Friday, November 23, 2018

Duke Ellington - "Arabesque Cookie" (Arabian Dance)

It's that time of year again.

From Duke's 1960 "Nutcracker" adaptation. I don't think it's a stretch to say that this album is the most successful adaptation of classical music for the jazz world. Other contenders would be The Modern Jazz Quartet's "Blues On Bach", and various pieces recorded by Woody Herman, such as this excellent rendition of Faure's Pavane for a Dead Princess.

Contemporary jazz artists like Daniel Bennett have also successfully ventured into this realm. Here's Daniel's "Opera and American Folk" work.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Chet Baker - "She Was Too Good To Me"

Here's Chet with both the vocal and a poignant trumpet solo. From a 1974 CTI album of the same name. As with so many CTI releases there's a fair amount of electronics, and a big, Easy Listening-ish chart-here by the usually-better-than-this Don Sebesky. Creed Taylor's CTI did much to revive jazz after its 60's doldrums, and his roster of artists was impressive: George Benson, Ron Carter, Hubert laws, Freddie Hubbard, and many more.

Not only did Creed Taylor do much to bring jazz back into public consciousness in the US-recall that many US-based artists-Maynard Ferguson, Phil Woods, for instance-had moved to Europe in the 60's, but this album brought Chet back as well. He'd been off the scene for several years-reportedly after being beaten up by "agents" of a drug dealer-and so this album must've been a pleasant surprise to many.

This song-originally "He was..."-dates back to 1930.  It's a bit of a departure for Rodgers and Hart, who usually went for sophisticated urbanity, not Irving Berlin-like directness and simplicity. Yet this is arguably their best work.

Back to Baker-Chet was an interesting case. There really aren't many like him in jazz-trumpet players whose style is muted, rather than brash. There are fifty Dizzy Gillespie types, with their bravura approach to the instrument, for every Chet Baker or Art Farmer or Bix Beiderbecke. Jazz trumpet playing was essentially invented by Louis Armstrong, and he gave us virtuosity, volume, high notes. Not Chet.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Maynard Ferguson-"Red Creek"

Maynard, as jazz fans know, recorded some dicey music in the second half of the 70's. In this, he was hardly alone among jazz artists-and, having five kids, he perhaps had more justification than most! His albums in this period tended to be about half good stuff recorded with his band, and half over-produced extravaganzas with a ton of studio musicians.

In any case, there also other tunes, like this one, which are harder to categorize. It's a long way from classic MF, but the groove is irresistible. and Maynard crushes his solo.

Claire Martin/Ella Fitzgerald-"Too Darn Hot"

Martin is a British jazz singer.

I was looking for her fun version of Thomas Dolby's "The Key to Your Ferrari" . (That song is one guy's answer to women who wonder why men often like their cars better than their wives or girlfriends-but it can be sung to good effect by a woman as well). Anyway, it's nowhere to be found, but instead I came across Martin's treatment of this Cole Porter classic, written in the 40's for "Kiss Me Kate".

As I often point out here, so many songs that are performed by the hippest of jazz artists come from what is now seen as the unhippest of sources-the Broadway musical. Yes, there was a time when America's best songwriters wrote for the stage. I should also note that Porter, along with Irving Berlin, and later Stephen Sondheim, was one of the few in this genre who wrote both the words and music for their songs.


UPDATE: It must be conceded, with all due respect to the many excellent artists who've recorded this song, that Ella Fitzgerald's version is the best.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Frank Sinatra-"Ebb Tide" (2018 Stereo Mix)

I see that "Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely", in its 60th Anniversary Edition, in now No. 3 on the Amazon Jazz Best Sellers list (number one is the unfortunate Tony Bennett-Diana Krall pairing "Love is Here To Stay"-Bennett's voice is now almost unrecognizable, sad to say).

Duke Ellington called Frank "the ultimate in theater", and this track, from what was very possibly FS's finest album, is a most excellent illustration. It's said that Sinatra was the first male vocalist to show vulnerability, and this track surely displays that quality. That vulnerability is consistent throughout the cut-there is no macho swagger here, even as FS's vocal ebbs and flows. Who else would dare this sort of honesty? Frank is naked here.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Frank Sinatra-"Swingin' on a Star"

Frank at his most, yes, swinging. Nelson Riddle, of course, with the chart (arrangement). Flutes, muted trombones, subtle use of strings-you know it's Nelson. And the rhythm section totally cooks.

This song might be even more associated with Bing Crosby, who  introduced this Jimmy Van Heusen-Johnny Burke work in the classic '40's movie "Going My Way". I was sure in researching this that Bing also sang the song in the Rat Pack flick "Robin and The Seven Hoods" (which BC more or less steals from under Frank, Dean, and Sammy's nose, by the way), but no, he doesn't.

You might be pleased to learn that Van Heusen's real name was Edward Chester Babcock.


Sunday, October 21, 2018

Nancy LaMott-"Autumn Leaves/When October Goes"

Nancy Lamott (1951-1995) was a New York based cabaret singer. You don't see much crossover between the jazz world and cabaret, with the exception of Maureen McGovern, a cabaret singer with a powerhouse voice and a swinging style. (I heartily recommend McGovern's "Out of This World-McGovern Sings [Harold] Arlen). LaMott was another exception-a sweet-voiced singer with a gift for emotionally charged yet restrained readings of standards, as well as a talent for making even light material sound like, yes, standards. Many jazz players were featured soloists on LaMott's albums, most especially trumpeter Glenn Drewes. This track features ex-Maynard Ferguson soloist Mike Migliore's wife Deborah with lovely cello work.

Here she tackles "Autumn Leaves", originally a French song ("Dead Leaves"), given English lyrics by Johnny Mercer, and "When October Goes, by Barry Manilow (of all people) and Mercer.  Beautiful as always-emotion sans overkill. This is originally from LaMott's all Mercer album, "Come Rain or Come Shine-The Songs of Johnny Mercer".

LaMott's story was a tragic one. She had done little recording till the 90's, when she was suddenly catapulted into the limelight with a series of successful albums, appearances on various TV shows, and a concert at the Clinton White House. But her health, always precarious, failed her, and she died of cancer just hours after her deathbed marriage to actor Peter Zapp. From the wikipedia article on Nancy: "According to conductor and composer David Friedman, who wrote many of the songs which she performed, LaMott's life featured two threads: her illness and her talent, and the 'two things peaked at exactly the same time'".

Nancy's imdb listing.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Stan Getz-"La Fiesta"

1972's "Captain Marvel" album featured Stan Getz with much of what was Chick Corea's first and best version of his famous "Return to Forever" group (Corea-keyboards, Stanley Clarke-bass, et al). Chick also wrote most of the material on the album, including this tune. To my ears Getz draws an eloquence and depth from the tune perhaps lacking in even the original RTF track..

This tune ended up being recorded by pretty much everybody, with noteworthy treatments by Woody Herman and Maynard Ferguson. My own favorite, other than Getz', is this one, with Corea, and Gary Burton on vibes.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Lopes Gra├ža Piano Concerto No. I /Miguel Henriques, piano. Orq Sinf Portuguesa, Directed by Ola Rudner

Fernando Lopes-Graca (1906-1994) was a Portuguese composer and conductor. I happened to come across the CD this piece came from quite by accident-I saw it in a music store and bought it on impulse.

The piece is "genuine Iberian"-I'm not endorsing any silliness about "cultural appropriation"-but it does seem true that most works intended to be in this style, by people from outside the region, are pretty cliche'-ridden (I do like Copland's El Salon Mexico). Now, the three note Moorish motif that the first movement of this piece is built upon might itself be thought of as a cliche', but it's the only one.

The concerto features a fair amount of dissonance, but stays true to its roots in both native folk music and Romanticism. If you like this you may want to try Lopes-Graca's Second Piano Concerto, a darker work, no doubt, but equally enjoyable.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Fred Astaire, Vera-Ellen-"Mr and Mrs Hoofer at Home"

Ahh-the Hollywood/Broadway musical. Something of a joke now, and for good reason-few good ones have been produced since the mid-60's-but there was a time when they represented the peak of American movie entertainment..

That peak may have been reached in the 50's-just when Hollywood musicals were on their way out, presumably due to their expense in a time when people were becoming accustomed to watching television for free. As much as I love the Astaire/Rogers musicals of the thirties, the technical possibilities available two decades later made lavish productions like Gene Kelly's "An American in Paris" a possibility.

This cut is from what is actually not a great movie-1950's "Three Little Words", starring Fred Astaire, Vera-Ellen, and Red Skelton. The plot's pretty light, and the comedy only so-so, but this dance routine is certainly one of the best ever filmed. Sheer joie de vivre.

Not that you asked for it, but here is an informal ranking of the best 50's musicals. I'm the ultimate Fred Astaire fan, as noted, but Gene comes first.

  1. "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)-Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds. Easily the funniest of the era's musicals. O'Connor's dance scenes make you think he lacks bones.
  2. "The Band Wagon" (1953)-Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant. Director Vincente Minnelli at his best. Plot: Should we turn a light musical into an updated version of "Faust"? Nah.
  3. "An American in Paris" (1951)-Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant. Kelly's climatic ballet might've been enough by itself to make this the best, but the Kelly/Caron romance is a little silly-he's a grown man (pushing 40 in real life) and Caron looks to be about 15 (she was in fact still a teenager).
  4. "It's Always Fair Weather" (1955)- Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey, Cyd Charisse. Co-directed by Kelly with Stanley Donen, this somewhat cynical story (war buddies meet ten years after the war and soon realize they don't like each other) was a box office flop, but it's a delight. It's a musical comedy with a real plot.
  5. "Funny Face" (1957)-Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, Kay Thompson. Young intellectual (Hepburn) agrees to become a model because it means a free trip to Paris. Again, you have to overlook a big age gap between the romantic leads-Astaire is thirty years older but looks a lot more. And yes, Audrey can dance-I would've included her great solo dance but it's now gone from Youtube.
  6. "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (1953)-Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, Charles Coburn. Marilyn plays dumb but cagey here-she wants a rich guy and makes no bones about it. Russell, who gets a lot of great lines and knows how to deliver them, is her somewhat cynical friend. Again, I would've included my favorite scene from this one (Russell's sexy, funny "Ain't There Anyone Here for Love"), but that's also disappeared from Youtube, though other scenes from the movie are still there.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Tito Puente/Maynard Ferguson-"On Green Dolphin Street".

Tito Puente (1923-2000) occupied the jazzier end of the salsa spectrum. I have just written a sentence that would've irritated Puente, who was famous for saying "salsa is a condiment, not a musical style". In any case, the great Latin percussion master, known as "El Rey de Los Timbales", had many recorded encounters with people from the jazz world, including Woody Herman, Sonny Stitt, Quincy Jones, and here, the Canadian trumpet virtuoso Maynard Ferguson (1928-2006). 

"On Green Dolphin Street", by Bronislaw Kaper and Ned Washington for the 1944 film "Green Dolphin Street" (the "on" came later), is one of those many pop songs that emigrated into the jazz world and became the exclusive province of jazz artists such as Miles Davis and Marian McPartland. This treatment features swinging flugelhorn work by Maynard, as well as Ferguson band alum Don Menza on tenor sax.  


Thursday, September 27, 2018

Clifford Brown with Strings-"Laura"

There are a lot of lovely songs named after women-think of "Emily", "Waltz for Debbie", "Nancy with the Laughing Face', or, as featured here, "Laura". This one's by David Raksin and Johnny Mercer, and was heavily featured in the Gene Tierney/Dana Andrews 1944 film of the same name.

Brown's 1955 performance is a wonderful illustration of how beautiful trumpet playing can be. It's not all about screaming out high notes, though I certainly enjoy that sort of playing when appropriate.

Clifford, a Wilmington, Delaware native, died far too young-he was merely 25 when he died in a car accident, the year after this recording-but he is well-remembered by jazz fans and still heavily featured on jazz radio. There is also an annual Clifford Brown Jazz Festival held in his home town.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Maynard, Miles, Birdland, and "Oleo"

My last post, featuring some great 1959 work by Bill Evans, alluded to all the great jazz produced in that year, by the likes of Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Dave Brubeck, and others.

Today's JazzTrack was also recorded in 1959. It's Maynard Ferguson and his most excellent big band wailing at Birdland in June of that year. At that time Maynard and Miles led the dual house bands, if you will, at that esteemed jazz outpost. Each was featured for several weeks a year. One sign outside the club had Maynard as the headliner, another Miles, in an ingenious bit of artist ego-stroking.

Maynard and band here go toe to toe with a pretty intense reading of Sonny Rollins' "Oleo". No word on a body count. And, yes, big bands could play bop. Solos include Joe Zawinul on piano,  Jimmy Ford (called "The White Bird" for his Charlie Parker tendencies), Slide Hampton on trombone, and Jerry Tyree on trumpet.

It should be noted that this was an integrated band, at a time when not all that many jazz groups were. It featured black players such as Hampton and drummer Frankie Dunlop.

Here's a detailed and appropriately enthusiastic review of Maynard and band at the Newport Jazz Festival in July of that same year: "Ferguson debuted his big brassy well-oiled machine at the Newport Jazz Festival the following year. Ferguson's Friday afternoon set at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival was an uncanny display of energy, chops and abandon melded with thoroughly polished charts by arrangers Don Sebesky and Slide Hampton..."

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Bill Evans Trio - "Autumn Leaves"

I usually avoid seasonally appropriate music posts, but I couldn't resist this one-the brilliant Bill Evans on piano and Scott LaFaro on bass. This is from Bill's 1959 album "Portrait in Jazz". 1959-the year of my birth-was a particularly good year in jazz history. I don't assert a causal connection between my arrival and this fact.  

Somewhere along the way Evans became my favorite pianist. I probably would've named Chick Corea as such a couple years ago. People who know more about modern harmony than I do can tell you about Evans' approach to his instrument-how he often didn't play the roots of chords (leaving that to the bass player), his use of chords voiced in fourths instead of thirds, etc-and that's all very interesting-but technical analysis of music doesn't get you very far. Does it, for want of a better word, grab you, or not?

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Vocalchord-"Texas Girl at the Funeral of Her Father"

Vocalchord is, or was, a Dutch group of opera singers who did some very nice close harmony vocals. Here they tackle Randy Newman's lovely "Texas Girl at the Funeral of Her Father". The song is simplicity itself, but very moving, and this treatment certainly does it justice.

Newman is, by any reckoning, one of the finest songwriters of this musical era. So good, in fact, that while Randy was still in his 20's the brilliant Harry Nilsson had already done an album composed solely of Newman material, 1970's "Nilsson Sings Newman".

Which makes me think of the CD's I've listened to recently: 1) Randy Newman-"Little Criminals" (which the above is from); 2) Frank Sinatra-"Sinatra's "Swingin' Session"; 3) Maynard Ferguson-"Maynard '61"/"Straightaway Jazz Themes" (the latter of this double set is from the early 60's ABC series "Straightaway" which Maynard did the music for); 4) Chick Corea-"Concerto" (Chick's sole recorded foray into classical music, as far as I know-he wrote a new orchestration of his "Spain", as well as a new piano concerto for himself); 5) The Beatles-"The White Album" (yes, I actually think that for a few minutes "Revolution 9" works, as a sort of sonic tour of Hell as imagined by John Lennon, that is before John starts into naming dances-"the Watusi, the Twist" and such); and 6) The London Brass-"Modern Times with The London Brass" (hyper-modern set designed to annoy people, though I like a lot of it, actually).

Duke Ellington - "Arabesque Cookie" (Arabian Dance)

It's that time of year again. From Duke's 1960 "Nutcracker" adaptation. I don't think it's a stretch to say ...