Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Count Basie at the Organ

I think it was John Hammond who once complained about one of the most stylish jazz pianists of all time being too shy to play piano. Of course, he was talking about Count Basie, the master of minimal (dubbed as economical) piano in the big band era. Still, I must say, comparing to Basie's organ recordings - which is the subject of this post- his piano work can be considered superabundant. Basie and organ is a beautiful but rare pairing.

Here, I'm trying to showcase his mastery at the organ from six 1952 sessions.

Before anything, I must return to some facts: Basie learned organ from Fats Waller and had a short career as the silent film accompanist. His first known recording at the organ dates back to 1939, when he accompanied Jimmy Rushing on Nobody Knows.

"Basie economized Fats' style," argues Geoff Alexander, "[he] had a sparse and 'jumping' feel to his playing, and I think influenced later organ players such as Wild Bill Davis, Milt Buckner, and Jackie Davis as much with the sound of his band as his playing."

From the early 1950s, when due to financial issues, the size of Basie orchestra drastically shrank, the small group became a favorite format. For these small group recordings, thanks to Norman Granz, Basie revisited organ almost a decade before it turned into a best-selling instrument. (In that regard think of Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff and many others who came to prominence in the 60s.)

In 1952, Basie took the organ seat on various occasions, some under his own name as leader, and with Oscar Peterson appointed as the piano man, and at least one session under Illinois Jacquet's name, when Basie was simply minding his own (glorious) business on the organ.

These sessions, at some point released by Verve as Basie at the Organ, are examples of Basie's "cool rage", if one borrows from the Jacquet's tune that Basie plays on the side B of the LP. By "cool rage" I mean, tense but flowing; conveying a wide range of emotions but always remaining in absolute control of itself.

The eleven tracks reissued on the VLP 9074 can be heard here:

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Duke Ellington's Second Sacred

this picture is  from another performance of the second sacred concert

I think what I've gathered here, from various sources, is the closest thing to the original broadcast of the Second Sacred Concert in Sweden, unless one of you readers know more about the different versions of this legendary concert.

The concert was performed at the Gustaf Vasa Church of Stockholm, Sweden, on November 6, 1969. The original broadcast (presented here) opens with Meditation, follows by Almighty God Has Those Angels (feat. Alice Babs and Russell Procope), Shepherd Who Watches Over The Night Flock (feat. Cootie Williams), Heaven (feat. Babs and Johnny Hodges), and last but not least Freedom (feat. Babs and Tony Watkins).

It is in Freedom that Ellington shares Billy Strayhorn's principles of freedom with the audience, the principles his deceased collaborator lived with all through his short life. These four principles could be the essence of Ellington's Sacred Concerts, or at least the most "sacred" parts of them:

"Freedom from hate, unconditionally. Freedom from self-pity. Freedom from fear of possibly doing something that may help someone else more than it will him. Freedom from the kind of pride that could make a man feel he’s better than his brother."

Update: Alice Babs passed away on February 11, 2014. R.I.P.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Image of the Day: Duke Ellington and Hazel Scott

Hazel Scott and Duke Ellington. This is the picture in which the Duke's infamous scar, result of a razor cut by a jealous woman, is the most visible.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Songs For Our Fathers

This playlist contains a bunch of songs played on my latest jazz radio programme for Iran [October 23, 2011], dedicated to our fathers. The theme of "father" will be explored throughout the history of jazz, from Cozy Cole to George Coleman.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Teddy Wilson Plays Duke Ellington

Recently surfaced on the Internet, here is Teddy Wilson performing a couple of Ellington/Strayhorn compositions on July 1975 (the location is probably France).

Early in his career as a solo artist, Wilson recorded some Earl Hines for whom he had high regards, but he never put any Ellington on disc. Towards the end of the 30s, he was better off recording his own compositions as unaccompanied piano pieces. In the late 50s, tired of playing the same standards for the millionth time, he discovered or rediscovered Ellington. However, in retrospect, his casual recordings of Ellington materials feels more like a case of repertoire expansion rather than treasuring the Duke, as on the same period he tried some bop tunes on the record.

Here he plays Take the "A" Train (once recorded in Wilson's 1967 Easy Living LP on Black Lion), followed by It Don't Mean a Thing. The rhythm section is Harley White (bass) and Eddie Graham (drums).

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Earl Hines and Charles Mingus: A Brief Encounter

The music presented here is resulted from, by all means, a surprise session. An ad-hoc band with a line up that even a wild imagination can not conceive. First and most, it features the father of jazz piano Earl Hines and the most revolutionary figure of modern jazz, Charles Mingus. Still, there is more to this 67 years old wine.

Toward the end of the 40s, the size and the success of Earl Hines Orchestra, like most other big bands of that era, drastically shrank, and in 1947, when these sides were cut, it broke up for good. Shortly after, Hines joined Louis Armstrong All Stars and probably earned more money as a "sideman" than what he was gaining as the leader of the most adventures big band of the 40s.

In a cold day in Chicago, on December 31, 1947, Hines borrowed a "cast" from Lionel Hampton's big band that happened to be in town for a national tour and whose second bass player happened to be Mr Charlie Mingus. During the date, Hines and the Hampton men recorded four sides on 78rpm records.

For a rather predictable version of The Sheik of Araby, which opens with Hines on piano, Morris Lane was shortly yet brilliantly featured. Lane had a huge sound, like a crossover between Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins, and readers of this blog probably know him better for being a member of Bebop Boys, a recording group of Savoy artists, including Sonny Stitt, Fats Navarro, Bud Powell and Kenny Clarke.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Swinging with Clarinet and Harpsichord

It sounds strange and the effect is unfamiliar and archaic. It takes time to get used to one of the most unusual
combos of the swing era -- a sextet with a harpsichord.

While evidently harpsichord has some capacity for swinging, it also delivers a melancholic feeling as one can hear on the sides recorded in September 3, 1940 in Los Angeles by Artie Shaw and His Gramercy Five. This rather experimental sextet is composed of clarinet, harpsichord, trumpet and the rhythm section.

As far as the history of this Renaissance and Baroque instrument in jazz goes, this session was the first to bring it to jazz. Later, from the same family of instruments, Oscar Peterson recorded with clavichord for Pablo Records.

Johnny Guarnieri, one of the unsung heroes of jazz in swing era, is playing the harpsichord which might explain my repetitious listening of these four sides.

"Guarnieri was all music" wrote Richard Cook about the man who started playing classical piano from the age of ten, but hearing Art Tatum changes his life. Cook also pointed out how Guarnieri could play in almost any style whilst "his basic one was a light, at times frolicsome variation on stride." 

On this session, he strides it out with harpsichord.