By Scott Yanow
The Soraya in Northridge was all set to host their second annual Jazz Festival as a five-concert series held in a nine-day period. Unfortunately it had to be reduced to three performances at the last minute due to illness, with the Christian McBride Big Band and a collaboration by Samara Joy with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra having to be cancelled. In the latter case, the concert of Ms. Joy has been rescheduled for Mar. 26. Since an unrelated concert by Charles Lloyd celebrating his 85th birthday was already set for Mar. 18, those two events will now be considered the second half of the Naz’s jazz festival.
Two of the three concerts that took place in February were held at an intimate venue that was temporarily made into an attractive jazz club. If only that was permanent; Los Angeles could use a club like this one! Joel Ross, one of the bright young voices of the vibraphone, led a nonet that included trumpeter Marquis Hill, trombonist Kalia Vandever, altoist Josh Johnson, tenor-saxophonist Maria Kim Sterling, flutist Gabrielle Garo, pianist Sean Mason, bassist Rick Rosato, and drummer Craig Weinrib in addition to the vibraphonist-leader. Actually the emphasis was more on Ross’ writing than his playing or anyone’s individual solos. Performing his original music from the recent album The Parable of the Poet, Ross emphasized slower and introspective pieces during the night’s first half while the second part generated more heat. Each player had one or two chances to solo throughout the night and Garo on flute was particularly impressive whenever she was featured, but I do wish that there had been more opportunities for the ensemble to cut loose. Fortunately the second half of the night (which included “Impetus,” “Hope” and “Benediction”) was more passionate than the laidback first half, featured more individual statements from the musicians, and included a few speedy solos by Ross that reinforced one’s feeling that he is one of the future giants on his instrument.
During the past decade, Melissa Aldana has emerged as one of the top young tenor-saxophonists in jazz. At the Soraya night club, she led a quartet also including pianist Gadi Lehavi, bassist Pablo Menares, and drummer Kush Abadey. While in her early period Aldana (particularly when working with a pianoless trio) sounded a bit like Sonny Rollins, during her recent performance on the opener “12 Stars,” a sensitive and somewhat spiritual ballad, she hinted a bit at Charles Lloyd, particularly when playing quiet high notes. However during the remainder of the night, she displayed her own musical personality and inventive style. On “Falling,” Aldana and the quartet were quite energetic with Lehavi (who was consistently impressive) hinting at Keith Jarrett in spots. “Intuition” included a joyful piano solo while “The Tool” had drummer Abadey playing a floating rather than swinging rhythm that worked quite well, implying rather than always stating the beat. Bassist Menares was well featured on “Bluest Eyes,” Aldana effectively built up “Emilin” to a climax and was quite passionate on “Los Ojos de Chile.” The night ended with the romantic “Impulse” which had a tango feel. All in all, it was an enjoyable evening of thought-provoking music.
The most eagerly awaited concert in the festival for me was getting a rare opportunity to see Vince Giordano’s Night Hawks, a group that had not been in Southern California in a decade. The 11-piece band normally plays weekly engagements in New York with their 1920s/30s music featuring arrangements rom Giordano’s huge collection. They sound very much like a large jazz band from the era, not only in their flawless reading of the charts but in their concise solos. And rather than basing their playing on one or two orchestras of the time, they cover a wide range of music from the period, from sweet to hot.
Giordano’s 11-piece band consisted of the leader on the rare triple of bass sax, tuba and string bass, trumpeters Jon-Erik Kellso (always an exciting soloist) and Joe Boga, trombonist Jim Fryer, Dan Levinson on saxophones and clarinet, Evan Arntzen on clarinet and alto, tenor-saxophonist Mark Lopeman, one of the great jazz violinists Andy Stein doubling on baritone sax, pianist Peter Yarin, Arnt Arntzen on banjo and guitar, and drummer Paul Wells.
Best were the instrumentals which included “Wild Party” (as played by Fletcher Henderson), a memorable “Bugle Call Rag” (the Cab Calloway version), “Blue River,” the famous 1926 Fletcher Henderson version of “Sugar Foot Stomp,” “West End Blues” (which had Kellso playing Louis Armstrong’s opening cadenza and solo), Duke Ellington’s “The Mooche,” Raymond Scott’s “Powerhouse,” “Indiana” (featuring an octet from the band jamming spontaneously), and Jimmie Lunceford’s “Rhythm Is Our Business.” The latter had Giordano taking the happy vocal.
Of lesser interest were the vocals of London Wainwright III. who had two features on the first set and was on the majority of the songs during the second half of the night. To have an ordinary if spirited singer featured with an extraordinary band was a bit of a mistake, and at 76 he showed his age with his occasionally questionable pitch. 1920s jazz sounds at its best when played by first-class musicians who (no matter what their real age) sound young and full of energy. Nostalgia does not work with music this vintage.
But that reservation aside, it was a bit of a thrill to see Vince Giordano’s Night Hawks in Los Angeles. Hopefully they will return before much more time passes. And now I look forward to Jazz At NAZ Part 2.
This year’s version of the all-star group touring as “Monterey Jazz Festival On Tour” consists of singers Kurt Elling and Dee Dee Bridgewater, pianist Christian Sands, altoist Lakecia Benjamin, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, and drummer Clarence Penn. They performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival last September and recently appeared at Disney Hall.
The group’s chemistry has improved since their earlier concert and the band has come closer to living up to its potential. The two singers were featured on the opening “Too Close For Comfort,” sharing the melody, having individual solos, and trading some exciting scatted passages. Unfortunately they did not sing together again until the final selection. A lot more pieces should have had interaction between these two lively and hugely talented vocalists.
Elling was featured on “Did You Call Her Today,” singing some vocalese on the Ben Webster piece which is based on “In A Mellotone.” Benjamin’s “Trane” was her tribute to John Coltrane and she really tore into the passionate original. Christian Sands performed Dave Brubeck’s “Strange Meadowlark” with taste and spirit. Dee Dee Bridgewater sang Chick Corea’s “Spain” in a powerhouse performance along with a modernized “Bye Bye Blackbird. Elling returned to sing his original “Time To Say Goodbye” which is based on Jaco Pastorius’ “A Remark You Made.” The night ended with everyone heard on a loose version of “Compared To What.”
Despite not having enough Elling-Bridgewater collaborations, the night was full of fine music.
Because she has been so consistent ever since her first recording in 1993, it is easy to take Karrin Allyson’s talents as a jazz singer for granted. 30 years later, she is still one of the very best on the scene, displaying a warm voice, the ability to sing credibly in several languages, scatting with the best, and also offering touching interpretations of ballads.
At Catalina Bar & Grill, Ms. Alyson was joined by the brilliant pianist Miro Sprague, the underrated but skilled bassist Bob Bowman, and drummer Dan Schnelle. The wide-ranging repertoire included the 1950s bop classic “Social Call,” “Blackbird” (strange how this has become the #1 Beatles song interpreted by jazz artists), some Jobim, Mose Allison’s “Stop This World,” a heartbreaking version of Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do,” the funky and philosophical “Way Down Low,” the joyful “Grab Up Some Of That Sunshine,” a vocal-bass duet with Bowman on “If I Should Lose You,” and an adventurous rendition of “Moanin’,”
Allyson, who always pays attention to giving listeners a variety of tempos, moods, styles, and emotions, was heard throughout the night in prime form. In addition, her rhythm section was alert, intuitive and added a great deal to her music. See Karrin Allyson whenever you want to experience the music of a jazz master.
A JAZZ NOVEL
Death By Saxophone (Queen Esther Publishing) is the ninth book by Debbie Burke. The fictional story is a mystery about a smooth jazz saxophonist (Jerry Zolotov) who falls off the Verrazano Bridge to his death, and the investigation that follows. Was he pushed or poisoned, and by who? There are plenty of possible suspects along with a counterplot about “bone records” that were made in the Soviet Union during the cold war when American music was banned and some inventive collectors managed to dub records on discarded X-rays.
After going into detail about Jerry Zolotov’s career, day-to-day life and demise, the plot shifts for a long period to Becka Rikin who travels to Russia to see an old flame and acquire a bone record. Is there a connection between this tale and the murder?
Death By Saxophone is well written and holds one’s interest throughout, not revealing the answer to the mystery until its final page. The 254-page book is available from www.amazon.com.
THE DEFINITIVE ALBERT AYLER BIOGRAPHY
Albert Ayler (1936-70) was a giant of the avant-garde, a tenor-saxophonist who put a great deal of emotion into his playing, helped pioneer truly free playing, and was an inspiration to John Coltrane. He mastered his instrument but unfortunately not his life, and his mysterious death at the age of 34 cut short an unresolved career.
Holy Ghost by Richard Koloda (302 pages, Jawbone Press) is the first biography of Ayler and it succeeds at separating all of the legendary stories from the truth. Ayler, who was originally influenced by Sonny Rollins (even in his last period he sometimes hinted at Rollins), developed his technique to the virtuoso level and created a unique brand of music. Because he often utilized simple themes that were influenced by New Orleans brass bands, marches, and vintage religious hymns before launching into sometimes violent improvising, it could be said that he was so far advanced that he brought jazz back to its beginnings.
In this book, Richard Koloda collected together all of the facts that he could dig up about the short-lived saxophonist including interviews with those who knew him, most notably his brother trumpeter Donald Ayler. Also included are reviews from his lifetime and more current times which reflect a wide diversity in its opinions of Ayler’s playing (sometimes contradicting each other), his periods, and his bands, along with thorough analysis of all of the saxophonist’s recordings. In its best moments, Holy Ghost is an action-packed novel. Its revelations about Ayler’s relationships with his troubled brother, his girlfriend and manager Mary Parks, producers Bernard Stollman and Bob Thiele, Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane, and such sidemen as trumpeter Don Cherry, drummer Sunny Murray, bassist Gary Peacock, and violinist Michel Samson are full of fresh and previously unknown stories.
And while it does not quite solve the mystery of the saxophonist’s death, which was probably a suicide, Holy Ghost is a very well-researched book that does justice to the innovative Albert Ayler. It is highly recommended and available from Jawbonepress.com and www.amazon.com.
MOSAIC’S JAZZ AT THE PHILHARMONIC BOX SET
Producer Norman Granz loved jam sessions. In his Jazz At The Philharmonic concerts of 1944-57, jam sessions featuring some of jazz’s all-time greats were a regular feature, exciting audiences while sometimes annoying critics. Verve’s The Complete Jazz At The Philharmonic On Verve 1944-49 reissued an enormous amount of stirring music on a ten-CD set back in 1998. Fans of JATP have been waiting for the second half to someday be compiled, and now Mosaic has released their own limited-edition ten-CD box set, Classic Jazz At The Philharmonic Jam Sessions (1950-1957).
One can understand some of the critics’ problems with the music. Due to the popularity of saxophone-dominated r&b in the late 1940s/early ‘50s, the jazz all-stars during the jam sessions often repeated notes and phrases in order to excite the audiences. Tenor-saxophonist Flip Phillips was particularly adept at that, and other like Lester Young, trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison (whose style often used a lot of repetition anyway) and even altoist Benny Carter could not resist getting the crowds all stirred up. No matter, the results are quite fun and along the way a lot of timeless music was created.
The Mosaic box has all of the jam session performances that were released by Norman Granz and his labels (Clef, Norgran and Verve) while skipping over those that were released by such later companies as Pablo, Jazz Band, Moon, Sound Hills, and Europa Jazz; those are mostly worth searching for elsewhere. It also does not include the sets by regularly working groups that were presented at some of the concerts (such as the Oscar Peterson Trio, the Modern Jazz Quartet and Ella Fitzgerald). However I doubt that any purchaser will feel cheated!
Consider the lineup of musicians: trumpeters Roy Eldridge, Charlie Shavers, Harry Edison and Dizzy Gillespie, trombonists Bill Harris and J.J. Johnson, tenor-saxophonists Flip Phillips, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Illinois Jacquet, and Stan Getz, altoists Benny Carter, Willie Smith, and Sonny Stitt, clarinetist Buddy DeFranco, vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, pianists Hank Jones, Oscar Peterson, and John Lewis, guitarists Barney Kessel, and Herb Ellis, bassists Ray Brown and Percy Heath, and drummers Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, J.C. Heard, Louie Bellson, Jo Jones, and Connie Kay, with Ella Fitzgerald popping up on three songs!
Among the countless number of highlights are “The Challenges” (highlighted by a battle between Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie that is virtually a tie), every time that the vastly underrated Charlie Shavers plays (he defeats Eldridge in their trumpet tradeoffs with his clean phrasing, wit and range), individual sets featuring Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins and the Gene Krupa Trio, the Hawkins-Eldridge Quintet, and two concerts that team together Stan Getz with J.J. Johnson. There are also several ballad medleys that feature one soloist apiece to cool things down before the music becomes explosive again.
All of the performances, except for four selections from 1957, were out before and most were available on Lps in the 1980s. However the great majority are now making their debut on CDs, housed in Mosaic’s Lp size box along with a 32-page booklet. No serious jazz collection is complete without Classic Jazz At The Philharmonic Jam Sessions (1950-1957) which is available from www.mosaicrecords.com and www.amazon.com. Do not let this release go out of print without getting your copy!
THE LOST RECORDINGS
The Lost Recordings is a joint effort by two companies (Fondamenta and Devialet) to discover and release live jazz sessions that have never been available before. Their many sets of sessions cut in Europe are all very well recorded, featuring top-notch jazz artists on releases that are available as CDs and Lps. Three are covered in this article.
The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Debut In The Netherlands 1958 captures the classic Brubeck group with altoist Paul Desmond, bassist Eugene Wright (who had recently joined the band) and drummer Joe Morello during a very successful European tour. Performed a year before they recorded “Take Five,” the group was already very popular and a regular at the Newport Jazz Festival.
During this concert from Feb. 26, 1958, the quartet gets to really stretch out on such numbers as “Two Part Contention,” “Someday My Prince Will Come,” “These Foolish Things” (which is nearly 17 ½ minutes long), “One Moment Worth Years” and “For All We Know.” Morello is featured on “Watusi Drums” and the bassist on “The Wright Groove” before the set wraps up with Brubeck’s “The Duke” and a version of “Take The ‘A’ Train” that cuts off right before its conclusion. Desmond plays beautifully throughout while Brubeck pushes the boundaries at times by sometimes playing in a different time signature or making unlikely song quotes fit. Notice how on “Someday My Prince Will Come” the pianist often plays in 4/4 time even though the song is a waltz. His vamping early on during this piece is a bit reminiscent of what he would play on “Take Five.” Fans of the Dave Brubeck Quartet will definitely want this release.
Blossom Dearie (1924-2009) developed a vocal style that had her little girl’s voice singing sophisticated (and sometimes saucy) lyrics while accompanied by her swinging and tasteful piano. The Lost Sessions From The Netherlands has selections by Dearie from 1968, 1971, 1980, 1982, and 1989. The first five numbers feature her accompanied by a large but mostly quiet orchestra while the other numbers mostly have her performing with a trio and often before a live audience. Her repertoire is quite wide-ranging with many obscurities, some originals (including “Sweet Georgia Fame” and “Bye Bye Country Boy”), and such unexpected songs as “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head,” and “Both Sides Now.” A few of the numbers are taken at a medium tempo, but the majority are at a slower pace with the two versions of her
“Winchester In Apple Blossom Time” being among the highpoints. While not all that jazz-oriented, this is a good program for those who love hearing Blossom Dearie interpret ballads.
Although guitarist Philip Catherine was called “Young Django” by Charles Mingus and toured briefly with Benny Goodman, he has long been a post bop improviser with his own adventurous style. Live At The Berlin Jazzbuhne Festival 1982 features him in a set of duets with bassist Nicolas Fiszman who also doubles on guitar. They perform seven of the guitarist’s originals plus Charlie Mariano’s “Crystal Bells.” The music is mostly thoughtful and a bit introspective with the interplay between the two musicians often making them sound as one. “Crystal Bells” and the pretty “Petit Nicolas – Grand Nicolas” are among the highlights. The performances, which gradually become more energetic as the concert evolves, are full of subtle music that grows in interest with each listen.
These and other worthy entries in the Lost Recordings series are available from www.thelostrecordings.store.
I have a new book that is available from amazon.com. Life Through The Eyes Of A Jazz Journalist. It is subtitled My Jazz Memoirs and is my 12th book and first in a few years. I discuss in an often-humorous fashion my early days and discovery of jazz, my period as the jazz editor of Record Review, the story behind my involvement with the All Music Guide, and I reminisce about some of my adventures as an amateur musician. Included are vintage interviews with Freddie Hubbard, Chick Corea, and Maynard Ferguson, encounters with Clint Eastwood, summaries of the Monterey and Playboy Jazz Festivals (including a full-length review of the 1985 Playboy Festival), memories of other events (such as the IAJE Conventions), and brief snapshots of many memorable club and concert performances. There is also background information about my other books, evaluations of the jazz critics who inspired me early on, and my thoughts on jazz criticism which includes advice to up-and-coming jazz journalists. Rounding out the book is a chapter on how the jazz writing business has changed over the past 50 years, and appendixes that include the jazz greats of the past, 86 jazz giants of today, 21 young performers to look for in the future, jazz books and DVDs that everyone should own, and a dozen enjoyable Hollywood jazz films.
Life Through The Eyes Of A Jazz Journalist, a paperback book, sells for $26 through Amazon.com Signed copies (which will take 2-3 weeks) are also available for $30 (which includes free postage) by sending the money via Pay Pal to firstname.lastname@example.org and by sending your mailing address to that E-mail.