Sunday, February 27, 2011

Esperanza Spalding

...performing “Overjoyed” at White House tribute to Stevie Wonder.

Jazz bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding (born 1984) won the 2011 Grammy Award for Best New Artist, making her the first jazz artist to win that award. Justin Bieber was widely favored to win.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Happy Birthday, Max Roach!

Max Roach was born on today’s date: January 10, 1924
He was a pioneer of bebop and is considered one of the greatest jazz drummers in history. He was educated at the Manhattan School of Music, where he studied classical percussion, and from 1972-1995 taught at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He created a revolutionary technique known as “melodic drumming,” and was one of the few drummers to give solo concerts. His career began in the mid-1940s, and he made dozens of recordings from 1944 through 2002. Roach died on August 16, 2007.

Beyond brilliant. Do not try this at home (YouTube clip). Who else could do this?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Kenny Barron Trio - The Only One

Click on link (audio only):
Kenny Barron (piano), Ben Riley (drums), Ray Drummond (bass)
Recorded in 1990, from the album titled “The Only One.” This track pays tribute to Thelonious Monk’s “Hackensack.”

Philadelphia born Barron, the younger brother of tenor sax man Bill Barron, rose to prominence in the 1960s when he became the pianist in Dizzy Gillespie’s quartet. Today he teaches jazz at the Manhattan School of Music, after a 25 year stint teaching piano and keyboard harmony at Rutgers University in New Jersey, where he mentored student David Sanchez, Terence Blanchard and Regina Bell. Barron also has a penchant for Latin and Caribbean jazz and heads a Brazilian jazz ensemble known as "Canta Brasil."

Barron, who is on everyone's short list of the greatest living jazz pianists, has collaborated with such legendary jazz figures as Buddy Rich, Yusef Lateef and Stan Getz. He has released more than 40 jazz albums.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Blue Monk: SuperBass Big Band

Three acoustic bass players, John Clayton, Ray Brown and Christian McBride, and the WDR Big Band (the big band of the Westdeutscher Rundfunk), from a 1997 performance in Cologne, Germany. Blue Monk was the “personal favorite” composition of Thelonious Monk, who first recorded it in 1954. He went on to record it thirty times with many of the legends of modern jazz.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Christmas Song

a.k.a. "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire"
written by Mel Tormé and Bob Wells in 1944 (Mel Tormé was 19 years old at the time). Nat King Cole recorded this tune four different times, and the last of them still gets a lot of air play during the Christmas season.

But here are two jazz guitar versions -- take your pick!

Performed by jazz guitarist Bob Champagne

Performed by jazz guitarist Sean Harkness

...from Mark Evanier:
I want to tell you a story about Mel Tormé, a generation gap, and “The Christmas Song”...

The scene is Farmer's Market – the famed tourist mecca of Los Angeles. It's a quaint collection of bungalow stores, produce stalls and little stands where one can buy darn near anything edible one wishes to devour. You buy your pizza slice or sandwich or Chinese food or whatever at one of umpteen counters, then carry it on a tray to an open-air table for consumption. On a winter weekday, not long before Christmas, the crowd was mostly older folks, dawdling over coffee and Danish. I arrived, headed for my favorite barbecue stand and, en route, noticed that Mel Tormé was seated at one of the tables.

Mel Tormé. My favorite singer. Just sitting there, sipping a cup of coffee, munching on an English Muffin, reading The New York Times. Mel Tormé.

I had never met Mel Tormé. Alas, I still haven't, and now I never will. He looked like he was engrossed in the paper that day, so I didn't stop and say, "Excuse me, I just wanted to tell you how much I've enjoyed all your records." I wish I had.

Instead, I continued over to the BBQ place, got myself a chicken sandwich and settled down at a table to consume it. I was about halfway through when four Christmas carolers strolled by, singing "Let It Snow," a cappella.

They were young adults with strong, fine voices and they were all clad in splendid Victorian garb. The Market had hired them (I assume) to stroll about and sing for the diners — a little touch of the holidays.

"Let It Snow" concluded not far from me to polite applause from all within earshot. I waved the leader of the chorale over and directed his attention to Mr. Tormé, seated about twenty yards from me.

"That's Mel Tormé down there. Do you know who he is?"

The singer was about 25, so it didn't horrify me that he said, "No."

I asked, "Do you know 'The Christmas Song?'"

Again, a "No."

I said, "That's the one that starts, 'Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...'"

"Oh, yes," the caroler chirped. "Is that what it's called? 'The Christmas Song?'"

"That's the name," I explained. "And that man wrote it." The singer thanked me, returned to his group for a brief huddle...and then they strolled down towards Mel Tormé. I ditched the rest of my sandwich and followed, a few steps behind. As they reached their quarry, they began singing, "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire..." directly to him.

A big smile formed on Mel Tormé's face — and it wasn't the only one around. Most of those sitting at nearby tables knew who he was and many seemed aware of the significance of singing that song to him. For those who didn't, there was a sudden flurry of whispers: "That's Mel Tormé...he wrote that..."

As the choir reached the last chorus or two of the song, Mel got to his feet and made a little gesture that meant, "Let me sing one chorus solo." The carolers — all still apparently unaware they were in the presence of one of the world's great singers — looked a bit uncomfortable. I'd bet at least a couple were thinking, "Oh, no...the little fat guy wants to sing."

But they stopped and the little fat guy started to sing...and, of course, out came this beautiful, melodic, perfectly-on-pitch voice. The look on the face of the singer I'd briefed was amazed at first...then properly impressed.

On Mr. Tormé's signal, they all joined in on the final lines: "Although it's been said, many times, many ways...Merry Christmas to you..." Big smiles all around.

And not just from them. I looked and at all the tables surrounding the impromptu performance, I saw huge grins of delight...which segued, as the song ended, into a huge burst of applause. The whole tune only lasted about two minutes but I doubt anyone who was there will ever forget it.

I have witnessed a number of thrilling "show business" moments — those incidents, far and few between, where all the little hairs on your epidermis snap to attention and tingle with joy. Usually, these occur on a screen or stage. I hadn't expected to experience one next to a falafel stand — but I did.

Tormé thanked the harmonizers for the serenade and one of the women said, "You really wrote that?"

He nodded. "A wonderful songwriter named Bob Wells and I wrote that...and, get this — we did it on the hottest day of the year in July. It was a way to cool down."

Then the gent I'd briefed said, "You know, you're not a bad singer." He actually said that to Mel Tormé.

Mel chuckled. He realized that these four young folks hadn't the velvet-foggiest notion who he was, above and beyond the fact that he'd worked on that classic Christmas song. "Well," he said. "I've actually made a few records in my day..."

"Really?" the other man asked. "How many?"

Tormé smiled and said, "About ninety."

Mel Tormé worked on the
Judy Garland television show in the 1960s (as arranger and performer), and this clip has them performing “The Christmas Song” as a duet; Miss Garland flubs the lyrics in several places, and Mr. Tormé takes it all in stride. Here, Mel plays piano, but he was also a jazz drummer of note. Click on "How High the Moon" in the column to the right, and you can see and hear Mel play drums while Nat King Cole plays a mean piano backing up vocalist June Christy. Both men later gave up their respective instruments to perform exclusively as vocalists. Trivia: Mr. Tormé also appeared as an actor in more than 20 films.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm

Performed by Ella Fitzgerald
(Irving Berlin Songbook 1958)

Written by Irving Berlin, this song was introduced by Dick Powell and Alice Faye in the film musical “On the Avenue” (1937). Les Brown's instrumental version, arranged by Skip Martin and recorded in 1946 as Columbia #38324, became a million-seller and Billboard top ten song in 1949. Other notable recordings were by Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Della Reese, Doris Day, Bette Midler, The Mills Brothers, Tony Bennett and Dean Martin.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Autumn Leaves

Performed by pianist Keith Jarret (Tokyo 1996)

Composer Joseph Kosma and poet Jacques Prevert created one of the songs for the 1946 film “Les Portes De La Nuit” by setting a Prevert poem to music, “Les Feuilles Mortes.” In 1949 Johnny Mercer wrote English lyrics for the tune changing the original French title (The Dead Leaves) to “Autumn Leaves."

In 1956 Columbia Pictures produced a film titled Autumn Leaves starring Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson. It is a tale of a spinster marrying a young man who has mental problems as a result of his ex-wife’s (Vera Miles) affair with his father (Lorne Green). Nat King Cole sang his hit version of “Autumn Leaves” during the credits.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Laura - Paul Gonsalvez (tenor sax)

Duke Ellington Orchestra
Tenor Saxophone Solo: Paul Gonsalvez (1920-1974)

Otto Preminger wanted to use Duke Ellington's “Sophisticated Lady” as the theme music for his film Laura. When musical director David Raksin objected, Preminger replied, "All right, today is Friday. If you can come up with something we like by Monday, okay. If not, we use 'Sophisticated Lady'!" One of the most famous musical themes in movie history was actually born late Sunday night, a few hours before deadline.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

I Wanna Be Around - Waverly Seven

Guitarist/vocalist John Pizzarelli is a guest of Waverly Seven, a septet of NYC jazz musicians formed in 2006. Featured is Anat Cohen on clarinet.

I Wanna Be Around was composed by Johnny Mercer in 1959, and the best known recording was made by Tony Bennett in 1963. In 1959, Mercer received a partial song lyric from beautician Sadie Vimmerstedt, who lived in Ohio. It was just one line, "I want to be around to pick up the pieces when somebody's breaking your heart." Mercer developed it into the song that is now a jazz standard, and he shared royalties with Ms. Vimmerstedt (about $3,000 a year in the 1960s). True story.

Mr. Bennett and Bono update a classic:

Saturday, September 5, 2009

All about Ronnie - Chris Connor

Venerated jazz singer Chris Connor died August 29, 2009, at the age of 81. Her career reached its peak in the 1950s, but she performed until 2004.

Here is her rendition of "All about Ronnie," a jazz classic written in 1953 by Joe Greene. It is a smouldering ballad of romantic obsession. Connor's voice is much in the mold of June Christy, whom she replaced in the Stan Kenton band in 1952.