Monday, May 14, 2018

Musiciansʼ quotes: Carla Bley on (im)perfection

Photo by Lauren Lancaster / NYT/Redux
“Well, youʼre not going to get very far in the musical world without some kind of a defect.”
Carla Bley's reply to the late Lew Soloffʼs assertion that he could (indeed) play “everything and anything”, quoted in this profile by Ethan Iverson.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

For the love of George

George Avakian, Coleman Hawkins and Sonny Rollins
Newport Jazz Festival, July 6, 1963
©Burt Goldblatt/CTS Images
George Avakian has died. He was 98. He lived a long, good life. For us, music lovers, the important bit is that he was a record producer, and a pioneer at that. Trying to give a fair overview of his whole career is almost impossible, and you will notice that, more often than not, the focus is on less than a decade, from 1950—when he produced Benny Goodmanʼs Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert—till 1958, when he left Columbia Records. Not all eras deserve the same attention, and those years were very intense for Avakian: he signed Dave Brubeck, Erroll Garner and a certain Miles Davis into the big time, and relaunched the careers of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. But before that, he established, or helped establish, the concepts of the jazz album and the reissues of older recordings, a paradigm still extant. After those heady times at Columbia, he produced Sonny Rollinsʼs comeback in the sixties, beginning with The Bridge, all the studio recordings of Paul Desmond with Jim Hall—one LP for Warner Bros., the rest for RCA—and launched the careers of Charles Lloyd and Keith Jarrett. And still, this doesnʼt make him justice (, as good as it is, barely scratches the surface).

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Barbara Carroll's first gig in NYC

(All the photos below are by William P. Gottlieb, and are available at the Library of Congress website.—click on them for a larger view.)

Pianist and singer Barbara Carroll passed away on February 12. She was 92, and hadn't quite retired. She was a two-handed pianist, as Hank Jones and Billy Taylor were, with big ears, and was active throughout her life, with a pause in the 1960s to raise a child. She has plenty of music available, much of it in trio format. Her "repertory" recordings for SESAC from 1959 (available as a download or via streaming through the "... And More Bears" label) are well worth a listen.

Carroll had piano lessons from a very early age, and attended the New England Conservatory, although her enthusiasm was aimed at jazz. During World War II, she toured her all-fermale trio around army camps in that part of the country, and after that, when she was just 22 years old, she landed her first gig in the Big Apple, almost by chance...
"When I came to New York, I knew nobody there except one musician, who introduced me to an agent, and immediately he was fortunate enough to get me a job opposite Dizzy Gillespie’s big band. I had a trio of my own, which consisted of Chuck Wayne on guitar, Clyde Lombardi on bass, and myself. Needless to say, I was so impressed with these two marvellous musicians I was working with that I was practically overwhelmed. Plus sharing the engagement with Dizzy’s band, which at that time included some great players like Ray Brown on bass, John Lewis on piano. Really fantastic."

Barbara Carroll, Clyde Lombardi, Chuck Wayne
Downbeat Club, c. 14-20 August 1947

Sunday, December 18, 2016

A biography of Oscar Alemán (in Spanish)

Sergio Pujol
Oscar Alemán: La guitarra embrujada
Planeta; Buenos Aires, 2015
Paperback; 312 pp.

The life of Oscar Alemán (1909-1980) is one of those narratives which tend to end up ditched on the kerbs of history. But how do you fit in the jazz canon a black Argentinian guitar player, who got to be hugely popular in pre-WWII France without ever setting foot in the US?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Electric guitar—Who's on first?

When I blogged about Charlie Christian's centennial last July, I said that discussions about who was first to record a regular, or "Spanish", (not lap-steel or "Hawaiian") electric guitar seemed pointless, given the fortuitous nature of such a feat. Interestingly, literature on early electric guitar is mostly focused on the gear rather than the music. The game-changer that was Charlie Christian may have something to do with that, but let that not stop us from having at least a glance on players from the pre-Christian era.

Gage Brewer (on lap steel). Picture from the
Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum

Friday, August 26, 2016

The man who was there

John Coltrane and Rudy Van Gelder, early 1960s

Phonography is one of the motors of jazz. Without recorded sound, the fast evolution of the music would not have happened. A recording allows however many repetitions necessary to assimilate the music. Without recordings, the contact with remote sonic cultures would be much, much harder.

Besides conveniency, phonography has given jazz an aesthetic. And counter to intuition, given the hundreds of thousands of jazz recordings produced and still available, a large of that urbane, sophisticated, aesthetic is due to a single person: Rudy Van Gelder, RVG, who passed away yesterday morning, aged 91.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Notes on Charlie Christian's centennial

Today it's the 100th anniversary of Charlie Christian's birthday. For a special 2h30m programme we've done (in Spanish) in El Club de Jazz, I've spent the last few months re-visiting his complete output (except for a very few items, such as Bill Savory's airchecks housed at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem). My playlist tells me that it's 239 tracks longabout 13 hours straightincluding the ones where Christian's presumed to play with Benny Goodman's orchestra. On top of that, I've listened to other guitar players (Bus Etri doing "Flying Home" in 1940, anyone?), plus a generous helping of string music from Texas and Oklahoma also known as Western Swing.

Charlie Christian at the Metronome All-Star session
February 7, 1940. Courtesy of Leo Valdés.

Because it is unavoidable that some of the same old stories will be regurgitated for the centennial, I've jotted down a few notes about CC: