Monday, December 7, 2009
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
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
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
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 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
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.
Monday, August 17, 2009
From the Paramount film “The Uninvited,” starring Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey and Gail Russell.
Keith Jarrett Trio. This track begins with an extended piano solo by Mr. Jarrett; bassist Gary Peacock does not join in until the 3:23 mark. Jack DeJohnette is on drums.
A vocal rendition by Anita O'Day, white gloves and all. (1963, live in Japan)
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Foolin' Myself (1937)
lyrics: Jack Lawrence; music Peter Tinturin
Click on this audio link to hear blind jazz singer Diane Schuur perform a superior rendition of this Billie Holiday classic.
I tell myself I'm through with love,
And I'll have nothing more to do with love;
I stay away, but every day
I'm just foolin' myself.
I tell my friends that I don't care,
I shrug my shoulders at the whole affair.
But they all know it isn't so,
I'm just foolin' myself.
And every time I pass and see
My face in a looking glass
I tip my hat and say
How do you do you fool
You're throwing your life away.
I'm acting gay, I'm acting proud
And every time I see you in a crowd
I may pretend, but in the end
I'm just foolin' myself.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
from One Touch of Venus (1943)
Lyrics by Ogden Nash; music by Kurt Weill
Sheely Manne and his Men:
Shelly Manne, drums
Conte Candoli, trumpet
Richie Kamuca, tenor sax
Russ Freeman, piano
Monty Budwig, bass
One Touch of Venus – When Marlene Dietrich backed out of the title role, deeming it too profane and sexual, Mary Martin stepped up to the plate and established herself as a Broadway star.
This one takes its time to heat up, but by 3:00 or so the pot starts to boil. Maestro Rybicki’s extended bass solo at the 5:30 mark is outstanding (and more than 2 minutes long).
Matthew Rybicki Quartet
Live at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, Jazz at Lincoln Center (NYC).
Matthew Rybicki, bass
Dan Nimmer, piano
Dominick Farinacci, trumpet
Marion Felder, drums
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Sing in Portuguese by composer João Gilberto.
Your warm embrace is like a kiss remembered
Once full of love but now it's just an ember,
Like something in the heart one wants to lose.
The sun that woke and warmed us every morning,
That painted splendid sunsets every evening
Is useless now, except to sear my soul.
Another winter comes and
All the petals dying on the rose
A thousand petals lie beneath the snow—
At least perhaps some peace might come again.
You gave your fragrant scent to every flower
And filled us with a love of so much power
So I could slowly perish in its pain!
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
"Sing, Sing, Sing (with a Swing)" is a 1936 song written by Louis Prima, strongly identified with the big band and swing eras. Although written by Prima, it is often most associated with Benny Goodman, who recorded it in 1937. In this video, Harry James plays a trumpet solo, Gene Krupa provides the stunning drum work, and clarinetist Benny Goodman leaves us on a high note (literally).
Another version with far superior sound quality (but no video) and three times the length:
Monday, June 29, 2009
Molly Johnson is a Canadian jazz singer and songwriter. The child of a white mother and a black father, Johnson's career started in the mid-1960s when she performed in musicals. She later made history at the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival, becoming the first Canadian female vocalist in the festival's 17-year-history to sell out a show on the main stage. She has even regaled royalty during a private command performance aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia before the Prince and late Princess of Wales, as well as having performed for Nelson Mandela and Quincy Jones.
In late 2008, Johnson released her fourth full-length album, a record of standards titled “Lucky.” In March 2009 “Lucky” took home the Juno Award for "Vocal Jazz Album of the Year".
In 2007, Miss Johnson was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.
I MUST HAVE LEFT MY HEART
Marc Jordan / Steve MacKinnon (Canadian songwriting team)
Molly Johnson, vocals
Mike Downes, bass
Colleen Allen, alto sax
Andrew Craig, piano
Mark McLean, drums
Tonight was black and blue
This overcoat won't do
It's falling all apart
When I left you I must have left my heart
The walls are tumbling
My feet are stumbling
I'm all alone in the dark
When I left you I must have left my heart
Must I always be lonely?
With my dreams at your doorway
Just one more empty dog day
Shall I run to your door?
And stay forever more
I don't know where to start
When I left you I must have left my heart
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Cal Tjader (1925 -1982) crafted a sleek and distinctive sound in the genre of Latin jazz. His cool jazz vibes atop Afro-Cuban rhythms made for a sonic signature that helped introduce the genre into a mainstream audience.
After high school in the San Francisco area and a stint in the Navy, Cal ended up at San Francisco State College, where he met up with Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond. Tjader graduated in 1950 with a minor in music. With Brubeck, Tjader hit the big time, and he liked it. The years between 1949 and 1951 were spent with Brubeck.
Then, after a short time as leader of his own group, Cal joined George Shearing's Quintet as featured vibraphonist and percussionist. While with Shearing Cal made frequent trips to New York and began listening to the Latin New York bands of Tito Puente and Machito. When Tjader left Shearing, he formed his own group again and began a prolific recording career for Fantasy records.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Jazz stylist, composer, singer and acoustic guitarist Kenny Rankin lost his life to lung cancer in Los Angeles on June 7, 2009. He was 69 years old. Mr. Rankin was particularly partial to the Beatles. He recorded a number of their songs, including “Blackbird,” “With a Little Help From My Friends” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” When John Lennon and Paul McCartney were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987, Mr. McCartney asked Mr. Rankin to represent them at the induction ceremony. Johnny Carson presented Rankin on “The Tonight Show” more than 20 times.
“Above all, I’m a jazz singer who likes to mess with the melody,” he told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1997. “I sing songs that touch my heart, the songs I would like to sing to someone in front of a roaring fire on a comfy couch draped in flowers.”
His soft, wispy, laid-back tenor voice never seemed to show signs of aging. He had a distinctive habit of rushing the melody and straying from the printed music as composed.
Monday, June 15, 2009
In this sensitive performance by pianist Keith Jarrett, the influence of Bill Evans is obvious.
This song, composed by Oscar Levant in 1934, has a remarkable lyric by Edward Heyman:
If I expected love when first we kissed, blame it on my youth.
If only just for you, I did exist, blame it on my youth.
I believed in everything, like a child of three.
You meant more than anything, all the world to me.
If you were on my mind all night and day, blame it on my youth.
If I forgot to eat, and sleep and pray, blame it on my youth.
If I cried a little bit, when first I learned the truth,
Don't blame it on my heart, blame it on my youth.
Jazz stylist, composer, singer and acoustic guitarist Kenny Rankin lost his life to lung cancer in Los Angeles on June 7, 2009. He was 69 years old.
In the following audio clip, Kenny Rankin injects the trademarks of his laid-back vocal style: portamento and condensing the timing of a phrase (rushing notes ahead of their rhythmic placement as originally composed). Like a true jazz singer, he abandons the printed melody more often than not, adding his distinctive mark to the entire track.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
From Dexter Gordon’s “Biting the Apple” (1976).
Blue Bossa was written by bebop jazz trumpeter, singer and composer Kenny Dorham (1924-1972).
Dexter Gordon (1923-1990) was considered one of the first bebop tenor sax players. A famous photograph by Herman Leonard of Gordon smoking a cigarette during a set at the Royal Roost in New York City in 1948 is one of the most iconic images in the history of jazz (see YouTube performance above). Gordon's height was 6 feet 6 inches (about 198 cm), so he was also known as 'Long Tall Dexter'.
Friday, May 8, 2009
Here performed by the multi-talented Queen Latifah, on her "Trav'lin' Light" CD.
And next the classic 1963 rendition by saxophonist Stan Getz, Tom Jobim, João Gilberto and vocalist Astrud Gilberto. Astrud had never sung professionally before this album, which launched her career. She received the "Latin Jazz USA Award for Lifetime Achievement" in 1992 and was inducted into the "International Latin Music Hall of Fame" in 2002.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Live performance at New Morning Jazz Club, NYC (2004)
After You’ve Gone (1918)
Words by Henry Creamer, music by Turner Layton
This song was introduced by Al Jolson at the Wintergarden Theater (NYC) in 1918. It was originally conceived as a ballad, but gained popularity as an up-tempo number. Shirley Horn recorded it in 1963 as a slow ballad and made it convincing. Gene Krupa’s 1941 performance has become a jazz classic.
Another rendition by guitarist John Pizzarelli and his trio:
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Sway is the English version of "¿Quién será?", a 1953 mambo song by Mexican composer and bandleader Pablo Beltrán Ruiz. In 1954 English language lyrics were written by Norman Gimbel and recorded by Dean Martin, whose rendition reached number fifteen on the Billboard magazine best-seller chart.
The English version begins:
"When marimba rhythms start to play, dance with me, make me sway".
The Spanish version begins:
"Quien será el que me quiere a mi? Quien será?, quien será?".
Native New Yorker Peter Cincotti is a 25-year-old singer, songwriter, and jazz pianist (born 1983). In 2002, at nineteen years old, he reached No. 1 on the Billboard Traditional Jazz Charts, the youngest solo artist to do so. Several of his songs have been featured in movies, and he won an award at the 2000 Montreux Jazz Festival for a rendition of Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia."
Friday, April 10, 2009
Max Roach, who died in 2007, was one of the most accomplished and influential drummers of the 20th century, a master of poly-rhythms and unpredictable beats. He was the pioneer and grand master of "melodic drumming," teaching the world of jazz that drums could make musical statements, and not just keep time in the background.
He played with jazz legends, notably Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and helped father the style of jazz called Bebop. His innovative way of playing defied expectations and elevated the drums from background instrument to lead.
An NPR special about Max Roach, hosted by Nancy Wilson:
Caravan, performed by Max Roach and Randy Weston
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Charles McPherson – alto sax
Steve Kuhn – piano
David Williams – bass
Leroy Williams – drums
Charles McPherson was born in Joplin, Missouri, but moved to Detroit at age nine. McPherson started playing jazz professionally at age 19, moving to New York in 1959. He performed with Charles Mingus from 1960 to 1972, collaborating frequently George Coleman (tenor sax).
McPherson was recently featured at Lincoln Center showcasing his original compositions and arrangements with a seven piece ensemble. McPherson has recorded as guest artist with Charlie Mingus, Barry Harris, Art Farmer, Kenny Drew, Toshiko Akiyoshi, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra, and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. Charles was also the featured alto saxophonist in the Clint Eastwood film "Bird," a biography about Charlie Parker.
McPherson remains a strong, viable force on the jazz scene today. He is at the height of his powers. His playing combines passionate feeling with intricate patterns of improvisation. Throughout his four decades of being an integral performer of the music, Charles has not merely remained true to his BOP origins, but has expanded on them.
The distinctive lyrics, with their clever rhymes, come through clearly in this interpretation by Nat King Cole:
Love is funny, or it's sad,
Or it's quiet, or it's mad.
It's a good thing, or it's bad,
Beautiful to take a chance
And if you fall, you fall,
And I'm thinking,
I wouldn't mind at all.
Love is tearful, or it's gay,
It's a problem, or it's play.
It's a heartache either way,
And I'm thinking, if you were mine,
I'd never let you go.
And that would be but beautiful,
Friday, April 3, 2009
Bill Evans, Piano
Cannonball Adderley, Alto Sax
Percy Heath, Bass
Conny Kay, Drums
Know What I Mean? was created in 1961 in the recording studio by Evans, at Adderley's special request. Its modal style suggests the days when he and Bill were with Miles Davis (Kind of Blue), and its title derives from a phrase Cannonball was fond of using (!).
Saturday, March 14, 2009
The Seven Lively Arts was a Broadway revue starring Beatrice Lillie that featured songs by Cole Porter, ballet music by Igor Stravinsky, scenery by Salvador Dali, and a pit orchestra conducted by Benny Goodman. The show played at the Zeigfeld Theater, which had a foyer decorated by Dali to illustrate each of the seven lively arts: architecture, painting, sculpture, dance, drama, music and literature.
Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye, a haunting ballad, is the only song from the overwrought production to survive as a standard, and this composition is often used as an example of words and music in a perfect marriage. It begins with an unusual feature – a single note repeated eight times, and the harmonies that follow are constantly shifting. Most critics maintain that this is among the very finest of Cole Porter’s songs. The words are particularly evocative, expressing the sentiments of lovers parting.
Ev'ry time we say goodbye, I die a little.
Ev'ry time we say goodbye, I wonder why a little.
Why the gods above me, who must be in the know,
Think so little of me, they allow you to go.
When you’re near, there’s such an air of spring about it,
I can hear a lark somewhere begin to sing about it,
There’s no love song finer, but how strange the change from major to minor,
Ev’ry time we say goodbye.
Monday, March 9, 2009
Ellington on piano, 5 trumpets, 3 trombones, 5 saxophones, drummer and bass.
The tune was a collaboration between Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. A few years later Johnny Mercer penned lyrics (1953) that are clever, hip and infused with slang through and through.
Cigarette holder, which wigs me
Over her shoulder, she digs me.
Out cattin' that satin doll.
Baby, shall we go out skippin?
Careful, amigo, you're flippin',
Speaks Latin, that satin doll.
She's nobody's fool so I'm playing it cool as can be.
I'll give it a whirl but I ain't for no girl catching me,
Telephone numbers, well you know,
Doin' my rhumbas with uno
And that'n, my Satin Doll.
Friday, February 27, 2009
This philosophical ballad was composed by Clyde Otis in 1959 for Dinah Washington. This rendition by blues singer Gladys Knight is remarkable for its jazz style (click on the link).
This bitter earth, what fruit it bears,
What good is love that no one shares?
And if my life is like the dust that hides the glow of a rose,
What good am I? Heaven only knows.
Lord, this bitter earth can be so cold.
Today you’re young, too soon, you’re old.
But while a voice within me cries,
I’m sure someone may answer my call,
And this bitter earth may not be so bitter after all.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
I’ll Close My Eyes (1945)
Performed by Dinah Washington (1962)
Music by William Gordon Reid; lyrics by Buddy Kaye
Heaven sends a song through its doors
Just as if it seems to know I'm exclusively yours
Knowing this, I feel but one way.
You will understand it, too, in these words that I say:
I'll close my eyes to everyone but you,
And when I do, I'll see you standing there.
I'll lock my heart to any other caress.
I'll never say yes to a new love affair.
Then I'll close my eyes to everything that's gay
If you are not there to share each lovely day
And through the years in those moments when we're far apart,
I'll close my eyes and I'll see you with my heart.
Tragically, Dinah Washington (1924-1963) died from an accidental overdose of diet pills and alcohol at the age of 39 in December of 1963. She had been a successful blues, jazz and gospel singer. Her penetrating voice, excellent timing, and crystal-clear enunciation added her distinctive style to every piece she recorded.
She made a strong impression at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958, but the 1959 release of “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes” was the track for which Washington won a Grammy Award for Best Rhythm and Blues Performance; the song was her biggest hit, reaching #8 on the Billboard Hot 100.
She was married seven times, and divorced six times while having several lovers, including Quincy Jones, who was then her young arranger. She was known to be imperious and demanding in real life, but audiences adored her. In London she once declared, “…there is only one heaven, one earth and one queen…Queen Elizabeth is an impostor”, but the crowd loved it!
An up-tempo instrumental version:
Performed by guitarist Dave Wilkinson, drummer Caspar St. Charles and organist Abel Boquera at the Bel-Luna Jazz Club, Barcelona (Spain), July 13, 2006.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
The song has sophisticated, complex harmonies and an unusual bass line, but the melody is perhaps its most distinctive feature; it never goes where one would expect.
Solo piano version from pianist Bill Evans (album was called "Alone"):
Sunday, February 8, 2009
This rendition features the complete lyrics and a superb (but uncredited) saxophonist.
This song was introduced by Bob Hope, who sang it to Eve Arden in “Ziegfeld Follies of 1936.” It was sung for laughs, while Eve Arden made caustic comments about Bob Hope’s passionate interest.
“Ziegfeld Follies of 1936" trivia:
This was Fanny Brice’s last appearance in a Broadway show and George Balanchine’s Broadway debut as a choreographer. Despite the name, Florenz Ziegfeld had been dead for over three years (the Schubert Brothers had purchased the rights to Ziegfeld’s name).
Bunny Berigan (trumpet & vocals - 1937)
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Performed by Duke Ellington, piano
Trivia: Ellington claimed that Lotus Blossom was the piece Strayhorn most liked hearing him play.
From Ellington's eulogy upon the death of Strayhorn:
...Billy Strayhorn successfully married melody, words, and harmony, equating the fitting with happiness. His greatest virtue, I think, was his honesty, not only to others, but to himself. His listening-hearing self was totally intolerant of his writing-playing self when, or if, any compromise was expected, or considered expedient...He spoke English perfectly and French very well, but condescension did not enter into his mind. He demanded freedom of expression and lived in what we consider the most important and moral of freedoms: freedom from hate, unconditionally; freedom from self-pity (even throughout all the pain and bad news); freedom from fear of possibly doing something that might help another more than it might help himself; and freedom from the kind of pride that could make a man feel he was better than his brother or neighbor.
Another rendition by Charles Lloyd (tenor sax) with Geri Allen (piano)
Marc Johnson (bass), Billy Hart (drums), and John Abercrombie (guitar).
2001 Montreal International Jazz Festival
Sunday, February 1, 2009
A blues song written in 1948; music by Sonny Burke and lyrics by Paul Francis Webster. Sarah Vaughan's 1949 recording on Columbia made the charts.
Perhaps the definitive bop version of this song is by Sonny Criss (alto saxophone):
Trivia: Lyricist Paul Francis Webster holds the record among lyricists for the most number of Academy Award nominations — sixteen.
I'm feeling mighty lonesome, haven't slept a wink.
I walk the floor and watch the door and in between I drink
Black coffee. Love's a hand me down brew.
I'll never know a Sunday in this weekday room.
I'm talking to the shadows from 1 o'clock til 4.
And lord, how slow the moments go when all I do is pour
Black coffee. Since the blues caught my eye
I'm hanging out on Monday my Sunday dreams to dry.
Now a man is born to go a lovin', a woman's born to weep and fret,
To stay at home and tend her oven
And drown her past regrets in coffee and cigarettes.
I'm moaning all the morning, and mourning all the night
And in between it's nicotine and not much heart to fight
Black coffee. Feelin' low as the ground.
It's driving me crazy just waiting for my baby
To maybe come around... around
I'm waiting for my baby to maybe come around.
My nerves have gone to pieces, my hair is turning gray
All I do is drink black coffee since my man's gone away.
Another rendition by vocalist K.D. Lang
and saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr.
Saturday, January 31, 2009
Trivia: Lyricist Fran Landesman, born in New York, is known as the Dorothy Parker of jazz. She continues working from her present-day home in London.
The poignant lyric can perhaps trace an inspiration back to T. S. Eliot's "April Is the Cruelest Month," the opening lines from "The Waste Land" (1922). Quite a pedigree! The song is a narrative about being out of phase with the seasons, describing a winter romance that faded long before the arrival of spring, a time when everyone else is focused on the hope and bloom of new love. "All I've got to show is a splinter for my little fling...love seemed sure around the New Year, now it's April and love is just a ghost...spring arrived on time, only what became of you, dear? Spring can really hang you up the most."
Here, a contemporary performance by chanteuse Jane Monheit.
And a video of a live performance by tenor sax man Stan Getz:
A complete performance of the song by June Christy (arranged by Pete Rugolo)
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Written by Hollywood composer/lyricist Billy Barnes.
"Something Cool" is an unusual jazz standard that became June Christy's signature song. Its lyrics are an extended narrative, full of emotional complexity.
In response to an offer to buy her a drink, a girl in a bar tells you she wants "something cool." It's warm here, she tells us, and she's far from home. She can't seem to remember your name, but she must know you from somewhere, because she never drinks with strangers. You offer her a cigarette:
"A cigarette? / Well, I don't smoke them as a rule /
But I'll have one / it would be fun / with something cool."
She tells you about her glory days, when she lived in a large house, had lots of suitors and took trips to Paris. But that's in the past. Returning to the moment:
"About a date? / Oh wait / I'm such a fool /
He's just a guy / who stopped to buy me /Something cool."
This ballad contains so much narrative, emotional baggage and character development, that it is a unique entry in the library of jazz standards.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Early in his career, Nat King Cole formed a ground breaking trio in 1937, playing piano with Oscar Moore on guitar and Wesley Prince on bass (no drums!). Prior to that, Nat was known primarily as a jazz pianist – not a singer. But with the King Cole Trio (as it was known) he played a mixture of novelty songs, jazz and pop tunes, often with unison singing from all three members, as well as his own lead vocals.
When Prince was drafted into the Army, Johnny Miller took over on bass in 1942, but by this time, Nat's singing was more prominent in their performances. The trio kept going until Nat's career really took off as a ballad singer, backed mainly by orchestras. By that point, Nat was not playing much piano, which was a pity, since he was a brilliant and influential jazz pianist.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
In the 1950s, when this was televised, music alone was able to transcend segregation. Here we have a black man (Cole), a Jew (Tormé – born with the surname Torma) and a white woman (Christy, who was Anita O’Day’s replacement in the Stan Kenton Orchestra) uniting in joyous music making. Many fans of Cole and Tormé in the latter part of their careers are not aware that Cole was a superb pianist, nor that Tormé played drums; they both gave up their respective instruments and later worked exclusively as vocalists.
Monday, January 26, 2009
Ben Sidran (piano)
Written by Bob Thiele (using the pseudonym George Douglas*) and George David Weiss**, What a Wonderful World was first recorded by Louis Armstrong in 1968. Intended as an antidote for the increasingly racially and politically charged climate of everyday life in the U.S., the song also has a hopeful, optimistic tone with regard to the future, with reference to newborn babies having much to look forward to. The song was not initially a hit in the United States, where it sold fewer than 1,000 copies, but was a major success in the UK, reaching number one on the singles chart, becoming the biggest-selling single of 1968. The song made Louis Armstrong the oldest male to top the UK charts, at sixty-six years and ten months old.
The song gradually became something of a standard and reached a new level of popularity. It was re-released in America shortly after Armstrong's death in 1971 and became a top ten hit. It is also a jazz standard, ranked number 945 at Jazzstandards.com.
*Some of the songs Thiele wrote are credited to George Douglas or Stanley Clayton. These are pseudonyms Thiele used, made from the names of his uncles, Stanley, Clayton, George, and Douglas. Thiele was a record producer and husband of singer Teresa Brewer.
**Weiss was president of the Songwriters Guild of America; among other notable songs he penned was Lullaby of Birdland.
Another rendition of this classic tune:
Duet by K.D. Lang & Tony Bennett
Sunday, January 25, 2009
In 1994, Billy Taylor was appointed to the position of artistic adviser on jazz for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where his knowledge, expertise and influence are still in demand. In 1997, he was responsible for the launching of the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage, where free jazz concerts are often featured.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
(video excerpt from Billy Taylor’s show Jazz Counterpoint)
Everyone would want to play piano if it could be this much fun!
"I Got Rhythm" was composed by George Gershwin with lyrics by Ira Gershwin in 1928 (published 1930), and became a widely-known jazz standard. It comes from the stage musical Girl Crazy, which yielded another hit song, "Embraceable You." Ethel Merman sang the song in the original Broadway production of the show. I Got Rhythm is iconic of the Gershwins, of swing, and of the 1920s.
Trivia: I Got Rhythm was originally published in the unusual key of D-flat major.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
In a Mist, composed in 1927 by cornetist Bix Beiderbecke
Since April 1979, pianist Marian McPartland has welcomed a stellar line-up of musicians for one hour of conversation and jazz improvisation on her award-winning radio program. Each week, McPartland, with her engaging personality and improvisational savvy, hosts a variety of performers in her radio living room. She has recently reached the 90-year-old mark, yet remains active as a performer and radio personality.
Piano Jazz is a forum for jazz legends and influential performers as well as up-and-coming talents. Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock, Dave Brubeck, Diana Krall, Max Roach, Cassandra Wilson and Tony Bennett are among the 500+ guests who have joined McPartland to create dynamic duets and discuss their lives and music.
A production of South Carolina Educational Radio and distributed nationally by NPR, Piano Jazz is the longest-running national performance program on public radio and was called "an oasis of intelligence and grace and probably the best hour of jazz on the airwaves" by The Washington Post.
For Ms. McPartland's radio program (spring, 2000) about Bix Beiderbecke, go to:
For audio streams of dozens of her other Piano Jazz programs, visit:
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
I found a dream that I can speak to,
A dream that I can call my own.
I found a thrill to press my cheek to,
A thrill I've never known.
“At Last” (1941) was written by lyricist Mack Gordon and composer Harry Warren and debuted in the film musical Orchestra Wives, performed on screen by the Glenn Miller Orchestra. The song was a major hit for Miller, reaching number 14 on the Billboard pop charts in 1942. It soon became a standard, recorded by Nat King Cole (1957) and Etta James (1960), who was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 for her recording of this song. Aside from the lyric, there was another facet of appropriateness in using this song at the inauguration of our nation's first black president, since Nat King Cole was the first black person to have a weekly radio and TV program (1956-57).
In this video clip from Orchestra Wives, the Glenn Miller Orchestra introduces the song to the public in its original form, as a swing tune (1942), far removed from the R&B version popularized by Etta James. Trivia: Note that Jackie Gleason (string bass) and Cesar Romero (piano) are in the orchestra! Gleason had a successful side career as a musician (composer, arranger and conductor), and Romero was an accomplished ballroom dancer. The film is of interest in that it depicts the lives of working big band musicians.
Monday, January 19, 2009
*But that's just me -- the album sold like hot cakes.
In this video, Anita Baker recalls hearing Koz mentioning the incipient project on his syndicated radio show while she was talking on the phone. Of interest is the trial and error method of finding the right key and other details that led to the final arrangement of her track: Somewhere (West Side Story). Ms. Baker also reveals that she preferred "Moon River" (ick!) to "Somewhere," but that track ultimately went to Barry Manilow (double ick!).
In this revealing video clip, Koz interviews esteemed lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman, regarding their 1973 academy award Best Song winner "The Way We Were".
The Bebop jazz style traces it origin to the early 1940s, and the term “bebop” was first used during the beginning of WWII. Bebop differed drastically from the straightforward compositions of the swing era, and was instead characterized by asymmetrical phrasing, intricate melodies, and rhythm sections that expanded beyond their role as mere time-keepers. The music itself was jarring to the public, which was used to swing’s bouncy, organized, danceable tunes of Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. Instead, bebop sounded nervous, racing, frantic and often fragmented. But to jazz musicians and aficionados, bebop was an exciting revolution in the art of jazz.
While swing music tended to feature orchestrated big band arrangements, bebop music was more free in its structure. The classic bebop combo was a quintet consisting of saxophone, trumpet, bass, drums, and piano. Typically, a theme would be presented at the beginning and end of each piece, placed like bookends around improvisational solos based on the chords of the tune. Thus, the majority of a song in bebop style would be improvisation, the only threads holding the work together being the underlying harmonic pattern.
Bebop musicians also employed several harmonic devices not typical of the jazz music that had come before. Complicated harmonic substitutions for more basic chords became commonplace; these substitutions often emphasized dissonant intervals such as the flat ninth, sharp ninth and the sharp eleventh (or tri-tone).
Notable musicians identified with bebop:
* Cannonball Adderley, alto sax
* Art Blakey, Drums
* Clifford Brown, trumpet
* Ray Brown, bass
* Kenny Burrell, guitar
* Don Byas, tenor sax
* Paul Chambers, bass
* Charlie Christian, guitar
* Kenny Clarke, drums
* John Coltrane, tenor sax
* Tadd Dameron, piano
* Miles Davis, trumpet
* Kenny Dorham, trumpet
* Carl Fontana, trombone
* Curtis Fuller, trombone
* Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet
* Stan Getz, tenor sax
* Dexter Gordon, tenor sax
* Wardell Gray, saxophone
* Al Haig, piano
* Sadik Hakim, piano
* Barry Harris, piano
* Percy Heath, bass
* Milt Jackson, vibes
* J. J. Johnson, trombone
* Duke Jordan, piano
* Lee Konitz, alto sax
* Stan Levey, drums
* Lou Levy, piano
* John Lewis, piano
* Dodo Marmarosa, piano
* Howard McGhee, trumpet
* Charles McPherson, Alto Sax
* Charles Mingus, bass
* Thelonious Monk, piano
* Wes Montgomery, guitar
* Fats Navarro, trumpet
* Charlie Parker, alto sax
* Chet Baker, trumpet
* Oscar Pettiford, bass
* Tommy Potter, bass
* Bud Powell, piano
* Max Roach, drums
* Red Rodney, trumpet
* Sonny Rollins, tenor sax
* Frank Rosolino, trombone
* Sonny Stitt, tenor and alto sax
* Lucky Thompson, tenor sax
* George Wallington, piano
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Chick Corea (piano) & Gary Burton (vibes)
Note: The attribution to Billy Strayhorn, as labeled in the video, is incorrect (Strayhorn did not meet Ellington until six years after this piece was written). Also, Irving Mills (lyrics) was the manager of the Duke Ellington Orchestra until 1939; whether or not he actually wrote the lyrics for which he is credited is widely disputed. The issue was one of royalties. Ellington frequently took credit for music he didn't write; he paid a flat fee for compositions, then credited himself, so that he could collect royalties. Sadly, Billy Strayhorn, who willingly lived his life in the shadow of Ellington, was often on the losing end of many such transactions. Strayhorn, an openly gay black man in the era of extreme homophobia and prejudice, was Ellington's "right hand, left hand, and all the eyes in the back of my head", as stated by Ellington himself. Strayhorn was, however, accurately credited with composing "Take the A Train," Ellington's theme music.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Performance by Queen Latifah (from the 1998 film Living Out Loud).
This Marvyn Warren arrangement was subsequently included on The Dana Owens Album in 2004 (Dana Owens is the real name of artist Queen Latifah). This is an interesting title sequence, in that it begins with Queen Latifah and at the end switches to Holly Hunter finishing the song dressed in only a bra (I would not lie to you).
If you have any recollection of that movie at all, it’s likely the scene in which Eddie Cibrian massages Holly Hunter (and introduces a whole new generation to “At Last” as sung by Etta James – at the 3 minute mark). Warning – it’s erotic as all get out, so you might not want to watch this with your grandmother.
Friday, January 16, 2009
Liza is the only surviving number of the 27 Gershwin items furnished for the hastily improvised musical, Show Girl. In mid-June 1929, Florenz Ziegfeld pressed a reluctant Gershwin to compose the score in a scant two weeks, to which Gershwin responded that he couldn't. "Mr. Ziegfeld smiled up at me and said, 'Why, sure you can -- just dig down in the trunk and pull out a couple of hits.'" The upshot was more a scrappy revue than a musical which, despite a run of 111 performances, aggravated critics and lost money. During the Boston tryout, Ruby Keeler, backed up by 100 leggy chorines, launched into Liza when Al Jolson, from the audience, rose and sang the chorus to his visibly startled bride. This electrifying effect was replicated for the New York première, and thereafter Liza became a virtual Jolson property. As Gershwin remarked, "It caused a sensation and gave the song a great start!" The lyrics by Ira Gershwin and Gus Kahn are pure fluff --
Liza, Liza, skies are gray, but if you'll smile on me,
All the clouds'll roll away...
-- but the surging, harmonically piquant music to which they are set is irresistible.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Faces of the Heart, composed by Dave Koz, Jeff Koz (Dave's older brother) and Jack Urbont.
Dave Koz was born in Los Angeles. From an early age, he and his sister took piano lessons. "My mom basically forced my sister and me to play piano from when we were toddlers. I hated piano; I was never any good at it. But I have to thank her now for making me do it, because I write most of my songs on the piano." Around age nine, he began taking drum lessons, but notes that he was not very good at drums, "I am the world's worst drummer. I could not keep time to save my life." At age 13, his brother, Jeff, had a band that Dave wanted to be in, but his brother told him over and over that there was no way he could be in it. Dave eventually wore him down, and his brother told him that the only way he could be in the band was if he could play the saxophone, because their band did not have a saxophonist. That was all he needed to hear. Two years later, he was in the band and working gigs with the band and by himself, and a stellar career as a “smooth jazz” saxophonist was launched. He most often plays alto sax, but has recorded on soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones, as well.
In 1994, Koz began hosting a syndicated radio program, featuring the latest music and interviews with who's-who in the genre. For six years Dave co-hosted The Dave Koz Morning Show With Pat Prescott on 94.7 The Wave, a smooth jazz station in Los Angeles. He decided to leave the show in January, 2007.
In an April 2004 interview with The Advocate (a magazine that serves the gay community), Koz came out publicly as a gay man, basically to clear his conscience. Increasing fame was putting pressure on him to suppress his private life, as he feared the truth about his sexual orientation would end his musical career. Instead, Koz experienced a surge of popularity after his coming out. Later the same year, he was named by People magazine as one of their "50 Hottest Bachelors" in their June issue (!). Koz bears a striking physical resemblance to fellow “smooth jazz” saxophonist David Sanborn, and their musical styles are similar. Dave's performances, enhanced by his expressive command of the saxophone, good looks and infectious stage presence, leave audiences exhilarated. While jazz purists blanch at the genre of smooth jazz, such artists as Dave Koz frequently serve as bait to lure new aficionados to classic jazz artists.
Koz and Ramsey Lewis have recently made major contributions to the education of the masses in matters relating to jazz, since both host popular syndicated shows about jazz music and musicians. Since 2005 Koz has been the star attraction for popular annual cruises marketed as “Dave Koz & Friends Jazz Cruises,” the most recent of which took place in November, 2008.
Koz is endorsed by Yamaha and plays primarily Yamaha horns.
Dave serves as a Global Ambassador for the Starlight Children's Foundation, a charity based in Los Angeles that helps children and teenagers cope with serious illnesses.
Richard Flores - conga drums
Bill O’Connell - piano
Joe Santiago - bass
Of Puerto Rican descent, Dave Valentin practically owns the underpopulated role of the flute in Latin jazz. A performer, composer, arranger and band leader, Dave boasts a command of both Latin and non-Latin styles. He has performed on more than 15 albums and is a GRAMMY Award winner. Dave’s success stems from his eagerness to absorb any style of music – and his passion for mastering the most challenging instruments in the flute family.
In the following video clip, be sure to pay special attention to the cadenza at the 4:21 mark for some of Dave’s trademark special effects (Obsesión, composed by Pedro Flores).
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Take Five is an instrumental jazz composition first recorded by the Dave Brubeck Quartet on its 1959 album Time Out. Composed by Paul Desmond, the group's saxophonist, it became famous for its distinctive, catchy saxophone melody and use of 5/4 time, from which its name is derived. It has since become the most identifiable jazz composition in history.
The Time Out album contained only seven tracks totaling a scant 38.5 minutes of playing time. Each was an original composition written in a time signature unusual for jazz – 6/4, 9/8, 5/4, etc. – which accounted for the album title. Blue Rondo à la Turk (written in 9/8 time, the rhythm of the Turkish zeybek folk dance) echoed Mozart’s “ronda alla turca” from his piano sonata #11, written in 1783.
Carmen McRea’s 1961 version of Take Five included lyrics written by Dave Brubeck and his wife Iola.
Upon his death in 1977, Paul Desmond left the licensing rights for Take Five to the American Red Cross. Since that time, the organization receives all the royalties related to the performance of the song.