by Scott Yanow
Lew Shaw has been writing about the music he loves since at least the 1980s including in recent times for the Syncopated Times. Along the way he has penned over 100 profiles of swing-based instrumentalists and singers, 47 of which were included in his previous book Jazz Beat: Notes On Classic Jazz. Jazz Beat Encore: More Notes On Classic Jazz has 43 additional profiles dating from 2013-18 with one from Jan. 2019.
Rather than being lengthy and definitive portraits, these profiles (which are generally 3-5 pages long) serve as brief introductions to masterful performers. Shaw usually discusses how the artists began and what some of the highpoints of their career have been. There are quotes from the musicians and often an unusual fact or incident surfaces. One learns about clarinetist Evan Arntzen’s family heritage (which spans five generations), the influence of trombonist Al Jenkins on Dan Barrett’s playing, trumpeter Duke Heitger’s connection with the Squirrel Nut Zippers (recording with the group but turning down a chance to tour with the popular unit), Rebecca Kilgore’s crash course in learning swing songs on the guitar, Dan Levinson’s work with Dick Hyman (not as a clarinetist but as an organizer of his business affairs), the inspiration of Sonny Stitt on Ken Peplowski, and the story behind trumpeter Randy Sandke reluctantly turning down a job with Janis Joplin.
Among the many other musicians profiled are Howard Alden, Joey Alexander, Harry Allen, Dave Bennett, Evan Christopher, Adrian Cunningham, Eddie Erickson, Jon-Erik Kellso, Tim Laughlin, the Midiri Brothers, Butch Miles, Allan Vache, and Wesla Whitfield. It is a little odd having a smiling Bria Skonberg on the book’s cover for, other than a paragraph reprinted from the first book, she does not actually appear in Jazz Beat Encore. That minor flaw aside, Jazz Beat Encore is an easily recommended book, enjoyable to read, and a good chance for readers to become familiar with some of the many swing greats around today. It is available from www.amazon.com.
W. Royal Stokes has had a long career as a jazz journalist including being the editor of Jazz Times, the Washington Post’s jazz critic, writing four jazz books, and hosting a regular program for 15 years on the radio. He has also been a professor teaching Greek, Latin, literature and ancient history.
The Essential W. Royal Stokes Jazz, Blues and Beyond Reader (available from wroyalstokes.com) is a large 560-page book that contains quite a bit of his jazz legacy. Most of the material was previously published (either in magazines, the Washington Post or in his books) and includes many interviews (often with lesser-known talents although some of the big names are also represented), concert, club, recording and book reviews, and even his Letters to the Editor. Stokes’ musical interest is impressively wide, not only covering such artists as Wild Bill Davison, Ruby Braff, Harry James and Artie Shaw to Art Blakey, Larry Coryell, and Dave Douglas but including a lengthy chapter on musicians based in Washington D.C. and reviews of such non jazz performers as Bob Dylan and Burl Ives. His articles and reviews are consistently filled with interesting information and stories, and Stokes lets his subjects stretch out in the profiles. His sincere love of the music along with his vast knowledge is quite obvious, and it is particularly interesting reading about some of the more obscure musicians. This is a book well worth spending a lot of time with.
Peggy Lee (1920-2002) had a soft and generally quiet singing voice that masked a great deal of inner heat that occasionally came to the surface. She came to her initial fame in the early 1940s as Benny Goodman’s singer, preceding a long and eventful solo career that found her making her finest recordings for the Capitol and Decca labels during 1945-65. Later in the 1960s she alternated between singing current pop songs and remakes of her earlier successes, trying very hard to remain relevant. But her voice declined while she was in her fifties and little of her post-1970 output has dated that well.
The colorful details of Lee’s life was revealed at great length in James Gavin’s 2014 book Is That All There Is, with her musical accomplishment’s playing second fiddle to her personal life. Tish Oney, a very good jazz singer who is not only inspired by Lee but often utilizes one of her main guitarists (John Chiodini), does the opposite. In Peggy Lee – A Century Of Song (available from Rowman & Littlefield at www.rowan.com), she focuses almost exclusively on Lee’s singing and recordings. The singer’s early years before joining Goodman are covered in barely two pages and those wanting to learn about Lee’s love affairs, marriages, and personal habits will be disappointed.
Instead, Tish Oney does a good job of taking readers through Peggy Lee’s recording career, covering a countless number of her performances, sometimes going song-by-song through an album. While it is impossible to avoid some repetition in describing Lee’s singing style (which did not change all that much after the mid-1940s) and her versions of tunes, the book is quite readable, enthusiastic, and informative about Peggy Lee’s music.
Also worth purchasing in conjunction with the book is Tish Oney’s 2019 CD The Best Part which has her performing a set of mostly new music plus three songs that Lee co-wrote with John Chiodini (who is in Oney’s quartet) but never had a chance to record. It is available from www.amazon.com.
During this strange era when one cannot go out and see live jazz performances, LiveStreams are a worthy substitute. They feature artists performing online, either for free, voluntary donations, or set fees. While these events make it possible for one to see musicians performing live from all over the world, it is important to support our local artists, most of whom have lost a large part of their income due to cancelled engagements.
Both Tamir Hendelman and Karina Corradini have regular Saturday night LiveStreams. The brilliant pianist Hendelman generally performs solo with occasional appearances by his wife bassist Sherry Luchette who helps produce the broadcasts.
One of Hendelman’s recent performances focused on French songs and included inventive versions of “The Last Time I Saw Paris” (taken quite slow), Bud Powell’s “Parisian Thoroughfare,” “April In Paris,” “Nuages,” “The Good Life,” “Claire de Lune,” “I Wish You Love,” and a medley of “La Vie En Rose” (on which Sherry Luchette bowed the melody) and “I Love Paris.”
For Charlie Parker’s centennial, Hendelman split his solo program between songs associated with Parker and Count Basie. Actually, I wish he had just concentrated on Bird since there was plenty to cover and the pianist’s versions of “Embraceable You,” “Anthropology,” “Yardbird Suite,” and “Ornithology” were quite impressive. Not that I did not enjoy “Lil’ Darlin’,” “Fly Me To The Moon,” and “Corner Pocket” but Charlie Parker deserved a full hour.
Karina Corradini, who recently released her debut CD Bridge To Infinity, welcomed viewers to her backyard which has a recently built stage. The singer was joined by tenor-saxophonist Rickey Woodard, keyboardist Mike Massey, and drummer Clayton Cameron for a fun performance. After an instrumental version of “It Could Happen To You,” they played such numbers as “Too Marvelous For Words,” “Give Me The Simple Life,” “In the Wee Small Hours” (which had Woodard switching to alto), “Too Close For Comfort,” a funky “Exactly Like You,” “You Let My Love Go Cold” (a Dinah Washington blues ballad), “That Old Black Magic,” and “What A Little Moonlight Can Do” among others. Karina Corradini’s voice was consistently strong and friendly. She swung easily even though there was not a string bassist, Massey provided plenty of color, Cameron was quietly supportive, and it is always a joy to hear Woodard solo.
More information on Karina Corradini’s series of LiveStream can be found at her You Tube channel www.youtube.com/karinacorradini
In tracing the history of some of the greatest trumpeters of all time, one can hear the influence of Clifford Brown in the playing and sounds of Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw who have influenced nearly all of today’s modern jazz trumpeters. Clifford Brown clearly got much of his style from Fats Navarro who preceded him on records by eight years, but where did the Navarro sound come from?
While Fats Navarro (1923-50) was inspired to an extent by his near-contemporary Dizzy Gillespie and to a lesser degree Roy Eldridge, one can trace his playing to his cousin Howard McGhee (1918-87) who played next to him in the Andy Kirk Orchestra in 1943. McGhee gained early experience as part of the big bands of Kirk (where his feature on “McGhee Special” showed that he originally came from Roy Eldridge), Lionel Hampton, Charlie Barnet and Count Basie, but it was his playing and recording with the Coleman Hawkins Sextet in 1945 that gave him fame in the jazz world. He spent a couple of years in Los Angeles (including working with Charlie Parker and Jazz At The Philharmonic) and then back in New York during 1947-50, was at the peak of his powers. He battled Navarro successfully on a jam session date and ranked with Navarro and Gillespie at the top of bebop trumpeters.
But unfortunately a drug habit cut short his period at the top. The 1950s were a very erratic period for McGhee who disappeared from the scene for long periods and was unable to maintain a steady career. He made a comeback with an outburst of activity during 1960-62 before having a lower profile during the remainder of his life with the exception of some recordings during 1976-79. He could have gone much further. Few today realize his indirect influence on those who followed.
The four-CD set The Classic 1960s Albums (Enlightenment 4CD 9182) has all of Howard McGhee’s recordings as a leader from his busy 1960-62 period. The eight former Lps that are reissued in full are Music From The Connection, Dusty Blue, Together Again (co-led by tenor-saxophonist Teddy Edwards), Maggie’s Back In Town, The Sharp Edge, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out, House Warmin,’ and a James Moody album in which McGhee is a key member (Cookin’ The Blues). In addition to Edwards and Moody, other important sidemen include tenor-saxophonists Tina Brooks, George
Coleman, and Gene Ammons (who is on the blues-oriented House Warmin’), pianists Freddie Redd, Tommy Flanagan, Phineas Newborn, and Junior Mance, bassists Milt Hinton, Ron Carter, Ray Brown, and Leroy Vinnegar, and drummers Osie Johnson, Shelly Manne, Ed Thigpen, and Jimmy Cobb. The albums, originally on the Felsted, Bethlehem, Contemporary, Fontana, United Artists and Argo labels, include several that have been scarce for years, particularly Music From The Connection.
Howard McGhee plays quite well throughout these sessions, especially on Together Again and Maggie’s Back In Town. He has the same tone that he had in the late 1940s and, while his solos are not quite as hyper, he was still very much in his musical prime. The Classic 1960s Albums is highly recommended and available from www.mvdb2b.com.
Although Django Reinhardt was born in Belgium, that country is not overly famous for jazz; even Django became much more famous playing in France. However, as the three-CD set L’Age D’Or Du Jazz Belge 1949-1962 (Fremeaux & Associates FA 5744) shows, there was a lot of high-quality jazz being played in Belgium in the 1950s. The two most famous names on this box, Toots Thielemans (the world’s greatest jazz harmonica player) and tenor-saxophonist Bobby Jaspar, owed much of their fame to spending important years playing in the United States. But the other leaders featured on this threefer (guitarist Rene Thomas, altoist Jacques Pelzer, tenor-saxophonist Jack Sels, and vibraphonist Fats Sadi) were also world-class players who could hold their own with most of the top American artists. In fact, Sels features fellow tenor Lucky Thompson on a few selections.
Most of the 62 selections on this set are taken from early in these musicians’ careers. While Thielemans had led several slightly earlier sessions, the four selections from June 15, 1951 are particularly intriguing for they have him joined by a primitive sounding organ, bass and drums while he plays some swing and early jazz including a memorable version of “That’s A Plenty.” Even at that early stage, he had no real competitors on his instrument other than Larry Adler.
Most of the other performances on L’Age D’Or Du Jazz Belge are cool-toned bop that is as strongly influenced by swing as it is by Charlie Parker. Many of these sessions were fairly rare and serve as proof, once again, that jazz is a universal music. Certainly by the 1950s, the best Belgian jazzmen were ready to compete on the world stage.
This set is a must for bebop and 1950s jazz fans. The well-conceived set is available from www.fremeaux.com.
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Be well and safe everyone. The live jazz scene will return.