For those of us who weren't able to attend any of the now-becoming-legendary Left Bank Jazz Society sessions, Label M's continuing documentation of the excitement within the Famous Ballroom provides the best available substitute for having been there. Better yet, these Left Bank Jazz Society sessions now are being documented for the attention of the world beyond Baltimore, allowing jazz fans to realize how legendary jazz musicians performed in the informal venues that were less controlled than the studio recordings, but at the same time were also more interactive.
It's hard to compare the Left Bank Jazz Society performances that Label M has released so far because they're as individual as the musicians whom the Society recorded on its little reel-to-reel machine. Stan Getz' was just as inspired as Sonny Stitt's. A large part of the reason for the excitement inherent in the CD's is the crowd reaction, raucous and good-humored. These events must have been eagerly anticipated by jazz-hungry Baltimoreans because the musicians' oneness with the audience is reminiscent of that of the big bands' in the 1930's and 1940's.
The horns are doubled on Jazz Gems, Jimmy Heath obviously having a good time in concert with Freddie Hubbard from beginning to end. Indeed, the intensity of the music grows through the recording, eventually reaching multi-chorused Heath improvisations on "Autumn Leaves" after he seemingly yielded the spotlight to Hubbard for most of the night.
Heath and Hubbard capture the audience's imagination from the start as they trade phrases on "All Members," Knox providing the drum rolls between choruses and the noise from the crowd growing audibly over the tune's five minutes. When the group stretches out on the next tune, "Bluesville," the crowd without exaggeration goes wild, whooping and hollering as Hubbard plays with a gritty drive over a cadence like Benny Golson's "Blues March."
The encouragement of the crowd leads Hubbard to half-valve and smear and growl and flutter and buzz his way through "Lover Man" as Heath provides the harmonic lines behind him. The stretched-out versions of "What Is This Thing Called Love" and "Autumn Leaves" leave the Left Bank Jazz Society members with memorable performances that they must have talked about for years afterward.
In the liner notes, Jimmy Heath writes that he still remembers that evening in Baltimore. A local favorite, Heath's profile appears on the LBJS's logo, and the Society recommended him for an honorary doctorate degree. An important connection between the Baltimore jazz enthusiasts and the New York musicians, Heath was instrumental in securing the talent that the Society craved.
Producer Joel Dorn and recording engineer Gene Paul remember the indescribable excitement within the jazz venues like the Famous Ballroom, and they took great pains to leave in the crowd's reaction, as well as to enhance the clarity of Heath's and Hubbard's playing. As the Left Bank Jazz Society releases continue, it becomes obvious that the feel of those venues doesn't exist today at the same level. As documentation of jazz musicians playing at their height in reaction to the crowds' encouragement, the Label M releases are proving to be unique and irreplaceable.
Track Listing: All Members, Bluesville, Lover Man, What Is This Thing Called Love, Autumn Leaves
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.