by Scott Yanow
2019 was another great year for recorded jazz. Here are the 25 new releases and 20 reissues/historic music CDs that made the biggest impression on me in 2019, listed in alphabetical order by artist. Every one of these recordings is well worth getting. There are hundreds of other worthy releases that could have made this list. No matter how much one tries to listen to every possible jazz recording, it is impossible to hear them all, but I’m doing my best!
Airmen Of Note – The Jazz Heritage Series: 2019 Radio Broadcasts – U.S. Air Force Band
Gretje Angell – In Any Key – Grevlinto
Ehud Asherie – Wild Man Blues – Capri
Teodross Avery – After The Rain – Tompkins Square
George Cables – I’m All Smiles – High Note
Chicago Cellar Boys – Busy ‘Til Eleven – Rivermont
Paul Combs – Unknown Dameron – Summit
Chick Corea – Antidote: The Spanish Heart Band – Concord
Harold Danko/Kirk Knuffke – Play Date – SteepleChase
Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band – The Gordian Knot – Music Of Content
Rebecca Hardiman – Collections, Vol. 1 – Self-Released
Oscar Hernandez & Alma Libre – Love The Moment – Origin
Hiromi – Spectrum – Telarc
Tom McDermott – Meets Scott Joplin – Arbors
William McNally – Dream Shadows – Rivermont
Sylvia Mims – Rhapsody In Technicolor – Gigi Habanero Records
Ed Neumeister – One And Only – MeisteroMusic
New York Voices – Reminiscing In Tempo – Origin
Tish Oney – The Best Part – Blujazz
Alex Pangman – New – Justin Time
Catherine Russell – Alone Together – Dot Time
Marcus Shelby Orchestra – Transitions – MSO Records
Veronica Swift – Confessions – Mack Avenue
Warren Vache – Songs Our Father Taught Us – Arbors
Stephane Wrembel – The Django Experiment IV – Water Is Life
Lorez Alexandria – On King 1957-1959 – Fresh Sound
Nat King Cole – Hittin’ The Ramp: The Early Years 1936-1943 – Resonance
John Coltrane – Blue World – Impulse
Eric Dolphy – Musical Prophet – Resonance
Don Ellis – Live In India – Sleepy Night
Ziggy Elman – Boppin’ With Zig – Sounds Of Yester Year
Ella Fitzgerald – Ella At The Shrine – Verve
Nat Gonella – The Nat Gonella Collection – Acrobat
Johnny Guarnieri – Plays Harry Warren – Solo Art
The Fred Hersch – 10 Years/6 Discs – Palmetto
Bobby Jaspar – Early Years – Fresh Sound
New Orleans Rhythm Kings – Complete Recordings 1922-1925 – Rivermont
Frankie Newton – The Frankie Newton Collection – Acrobat
Albert Nicholas In Europe – Upbeat
Art Pepper – Promise Kept: The Complete Artists House Recordings – Omnivore
Lisa Rich – Highwire – Tritone
Woody Shaw – Live In Bremen 1983 – Elemental
Muggsy Spanier – Rare And Unissued Recordings – Jazzology
Various Artists – At A Tangent Vol. 9: The Mainstream Bands – Lake
Barney Wilen – 1954-1961 – Fremeaux & Associates
In the early 1970s, small-group swing was in danger of becoming extinct. The survivors from the swing era were aging and most younger jazz artists were playing hard bop, r&b-oriented soul jazz, fusion, or exploring the avant-garde. The situation permanently changed due to the rise of five young world-class musicians during the next decade who chose to play swing and develop their own individual voices: tenor-saxophonist Scott Hamilton, cornetist Warren Vache, trombonist Dan Barrett, guitarist Howard Alden, and Ken Peplowski on clarinet and tenor. While each one has stretched out a bit from swing at times during their careers, they have been remarkably consistent, and none of the five has released an unworthy record despite being prolific. Quite happily, each of the five is still in their prime decades later.
Ken Peplowski emerged last among this group, making his recording debut in1984 with the Bad Little Big Band and Loren Schoenberg’s orchestra. He worked with Benny Goodman (1985-86), Leon Redbone, and the Blue Bird Society Orchestra before emerging as a major player in 1987, the year that he recorded his debut as a leader, Double Exposure. He has not slowed down since, most recently recording a set of challenging duets with pianist Dick Hyman, Counterpoint, for the Arbors label.
Peplowski was showcased at the Moss Theater in a concert sponsored by Ruth Price and the Jazz Bakery. He was joined by a talented young trio consisting of pianist Glenn Zaleski, bassist-singer Katie Thiroux and drummer Matt Witek. Peplowski began the night on tenor playing a swinging version of Jobim’s “So Danco Samba,” a very uptempo “I Know That You Know,” and a melodic and warm rendition of “Darn That Dream.” While always an excellent tenor player, Peplowski is really a giant on the clarinet. During his solo on “The One I Love Belongs To Somebody Else,” his rapid lines on clarinet seemed effortless. After a duet with Zaleski on “Portrait In Black and White,” he featured Katie Thiroux on two numbers. She sang and scatted during “Just Friends” and was in the spotlight on “It Had To Be You.” On clarinet, Peplowski was heated on a cooking version of “My Shining Hour” and sensitive on “Moonglow” which was taken as a duet with Thiroux. After the bassist played an original blues with the rhythm section (during which Zaleski took an outstanding solo), the night ended with “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and a brief “Wee.”
In addition to his excellent solos, Ken Peplowski’s witty announcements added to the joy of the night. Glenn Zaleski’s playing was consistently inventive, Katie Thiroux continued to show impressive growth as both a bassist and an always-hip jazz singer, and Matt Witek’s quick reactions to the ideas of the other musicians plus his own assertive solos were major assets to the modern swing group.
THE CHRIS DAWSON SWINGTET CELEBRATES CHRISTMAS
Chris Dawson has the ability to play both swing piano that is reminiscent of Jess Stacy and Joe Sullivan, or be creative within the musical world of Bill Evans. With his Swingtet, he stuck to the former approach as part of the 2nd Sunday Jazz series at the Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Santa Monica.
Dawson led a fine group that also included Cory Gemme on cornet and valve trombone, tenor-saxophonist Jason Fabus, guitarist Jonathan Stout, bassist Katie Cavera, drummer Riley Baker, and singer Janice Anderson.
Since it was the holiday season, all of the songs played by the group (with the exception of “Diga Diga Doo”) were jazz versions of Christmas songs. Gemme mostly played muted on his instruments and there were times when I wish that the group was not quite as respectful to the tunes and cooked more, but the overall results were pleasing. Among the songs that they jammed were “Winter Wonderland,” a polite version of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” and “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas.” The hottest numbers were “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Here Comes Santa Claus.” Janice Anderson was quite joyful during her vocals, which included “White Christmas,” “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” and “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and sometimes featured her scat-singing. Gemme made some fine melodic statements, Fabus (sounding a bit like Scott Hamilton at times) had inventive ideas, Stout showed versatility (ranging from the chordal style of Carl Kress to the single-note lines of Charlie Christian and his contemporaries), and Cavera and Baker kept the music swinging with their stimulating support of the soloists.
With Chris Dawson heard in top form, it made for an enjoyable Sunday of Christmas jazz.
There is no real explanation as to how Buddy Rich became the most remarkable of all drummers. He was self-taught starting when he was only 18 months old, and by the time he was three (when he was billed as “Traps – The Drum Wonder”), he was helping to support his family in vaudeville. He could play faster, louder and with more technique than any other drummer of the past or present. Just look at any film of Buddy Rich taking a drum solo on You Tube and try not to be amazed.
While there have been several fine books out on Rich including Mel Torme’s 1991 Traps: The Drum Wonder, the recent work by Pelle Berglund titled One Of A Kind is quite definitive. Conducting interviews with 25 of Rich’s associates, friends and family members and adding the highlights to the most interesting and illuminating stories and quotes from books, newspapers, magazines and early interviews with the drummer, Berglund has put together a continually fascinating and informative biography.
While the outlines of Buddy Rich’s life are well known, this book fills in the gaps. One learns quite a bit about Rich’s early years, his period in vaudeville, his struggle as he outgrew being a child his performer, and his discovery of jazz. There are full chapters on his periods with Joe Marsala’s Chicagoans, Bunny Berigan, Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey. One learns of his difficult time in the Marines, his big bands of the bebop era, his association with Norman Granz and Jazz At The Philharmonic, Rich’s relationship with Harry James, and finally his unlikely emergence as the leader of his own successful big bands in the 1960s and ‘70s. Along the way Berglund discusses Rich’s love/hate relationship with Frank Sinatra, the three-month period after he broke his arm in the 1940s that he spent playing one-handed with his band (still taking solos that scared other drummers), his friendship and rivalry with Gene Krupa, and his personality and infamous temper. The latter are dealt with in an even-handed way. The author correctly recognizes that Rich gave 120% of himself on stage and expected the same of his musicians. They did not have to be perfect but they had to work hard at all times, and when they fell short because they were lax or did not care, he tended to blow up. Rich could also be quite kind at times, but he was certainly never dull.
In addition to the colorful biography, an extensive bibliography, and 16 pages of photos, the book has reviews of 21 film appearances that Rich made during 1930-60. One Of A Kind, published by Hudson Music and distributed by Hal Leonard, is available from www.hudsonmusic.com and is a must for all jazz collections. It comes as close as any work to covering the life and career of the World’s Greatest Drummer.
Every jazz musician needs a well-written press biography, every CD deserves informative liner notes, and important events benefit from press releases.
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