Tuesday, January 5, 2016

In Memoriam: Michael Clifton (1956-2015)

Text, music, and photographs © Ekkehard Wölk. Can not be reproduced without the permission of the author.

By Ekkehard Wölk

The Berlin music scene mourns over the recent death of one of its best-known, musically distinguished jazz drummers of the past three decades: Mr. Michael Clifton who passed away on the 11th of December, 2015.

Born in Denver, Colorado in 1956, Michael left his home country in the late 1970s and settled in Berlin at the time when the city was still divided. He loved Berlin and to him Berlin was "home".

From the time of his arrival in Berlin for so many years to follow, Michael, always incredibly energetic, was an undeniable presence in Berlin's music scene who enriched countless recording sessions, concerts and entertainment shows with his inimitable powerful style of drumming that was firmly rooted in the great tradition of jazz playing by such giants like Art Blakey, Kenny Clarke and Max Roach.

Monday, December 21, 2015

I Don't Dig Garbarek's Music, But If You Do...

I'm interested in anything categorized under the uncategorizable family of jazz, while being aware of the problem that most of it turns out to be anything but jazz. The video I'm posting here, at least to my ears, falls into non-jazz category. Yet, it is an example of a product sold as jazz and bought in huge quantity by European jazz festivals.

Since I've promised to digitize and publicize all my jazz VHS tapes, I do post this as an act of completion: The Jan Garbarek Group playing Jim Pepper's Witchi-Tai-To in Stuttgart, Germany, 1992.

This ECM artist sounds so thin and mechanical that I wonder why the labeled never released, for instance, Kenny G.?

To me, jazz remains to be an urban, modern sound, always transcending the most materialistic objects and situations into sublime beauty. And it doesn't sound like music played by Scandinavian shepherds in 17th century.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Monterey Jazz Festival (1967)

Directed by Lane Slate
The event hosted by Jimmy Lyons.

Set list:

Illinois Jacquet
Flyin' Home
Illinois Jacquet (ts), John Lewis (p), Ray Brown (b), Louie Bellson (d)

Ray Nance
Some of These Days
Ray Nance (violin), John Lewis (p), Ray Brown (b), Louie Bellson (d)

Ray Nance, Jean-Luc Ponty, Svend Asmussen
C Jam Blues
Jean-Luc Ponty, Ray Nance, Svend Asmussen (violin), John Lewis (p), Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Ray Brown (b), Daniel Humair (d)?

The Dizzy Gillespie Quintet
The Gentle Rain
Something In Your Smile
Dizzy Gillespie (t, v), James Moody (f, ts), Mike Longo (p), Russell George (electric b), Candy Finch (d)

The Modern Jazz Quartet & Dizzy Gillespie
Round Midnight
Dizzy Gillespie (t), John Lewis (p), Milt Jackson (vib), Percy Heath (b), Connie Kay (d)

The Don Ellis Big Band
New Horizons
Don Ellis, Glenn Stuart, Alan Weight, Ed Warren, Bob Harmon (t), Ron Myers, Dave Sanchez, Terry Woodson (tb), Ruben Leon, Joe Roccisano, Ira Schulman, Ron Starr, John Magruder (reeds), Mike Lang (p), Ray Neapolitan, Dave Parlato (b), Steve Bohannon (d), Chino Valdes (congas, bongos),
Alan Estes, Mark Stevens (percussion)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Three Little Bops (Friz Freleng, 1957)

This short, all-musical animation titled Three Little Bops features a soundtrack by Shorty Rogers. Although the three little pigs of the story are not exactly bop musicians, nevertheless the film relies on the myth of fraction between the modernists and traditionalists in jazz when the New overtly rejects the Old (here, portrayed as an old-fashioned wolf trumpet player).

Directed by Friz Freleng for Warner Bros., this 7-minute long film is good fun.

Watch here:

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Jazz Goes to the Movies in Ankara

Jazz Goes to the Movies, a programme curated by Jonathan Rosenbaum and I for Bologna's Il Cinema Ritrovato will be playing in Ankara and two other Turkish cities from next week.

Another jazz/film-related event would be an exhibitions of the comic illustrations about jazz films by me (as writer) and Naiel Ibarrola (as illustrator). After our first exhibition at Tehran's Aun Gallery, the Allye Berger exhibition hall in Ankara will host our work from November 26 to December 2, 2015.

Back to the screenings, the films that will be played on November 29, are free admission. These are the titles and their order of screening, starting from 14:15

Black and Tan Fantasy (1929)
Cab Calloway’s hi-de-ho (1934)
Jammin’ the Blues (1944)
Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955)
Begone Dull Care (1949)
Big Ben: Ben Webster in Europe (1967)
When It Rains (1995)
Too Late Blues (1961)

Each film will be introduced either by me or Jonathan.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Best Of American Jazz In Paris (Studio Recordings)

Image courtesy of Vogue Records.

25 Greatest Jazz Records by Americans in Paris
For the people of Paris. November 2015

The Infinity of Lists, by Umberto Eco, is among the titles on my to-read list, though even before opening the book, and judging from the cover, I can catch the point and apply it to this list of my favorite studio recording of American jazz musicians in Paris.

The relationship between Paris and musicians has been mostly a love affair, started from the early years of jazz and continued to this day, with the post war years as the peak of interest, visits and involvement in Parisian scene. The curiosity about jazz, similar to that of African artwork revival in the early 20th century Paris, was expanding in various directions in the years between early 1950s and late 1960s. Jazz appeared in or influenced French literature and cinema, while I'm sure, the connection between this American art and France goes beyond these two primary examples.

With a profound history of hosting American jazz musicians and giving them the opportunity to play and record, the Paris-recorded albums are too important to remain unlisted and unnoticed. This is one attempt to pay a closer attention to the Parisian jazz records.

These are recordings I have listened to and mostly loved during the years, but I'm sure there are still hundreds of recordings there, waiting to be discovered. Probably you will notice the absence of more contemporary albums on the list, but that can be explained in regard to the current international status of jazz and the blurred concepts of nationality and borders in the 21th century jazz scene. Now, appearing in a Parisian studio or a concert hall is a common stage of activity for any internationally recognized artist. But I guess, back in the 1950s, it must have been a very unique experience being and recording in Paris for someone like Gerald Wiggins. This uniqueness is derived, among many other things, from the status of Afro-Americans in France and the fact that they have been cherished as artists and seen as heroes of the Existentialist and Anti-colonial movements of the post war period.

This list was initiated as a part of my short-lived jazz program, targeted for Iranian listeners, which ran between 2011 and early 2012. The episodes 22 to 24 were titled Jazz In Paris, and during three sessions I played many tracks from the albums I've listed here. If some Farsi speaking and commentary in between the tracks don't bother you, they are available here, here and here as podcast.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

George Adams-Don Pullen Quartet at the Subway

Like many of you, I first heard this band as the nucleus of Charlie Mingus's 70s groups, at least those involving George Adams and Don Pullen. Dannie Richmond, of course, had a much longer history of owning the drum chair in Mingus's establishment.

Yet, it was with post-Mingus recordings that I fell in love with the music they were making, a music which, according to Richmond, must have influenced even Mr. Mingus himself.

Hand to Hand, featuring Richmond and Adams was one of the most played records in my "early advanced" years of listening to jazz. Since then, I haven't lost my interest in this marvelous unit whose key members sadly died too soon.

The quartet, adding Cameron Brown, started as a one-off live band, but miraculously lasted for nearly a decade, and it was recorded regularly in Europe. This video tape from Cologne, Federal Republic of Germany, is one of them.

The band is full of fire and fierce energy. This makes Lee Jeske to compare them with a Lamborghini:

Monday, October 19, 2015

Rudy Can't Fail

"Red" Rudy Williams

Who's playing the alto saxophone on this one?

Did I hear Charlie Parker? Well, no, it ain't Bird. Yet there is some Parkerian connection, in the style of the player, and also in real life.

The musician playing alto on the 1948 track you heard which was recorded under Tadd Dameron's name is "Red" Rudy Williams, a musician  Charlie Parker used to dig intensely, almost religiously, during his first visit to New York City.

Member of a hard swinging band, Al Cooper's Savoy Sultan, he was usually featured on radio broadcasts some ten years before the above recording was waxed. (Other musicians featured on the piece you heard are Fats Navarro, Allen Eager, Curly Russell, and Kenny Clarke.)

In 1939, Williams was enjoying the success of this hit song, Little Sally Water, in which his name is called by Savoy Sultan's before he moves to front for a solo:

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Berlin Existential

Either because of its pure rhythmic functions or the carefree, even primitive feeling of playing it, bongo has been associated with the beat movement on film, literature, and also in life. The story of Toby Fichelscher (pic: above), a Berliner beatnik, is alsohas its bongos, jazz, and free love.

Toby Fichelscher (1927-92) was a jazz singer, bongo and piano player in post-war Germany who also tackled on the blues and rock 'n roll. (There is a Tutti Frutti single, recorded by him in 1956, a year after Little Richard made it a hit.)

Released on the compilation album, Busting the Bongos, this is a rare chance to listen to the "lost sounds of a jazz phantom", one of so many forgotten European musicians of the post war period.

Interesting enough, the recordings presented on this album are the soundtracks of three films (Tobby, Max Knaack, and Schatten), all directed by Hansjürgen Pohland.

I've been interested in Pohland since watching his short masterpiece Schatten [Shadows], an experimental film in which the jazz soundtrack is providing the rhythm for a series of shots form shadows and silhouettes on the walls and the grounds and it features a West Coast-sounding soundtrack, probably the best of this compilation.