For Ralph Lalama, living the jazz life means making ends meet by being involved with music on many disparate levels and in many various ways. The 48-year-old tenor man has been on the New York scene for several decades now, working as an educator, session musician, and leader of his own groups. Recent stints have also included a regular gig with the Village Vanguard and Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestras. Every so often though, he also manages to put together a pleasing record date for Criss Cross, with Music for Grown-Ups being his most recent and fifth for the label overall.
Don't let the title fool you, Lalama and crew aren't so solemn that they're consciously trying to be stuffy or aloof. Instead the idea here is to represent jazz as the intelligent art form that it is with a repertoire of standards and originals that will nonetheless speak volumes to an open-minded and willing audience. And while revisiting the jazz mainstream is not a new or even critically-popular idea these days, you can't help but admire and take sustenance from music that's done up this well. Fronting a modest (in size alone, I assure you) trio, Lalama is out front booting things along with that cavernous sound of his and a swing and swagger that is infectious.
For a sample of his be-bop chops and capacity to negotiate his own tricky sequence, Lalama's "Metro-North" is oddly structured in two ten-bar phrases of 4/4 that are followed by four more bars of 6/8. Taken at breakneck speed, it becomes an obstacle course that everyone manages to skirt with ease. A seductive vamp leads to a heartfelt take on the seldom-done, but attractive "Lullaby of the Leaves." More bop is served up in the guise of "Bacha Feelin'" and "Newk It," to be balanced by a lovely ballad reading of "Blue Gardenia" and the bossa beat of Ralph's "Nonchalant."
As talented a player as Lalama is it's taking nothing away from his efforts here to suggest that pianist Richard Wyands is absolutely rhapsodic throughout. Although he has always decidedly fit into the category of "talent deserving wider recognition," this date seems to find him in exquisite form and one wonders why he has had so few occasions to record as a leader himself. His past work with modern day masters Peter and Kenny Washington has also lead to a level of awareness and maturity that clearly inspires Lalama and elevates this set beyond your typical blowing session.
Track Listing: I've Never Been in Love Before, Metro-North, Lullaby of the Leaves, Bacha Feelin,' Blue Gardenia, Nonchalant, Newk It, Scoops.
Personnel: Ralph Lalama: tenor saxophone; Richard Wyands: piano; Peter Washington: bass; Kenny Washington: drums.
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.