Jazz Goes Green: Musical Explorations On A Secondary Color Of Note

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With spring taking hold and summer on the way, it's hard to avoid encounters with the color green. The drab gray and white of winter is now no more and a vibrant green color scheme has taken over. A drive along the Long Island Expressway—which leads to Manhattan and some of the greatest jazz clubs in the world—might be a burdensome, traffic-filled journey to some, but it also provides colorful explosions across the whole spectrum of this color's family. While green is often explained as the exacting visual representation of blue-meets-yellow, it has also come to stand for so much more in the verbal lexicon of the English language. One who is "green" is inexperienced, or not fully-grown to maturity. Jealousy is often regarded as the "green eyed-monster," and, similarly, people are often "green" with envy. Along the same lines, we tend to want what other people have because we think, "the grass is always greener on the other side." Some people associate green as the evil—and/or desirable—color of money and those with good intentions, who are trying to save the environment, are always talking about "going green."

Benny Green

Music has also had more than its fair share of run-ins with this secondary color of note. While one can toss off a list of artists with surnames born of this color, like the inimitably soulful Al Green

Al Green
Al Green
b.1946
vocalist
, punk rock purveyors Green Day or swooning pop singer Jackie Greene, the relationship goes deeper. Yes, jazz also has its list of individuals who fall into this category—like the legendary guitarist Grant Green
Grant Green
Grant Green
1935 - 1979
guitar
, big band trombonist Urbie Green
Urbie Green
Urbie Green
b.1926
trombone
, saxophonist Bunky Green
Bunky Green
Bunky Green
b.1935
sax, alto
and pianist Benny Green
Benny Green
Benny Green
b.1963
piano
—but they had no control over their relationship with this color and were born into it. With all of its brilliant shades and hues, the color green has worked its way into the jazz color spectrum in countless ways and this month's Old, New Borrowed and Blue explores many of these relationships.

Old

When Bronislaw Kaper was commissioned to write the music for the 1947 film called Green Dolphin Street, it's doubtful that he could have imagined where the theme song would eventually go. This film is merely one entry on a long list of movies—including Gaslight (1944), Bataan (1943) and Mutiny On The Bounty (1962)—that feature music written by the Polish-born composer. Within ten years of its creation, the theme song for this motion picture—"On Green Dolphin Street"—would find new life in the world of jazz. While Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
is often credited for crystallizing this song into the form that made it a jazz standard, other jazz musicians tackled it on record before he did (for example, the aforementioned Urbie Green), and an endless list of people have taken to it since Davis' version staked its claim. I happened to discover one of my favorite takes on this song while exploring drummer Roy Haynes
Roy Haynes
Roy Haynes
b.1926
drums
' legacy.

When A Life In Time: The Roy Haynes Story (Dreyfus Jazz, 2007) found its way onto shelves, I was tempted to buy it right away but I already owned a good amount of the material so I held off. About a year after its release, I gave into temptation and purchased this set and anxiously began digging into the music. While journeying through Haynes' recording career—enjoying recordings he made with Lester Young
Lester Young
Lester Young
1909 - 1959
saxophone
, Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
, Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
, Oliver Nelson
Oliver Nelson
Oliver Nelson
1932 - 1975
arranger
, John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
and many others—I encountered a version of "On Green Dolphin Street" that he recorded with woodwind wizard Eric Dolphy
Eric Dolphy
Eric Dolphy
1928 - 1964
reeds
. Outward Bound (Prestige, 1960) is just one of many extremely creative musical projects that Dolphy took part in—ranging from other leader dates to work with Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
1922 - 1979
bass, acoustic
, Coltrane and Nelson—but it gives the listening public an opportunity to hear what he does with one of the most popular jazz standards of the time.



While he plays flute, bass clarinet and saxophone on this album—his first as a leader—he focuses on bass clarinet for this specific track. Bassist George Andrew Tucker

and Dolphy are joined at the hip as they dole out a hip bass riff to start things off. As the song unfolds, this riff helps to underscore Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
1938 - 2008
trumpet
's muted, nonchalant delivery of the melody. Dolphy takes control of the melody and then launches into an inspired flight over the rhythm section before handing it back to Hubbard. Haynes remains for Tucker's solo—providing some solid swing support—but everybody else sits this one out. While pianist Jaki Byard
Jaki Byard
Jaki Byard
1922 - 1999
piano
remains in a purely supportive role here, his tasteful comping—including his ascending little jabs as the song begins—adds volumes to this performance and Dolphy's take on this green giant-of-a-song deserves to be heard by a greater portion of the jazz listening public.

New

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