Jazz is not background music. You must concentrate upon it in order to get the most of it. You must absorb most of it. The harmonies within the music can relax, soothe and uplift the mind when you concentrate upon and absorb it. Jazz music stimulates the minds and uplifts the souls of those who play it was well as of those who listen to immerse themselves in it. As the mind is stimulated and the soul uplifted, this is eventually reflected in the body.
After attending an intimate concert by the Brad Mehldau Trio at LantarenVenster last Tuesday (March 7th), I thought it was time for another post about this great, innovative pianist and composer.
They started the concert with a ‘Hey Joe’ cover: not my personal favorite, but a great way for the not-so-trained-jazz listener to discover what makes a well known piece ‘jazz’.
Brad Mehldau is known for turning popular tunes into jazz, as you can also hear in today’s song ‘Paranoid Andriod' (Radiohead) from 'Largo’: recorded in 2001 and the first record of Mehldau that departs from either the piano trio or solo format.
Mehldau says on his site: “I heard a lot of terrific singer-songwriters there for the first time – people like Rufus Wainright, Fiona Apple, Elliot Smith and Aimee Mann. I got re-introduced to how beautiful a good pop song can be through hearing them. Its depth is more about pairing something down, chiseling it into a strong, succinct statement – very different than jazz, which for me is often about going out on a limb and staying there.”
Brad Mehldau - Piano Larry Grenadier - Bass Matt Chamberlain - Drums Victor Indrizzo - Percussion Jon Brion - Guitar, Guitar Synth, Piano Percussion
A jazz musician is not a jazz musician when he or she is eating dinner or when he or she is with his parents or spouse or neighbours. He’s above all a human being … the true artform is being a human being.Herbie Hancock
For all the people who supported me yesterday, here is a song by Monk. Many thanks for your heartwarming messages.
The Thelonious Monk Quartet with Charlie Rouse lasted eleven years. October 31st and November 1st, 1964 at the It Club in Los Angeles were just two more nights out of thousands for them, except when it comes to Monk, there were no ordinary nights.
Rouse in his sixth year with Monk had hit his stride, truly becoming Monk’s musical alter ego. Remarkably, drummer Ben Riley had joined the quartet at the beginning of 1964 and bassist Larry Gales had only logged in a month at the time of this taping; yet they already show the first signs of collective greatness on these evenings.
Monk was at a particular high point pianistically during this gig; in fact, he went into a Los Angeles studio and recorded the album ‘Solo Monk' on the afternoons preceding and following the live taping.
Thelonious Monk - Piano Charlie Rouse - Tenor Saxophone Larry Gales - Bass Ben Riley - Drums
'Goodbye Storyteller (For Fred Myrow)', by Brad Mehldau
Yesterday, I ordered tickets for the upcoming concert of the Brad Mehldau Trio (Feb. 28th, 2012, here in my hometown Rotterdam). So I thought it was time for another beautiful piece by this 41 year old American, this time from his 1999 solo album ‘Elegiac Cycle’.
Brad Mehldau explains in the liner notes his fascination for elegies: "…I’ve always been attracted to elegiac works of art, that mourn so many kinds of loss, from the most profound to the most prosaic death of them all - what the French aptly call ‘la petite mort’. There are concrete examples that clearly mourn the loss of a person or people: Musical compositions like Charles Mingus’ ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’, or John Coltrane’s ‘Alabama’. But there are so many works that aren’t elegies proper, yet are elegiac in character. Much of Brahms’ late music, for example. Often, we find an elegiac strain in the late period of any artist’s output: the poignancy of Bill Evans’ 1977 rendition of ‘You Must Believe In Spring' or Chet Baker's achingly ironic late take on 'Blame It On My Youth’. Lamenting the loss of springtime and youth.
Alas, life is short, art is long. Great music packs a primordial punch. And when the wind is knocked out of you, something great takes place: You get to feel your own mortality. The role of time is crucial. Music doesn’t just represent time, it moves through time, and the listener experiences that passing. What’s the feeling? That tingling in your stomach, that sweet ache in your gut, that tickly weakness that creeps over the body when you’re pulled into the music? It’s a kind of death-feeling, in a place where ecstasy and mortality-fear overlap. Rilke told us in one of his elegies that our perception of beauty is just the beginning of terror.
Dying, being remembered, music sings an elegy to itself, beautifying the ‘everyday’ loss around us, showing us how intimate we can be with death. So an elegy can have this purpose: to celebrate those very things that make us mortal…”
The Bill Evans Trio on BBC’s ‘Jazz 625' (Complete Registration)
On the all-too-rare occasions when jazz gets an outing on television, many viewers make inevitable, and often unfavourable, comparisons with ‘Jazz 625’. A well-informed presenter, a superb sound balance and an uncluttered approach to camera work and direction all combined to set a gold standard in the televisual representation of jazz. It was also in the right place at the right time. The end of the long-standing deadlock between the Musicians’ Union and the American Federation of Musicians meant that big names from the US were coming over to Britain for the first time since the 1930’s.
Many shows of its era are ill-represented in the BBC archives, as they were either junked after transmission or, if broadcast live, not recorded at all. Happily, this is not the case with ‘Jazz 625’. With video tape recording still in its infancy, machines were in heavy demand. So, many programmes, particularly in the drama field, were ‘telerecorded’ onto 35mm film, from a feed of the studio output. This method made editing a lot easier, and has aided the survival of programmes recorded in this way.
Recorded at the BBC Studios, London, on March 19th, 1965
Bill Evans - Piano Chuck Israels - Bass Larry Bunker - Drums
This footage collects three separate rare performances by Bud Powell during his time living in Europe. The best of the lot is the 1959 set at Club St. Germaine in Paris. Powell is evidently free of demons on this evening, brightened by the presence of trumpeter Clark Terry and saxophonist Barney Wilen, along with his regular trio consisting of bassist Pierre Michelot and drummer Kenny Clarke. Powell plays without a slip and solos with gusto, particularly in ‘Blues In The Closet’, which also features Michelot. Terry is the featured soloist in the hip blues ‘Pie Eye' and Wilen in '52nd Street Theme’. Later the same year at the Blue Note in Paris Powell’s trio is accompanied by tenor saxophonist Lucky Thompson and guitarist Jimmy Gourley. Powell is once more playing with plenty of fire, while Thompson and Gourley devour ‘Anthropology' whole. The 1962 selections from Cafe Montmartre in Copenhagen features the pianist with the teenaged but accomplished bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and drummer Jorn Elniff. Powell once again proves that he is at full strength on this shorter set.
Because I’m going to see Hancock with his ‘Tribute To Miles' gig coming Sunday (accompanied by Wayne Shorter and Marcus Miller, to name a few), I'm going to get in the mood with today's song 'Empty Pockets’, from Herbie’s first solo album ‘Takin’ Off’, recorded in 1962. ‘Watermelon Man’ (from the same album) provided Mongo Santamaría with a hit single, but more importantly for Hancock, ‘Takin’ Off’ caught the attention of Miles Davis, who was at that time assembling a new band. He stayed with Miles’s ‘second great quintet’ the next 5 years.
Flanked by superb personnel that includes trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, saxophonist Dexter Gordon, and drummer Billy Higgins, Hancock offers excellent compositions that balance between adventurousness and the rigors of classic hard bop.
Herbie Hancock - Piano Dexter Gordon - Tenor Saxophone Freddie Hubbard - Trumpet Butch Warren - Bass Billy Higgins - Drums
McCoy Tyner rose to prominence as a member of John Coltrane’s legendary quartet in the 1960’s, but he sustained a brilliant solo career in the decades that followed. Today’s song ‘Crescent' ís by Coltrane, originally issued on the 1964 album with the same name, featuring McCoy Tyner. An almost hour-long(!) version of ‘Crescent' would later appear on 'John Coltrane Live In Japan’.
Soliloquy. Hmm, as a non-native English speaker I had to look that one up. A soliloquy is when a character (in a play) relates his thoughts and feelings to himself and to the audience without addressing any of the other characters, and is delivered often when they are alone or think they are alone. It’s not the same as a monologue, because than you are talking to the other characters, for a longer time. And it’s not the same as an ‘aside’, which is the same as a soliloquy, only very short, basically just one comment.
Are you still with me?
The ‘to be or not to be' speech in 'Hamlet’ is wrongly considered the most famous soliloquy in the English language because it is in fact a monologue delivered to Ophelia and to the spying Polonius and King Claudius. Juliet’s “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?" is a good example of a Shakespearean soliloquy (although Juliet’s speech is overheard by Romeo, she thinks that she is alone with her thoughts when she delivers it, which is in the essence of a soliloquy).
The album ‘Soliloquy' was recorded at the Merkin Hall, New York from February 19th to February 21st, 1991.
Arthur Tatum Jr. (1909-1956) was born in Toledo, Ohio and despite being blind in one eye and only partially sighted in the other he became arguably the greatest jazz piano player who ever lived. Virtually every jazz pianist active today, whether knowingly or innocently, owes some debt to Tatum who, in the 1930’s, transformed jazz piano’s lexicon for all time. Indeed, major players of other instruments trace their development to having listened to the new concepts Tatum brought to the keyboard.
Critics are almost universal in their praise of Tatum. Many have attempted to describe the Tatum style and sound. For example, Whitney Balliett describes his technique as “prodigious, even virtuosic … an angelic touch: no pianist has got a better sound out of the instrument … gargantuan arpeggios, oompah stride basses…. No matter how fast he played or how intense and complex his harmonic inventions became, his attack kept its commanding clarity.” The elegant pianist Teddy Wilson, who observed: “…Maybe this will explain Art: if you put a piano in a room, just a bare piano. Then you get all the finest jazz pianists in the world and let them play in the presence of Art Tatum. Then let Art play … everyone there will sound like an amateur…”
After regular club dates, Tatum would go to after-hours clubs to hang out with other musicians who would play for each other. Tatum enjoyed listening to other pianists and preferred to play last when several pianists played. He frequently played for hours on end into the dawn, to the detriment of his marriages. Tatum was said to be more spontaneous and creative in those free-form nocturnal sessions than in his scheduled performances. Evidence of this can be found in the set entitled ‘20th Century Piano Genius' which consists of 40 tunes recorded at private parties at the home of Hollywood music director Ray Heindorf in 1950 and 1955. According to the review by Marc Greilsamer, “all of the trademark Tatum elements are here: the grand melodic flourishes, the harmonic magic tricks, the flirtations with various tempos and musical styles. But what also emerges is Tatum's effervescence, his joy, and his humor. He seems to celebrate and mock these timeless melodies all at once…”
I don’t own or listen to a lot of contemporary jazz myself, so I’m a little outside my comfort zone here, but Brad Mehldau (1970) often uses tones that touch (or should I say ‘hit’) me.
This solo track ‘Paris’ is ‘a piece of transcendental beauty. It starts with a deep, delicate melody, that continuously grows and expands until exploding into a shocking, rock-classical arpeggio (a mix of Radiohead and Rachmaninoff…)’.
The 11 compositions on ‘Places’ (from 2000, on some tracks with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy) were conceived on the road, and only midway through did Mehldau realize that there was a connection. The designated theme is travel; each selection bears the name of a place or mood.
The titles in themselves mean nothing as far as the content of the music is concerned, or so he writes in another lengthy, provocative liner note. Rather, the album is about the constancy of his personality and musical language, taking all of your personal mental baggage with you wherever you travel.
(P.S. I’ve posted this track earlier, on November 19th 2010, but I thought it would fit nice in the Paris-theme-week)
The last song of the ‘Paris-theme-week’ is the beautiful ‘Up With The Lark' by the (last) Bill Evans Trio, recorded by Radio France at the L'Espace Cardin, Paris, on November 26th, 1979.
Peter Pettinger writes in his amazingly thorough book ‘Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings' on page 267: “…Returning to the ever-welcoming Parisians, they gave two sets at L'Espace Cardin, performances that have long been acclaimed as among the finest from the Bill Evans Trio…During the interval and throughout the following (solo) piano items the double bass was sitting out on stage under the lights, going gradually out of tune. When Marc Johnson joined Evans on the platform for their duo spot, it was for 'Up With The Lark’, which Evans pointedly commenced, as usual, on a reiterated G in the bass. Whether this was originally for tuning purposes or not, it became a curious feature of every performance…”
Today’s album, ‘The Paris Concert, Edition One' was voted best album of 1980 by the Association of French Jazz Critics, and the last to be approved and released by Helen Keane (his manager) during Bill's lifetime. The photograph used on the cover is called 'Île de la Cité 1951' and was shot by one of my photographic heroes, Henri Cartier-Bresson.
And with that, I will leave you for now (I’m off to Paris) and hope to see you all sometime next week…
Bill Evans - Piano Marc Johnson - Bass Joe LaBarbera - Drums (not present on this track)
'Hugo Hurwhey', by The Russ Freeman/Chet Baker Quartet
I’ve already talked a lot about Chet Baker, but mostly about the later part of his professional life. In the 1950’s, when he was making some of his most distinctive music, the pianist Russ Freeman (1926-2002) was a key figure in the career of the trumpeter. Born in Chicago, Freeman studied classical piano in Los Angeles. By the 1940’s, when bebop was taking over New York’s hip clubs, there were few West Coast pianists who understood its harmonic complexities. But with his training, and a spare but flexible technique, Freeman grasped bebop’s mechanics fast. He went to New York City in 1947 to accompany Charlie Parker, and became a heroin addict for four years as well. In 1951, facing jail and probably death, he straightened out and began rooming with Chet Baker. When Pacific Jazz offered Baker a recording deal in 1952, it was Freeman who picked and arranged the tunes, and explained the harmonies to his roommate, who could not read chords, on their living room piano.
They recorded a lot together under Chet’s name, but on this last meeting of the two the billing had changed, with Freeman getting his name before Baker’s. But it is Baker that shines, really. 1956 was arguably Chet’s best year for bop, and this CD stands along side ‘The Route’, ‘Chet & Crew’, and ‘Playboys’ (with Art Pepper) as some of the hottest music he ever laid down.
Today’s song ‘Hugo Hurwhey' was recorded after Chet's return from his European tour of '55/'56. Russ Freeman had left the quartet before that tour, for which Baker then recruited Dick Twardzik. After Twardzik's death (heroin overdose) and Chet's return to the United States, producer Dick Bock arranged this session. It was instantly obvious how much Baker matured during that tour. ‘Quartet' was a direct progression from his Paris albums and quite distinct from his previous Pacific Jazz releases. Among other things, Baker had discovered and dived deep into hard bop in Paris, leaving much of his former cool jazz vocabulary behind. 'Hugo Hurwhey' shows him charged, energized and alert, and there is a distinct influence of Clifford Brown noticeable here.
Chet Baker - Trumpet Russ Freeman - Piano Leroy Vinnegar - Bass Shelley Manne - Drums