Friday, February 4, 2022

Miles Davis: February 4th, 1958—in pictures

On Tuesday, February 4th, 1958, at Columbia Records' studio on Manhattan's 30th St. studio, a session was booked for the afternoon. It lasted from 2 to 6.30 pm, with Harry "Chappy" Chapman, an in-house veteran going back to the early 1940s, manning the control room. 

The musicians and producer involved may have not known it at the time, but this was to be the first of two momentous occasions: this session and the following one, on March 4, were to be the last produced for Miles Davis by George Avakian, who had put him in the map by signing him to Columbia, the label he ended up staying with for thirty years, between 1955 and 1985. 

These sessions on February and March 4 would also be the last ones by Davis's "first quintet", with Red Garland on piano and "Philly" Joe Jones on drums. Together, they'd form Milestones, a, er, milestone in Miles Davis's career, which may have seemed unsurpassable at the time. Not for long, though: his next small group album would be Kind of Blue.

Cover of Milestones. Photograph by Dennis Stock.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Betty Glamann's Christmas album (and why discography matters)

In the 1950s, when record equipment improved noticeably at the same time as engineers were becoming very experienced and cash-flow in American record companies allowed for whatever experiment came to producers' minds, harp had a brief fling with jazz. In the second half of the decade you could find the names of Dorothy Ashby, Betty Glamann or Janet Putnam on the cover of their own albums—at least Ashby's and Glamann's—and in numerous sessions, mostly in the studio but sometimes in clubs too, like Glamann in Oscar Pettiford's band in 1957 and 58.

A precocious talent, Glamann was already performing with a symphony orchestra twice a week on NBC radio when she was 13. From there, she played in the Baltimore symphony, then joined the eccentric but demanding Spike Jones and appeared on Garry Moore and Steve Allen's TV shows. She can also be heard on jazz records, like Duke Ellington's A Drum Is a Woman, Kenny Dorham's Jazz Contrasts, Michel Legrand's Legrand Jazz and in Oscar Pettiford and his Orchestra's Vol. 2 (reissued as Deep Passion).

In the mid-1950s, she recorded two albums, Poinciana for Bethlehem, and Swinging on a Harp for Mercury, as the co-leader of a small group with bassist Rufus Smith, featuring top-rank sidemen like Barry Galbraith, Osie Johnson or Eddie Costa. And some time around 1967 she did a Christmas record for the obscure Vicson Music Company. 

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Dr. Billy Taylor and "The Subject is Jazz"

Dr. Billy Taylor (source)
Dr. Billy Taylor (1921-2010), whose centennial we celebrate today, debuted on record in March 1945, right when the Parker/Gillespie revolutions was exploding. He had become a professional musician earlier, with his ears attuned to what he called "pre-Bop" (what Don Byas, Budd Johnson, Charlie Christian or Clyde Hart played). 

His first professional gig was under Ben Webster at the Three Deuces in 1944. From then on, he played, literally, for everybody; in 1946 he toured Europe with Don Redman and stayed in Paris for a while. In 1951, he became house pianist at Birdland, and soon after he started his own trio.

That's just the beginning of his vast credentials as a player — he was a renowned player for all his long life, a foundation as solid as anyone's for his other musical endeavours. 

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Bud Powell with the 'Birth of the Cool' nonet

Bud Powell at Birdland

One the many discoveries made by Peter Pullman in his definitive biography of Bud Powell is that the pianist sat in once with Miles Davis's short-lived Nonet, of "Birth of the Cool" fame. 

We know the regular pianist was John Lewis, who also contributed a number of arrangements ("Move", "Budo", "Why Do I Love You") and compositions ("Rouge", "S'il Vous Plaît") and is present in all the recordings except the first studio session, where he was replaced by Al Haig. 

According to Pullman, Powell's sitting in took place some time in 1950 at Birdland. In his book (pp. 138-139) he quotes extensively from budding pianist Sy Johnson, then just about 20 years old and living in Connecticut, for whom the trip to New York City to see and listen the Miles Davis Nonet (and the Lennie Tristano Sextet) must have been a special occasion, even though it wasn't remembered by any of the musicians Johnson spoke to years later.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

80 years ago today: the Benny Goodman-Count Basie Octet

By the autumn of 1940, Benny Goodman had undergone his first back surgery and was already on the mend. He had put his orchestra on hold for the summer, with a few men on retainer, like electric guitar wonder Charlie Christian, who'd taken the opportunity to visit family and friends back in Oklahoma, his first chance since he'd hit the big time the previous summer.

While still a popular bandleader, Goodman had somewhat lost some of his spark after the departure of some key men in his big band, namely Harry James and Gene Krupa, and with his current band on hold, rumours were rife. A big one was a possible merger with Count Basie, himself having some problems with his booking agency. Besides mutual admiration and being signed to the same label, a common thread to both bands was producer John Hammond, who had championed both and in 1942 became Goodman's brother-in-law.

Benny Goodman and Charlie Christian sitting in with the Count Basie Orchestra,
Apollo Theatre, Harlem, October 24, 1940 (source)

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Sean Levitt, guitar master (1955-2002)

2021-02-03 update: after a couple of comments below by John Lyon, author of Sean Levitt—Seven Transcriptions, which includes the most complete biographical sketch I have seen of Levitt. I have corrected some mistakes, and have only added his complete name and the dates and places of his birth and death. 


While jazz lives are routinely thrown to the "tragic" bucket too easily, there are instances for which that label is fitting. Sean Levitt, an astounding jazz guitar player you may have never heard of, is one of those cases.

Sean Levitt in Salamanca, Spain, 1986 (Source)

Friday, October 9, 2020

Jamal v. Shearing (or let's hear it for Crosby & Fournier)

The piano is one instrument where comparisons between musicians are easier to make. There are no two identical pianos in the world, but the common mechanics, the inability to bend notes (Monk notwithstanding) and the generally untouched, acoustic sound are a better yardstick than any other instrument (the triangle, perhaps) to tell musicians apart—case in point: in 1958-1959, Dave Brubeck and Bill Evans were recorded  at the same studio, Columbia's "church" at 30th St.,  and it's likely that at some point they used the same piano, and yet they're easily identifiable.

Pianos at Columbia's 30th St. studio (source)