by Scott Yanow
During the second half of 2020, it seemed as if nearly every great jazz singer on the scene today appeared in Southern California. The list includes Kurt Elling, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Roberta Gambarini, Karin Allyson, Jay Clayton, Roseanna Vitro and L.A.’s own Mon David and Barbara Morrison. Gregory Porter will be performing here next spring and hopefully Sheila Jordan will return in the near future along with the few that have not visited lately.
Certainly belonging in that list is Anne Hampton Callaway who performed at Feinstein’s at Vitello’s. While in the past she has usually sung with a rhythm section, for this show she was the only performer, accompanying her vocals on piano. Ms. Callaway’s voice was heard at its best throughout. Her wide range, beautiful tone in all registers, and solid sense of swing were very much in evidence as was her swinging style, close attention to the meanings of the words that she interpreted, her expert scat-singing, and her wit. Her talking and storytelling between songs were often quite humorous.
During the night Ms. Callaway focused on songs from the movies including such numbers as “’S Wonderful,” a tribute to Fred Astaire, “Let’s Face The Music And Dance,” a Henry Mancini medley, “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” “The Shadow Of Your Smile,” “Blue Skies,” a touching version of “The Way We Were” that was dedicated to those who are no longer around, a dramatic “The Man That Got Away” (she should record an album of Judy Garland songs someday), a singalong version of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” a Christmas medley, and an acapella version of “Somewhere.”
Everything worked well. Anne Hampton Callaway also showed that she is a pretty good pianist, and that she is quite capable of not only being thoroughly entertaining but holding the audience’s attention all by herself.
BILL EVANS’ FINAL YEARS
Joe La Barbera was pianist Bill Evans’ drummer during his last period (1979-80) as a member of Evans’ trio along with bassist Marc Johnson. The group’s consistent musical telepathy, tightness, and inventiveness within Evans’ style were comparable to that of the pianist’s famous 1959-61 trio with bassist Scott La Faro and drummer Paul Motian.
With the assistance of Charles Levin, in his book Times Remembered (University Of North Texas Press), La Barbera tells the story of his period with the great pianist. Despite the sad ending and the downhill slide in Evans’ health during that time, the book is not a downbeat affair. In fact, there are many humorous stories, fascinating details, and lots of inside information about Evans and his musical world.
Times Remembered begins with three chapters about the drummer’s life before he joined Evans. He tells stories about his musical family which included a father who was a part-time bandleader and two musical brothers: saxophonist Pat La Barbera and arranger-composer-trumpeter John La Barbera. One learns about Joe’s musical beginnings, his periods at Berklee and in the Army, his friendship with Buddy Rich, and his associations with Chuck Mangione and Woody Herman.
The remainder of the book is about his period with Bill Evans. There is a lot of
detail about gigs, tours and recording dates along with anecdotes and stories about Evans’ life off the stage, his opinions about a wide variety of areas (musical and otherwise), and information about his health problems. In addition to Joe La Barbera’s memories, there are articles and reviews from the period along with interview excerpts with many musicians and associates (including Marc Johnson, Richie Beirach, Marc Copland, Gary Dial, Peter Erskine, Andy Laverne, Adam Nussbaum, and Denny Zeitlin among others) which add to the well-rounded portrait.
Times Remembered is quite readable and utterly fascinating. Anyone interested in the life and times of Bill Evans will want this excellent book which is rounded out by the itinerary of Bill Evans’ last trio and the recordings that exist of the classic group. This highly recommended work is available from www.untpress.unt.edu.
ODE TO A TENOR TITAN
Michael Brecker (1949-2007) was one of the greatest tenor-saxophonists of all time. His remarkable technique, versatility, and chance taking solos put him at the top of his field. He rose to prominence with the jazz-rock band Dreams, Billy Cobham’s group, and especially the Brecker Brothers which he co-led with his older brother trumpeter Randy Brecker. By that time, he was a greatly in-demand studio musician for pop and rock sessions. In the 1980s and ‘90s Brecker switched his focus more towards jazz, working with Steps Ahead and on his own solo projects although he still appeared on occasional pop dates and Brecker Brothers reunions. He died prematurely from a rare blood disorder.
I cannot imagine how much work writer Bill Milkowski must have done for his new book Ode To A Tenor Titan (Backbeat Books). He comprehensively and definitively covers every aspect of Brecker’s life and career. Unlike with most jazz journalists, Milkowski is as familiar with Michael Brecker’s career outside of his jazz projects as he is with his jazz sessions, writing with great understanding about his contributions to the recordings of pop stars and about his two years touring with Paul Simon. But more than that, Milkowski captures Brecker’s modest personality, his constant curiosity about other types of music, the full story of his drug addiction of the 1970s which he beat, his dedication to helping others, and his musical genius.
24 different musicians gave testimonials about Brecker that are included after the main narrative. In addition to those artists, Milkowski interviewed scores of other important people from the saxophonist’s life including his widow Susan Brecker, Randy Brecker, many of his fellow musicians, associates, friends, and just about every survivor who played an important part in the Michael Brecker story.
Despite all of the details about record dates and concerts, the text always holds one’s interest. It includes many humorous and heartwarming stories that add to Michael Brecker’s legacy. Ode To A Tenor Titan is well worth picking up; it is available from www.amazon.com.
FOUR BOX SETS
Al Cohn & Joe Newman’s The Swingin’ Sessions 1954-55 (Fresh Sound) is a four-CD set that reissues all of the music that was originally put out on six RCA Victor Lps. Two were originally released under Al Cohn’s name (Mr. Music and The Natural
Seven), two were led by Newman (All I Wanna Do Is Swing and I’m Still Swinging), one was listed as being by The Jazz Workshop (Four Brass, One Tenor), and also included is rhythm guitarist Freddie Green’s Mr. Rhythm along with one additional bonus cut.
What these sessions have in common is that trumpeter Joe Newman and tenor-saxophonist/arranger Al Cohn are on each album, and all of the music swings like a Count Basie date. The medium-size groups (which range from 7-11 pieces) also include such notables as altoist Gene Quill, trombonists Frank Rehak, Urbie Green and Henry Coker, and pianists Nat Pierce and Fred Katz. Cohn contributed the majority of the arrangements although there are also many by Manny Albam and Ernie Wilkins. Newman and Cohn are both heard in consistently inspired form, the arrangements and songs are uncomplicated and swinging, and the 65-year old music has dated very well. This is very easy music to enjoy and the packaging is quite attractive. The Swingin’ Sessions is available from www.freshsoundrecords.com.
Collectors of vintage blues should become aware of the Matchbox Bluesmaster series that is being put out by the British Saydisc label. During 1982-88, Matchbox released 38 albums and two double-Lps of early blues that mostly date from 1926-34. Saydisc (www.saydisc.com) is reissuing all of the label’s output on seven six-CD sets. The first four volumes were reviewed previously.
Matchbox Bluesmaster Series – Set 5 has full sets by some of the best known blues artists of the 1920s. It consists of these CDs: Blind Lemon Jefferson (1928-29), Frank Stokes (1927-29), Blind Blake (1926-29), Big Bill Broonzy (1927-32), Mississippi Sheiks Vol. 1 (1930), and Lonnie Johnson Vol. 1 (1926-28). Blake, Broonzy and Johnson were three of the most skilled guitarists in the blues world of the era and each one was also capable of playing jazz. Frank Stokes was a talented singer-guitarist, the Mississippi Sheiks were an excellent good-time band, and Blind Lemon Jefferson was the most influential (and arguably most important) of the early country blues performers.
While the Document label has reissued more complete sets of these artists, the Matchbox series gives collectors well-rounded overviews of these early blues greats. Veteran collectors will want these recordings, and those who are new to the genre will find Vol. 5 in particular to be an excellent introduction to these magical and legendary performers. Fremeaux & Associes (www.fremeaux.com), in addition to reissuing extensive series of classic studio jazz sessions, has unearthed a series of previously unreleased and very valuable live recordings of American greats performing in Paris. Recently they came out with two wonderful three-CD sets that are very well recorded and filled with rewarding music.
Gerry Mulligan + Concert Jazz Band (1960-62) features the baritonist in two different settings. Mulligan became famous in the 1950s for leading his pianoless quartet with Chet Baker. That was followed by similar groups with either valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer or trumpeters Jon Eardley and Art Farmer, and a four-horn pianoless sextet. In 1960-62 he expanded the concept by leading the Concert Jazz Band, a 14-piece ensemble with 12 horns, bass and drums. In that group, Mulligan also occasionally played piano.
The first two CDs in the Mulligan Fremeaux release are from early in the band’s existence, a full concert from Nov. 19, 1960. With such major soloists as Mulligan (who also plays two numbers on piano), valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer (one of the key arrangers along with Al Cohn, Bill Holman and Johnny Mandel), altoist Gene Quill, tenor-saxophonist Zoot Sims, and trumpeters Conte Candoli and Don Ferrara, this was a
rather noteworthy band. While their greatest recording took place a month later at the Village Vanguard (with flugelhornist Clark Terry having a remarkable tradeoff with Mulligan on “Blueport”), there are many bright moments on this extended outing. It is a pity that the Concert Jazz Band did not quite last two years for it had enormous potential.
The third CD in this set is from Oct. 6, 1962 and has Mulligan’s return to Paris. This time he is heard with a new pianoless quartet which also includes Bob Brookmeyer, bassist Bill Crow and drummer Gus Johnson. Their five pieces include three that have either Mulligan or Brookmeyer on piano although the interplay between the two masterful horn players on “Five Brothers” and “Blueport” are the highpoints.
Many of altoist Cannonball Adderley’s greatest jazz recordings were made for the Riverside label during 1958-63. His group in 1959 hit it big. It included his ‘brass section” Nat Adderley on cornet, pianist Bobby Timmons, bassist Sam Jones, and drummer Louis Hayes. While Jones and Hayes remained important members of the Adderley Quintet until 1965, Timmons soon departed and was succeeded by Victor Feldman (1960-61) and Joe Zawinul (who came aboard in mid-1961). Feldman’s only studio album with Adderley during his stint was titled The Cannonball Adderley Quintet Plus.
Cannonball Adderley 1960-61 is the best documentation that exists of Feldman with the group. The first three selections are from Nov. 25, 1960 while the other 19 pieces are the group’s Paris concert of Apr. 15, 1961. The music is essentially high-quality bebop with aspects of hard bop and soul jazz. Cannonball is in typically exuberant form (he always had such a joyful tone), Nat Adderley (whose playing would fade by the end of the decade) is heard near the peak of his powers, Feldman (who switches to vibes on three numbers) shows that he was a perfect fit for the band and the team of Jones (who plays cello on one number) and Hayes swing hard throughout. Among the highlights are “Work Song,” “Our Delight,” two versions of “Sack O’Woe,” “Jeannine” and “Bohemia After Dark.”
Both of the Fremeaux sets are full of gems and will be enjoyed by fans of Gerry Mulligan, Cannonball Adderley, and early 1960s swinging jazz.