Monday, June 27, 2011

Zoot Sims, Phil Woods... and Eddie Costa: Jazz Mission to Moscow

In 1962, in the middle of the Cold War, with Kennedy in Washington and Khrushchev in Moscow, and just weeks away from the missile crisis in Cuba, Benny Goodman embarked on a tour of the USSR with a top-notch big band: Joe Newman and Jimmy Maxwell on trumpets, Willie Dennis on trombone, Phil Woods, Jerry Dodgion, and Zoot Sims in the reed section, and a rhythm department comprising by John Bunch, Teddy Wilson, Victor Feldman, Bill Crow and Mel Lewis (Bill and Mel were the beating heart of Gerry Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band). Originally the band was going to play a repertory formed of new arrangements commissioned to people like Tadd Dameron, as well as the older stuff that made Goodman the "King of Swing".

This tour has gone down in history as the perfect example of Benny Goodman's quirkiness, to put it mildly. His gradual refusal to play the newer repertoire, his shunning of any soloists who got a round of applause... even the album that was subsequently published by RCA doesn't make justice, apparently, to the music that was played for the Russian audiences.

Producer Jack Lewis had worked — incidentally? — for RCA but he was now with Colpix, a new record label set up by Columbia Pictures. As bassist Bill Crow tells in his own website:

On the day we got back from Russia, Jack Lewis grabbed most of the band for a quick record date for Colpix, an album called Jazz Mission to Moscow. Victor Feldman had flown home to California, and Teddy Wilson and John Bunch had stayed in Paris, so Jack got Eddie Costa to play piano on the date.

Lewis's idea was to get a free ride on the publicity Goodman's tour was getting. According to Billboard, the recording session (July 12, 1962) was rushed, as was the production of vinyl and jackets and the record was expected to be available by the first week of August.

Jazz Mission to Moscow
The liner notes tell the story of a bunch of angry, young musicians eager to get back at Goodman, and Lewis provided the perfect opportunity. The band simply smokes. This is the kind of modern swing music that doesn't really fit in the official history of jazz, played by musicians for whom, after all, swing was the soundtrack of their childhood, while bebop got to them in their teenage years. Al Cohn's arrangements are a little miracle: for starters, he makes this "ten-tette" sound like a true big band; he also manages to make something interesting and surprising from an old classic like "Let's Dance". His work here is just superb, typical of those years (it's interesting to compare this album with the things he did for Bob Brookmeyer's Gloomy Sunday LP, for instance).

This is a session that verges on perfection. Interestingly, the star was not in the Goodman band that made the tour. This is "Mission to Moscow", the opening track of the album:

Eddie Costa was known for this kind of rumbling piano, and his knack for exploring the lower side of the scale. Here, as in other recordings in this part of his career, namely his own House of Blue Lights (Dot, 1959) and Shelly Manne's 2, 3, 4 (Impulse, 1962), he shows an almost orchestral approach to his solos, doing his own calls and responses (here, in "Let's Dance"), with a very conscious use of dynamics along several choruses. For fans of Costa, this is even more interesting because he manages an engaging solo in "The Sochi Boatman", a plaintive mid-tempo ballad, the kind of material that's not so abundant in his recordings.

Around this time Costa, who was extremely busy in the recording studios, seemed to be expanding his approach to jazz piano, which makes this occasion even more poignant. Like Crow explains, this was Eddie Costa's last jazz record date. He died in a car accident two weeks later, in the early hours of July 28th, 1962.

EMI-Japan has just released this on CD as Zoot Sims & Phil Woods: Jazz Mission to Moscow (TOCJ-50064 — a straight copy of the original 30-minute LP, no extra tracks). It's also available on Spotify and (except one track) on YouTube.

Bill Crow and Eddie Costa,
at the Jazz Mission to Moscow session

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

An hour with Contracuarteto

(The program I talked about below is now available online:)

Chilean cable TV station Canal 13 Cable is still running Tempo, the documentary devoted to the current jazz scene in Chile. This week it's Contracuarteto's turn, and since they're a favourite of this blog, this is a reminder that you can watch the programme through the internet. Timetable is as follows:

Monday 20 - 20:00
Tuesday 21 - 00:00 and 14:30
Saturday 25 - 16:30
Sunday 26 - 01:00

Those are local times (UTC-4), which are the same for New York. In London these'd be:

Tuesday 21 - 01:00, 05:00, and 19:30
Saturday 25 - 23:30
Sunday 26 - 06:00

The link:

The complete series is available on DVD (with English subtitles) direct from the producers.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The faces of Freddie Moore

Drummer Freddie Moore (1900-1992), pictured by William P. Gottlieb
Freddie Moore is the drummer on Sidney Bechet's "Tiger Rag" (Blue Note, 1949), where he can be heard blowing on the snare drum (from 1:08 onwards.)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Musicians' quotes: Tristano on the ego, the id, and jazz

In 1964, when asked what he thought of [John] Coltrane, [Sonny] Rollins, and [Miles] Davis, Tristano answered, "All emotion, no feeling." He replied to "How do you distinguish between the two?" with: "Well, say I believe there is no real hysteria or hostility in jazz, their stuff is the expression of the ego. I want jazz to flow out of the id. Putting it another way, real jazz is what you can play before you are all screwed up; the other happens after you're screwed up."

(Ira Gitler, Masters of Bebop,
a re-print of Jazz Masters of the '40s, Da Capo, 2001, p. 243)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Tristano's method

Saxophonist Ted Brown, a former student of Lennie Tristano, explains the main points of Tristano's approach to teaching jazz.

For more on Tristano's method and the teaching of jazz in general, the relevant chapter on Eunmi Shim's biography is mandatory.

Around 2007 we suddenly had three volumes about Tristano, each of them with their own approach to Tristano and each of them pretty much mandatory. Eunmi Shim's is a scholarly biography, with excellent chapters about the music and Tristano's teaching methods, Peter Ind's is a passionate and atmospheric first-hand account of his experiences with Tristano, and Fayenz & Brazzale's, in Italian and including a CD with recordings from 1945-55, is a concise and to the point introduction to Tristano as a person and as a musician.

That year I did a long article with reviews and extracts from those three books, which you can now read, in Spanish, on line at Cuadernos de Jazz.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

PS: João Gilberto at 80 - 2011 tour

Thanks to a reader's question, I've checked the news on Gilberto's birthday, and according to he's doing a mini tour of 5 to 8 shows in Brazil between August 29th and November 30th. So far five cities have been confirmed: São Paulo (Sep 3, HSBC Brasil), Rio (Sep 10, Rio Vivo), and dates are to be announced for Salvador, Porto Alegre, and Brasília.

The tour is called 80 anos – Uma vida bossa nova and there are plans for two DVDs to be recorded.

Glad to hear that he's well enough to tour at 80.

Good luck if you're trying to get a ticket, and let us know how it went.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

João Gilberto at 80

Tomorrow João Gilberto celebrates his 80th birthday. It would be hard to overstate his importance in popular music of the 20th century. As a singer and as guitarist he's the owner of a very distinctive touch, one of those rare virtuosos whose abilities pass as simple and efortless, concealing hours of almost obsessive work in his quest for perfection. Even if this is a matter of personal taste, anyone is likely to appreciate the pure magic that his music emanates. I really wish he has a good birthday and that he is in peace, above all the tired press reports about his "reclusive personality" and other frankly strange issues (like the FaceBook profile that may or may not have been really his).

Regarding FaceBook, I still keep buggering on with my little campaign:

The rest of us will have to keep waiting for an official reissue of his first three LPs. As I have explained before, Gilberto and EMI – owners of the masters – have been horn-locked in the Brazilian courts for the best part of 15 years, which has prevented the world from enjoying the artist's first three albums. Right before The Legendary... / O Mito was removed from the market it was printed as two separate CDs by Time Life in Spain, as part of a collection of classic EMI-owned jazz albums. That reissue comes up every once in a while in bargain bins and discount shops in London and even in the US.

For impatient listeners, él!/Cherry Records, a British label, has published two interesting reissues of the first two albums, which is completely legal in the EU, something that some on the other side of the pond fail to grasp. There's still plenty to argue about this, but in the EU the mechanical rights for those two LPs, and soon for the third, are public domain.

Meanwhile, in the courts things don't seem to be moving much. I found a few reports at Terra Magazine, a Brazilian on-line mag. This is the summary:

  • The lawsuit is expected to be solved in 2011, by the High Court in Brazilia, but obviously not in time for Gilberto's 80th birthday.
  • Despite rumours stating otherwise, EMI says the original masters are in Brazil.
  • Gilberto has listened to the masters but he's not recognized them as the originals. He'd be ready to work on a new remaster.
  • According to Ricardo Garcia (technician appointed by EMI) reverb (echo) was added for a false stereo effect on the original mono recordings from the album Chega de Saudade, and high frequencies were forced up by equalization.
  • According to Paulo Jobim, Antonio Carlos's son, who's involved in the case (on Gilberto's side), in the CD master strings and drums were favoured over guitar and vocals, and too much equalization has changed the timbre of the singer.
  • Paulo Jobim was present at the original sessions. Apparently, Gilberto made, and was granted, the unprecendeted request of having two microphones, one for the guitar, one for the voice. He was a stinking perfectionist, even though the recordings were made live, with no overdubbing.
  • Apparently, when they were going to do The Legendary... / O Mito, EMI/Odeon tried to obtain Gilberto's authorization to reissue the LPs on CD through composer Nelson Motta, but never got a reply.
  • Caetano Veloso, and advisor to Gilberto's lawyers, argues that a single CD detracts value from the product and, eventually, the artist.
  • Gilberto also has denounced the use of one of his songs for a commercial without his permission

By the look of it, if money is not an issue – a big "if", given EMI's situation – there shouldn't be much problem to get to a solution. I do think that Veloso's argument for a reissue in 3 separate CDs is not realistic. For starters all the music fits in a single CD, and the original LPs, all under the 30-minute mark hardly justify the format he suggests. In this day an age, a CD really has to be special to merit some attention from the potential buyers. Some heavy marketing will be needed too – and whoever has to do it will long for the missed anniversaries, the 50th of bossa in 2008/9 and now his 80th birthday.

Here's hoping that it happens soon.

And happy birthday!

Monday, June 6, 2011

A couple of anniversaries

Spring's almost flown by, so I didn't realize that in May it was 70 years since Charlie Christian was recorded at Minton's and Monroe's by Jerry Newman.

Seven recordings exist, two of them recorded at the latter venue, five at the former (for more details, go to "May 8, 1941" here). The most famous, and rightly so, is the improvisation on "Topsy", also titled "Swing to Bop" or "Charlie's Choice", depending on the issue. Unless you're particularly interested in vintage memorabilia, you're more likely to hear this music either on CD, mp3 download or streaming, or YouTube (see below). If that's so, there are two versions that you'll come across. One has more background noise, and some overdubbed applause in certain spots. That's probably taken from Vol. 8 of the Complete Edition of Charlie Christian recordings (MJCD75), published by French label Média 7 in 1994. Upside: pitch is corrected so it sounds in Bbm. The other version is the one on Esoteric/Fantasy CD OJCCD-1932-2, with fuller sound, no overdubbed applause, and in a slightly faster tempo (key is closer to Bm).

The hero in this recording is Charlie Christian. At the time there was nothing, nothing at all, remotely close to what he was doing on the guitar. As for the music, he was an obvious follower of Lester Young but he was going his own way, pushing the envelope as regards rhythm and a sort of less melodic approach to improvisation, showing the way to what Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie would expose in full bloom four years later.

Some people get hung up in the historical importance of all this. That's fine, I guess, but it shouldn't stop anyone from appreciating and enjoying it as what it is, high-quality, swinging music. It's interesting to see how Christian seems to save himself for the B sections, the bridges where he plays mainly long runs of eighth notes disregarding any bar lines (something Lester Young was well-known for). In the rest, the A sections, he goes more for improvised, short riffs.

Having the guitar in a more rhythmic role gives Kenny Clarke (who deserves much more credit than he usually gets for making things happen here) the chance to free up his playing. However, it is his playing together with Christian what is really astonishing, they really seem to be making a cooperative effort, especially in the A parts, to play in "rhythmic unison" (don't miss the pianist's punctuation in 3:09). As for the other soloists, besides Joe Guy on trumpet, of course there's the pianist. Even though some experienced listeners and the actual label of the original acetate give Thelonious Monk as the pianist, other experienced listeners are sure the ivory tickler here is Kenny Kersey (if you must know, I'm siding with the Monkians). In any case, it is nice to hear Christian play his straight 4/4 "chug-chug" rhythm guitar on the pianist's second chorus.

In case you get lost, the bridges happen, in the slower, Bbm version, at 0:12, 0:47, 1:22, 1:56, 2:31, 3:06, and then 7:06, 7:40, 8:14... how's that for a steady rhythm section?

Here it is, pitch corrected:

and how it's been known for ages, slightly faster:

You can also hear it on Spotify, in Bbm, or in Bm.

As for the other anniversary, this blog was three years old on May 28.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Teddy Wilson with Jo Jones, in action

When jazz pianists from the 30s are discussed, Art Tatum's and Earl Hines's virtuosity comes up. There may also be a mention to the old masters of stride piano. But for steering the piano towards its future, and for sheer class, class, and yet more class, look no further than Teddy Wilson.

Wilson, of course, kept playing and recording beyond the thirties. This was filmed in Chicago in 1963, as part of Willis Conover's International Hour - American Jazz. Papa Jo is on drums, Jim Atlas on bass, and they play Fats Waller's "Honeysuckle Rose".