Friday, December 15, 2023

Miles Ahead in images

Some time ago, I put together Dennis Stock's photos from the first session for Miles Davis's Milestones record.

We now turn to one of the sessions for Miles Ahead, the first Miles Davis/Gil Evans collaboration for Columbia, a relevant LP in Miles Davis's career for its commercial success (the infamous change of covers was made easier by the speed at which runs of prints sold out). The photographs were taken in May 1957 at Columbia's studio on 30th St, Manhattan, and they come from Miles Davis's official website, where they do not carry information on location, date or personnel. From the credits in the Complete Miles/Evans Sony set, we know they were taken by Don Hunstein, Columbia's staff photographer.

Second and final LP cover (source)

The most significant image is the one showing the ensemble (except bass and drums), because it shows the positions of musicians and microphones (a grand total of four were used) to record an orchestra out of balance between the brass (one microphone in the middle for five trumpets, four trombones, two French horns and one tuba) and the "reeds" (one microphone for four chairs sharing alto sax/clarinets/flutes/oboe). As the (almost) only soloist, Davis has his own microphone, and I guess the fourth was for bass and drums, out of frame (click on the images to enlarge them).

Friday, November 10, 2023

Charlie Parker and Chet Baker 70 years ago

In late October of 1953, about 70 years ago, producer Gene Norman—he of the label GNP/Crescendo—organized a mini-tour of the West Coast with two bands. The header was the Dave Brubeck Quartet, with Brubeck on piano, Paul Desmond on alto sax, Ron Crotty on bass, and Lloyd Davis on drums—1953 was a significant year for Brubeck: the quartet recorded Jazz at Oberlin on March 2 and Jazz at College of the Pacific on December 14, a month after that mini-tour.

The other band in the bill was a Charlie Parker quintet with Chet Baker on trumpet, Jimmy Rowles on piano, Carson Smith on bass, and Shelly Manne on drums (Parker and Baker had met the year before in California). As for Parker, on May 15 he had taken part in the famous "Quintet of the Year" concert at Massey Hall in Toronto, and in the second half of the year he would play at the Open Door in New York City, the location of some spectacular recordings and some well-known photographs by Bob Parent.

According to Leif Bo Petersen's chronology, the dates of that tour were as follows:

    October 30: Olympia, WA
    October 31: Seattle, WA
    November 1: Portland, OR
    November 2: Vancouver, BC, Canada
    November 4: Eugene, OR
    November 7: Hollywood, CA
    November 8: San Diego, CA

In Portland, OR, they were snapped by local photographer Carl Henniger:

Carson Smith and Charlie Parker

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Steve McQueen's vinyl collection

His ability as an actor aside, Steve McQueen was a photogenic man, as proved by the work of photographers like William Claxton and John Dominis. The latter, who's been featured in this blog before, took this image below, which may be familiar to music lovers.

Steve McQueen in 1963 by John Dominis
©John Dominis/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

If you're reading this, you've probably wondered what are those LPs spread all over Mr. McQueen's floor (we want to believe he's not stepping on one of them). If that's the case, I think I have been able to identify all the sleeves, even those only partially visible.

The two immediate conclusions are, firstly, that McQueen must have had some direct or indirect contact at Atlantic Records: not only is the label with most LPs in the room, but there seem to be up to three copies of one album.

Secondly, this collection of LPs, mostly stereo, is of its time. Even though LPs recorded and published in the mid-1950s could already considered to be high-fidelity soundwise, from about 1957 recordings are made also in stereo—often in paralel to mono—and towards the end of that decade stereo sound becomes the norm, with the popularity of hi-fi.

Given the rising tide of hi-fi equipment, record labels on the one hand phased out mono sound, and on the other they adapted their existing and still recent mono stock to the new stereo sound, through processes of "remastering" or "rechanneling", which at times didn't amount to much more than playing the same music through both left and right channels with minor differences in equalization or phase in order to give the listener a sense of space, of "stereo". This is the case with at least two of the LPs in the list below, numbers "6" and "14". The rest are LPs published in stereo, except for two instances of mono issues.

I've numbered the LPs in the image below. I've also added links to Qobuz (for audio) and Discogs (for info on the LPs).

Finally, it is quite clear that Mr. McQueen had excellent taste, or he knew how to be advised on musical matters.

(Click on the image to enlarge it)

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Lennie Tristano Personal Recordings 1946-1970: The contrafacts

(Mosaic/Dot Time MD6-272)

When it comes to repertoire, in jazz there's a common device known as "contrafacts", a name coined by James Patrick in 1975 to describe the replacement of the melody from a song by a different one while maintaining the underlying chord progression, as in, for instance, "How High the Moon" becoming "Ornithology" (see this Wiki list for more examples). Patrick's article (published on the Journal of Jazz Studies, vol. 2, no. 2) dealt with the compositions of Charlie Parker, who popularized this device, although it must be said that it was used in the Swing era: one example is "A Smo-o-o-oth One", based on "Love Is Just Around the Corner". Besides artistic considerations, note that this bit of trickery allowed the composer of the new melody to copyright the whole composition, and receive the appropriate royalties, even if the chord progression had been "borrowed".

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

On Oscar Pettiford's centennial


Oscar Pettiford in Newport, 1958
(screenshot from Jazz on a Summer's Day)

While on April 22 we celebrated the 100th birthday of the very well-known Charles Mingus (article/podcast in Spanish), on Friday, September 30th, we did the same for the other great bassist/leader of the era, even though not as well-remembered as Mingus, but, back in the day—he passed away in 1960—as respected and admired: Oscar Pettiford.

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., 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.