Altoist Paul Desmond (1924-77) will always be best known for his association with the Dave Brubeck Quartet (1951-67) and for composing “Take Five.” He had a beautiful floating tone that owed little to any of his predecessors (even Charlie Parker) and his thoughtful style was quite original and often brilliant. Do yourself a favor and listen to his long solo on “Balcony Rock” (a medium-tempo blues) from Dave Brubeck’s Jazz Goes To College. Every note fits, each idea leads logically to the next, and it is entirely improvised yet flawless.
After the breakup of the classic Dave Brubeck Quartet, Desmond (who was just 43) was less active but still in prime form when he played. He had several reunions with Brubeck, led a few albums for the A&M and CTI labels, appeared as a guest on some record dates (including with Chet Baker), and during 1975-76 led his finest group, a quartet with three Canadians: guitarist Ed Bickert, bassist Don Thompson and drummer Jerry Fuller. Not counting 1974’s Pure Desmond which had Bickert along with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Connie Kay, three albums were released by the Canadian quartet: Like Someone In Love (Telarc), Paul Desmond (Artists House), and Live (A&M Horizon).
Don Thompson recorded the quartet each night during their two periods playing at Toronto’s Bourbon Street (March 25-29, 1975 and Oct. 25-31, 1975), resulting in the three albums plus quite a bit of unreleased material. Now the seven-CD limited edition Mosaic box set Paul Desmond – The Complete 1975 Toronto Recordings has made everything available, 51 selections in all; only 19 were previously released.
While there are some repeats of titles, the solos are completely different from each other and the “new” material is on the same level as the more familiar performances. Desmond, who has a real chance to stretch out, sounds particularly inventive and relaxed in this setting, Bickert’s melodic guitar is heard at its best, Thompson’s short solos on virtually every selection easily it into the mood, and Fuller (who does not get to solo at all) is quietly supportive throughout. The seven selections from Oct. 30-31 are without the guitarist who had to return home when his father passed away. In his place is valve trombonist Rob McConnell who otherwise never recorded with Desmond. He fares well although Desmond’s solos are unfortunately a bit shorter on those numbers.
On such titles as “Line For Lyons,” “Emily,” “Wave,” “East Of The Sun,” “Just Squeeze Me” and “Tangerine” (plus two versions of “Take Five”), Paul Desmond is heard in wonderful form, playing at the peak of his powers and sounding quite happy throughout. While the quartet would have a reunion at 1977’s Edmonton Jazz Festival (the music was released on a bootleg CD), otherwise the Mosaic release has their entire musical legacy. It is one of the top reissues of 2020 and is available from www.mosaicrecords.com. Do not hesitate to get it while it is in print!
PLAY THE WAY YOU FEEL
Jazz in the movies has always been a favorite topic of mine. In fact, I wrote a reference book (Jazz On Film) a few years ago, so the release of Kevin Whitehead’s Play The Way You Feel – The Essential Guide To Jazz Stories On Film (Oxford University Press) is of strong interest.
Sticking mostly to Hollywood’s depiction of jazz, Whitehead covers a wide variety of movies in his very readable and entertaining work, not only discussing films in which jazz is part of the plot but including some jazz-oriented television series and TV movies. While the 11 chapters each deal with a specific topic, the films are mostly covered in loosely chronological order. Whitehead not only discusses (often in great detail) the plots of the movies and the way that jazz is part of the story, but he compares the fictional plots and details to the real history. What makes all of this quite enjoyable is the colorful way that he writes, his wit, and a countless number of fascinating details. I particularly enjoy the way that he shows the parallels between the various movies which sometimes include the same character actors popping up in different situations. Even the most devoted jazz film experts will learn a great deal from this book.
Documentaries, straight performance films and most shorts fall outside of the book’s topic. While Kevin Whitehead seems to cover just about every significant and even insignificant jazz-related movie, he misses a few. The groundbreaking 1929 Hallelujah is barely mentioned and Cabin In The Sky (which has a lot of important black performers including Duke Ellington and a cameo by Louis Armstrong), The Big Broadcast, and The Crimson Canary are strangely absent. He mentions only in passing (and without its song title) Ellington’s remarkable performance of “Old Man Blues” in the Amos and Andy film Check and Double Check, is overly harsh to The Five Pennies, and way too kind to The Gene Krupa Story.
But that is nitpicking. Play The Way You Feel, which is available from www.amazon.com, is a must for anyone interested in jazz and film.
ADRIAN ROLLINI BOOK
Adrian Rollini (1903-56) is best remembered today as a masterful bass saxophonist who recorded with Bix Beiderbecke and Frank Trumbauer in the 1920s before fading from the scene later in the 1930s. Ate van Delden’s very thorough biography Adrian Rollini – The Life And Music Of A Jazz Rambler (University Press of Mississippi) fills in the gaps and shows that there was a lot more to Rollini’s life and career than one might expect.
A superb musician, Rollini actually began his career as a pianist, one who played a classical recital when he was four and made a series of now-obscure piano rolls in the early 1920s. He was a major force with the California Ramblers during 1922-27 as a bass saxophonist, one who learned his instrument within a couple of weeks. He also recorded on the goofus (more formerly known as the cuenophone), the hot fountain pen, and other obscure instruments. Rollini freelanced in 1927 and led a short-lived all-star group at the Club New Yorker that included Bix and Tram but its hot music was unable to satisfy the desires of the dancing audience. Rollini spent much of the next two years in Europe, being featured with Fred Elizalde. Back in the States, he worked with Bert Lown, Richard Himber and various dance bands while occasionally recording with hotter jazz combos (most notably Joe Venuti’s). The bass saxophone had failed to catch on and Rollini gradually switched his main focus to the vibraphone where he had predated Lionel Hampton. By 1938 Rollini was exclusively a vibraphonist and during the next decade he led a reasonably popular trio with guitar and bass. He ended his life running an inn in Key Largo, Florida; fishing was one of his passions.
Ate van Delden’s Adrian Rollini biography is quite detailed and tells about his personal relationships, musical development, many gigs, and his rarely-discussed later years. It still seems strange that Adrian Rollini largely disappeared from the major music scene in the 1940s. One could certainly imagine him being used by Eddie Condon and enjoying the comeback of 1920s jazz, but that never happened. This definitive and very well researched book tells the full story and should be of great interest to fans of 1920s jazz. It is recommended and available from www.upress.state.ms.us.
What does an A&R (artists and repertoire) person do? How have those working for record labels in an A&R capacity affected the documentation and popularity of music, particularly in the early years? Who are some of the innovators in that field, and were all of them unsavory crooks?
A&R Pioneers – Architects Of American Roots Music On Record by Brian Ward and Patrick Huber (Vanderbilt University Press) answer those questions and many more in exhaustive detail. The book primarily focuses on A&R people involved in jazz, blues, hillbilly and (to a lesser extent) foreign language records during the 1920-45 period with the last chapter discussing A&R work in the 1950s. The narrative is divided into functions rather than going chronologically. After defining what an A&R record company official is, there are chapters on finding and securing talent, contracts & copyrights, choosing songs, work in the studio, defining genre boundaries, and selling records.
Filled with an endless amount of colorful anecdotes, the book constantly jumps back and forth between decades rather than giving complete life stories of the more important A&R pioneers in one spot, so it can be a little confusing. One has to use the index to piece together a biography of such individuals as Ralph Peer, Eli Oberstein, J. Mayo Williams and Lester Melrose.
With just a few exceptions, such as John Hammond, Helen Oakley Dance and Milt Gabler, the A&R people were quite crooked, persuading musicians to sign away the publishing rights to their songs and depriving them of royalties in exchange for a small payment and the opportunity to record. However the A&R pioneers were responsible for discovering many talents and documenting their music, much of which might have been lost to history, so there is some good to their careers.
Brian Ward and Patrick Huber fully discuss the music business, warts and all, and the A&R Pioneers are treated fairly. The amount of research that resulted in this many new and fresh stories being told must have been overwhelming. The finished product is well worth reading, and available from www.vanderbiltuniversitypress.com.
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Be well and safe everyone. The live jazz scene will return.