A director fascinated by the outsized life of the African-American boxer Jack Johnson sets out to make a documentary to tell the man's story. Given the centrality of race to Johnson's story and Johnson's own musical interests, a jazz soundtrack seems most appropriate, so he enlists the foremost jazz trumpeter of the day to provide a score. This certainly will sound familiar to those who've caught Ken Burns' latest PBS documentary, Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, with its soundtrack by Wynton Marsalis. But lost in most of the commentary on Burns' film is ...read more
As an art form jazz has thrived in a number of different environments, and the school of the music that came to fruition under the ostensible stewardship of Eddie Condon, a man whose abilities as a raconteur were at least on a par with his abilities as a guitarist, amounted to a freewheeling brand of the music which thrived best before a receptive live audience. There was however a whole lot more to it than anything that might suggest, and if the term 'the Condon school' can be realistically applied it might well disguise the breadth of stylists who found ...read more
The alto sax has always been a horn that can accomodate a variety of approaches. The two players discussed here, as featured on albums recorded at completely different stages in their respective careers, have sounds and styles deeply rooted in the history of the music
For years Bruce Turner was a stalwart of Humphrey Lyttleton's band, and for a period in the late 1950s and early 1960s he led his own Jump Band, a small group which took its cues from the John Kirby Sextet, a band that's hardly been over-used as a template. The Dirty Bopper was the only ...read more
Every significant development in jazz has been the work of trailblazers. In the case of bebop of course the two most readily associated with the development have always been Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and whilst there is no little substance in this, the determinism of such a view obscures the contributions of other musicians who were active in the midst of this musical revolution. Whilst this situation has arguably never caused irreparable damage to any musician's career, it might be said to have caused some musicians to suffer neglect.
Charlie Rouse was the victim of some unstated critical consensus, ...read more
In the early 1960s things were happening. In that seminal decade, the allure of which remains so great that people not even born at the time can feel vicarious nostalgia for it, both British and European jazz produced instrumentalists with the ability and know-how to establish themselves as distinctive voices within an ever-widening continuum of jazz. Of the three musicians discussed here Don Rendell has the longest pedigree, having been a member of the band Stan Kenton employed on his European visits in the previous decade. Ian Carr had worked in the band led by organist Mike Carr prior to ...read more
Marty Paich (1925-1995) was the West Coast Tadd Dameron. He had a perfect swing and be bop arranging temperament. Paich was a superb pianist and a better arranger, being called upon to orchestrate for Chet Baker, Ray Brown, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, and Art Pepper. It was with Art Pepper that Paich would forge a most creatively generous relationship, which would yield not one but two masterpieces in 1959.
Art Pepper (1925-1982) was the brilliant and beautiful alto saxophonist who recorded widely in the 1950s, '70s, and '80s while taking the better part of the 1960s off in ...read more
All jazz singers worthy of the name have been able to draw upon a depth of interpretive power sufficient to make something out of frequently trite lyrics. The most extreme example of this, that is to say the example who could draw from the deepest well of such power, was of course Billie Holiday, and there is countless recorded evidence of this. Of vocalists who have moved outside of both the territory of the lyric and the voice's very function in jazz, Jeanne Lee was the one who, until comparatively recently, most successfully bridged the divide between jazz and more ...read more
The emphasis on Miles Davis's 1960s quintet as a role model for musicians in the present day has ensured perhaps that Herbie Hancock's move away from that band's style has been overlooked.
The two albums discussed here encapsulate how his musical outlook changed. The move from acoustic to predominantly electric instrumentation is profound enough in itself, but when -as in the cases discussed here- it;s accompanied by an equally significant shift in the very nature of the music then the change can realistically be called revolutionary.
Like many musicians of his generation Hancock served a solid apprenticeship with the likes ...read more
Solo jazz piano playing is an area of the music fraught with risks at the same time as the piano is the instrument best suited to solo music making. In the past, Bill Evans circumnavigated some of the problems inherent in the medium through overdubbing, a course which neither Connie Crothers nor Mal Waldron has opted for on the albums discussed here. Similarly, neither player occupies a stylistic area close to that of Art Tatum, whose solo piano recordings have the effect of rendering any kind of accompaniment irrelevant. Both Crothers and Waldron have however carved out stylistic niches of ...read more
Oliver Lake has always had an innate grasp of musical tradition that extends beyond jazz to encompass other areas of African American musical expression, and the effect of this on his music has always been beneficial. Allied to this have been two other virtues, namely his abiding fascination with the work of Eric Dolphy, perhaps unsurprisingly not a highly influential figure, and an instrumental conception deep enough to enable him to appreciate the diversity inherent in the alto sax, the soprano sax and the flute, his three instruments of choice.
Such is the diversity of the two albums discussed here ...read more
Like any other instrument, the piano reflects the personality of the musician playing it. This truism applies to both Horace Parlan and Oscar Peterson, and the contrast between their respective styles is not wanting in starkness. Both players are virtuosos, though Parlan's virtuosity is of a radically different order to Peterson's. Where Parlan brings echoes of gospel and the blues, Peterson brings articulacy of such a rare order that it can often appear daunting, the display of dexterity hermetically sealed and serving little purpose outside of itself. With the exception of Stan Getz no other musician in the whole of ...read more
Throughout the history of the music players have relied upon licks as staples of their musical vocabulary, phrases or turns of phrase which, whilst they haven't been the be-all and end-all of any musician's style, have been an integral part of too many styles to discuss here. Warne Marsh was one of the starkest exceptions to this rule. Described by the British critic Alun Morgan as 'one of the greatest improvisers our music has ever known'(1) Marsh did indeed possess such improvisational skills that his playing was marked by the absence of licks and a flair for quick thinking. He ...read more
The current fuss over largely photogenic female singers is doing a disservice both to the music itself and to those singers who, regardless of whether or not they wish to be defined in terms of their physical appearance, are caught up in the superficial values of the times in which we live, the unwritten strictures of which effectively negate their right to choose at the same time as they render secondary any discussion of their musical abilities. The elevation of physical appearance to the position of primary importance is arguably aided by the non-threatening and undemanding music they often produce. ...read more
Stan Getz will always be admired for the purity of his tenor saxophone tone, spawned by Lester Young, personalized and polished to dazzling point by Getz. Indeed, for the latter part of his career he used it to disguise the fact that he often coasted. That stage was still some way in the future when he recorded Award Winner for Verve in Hollywood in August of 1957. He'd already attracted attention in the annual magazine polls, hence the album's title. By this time he'd already been working professionally for over a decade. His playing had by then reached a high ...read more
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