Wednesday, October 28, 2020

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

In 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. 

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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)

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Friday, June 26, 2020

Cecil Taylor dances to...

Passion for music is one facet common to both its practitioners and their audiences. If not passion, at least its overbearing presence in our daily lives. In jazz, with so many giant innovators and because its history has often been told as a relay race where the baton would be "influence", there has always been some interest in knowing what our idols listen(ed) to. We know that Miles Davis would listen to anything, including a lot of jazz —as shown in his various blindfold tests— or that Coleman Hawkins hardly listened to any other music than classical at home.

One of those giant innovators would be Cecil Taylor. Admittedly, not everyone's cup of tea, but I think we can agree that he was a monster pianist with an unassailable artistic and personal integrity.

Roaming around the internet, I have found these two photographs, taken by Deborah Feingold:

(Source)

(Source)

Taylor seems to be dancing—which he would do in his performances—in his music room, where besides the piano and a conga drum (under his right arm), there can be seen a lot of LPs, among which three covers can be made out.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

New Charlie Parker interview

Leigh Kamman
Wonders never cease. I've just discovered broadcaster Leigh Kamman's YouTube channel, as well as his website. Kamman passed away in 2014, aged 92.

Among the jewels in his vaults, there is the short interview below with Charlie Parker, posted only yesterday. It's a phone-in, and Kamman introduces himself as "The Little Bandmaster" from The 1280 Club on WOV, New York.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Footage of Hank Mobley and Bobby Timmons

The video below is an excerpt from the ground-breaking documentary Monk (1968) by brothers Christian and Michael Blackwood. You may be familiar with that film, and its companion Monk in Europe (also 1968), given how much of them have appeared in subsequent works by other authors like Straight, No Chaser (1988), again about Monk, and the more recent The Jazz Baroness (2012) about Nica de Koenigswarter.

Both films are unparalleled in terms of vintage footage of jazz greats in action. Just on Monk you can see Wes Montgomery backstage at a festival produced in Atlanta by George Wein, also on screen, or producer Teo Macero and engineer Frank Laico at work with Monk at a Columbia Records studio (December 14 and 21, 1967, possibly studio A, at 799 Seventh Ave in Manhattan). In a scene similar to the one below, Roland Kirk can be seen in the kitchen at the Village Vanguard (around the 51' mark).

Do visit Michael Blackwood's website for more information on Monk and Monk in Europe here and here, respectively. They can we watched on Vimeo, here and here, respectively.