Sunday, December 22, 2013

Happy festivities and a musical suggestion

Part of my friends and readers, those in the Southern hemisphere, are about to celebrate the Summer, not Winter, Solstice (you dirty rats!), and the end of the year it's just a convention, but be it because days grow shorter on this side of the world, or because most of us will be on a break from work, or for cultural reasons, this is a time for reflection or celebration. So do reflect, and whatever you celebrate, have a great one.

I wasn't really planning on recommending any music for this time of the year. Best-of-the-year lists abound, and there's all the Christmas-y stuff. It'd feel like choosing more candy on top of all the candy we're all being shoved down our throats. 

But then I came across the video about Bob Brookmeyer (see previous entry), and I suddenly heard Jack Teagarden. With strings. In a record I didn't have a clue about. It has Teagarden's voice and trombone, arrangements by Claus Ogerman, Brookmeyer, and Russ Case, and, surprisingly, the tunes are by Willard Robison, whose name is probably less known than some of his tunes, like "Old Folks" or "Cottage for Sale".

The record is Think Well of Me (Verve V6 8465 in stereo, V-8465 in mono) recorded and released in 1962. It was reissued as a limited edition on CD (Verve 314 557 101-2, from 1998, there are second-hand copies around), and it's also on Spotify. There are several uploads on YouTube, and I have compiled this playlist:

Have a great one, best wishes for 2014, and "see" you then.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Many more bars of Brookmeyer!

Yesterday I blogged about a favourite solo by a favourite musician, but I admit I gave short shrift to his musical accomplishments in my introduction.

After I posted around that entry, my worthy constituent and jazz-tango wizard Pablo Aslan pointed me towards this wonderful film, a very nice overview of Bob Brookmeyer's musical life.

This are the credits:

Montage created by Maria Schneider and Ryan Truesdell in honor of Bob Brookmeyer, for his memorial service at St. Peters Church, NYC, April 11, 2012.
Video edited by Marie Le Claire
All music composed and/or arranged by Bob Brookmeyer
Photos courtesy of: Michael Stephans, Jan Brookmeyer

This is the film.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Sixteen bars of Brookmeyer...

If you’re a regular reader of these pages, you may know that Bob Brookmeyer is one of my favourite musicians in any style or instrument. I love the way he seems to disguise his intelligence behind a gutsy, swinging style of playing the rather cumbersome valve trombone. As an arranger he has walked many paths and explored many routes, but he never disappoints. Not me, anyway.

A very good example of the diversity of his talents as an arranger and as a soloist is his arrangement of “Body and Soul” for Gerry Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band, and the contrast provided by his own 16-bar solo.

Although Brookmeyer was the driving force behind this band, here he only takes half a chorus. Where others drew arabesques on this ballad’s harmonic maze, Brookmeyer cuts through it with very little melodic variation and a very determined rhythmic delivery, with plenty of swing (as in syncopation in the first eight bars) and funk (on his second eight bars, ending his four-note motives on the downbeat, against a sort of rhumba background).

Since the solo is readily available to listen to, I won’t say more. Just that in an interview, asked about his influences he says that the first major influence, and almost the final one was Count Basie. Listening to this solo (starting in 2:37), I think it’s not difficult to imagine playing that solo on the piano.

More Brookmeyer here, and here.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Time flies...

Exactly one year ago today  I just got to New York City and rushed to get to a cozy gig in Brooklyn, for Ted Brown's 85th birthday (happy 86th, Mr. Brown!) There, I met Michael Steinman, purveyor of happiness through his Jazz Lives blog, who was recording the proceedings. This took place at The Drawing Room, Michael Kanan's studio on the first floor of a building on a street of Brooklyn; a small room with about thirty people in attendance, a small makeshift bar, and a very warm and welcoming vibe, for lack of a better word, to it.

This all may be a matter of personal perception, but there are times that magic seems to happen. This was one of those times: from the music, completely acoustic, to the unassuming attitude of everyone present, the love and respect for the birthday boy... even the lightning was wonderful.

L to R: Michael Kanan, Brad Linde, Kirk Knuffke, Ted Brown,
Chris Lightcap, Matt Wilson.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

November 26, 1945 at Savoy Records

(Image from London Jazz Collector)
"Hen Gates" is actually Dizzy Gillespie

Monday, November 26, 1945. Just another day at the office for the small independent Savoy Records label from New Jersey, for which they booked WOR Studios in Manhattan. First on, Don Byas and his quintet

Benny Harris (trumpet) Don Byas (tenor sax) Jimmy Jones (piano) John Levy (bass) Fred Radcliffe (drums)
   S5845    Candy
   S5846    How High The Moon
   S5847    Don By
   S5848    Byas-A-Drink

Next up (note the consecutive matrix numbers), the quintet lead by Charlie Parker, in his first ever session as a leader

Miles Davis (trumpet) Charlie Parker (alto sax) Argonne Thornton (a/k/a Sadik Hakim, piano) Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet* and piano) Curley Russell (bass) Max Roach (drums)

WOR Studios, Broadway, NYC, November 26, 1945
   S5849-1  Warming Up A Riff
   S5850-1  Billie's Bounce
   S5850-2  Billie's Bounce
   S5850-3  Billie's Bounce
   S5850-4  Billie's Bounce
   S5850-5  Billie's Bounce
   S5851-1  Now's The Time
   S5851-2  Now's The Time
   S5851-3  Now's The Time
   S5851-4  Now's The Time
   S5852-1  Thriving On A Riff
   S5852-2  Thriving On A Riff
   S5852-3  Thriving On A Riff
   S5853-1  Ko-Ko * 
   S5853-2  Ko-Ko *

Listen to the music on YouTube or Spotify (below).


Friday, November 22, 2013

Newly discovered recordings of Charlie Parker, unveiled

UPDATE : One of two unissued tracks unveiled back in 2013 has surfaced on YouTube. However, this had been online for two years already, since Phil Schaap, who else?, aired it on September 20, 2018. The show is here (he plays the clip at 6:40, 9:42, 17:56, and 1:09:44). The clip at the bottom has been pitch-corrected by master guitarist Nick Rossi.

Chuck Haddix
This Autumn is being very rich for fans of Charlie Parker. Besides the two newly-published biographies by Chuck Haddix and Stanley Crouch (which I reviewed in Spanish for Cuadernos de Jazz), some months ago two previously unknown recordings by Bird were unveiled. They're actually by the Jay McShann Orchestra, but that's posterity for you.

Haddix's book
These treasures have been dug up by none other than Chuck Haddix, curator of the Marr Sound Archive and author of one of the aforementioned books, where he explains (on p. 48) with no mention to his own role in the story, that it was John Tumino, McShann's manager, who recorded two tracks on February 6, 1941, “Margie” and “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You”, which are today remembered as cornerstones of Tommy Dorsey's repertoire. Parker is featured in both tracks, and he's especially good in the latter, for the length and originality of his solo.

Both recordings were played in public in early September, during the annual convention of the International Association of Jazz Recording Collectors, or IAJRC, which actually took place in Kansas City. The acetates reside in John Tumino Collection at Marr Sound Archive.

The über-expert in jazz cinematography, Mark Cantor, was present and heard the records. This is what he says:
In the first, "Margie", in which the arranger seems to be channeling Sy Oliver and the Jimmie Lunceford recording, Bird has an 8-bar solo during a release late in the performance. What I found absolutely astounding [...] is a performance of "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You", as much a dance performance as jazz, in which Bird takes a 32-bar solo that is amazing in its maturity, complexity, and melodic invention. Let's hope these will be issued someday for all of us to enjoy over and over.
 Amen to that.

PS (September 28, 2020): This is "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You", by the Jay McShann orchestra, with Joe Coleman on vocals, and an astonishing solo by Parker.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Frank Wess (1922-2013)

Just a couple years younger than Charlie Parker, and also faring from Kansas City, Frank Wess was one of those excellent musicians poorly served by tags like "mainstream" or "bop". He was a member of the Basie orchestra for a long time. Apparently an unassuming man, it was our loss that he wasn't seen under the spotlight more often. Wess passed away on October 30, aged 91.

Jazz for Playboys (Savoy/Denon SV-0191)
Never mind the official hierarchies of jazz, Wess was one of the first tenor sax players I encountered in jazz (before Coltrane or Coleman Hawkins, for instance). He was also my first flutist, the only one I knew for some time, which may explain why I couldn't understand some of my colleagues' disliking the instrument. Guess I was just lucky.

It was by sheer coincidence that a local shop had bucketloads of Japanese Savoy/Denon CDs at discount price. At a time when I mulled over the purchase of one CD for a very long time, I don't know what made me choose this record without listening to it. Not the cover, obviously. It wasn't the title either (believe me).

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Monk's pieces

Because of his name, his looks, his life, the way he played, which some see as some sort of overarching weirdness, Thelonious Monk is one of last century’s most recognizable jazz musicians.

He was a very interesting composer too. Firmly anchored in the popular-song-and-blues genre, he left under a hundred pieces, some which have become well-known standards.

However, there's much more than the half-dozen overused items of Monkiana that we all know. Since today it's his birthday, I'm posting this almost-complete Spotify playlist, based on the list of Monk's compositions at MonkZone website, with all that is known and, perhaps, not so known from him.

Missing from the playlist are three tracks from the London sessions for the Black Lion label ("Blue Sphere", "Chordially", and "Something in Blue"), as well as "Harlem Is Awfully Messy" (copyrighted but never recorded), and "A Merrier Christmas" (of which there's a private recording with Monk singing—this version is by Dianne Reeves with Benny Green).

Comments, additions, corrections, will be most welcome.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall: new reissue, still incomplete

Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall 1938 is an iconic record. It has been in print since 1950, and it offers a great snapshot of Swing at his height, not only musically but socially. However, to this day we don't have a complete issue of the music, as I explained in this previous post.

There's a new reissue just out—Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall 1938, Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) Inc., Blu-spec CD2 SICP 30223-4. This has been released in the new Blu-spec CD2 format, but it's based on the previous official CD master (C2K 65143, from 1999), and therefore it's still missing half a minute of music, although the sound seems to have gained definition.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Unexpectedly... Biréli Lagrène

There are records that are not so good, but still hold pleasant surprises. Some are even memorable for just one tiny moment of glory.

One of those would be Jaco Pastorius's Stuttgart Aria. An irregular album, and Jaco's last, it rewards the listener who gets to its very end with Biréli Lagrène's solo on "The Days of Wine and Roses"; Lagrène was just 20 when he recorded it.

Biréli Lagrène is 47 today.

PS: Some years later, Jazzpoint released a double CD, Broadway Blues & Teresa, with music from the Stuttgart Aria sessions, without the keyboard overdubs. In Spotify you can listen to this reading of "Days of Wine and Roses", without synths.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Jazzaldia 2013: days 2-5

(This is a digest of the more detailed account of the 48º Heineken Jazzaldia, the annual summer jazz festival in Donostia/San Sebastián, Spain, which can be found in Spanish, here. You can read about day 1 in English here.)

As vilified as it may be, the European summer jazz festival circuit must surely come as a blessing for many, musicians and fans alike. Besides the opportunities to work for the former, and to enjoy quality live music for the latter, it's a good chance to meet up with old friends who become part of the landscape for a few days a year.

One of those chance meetings: John Zorn and Lee Konitz
(© Fernando Ortiz de Urbina)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Jazzaldia 2013....

Apologies to my readers in English. Daily chronicles of the concerts at Jazzaldia are proving hard enough for me to contemplate translating them into English on a daily basis too.

Bear with me for a few days and I'll file a detailed report on the event. You're always welcome to read the reports in Spanish.

As ever, thanks for reading!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Jazzaldia 2013: day 1

© Fernando Ortiz de Urbina

The succession of free gigs around the Kursaal auditorium make the first day of Jazzaldia a whole different business from the rest of it. For some, it's joyful and a communal experience. For others, it's the mob.

We're all old enough too keep banging on about stylistic considerations and ask ourselves what do we really want from music. At best, it should make us dance and jump, reflect and scream, laugh and cry... while it tears our hearts out like Indiana Jones' and replaces them tenderly, as many times as it wishes.

Jazz, music, art in general, at their best, seem to stem from this dialogue:
—What if we do...?
—Why not?!
© Fernando Ortiz de Urbina

What if we put together a band with two drum kits, a vibraphone, assorted percussion, electric bass, two electric guitars with their respective effects, a horn section (trumpet, alto, tenor and bari saxes), a theremin, voices... and, actually, whatever else we may think of. We could also add some dancers. And a painter working during the gig. And a big video screen in the background. How about a giant jellyfish-shaped balloon? Make it fly over the stage. And over the audience too.

What if this orchestra plays music with plenty of vamps. Like the Mission Impossible theme. Music for dancing. Lots of it. And binary rhythms, like Sabre Dance. And in three. And in four, that's perentory. And in five, like Dave Brubeck could never imagine. And some of that jazz that goes from Mingus through Bill Barron's ensembles to Mostly Other People Do The Killing. And rock guitars. And some nice chord sequences. And monster unisons. And polkas. And some ska...

All of the above exists and has a name: SHIBUSASHIRAZU ORCHESTRA, which unlucky Cinderellas missed on the 24th. That, and the chance to see the whole of Zurriola beach jumping and dancing at 2 a.m. On a Thursday.

Shibusashirazu Orchestra
© Fernando Ortiz de Urbina

Earlier that evening...

ROBERT GLASPER: quartet. Funk is like a good dessert. It can save anything. Take a good bassist (Derrick Hodge) and a good drummer (Mark Colenburg), and you'll be able to play anything on them. Vocoder is not such a versatile resource as some seem to think. One of the best moments happened with Casey Benjamin on alto sax and without Glasper. Ponder that.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Rock interlude: Alchemy

Alchemy is a live album by Dire Straits, possibly the band that made the most money in the crazy Eighties, when British pop/rock seemed to embrace thatcherism and conquered a sizeable chunk of worldwide record sales. Actually, the Straits' next tour would be a gruelling one year away from home, so designed, apparently, for tax purposes.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Going to a summer jazz fest

Everybody's been doing it for over 60 years: The discreet charm of combining the summer resort with a feast of live jazz and other musics (Chuck Berry played Newport '58, so you might say that it's always been like that). Genteel, maybe. Exclusive, not at all.

In the coming days I'll be reporting the news from San Sebastian's Heineken Jazzaldia, where I got started as a newspaper reporter ages ago. Good memories, old friends, and some extraordinary food await. Check the programme here, and see if you can come along.

That is now. The following is back when: Newport 1962. A few good quality clips from Franz Hoffman, plus a longer one, in not so good quality (but we get to see some Roland Kirk and Pee Wee Russell, so no complaints).

See you!

Count Basie and His Orchestra

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Blues: black, white... and red? (and III)

With today's text we reach the end of the excerpt first published on line by UTNE Reader from The Guitar and the New World, the new book by Joe Gioia. Once again, our thanks go to the author and the publisher, SUNY Press. If the earlier parts (the first and the second) sound interesting enough, the rest of the chapter “Hey-Hey” digs wider and deeper into some of the points made so far.

As it has happened with some of the books mentioned by Gioia in the second part (especially Hamilton's), his may be difficult to accept for its ground-breaking view of the origins of the blues, a unique genre about which people have been capable of keeping a straight face while talking of deals with the devil. On the other hand, Gioia's book may well go through the same heavy revisions as Charters's and Oliver's books in the future. Even in that case, the oversight Native Americans have suffered in this whole story of the music of North America is so enormous, that what's really important in Gioia's discourse is not so much whether his answers are correct, but the questions he asks; not what he's found, but the fact that he's pointing his torch in a different and hardly explored direction.

At "worst", the book can also be used as the author's guide to North-American music from the first half of the 20th century. Although some tracks may seem out of place without the book at hand, almost all the songs he mentions are included, in order of appearance, in this Spotify playlist (the links in the text lead to YouTube).

Back to the text: Having argued that there is sufficient reason to consider seriously the role of Native Americans in the origins of the blues and other musics from the US, the author keeps following that trail, and he begins to find some clues...

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Blues: black, white... and red? (II)

Second part of the excerpt from the chapter entitled "Hey, Hey", taken from Joe Gioia's The Guitar and the New World. In the previous part the author pointed out the two early 20th century seminal accounts from which all blues historiography emanates, Charles Peabody's and W. C. Handy's, and how from there its origins have been linked to slavery or even to Africa without any solid evidence to prove it.

Thanks to Joe Gioia and his publisher for granting permission for me to translate this text and publish it here. The complete excerpt is readily available on line at the UTNE Reader website.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Blues: black, white... and red? (I)

One of the most fascinating aspects in the history of American popular music is the origin of blues music. Having been put at the centre of most of 20th century popular music, the seed of a mass phenomenon such as rock, the contrast with its humble origins in the Mississippi Delta give an epic air to a genre which is already elating and gut-wrenching in itself. If it's also considered as the musical undercurrent of the kidnapping, the trans-Atlantic trip, and slavery of Africans and their descendants in America, myth-making is hard to avoid.

Moreover, on top of this myth a sediment has formed which hardly lets any room for legitimate discussion regarding the origins of this musical genre, a sort of thick dogma compressed by considerations on authenticity. These are always useless, because if we consider history to be a film, authenticity is, at best, just a frame, a random image chosen according to a number of prejudices, selected to be an absolute and non-negotiable model against which the rest of the film is humbly compared. I say at best because normally authenticity isn't even a frame in the film, it's just an idealized utopian past.

Charley Patton - "I Shall Not Be Moved"

In some unproven way, blues is supposed to have been the musical baggage of slaves brought from Africa to America and their descendants. In the beginning, it was just purely a black thing, then it went losing its purity because of white influence of European origin. If we extrapolate that imagined trajectory, the origins of blues would lay in Africa. For a number of reasons, among them the choking and very real presence of racism in the US, the study and debate on what we know as the blues are constrained by some solid barriers. For instance: when it is insisted so much on the black/white racial dichotomy in American music, aren't we forgetting someone?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Party at the Barnes's!!! (part II)

George Barnes
I hope you enjoyed yesterday's video of "Liza", from George Barnes's Guitars Galore album, released in 1961. The beautiful montage was produced by Alexandra Barnes Leh, daughter of George's, who's also producing the George Barnes Legacy collection. This website is not to be missed, especially if you're in the least interested in the history of the guitar in America. Barnes was a true, multi-faceted pioneer, one of those larger-than-life characters, who was gone too soon, in 1977.

At the end of this text you can see some screenshots taken from the video. From the smiling faces, it’s pretty clear that everybody had a ball. Musicians from this era are remembered for their witticisms, their pranks, their humour… their ability to have fun in any given situation. Thanks to Alexandra and her mother, and wife of George's, Evelyn Barnes, we have some details from this actual party. Our deepest gratitude goes to both of them.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Party at the Barnes's!!! (part I)

This may sound over the top, but I think we will not have a clear idea of how much American popular music of a certain age was soaked in jazz until we have a proper discography (with the names of all musicians involved) of the Columbia and RCA labels, and their subsidiaries. Being those two the biggest labels in the 1950s, it's sort of a wet dream for some of us in all our splendid nerdiness.

Of course music is music, and being able to listen to it should suffice to appreciate all the flavours in it. Still, impressions are affected when you know who's actually playing in whatever record, and it does seem that jazz musicians, or at least musicians with a heavy jazz slant, or big band veterans whose early days were spent playing music with a high jazz-octanage, were everywhere in American popular music from the 50s and 60s. And it's not just Sinatra's albums featuring members of the Stan Kenton ot the Count Basie orchestras. There's much more.

Friday, May 31, 2013

February 7, 1940: A busy day at the office

So, February 7, 1940. The war is going on in Europe, but Pearl Harbor is almost two years away. At the same time, in Manhattan, Metronome magazine has called in the best jazz musicians according to their readers to wax a couple of tunes, a big band take on "King Porter Stomp", and a blues called "All-Star Strut" by a reduced group of nine, presumably the winner in each instrument category.

This kind of pick-up bands are interesting insofar as they differ from our point of view. Two tenor saxes and no Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young or Ben Webster? (OK, Hawkins was just back from Europe, but "Body and Soul" was already out!) A pianist who's not Art Tatum? Jimmie Blanton is not on bass? Not a single member from the Ellington or Basie bands?!!! Quite a travesty, yes, but besides this being a selection being a different time in history, although the swing years are normally presented as an "era" when jazz was popular, it'd be probably fairer to say that popular music was, often but not always, soaked in jazz.

In any case, the men were (in italics, the members of the nonet):

TRUMPETS: Harry James, Ziggy Elman, and Charlie Spivak;
TROMBONES: Jack Teagarden and Jack Jenney;
REEDS: Benny Goodman on clarinet; Benny Carter, and Toots Mondello on alto sax; Eddie Miller, and Charlie Barnet on tenor sax;
RHYTHM: Charlie Christian on the electric guitar; Jess Stacy on piano; Bob Haggart on bass; and Gene Krupa on drums.
ARRANGER: Fletcher Henderson.

Luckily there several pictures from this session (click on them to enlarge). This one, because Christian is still wearing his hat, and Krupa has his jacket still on, as well as their relative positions, may come from the beginning of the session

Charlie Christian, Gene Krupa
(from Leo Valdés's site)

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The story of "So What"

While we were discussing the convoluted story of the "Rhythm-A-Ning" riff, my worthy constituent Michael 'Jazz Lives' Steinman, purveyor of happiness, said that
certain riffs and variations are "in the air"
which is absolutely true. From outright plagiarism to excessive, but unintentional, "inspiration", these things can happen (I once put together a really pretty set of chords worth of Rachmaninov, so much so that... you get my drift). And it can happen to anyone, even master composer Benny Golson, as he explains to another master composer, Horace Silver, here.

That's all very well, but in American popular music there was ("was", hopefully) laxity when it came to naming the author(s) of a tune. Take Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight". How much did Cootie Williams have to do with it, beyond being the first band leader to record it? This is just an example: any unlikely name, from disc-jockey Alan Freed's name on rock'n'roll records, to manager Irving Mills's on Duke Ellington's, it'd be healthy to raise a brow or two.

Another example: Gil Evans only discovered that "Donna Lee" was not Charlie Parker's tune when he asked him about it, to arrange it for Claude Thornhill, and Parker sent him to his  sideman, Miles Davis, who was just 21 at the time.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sidney Bechet... and Eddie Condon (and Bird!) in colour

The wonders of the Internet. I just saw this beautiful montage on Sidney Bechet (the song is "Dans les Rues d'Antibes"):

Watching carefully, you'll be able to see Eddie Condon and his 4-string guitar in different occasions with his all-stars, also, although very briefly Buddy Rich, Kid Ory, and Muggsy Spanier, and, most surprising of all, the unlikely group of Charlie Parker, Chubby Jackson, and George Wettling, starting at 1:51.

L to R: Charlie Parker, Chubby Jackson, George Wettling

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

SALT PEANUTS!!! SALT PEANUTS!!! – Massey Hall, 60 years after

Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker
Massey Hall, Toronto, May 15, 1953
Photo by Harold Robinson

Sixty years ago today, at about 20:30, Toronto time, everything was ready for a historical evening. The best quintet in history, reuniting the founder fathers of bebop, a bunch of jazz revolutionaries, were going to play together in a summit meeting of music. This is the infamous night when a plastic sax had to be borrowed for Charlie Parker, because he hadn't brought his instrument. The night when he and his former soulmate, Dizzy Gillespie, exchanged musical punches. The night of Bud Powell's first appearance after his release from hospital.

You probably knew that. Every jazz fan knows that. However, half of the paragraph above is untrue. Of course, we've read that story many times, and it's very likely that we will read it again. But it is essentially false. Untrue. Fake. Even so, it's a story that has been repeated over and over again in the media, either general or specialized, in Spanish and in English.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Twenty years after

In the summer of '92, while Spain was beginning to delude itself thinking we were something we're not, I was down and out in the streets of London. Not that I was skint. I wasn't rich either, but I'd rather spend my cash in records. Just in Oxford Street there were two HMV and two Virgin stores, four multi-storey record shops in just over one mile. Add to that Tower Records and another HMV in Piccadilly Circus. On top of all that there were the specialized shops, like Ray's at the time still in Shaftesbury Avenue, with jazz on the ground floor and blues in the cellar. In those four weeks of August, I did do all my touristy sight-seeing, but even though I had my eyes on the attractions, my mind was working out what to bring back home, how much to spend, and where. I'm not really proud of this. I say it like addicts tell things to other addicts.

I came from a small village, and I hadn't really experienced Madrid or Barcelona, and so London was Xanadu, Ali Baba's cave, cornucopia. A paradise from which I took fruits that will stay with me forever. A 2-CD set with live recordings by Charlie Christian; the early CD issue of Benny Goodman's 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall; Stan Getz's live set at Storyville '51 reissued by Giants of Jazz in Italy; T-Bone Walker's complete Imperial recordings; plus others that have dropped from memory. Things I knew existed. Things I didn't know existed.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Piazzolla in New York (and V): Carlos Rausch, 2013

In the vastness of Piazzolla's legend, Carlos Rausch amounts to a mere footnote. His name has been regularly cropped (to Rauch) or he's been moved from the piano bench to the percussion department. Tagged with "percussion" or "(piano)(maybe)" he's just a ghost in a dubious recording according to the information that tumbles around, free of criticism or revision, on the internet.

However, behind the name there's not only a real person, but a warm and friendly character to boot. There's also a whole life devoted to music, including work as a musical director and conductor, as a composer, as well as past extra-musical activities like his forays into aviation as the proud pilot of his own Cessna 180.

Carlos Rausch
Rausch was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 89 years ago. In 1958, almost at the same time as Piazzolla, he switched hemispheres, but unlike Piazzolla, he didn't return to Argentina. He lived in a number of places in the North America, were he lives today, retired, but still devoting a good chunk of time and effort to music.

In this entry about Piazzolla's "lost years" in New York, we turn to this pupil of Juan Carlos Paz, in Argentina, and Pierre Monteux, in the US, for him to tell us about his life as an immigrant, professional musician.

This is also the last entry in the series devoted to Piazzolla's second New York sojourn, 1958-1960. See the very end for acknowledgements, bibliography, and links to several Spotify playlists.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Piazzolla in New York (IV): Rausch on Piazzolla, 1958-1960

Portada de Take Me Dancing
Piazzolla is one of the best-known Argentinian musicians in the world, even though he died over twenty years ago. He knew international acclaim, worked with great artists, flew over stylistic boundaries and reached different countries and audiences... However, between his upward rise culminating with the artistic success of his Octeto Buenos Aires, and the turning point marked by “Adios Nonino”, the requiem to his father, who died in late 1959, there were two years of misty uncertainty, spent mainly in New York City, from February 1958 to June 1960. While the city was bursting with all kinds of music (in a especially glorious year for jazz) and the US was, more than ever, the most powerful country in the world, reaching the end of Eisenhower's years at the helm, Piazzolla was struggling with the American dream. His recollections of it, bittersweet, hardly come up in the memoirs compiled by with Natalio Gorín.

The New Yorker, January 30th, 1960. The "collection of
Argentinians" refers to Copes, Piazzolla, Rausch & co. 
The portrait of Piazzolla's life in New York is somewhat blurry. Beyond the stories of those who knew or worked with him, his name hardly appears among press notices; even though these note some of his perfomances, he rarely gets a name check, nor does dancer Juan Carlos Copes, whom Piazzolla worked with from the second half of 1959 to the beginning of 1960. Copes himself has told the story of how the fire brigade had to be called to deal with the crowds at Waldorf Astoria where they performed there, but those were probably due more to headliner Eddie Fisher than to a sudden tango fever sweeping Manhattan. The great Piazzolla was, in fact, just another anonymous musician among the thousands who made a living in late-1950s New York, a golden age for studio work in the city.

Argentinian Carlos Rausch was a pianist and copyist for hire in New York at the time, and he worked with Piazzolla oftentimes. This is part of his first ever interview about Piazzolla (see this previous post for more), for which he listened to the albums Take Me Dancing and Evening in Buenos Aires, recorded by Piazzolla in New York in 1959, also for the first time. The following is my translation of the original interview, which was made in Spanish.

Carlos Rausch and Astor Piazzolla, New York, May 1959
(© Carlos Rausch)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Piazzolla in New York (III): Take Me Dancing! — Discographical details

In 1959, while jazz was going through an incredibly fertile period and New York's cultural life was just mind-boggling, the grand modernizer of tango was struggling to make ends meet, and musically he wasn't really getting anywhere.

Since then, the result of his plans to mix jazz and tango have been marked as pretty much irrelevant by conventional wisdom, and with no hard data in the original album sleeve or any other published sources, there's hardly anything solid regarding the personnel and date of recording of Take Me Dancing. Who would be interested in knowing the details of a "failure", right?

Discographical research on Take Me Dancing! begins and ends with the picture below, first published in Piazzolla Loco Loco Loco (Ed. de la Urraca; Argentina, 1994), a book by Óscar López Ruiz, one of the main guitar players in Piazzolla's career. Besides the faces you can see on it, other names have been offered as present in this session, such as Tito Puente (discussed in the previous post), guitarist Barry Galbraith, and bassist George Duvivier. There's also the additional question of there being more musicians in it than can be heard on the record. A few internet searches will give out some vague results, with errors in the spelling of names and the pairings of instruments and musicians.

Sunday, April 26th, 1959?

In any case, the complete personnel is, from left to right:

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Piazzolla in New York (II): Take Me Dancing (1959)

In the previous post, we introduced Piazzolla's Take Me Dancing and Pablo Aslan's 2011 remake. This one is about Piazzolla's original recording.

Piazzolla, aged 37, arrived back in New York at the beginning of 1958 (he had lived there, aged 4-15). It took him some time to settle, but soon enough he was working regularly as an arranger for Roulette Records, through a good word put for him by fellow arranger and bandleader Johnny Richards. By that time, he was already reunited with his wife, Dedé, and his teenager offspring, Diana and Daniel. In New York he recorded two records as a leader, Take Me Dancing, his attempt at a jazz-tango fusion, and a more inocuous one, which rested in the vaults till 1994, when it was first released in Japan as Evening in Buenos Aires (P-Vine PC-2885).

Carlos Rausch, pianist and orchestra conductor, is now 88 and lives in the US. Like Piazzolla, he moved to New York in 1958 and there he worked with him as a pianist and score copyist. Furthermore, they saw each other frequently, paying visits to each other's homes. Even though Rausch is a prime witness to this brief moment in Piazzolla's life, he had never been interviewed about him before. Although he played piano in Take Me Dancing, he had never listened to the record until now, either.

In future posts Rausch will talk about Piazzolla and New York at length (although next up is all about discographical minutiae); here, he reminisces about Piazzolla's infamous recording. The following is my translation of the original interview, which was made in Spanish.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Piazzolla in New York (I): Brooklyn 2011

Astor Piazzolla (source)
Astor Piazzolla is one of the outstanding musicians of the 20th century, one of those figures like the late Ravi Shankar or Paco de Lucía who have transcended borders, cultures, and labels by taking on the music of their own backyards, giving it a personal twist, and making it appealing to audiences throughout the world.

The bandoneonist and composer – his music education included stints with Alberto Ginastera in Buenos Aires and Nadia Boulanger in Paris – had a long career and a good selection of his records wouldn't be out of place in the collection of any music lover. As with any artist, it would be hard to say which is the best of his albums, and that quite pointless question would probably provoke some heated and pointless debates.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Keith Jarrett strides along...

Keith Jarrett (source)
Keith Jarrett is a jazz piano player who has crossed over to a level of fandom exclusive to a very few musicians in the world, regardless of their styles. If you're reading this, you've probably heard him, as a soloist, with his trio, maybe even in his early days with Miles Davis or Charles Lloyd.

However, it may also be that you've never heard him playing a Gershwin tune in a stride-piano vein (the first two and a half minutes in the following video).

In the comments on the YouTube page, some seem not to believe that this is indeed Jarrett. However, Norwegian musician Per Husby says this about the video:

I can confirm that the clip is actually Jarrett. The original tape now resides in the Norwegian Jazz Archives as part of the Randi Hultin collection, donated to the archives after her passing away.
However, the info regarding the actual recording is incorrect. The quartet part (the track is cross-faded into a concert version of Forest Flower by the quartet) may well have been recorded at the Oslo concert on May 7, 1966, but Jarrett played no solo performance, Tatum-style then (I know, I was in the audience). However, the day after, the quartet was invited to Randi Hultin's house to celebrate Jarrett's birthday, and on that occasion Jarrett sat down at Randi's piano and played several solo pieces, some of which was recorded by Randi on her home tape machine. (If you listen closely, I think you might hear Randi and Lloyd chuckling in the background a couple of places while he is playing). The whole recording is about 10 minutes long - so the YouTube thing is just a small excerpt. God knows where they got this clip from, though - they most certainly did not get it from Norwegian Jazz Archives.
  • More about Randi Hultin, here.
  • More about Per Husby, here (Wiki).
  • More about the Norwegian Jazz Archives, here.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Musicians' quotes: on Chet Baker

Chet Baker's arrival on the scene and his commercial success has always been a controversial matter. These are two opposite opinions about his singing from fellow musicians.

Pianist Russ Freeman, Baker's accompanist and musical director on his first recordings as a singer:
To be honest, I was never much a fan of his singing... I didn't like the idea of Chet singing at all. It only distracted from what was going on instrumentally. But of course, I did my job.
Jeroen de Valk: Chet Baker - His Life and Music
(Berkeley Hills, USA, 2000)

Trumpetist Art Farmer, upon hearing an improptu duet by Baker and June Christy, before he ever sang on record:

Yeah, yeah! That was beautiful! You know, Chet, you should sing on your next album.

To which June Christy also agreed, according to photographer William Claxton's story about the one time he'd heard Chet Baker before he recorded his first vocal album, in William Claxton: Young Chet (te Neues Publishing Company, USA, 1999).

The best of early Chet Baker's singing, on Spotify.

Go here for an article on Baker by Ted Gioia, with more praise for Baker from Mr. Farmer.

Listen without prejudice: Chet Baker with Paul Bley on Spotify.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

RIP Federico García-Herraiz

For those of us who got into jazz from a small village in a remote corner of Europe, before the internet, cheap flights, and other luxuries we now take for granted, the bi-monthly arrival of Cuadernos de Jazz to the local public library was something we awaited anxiously. Reading it, like listening to the few records we could afford, was a process as fast as the disappearing of water in dry land.

In those years when learning about new music was not only a musical but also a sentimental education, Federico García-Herraiz's was one of the bylines I mulled over in great detail. Although we would, in time, be colleagues in the same magazine, I never met him. I did see him several times, always with his  walking stick despite his apparent youth, but that was before I joined Cuadernos and I was too shy to walk up to him, say hello and thank you.

Federico left us just about a week after Raúl Mao. I don't have any pictures of the latter, but I've found this one with Raúl, taken at Jazzaldia in 1999. In many ways, those were happier days.

With Max Roach and Raúl Mao in San Sebastián, July 1999

Saturday, February 9, 2013

RIP Raúl Mao (1944-2013)

Raúl Mao died on February 8th. He had been ill for some time. He was the heart of Spanish magazine Cuadernos de Jazz, the main reason for its record-breaking 20 years in print, plus three as a web-only publication.

We first met back in 1998, after a concert by Brad Mehldau in Madrid.

He's already missed.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Musicians' quotes: Marc Ribot on technique

I don’t want to impose some agenda on a song. I respect the ability to read the song, to figure out the song’s intentions. Chops need to be in the service of meaning. People who don’t get that are… dumb.

Marc Ribot in a double interview with Nels Cline
by Jim Macnie for the July 2011 issue of DownBeat magazine

Marc Ribot - guitar
Henry Grimes - bass
Chad Taylor - drums

Sunday, January 27, 2013


On January 23 I marked Django's birthday with an impromptu, off-the-cuff selection of his recordings, and I posted it on Twitter. His guitar was one my early hooks in jazz, and his recordings remain special.

So, without further ado, I give you my Django!. Recordings date from the mid-30s to 1953; if you hear a violin, it's Stéphane Grappelli. If there's a clarinet that'll probably be Hubert Rostaing, same goes for Alix Combelle and his tenor sax (on "Finesse" Rex Stewart is on cornet and Barney Bigard on clarinet). Depending on the date, Django's instrument maybe an acoustic guitar, an electrified acoustic, or a electric guitar proper.

Enjoy the music on YouTube or Qobuz!


Friday, January 11, 2013

BG at CH: 75 years and a complete recording still to come... soon

(L to R: Gene Krupa, Babe Russin, Allan Reuss, George Koenig, 
Red Ballard, BG, Vernon Bown, and Art Rollini
Carnegie Hall, January 16, 1938)

Next Wednesday, January 16th, will mark the 75th anniversary of Benny Goodman's famous concert at Carnegie Hall. It was a very cold Sunday evening in New York, Carnegie Hall sold out (they even had part of the audience on stage), the Hall's surroundings were crowded, supporters of Franco (this was during the Spanish Civil War) were protesting against Goodman, who had played a benefit for Spanish loyalists in December... It was a momentous occasion for many reasons and the actual music lived up to it.

CBS 450983
I've been a fan of this concert for over twenty years, since I bought the first CD reissue done by Columbia in my first visit to London. In those days I didn't own so many records, so this is one of those I spinned endless times. I didn't mind the not-so-good sound quality: this was history in the making (a "swing" band at Carnegie Hall!), and some of the music is excellent, like the surprisingly reflective piano solo by Jess Stacy on "Sing, Sing, Sing", Krupa's galvanizing break on "Don't Be That Way", Lester Young's tenor on "Honeysuckle Rose", Lionel Hampton's wild arpeggios at the end of "I Got Rhythm", or Ziggy Elman blasting trumpet at the end of "Swingtime in the Rockies".

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Best wishes for 2013

Not very good video, not very good audio, and the same old jokes. Still, it's Dean, Sammy, Frank, at the Copa Room of the Sands Hotel, 50 years ago. Over an hour of it.

May you, MAY you!, have a good year.