I wonder whether any poem has had greater effect on observers of the chaos of the Twentieth Century and the early years of this one. It inspired, among other writings, the title of Joan Didion’s brilliant book of essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem.

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert.

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born

—W.B. Yeats

On the off chance that you need help with Yeats’s mysticism and symbols (I’m raising my hand), here’s a start.

Posted by dramsey at 1:05 AM

Teachout on Armstrong

My ArtsJournal confrere Terry Teachout is writing a biography of Louis Armstrong. If you have read his big biography of H.L. Mencken and his small one of George Balanchine, you know that Terry is a superb chronicler of lives. He is also a skilled musician who understands from the standpoint of musical technique as well as from a cultural perspective why Armstrong was a truly great man. Those qualities of literary and musical accomplishment have coexisted in only one previous Armstrong biographer—Armstrong himself. When TT told me over lunch nearly three years ago about the project, I instantly filled with anticipation that grew today as I read the long interview with Terry by Joe Maita on the Jerry Jazz Musician site. Here is a small excerpt:

JJM : In 1944, Leonard Feather wrote, "Americans, unknowingly, live part of every day in the house that 'Satch' built." Can this still be said?
TT: Yes, it is still true, although today, people are influenced by people who were influenced by Louis, rather than, for the most part, being influenced by him first-hand. To an extent that most people just don't get, Armstrong created the way that jazz sounds. He didn't invent jazz, of course, but he set the parameters within which it operates, and had an influence on every other kind of American popular music too. The house that we live in, the house that Louis built, is a rhythmic house. Our idea of what it means to swing is, to a great extent, his doing.

To read the entire interview, go here.

Posted by dramsey at 1:03 AM

September 12, 2005

Preservation

As we all should know by now, there are many Katrina relief scammers attempting to profit from human kindness at the expense of the storm’s victims. Caution is in order before you give to any organization or person about whose credibility and honesty you are not certain. I knew and trusted Allan and Sandra Jaffe, who founded Preservation Hall. They were a selfless couple. Their son Ben, who runs the hall today, was a boy when I left New Orleans, but everything I have learned in checking out his stewardship of the organization leads me to believe that you can trust this pledge:

New Orleans Musicians Hurricane Relief Fund
This fund is established by Preservation Hall to provide musicians with financial support during this tragic time. 100 % of money raised through this fund will go directly to New Orleans musicians.

Preservation Hall asks that you call 1-888-229-7911 and make your donation by credit card. Go to the Preservation Hall web site for more information. While you are there, view the ten-minute movie about the the hall. After you have seen and heard Louis Armstrong, Sweet Emma Barrett, Willie Humphrey, Dee Dee and Billie Pierce, George Lewis, the current band—and the people of New Orleans—you may decide that this is a city that will come back.

A sign on the back wall of Preservation Hall bandstand reads:

Traditional Request - $2.00
Others - $5.00
The Saints - $10.00

Listeners have been known to tip $10.00 not to hear "When The Saints Go Marching In" again. This fund is an opportunity to help assure that the option will exist because there will be musicians to provide it. Thanks to DevraDoWrite for calling it to my attention.

For news of the fate of the Preservation Hall band members, see Michael Brick's story in The New York Times.

Posted by dramsey at 1:05 AM

Quote

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt. —Bertrand Russell


Posted by dramsey at 1:04 AM

September 10, 2005

Weekend Extra: Chronicling Desmond

In today’s San Francisco Chronicle, Jesse Hamlin has an article about Paul Desmond. In it, I am happy to report, he is kind to Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond and mentions that I will be signing copies of the book a week from today at the Monterey Jazz Festival.

Hamlin sought out San Francisco musicians who worked with Desmond in his pre-Dave Brubeck Quartet days of the 1940s, and spices his piece with their recollections. Here are two of them:

Guitarist Eddie Duran hired Desmond whenever he could for his band. "He was so inventive," Duran said. "He was so aware of harmonies. He could just weave in and out of them. When he improvised, he didn't trash the melody; he kept the context of the original melody and created new melodies. He had taste. And total mastery."
"He was always extremely lyrical, his time was good and he had that tone. He was a pure player," recalled trumpeter Johnny Coppola, who worked with Desmond in the Bay Area band of Billy Shuart in the late '40s. "He always sounded beautiful," added Coppola's wife, Frances Lynne, who sang with Desmond and Brubeck at the Band Box and the Geary Cellar. "Nobody got a sound like he did."

The headline on Hamlin’s Chronicle story is long and accurate. Click on it and you can read the article: Paul Desmond's sound was like a dry martini, and his melodies flowed like sweet wine.

Posted by dramsey at 4:53 PM

September 9, 2005

Aid For New Orleans Musicians

The Jazz Refugee Project in Phoeniz, Arizona, is offering relocation aid for musicians displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The project, set up by the drummer R. R. Phaneuf (aka DrSnazzy), makes this offer:

Once you are part of the Jazz Refugee Project, we will help connect you with shelter, food, clothing, and an excellent support network. We will be coordinating benefit concerts across the Phoenix area to help all Jazz Refugee Project participants. Funds from these concerts, along with support from sponsor families, will help address your financial needs.

Contact information is at the project’s web site.

Posted by dramsey at 1:05 AM

Comment

Dick McGarvin writes from Los Angeles:

Your blog about watching the silent television images of the New Orleans disaster while listening to Miles' recording of "Basin Street Blues" was quite moving. And, having played that recording many times, I could hear it without even taking the album off the shelf.

Posted by dramsey at 1:04 AM

Comment

Richard Tabnik writes:

heard the 'new' bird and diz?

amazing...if that had come out 60 years ago, the entire concept of saxophone would be different

whew!

From the August 8 Rifftides posting:

Throughout, Gillespie’s control, range, harmonic ingenuity, melodic inventiveness and time—above all, his time—are breathtaking. In these performances, he and Parker give profound meaning to Dizzy’s frequently-quoted description of Bird as, “the other half of my heartbeat.”

To read the whole entry, go here.

Posted by dramsey at 1:03 AM

September 8, 2005

Basin Street Blues

For a while last night, I watched the latest images of New Orleans with the television babble turned off. From the CD player came the 1963 Miles Davis recording of “Basin Street Blues,” its muted trumpet solo a long, slow memory of loss, Victor Feldman’s piano choruses laced with hope. The music provided more optimism that the city would revive than the combined banalities of all of the officials, preachers and celebrities the cable channels keep looping through their coverage. Then, it was sound up on the TV and back to the reality jolt that we all need if resolve to resurrect the city is to overcome fiscal, social and political obstacles. For ten minutes, though, Miles calmed the spirit, and Vic Feldman buoyed it, and that helped ease the ache of witnessing the anguish of a place I know and love.

Posted by dramsey at 1:02 AM

Fud Livingston

Several days ago, DevraDoWrite posted a piece about the all-but-forgotten guitarist Brick Fleagle. I then sent her a message that mentioned another important, now obscure, musician with an unusual name. She researched Fud Livingston and came up with a fascinating report. Here is a little of what she discovered.

Fud Livingston (né: Anthony Joseph Livingston). Born April 10, 1906, in Charleston, S.C., USA, he died on March 25, 1957, in New York, NY. USA. Fud originally studied Piano, Clarinet and Sax. His first professional experience came as a member of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, where for five years he played sax and did arranging. After Whiteman, he worked with Freddie Rich and with Andre Kostelanetz, and others.

There was much more to Livingston. To read what Devra found, go to DevraDoWrite. Then, listen to Livingston's advanced 1927 arrangement of his "Imagination" for the Charleston Chasers, a band that included Pee Wee Russell and Red Nichols. Richard Sudhalter's Lost Chords has thirty-six mentions of Livingston and includes transcriptions of parts of "Imagination."

Posted by dramsey at 1:01 AM

September 7, 2005

Comments: Why Blame The President?

A Rifftides reader writes:

While you admit that the problems New Orleans faced and knowledge of what was necessary go back to Camille and beyond, indeed had to have been known 300 years ago when the city was built, the only person who comes in for blame is, guess who?, George W. Bush.
This is really so tiresome. It seems to me a lot of people for a long time have been playing fast and loose with protecting New Orleans from a bad storm, and, sadly, the worst has come to be. Last week was not exactly the finest hour for a lot of folks: the Mayor of New Orleans and his police department; the governor of Louisiana, and the directors of FEMA and DHS. And New Orleans flood and hurricane protection has been underfunded for decades. But what do liberals care anymore? (And I say this as someone who proudly called himself one for years, until liberalism slowly, since the late 60s, wandered into the swamp of bad ideas). Denounce Bush and, as Lenin said, everyone will know everything.

Doug Responds:

However you care to tie Lenin’s statement to current events and politics, this is what he actually said in a speech in October, 1917, when soldiers and workers led by his Bosheviks were storming the Winter Palace.

Our idea is that a state is strong when the people are politically conscious. It is strong when the people know everything, can form an opinion of everything, and do everything consciously. - V. I. Lenin

As things turned out, that admirable idea of openness was not an operating principal of the Bolsheviks after they morphed into the Communist Party and formed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Claiming the virtues of a free flow of information and assuring it in a political system are quite different matters. Governmental power wants secrecy. A free people is reluctant to allow secrecy. So far in our nation, the people have won that ceaseless struggle, but, as Wendell Phillips said 153 years ago, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. That applies to threats from inside, even at the top, as well as to those from outside.


Posted by dramsey at 1:06 AM

The Nature Of The Challenge

Following up on yesterday's posting about the lack of preparedness for Katrina, Rifftides reader Garret Gannuch points us toward an October 2001 Scientific American article. The piece by Mark Fischetti provides additional detail about what it will take to help nature rebuild parts of the Mississippi Delta and to protect New Orleans from the river and Lake Pontchartrain. The challenge is rooted as deeply in human nature as in physical and fiscal difficulty.

Since the late 1980s Louisiana's senators have made various pleas to Congress to fund massive remedial work. But they were not backed by a unified voice. L.S.U. (Louisiana State University) had its surge models, and the Corps had others. Despite agreement on general solutions, competition abounded as to whose specific projects would be most effective. The Corps sometimes painted academics' cries about disaster as veiled pitches for research money. Academia occasionally retorted that the Corps's solution to everything was to bulldoze more dirt and pour more concrete, without scientific rationale. Meanwhile oystermen and shrimpers complained that the proposals from both the scientists and the engineers would ruin their fishing grounds.

Mr. Bush said yesterday that "bureaucracy's not going to stand in the way of getting the job done for the people." Let us hope that he and the Congress are able to unify the myriad special interests—political, governmental, bureaucratic, industrial and scientific—that have collided to discourage correction of what man has done to the Mississippi. Here's a bit more from Fischetti's Scientific American piece. Remember, he wrote this four years ago.

If Congress and President George W. Bush hear a unified call for action, authorizing it would seem prudent. Restoring coastal Louisiana would protect the country's seafood and shipping industries and its oil and natural-gas supply. It would also save America's largest wetlands, a bold environmental stroke. And without action, the million people outside New Orleans would have to relocate. The other million inside the bowl would live at the bottom of a sinking crater, surrounded by ever higher walls, trapped in a terminally ill city dependent on nonstop pumping to keep it alive.

To read all of Fischetti's article, go here.

Posted by dramsey at 1:05 AM

De Franco Tip

Demonstrating the principle enunciated in the first item in the right-hand column, we have a tip from the same helpful Rifftides reader who raised the question about President Bush. He alerts us to a reliable source in the U.S. for the Buddy De Franco CD discussed in Doug's Picks (also on your right). It is Worlds Records. Thank you, helpful reader.

Posted by dramsey at 1:05 AM

September 6, 2005

Forecast And Denial

During my coverage of the aftermath of hurricane Camille in 1969, I talked with experts who predicted that some day New Orleans would not be so "lucky." Eventually, they said, unless massive preventive steps were taken, there would be a storm so big that the levees would not hold, the pumps would fail, the city would be inundated, the death and destruction would be like something out of the Old Testament. No one said that the devastation would be unimaginable; they were imagining it. There have been warnings ever since. There were warnings even before Camille.

In its October, 2004, issue, The National Geographic published an article by Joel K. Bourne, Jr., reporting on predictions by scientists and engineers of a disaster that would someday strike New Orleans. The piece included this vision:

A liquid brown wall washed over the brick ranch homes of Gentilly, over the clapboard houses of the Ninth Ward, over the white-columned porches of the Garden District, until it raced through the bars and strip joints on Bourbon Street like the pale rider of the Apocalypse. As it reached 25 feet (eight meters) over parts of the city, people climbed onto roofs to escape it.
Thousands drowned in the murky brew that was soon contaminated by sewage and industrial waste. Thousands more who survived the flood later perished from dehydration and disease as they waited to be rescued. It took two months to pump the city dry, and by then the Big Easy was buried under a blanket of putrid sediment, a million people were homeless, and 50,000 were dead. It was the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States.

Last fall when that article appeared, what it described had not happened. This fall, it has. Bourne wrote about protective action recommended by the Army Corps of Engineers and a coalition of scientists, environmentalists and business people—and about the Bush administration's refusal to commit to the spending it would have taken to start correcting the problem. The President said the other day that no one could have envisioned the levees giving way. Read the Geographic's stark account. Then, decide whether the leaders of this administration understood what the experts were telling them and, if so, why they did not insist on immediate Congressional approval of flood-control funding.

This is not a question of hindsight being the best foresight. It is a scandalous rejection of foresight that was based on experience, evidence and expertise. It has gone on for decades at all levels of government; parish, city, state and federal. When the relocation, burials, cleanup and rebuilding are done, will there be leadership to put a plan in place to protect New Orleans from the next category 4 or 5 storm? That storm will come.

Posted by dramsey at 1:05 AM

Sometimes I Miss New York

For anyone partial to Roy Hargrove, this would be a fine week to be in New York. He is appearing Wednesday through Sunday at The Jazz Gallery with his quartet (pianist Danny Grisett, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Greg Hutchison). Each night, Hargrove will perform with a different fellow trumpeter. His guests will be, in this order, Darren Barrett, Claudio Roditi, Tom Harrell, Nicholas Payton and Marcus Belgrave. Hargrove can be uneven, but when he is inspired—especially playing ballads on flugelhorn—he creates melodies on a level with some of the greatest jazz soloists of any era. All five nights at the Jazz Gallery are virtually guaranteed to be interesting, but it is most intriguing to anticipate on the same stand Hargrove and Harrell, two of the most inventive trumpeters of our time. This pairing could fairly be called an event.

Posted by dramsey at 1:04 AM

September 5, 2005

Jazzsafe List

The Chicago Jazz Archive is maintaining a list of New Orleans musicians found safe. The list is short but growing. Deborah Gillaspie, the archive curator, asks that anyone with verified reports of survivors e-mail her. She emphasizes that the CJA is not searching for missing people, only reporting on musicians who have been found. Ms. Gillaspie says, "Please don't email or call ASKING about people."

Among those located: Al Belletto, Henry Butler, Fats Domino, Johnny Vidacovich, Bill Summers, Irvin Mayfield and Banu Gibson. Go here to see the list so far.

Rather than duplicate effort, we direct you once again to the comprehensive set of links to blogs covering Katrina and its aftermath at Terry Teachout's Arts Journal About Last Night. He and his blog partner Laura Demanski (aka Our Girl in Chicago) are offering a valuable service by constructing this clearinghouse of information to supplement traditional news sources.

Posted by dramsey at 1:06 AM

A Lucky Serenade

Seattle’s Earshot Jazz magazine has a nice article by Philip Coady on Lucky Thompson. It includes stories about Clark Terry’s visits to his old friend before Thompson died. Coady also describes Ellis and Branford Marsalis going to Thompson’s hospital room and drawing out a man who had been mostly silent for years.

Branford played for Lucky, and in a moment none of us will ever forget, Lucky asked for something. In my years of visiting Lucky, I was always trying to discover what I could bring for him from the “outside.” “Is there anyting I can do for you?” I asked. But Lucky always replied, “Just be happy. That’s all I want.” This was repeated hundreds of times. Frankly, I had just never heard Lucky ask for anything—until this moment.
He asked Branford to play some more. “I’d like to hear more,” he said. This was coming from a man who hadn’t asked for anything in years.

Go here to read the piece and all of Earshot’s online pdf edition. Be patient. It takes a moment for the pdf to download.

Posted by dramsey at 1:05 AM

Quote

“Don’t buy gas if you don’t need it.”

—George W. Bush

Posted by dramsey at 1:05 AM

September 2, 2005

Survival Story

Among the many New Orleanians I have been worrying about is Al Belletto, the leader of the Al Belletto Sextet and, in recent years, also of a booting big band. Calls to him and his companion Linda Rhodes in the city and to their vacation retreat in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, went nowhere; the 504 and 601 area codes are a memory. I kept wondering if I would see them in one of those endless loops of television footage.

I answered the phone yesterday and heard, “This is Belletto and Linda. We’re in Dallas. We’re okay.”

When Katrina was aiming down New Orleans’ throat, they got out of town and headed for their place in Mississippi. Then, the storm turned eastward. It scoured virtually all of Bay St. Louis, including their house, off the landscape. By then, they had gone inland. After twenty hours stranded in McComb, Mississippi, they started driving slowly west and in a couple of days made the one-day trip to Dallas. They found refuge in the home of Al’s son and his family. Al thinks that they will be living there for a long time.

Belletto's horns and books of arrangements for the sextet and the big band were in his house in the city. He thinks it likely that his house and Linda’s were swept away or ruined beyond restoring and that everything in them is gone. His and Linda’s lives are altered beyond description. The difference between them and hundreds, probably thousands of others, is that they have their lives. In the wake of Katrina, that is what New Orleanians consider good fortune.

Posted by dramsey at 1:05 AM

The Sophisticates

Rummaging through biographical facts, I was reminded that the great pianist Jimmy Rowles and Minnie Pearl, the comic doyenne of country music both died in early 1996. That recalled a story Rowles told over lunch one day a few weeks before his death.

When he was Ella Fitzgerald’s accompanist, he said, they were on one of those 1960s television daytime variety shows; Mike Douglas or Merv Griffin. Another of the guests was Minnie Pearl in full array, the straw hat with price tag dangling, the flour sack dress, the exaggerated southern drawl. Her pianist didn’t show. The producer suggested that Jimmy accompany Minnie Pearl, and he agreed. She asked him, “Waal, Jimmih, what dew yew think we oughta dew?”

After a long pause, Rowles said, “How about ‘Lush Life’?”

Posted by dramsey at 1:04 AM

And On Your Right...

In the right-hand column under Doug's Picks, you will find all new selections except for Food. We shall stay with crab cakes for now. I would appreciate suggestions from you folks about new culinary entries. The e-mail address is also on the right.

Posted by dramsey at 1:03 AM

September 1, 2005

President's Choice

From the web site of San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club of California comes a transcript containing what may be the most unexpected question ever asked the head of a country in a public forum. The club’s speaker last November was Václav Klaus, the president of the Czech Republic. At the end of a question and answer session covering the European Union, Turkey, Iraq and the nature of elections in his post-Communist nation, this was the exchange:

Q: If you could be any jazz pianist, who would you be?
A: I will never be a jazz pianist in my life. Nevertheless, I think that jazz music for us is very important, and I must say that in the early 1960s, the beginning of jazz clubs in the Czech Republic, in Prague, was part of the culture of revolution which brought about the 1960s and the Prague Spring and all of that - so jazz plays a very important part in our lives.

Klaus thinks jazz is so important that in February of 2004, he initiated regular concerts of the music at Prague Castle, the Czech counterpart of the White House. With his selection of honored performer at the first of those concerts, he disclosed his levels of taste and sophistication in jazz. Klaus’s choice was the veteran pianist Emil Viklický, who appeared with his regular sidemen, bassist František Uhlíř and drummer Laco Troop. The Italian trumpeter Franco Ambrosetti was guest soloist. It was as if George W. Bush were to personally arrange for a concert in the East Room by Kenny Barron’s trio, or Bill Charlap’s, with Tom Harrell or Clark Terry sitting in for a few tunes.

I’ll pause while you collect yourselves.

(Pause)

That Prague Castle concert was recorded. Shortly after a recent tour of Japan, Viklický sent Rifftides a message about the concert’s aftermath, a new concert honoring another famous Czech musician, and a quaint story about Paul Desmond. I have edited his message only lightly in order to retain its charm and the sense of his voice.

The decision to issue recorded material on the CD came directly from President Klaus just shortly after the concert. The funny thing was that the president was leaving for China /official State visit/ on that very night!!! at 23.30. We have played an encore "The Slow Boat to China" about 22.10 and Vaclav Klaus was still sitting in the first row and enjoying himself tremendously. He really is and always was a true jazz lover for many years. I remember him in seventies as scientist/economist visiting SHQ band of Karel Velebny in Reduta Jazz Club. Karel Velebny was a key figure of czech modern jazz - everybody was in his band — George Mraz, Jan Arnet, Jan Konopasek. I have stayed with Karel´s band from 1974 up to his death in 1989 – just shortly before the collapse of communism.
There is a new CD coming out from Prague Castle - George Mraz’s 60th birthday. Multisonic asked me to help with mixing and arranging things since George himself is not here in Prague. I will push Multisonic owner, Mr.Karel Vagner, to have better distribution for abroad.
While siting in plane from Nagoya for many hours, my 66 years old drummer Laco Tropp told me a story about Paul Desmond from Berlin festival in 1965: Paul have played there with Brubeck´s quartet and have met Czech musicians backstage. He was very curious to meet them and was hanging with Czech musicians quite a lot of time. Admiring especially their sense of humor. Especially Karel Velebny was a great personality / puns and jokes all the time/. Paul went to bars and restaurants with Czech guys, drinked beers with them, mostly talking with Karel. Laco Tropp is not very good in English, so he didn’t understand topics of the conversation. But he said Desmond really spend hours with Czech guys. Karel Velebny was quite OK with languages, unfortunately we can’t ask him anymore. Paul and Karel were very similar types - fragile, glasses, clever, mostly smilling, very good with words...

Best wishes,
Emil

Posted by dramsey at 1:05 AM

Other Views (Sonny Rollins Department)

Francis Davis, the jazz critic of The Village Voice, likes the new Sonny Rollins album, about which I have enthused a couple of times. On the other hand:

The problem is the string-of-solos format: When Rollins goes first, everything else is anticlimactic, and when he goes last, as is more often the case, the wait seems forever—you wish he'd give trombone and piano their own features and grab the spotlight. Why have Bob Cranshaw play electric bass if all you ask him to do is walk? The constant buzz is a distraction, and an upright would blend more handsomely with the wood in Rollins's cello-like lower register.
Davis goes on to write:
Why am I so wild about Without a Song, then?

For his column-length answer, salted with personal anecdotes and an amusing run at Down Beat, go here.

Posted by dramsey at 1:03 AM