Friday, December 19, 2014

Books: Pepper Adams (& Gigi Gryce)

Listen to the opening notes of this tune:



That is one of the most widely heard jazz sounds ever, even though many wouldn't know that they're actually listening to Pepper Adams, a giant of the baritone sax who blasts through the whole piece playing that vamp almost constantly. Now we also know how grinding this session was for him, because the musicians in this Mingus band had never played together until that day in the studio, and there was a lot of repetition and many false starts involved in the recording.

That is the kind of detailed, first-hand information you can read on Gary Carner's Pepper Adams' Joy Road - An Annotated Discography (Scarecrow Press, 2012), a true labour of love by the author, who's been justly awarded with the 2013 award to the best jazz discography by the Association of Recorded Sound Collections, ARSC.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Which studio is this?

As part of some research I'm carrying out, I need to identify the studio where these pictures were taken. I'm certain it's in or around New York, and the date is circa 1960. The (jazz) musicians' identities are irrelevant and have been obscured to avoid any copyright problems. Our graphic team has also colored a bass drum blue: it appears on all three images and it can help giving an idea of the dimensions and disposition of the place.

For what it's worth, the recording was published by a small, independent label. 

Any help will be most welcome and duly acknowledged.

(Click on each image to enlarge)



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Monday, September 29, 2014

Paul Desmond on Ornette...

Paul Desmond (1965)
It wouldn't be easy to find two more opposed alto saxophonists in the history of jazz than Paul Desmond and Ornette Coleman. Besides playing the same instrument and having American passports, the rest couldn't be more different. For fans, it seems that today it is more politically correct saying that we like Ornette better than Desmond, but the fact is that Desmond is probably the more popular of the two. Never mind that, anyway, both deserve your listening time for very different reasons, trust me.

In a quite funny collection of Desmond's aphorisms, or "desmondisms", there's a quote of his talking about Ornette's music. No source is mentioned, and it goes like this:

It's like living in a house where everything's painted red.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Kenny Wheeler (1930-2014)

Kenny Wheeler
After Kenny Wheeler passed away last Thursday, the outpouring of admiration and pure love for his music and himself as a person has been astonishing. I never met the man, although I saw him a few times playing live — the last one with an all-star cast at the London Jazz Festival 2012, another wonderful show of love, admiration and great music.

Wheeler is one of those characters that just don't fit in your typical jazz history. From the same generation as Clifford Brown, Bill Evans, Phil Woods, Bob Brookmeyer and all those guys, he was a Canadian who emigrated to the UK in 1952 (the beginning of the Gerry Mulligan-Chet Baker quartet, for instance). He was a late bloomer, his career moved back and forth from large ensemble compositions to free improvisation, not something you'd expect from such a retiring, quiet, sweet man, who once explained his method as "what I like doing best is writing sad tunes, and then letting wonderful musicians destroy them".

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Brad Mehldau: the early years

El joven Brad Mehldau por John Abbott

Brad Mehldau is 44 today, which means that it's about twenty years since he first blipped in the radar, possibly, when he first recorded for a major label, Warner, as a sideman of Joshua Redman's, with whom he also toured the world that year.




Joshua Redman - ts, Brad Mehldau - p, Christian McBride - b, Brian Blade - d
San Sebastián (Spain) - July 25th, 1994


Since then, with this Art of the Trio series with Jorge Rossy and Larry Grenadier he made the classic piano trio fashionable and trendy, becoming one of the main young stars of jazz, a coop he has already flown. Even though he maintains his classic piano trio active, he's also involved in other projects that defy categorization. And more power to him for that.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Reg Kehoe, the Marimba Queens... and that bass

Source: ... tapewrekcs ...
Although posterity is, generally, a just filter, it's still a filter. Like the scale of a map reproduces geography, it simplifies and narrows reality. Therefore, whatever reaches us music fans from the past is just a modicum of material with almost undeniable artistic value but subject to legal and corporate considerations: who has the material, and whether they have the rights to publish it. Or the resources. Or the will to do it.

Let this solemn introduction give way to what will be the most absurd video ever in these pages. In 1944 (according to IMDB), percussionist Reg Kehoe and his Marimba Queens, recorded the fourth and last segment of a soundie (the grandfather of video clips) entitled A Study in Brown, directed by Ben K. Blake for the Soundies Distributing Corporation of America. The orchestra was formed by Kehoe, seven percussionist ladies, plus the exuberant double bassist Frank Di Nunzio, Sr. There's not much left to say regarding the music. As for their popularity, they are mentioned in several issues of Billboard, mostly in the 1940s.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Remembering Johnny Winter

Johnny Winter

"I just hope I’m remembered as a good blues musician."
—Johnny Winter, just a month ago, here.

With his mane of white hair and willowy constitution, Johnny Winter was very easy to spot. He was also one of the true electric guitar heroes. He's passed away while on tour in Zurich, Switzerland, on July 16 according to his representative. He was 70.

Given his longevity and visibility, there'll be obituaries everywhere summarizing his life, his ups and downs, and his music. For many, especially the followers of less amplified musics, he could be loud and strident. His mid-1980s LPs, victims to the mastering practices of the time, are a good instance of that brittle, piercing sound. Still exciting blues and rock'n'roll if you ask me. Like so.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Goodbye, Charlie Haden

Charlie Haden 1937-2014
(source: his own website)

Charlie Haden was the unlikely bassist. A product of the Grand Ole Opry, of all places, he became the young, fresh, white face of the "new thing" in 1959, when Ornette Coleman opened at the Five Spot in NYC on Tuesday, November 17th. The chronicles tell a tale of "everybody" checking out the new group, from Willem De Kooning to Leonard Bernstein, and Haden himself has told how he played with his eyes closed in front of such an imposing jury of bass players as Charles Mingus, Paul Chambers, Wilbur Ware, and Percy Heath, among others.

Charlie Haden with Ornette Coleman's Quartet in 1960

Since then, during his long and fruitful career, Haden proved to be extremely adaptable: he played and recorded with everybody. There seems to be, in his approach to music, a sort of universal root that enabled him to connect with anyone. At the same time, he wasn't afraid to speak his mind, as he did with his four Liberation Music Orchestra albums, and yet everybody seemed to love him.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Dizzy in Antwerp '59

Dizzy Gillespie, Teddy Stewart - Antwerp, Belgium, 1959

Things that pop up on the internet: in September 1959, Dizzy Gillespie was touring Europe with his regular quintet, under the auspices of George Wein and his Newport Festival organization, in the company of a few musicians from an older generation. By the look of it—there's not so much information about the event at hand—the last date of the tour took place in Antwerp, Belgium, where the footage below was filmed. The first bit was broadcast in 1960 on French TV.

In his biography, Wein highlights two points about this tour: first, it showed him a lesson on how Europe worked at the time (a lesson with a price tag of $30,000), and second, in his long and illustrious career, it was the first time ever he felt he'd gained the trust of a great musician, namely Dizzy Gillespie, something he only became aware of thanks to the long time both his and Dizzy's spouses spent together on the road.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Following Eric Dolphy

For all the lack of audience and shaky economic prospects, your average jazz musician is someone who works very hard to master their instrument and knows music theory inside out. Even if it doesn't permeate all of it, there is, within jazz, an honourable tradition of art for art's sake, of the fight against oneself and the infinite choices offered by music and sound. In more detail, the profile of a jazz musician as a young person today would be someone who got started early in music, has gone through “classical” studies of some sort, is a versatile virtuoso with their instrument, and will have to go through New York City at some point of their lives as some sort of validation.

Just like Eric Dolphy.

Eric Dolphy by Naiel Ibarrola

Dolphy, together with Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane (he worked with both), was the most influential “reedman” to come up in the early 1960s. Be it on flute or, especially, on alto sax and bass clarinet, he established a way of playing that still sounds contemporary. By what can be heard today, I suspect that Dolphy has at least a comparable following among musicians, even though Coleman and Coltrane are more visible figures in the canon. But posterity is fickle.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The joy of Horace

Horace Silver pictured in 1989 by Dimitri Savitski (Wikipedia)

Since back in 2007 when bassist Christian McBride made a passing comment on Horace Silver's Alzheimer, his passing yesterday was not unexpected news (so much so, that a rumour became news and spread like fire earlier in the year).

There are very fine obits around (like this one) about Silver's wonderful life, so we'll skip that.

His legacy, what remains after the man's gone, is phenomenal. As a piano player, his style was very rhythmic (watch out for that left hand, which can also be heard in contemporaries such as John Williams and Eddie Costa) and somewhat sketchy, as if he was dotting down ideas for new compositions as he was playing them. A prolific composer and a tasking leader, his music was lively, bluesy, gutsy, churchy, with feeling.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The drums of bossa nova

Marketing has gone truly global. At least for those of us living in the Western world and glued to a screen with access to the internet, there are trends that everybody seem to subscribe to, at least for a minute.

Right this minute, there are two trends leading to Brazil, one the biggest in the world, the other just a musical footnote. The latter is about the 50th anniversary of the release of Getz/Gilberto (never mind all the empty blurbs — it is a masterpiece), which may give the impression that bossa-nova is all Brazil ever had to offer musically (it isn't) or even that it didn't really blossom till the Americans got involved in it.

Again, publicity-wise that may be true, but musically nothing surpasses João Gilberto's first three albums recorded between 1959 and 1961 back in Brazil. And even for the Americans, things didn't really take off until, after a few trials on their own, they got the Brazilians involved, which made the difference between great (like Stan Getz's album with Charlie Byrd) and a masterpiece.

Listening to Jazz/Samba and Getz/Gilberto, there's one huge difference between the two albums. Whereas for the former it seemed necessary to have two drummers to reproduce Brazilian rhythms (and the percussion gets quite heavy), there's only one drummer on the latter, and what he does is a wonder of subtlety and dynamics. It's Washington D.C. v. Rio de Janeiro; Deppenschmidt & Reichenbach v. Banana.

Milton Banana (c. 1979)

When I first read the name Milton Banana as the drummer in Getz/Gilberto, I thought it was a joke. It was actually the alias of Antônio de Souza (1935-1998), who not only played on Getz/Gilberto, but also on João Gilberto's first LP, which established what we know as bossa. He was the original bossa-nova drummer.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The "classical" side of Marc Ribot

Guitar proficiency today is just ridiculous, especially with this not-so-new wave of eclecticism, of not restricting oneself to one style of music. People like Bill Frisell, Julian Lage, Nels Cline... are able to jump genres without blinking, whereas others, perhaps more specialized, like Russell Malone, Frank Vignola, John Pizzarelli or Joe Morris and Mary Halvorson are reaching new heights in their art all the time.

All those musicians are just incredible, and you should check them out, either live or on record, and among them a favourite of this blog is Marc Ribot, who turns 60 today.

Ribot has played and recorded as leader and as a sideman, with projects that go from John Zorn's Electric Masada to Alison Krauss & Robert Plant's Raising Sand, or situations like last year's Jazzaldia, where he played with Zorn one day and with Diana Krall on the next. Without being a virtuoso in the conventional sense — although his technique more than serves its purpose — Ribot's taste, touch and indescribably rich, meaty, succulent tone make him a very demanded six-stringer (which helps restore faith in the music scene today, to be frank).

As a child, Ribot was neighbours with noted Haitian guitarist and composer Frantz Casseus, who gave lessons to young Marc. In this article, Ribot talks about his teacher.

Marc Ribot and Frantz Casseus in 1987. Photo by Harriet Ribot.

Friday, May 9, 2014

RIP Joe Wilder (1922-2014)

Joe Wilder at IJS
(Photo by Ed Berger)
Ed Berger, his good friend and biographer, reports the passing of Joe Wilder earlier today. Wilder, somehow like Hank Jones, was a gentleman, a dedicated craftsman in his instrument, from which he extracted the most beautiful sound, soft yet slightly brassy. With him gone, yet another window to the past is closed, but at least we have Berger's biography, which is already available. And we'll always have the records.

This is an article about Wilder by Berger. Here, he's at Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz on NPR.

This is Wilder taming an old warhorse.


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

It's International Jazz Day

Happy and all that for UNESCO's International Jazz Day, but since I either listen to, think or write (sometimes even dream) about jazz every single day, my celebration will consist of a quiet thought about all the men and women who have spent their lives pursuing beauty in this music, especially those who went against the grain, be it personal problems, illness, financial straits, prison or just the lack of an understanding audience.

As an illustration, I leave you with a live recording in a New York club by a great, happy guitar virtuoso who left us too soon possibly because he worked himself to death, accompanied by an unsung hero of the piano, a true master of swing and the blues who also left way too soon because he lived the life he had to live, despite his epilepsy.

For all those musicians, regardless of gender, skin pigmentation or nationality, "I Remember You" indeed.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Denzil Best's "Move"

Denzil Best pictured by Bill Gottlieb
Yesterday was the birthday of Denzil Best (1917-1965) a musician whose life was sadly defined by bad health. He started on trumpet, but had to abandon it when he was very young because of a pulmonary illness. He then went on to play the piano and bass, and finally the drums, on which his brushwork was masterful. Later in life he had problems with his wrists, and finally died after an accident.

Interestingly, in spite of a few good recordings, his place in posterity is secured because of a number of compositions. "Allen's Alley" (a/k/a "Wee"), "Dee Dee's Dance", "45-Degree Angle" (later modified by Herbie Nichols), "Bemsha Swing" (co-signed with Thelonious Monk), and his most famous opus, "Move". Now you'll see why Best deserves all the posterity we can get him.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Billie Holiday, Club Bali... and the Internet

It’s funny how some people sometimes long for the great filters of olden days, when there was no internet, from record producers and publicists who had some influence on what music was commercially released or not, to professional journalists and editors who produced well-written, fact-checked copy. Those filters were by no means perfect, but they had their role.

Consider this picture. It was, probably still is, one of the first results when you type “Ray Bauduc”, “Walter Page” or “Claude Hopkins” on the world’s most-used search engine (owners of the blog-platform you’re reading this on). Those are minor names in the great scheme of Western culture. If you type “Billie Holiday”, you’ll probably see this picture too sooner than later.


Thing is, those are not Ray Bauduc, Walter Page or Claude Hopkins.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Kit Downes & Tom Challenger: Wedding Music live at Royal Festival Hall

The Royal Festival Hall is hosting an organ season to celebrate the culmination of the three-year long refurbishment works to bring back its organ to life, with its 7,866 pipes laid along the span of the stage.

The organ at Royal Festival Hall, refurbished (© Nick Rochowski)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Portrait of Cecil Taylor as a young man

Playing the music(s) we call jazz is not an easy life, neither regarding the art itself, nor as a way to make a living. The reasons for anyone to follow that path fall beyond the realm of logic; art is a tricky business, and longevity and sheer stubbornness do not necessarily bring about recognition and financial support for the artist’s work. Luck and chance can make or break a career. Even so, there are men and women who work relentlessly to realize whatever shakes their spirits. If there is one musician who’s taken his art to an overwhelming standard of technical virtuosity, swimming against the strongest tides of disapproval, that must be Cecil Taylor, who turns 85 today.

© Naiel Ibarrola, 2014
Years before Ornette put any music on record, before Coltrane stepped firmly into the unknown, Taylor was hammering his way into the scene in New York, but he never quite made it, even if he was the first jazz act at the now legendary Five Spot, turning it into a bona fide jazz venue. He was not only aware of jazz and its traditions, but he claimed that his approach to form and composition was based on Duke Ellington's, and, being an astonishing virtuoso, had very definite ideas on the value and role of technique in fellow pianists such as Thelonious Monk and Horace Silver, two clear instances of technique being the consequence of the music itself. Even so, his arrival must have been similar to Henry Cowell's in the "classical" world, thirty or forty years earlier.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Paco de Lucía: an introduction in tangos, and a PS

In the obituaries devoted to Paco de Lucía, the comments have focused on his adventures beyond Flamenco and its fusion with other musics, but in actual fact he never strayed too far from his roots and the vast majority of his recordings can still be sorted in the palos, the different forms of the genre. As he himself said "there are other musics I admire, but they don't make me feel like Flamenco does. It just breaks you."

Paco de Lucía and Camarón de la Isla (picture by José Lamarca)
Among those palos, tangos — which, like Camarón and Paco, come from around Cádiz — must be the easiest to enjoy for anyone used to the 4/4 ever-present in pop, rock and a great deal of jazz. It not only shares the four-beat signature, but the accents also tend to fall on beats 2 and 4, where your typical hi-hat or snare drum wouldn't be so out of place.

Monday, March 3, 2014

RIP Francisco Sánchez

Francisco Sánchez, a/k/a Paco de Lucía (picture: ABC)
Francisco Sánchez's passing will leave us without any new adventures of Paco de Lucía, the shivers when he appeared on the stage, the ecstasy at the end of a concert. It will divide music lovers between those of us who saw him live and those who didn't. These will have to make do with a sizable amount of recordings and video footage he leaves behind, evidence of the several lives that Francisco Sánchez was able to fit in Paco's: Francisco Sánchez was just 66 when he died, but Paco had been a working musician for over fifty years. So much for Andalusians being lazy and all that.

For me, a child in the Seventies, my first impression of Paco, on TV, was that of a charismatic, handsome, and very serious-looking guy. He had long hair, parted on the side, and although he dressed in a contemporary way, he seemed to follow Seventies fashion from a prudent distance; still in his twenties, he was young too. And he played very fast.

Paco on TVE

Friday, February 21, 2014

Random Dameronia

Tadd Dameron, c. 1946-48
(Bill Gottlieb/LoC)
Jazz has improvisation at its core, true, but ignoring composition and arranging would be a gross oversimplification and a mis-representation of the music. One of the great composers in its great tradition was Tadd Dameron, born on a day like this in 1917.

This is just a random sample of his compositions.

Monday, February 17, 2014

ND — Carlos Montoya: From St. Louis to Seville (and a book...)

Carlos Montoya: From St. Louis to Seville
(RCA/Victor LPM-1986)

This new entry in the infrequent series Notes on discography (ND) is about an early experiment in jazz-flamenco fusion. From St. Louis to Seville is an album by Carlos Montoya published in 1959, at a time when the recording business was booming partly thanks to the mass introduction of stereo and hi-fi, flamenco had began to be well known in the US, and jazz was going through a sweet spot in its history. The significance of this LP is more historical than musical, given the context of both flamenco (think Sabicas) or jazz at the time, or even the meeting of jazz and Spanish music arranged by Miles Davis and Gil Evans about a year later in their Sketches of Spain.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Video alert: Birdland (TV, 1992)


Birdland was a TV show aired in 1992, produced in the UK by BBC Lionheart, and also aired in the US on Bravo. The shows are about 30-minutes long and the music is interspersed with interviews carried out, off-camera, by well-known British critic John Fordham. In at least some of the shows, US and UK were paired and sometimes played together. This is not only quite a snapshot from over 20 years ago, but a nice chance to see some young, fresh faces.

Five of those shows have cropped up on YouTube in the last few days. The shows are, in no particular order,
  • Herbie Hancock (w/ Ira Coleman-b, Tony Williams-d)
    Wayne Shorter (Jason Rebello-kb, Tracy Wormworth-b, Terri Lynne Carrington-d)
    (link)
  • Branford Marsalis (w/Kenny Kirkland-p, Bob Hurst-b, Jeff 'Tain' Watts-d)
    Julian Joseph (w/Alec Dankworth-b, Mark Mondesir-d)
    (link)
  • Steve Coleman Five Elements (w/David Gilmore-g, James Weidman-kb, Reggie Washington-b, Tommy Campbell-d) /
    Steve Williamson (w/Tony Remy-g, Joe Bashorun-kb, Gary Crosby-b, Steve Washington-d)
    (link)
  • Ornette Coleman & Prime Time (Ken Wessell-g, Chris Rosenberg-g, Dave Bryant-kb, Al McDowell-b, Denardo Coleman-d, Badal Roy-tabla)
    Cassandra Wilson-Cleveland Watkiss (w/Rod Williams-p, Kevin Bruce Harris-b, Mark Johnson-d)
    (link)
  • Don Cherry & Multikulti (w/ Peter Apfelbaum-fl-ts-p, Bo Freeman-b, Hamid Drake-d-perc)
    (link)

Monday, February 10, 2014

Jazz is... / Jazz is not...



That is the last paragraph of Martin Williams's review of the film I Want to Live (IMDB, Wiki), published on The Jazz Review (May 1959, p. 39).

This and other issues of The Jazz Review, a short-lived but groundbreaking magazine, can be read at the Jazz Studies Online website. You can download a PDF of the issue above, here.

Friday, February 7, 2014

A radio broadcast from Birdland 1952

Kai Winding pictured by Bill Gottlieb, c. January 1947

In his Past Daily website, Gordon Skene has recently uploaded a NBC broadcast from September 9, 1952, with two bands, a quartet led by Pete Brown, and a sextet with Kai Winding at the helm. Tracks and personnel are, as introduced by the MC, as follows:

Pete Brown (alto sax), Sir Reginald Ashley (piano), Leonard Gaskin (b), Hayward Jackson (d).

     00:34  How High the Moon
     03:36  Strike Up the Band
     07:13  Perdido

Kai Winding (trombone), Kenny Dorham (trumpet), Jackie McLean (alto sax), Horace Silver (piano), Gene Ramey (bass), Ed Shaughnessy (drums)

     12:37  Always
     19:50  Stardust
     23:06  Rifftide (How High the Moon)

The music in this broadcast may be a bit disappointing, or perhaps some of us forget that not everything from the past is a masterpiece. Even so, it's better than OK, despite the short sets, the rather conventional songlists and the striking youth of some future stars like Silver and McLean, 24 and 21 respectively. You can actually hear the MC asking their names during the announcements:
"... fellow at the piano is named Silver, right?
... Horace Silver, and the fellow on alto...
...Jackie McLean"
Because he's not so well known, Pete Brown's set is more interesting, especially since his own records place him closer to R&B than bebop.

This radio broadcast, a real blast from the past, can be heard here.

Past Daily is here, and also on Facebook and Twitter.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

A 60th birthday of rock guitar (possibly)

Fans of any kind of music just love a good discussion on pioneers, on who was the first to do something, and none more so than electric guitar fans. The heroic, macho player, not too different from characters in James Bond or Western movies (guitar slingers, guitar heroes...), lends itself to this kind of speculation.

One such discussion about the first guitar hero recently involved sailing upstream your typical "great man" narrative. Take, say, Eddie Van Halen. Hendrix. That kind of revered, popular guitarist. Jeff Beck. Clapton. Electric wizards with very heavy blues leanings. Creators of new sonic worlds on a fairly new equipment and its complements, of new techniques, new resources, uniquely able to stand in front of tens of thousands mesmerized people. Mike Bloomfield, co-conspirator of Bob Dylan's electrified and electrifying appearance in Newport. And then, circa 1960, the tracks seem to disappear. However, if I had to point to an early example of really outrageous guitar, combining a very early date of recording and release to the public, and ground-breaking playing, my vote would go for a tune recorded 60 years ago today. This one:

(Play as LOUD as possible)



Yep. That is "Space Guitar", a tune Johnny 'Guitar' Watson recorded, two days short of his 19th birthday, on February 1, 1954. It was released the following month as by "Young John Watson" on the Federal label as single #12175 (b/w "Half Pint A-Whiskey").

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Kenny Clarke's centenary

Kenny Clarke (source: drummercafe.com)
Kenny Clarke, born one hundred years ago today, is one of the great drummers in the history of jazz. Any reference text will tell you about his role in the development of be-bop, his bomb-dropping, his shifting of the rhythm from the hi-hat to the ride cymbal and all that, which is correct and just fine, but there's much more.

Like Don Byas, he's one of those musicians whose place in posterity has been diminished because they left the US, the "out of sight, out of mind" principle. Before that, he played in the major leagues, he was part of the original line-up of the Modern Jazz Quartet (the rhythm section of Dizzy Gillespie's big band), with whom he recorded this



which seems to be the basis for what Miles Davis recorded as "Two Bass Hit". Interestingly, in the MJQ's version Milt Jackson quotes Clarke's "Epistrophy", a tune he co-signed with Thelonious Monk with origins in Minton's and the sessions with Charlie Christian (the theme was figured out by Clarke while playing some phrases Christian taught him on the ukulele).

A favourite piece of Clarke is the famous recording of "Topsy" from Minton's, with Christian on guitar, Monk on piano, and Nick Fenton on bass. Clarke's time, swing, and punctuation are flawless, but do listen for the way he interacts with Christian. That's peerless, on the spot creativity.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Duke Ellington at the piano


“[…] Duke, in spite of what some people might think, was an excellent pianist.”
(Pianist Hank Jones, in an interview with Ted Panken)

A lot has been said in recent weeks about Duke Ellington on the Internet. A new biography by Terry Teachout and a review of it in The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik have raised a few eyebrows and made some people angry. I haven’t read Teachout’s book, but I know Gopnik’s review. The problem with it is that he seems not to have listened to much of Ellington’s colossal output.

Some of the criticism towards those texts have to do with Ellington’s relationship with his writing and arranging companion, Billy Strayhorn, and his piano playing. I think this recording of Strayhorn’s “Lotus Blossom”, made after his death, speaks volumes about both aspects.