Friday, May 31, 2013

February 7, 1940: A busy day at the office

So, February 7, 1940. The war is going on in Europe, but Pearl Harbor is almost two years away. At the same time, in Manhattan, Metronome magazine has called in the best jazz musicians according to their readers to wax a couple of tunes, a big band take on "King Porter Stomp", and a blues called "All-Star Strut" by a reduced group of nine, presumably the winner in each instrument category.

This kind of pick-up bands are interesting insofar as they differ from our point of view. Two tenor saxes and no Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young or Ben Webster? (OK, Hawkins was just back from Europe, but "Body and Soul" was already out!) A pianist who's not Art Tatum? Jimmie Blanton is not on bass? Not a single member from the Ellington or Basie bands?!!! Quite a travesty, yes, but besides this being a selection being a different time in history, although the swing years are normally presented as an "era" when jazz was popular, it'd be probably fairer to say that popular music was, often but not always, soaked in jazz.

In any case, the men were (in italics, the members of the nonet):

TRUMPETS: Harry James, Ziggy Elman, and Charlie Spivak;
TROMBONES: Jack Teagarden and Jack Jenney;
REEDS: Benny Goodman on clarinet; Benny Carter, and Toots Mondello on alto sax; Eddie Miller, and Charlie Barnet on tenor sax;
RHYTHM: Charlie Christian on the electric guitar; Jess Stacy on piano; Bob Haggart on bass; and Gene Krupa on drums.
ARRANGER: Fletcher Henderson.

Luckily there several pictures from this session (click on them to enlarge). This one, because Christian is still wearing his hat, and Krupa has his jacket still on, as well as their relative positions, may come from the beginning of the session

Charlie Christian, Gene Krupa
(from Leo Valdés's site)

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The story of "So What"

While we were discussing the convoluted story of the "Rhythm-A-Ning" riff, my worthy constituent Michael 'Jazz Lives' Steinman, purveyor of happiness, said that
certain riffs and variations are "in the air"
which is absolutely true. From outright plagiarism to excessive, but unintentional, "inspiration", these things can happen (I once put together a really pretty set of chords worth of Rachmaninov, so much so that... you get my drift). And it can happen to anyone, even master composer Benny Golson, as he explains to another master composer, Horace Silver, here.

That's all very well, but in American popular music there was ("was", hopefully) laxity when it came to naming the author(s) of a tune. Take Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight". How much did Cootie Williams have to do with it, beyond being the first band leader to record it? This is just an example: any unlikely name, from disc-jockey Alan Freed's name on rock'n'roll records, to manager Irving Mills's on Duke Ellington's, it'd be healthy to raise a brow or two.

Another example: Gil Evans only discovered that "Donna Lee" was not Charlie Parker's tune when he asked him about it, to arrange it for Claude Thornhill, and Parker sent him to his  sideman, Miles Davis, who was just 21 at the time.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sidney Bechet... and Eddie Condon (and Bird!) in colour

The wonders of the Internet. I just saw this beautiful montage on Sidney Bechet (the song is "Dans les Rues d'Antibes"):

Watching carefully, you'll be able to see Eddie Condon and his 4-string guitar in different occasions with his all-stars, also, although very briefly Buddy Rich, Kid Ory, and Muggsy Spanier, and, most surprising of all, the unlikely group of Charlie Parker, Chubby Jackson, and George Wettling, starting at 1:51.

L to R: Charlie Parker, Chubby Jackson, George Wettling

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

SALT PEANUTS!!! SALT PEANUTS!!! – Massey Hall, 60 years after

Grafton Acrylic for sale
London, June 2012
Sixty years ago today, at about 20:30, Toronto time, everything was ready for a historical evening. The best quintet in history, reuniting the founder fathers of bebop, a bunch of jazz revolutionaries, were going to play together in a summit meeting of music. This is the infamous night when a plastic sax had to be borrowed for Charlie Parker, because he hadn't brought his instrument. The night when he and his former soulmate, Dizzy Gillespie, exchanged musical punches. The night of Bud Powell's first appearance after his release from hospital.

You probably knew that. Every jazz fan knows that. However, half of the paragraph above is untrue. Of course, we've read that story many times, and it's very likely that we will read it again. But it is essentially false. Untrue. Fake. Even so, it's a story that has been repeated over and over again in the media, either general or specialized, in Spanish and in English.