by Scott Yanow
Raymond Scott (1908-94) was a unique figure in American music. A technically skilled pianist and a brilliant arranger-composer, he was a pioneer in electronic music who later in life recorded futuristic compositions utilizing electronics. He also invented many devices that failed to catch on because they were decades ahead of their time including possibly the first sequencer.
However he is best known for leading the Raymond Scott Quintette (which was actually a six-piece group) during 1936-39. His group, drawn out of the CBS Radio house band where he was the pianist, played complex and very colorful arrangements, mostly of his compositions. Scott had his musicians learn the complex charts by ear rather than writing out the music for them and, once the solos were set, they became a permanent part of the arrangement. Calling his music “descriptive jazz,” he gave his compositions rather unusual titles that somehow fit the music. “Powerhouse,” “Twilight In Turkey,” and “Toy Trumpet” were his biggest hits along with the more conventional Mozart adaptation “In An Eighteenth Century Drawing Room.” Among his other titles were such numbers as “Serenade To A Lonesome Railroad Station,” “Reckless Night On Board An Ocean Liner,” “Dinner Music For A Pack Of Hungry Cannibals,” “War Dance For Wooden Indians,” “New Year’s Eve In A Haunted House,” “Egyptian Barn Dance,” “Siberian Sleigh Ride,” “Oil Gusher,” “Boy Scout In Switzerland,” “The Tobacco Auctioneer,” and the ever-popular “Confusion Among A Fleet Of Taxicabs Upon Meeting With A Fare!”
Raymond Scott’s music was later used for over 120 Warner Brothers cartoons even though they were not written for that purpose, and many former children have a strong memory of “Powerhouse.” Other than Scott’s most popular numbers, there have only been a few attempts to revive his music during the past few decades, most notably clarinetist Don Byron’s Bug Music in 1996 which brought back six of his songs.
Violinist Jeremy Scott, the founder of Quartet San Francisco, has long loved Raymond Scott’s quirky music. He asked Gordon Goodwin if he would like to be involved in arranging the songs and their collaboration resulted in one of the great albums released this year, Raymond Scott Reimagined (Violinjazz). The project teams together Quartet San Francisco (a versatile and virtuosic string quartet that improvises), Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, and (on a few numbers) Take 6.
At the Write-Off Room, Quartet San Francisco and six horn players from the Big Phat Band (including Goodwin on tenor and occasional keyboards) plus some tracks drawn from the album paid tribute to Raymond Scott. The playing was often wondrous, Goodwin’s brilliant arrangements (which expand upon Scott’s music while retaining all of the themes and the humor), and the obvious affection that the musicians had towards the unique pieces made for quite a memorable evening.
First the six horns (Goodwin on tenor, Sal Lozano excelling on both soprano and clarinet, baritonist Jay Mason, Aaron Janik and Daniel Fornero on trumpets and trombonist Charlie Morillas) played “Sweet Georgia Brown,” and then Quartet San Francisco (violinists Jeremy Cohen and Joseph Christianson, Chad Kaltinger on viola, and cellist Andres Vera) performed Chick Corea’s “Spain.” Having introduced themselves, they switched to Raymond Scott songs during the remainder of the evening with plenty of colorful and humorous storytelling between tunes by Cohen and Goodwin. Among the songs that they played were “Powerhouse,” “In An 18th Century Drawing Room,” “Toy Trumpet,” the crazy and whimsical “Huckleberry Duck” (which had Goodwin playing two pianos via overdubbing), “Twilight In Turkey,” “Yesterday’s Ice Cubes,” “Cutey And The Dragon” (an unfinished Scott song that was completed in the style by Goodwin), the very rare Scott ballad “Serenade,” and the rollicking “The Quintette Goes To A Dance.” Drums, percussion and the voices of Take Six were separated and utilized from the record (many in the audience probably searched in vain onstage for the drummer) yet sounded quite live, and there were no slow moments during the enjoyable evening.
To hear Raymond Scott’s music played by strings and horns was certainly a memorable event.
Claire Martin is an excellent jazz singer from England. One of her most valued associations was with the late pianist-composer Richard Rodney Bennett (1936-2012) who wrote many pieces for television and movies. At the Wallis Beverly Hills during a special event, she teamed up with pianist Scott Dunn and bassist Kevin Axt to pay tribute to her friend who she worked with often during his final 12 years.
This was essentially a cabaret rather than a jazz performance. Martin and Dunn (who also learned directly from Bennett) paid tribute to their mentor’s songs by emphasizing their melodies and lyrics and de-emphasizing any improvising. While the singer scatted a little bit on a couple of the numbers, she essentially treated the lyrics as if they were precious, even such standards that Bennett liked as “It’s Only A Paper Moon” and a very slow “Autumn In New York.” Along the way one heard such numbers as “I Wish I’d Met You,” “ Early To Bed,” “ Don’t Play Games With Love,” “It Was Written In The Stars,” and “ I Wonder What Became Of Me,” all of which are on Ms. Martin’s recent album (recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra), I Watch You Sleep.
The singing and piano playing was excellent, and it was nice to get a chance to see Claire Martin, but I wish that the musicians had stretched out much more and uplifted the songs with their own musical personalities.
It is difficult not to love Poncho Sanchez’s music. The veteran bandleader has long had one of the top Latin or Afro-Cuban jazz bands in the world. While his style is always inspired by Cal Tjader (a former employer), Tito Puente, and Mongo Santamaria among others, Sanchez’s accessible playing has carved out its own path in the Latin music world. The joy that he and his sidemen always display is quite infectious.
At Catalina Bar & Grill, Sanchez led his regularly working band which consists of three horns (including trumpeter Ron Blake and veteran trombonist Francisco Torres), pianist Andy Langham, bassist Ross Schodek, and two percussionists in addition to Sanchez on congas. The music was always danceable (during the last couple numbers Sanchez successfully got many in the audience to dance), the leader sang a romantic ballad, and as usual the band closed with a lengthy “Watermelon Man” before they played an encore for the cheering crowd. In addition to the accessible rhythms and danceable tempos, there were many fine solos from the horn players and Langham.
Poncho Sanchez performances are always great fun and this was no exception.
ANOTHER BILL EVANS RELEASE
Bill Evans (1929-80), along with McCoy Tyner, was the most influential jazz pianist to mature during the late 1950s and 60s, helping set the stage for Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett among many to follow. His personal chord voicings and close interplay with his bassists (while using subtle drummers in his trio) were emulated by a countless number of pianists. Evans recorded regularly during his lifetime. Add to that the many live albums (including bootlegs) released posthumously and one can easily acquire 100 of his recordings.
Treasures is the tenth set of previously unreleased Bill Evans music unearthed and discovered by producer Zev Feldman in recent years. Since Evans was usually featured with his trio and his repertoire and style did not change all that much during his final 15 years, one can argue that many of his releases (all of which are at least excellent) are not essential. But, on the other hand, most add a bit to his legacy and contain enjoyable music.
Treasures, a two-CD set from Elemental Music, consists of previously unreleased performances by Evans in Denmark. It begins in a conventional fashion. The first eight selections have the pianist in 1965 joined by bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen on bass and either Alan Dawson or Alex Riel on drums. All of the numbers (which include “Beautiful Love,” “Very Early,” “Who Can I Turn To” and a fairly rapid version of “Waltz For Debby” that is mostly taken in 4/4 time) were recorded by Evans multiple times although he sounds pretty inspired and inventive throughout these versions.
The remainder of the first disc is a bit more unusual for they have Evans in 1969 along with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morell joined by the Royal Danish Symphony Orchestra and the Danish Radio Big Band. They perform an orchestral suite arranged by trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg that includes his “Treasures” plus four Evans compositions. Since the pianist rarely recorded with a big band, this project certainly stands out in his discography.
The second CD has six unaccompanied piano solos in 1965 and a pair of trio dates from 1966 and 1969 with bassist Eddie Gomez and either Alex Riel or Marty Morell on drums. While the songs (“Time Remembered,” “Emily” and two versions of “Nardis”) will be familiar to Evans fans, once again these are generally inspired versions. And, as is true of all Zev Feldman productions, a large booklet (52 pages) is included. This one includes interviews with Eddie Gomez, Marty Morell, Alex Riel, Palle Mikkelborg, Matthew Shipp, and Ran Blake.
Even collectors with 100 Bill Evans recordings will find some fresh revelations in the music of Treasures which is available from www.elemental-music.com.
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 email@example.com and by sending your mailing address to that E-mail.