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Chet Baker I'll Remember April, Zoot Sims Over the Rainbow, and Lorez Alexandria This Could Be the Start of Something Big

Mark Barnett By

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Choice Cuts is an offshoot of Getting Into Jazz. Your butcher notwithstanding, we're defining a "Choice Cut" as an outstanding track from an otherwise unremarkable CD (or vinyl record); a track so good it justifies adding the disc to your collection. Here are a trio to start with...

Chet Baker, "I'll Remember April"

(From the album Chet Baker in Paris, Verve Records 1956)

Given the ups and downs of Baker's career, it's easy to forget his technical mastery of the trumpet when he was at the height of his powers. This track (from the "Barclay Sessions," recorded in France in 1955), will clear up any doubts in that department. It opens with two and a half minutes of Baker's gorgeous improvisation, with an uncharacteristically muscular attack and perfect tone—certainly enough to dispel the stereotypical view that Baker's coolness was the only tool in his bag. Two other outstanding tracks on this disc, "Small Hotel" and "Summertime" are more than enough to prove the point. With all three tracks, concentrate on Baker's opening solos and ignore the rest of the Gallic thumpity-thumping.

Zoot Sims, "Over the Rainbow"

(From the album The Innocent Years, Pablo Records 1982)

This is the first track I turn to when talking to folks about jazz improvisation. I ask them to concentrate near the opening (starting at 0.12) and try to count the number of choruses Sims plays as he invents new versions of the tune. It's not that easy, because he leaves no spaces to set them apart. Notice how each chorus is different from the rest, each beautifully crafted with a beginning, a middle and an end. No wasted notes, no fillers, no virtuoso strutting to use up space. It adds up to over four minutes of genuine, uninterrupted improvisation. In the world of classical music, this section of the track might be called "Variations on a Theme by Harold Arlen." And it doesn't end with Sims. Richard Wyands' punchy, propulsive piano solo at 4:26 maintains the intensity until nearly the end.

Lorez Alexandria, "This Could Be the Start of Something Big"

(From the album More of the Great Lorez Alexandria, Impulse Records 1964)

Think back a few decades. Remember the old Steve Allen comedy/variety shows on TV? They always opened with an up-beat, big-band version if his signature tune, "This Could Be the Start of Something Big." That song has words, belted out effortlessly here by Lorez Alexandria, a jazz coloratura with a powerful yet supple voice, perfect pitch and precise control. (But Sarah Vaughan got there first.) For a bit of contrast, listen on the same disc to Alexandria's restrained rendition of "But Beautiful." Beautiful indeed.
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