'Lost', by Wayne Shorter

Things were happening big time for Shorter in early 1965, when ’The Soothsayer was recorded. After five years with drummer and band leader Art Blakey as musician, composer and, finally, musical director, the saxophonist had recently joined trumpeter Miles Davis’ second great quintet. With Davis, Shorter would record six studio albums over the next three years (the first, E.S.P., 1965, was recorded two months before ’The Soothsayer’) plus a further four under his own name.

 The Soothsayer' was initially shelved to make way for the release of the more adventurous 'The All Seeing Eye’, and when Shorter left Davis and joined Weather Report, this beautiful albumtemporarily, was overtaken by events. It was finally released in 1979, which is hard to believe because it ranks with the best of his works from this incredibly fertile period.

Wayne Shorter - The Soothsayer

His unique sense of melody in the modal style of the 60’s is very evident in today’s song ‘Lost’, featuring expressive solo interludes that glide over a gorgeous floating waltz. 

Wayne Shorter - Tenor Saxophone
James Spaulding - Alto Saxophone
Freddie Hubbard - Trumpet
McCoy Tyner - Piano
Ron Carter - Bass
Tony Williams - Drums 

'Snafu', by Yusef Lateef

Eastern Sounds' isa landmark recording from the versatile Yusef Lateef, who is still performing 50 years later. Lateef, who is equally at home with sax, flute, oboe and a few other instruments, recorded this album at a time in his career when he was well-established in mainstream jazz but was ready to go in a new direction. His long-time fascination with the orient was the driving force behind the development of the album and although it was not his first try at ‘eastern’ sounds it was probably the best known.  

Eastern Sounds - Yusef Lateef

The result is a collection of tracks that retain the pure sounds and rich improvisations of modern jazz while influenced by Lateef’s belief in the mysticism of the orient.

Recorded on September 5th, 1961, Englewood, New Jersey.

Yusef Lateef: Tenor Saxophone
Barry Harris: Piano 
Ernie Farrow: Bass 
Lex Humphries: Drums

'Bird Food', by Ornette Coleman

The still active Ornette Coleman (1930) is one of the major innovators of the free jazz movement of the 1960’s. Even from the beginning of Coleman’s career, his music and playing were in many ways unorthodox. His approach to harmony and chord progression was far less rigid than that of bebop performers; he was increasingly interested in playing what he heard rather than fitting it into predetermined chorus-structures and harmonies.

1959 was a very busy year for Coleman. He recorded his highly influential album ‘The Shape Of Jazz To Come' in May and in October he went in the studio for today's album 'Change Of The Century’.

Ornette Coleman - Change Of The Century

In the original liner notes Ornette says: “I don’t tell the members of my group what to do. I want them to play what they hear in the piece for themselves.” What they hear in the pieces is sometimes astounding. The absence of a piano allows the listener to hear every bass note, every drum fill, and they’re all worth hearing.

Today’s song ‘Bird Food' is obviously a homage to Charlie Parker and to make to tribute complete, Coleman plays it with a plastic alto saxophone. 
In 1953, Parker (credited as Charlie Chan for contractual reasons) performed at Massey Hall in Toronto, Canada, joined by Gillespie, Mingus, Powell and Roach, issued on the album ‘Jazz At Massey Hall’. At this concert, he played a plastic Grafton saxophoneThere is a story that says Parker had sold his alto saxophone to buy drugs, and at the last minute, he, Dizzy Gillespie and other members of Charlie’s entourage went running around Toronto trying to find Parker a saxophone. After scouring all the downtown pawnshops open at the time, they were only able to find a Grafton, which Parker proceeded to use at the concert that night. This account however is totally untrue. Parker in fact owned two of the Grafton plastic horns. At this point in his career he was experimenting with new sounds and new materials.

Ornette Coleman - Alto Saxophone
Don Cherry - Pocket Trumpet
Charlie Haden - Bass
Billy Higgins - Drums 

'Strollin', by The Dexter Gordon Quartet

Dexter Gordon (1923-1990), also known as ‘The Sophisticated Giant’ because of his 6’6”, played in various big bands during the 1940’s (Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong and Billy Eckstine, to name a few) and became a central figure in the ‘Central Avenue’ scene in Los Angeles, were major saxophone battles were held.

Around 1952, drug problems resulted in some jail time and periods of inactivity during the 1950’s, but in 1960, he was ‘rediscovered’ and recorded a consistently rewarding series of dates for Blue Note. Just when he was regaining his former popularity, Gordon moved to Europe (mainly Paris and Copenhagen) where he would stay until 1976. While on the continent, he was in peak form and Gordon’s many SteepleChase recordings rank with the finest work of his career, like ‘The Apartment' from 1974.

Dexter Gordon - The Apartment

He was, to an extent, forgotten in his native land, and it was therefore a major surprise that his return in 1976 was treated as a major media event. A great deal of interest was suddenly shown in the living legend and he remained a popular figure until his gradually worsening health made him semi-active by the early 1980’s. His final comeback occurred when he was picked to star in the movie 'Round Midnight, and was nominated for an Academy Award, four years before his death after a very full life.

Today’s song ‘Strollin’' (written by Horace Silver) is so beautifully recorded, it deserves your headphones.

Dexter Gordon - Tenor Saxophone
Kenny Drew - Piano
Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen - Bass
Albert Heath - Drums

The Famous Alto Break

Ross Russel (the founder of Dial Records) wrote in his book ‘Bird Lives!' on page 212:
"…The last side of the session was ‘A Night In Tunisia’. The first time around Charlie played a stunning break. When the master was played back, it was obvious this version could not be used. It was full of mistakes made by others. “I’ll never make that break again,” Charlie said. Nor was he quite able to duplicate the suspenseful line of the first effort. After many false starts and five complete versions of Tunisia, the session ended at nine in the evening…”

The surviving tapes of the session have been available for a long time, on a Spotlite record issued in 1972. There are two full takes of ‘A Night In Tunisia' with the studio matrix numbers D-1013-4 and 1013-5, and the fragment containing the famous break, matrix number D1013-1. It is possible that the first take was unusable because of the other musicians' mistakes, as Russell says, but the existing audio is only 50 seconds long and no evident mistakes can be heard.

If you listen to all three takes with no preconceptions, the most obvious thing is how similar the three breaks are: Parker was basically playing a similar pattern every time. If the average listener was exposed to the three cuts, without being told which one was the supposedly ‘famous’ one, I doubt most people could reliably pick it from the three.

A lot of other myths about these famous 50 seconds circulate on the Internet. The strangest (and, of course, unconfirmed) one is that because Parker played such an unbelievable break from the bridge to the solo section that he ‘completely lost the band’. The next time around, they made Miles Davis stand in the corner, plug his ears, and count the band back in…

This break and other delicious goodies can be found on ‘Charlie Parker: The Complete Dial Sessions’. 

Charlie Parker: The Complete Dial Sessions

Charlie Parker - Alto Saxophone
Miles Davis - Trumpet
Lucky Thompson - Tenor Saxophone
Dodo Marmarosa - Piano
Vic McMillan - Bass
Roy Porter - Drums 


Currently reading: Bird, The Legend Of Charlie Parker, by Robert Reisner.Two books on Charlie Parker are waiting for me: this one and Ross Russell’s ‘Bird Lives’.
The Reisner book is, so far, fun to read: it’s a compilation of reminiscences by people who knew Bird: fellow musicians, family and friends.
I know, I know, ‘you can’t judge a book by it’s cover’, but the recent cover of this book is so ugly I preferred the cover of this 1962 hardcover, currently for sale at a Danish antiquarian for $27.

Currently reading: Bird, The Legend Of Charlie Parker, by Robert Reisner.

Two books on Charlie Parker are waiting for me: this one and Ross Russell’s ‘Bird Lives’.

The Reisner book is, so far, fun to read: it’s a compilation of reminiscences by people who knew Bird: fellow musicians, family and friends.

I know, I know, ‘you can’t judge a book by it’s cover’, but the recent cover of this book is so ugly I preferred the cover of this 1962 hardcover, currently for sale at a Danish antiquarian for $27.

'Asiatic Raes', by Sonny Rollins

An anonymous writer has brought it to my attention (thanks for that and shame on me for overlooking this scoop) that Sonny Rollins received the Jazz Award 2010 for his complete oeuvre in Amsterdam (The Netherlands) last Wednesday, 53 years after he performed there for the first time.

The Jazz Award was introduced in 2002 and has previously been given to George Coleman, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and, as the first European, Toots Thielemans.

Sonny Rollins: Newk's Time

To salute Mr. Rollins, I have a beautiful piece of his 1957 album ‘Newk’s Time’ for you.
(The title of the album is a reference to Rollins’ nickname ‘Newk’, which is apparently based on his resemblance to Donald Newcombe, a Major League Baseball pitcher who shared the same nickname.)

Sonny Rollins - Tenor Saxophone
Wynton Kelly - Piano
Doug Watkins - Bass
Philly Joe Jones - Drums